THE WORLD WITH A WRAYFLEX CAMERA 1960-61
3 THE CAMERA
one time it
was said that a camera was only as good as its lens
Wrayflex, a single lens reflex camera [SLR] was made by Wray (Optical Works) Ltd
a British company whose lens-making pedigree dated back to 1850 - you could say,
almost to the beginning of photography. William Wray the founder was a solicitor
and amateur astronomer who made his own lenses much as the pioneers of any Victorian
trade. Wray lenses were highly respected and though businesswise they had their
ups and downs the name lasted into the 1970s.
good lenses meant a good camera that would be the end of the story as the tale
has been told admirably by the British camera collector John Wade. John's
exceptional book The Wrayflex Story was published in 2008. Some of the
book can be downloaded from the web and any search for 'Wrayflex Wade ' will find
bits of the story told over and over again. But after using a Wrayflex for thirteen
months around the world I'll add my thoughts. It was an extraordinary camera and
one is on display in the Kodak Collection at the Science Museum in London.
My story behind the story
attachment to the Wrayflex began in 1952 when as a schoolboy photographer I simply
could not afford such a classy camera. It was new and talked about in the photographic
Press 'lenses giving a very fine performance'
'an entirely original
British design '
'Made in Bromley, Kent'.
fact that it was British was the clincher as in post-war Britain the Government
Board of Trade would not permit foreign made cameras into the country freely as
imports meant an outflow of cash which the UK didn't have.
clipping from the Amateur Photographer 9 December 1953
but Impoverished - The Festival of Britain 1951
Royal Festival Hall is here with the 1826 Shot Tower on the left [demolished to
make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall opened in 1969]. The site of the Festival
is centre with St Paul's cathedral dome behind. Most of the Festival buildings
had been cleared by the time I took these pictures in 1954. Today the London Eye
wheel dominates the river bank.
Festival was a massive Exhibition show-case of British goods and ideas
set on London's South Bank. The site included many Pavilions, the Dome of Discovery
and an iconic aerial sculpture, the Skylon, all of which were demolished but the
Royal Festival Hall still stands as a reminder of the Exhibition. The Festival
was visited by over 8 million people. Like many, including my wife Marion, I was
taken to the Festival by my parents.
iconic cover design was by Abram Games
was into a low economy world that the Wrayflex camera was launched in May 1951.
My memories of those dark years are hazy but there's enough left in the grey cells
to rouse my fascination with the Wrayflex story. It is a lovely camera - sleek,
stylish, immensely solid and by 1950s terms innovative.
and it is a big but.. the price for the basic camera and lens in 1951 - was £68.
Sterling reference Lutton's List* or about fifth of the annual average
a high price would have prevented all but the wealthy from getting their hands
on one - indeed I wonder who indeed bought a Wrayflex. I know a few were used
in hospitals. By 1953 when the Amateur Photographer review was published the price
had risen to £95 8s or about a quarter of the average annual wage.
cash terms today  a good working model of the original Model 1 with lens
and its beautifully crafted leather case with even the buckles covered by leather
could touch £1000.00. As a guide to the condition - look for marks on screws
which reveal amateur repairs.
850 made of the first model
Only 850 of Model 1 were made as it had a quirky frame size of 24 x 32 mm. Model
1a was very similar in general appearance but incorporated the more conventional
24 x 36 mm frame size - John Wade says about 1600 were made. For the Model 2 as
I used around the world perhaps less than 350 were built so you'll have to bid
or bargain. Thinks
.there has to be more to this story than Wray and the
pamphlet outlining the Wrayflex says the story began in 1947
basic design of the Wrayflex was taken over by this firm from the late Commander
Studdert an engineer officer of the Royal Navy and a specialist in instrument
how and why did a Royal Naval Commander come to have plans for a camera?
story began in Continental Europe with the secretive work of Commander Studdert.
And here I re-open the long unanswered question. Is the Wrayflex design British
Enter Maurice Eyre Studdert originally from County Clare, Ireland
- then known as Éire the Irish Free State
was the son of John Alfred [aka Jack] Studdert who according to the 1911
Census was of the Church of Ireland and a 'farmer and land agent' and Mary Persse.
Maurice was born in Limerick on 29th March 1910
Studdert family in Ireland were estate owners with a pedigree dating back to the
early 17C and before that in historic Cumberland, England, now part of the County
of Cumbria. The ancestral home in Ireland was Bunratty Castle,  sold to
the Studdert family in 1720. By 1804 the castle was in sad decay and the Studderts
moved out. The castle is still standing and on the Clare tourist trail. The Studdert
family tree is in Burkes Irish Peerage - you can see it on the web.
young Maurice was educated in England at a fee paying school, Aldenham, in rolling
green countryside about 27 kms/ 17 miles NW of central London.
he was 19 he entered the Royal Naval Engineering College, Keyham in a suburb of
Plymouth in Devon from where he qualified as a Lieutenant. Studdert's Naval career
continued well until with experience in gunnery he was promoted to Commander and
later credited with two inventions in ordnance. By 1944 he had been elected an
Associate of the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Studdert's secret life
put it mildly post war Europe was a mess. Many German towns and cities had been
flattened by British or American bombing leaving thousands of civilians on the
move - the so-called 'displaced persons'. At the end of the war the countries
were occupied by armed forces of the victorious powers.
trying to re-establish some form of normal life and feeding millions, the victors
were searching for secrets, especially in science and technology held by the vanquished.
And the race was on - Germany was the master of the rocket and perhaps even of
atom bomb development. Russia - then the USSR was after as much as it could get
from areas it controlled and the USA and Britain had specialist teams on the ground
with a base in Minden, North Rhine-Westphalia about 300 km / 186 miles west of
is an historic city dating back almost 1200 years and was severely damaged by
allied British and American bombing in WWll. By 1945 Minden had been placed in
the British Occupation Zone.
after a bombing by the US Army Airforces March 28th 1945 - with thanks to Minden
- the British Army of the Rhine
scientists and technicians of all kinds were taken to Minden often in secret convoys
to evade detection - there is at least one plausible account of this in British
Army of the Rhine [BAOR] records. Abducting or coercing scientists and technicians
was part of the game.
Studdert - John Wade says he was often called Michael - was in Germany as the
head of the British Naval Gunnery Mission for Europe, with responsibility
for collecting information on German scientific development concerning naval gunnery.
In addition Studdert was responsible for the control and co-ordination of future
scientific work and in this respect gave invaluable services to the Allied
Control Commission for Germany. [The ACC was responsible for the running
of the country until March 1948 when Soviet Russia withdrew from the Commission
leading to the division into East and West Germany and the Cold War]
BAOR memory suggests Studdert was at one time based in Berlin, the seat of the
ACC and was part of the clandestine T-Force, the Target Force to procure secrets.
But in 1947 he was in Minden with Royal Naval Section Research Branch.
The National Archive at Kew holds many 'Top Secret' documents dating from this
recording Studdert's death in 1951 the Irish Clare Champion newspaper
said 'his work was of a highly confidential nature connected with fire control
spoke German fluently
Apparently Maurice spoke German fluently - I wonder how and why? Anyway
in Germany, so the story goes Maurice met two German brothers 'Harry' - presumably
Heinrich and Werner Göbel whose family name appears to be confused in the
extensive Wrayflex legendsphere with Goebbels - a name that rang very loud bells
in post-war Britain as a certain Joseph Goebbels had been Adolf Hitler's infamous
Reich Minister for Propaganda.
the name connected with Studdert is clearly Göbel, a long standing name of
medieval Germanic origin. In 2011 John Wade published some drawings of the Wrayflex
made in Germany early in 1947 and signed by Harry Göbel. The plans were annotated
in German and the camera was described as Uniflex - Automat: Kleinbildkamera
- Uniflex Automatic small camera [Photographica world Vol 135 -2011/1]**
the Uniflex plans it is clear the Harry Göbel was an experienced draftsman
but there has been plenty of speculation about the origin of the design. In his
2008 book John Wade suggests that Studdert, who by that time had some ordnance
inventions to his naval credit gave the Uniflex idea to Harry and Werner Göbel
for them to draw-up in design and technical terms.
the backdrop - I'm dubious. Not least because designing a camera would not have
been a quick job even for Studdert and bearing in mind his work would he have
had time? One memory related from the T-Force says they worked day and night including
Saturdays and Sundays. If Studdert was the inventor, presumably he would have
given some sketches to Harry Göbel but as far as I can see not even rough
notes have been found.
Cold War approached entire factories such as Zeiss and Agfa, complete with all
their equipment and machinery, were moved to the Allied Zone to prevent their
secrets falling into Russian hands. With the general upheaval, the camera design
found its way to London. The story continues with the plans drawn in Germany being
given to Wray (Optical) Ltd in 1947 and then re-drawn in Bromley with the help
of the Göbel brothers who were brought to Britain by Studdert. The Göbel
brothers were not alone, as scientists, technicians and sometimes their entire
families were moved to Britain or the USA.
the oral history of the time it seems that Studdert's family felt the Unilflex
was Maurice's idea while staff at the Wray works felt the idea had been picked
up in Germany. According to John Wade the Göbel brothers spoke only German
and returned to Germany once the British camera was in pre-production. Returning
to the Clare Champion newspaper of 1951 it said of Maurice that ' stories
of his charm will long be told by his friends and admirers'.
and I hope I am not getting you confused. What is clear is that
the re-drawn plans with some variations were submitted to the the Patents Office
Provenance of the Patents?
the Wrayflex patents are on the web and all the patents were filed in the name
of Wray (Cameras) Ltd, a British Company of Ashgrove Road, Bromley Kent suggesting
a new company had been formed specifically for the camera.
Inventor was named as Maurice Eyre Persse Studdert without a mention of Harry
or Werner Göbel.
first patent was applied
for in 1947, just two months after the German plans had been signed in Minden
by Harry Göbel. It is possible the Göbel brothers were in Bromley at
the time of the application. One supplementary drawing for 'A reflex camera
with curtain shutter ' was filed in May 1948 and bears an uncanny resemblance
to one of Harry Göbel's drawings of 1947 (see Photographica world No 135
so far it seems to have been missed that Maurice Studdert filed a Patent in Switzerland
in his own name and giving his address as Waterford, Ireland. The Patent description
is in French and the drawings are detailed. The date of the filing made by an
agent in Geneva is May 21st 1948, with reference to the earlier application in
patents are dated 1948 and 1950 -1953. But again it is a very great possibility
that all the designs were re-written German Patents or German design work. In
the aftermath of the war the T-Force Allied teams scouring Germany took over as
many as 170,000 German patents for UK use alone. see The National Archive or
Longden's T-Force for references.
well documented example of taking German camera patents and using them for a British
production can be seen in the Reid camera or 'British Leica' and I have added
the Wrayflex it is clear that the ownership of the design was of almost obsessive
importance to Maurice Studdert and the early Wray cameras carried a Patent number
on the bottom plate.
.. Single Lens Reflex cameras were not new to photography and the
Uniflex or Wrayflex was not unique. One part of the early Wray patents was a provision
for measuring light or 'metering the light' via the lens and it seems it was never
incorporated in the final camera. Now that would have been something
question must be
Why did Studdert take the plans to Wray? Great Britain
had at least three other fine lens makers. The best bet would be that Wray as
lens and binocular producers already had contracts with the British Ministry of
Defence [War Office] to provide lenses and binoculars so implying some confidentiality.
On their part Wray would have been keen to fill the gap in the camera market for
which imports were controlled by the Board of Trade.
mark with a MOD Crown
this point I feel I have to turn over the knotty question of the Wrayflex being
a German or British design to readers who understand descriptions on patents and
can compare with the published German designs.
By the late 1940's Maurice Studdert was seriously unwell and he died in March
1951 - apparently due to stress or something related. A death certificate from
Ancestry / Find my Past would soon clarify the cause. The camera was launched
at the Festival of Britain two months later.
By 1953 the design
had been changed slightly - most notably the original frame size was 24 x 32 mm.
In the model
1a the frame size was 24 x 36mm or in line with the majority of 35mm film cameras
at that time. Externally and mechanically the models were much the same. See John
Wade The Wrayflex Story for finer details.
more radical change came with the Model ll in 1959, the one I carried on my journey
around the world in 1960/61. [See this story - Parts 1 & 2]. The lenses for
all the cameras were similar and my standard lens a 50mm was a Unilux - a name
similar to the original camera design of 1947.
ceased in the early 1960s as sales were very small - less than 350 of Model ll
were made as the Board of Trade had lifted import restrictions so Nikons, Canons,
Yashicas and more foreign goods flooded in.
As the Wrayflex was handmade it could not compete on price or with the more sophisticated
design of the Japanese imports.
shutter testing by hand in Bromley - from the Wray pamphlet.
back to the Clare Champion report on Commander Maurice Studdert's
is probable however that more will be heard of his latest camera which is now
sweeping the dollar market'
that big question - what do I feel about the provenence? My Wrayflex worked for
thirteen months without a single fault. The camera, though cushioned in my bag
received a pounding on corrugated dirt roads for thousands of kilometres. The
highest point of the journey was 5,180 metres / 15,995 feet. The coldest place
was minus 10C in the Andes mountains and the hottest and driest probably well
over 40C was in the Dasht-e-Lut Afghanistan - said to have the world's hottest
land surface . The most humid place was in tropical Bolivia where we experienced
heavy rain non-stop for twenty four hours.
back at the camera's reliability reminds me of my M6 Leicas which like the Wrayflex
Model l I am using are silky quiet and very positive when advancing the film.
'Incidentally my Wrayflex is number 94 off the original Wray production line and
truthfully I can say 'It's unbelievable
. It's so smooth it could be a Leica
must be the gearing'.
me the observable and written facts tend to lean towards the idea that the Uniflex
- Automat: Kleinbildkamera of Harry Göbel's 1947 drawings was originated
a look at the first two models. Outwardly they have brilliantly clean, uncluttered
German lines - almost Bauhaus clean. And they have the standard German thread
for a tripod mounting.
think I'll toss a coin and wait for some comments to come in from Germany.
Wrayflex-Welt - Die Kamera ist es Deutsch oder Britisch?
Photographica world - the Journal Of the Photographic Collectors Club oF
anyone with the urge to know more I suggest purchasing BMD certificates via Ancestry
and searching the T Force records in the National Archive, Kew
fascinating insight to the clandestine shenanigans in post-war Germany can be
found in T Force -The Forgotten heroes of 1945 / Sean Longden Constable
2017 for such an inspirational camera - also look out for Tom's classic work on
early SLRs Lutton's List [Web PDF download*]
Wade and Helen Pearson [Maurice Studdert's daughter] for the picture of Commander
Wade for his book The Wrayflex Story [published2008] - It's still in Print
 and available from Amazon UK or via John's website johnwade.org
Reid camera of 1953 looks like a Leica and apart from the name and manufacture
it is a Leica - so much so it was known as the 'British Leica'. In this advertisment
in the 1959 British Journal of Photography Almanac the German origin is not mentioned
and like the Wrayflex it was presented as British
Reid lll resembled the German built Leica llla of the mid to late 1930s and was
made by Reid & Sigrist Ltd in Leicester, England
started in about 1947 or much the same time as the Wrayflex was in gestation in
Bromley and the first Reid was not on the public market until about 1951.
Reid lll was based on designs and patents seized by the Allies after WWll and
it's production was backed by orders from the British Ministry of Defence. MOD
models were marked WD and a vertical arrow.
many years the perceived wisdom was that 'the armed forces needed a 'Leica-quality
camera' so Reid & Sigrist were requested to build one. Reid & Sigrist
had a background of defence work.
looking back to the original Leica llla, the pre-WWll German production had been
in the order of 92,500 so there should have been plenty around on the used / s/h
/ military requisition / market.
Reid lll was lovely camera and it came with a splendid Taylor Taylor Hobson lens,
yet only 1600 were made and production of all Reids including a simplified model
ceased in 1964.
what shenanigans - defence contracts and seized patents then a British patent
in 1953...... phut.
.....a Reid lll in superb working condition is running at almost 3K GBP 
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