The history of Ilford Limited goes back to 1879 when Alfred Harman started business in a very modest way as one of the earliest manufacturers of photographic dry plates. his original "factory" was the basement of his own house in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, where his staff consisted of two men and three boys with assistance at busy times from his wife and his housekeeper. Harman marketed his plates through Marion & Co. Ltd., of Soho Square under the name of "Britannia" plates and demand was such that he very soon moved to a cottage on the Clyde Estate which became the emulsion-making department and a terrace of three-storeyed houses, facing the River Roding, which was converted into a plate-coating department and warehouse. By 1883 further expansion took place with the building of a "new factory" on the same site. In 1886 Harman, after a disagreement with Marion's, decided to make his own marketing arrangements and traded as the "Britannia Works Company". However, he was forced by a legal action to drop the name of "Britannia" for his plates and chose instead "Ilford".
In view of its increasing success, the business was converted into a private limited liability company in 1891 and this in turn became, in 1898, a public company with a captial of £380,000, the first Chairman becoming the Earl of Crawford, K.T., F.R.S. In 1900 the name was changed from the Britannia Works Co. Ltd to Ilford Limited.
In 1906, when Major-General Sir Ivor Phillips, K.C.B., D.S.O., became Chairman, Ilford Limited was still a relatively small business employing less than 300 people, but under his able leadership, the rate of expansion increased and by the gradual acquisition of other old-established photographic manufacturing businesses, the production capacity of several important units was added to that of the original factory. This amalgamation of interests was closely connected with the formation in 1919 of SELO Ltd, a company jointly owned by Ilford Limited, Thomas Illingworth and Co. Ltd., Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd., Rajar Ltd., Paget Prize Plate Co. Ltd., and Marion and Co. Ltd. This remarkable co-operative venture was started with the object of manufacturing roll films on behalf of all six participants, thus securing for each the economic benefits of large-scale output, and production began at Brentwood in 1922.
In the meantime by 1918 Ilford Limited had acquired financial control of the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd., established in 1892, and with it the Gem Dry Plate Co. Ltd., controlled by Imperial since 1912. Thomas Illingworth & Co. Ltd., founded in 1890 also came under Ilford control in 1919. Next, in 1928, came the absorption of Amalgamated Photographic Manufacturers Ltd., formed in 1920 by the combination of Rajar Ltd., Paget Prize Plate Co. Ltd., and Marin & Co. Ltd., the original distributing agents for Ilford products. In 192 the firm of Wellington a& Ward Ltd. was also acquired. For a time, all these businesses maintained their separate identities, but during 1930/31, a complete reconstruction was undertaken and control became centralised in a single unified Ilford organisation.
During the 1930s a number of distribution centres were set up in different parts of the country and factories or branches were established in five European countries and in India and Australia. During the next 30 years, Ilford's Mobberley site began to concentrate on the manufacture of photographic paper. The large rolls of paper were transported to the Essex factory for cutting, packing and distribution.
In 1935 Ilford Ltd acquired an interest in Dufay-Chromex Ltd for whom it started to manufacture a reversal colour film of the additive type under the brand name Dufaycolor. Dufaycolor had previously (from 1932) been available in England only as 16mm & 9.5mm ciné film, but Ilford's expertise and finance enabled it to be marketed for still photography in 35mm, roll, sheet and film pack forms. Although processing was relatively simple (and instructions were published), Ilford offered a service for roll films.
Ilford came under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production at the outbreak of war in 1939 and post-1945 it didn't resume an interest in additive colour (prior to WW2, Ilford had already started R&D into subtractive colour).
In 1958 the company had frown to employ over 4,500 people in sites in the UK and abroad. The company is able to make all its own film base, i.e. the non-inflammable plastic on which the emulsions are coated. Before the war this film base had to be imported, either from America or Belgium, and meant expenditure of foreign currencies.
In 1969 Ciba acquires all of ICI's shares in Ilford, becoming sole owner of Ilford Limited. 1969 also sees the introduction of Cibrachrome colour reversal printing paper and chemistry, a product developed by Ciba Geigy Photochemie of Switzerland, based on the silver-dye-bleach principle originally proposed in 1905 by the Austrian Karl Schnitzel. Over the following years it was further developed by Ciba and Ilford into a world renowned 'industry standard' product for high permanence richly saturated prints from transparencies.
On 31st Dec 1969 Ilford ceased supply of the Ilfomatic 126 cameras and camera outfits, ending the sale of all Ilford's amateur camera products.
In the 1980s Ilford returned to the world of colour films (which they abandoned at the start of 1969) with the re-introduction of an Ilfochrome colour slide film, named Ifochrome 100. The 'Ilford Contact' system was announced, facilitating 'contact' printing 35 mounted 35mm colour slides onto a single 10"x8" sheet of Cibachrome. The system consisted of two plastic frames, one holding 20 slides and the other holding 15, plus a base unit which held the printing paper and also correctly aligned the frames above the paper. The paper was exposed through each frame in turn, the rows of slides in the two frames being offset, such that slides in the second frame priinted into the gap in the rows of slides in the first frame.
The decline of Ilford Limited began in the 1990s. In April 1996 Ilford announced it was moving its administration from London to Mobberley, though technical services, sales and marketing remained in London. Also, the trade counter remained at Tottenham Street, London. On 24th August 2004, Ilford Imaging (part of Ilford Anitec) collapses into administration. This is seen as due to the fall in black and white photography caused by the increase in digital photography. The company is saved from administration in 2005 by a management buy out, and continues to trade as Ilford Photo.
In 2011 Ilford announced a final production run of ILFOCHROME Classic in response to declining market demand attributed to the expanding popularity of digital image making. In May 2014 Ilford Imaging Europe GmbH established as a joint venture between Chugai Photo Chemical Co Ltd of Tokyo, Japan and CR Kennedy & Company Pty Ltd of Melbourne, Australia. Both partners have a combined history of 146 years in the photo industry and are committed to implementing long-term strategies for growth, with respect for the history and traditions of the Ilford brand. Ilford has for 135 years represented outstanding imaging quality; this will continue well into the future.