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“Roundhay Garden Scene” recorded in 1888, is believed to be the oldest surviving film in existence

Ian Smith

“Roundhay Garden Scene” was recorded in 1888, directed by french inventor Louis Le Prince  and is believed to be the oldest known video footage to exist.

According to the son of the director, Adolphe Le Prince, the movie is at fourteen in October 1888 included in Oakwood Grange, the home of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

The film shows how Adolphe Le Prince, Sarah Whitley, Joseph Whitley and Harriet Hartley running around in the yard and laughing. Furthermore, we see that Sarah runs backwards when she turns around and that the slip of the coat of Joseph blowing up while he is on the turn.


In 1930, the National Science Museum (NSM), London, produced photographic copies of surviving parts from the 1888 filmstrip. This sequence was recorded on an 1885 Eastman Kodak paper base photographic film through Le Prince’s single-lens combi camera-projector. Le Prince’s son, Adolphe, stated that the Roundhay Garden movie was shot at 12 frames/s (and a second movie, Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge, at 20 frames/s), however the later digital remastered version of Roundhay Garden produced by the National Media Museum, Bradford, which contains 52 frames, runs at 24.64 frames/s, a modern cinematographic frame rate, so it plays in only 2.11 seconds. The National Science Museum copy has 20 frames; at 12 frames/s, this produces a run time of 1.66 seconds.

This historical film is surrounded by tragedy and mystery. At 24 in Oct. 1,888th, ten days after the shooting of the film, Sarah Whitley died, the mother of Le Prince who acted in the film, at the age of 72. She was buried on October 27 at St. John’s Church in Roundhay.

Louis  Le Prince has been heralded as the “Father of Cinematography” since 1930.A Frenchman who also worked in the United Kingdom and the United States, Le Prince conducted his ground-breaking work in 1888 in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.

Roundhay Garden Scene and a Leeds Bridge  were recorded several years before the work of competing inventors such as Auguste and Louis Lumière and Thomas Edison.

He was never able to perform a planned public demonstration in the United States because he mysteriously vanished on 16 September 1890, in the train between Dijon and Paris. His body and luggage were never found, but, over a century later, a police archive was found to contain a photograph of a drowned man who could have been him.Not long after Le Prince’s disappearance, Thomas Edison tried to take credit for the invention. But Le Prince’s widow and son, Adolphe, were keen to advance his cause as the inventor of cinematography. In 1898 Adolphe appeared as a witness for the defence in a court case brought by Edison against the American Mutoscope Company, claiming that Edison was the first and sole inventor of cinematography (and thus entitled to royalties for the use of the process). He was not allowed to present the two cameras as evidence (and so establish Le Prince’s prior claim as inventor) and eventually the court ruled in favour of Edison; a year later that ruling was overturned


In 1902, two years after son Adolphe Le Prince, also an actor in the film, a witness statement was made regarding the disappearance of his father, he was found shot in New York and death.

Ian Smith

Ian Smith is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News