It is incredibly difficult to write about Henry Jasper Redfern (1871-1928). Almost forgotten now, his curriculum vitae is almost too long:- optician, photographer, exhibitor, filmmaker, the proprietor of a photographic and lantern business, cinema pioneer, as well as being an x-ray and radiographic innovator.
On reflection, he was a jack-of-all trades, probably master of none, because his business undertakings often ended in financial failure.
Born in Sheffield, Redfern trained as an optician and opened a business on Surrey Street, later opening a photography shop nearby. However, he was more famous in the realms of cinematography, studying the form in its early stages, and became a forerunner in exhibiting moving pictures.
In 1898, Redfern was offering photographic supplies and instruction, Röntgen rays (X-rays), and exhibitions of the Lumière Cinématographe, for which he was one of a number of agents in Britain at this time.
Specialising in ‘locals’, films of interest around Sheffield, Redfern travelled around with Sheffield United during 1899, photographing at least four major matches, climaxing with the Cup Final at Crystal Palace, when Sheffield United played Derby. He entitled the series Football Events. He also filmed local cricket matches.
The following year he seems to have made a tour of Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria), making travelogues, and eventually went wholeheartedly into the moving picture business with his ‘World Renowned Animated Pictures and Refined Vaudeville Entertainments’.
These package shows eventually led to his owning and operating a seaside summer show at Westcliffe, ‘Jasper Redfern’s Palace by the Sea’, the ‘Grand Theatre of Varieties’ in Manchester, while also operating the Theatre Royal, Windsor, and the Public Hall in Barnsley.
Together with Frank Mottershaw, he made the first outdoor films in Sheffield, producing A Daylight Robbery in 1905.
In the same year, Redfern took over the lease of the Central Hall in Norfolk Street, built in 1899 for the Sheffield Workmen’s Mission. Here, he showed his own work, opening with ‘The Royal Visit to Sheffield in its Entirety.’
Redfern was also famous in x-ray work. In its infancy, he travelled from hospital to hospital around the country with portable apparatus, subsequently joining the Army during the Great War where his expertise was used to treat wounded soldiers.
Afterwards, Redfern was a radiologist at Grange Thorpe Hospital, Manchester, but had lost use of most of his fingers due to x-ray work. He died from cancer, thought to have been accelerated by the effects of radiation poisoning.
Redfern died in comparative poverty and obscurity, aged 56, leaving a widow and four children, and his collection of motion picture memorabilia was presented to the Science Museum.