Mr Volter’s Films

Oulton carnival on the Croft Field, 1948.

The three films in this section were made by Paul John Francis Phillip Volter who ran a chemist’s shop on Aberford Road in Oulton from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The films show village scenes in a period from just before the end of the Second World War to 1950 when most married women stayed at home and their husbands worked locally at Water Haigh Colliery and Bentley’s brewery, or slightly further afield at places like the Yorkshire Copper Works and engineering firms in Leeds. In an era before television took hold and when very few families owned a car there was much social activity in the area with many people taking part in sports and other societies.

Paul J.F.P. Voelter was born in 1903 in Leeds. His father was a Catholic German immigrant from the Wurttemberg region and had married his landlady, Annie Newell, who was a costumier and the daughter of a soap and oil merchant.

In the 1901 census Paul Julius Ernst Voelter was described as a foreign correspondent but later became a chemist’s sundries man bringing up four daughters and his son “over the shop” on Rockingham Street close to the first Jewish synagogue in Leeds. The street was later pulled down to make way for the Merrion Centre.

Paul J.F.P. Voelter first came to the Rothwell area in the 1920s where he worked for John Elstob who had a chemist’s shop on Commercial Street. He had qualified as a dispensing pharmacist and was also able to treat sick animals and give injections to “put down” domestic pets. He moved to set up his own business in Oulton in about 1930. Later in life Mr. Volter, as he was usually known, dropped the E from the middle of his name, although it had been engraved on the sign in front of his shop window.

In 1931, at St Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds, he married Annie Keelty, the daughter of a fruiterer from an Irish Catholic family which had settled in Hull. Their only daughter, Margaret, was born in 1934.

They lived initially next to the shop but then moved to Oakwood, a large house near the top of Park Lane in Rothwell, probably bought from the proceeds of a family inheritance. One of the film sequences shows the house, its garden and greenhouse, with what appears to be Margaret Volter’s grandparents from both sides of the family. 

After the Second World War Mr. Volter was president of the local badminton club and also a member of the rifle club which had a range in the grounds of Oulton Hall and took part in Leeds and district tournaments. He was also an accomplished stills photographer and his photos were used to illustrate Rothwell Urban District Council’s official guide book.

Many of Mr. Volter’s prescriptions came from Dr. Charles Heywood Seville who lived just across the road from the pharmacy at Oulton House where he held his surgeries. Some of the home visits were made by his assistant, “Doctor” Garnet Midgley, who, rumour has it, was not fully qualified because he had failed his examinations. He was the son of a farmer and sanitary inspector from Cawthorne near Barnsley. Before the First World War he was a butcher with his brother in Sheffield.

Midgley was, by all accounts, something of a colourful character, and would take surgeries and deliver prescriptions to patients. He was the part owner of a race horse called North or Neopolitan Star and would hold up patients in the waiting room until late in the evening while he talked racing with fellow enthusiasts. One resident says he used to start a conversation with: “Have you done anything lately,” meaning: “Have you backed any winners?” In 1944 he was named in a divorce case brought against his wife by a railway guard who lived on North Lane.

In 1958 Margaret Volter married Robert Morison and they had two children, Kathleen and Neil. Tragically Margaret died after a measles infection at the age of 30. Mr. Volter had a marble statue of the Virgin Mary erected in her honour in the grounds of  St Mary’s Church in Rothwell. He died in 1968 “of a broken heart” following the death of his beloved daughter, and the decision of his son-in-law to emigrate with the children to Australia in 1965.  

Box containing one of John Paul Volter’s 8mm Kodascope cine films.

The first of Mr. Volter’s films was shot in black and white towards the end of the Second World War. It shows Oulton village scenes and the Volter family. The second, in colour, shows the British Legion carnival in Oulton in 1948. The third, also in colour, was shot in the summer of 1950. It shows an outing by the Oulton Badminton Club to well known Yorkshire landmarks.

All of the films were properly edited and the third even has home made captions. Volter gave public screenings of the films at social gatherings and village events, including at the Harold Hall in Oulton and the Parish Hall in Woodlesford.

Before he died Mr. Volter entrusted the films to civil servant Allan Pearce who lived on Willow Square. He had shown an interest in making home movies himself and used the chemist’s services to have his own films processed. He too showed them to invited guests at his home. With the advent of VHS video recording in the 1980s a copy of the films was made by another local man, Tom Woolford, and subsequently that tape has been copied to DVD discs.

After Allan Pearce died the original 8 mm cine films were handed down to his daughter Diane Armitage who, as a child, featured in the Oulton carnival film. For many years she kept them safe in their original boxes at her home near Peterborough recognising their potential as historical records.

In April 2012 they were deposited with the Yorkshire Film Archive where they will be conserved for future generations. Click on the link for each film on the left of this page where  there’s a more detailed description. If you can add any more detail please email: bensoh10@woodlesfordstation.co.uk

Statue of the Virgin Mary erected by Mr. Volter in memory of his daughter.