In 1883, Bradford businessman Joseph Riley bought a Magic Lantern for his two eldest sons, Herbert and William. Originally developed in the 16th century, the Magic Lantern was a device that projected images from painted or photographed slides, often used for both educational and entertainment purposes. It was the latter that the Rileys had in mind, and they used their machine to put on public shows in aid of a local children’s charity.

This led Joseph Riley to set up a lantern slide business as part of his existing company, Riley Brothers, run with his brother Sam. Herbert and William ran the business, which saw them selling and renting magic lantern slides and equipment out of their base at 55 & 57 Godwin Street. The Rileys’ interest in the Magic Lantern, an early precursor to moving picture presentation, foretold their later involvement in the emerging art of cinematography.