A collection of rare and previously unseen historical footage of coastal life in The South West of England has been made available for all to view on BFI Player as part of BFI’s Britain on Film: Coast and Sea national project via an interactive map.
Local highlights of the collection, that includes 600 films spanning 100 years, covers subjects including Conger Eel fishing, Australian lifeguards, flooding and leisure.
Filmed by professional filmmakers and amateur hobbyists alike, these fascinating glimpses into the past (many of which have never been available before) have been sourced and curated by the BFI National Archive along with regional and national film archives across the UK, including the South West Film & Television Archive (SWFTA), to offer the public the opportunity to witness past generations’ relationships with coastal Britain.
Robin Baker, head curator, BFI National Archive said: ‘Britain on Film has been a transformative project for the BFI and our partner archives. It has demonstrated that millions of people across the UK want to engage with their film heritageâ€Ž.
“Comprising over a century of filmmaking, Britain on Film has highlighted some of the lesser known films from our collections, some of which not even curators had seen before, and provided them with audiences that are often bigger than on their first release.
“There are over 600 newly added films, contextualised by curators, exploring lives led and holidays enjoyed around the UK coast. As such there are now even greater opportunities for people to while away hours watching and making discoveries about British film heritage.’
Jilly Payne, SWFTA programmes director added: ‘Britain on Film has been a truly interesting venture for our archive.
“It has enabled us not only to discover and share local stories but also to champion the lesser known filmmaker who was there to capture the moving heritage of the lives of ordinary or famous people.
“Communities, old and new, have been dependent on the coast and the sea for livelihood and leisure and the films portray the very heart of the people who live in the South West of England as well as its many and varied visitors.’
The BFI Britain on Film project is funded by the National Lottery with the support of the EsmÃ©e Fairbairn Foundation.
SOUTH WEST HIGHLIGHTS
The Blessing of the Sea Ceremony (1969)
Greeks have many religious ceremonies but the Blessing of the Waters or in this case the Blessing of the Sea Ceremony is practiced at Epiphany on January 6 and marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. Theophany is on 19 January in the Gregorian calendar and celebrates the appearance of God when, according to the Bible, Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This is celebrated by throwing a cross, which is retrieved, into any nearby body of water.
In modern times, Greek Christians have chosen to celebrate the ceremony on the feast of the Epiphany. For Christians Epiphany is celebrated following the Julian calendar as the visit of the three wise men or kings who bring gifts to Jesus in the manger and represents the realisation that Christ is the son of God. In the ceremony, the priest blesses the sea and prays for the safety of all who use and prosper from the sea. Young men compete to retrieve the church cross and receive a special blessing. The Theophany Waters are used to bless homes, fields and animals and also cleanse the world of the mischievous Kalikantzaroi, the evil goblins that try to torment God-fearing Christians during Christmastide.
The Brixham Trawler Race (1966)
The Brixham Trawler Race is an annual event and run for charity. Up to fifty fishing vessels are dressed with bunting before declaring their top speed. Small day fishing boats and crabbers set off first before the big beamers. Fishing boats come from Plymouth, Weymouth, Dartmouth and Exmouth as well as some from the North East and Scotland. Beam Trawlers from as far a field as Holland, Belgium and France have also joined the race.
The race takes place in June and celebrates a long fisheries tradition. The modern race began in 1963 and sees the boats set off with the large beam trawlers last to go at around eleven o’ clock. The race consists of two laps totalling fourteen miles from Berry Head to Hope’s Nose in Tor Bay. After crossing the line in a spectacular show of unity times are calculated. Each class has a first, second, third and prizes donated by sponsors and trophies are won. Barbeques and beers round off the day on Brixham’s quayside. Money raised goes to local charities including Brixham Fishermen’s Mission. The Brixham Heritage Regatta held in May is another Torbay race of traditional sailing trawlers.
Gladding at Watchet (1969)
TV reporter Clive Gunnell is on the beach at Watchet in Somerset looking for conger eels. Underneath craggy rocks and seaweed the conger eels await the rising tide of the Bristol Channel. Two men are gladding with dogs, keeping up an old tradition believed now to have died out altogether. Conger eel commercial values are relatively low and the use of terrier-type dogs to flush out the congers at low tide may also be to avoid being snapped at by the large fish.
Snake-like and almost prehistoric, the slate grey European conger eel Conger Conger is found in the northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea and is strong and good at hiding in eel pits. They can however be line-caught at sea or end up in trawler nets and some large specimens have been fished off the south coast of Devon and recorded at over ten feet long. Conger eels are sometimes used to make caldeirada, a Portuguese fish stew and French bouillabaisse with the spine and tail too bony to be used as fish steak. Watchet is on the Washford River and sits on the edge Exmoor National Park
The Minehead Butlins’ Beauty Pageant Contestants (1976)
Sir William Butlin or Sir Billy ran his holiday camps that he had started in the 1920s as family orientated including nightly entertainment, variety shows and beauty pageants. He introduced the famous Redcoats, a red blazer worn by frontline staff at the holiday camps and their duties included entertaining.
Sir William Butlin started out in his uncle’s travelling fair, by 1927 he opened a static fairground in Skegness, the first holiday camp Butlins opened in 1936 was in Ingoldmells. Followed by Clacton 1938, Filey 1945, Ayr & Pwlheli 1947, Mosney (Ireland) 1948, Bognor Regis 1960, Minehead 1962 and Barry Island 1966. Butlin also owned hotels including Blackpool, Saltdean and Cliftonville and two in the Bahamas, along with several other camps associated with the Butlins name.
Aussie Lifeguards at Watergate Bay (1963)
This report from 1963 by Terry Fleet, who plays the part of the rescued swimmer, highlights a small phenomenon. Australians Bob Head and Ian Tiley were two of four lifeguarding surfers patrolling the Newquay beaches that summer. Together with John Campbell and Warren Mitchell they had been lured to surfing in North Cornwall in April 1962. Surfers from California, South Africa and Australia heard about Atlantic surf breaks and Newquay appeared on the surfer’s map.
Modern surfboards from Malibu and Sydney came with the influx of world surfers and as local demand grew, surfboard manufacturers sprung up. Bob Head helped set up Bilbo surfboards in 1965 and the company is still going strong. The experience of these early surfers turned lifeguards proved invaluable and helped set the safety standards for pleasure seekers on British beaches. Bob and Ian explain the flag system, new safety signs, and are able to offer advice on tides, rip currents and local weather conditions. They have their boards handy for lifesaving and in their spare time hold surf demonstrations and coach. A helicopter rescue drill from nearby RAF St Mawgan shows how swimmers would be winched to safety.
The Lynmouth Flood Disaster (1952)
Torrential downpours on the on 15 and 16 August 1952 caused nine inches or twenty-three centimetres of rain to fall in twenty-four hours on saturated ground around Exmoor. The swollen rivers broke banks, debris blocked culverts and the water gushed uncontrollably towards the sea at Lynmouth sweeping away houses and causing widespread devastation to the town. In all thirty-four lives were lost. A memorial garden at Middleham was created between Lynmouth and Watersmeet.
The local photographer R.L. Knight took up a moving image camera from his photography shop in Barnstaple and filmed the immediate aftermath of this devastating flash flood over three days. The Rhenish Tower on Lynmouth quay was rebuilt in 1954 and a Flood Memorial Hall stands at the site of the old lifeboat station that was washed away. At the time there was no compelling satellite data to predict such freakish weather. The UK is prone to tropical storms coming off the Atlantic and improved meteorological forecast modelling, new flood warning and prevention schemes and hydrology modelling have helped mitigate some of the risk associated with natural disasters.
End-to-End in a Vintage Car (1962)
Students Charles Beresford, James Alexander and Peter Hyatt from Clifton College in Bristol are celebrating 100 years since the school’s foundation with a charity ride in a vintage Austin from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. The journey used to be completed by walking the 847 miles of road but in the 1920s the Motor Cycling Club held events which included cars and it was known as the End to End. End to enders photograph themselves at the famous signposts either end.
Clifton College is a public school in Bristol. The school was founded by Bristolian businessmen and the first buildings were designed by architect Charles Hansom. John Percival became its first head and he went on to become Bishop of Hereford. Former pupils include actor Trevor Howard, comedian John Cleese and our three intrepid enders! And the car, you ask? A 1929 Austin Clifton Tourer Heavy twelve-four bought second hand in 1936. Charles is still driving the car today with its original engine! They went from Bristol up to John o’ Groats and back via Bristol for a quick fix before arriving at Land’s End to be filmed!
Paddle Ski Innovator (1961)
There are many ways to take to the water in Devon and Cornwall with access to hosts of rivers, rias, creeks, estuaries, coves and beaches and a multitude of possibilities for entry into or onto any body of water but here the question is rather how are you going to take to the water? An innovator demonstrates his particular brand of watersport with a cross between water skiing and Stand Up Paddleboarding or SUP and launched perhaps just a few years before or indeed after its time.
Historically both paddle and surf boards originated from modes of travel in Polynesia and Hawaii. In 1926 a Hawaiian board restorer for Honolulu’s Bishop Museum, Thomas Edward Blake built a replica board and hollowed it out. Blake went on to win the 1928 Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship and set records not broken until the 1950s. At around the same time water skis were being developed after in 1922 Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota used a pair of boards, a clothesline and his brother in a boat to invent the new sport. Ralph went on to tour and teach water skiing in America. In recent years paddleboarding has become the fastest growing watersport. What next? A revival of the paddle ski? Learn to do the splits first!
BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) organisations with funds from the National Lottery and lead by Film Hub Central East (Broadway Cinema Nottingham) are staging an exciting nationwide programme of over 21 projects and nearly 200 screening events throughout the summer at coastal locations around the UK to help audiences connect with the rich diversity of our extensive coastline.
Full details of upcoming screenings and events can be found at: www.britainonfilmscreenings.org.uk
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