Watch the forgotten stories of the Cotswolds
- Credit: Archant
The BFI has launched Britain on Film, a new project that reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from the key film and TV archives of the UK, including around the Cotswold area. We’ve compiled the best videos that provide an entertaining and insightful glimpse into the past of this beautiful region of England.
Are you a “discerning tourist” out for some “unsurpassed delight”? Then come on a journey through the north of the West Country; Cheddar Gorge, Cheltenham, Tewksbury and other hot spots along the routes of the film’s sponsor, The Great Western Railway. While the film boats some beautiful stencil colour, sadly time has not been kind to this surviving copy, which is also incomplete.
We’ll probably never know what brought Mike Wilson, Gloucester’s budget answer to Evel Knievel, to the attention of ATV Today, but reporter David Eggleton has made the long journey from Birmingham to see him and was presumably expecting something spectacular. It’s not just jumping on a bike and going over a plank, you know.
Look up the words idyllic or pastoral in the dictionary and this film should be there as a definition. The Cotswolds’ wool trade built some great fortunes and splendid villages, with few as charming as Chipping Campden. The biggest contrast with today is the lack of tourists, but with the country racked by the Great Depression in the ‘30s this bucolic bubble was ready to burst.
Archibald Collins tells Mike Prince of ATV Today how life has changed since he became Tewkesbury’s lock keeper in 1928. As he reaches the grand age of eighty, and after almost forty years of hard graft - including rescuing people from flood water, the long hours are finally taking their toll on Archie. The humble lock keeper, who only has his pet goose, Gussy, for company, has decided to retire.
ATV Today reporter David Lloyd ventures into a rocker cafe in Cheltenham to find out what caused a punch-up between the ‘greasers’ and their sworn rivals the mods. He then talks to some local ‘faces’ about the mod set-up. Rockers kicking over a mod scooter is one thing, but when the local policeman shows the weapons seized it all becomes much more serious. Into this tense atmosphere come the Rolling Stones seen briefly in their limousine heading towards a concert at the local Odeon.
Fred Archer, who died in 1999, was an author and local historian with a fascination for the agricultural life of the Vale of Evesham. He lived at Ashton under Hill in Worcestershire and in this film takes ATV Today reporter Gwyn Richards up his beloved Bredon Hill where he talks about the changes in his village which have taken place during his lifetime, a lifetime that has spanned the “horse age to the machine age”.
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This short film broadcast by ATV in the Midlands begins in Broadway, a Worcestershire village, overlooked by its distinctive tower which has been a cultural hotspot since the nineteenth century when it hosted an artistic community led by the American writer Henry James. Later we visit Chipping Campden, which had a less welcome American cultural connection in the 1940s when a bid by a visiting tourist came close to seeing the purchase and export of the medieval Market Hall.
Gorgeous footage of a sun-dappled River Avon, photographed from a moving boat, sets the scene for this gentle cinematic meander around Shakespeare’s Stratford. Lensed by Cecil Hepworth, one of British filmmaking’s foremost pioneers, it features the leisurely extended shots and slow fades between scenes that were his trademark. A charming vintage travelogue evoking a peaceful world of long ago. While a cursory glance at this film might suggest that the Stratford of Hepworth’s day was unspoilt by the crass forces of commerce and modernity, closer scrutiny reveals that the tourist machine was at work even then. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the Tudor house next to the Garrick Inn has been gaudily renamed the ‘Shakespearean Souvenir Depot’.
The star attraction of Stratford’s annual Mop Fair was the spectacular oxen spit-roast, a meaty marvel which rather hogs the limelight in this Gaumont Graphic newsreel. The cameraman was clearly mesmerised by the spinning steaming meat, expertly carved and plated-up for a hungry crowd. Vegetarians might prefer the final shot of punters enjoying traditional rides in the tightly-packed town centre. Dating back to the 1300s, the ‘Mop’ was originally a hiring fair, where farm-hands and domestic labourers could look for work. Now a typical funfair and a beloved Midlands tradition, it continues to attract a thronging crowd to Stratford each year around the 12th of October.
With a history dating back to 1299, the Alcester Court Leet have a proud tradition of civic duty in the Warwickshire town. One of their ceremonial functions is to test beer in all the local pubs - a function that the ale tasters take on with relish as they reveal to ATV Today’s Tony Maycock over a pint in the Royal Oak.
If you can’t buy it, why not grow it yourself? If you’ve too much, then why not sell at the village produce stall? With WWII in full swing and many foods rationed, the Village Produce Association comes into its own in this film shot in the Cotswold village of Somerton, Oxfordshire. There’s even a role for the children in bringing up the rabbits for food too!
Did you know that the healing properties of Bath’s thermal waters were discovered by chance in the 8th century? A pig, who had contracted leprosy from Prince Bladud, (a prince-turned swineherd), was miraculously cured after taking a dip in a steaming swamp on the outskirts of the city... Watch this travelogue to learn more about Bath’s legends and the city’s glorious architecture. The film’s remit was to entice tourists to England, and so it would have been mainly distributed overseas.
Memories of the past linger long in Southam. In 1960 its most noticeable feature was the constant flow of traffic through its ancient streets, but in the 17th century it was a completely different story. The first skirmishes of the English Civil War were fought here and at nearby Edgehill King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell battled it out in 1642.
A key example of the social issues film-making of the Britain’s famous 1930s Documentary Film Movement, consisting of two neatly intertwined stories ‘starring’ non-actors and based on their real life experience of establishing two social enterprises. Ruth Grierson directs the first, which follows a women’s group’s conversion of a barn into a community centre in South Cerney, Gloucestershire. The second, by Ralph Bond, observes unemployed coalminers as they build an occupational centre in Pentre, in the Rhondda Valley. Today We Live is also available on the BFI DVD collection Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950.
For more from BFI’s Britain On Film project, visit their website.