A unique collection of old films depicting life in Yorkshire seaside towns throughout the last century are to be screened at venues up and down the coast. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

ON the morning of December 16, 1914, warships of the Imperial German Navy’s High Sea Fleet opened fire on three east coast towns: Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool.

By 9.30am, the bombardment was over – but 135 people lay dead in the three towns, and more than 500 were seriously injured.

Hartlepool saw the largest loss of life: but it was the attack on Scarborough that most outraged the nation.

The roof and north-facing wall of Scarborough Castle had been blown out by German shells. The Grand Hotel, one of Scarborough’s most recognisable landmarks, was hit more than 30 times. The lighthouse was damaged, several other hotels and guesthouses were also struck, and the Esplanade area received several hits, damaging many shops and properties.

The worst tragedy occurred at No 2 Wykeham Street, however – a simple terraced house that was home to the Bennett family and several paying guests. The house received a direct hit and was blown apart. Four people in that one building were killed: Johanna Bennett, 58; Albert Bennett, 22; John Ward, ten; and George James Barnes, aged five.

There are many black and white photographs of the aftermath of that terrible bombardment. But there is more. The Yorkshire Film Archive actually has moving footage as well. It takes the form of grainy newsreel captured shortly after the bombardment.

York Press:

Still from 1914 film showing the aftermath of the Scarborough bombardment

The camera pans over shattered buildings, and streets lined with rubble. A large clock, apparently blown out of one building, stands listing forlornly in a street. Dazed people wander past, and children scrabble amongst the rubble. A panning shot takes in the lighthouse tower, with a great bite take out of its side.

It is all silent, of course. But the sense of outrage is clear from the simple headline that appears on screen, lettered in bright red, at the beginning of the film. "East Coast Shelled: The havoc caused by the German Warships in their raid on Scarborough, Whitby and West Hartlepool," it says.

The newsreel is part of an extraordinary collection of films held by the York-based film archive which depicts life on the Yorkshire coast over the last century.

Many were already part of its collection. Others have been digitised and added thanks to a partnership with the British Film Archive's 'Britain on Film' programme.

The Yorkshire collection covers almost the whole of the 20th century. There's footage of family outings; semi-professional travelogues; and professional TV documentaries made by the likes of naturalist Michael Clegg for Yorkshire Television in the 1980s.

One remarkable film from 1908 shows a group of men - known as 'climmers' - climbing down the sheer cliff-face at Bempton to gather bird eggs. They're dressed like Victorian fishermen in thick woollens, and have long loops of rope slung over their shoulders.

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Still from 1908 film The Egg Harvest showing climmers at Bempton

When they reach the cliff edge, one of them loops the rope around his waist, then abseils backwards over the cliff and is lowered down, feet kicking, until he reaches a level where the birds are nesting. Later footage shows the men sorting through the eggs and placing them carefully in wicker baskets.

Another film, Tunny in Action from 1933, shows a tuna fishing expedition off the Yorkshire coast. A small boats bobs on the swell far out to sea, and then a giant tuna is hooked. Footage shows it being pulled into the boat then hauled back to the expedition's mother ship, where it is hoisted up and weighed while the fishermen - they're sportsmen, really - pose beside it for the cameras. The tuna dwarfs them.

Fast forward to 1987, and Michael Clegg visits Bridlington to investigate the dangers of the stinging weeverfish for an episode of his Yorkshire television series Clegg's people entitled 'The Sting'.

The episode opens with a shot of holidaymakers paddling happily in the wter off the town's beach that pays deliberate homage to Stepven Spielberg's Jaws.

"When you go paddling in the sea on the East Coast it's not Jaws you have to worry about, it is spines," says Clegg in a voiceover. "The spines of this little fella, the lesser weever."

He holds up a tiny, inoffensive-looking fish that resembles a stickleback. "These are the spines that get you in the soles of the feet. Weever and chips hasn't taken on as yet, but there has to be a way of getting your own back..."

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Michael Clegg with a weever fish in this still from 1987's The Sting

You can see all of these films for yourself on the Yorkshire Film Archive website at http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com

But there's nothing quite like seeing them on a big screen, with an audience sitting around you reacting with you to what you're all watching together. "Watching them collectively with other people is part of the experience," says Graham Relton, the film archive's manager.

So now the Yorkshire Film Archive has launched a new programme - Moving North: Coastal - in which it will be bringing a selection of its old films about the Yorkshire coast out to the people of the Yorkshire coast.

The programme kicks off on August 10 with a screening of old films about Scarborough at Scarborough Art Gallery.

Other dates will include Bridlington's Spotlight Theatre on September 6, open-air showings in Staithes on September 8 and 9; and a screening at Saltburn Arts in Saltburn on October 1 (see panel below).

There's no way the film archive will be able to show its entire collections at each venue - so films will be selected that are relevant to each area. They'll be introduced, and there will also be a chance to discuss and ask questions. Archivists are also hoping audiences will be able to provide information about some of the films - and maybe even recognise people in them.

he auditoria will be deliberately kept a bit lighten than at normal cinema screenings, to encourage audience members to be aware of each-other and to comment on the film. "We want people to be able to say 'Oh, I used to go there!' or even 'that's me!'" says Graham.

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Graham Relton

There will be a real diversity of films on show at each location, adds Yorkshire Film Archive director Sue Howard.

"People will recognise familiar places, and sometimes faces – family members or well-known local characters fleetingly captured on film all those years ago.  But it isn’t all about the fun and frolics of the seaside holiday; a lot of the films show a different side of life, the challenges for small fishing communities, the sheer force of nature that lifeboat crews face, the impact – good and less good – of mass tourism.  But whatever the subject, all of these films are absolute gems, they are about the places we know and love, and it’s such a pleasure to have the opportunity to bring them back to the communities in which they were made."


You can watch Yorkshire Film Archive films free online at yorkshirefilmarchive.com. If you want to watch some of the Yorkshire coast films, just type the name of the town or village you're interested in - whether Scarborough, Whitby, Bridlington, Flamborough, Staithes or Saltburn - in the search box, and it will bring up all the films related to that part of the coast

Alternatively, you can attend one of the community screenings that will be held in towns and villages along the Yorkshire coast over the next few weeks. Here are details of some of the upcoming Moving North: Coastal screenings. More dates are still to be added...

  • Scarborough Art Gallery, The Crescent, Scarborough, August 10, 2.20pm and 6.30pm

The Yorkshire Film Archive takes you on a journey through time revealing the rich film heritage of our Yorkshire coastline, with Scarborough centre stage.

Using amateur and home movies, travelogues and regional TV productions, we’ll reveal the stories of our coastal communities, from the familiar fish and chips to the less known industry of piano making at Waddington’s factory in the 1930s, from First World War shelling to fun and family frolics on the beach, and a packed Spa as a legion of fans say a fond farewell to Scarborough favourite Max Jaffa in 1986.

With the castle and harbour a familiar backdrop, you’re bound to recognise familiar faces and places, and who knows, perhaps you might even spot family or friends fleetingly captured on film, and now revealed once more as Moving North: Coastal comes to Scarborough.

Tickets £3 from scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/event/

  • Spotlight Theatre, Bridlington, September 6, 2.30pm and 7pm

Everything from early images of egg harvesting on the cliffs at Bempton to a Yorkshire TV documentary about the country’s most poisonous fish presented by Michael Clegg. plus life boats and lobster fishing, wartime activities and pleasure cruises Tickets £7 from www.spotlighttheatrebrid.co.uk or 01262 678258

  • Staithes, September 8 and 9 - evening open air screenings as part of the annual Staithes Festival

After dark bring your blankets and deck chairs to Kipper’s Corner for our own Cinema Paradiso - the popular outdoor picture show projected onto the gable wall. The centre piece of this year’s show will be a compilation of Staithes footage curated by the Yorkshire Film Archive

  • Saltburn Arts, Albion Terrace, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, October 1, 2pm

Films cover everything from the iconic structures of the Saltburn Pier and Halfpenny Bridge to the end of an era at the last shift at the North Skelton iron ore mine in Cleveland. Watch motorbikes and motorcars being put through their paces on the sand at Redcar alongside family frolics during the classic seaside holiday.

Tickets: http://saltburnarts.co.uk/


Have you got some old spools of 8mm or 16 mm film stashed away in the attic? It might be a family film you made years ago - or even footage taken by your parents or grandparents.

If so, the Yorkshire Film Archive (YFI), based in a building at York St John University, would like to hear from you. It can't take everything - the YFI is a charity, and it doesn't have the space or the resources for that. But unless it's archivists see old film, they don't know whether it's something they'd like to keep and preserve.

If you do have film you think might be of interest, contact the YFI on 01904 876387 or at yfa@yorksj.ac.uk