Cat no. 1315

Tuesday's Documentary: The English Village Is Alive And Well

Running time49:43 Sound c.1970 Peasenhall, Suffolk

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Village life in Peasenhall, Suffolk and the changes throughout the century.



The film begins with aerial shots of the countryside and of the village. The commentary describes the rural area of East Suffolk. There are general shots of the village and then interior scenes of the cottage Kate Mills shares with her son, Stephen. They sit at the table. Kate is 89, she thinks. She has lived in Peasenhall all of her life. There are stills contrasting the village in 1880 at the time of Kate's birth with the village as it appeared. Kate recalls her courtship with her husband. It started with a walk. She and Stephen recall that long walks were common. There is an exterior shot of St. Michael's Church, where Kate married.

There are shots of the derelict works of James Smyths, the drill works, and stills from the era when the works employed most of the village of 1000 people. This is twice the population of the present day. The area paid the lowest wages in England. Jane Paternoster cleans the Church and there are interior scenes of the Church. She talks about how she had to leave school early, despite winning a scholarship, because her father died and her family couldn't afford the uniform. She went into service. She recalls that in her first job she wasn't paid until the end of the year when she left. In her second job she earned ?1 3s 4d per week. She had to buy her uniforms out of that amount. She says that she was happy; there was nothing else to do.

The film recalls Peasenhall's only recorded murder. During a storm on the night of 31st May, 1902, during a storm, Rose Harper had her throat cut. She was eight months pregnant. William Gardener, a married man with whom she was suspected to have had an affair, was charged with her murder. The prosecution was dropped, but he was forced out of the village. A man who now lives in the cottage recalls those events that occurred when he was five years old. There are interior shots of the cottage. Kate Mills recalls the death and a variety of suicides in the area. You know what a village is ... tales start, she explains. Over a shot of the Church, the film discusses the contrasting attitudes to death of the young and old. Clarissa Mann is filmed walking through the graveyard. She was a laying out woman. She talks about her experiences and places flowers on a grave.There is a shot of the grave of Dr. John Lay and then a still. Kate Mills' husband was the gardener and handyman for Dr. Lay. He worked from 6 am to 8 pm. She has fond memories of the Doctor. These include him amputating a finger in his surgery. She also recalls that people used to worry about not being able to pay the bill. Dr. Lay had the first car in the village. A vintage car is started and Kate Mills is taken for a drive through the countryside.

World War I had a profound effect on the village. There are stills of the newspapers of the time accompanied by a popular song. Old men leave their cottages, reminiscent of the way they must have left as young men. Gathering in the pub they explain that they had transport to Saxmundham when they left, but not when they came home. One man recalls a man who came home on crutches from Saxmundham Station. Barber's Adagio accompanies shots of the gravestones in the graveyard on a rainy day.The village decayed after the war. Smyths drill worked had to lose half of their workforce. Those that remained were on half time. William Wright recalls his Christmas week wage in 1933 as half a crown. Kate and Stephen Mills recall these days, including the means test.

Hubert Audrey is the local grave digger and coffin maker. He has inherited a family business and now works with his son Ralph and grandson David. They are filmed at work. Hubert recalls many tales from his days as a coffin maker, including having to crawl the length of the coffin to fasten the lid. He demonstrates for good effect.Ralph Rodwell, the blacksmith has also inherited a family business. There are interior scene of him at work. He mends agricultural machinery; he has never shod a horse.

There are scenes of a village Gymkana, although the commentary suggests that this is separate from the village. The band is from elsewhere. The Peasenhall band was a casualty of the Depression. Richard Simpson was its band master. He remembers the band. There are stills showing it marching through the main street in Peasenhall.Geoffrey and Russell Cole own Peasenhall Mill. This was a windmill but is now diesel powered. It is run as a sideline, their main income being derived from pig farming. They recall the windmill and how one of their family was killed by the sails. Archive film shows the windmill with sails turning. Geoffrey Cole reads a poem found in the family bible. There are interior scenes of the Chapel attended by Russell Cole. A lay preacher reads from the pulpit. The Vicar of Peasenhall and Rural Dean in the Reverend Jack Pickett. He also has a sideline in pig farming. He is filmed manoeuvring his pigs into a trailer. He explains how he was once accused of poaching. Victor Johnson, a former poacher, and Lloyd Barker, a former gamekeeper, share their views of each other. Johnson thinks all gamekeepers are 'on the take.' Barker emphases that they have to be honest. He also recalls the dangers of the job.

Over aerial shots of the village, the commentary recalls that World War II had less impact on the village, although a stray bomb destabilised the Church. Post-war there were changes to the landscape to accommodate larger machinery. Less labour was need. Christopher Green features as the epitome of the modern farmer. He drives up in his sports car. His company owns ?300,000 of land alone, as well as a chicken farm and processing and packing factory. They are about to launch a vegetable packing plant on the site of Smyth's drill works. He talks about the price of land and the change in crops. There are interior scenes of the chicken sheds. Here there are 84,000 chickens looked after by two men. One of these, Reggie Friend, is filmed at work. Men arrive to collect chickens and pack them into crates on a lorry. Their life is just seven weeks long. There are also scene of the vegetable packing plant, where 50 - 60 people will be employed. The workers are almost exclusively women.There are interior scenes of lessons in the village school. This has a rising role as the birth rate rises in the village. The commentary questions whether they will want to remain to become vegetable pre-packers.

There are shots of a lecture in drama in the village hall for the Women's Institute. In the pub older men are singing a local folk song. There are scenes of the harvest, including a combine harvester and a bailer. Sounds of a harvest festival service accompany pictures of the fields following harvest. At the recreation ground, the film records a recent addition to village life. The weekly grass track stockcar races. Many of the competitors are local. Those filmed arriving include Mr. Morgan from Yoxford and Mr. Wingett from Peasenhall Garage. There are scenes of the racing during which one car overturns. The film finishes with Kate Mills saying, I'd go through it all again.

Featured People:

David Aubrey, coffin maker; Dr. John Lay; Hubert Aubrey, coffin maker; Clarissa Mann, villager; Kate Mills; villager; Lloyd Barker, gamekeeper; Stephen Mills, villager; Geoffrey Cole, miller; Mr. Morgan, stockcar race; Russell Cole, miller; Jane Paternoster, villager; Reggie Friend, villager; Ralph Rodwell, blacksmith; William Gardener; Richard Simpson, former bandleader; Rose Harper; Mr. Wingett, stockcar racer; Victor Johnson, poacher; William Wright, villager; Christopher Green, farmer and businessman; The Rev. Jack Pickett, Vicar of Peasenhall and Rural Dean

Featured Organisations:

The Women's Institute; The Peasenhall Band

Featured Buildings:

St. Michael's Church, Peasenhall; Peasenhall Windmill


David Gerard

Mike Creffield; Ian Kennedy

Monica Mead

Robert Dougall; Clement Vallance

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