Cat no. 328

This Was England

Running time20:07 Black & White Sound 1936 Suffolk

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A history of farming and some countryside skills still in use.

Genre:

AgricultureDocumentaryWomen's Filmmaking

The titles of the film are shown over a map of East Anglia that is a recurring feature of the film. Each section begins with a caption shown over this map. We see pictures of the sea at Dunwich and of ruined buildings, including cottages and a church. The film repeats the legend that the bells of the ruined churches beneath the sea can be heard on a winters' evening. The commentary uses the analogy of the tide to compare with the tide of trade and business. Over agricultural shots showing a farmer bringing in his sheep and a tractor and plough, the commentary explains that this second tide is ebbing away and leaving behind the ruins of a Suffolk that was once the richest part of England. After these introductory pictures the film begins its main task of tracing the historical origins of farming and countryside skills still in use.

The first of these, dating from prehistoric times, is flint mining and flint knapping. At a flint quarry at Lingheath Common we see 'Pony' Ashley mining for flints. In Brandon, a flint knapper, George Edwards, is shown at work. He cuts rounded flints for building and gun flints to be sent abroad for use in flintlock pistols and muskets that are still in use in the third world. After a shot of St. Peter's Church, Theberton illustrates the building usage of flints.

The next sequence illustrates a skill taken from the early Britons, that of brush drainage. This sequence is introduced by Mr. Flloyd Peecock, of Wood Farm, Sibton. His farm workers are shown marking out the course of the drain and then digging it out, which is done by hand. They lay clay pipes where the drain runs into the ditch and then lay the brushwood in the trench. They re-fill the drain, the brushwood holding up the earth and preventing the drain from becoming clogged.

The Romans introduced the skill of making silage, the topic of the next sequence. Green crops are cut by a tractor driven reaper, carted away in a tumbrill and emptied into a hole dug in the ground. When the green crops are piled above the hole, described in the commentary as a half buried haystack, they are earthed up. By winter they have become brown, like chewing tobacco, and can be cut by the slice and fed to cattle.

The Anglo-Saxons are credited in the film with introducing broadcast sowing into Britain. Mr. William Aldred, described as being over 80, explains his skill to the camera. He can cover 10 acres of land with 10 pints of seed. He also explains his early career. He was a seaman and was shipwrecked three times. He fills his box with seed and then illustrates double handed broadcast sewing.

Mole catching is attributed to the Middle Ages. A mole catcher, Old Brushey Whincop, is seen at work on the Sibton Abbey Estate. He lays a trap, removes a mole from a sprung trap and pegs the dead creature up on a wire fence. The camera reveals moles pegged along the length of the fence.

The next sequence concerns a visit to a sawpit in Walpole. This skill is attributed to Tudor England in the commentary although the captions use the term The Elizabethans. At the sawpit George Aldridge, top sawyer, and William Quinton saw a tree trunk in half length ways.

The eighteenth-century sequence involves thatching and shows Ebenezer Joshua Rackham and his sons re-thatching a cottage roof. They carry up the straw, put it into place and the peg it down. In his speech to the camera, Mr. Rackham explains that the roof was thatched by himself and his father 36 years previously.The nineteenth century contribution to modern Suffolk farming was artificially powered machinery. A steam powered portable threshing machine is filmed working on a farm near Leiston.

The twentieth-century contribution is depicted as more advanced machinery. A gyrotiller is shown at work, made by Fowler of Leeds. The film ends with scenes of a horse-drawn plough. This scene is taken directly from an earlier Mary Field film, 'Farming in Winter'.

Notes:

'This Was England' was first shown on 7th September, 1937 at the Regent Cinema, Ipswich. 'Pony' Ashley was the last flint miner to work on Lingheath common. He worked until the late 1930s, when he was over 80. The flint knapper at work is Mr. George Edwards of Brandon. Mr. Herbert Edwards features in other Archive films. The double-handed broadcast sower is William Aldred, of Sibton. Reports of his age vary from 77 to 89 years of age. When he went to see the premier of the film in Ipswich it was the first film he had ever seen. He said after the film that he liked it wonderful well and told a reporter from the East Anglian Daily Times that he was going to Norwich on Monday to see the film again. Mr. Aldred was the last person in the country to practise this method of sowing.The mole catcher is Old Brushey Whincop. Described as the last of the mole catchers, he was a gamekeeper on the Sibton Abbey estate. He died some months before the film was released.In 1947, the sawpit at Walpole was filled in. As recently as 1980 it was being used as a builder's yard. Mary Field had been a teacher of history. She championed the cause of educational films and in 1951 was involved in the foundation of the Children's' Film Foundation. In 1933 the Gaumont-British Picture Company formed two subsidiary companies, Gaumont-British Equipment and Gaumont-British Instructional. This was designed to be a double attack on the scarcity of films and equipment in schools at that time.

Featured People:

Mr. William Aldred, sower; Mr. George Edwards, flint knapper; George Aldridge, sawyer; Mr. Flloyd Peecock, farmer; George Quinton, sawyer; Ebenezer Joshua Rackham, thatcher; 'Pony' Ashley, flint miner; Old Brushey Whincop, mole catcher

Featured Buildings:

St. Peter's Church, Theberton

Gaumont-British Instructional Ltd.

Mary Field

George W. Pocknall; Frank A. Bundy

W.F. Elliott

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