A Glimpse Of The Past – Week 43 : 2021

Languishing in the loft of several houses for over 70 years were a selection of cine films my grandfather and father shot. The films’ survival was probably down to being allowed to grow dusty in the recesses of these dark spaces rather than being repeatedly moved and their worth of retention debated. In fact I probably have the projector that can show these films but the wiring is also at least 70 years old and may make it a safety hazard.

Of the 52 cine films we found then 36 date back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. I was amazed by the quality and the fact my grandfather was an early adopter of technology. Some of the quality as well as composition are better than my father’s Super 8 cine films and I cringe to think of the several days of camcorder footage I took mainly of the daughters in the late 1990s and early Naughties. (Never let a man get on a steam train with a camcorder and an hour to kill is sound advice.)

My grandfather shot 16mm wide cine film and to get this converted to a digital format meant some hunting around to find a company to convert it. I found a one man band (plus part time assistant) operation in a three story one room per floor building in the market town of Otley. I never met the owner but rumour has it that he now frequently jets to Hawaii on what he charged for the work.

The whole exercise was in someways a leap into the dark as to what we’d find or if the films were even intact. What I got was moving footage of my parents as millennials, a lot of relatives I never knew or could recognise, wonderful old pre and post war cars all painted black, street scenes of places that seemed so empty and sedate by today’s standards and a level of dress that was so formal and smart (!) compared to how we all slob about today.

Ann Marie, my sister, by the company van

However, more illuminating and emotional was an insight into the lives lived. The looks people gave each other, the fun shared, the mutual affection or hierarchy. Who always took the lead when walking or came across as bossy, even without audio? The way they handled a toddler with affection and delight, the deference to the old and the emergence of the best china even for a cup of tea. I learned of my grand parents surprising devotion to Catholicism with the local priest going from Leeds to Bournemouth on holiday with them (and countless other photos). Any fervour for religion was never passed down the family and we have no connection today. The Christmas lunch setting that now seemed so sparing compared to how our tables groan with food and decorations nowadays. The number of folk who smoked: a classic way to relax and often a shared pleasure between members of the family. Lastly my thoughts migrating from how they all appeared here to how they eventually became when I knew them and, in the case of my grandparents, I only knew them as old people with much of that mobility and energy gone.

Two sets of paternal great grand parents with my mother on the top step and my paternal grandmother sat down

One of the major projects now is to identify all the people in the cine films. There’s no audio and neither is there a lot of identification of people and places on the boxes or tins. Some, I or my sister Ann Marie, know. Some seem obvious when say, you have a mother with a child ie. the child belongs to her and it’s male etc. A lot has been found by Anna, the Queen of ancestry.com, who has followed lineages to build a magnificent ‘tree’ of both sides of my family. In the cines you can eliminate people by the date of the cine film and what age people were or, sadly dead, by then. 

In addition to the cine footage was the small matter of 1,500 still photographs. All black and white and many featuring the people in the cine films. These are the images in this blog. Most are family scenes but there are many holiday snaps including the beach hut on the front at Bournemouth. I actually cycled within feet of this on my saunter along the front with Martin and Tony in early September on our bicycles. How lovely it would have been to stop at the hut and talk with the current occupants about it’s history of 70 years ago.

Grandmother with her watchful grand daughter at Hut 729.

Some of the shots are of dramatic ships and aeroplanes.

The Queen Mary (and a seaplane, note the one circling above)

We have an ambition is to try and contact some of the relatives of these people to share these films. I expect many are scattered across the globe and have tenuous connections to my family. However, this is a history that is unrepeatable and a wonderful insight.

1 thought on “A Glimpse Of The Past – Week 43 : 2021

  1. You have inspired me to restart my project to digitize some-40+ photo albums dating back to the 30s that are now in my father’s posession. I want to digitize and ID the people in them while there are still people alive who know them. Thanks for sharing the pictures and the story

    Liked by 1 person

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