Face to face with the past

The British Film Institute’s Britain on Film Archive holds a number of amateur and professional films that feature the North York Moors and provide a treasure trove of 20th century cultural heritage. Each film is of its time – the sensibilities, the landscapes, the cars (or lack of them), the clothes – from a 1927 mediaeval pageant performed at Mount Grace and starring Sir Hugh and Lady Bell; to the Yorkshire Television documentary from 1985, The Unsleeping Eye, which went inside the RAF Fylingdales early warning station and couldn’t be more Cold War centric.

But many of the elements are also familiar – children playing on the beach, boys not wanting to dance, moorland sheep wandering across the road, the appeal of steam locomotives, and the unending desire to record moments in time.

The Yorkshire Moors 1950 features a mother and daughter, and two small dogs, exploring the moors and dales and ending up in Whitby where inevitably they count the 199 steps up to the church. There is presumably a husband/father behind the scenes taking charge as Director and Camera Operator. The North York Moors National Park was designated two years later and the landscape as seen was one of the main reasons for the designation. But its not all pretty scenery; for a few seconds there is a view of ‘disused iron ore mines’, which are probably near Skelton to the north of the present day National Park.


Staithes 1959 heavily features the village of Staithes and its cobble fishing as well as recording the wider countryside round about including the eroding alum industry remains along the cliff edges and shore line which have eroded a whole lot more since.

Without any sound or any intertitle cards the film maker’s motivation is left to the viewer’s imagination.


And then there is The Children of Eskdale made by Yorkshire Television in 1973. It’s a fly on the wall documentary about two generations of a farming family – the Raw family of Fryup Dale.  It’s about ordinary life in the early 1970s that happens to be on a farm in the North York Moors with all that entails. It comes with the low key reflection by John Raw on the dispatching of a couple of bantams “they come but they’ve got to go – that’s farming for you”.

The coldness of the winter landscape contrasts with the warmth and care that the family members have for each other. It ends with a understated act of familial kindness.


7 thoughts on “Face to face with the past

  1. The Yorkshire Moors one I’ve just watched. Many of the shots in the 1st half were taken in places now unrecognisable (almost) such as Mauley Cross. A couple of the other shots, such as one on the Whitby/pickering has the same bit of erosion as now. And the view across from the same road to Sneaton/Maybecks area only recognisable because of the long stretch of pines on the horizon, now hidden behind natural regeneration on adjacent moorland

    I’ll look at the others later.

    Incidently I have a short clip of Peat Cutting on the NYM at Glaisdale head, originally by a TV series narrated by Luke Casey – I think from a series called Dale’s Diary. Can you use it?

  2. The multi coloured window/frames were pretty much tradional pre 1960 and have gradually been replaced by universal white. I recently attended a parish council meeting in RHB where a new planning application for a window was discussed and agreed but only if it was’ “The traditional white”. As you can guess they were all rather younger and unable to recall the 1950’s/60’s

    I wonder what the park policy is to multi coloured windows?

  3. I wonder what the park policy is now towards the multi coloured window frames highly visible in the Staithes 1959 film, and widespread before the universal use of White??? You can still visit villages in Eire and find the same multi coloured widow frames.

    • Thanks very much for your interest David. You are absolutely right and we do try to encourage people to use a ‘two-tone’ colour scheme where appropriate in the National Park as it adds character and depth to the street scene and makes the windows look finer (narrower) as the eye separates the bulk of the frame from the window. A good recent example is Hillsover in Staithes
      where we provided grant and a ‘two-tone’ colour scheme has been utilised.

      Beth Davies
      Building Conservation Officer

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  6. I get a feeling of the Napoleon Chagnons around 49.20 on “The Children of Eskdale”!

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