A SECRET collection of films that has been hidden away for decades has unexpectedly come to light as part of an art project in Maryport.
Only two films that feature the city are believed to exist in public records, which makes the discovery even more exciting.
The reels were discovered after Cumbrian filmmaker John Hamlett was commissioned by Allerdale Council to produce an oral history film capturing memories of Maryport’s town center and shops in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
It is part of the Maryport Heritage Action Zone project, a £1.2million program funded by Historic England to reinvigorate the city’s high street.
It was while John was interviewing local residents that one of them suddenly suggested that he might like to take a look at some old family motion pictures, shot in the 1930s.
At first glance, John realized he had discovered a glorious journey into West Cumbria’s past.
Showing the drama of Maryport’s coastline and the carnivals, shopping and family entertainment of the past, the films are a fabulous journey through time.
There are also films capturing the thrills and spills of a day at Workington Speedway and the adrenaline-pumping races at Braithwaite sports.
“I had made many contacts in Maryport, often going door to door, to track down some of the older residents of the city,” John said. “I wanted to find memories and photos going back to the war and beyond.
“I had filmed in homes in Maryport, Downstreet, Grasslot, Ewanrigg and Netherton, capturing simple but wonderful stories of daily life, as well as memories of historic events like the night in 1940 when Maryport was bombed.
“I had spent a lovely sunny morning chatting with Peter Greggains, who owned the Curzon Street garage with his cousin Norman, over a cup of coffee at his kitchen table.
“Just before leaving, I was surprised when Peter’s wife, Gillian, mentioned some old home movies she had and said they might be worth watching.
“They turned out to be an unimaginable treasure. The only films I knew of were a 1980s documentary, popular on YouTube, and a short film of the new lifeboat ceremony in 1934, which was kept at the North West Film Archive in Manchester.
The archive of old footage had been shot by Gillian’s cousin’s grandfather, DW McVitie, in the mid-1930s.
Motion picture reels captured the same lifeboat ceremony, circus visit town, harbor, bowling club, 1934 carnival and more.
DW McVitie had been a chemist in the town and many people will still remember his shop at 73 Senhouse Street.
John adds: “With the blessing of the family and the help of project funds, I was granted permission to collect the films from Gillian’s cousin in Leeds and have them professionally scanned in high definition, before finally depositing the old celluloid reels in the North West Manchester Metropolitan University Film Archive, where they can be kept in perpetuity in their air-conditioned vault.
Cllr Mike Johnson, Leader of Allerdale Borough Council, added: ‘What a find! We are delighted to find these old classic memories and our thanks go to Gillian and her family for allowing us to use them.
“We hope they will be enjoyed everywhere and bring people to Allerdale to experience the towns and their attractions as they are today.”
Working with the digital footage, John has now edited eight different short films which have been shared online on the council’s YouTube channel.
Plus, an hour-long oral history heritage film will paint a vivid picture of Maryport’s past, illustrated with photographs, maps and old films. This will be visible in the coming months.