Meeting and filming
men and women at work in the fields, workshops or homes
I was invited to the Merchant Ventures' College in Bristol
and I took Will Regan with me. After showing the film to the
students, they showed their appreciation by their applause. I
then told them that whilst they had met me and heard my commentary
and seen Will Regan, Master Craftsman on the screen - I wished
to introduce the Craftsman himself.
They called for him as only students can do and gave him a
standing ovation. It as an experience Will Regan never forgot.
Here were young men, who he had never met, showing their appreciation
of a craftsman and his craftsmanship.
Later, this film on 'Coopering', was selected to be shown
at the Scottish Film Festival in 1951.
Another film I produced gave me a lot of pleasure. It was
my film on Hand Loom Weaving. Many years go weaving was a cottage
industry in the North of England, especially in the countries
of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Climatic conditions made these counties
suitable for the craft of weaving, but, as a 'cottage craft',
I thought I would not find anyone in my local area. I found Miss
Kathleen Heron in a small place called Embsay near Skipton. She
devoted the whole of her time, using traditional methods, manufacturing
hand woven products. She worked on the top floor of an old barn
where she kept her looms. On the ground floor was the 'dye house
The wool she obtained from the local sheep. She combed the
wool, washed it, and spun it on a treadle wheel. She then dyed
the spun wool before commencing her weaving. Her dyes came from
plants growing in the fields near her home and from her own garden.
These vegetable dyes had been used in the area for centuries.
It had been recorded i. documents kept by the firm of Messrs.
Waddington, Crow. Point Dye Works, Leeds (Eat. 1798) that in
1848 a cloth was dyed in Yorkshire for Queen Victoria and had
been made into curtains for Windsor Castle. In 1888 a repeat
order was received from Her Majesty, with her comments that although
the curtains had adorned her apartments for forty years, they
had not faded.
The dyes used had come from the plants that Kathleen Heron
had now established in her own garden. She gathered lichen from
the limestone walls and, from her own garden she used wild mignonette.
The lichen dyes imparted to the material an odour which was pleasant
to both the weaver and the wearer of the finished garments. Kathleen
found it difficult to make red dyes and often she sent for supplies
of 'madder' from the chalk Downs of Southern England.
Before the wool was dyed, Kathleen boiled the wool in water
containing a mordant such as alum or iron sulphate. This allowed
the dye to take more evenly to the wool. Alum produced light
shades, especially when Cream of Tartar was added. Iron added
to the water tended to darken the colour. To vary the shades
of the dyes Kathleen would modify the mordants she used. After
the dyeing process the hanks of wool were hung up to dry.
Miss Heron had three looms. She preferred to produce dress
lengths and never duplicated her designs so preserving the characteristic
individuality of Hand Loom Weaving. I was able to record her
working in the peace and tranquillity of her home. She was only
able to work in the hours of daylight, for there was no gas or
electricity in her home, what light she had came from a small
In a cottage near Grassington I found Dick Eastwood. Dick
was a Besom Maker. He usually worked in the second storey of
his cottage, a room which had been used in the early textile
trade. In this room, Dick had stacked from floor to ceiling the
ling which he had gathered from the moors.
The ling (heather) he had pulled up by the roots and bundled
and carried back to his workroom. There it was stacked and dried
before shaping into the head of a sweeping brush, later a long
handle was secured. These strong durable brushes breathed the
very spirit of the moors which had given them birth.
Dick Eastwood would take the tufts of ling and beat them on
the ground to free the heather of its flowers and seeds. He would
then select an ash shaft and arranged the ling around it, place
it in a vice and then bind it round the ash handle. The binding
material was made from the annular rings from the base of an
ash tree. The ply, which came off the base of the tree, was then
cut with a very sharp knife into long lengths a quarter of an
inch thick. This spell, or 'bate' as Dick called it, was very
tough and he intricately wove it in and out of the bundle of
ling and fastened it to the brush haft. He was very cautious
about me filming this operation as the pattern of his weaving
was a closely guarded secret.
He took great pride in producing such a useful object from
an ash sapling, a bunch of ling and the base of an old ash tree.
My children, when they saw one of his brooms, immediately thought
of the Pendle witches who flew over Pendle Hill on their broom
Another visit to a country cottage took me to Preston where
the Slater family made oat cakes. Oat Cake Making was a craft
still practised by Mr and Mrs Slater. Mrs Slater would mix the
oats, like one would mix porridge, and then her husband would
take the mixture and skilfully measure enough of the paste to
'throw' a traditional oak cake. With a series of rollers over
a wide belt, Mr Slater poured the paste on the belt, pulled a
lever the belt would then move sharply forwards and backward
'throwing' the cake into an oval shape on to a tray.
When I was a boy, Oat Cake Men could be seen in the streets,
with a basket on their arm or a box on their head, delivering
cakes to their customers or selling their oat cakes in the street.
The cakes were often hung up over a string to dry, but it was
very nice to cover the soft cake with butter, or jam, or syrup
- roll them up and eat them.
And I so I continued to add to my collection of 'living history
. My records of Old English Crafts shows people working with
their hands, using simple tools; with my films I had recorded
the beginnings of Industry in England.
What follows is a synopsis of some of the films I produced
in my 'Old English Craft' series. Films which now have become
a talking point of may committees seeking to acquire these highly
acclaimed historical records. The connoisseurs, who recognise
the worth of my films, know that Sam Hanna has a ' Gold Mine'.
The sceptics prattle on in their ignorance like the early Burnley
Education Committee officials, who never expected that films
would ever be used in schools. These same people never thought
Man would ever go into space, let alone land on the Moon; no
doubt there are some people, even now, who still think the world
is flat. But, if autobiography is the poor man's history - then
years later, someone will no doubt look back on this time and
interpret my story according to the records as I have briefly
set it out.
My synopsis is of films I produced in my 'pioneering days'
I have filmed several other crafts - The Charcoal Burners
being one of the films most TV Companies have used in their programmes.
My latest film is - The Clock Maker and I still plan
to film another craftsman.
The Corn Dolly Maker - shows a farmer carrying out
a. ancient custom and craft at the end of the harvest season.
Whilst many of my films are 'silent', I did experiment successfully
with putting a sound track on a few of my films. The commentary
on this film tells the history of the craft that dates back to
We all use brushes, but few give little thought to their manufacture
or from whence the materials came. On my film The Brush Makers,
I was able to record a small workshop where three men had been
working together for sixty years, using simple hand tools, to
make all shapes and sizes of brushes.
The Sculptor - most people admire the work of a sculptor,
but few have little knowledge of the craft. The film shows the
Sculptor at work making, what he calls, - 'a portrait in bronze'.
Edith in Bronze
In my film on Rush Seating - it records a traditional
Lancashire ladder-back' chair having the seat attached from rushes.
A craft that has been revived by those who appreciate the comfort
and quality of such a chair.
Rush Seat Making
Hay Creels - I made this film on a high mountain pasture
where it was impossible for a farmer to take his horse and cart
to gather in the hay. The creel was a special piece of apparatus
and not only was I able to film it being used, but I recorded
the craftsman making a creel. The commentary describes the materia
Is of this simple piece of farm equipment which fulfils all the
principles of good design.
Salmon fishing in the rivers of the northern part of England
is often done with haffe-nets, where the fishermen are to be
seen wading in the river, often up to the waist in water, using
his traditional haffe-net. In my film Haffe-net Fishing
the commentary describes this old craft together with its tradition.
Net Fishing on the Lune River
The File Maker - today file making is highly organised
and mechanised, but originally files were hand made. On film
I was able to make a short record of one of the last craftsmen
capable of cutting a file with hand tools.
All my films are 'Collectors' Items' and the 16mm silent films,
which I produced for use in schools, still give me a great deal
of pride when I view them.
The Village Blacksmith (Tyring a Wheel) is such a film
that proved so successful in the classroom. It is difficult,
even today I to demonstrate how iron tyres were placed on cart
wheels. It my film it shows a blacksmith expanding a tyre and
putting it on to a cart wheel.
The Village Blacksmith (shoeing a horse) - shows the
dim interior of a blacksmith's forge, dark for a reason, it enabled
the blacksmith to see the colour of the hot iron from which he
estimated the working temperature of the iron. The film shows
the blacksmith making a shoe and nailing it on to the horse's
I remember the heat of the day when I filmed the workmen at
a mountain Slate Quarry. Here, on film, there are men using simple
hand tools to shape the slate tiles for roofing. The Slate
Quarry - tells it all.
The Basket Maker - in our English Lake District a craftsman
makes a Swill ' basket from English oak and ash.
Making Stained Glass - was filmed in a workshop dating
back to 1770 where tradition and hand methods were still used
in making windows for contemporary uses.
The Village Rope Maker - was an important person in
the village I the farmer needed rope for his work and the Rope
Maker, with simple tools and machines, fashioned ropes, cow-ties
and back-bands for horses. On the film I was able to show a rope
being made and a cow-tie being woven on an ancient loom.
Churchwarden Pipes - almost all pictures of the interiors
of old English hostels, show men smoking churchwarden clay pipes.
This film shows all the processes in making English clay pipes.
The Village Potter shows a potter obtaining his clay
from near his workshop and then making articles of domestic utility.
When copies of these films were first offered for sale it
was Cyril L. Marshall, Curator at Plimoth Plantation Museum in
Plymouth, Massachusetts ho bought the whole series. Visitors
flocked by their thousands to the Plimoth Plantation and the
audiences that have see. my films, many of the. children, were
able to see for the first time - Craftsmen at work producing
goods or providing a service that, for most of them, they had
read about but never been able to see for themselves. Such is
the value of a record on film.
It was whilst I as at a meeting in Yorkshire that I met a
press reporter ho showed more than a passing interest in my film
records of old English crafts. His name was Sam Tonkiss and he
was an artist and craftsman in his own right. He too had a background
in arts and crafts and he told me as well as being a journalist
he was also a sculptor.
This gave me another opportunity to make a film. Most people
had the opportunity to see a figure in bronze but few had little
knowledge of how such objects were created. I decided I would
record Sam on film, but first I had to find a suitable subject,
someone who could be available both for the Sculptor and the
Edith my wife was persuaded to become the 'sitter'. At first
it seem an ordeal to sit for hours and have one's face measured
with a pair of callipers, but Sam Tonkiss had a wonderful way
of making the sitter feel at ease.
It was a successful project. Sam Tonkiss made the commentary
describing in detail all the processes of his craft before delivering
the bust to the foundry to be cast in bronze.
Sam Tonkiss had created many portraits of distinguished and
famous people; Sir Winston Churchill, The Duke of Edinburgh,
L.S. Lowry, The Hon. Rachael Key Shuttleworth and many more.
For me, I now had another film that could be used in helping
children to understand a subject that was difficult to comprehend
through the more normal teaching methods of 'chalk and talk'.
I decided to set out my ideas on paper.