For over sixty years Sam Hanna was active in his hobby and lifelong passion, cinematography. His filmmaking activities date back to the 1930s, covering more than half a century of ancient crafts and local events surrounding the town of Burnley, (Lancashire, UK). Filmed by Sam Hanna himself, the collection vividly brings to life those bygone days when things were so different from today.

This unique film archive contains priceless material, including films of long-forgotten crafts such as brushmaking, clay-pipe making, coopering, tanning, hay creel making, corn dolly manufacture, clock making and his personal favourite, charcoal burning.

In 1957 Sam was at Turf Moor (Burnley Football Club’s home ground) to capture unique colour footage of the Manchester United Football team, famously known as the ‘Busby Babes’. This is the only colour material of the team before the tragic 1958 air accident in Munich, Germany, which killed five members of the team, including the legendary Duncan Edwards.

He also recorded the visits of several members of the royal family to Burnley from the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II in 1945 through to the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of 1977, the visit of Prince Charles in 1984 and the return of the Queen in 1986.


Lancashire Life - December 1987

THE YOUNG television cameramen, and the even younger press photographers from the local newspapers, no doubt looked askance last month during the royal visit to Burnley. Who was this old man filming the Queen’s visit? What right had he to be there? The fellow ought to be in an old folks’ home not out here pointing a camera at the royals.

Well just to put them in the picture, Sam Hanna is well old enough to be enjoying a quiet retirement. Yet at 84, he is still active in his hobby arid lifelong passion, cinematography. The Queen’s visit to Burnley was far from the first he has ever covered. In 1945 he filmed his own father being presented to King George VI (‘I believe you worked for 60 years in the pit,’ said the King. It doesn’t seem to have done you much harm.’ ‘It didn’t do me much good, either,’ replied Mr Hanna senior).

To people who know about film-making, the retired Burnley Grammar School arts and crafts teacher is a legend. His films of old festivals and ancient crafts filmed over a period of some 60 years, are now historic records of major importance.

His film-making activities go back to the 1920s and there is still no sign of him hanging up his cameras. He still retains a keen eye for a new subject, even though his unique film archive already contains priceless material, including films of long-dead crafts such as brushmaking, charcoal burning, clay-pipe making, coopering, tanning, corn dolly manufacture and clock making.

Sam Hanna began his working life alongside his mother in the textile mills of Burnley. ' It's the only time I have ever got the sack, ' he said with a chuckle. 'It all ended when I changed the cogs on a loom to make it go faster. The trouble was, it churned out material more suited to bandages than sheets! '

At that time he was a boy of 12, working as a half timer. At 13, he became indentured as a furniture designer and cabinet maker, something which was later to lead to him becoming a teacher of handicrafts. His neat home still contains some fine examples of his cabinet-making skills.

Clearly the young Sam was inventive. Later years were to see him patenting a number of photographic devices, putting into practice ideas which had begun to germinate in the 1920s, when as a teacher, it occurred to him that film might have an educational value. He found it difficult, fore example, to explain to the boys of his woodwork class how lumberjacks could float millions of logs down river from the forests to the sawmills. The boys’ only experience of a river was the murky Brun which winds its sluggish way through Burnley, a mere jump wide. A short film easily demonstrated this point.

Just as he was far ahead of his time in using colour Film Sam’s wartime colour record of the 29th Battalion (Burnley) Home Guard is believed to be unique — so was his educational thinking premature, at least in the eves of Burnley’s education chiefs. The cinema, he was told, was for entertainment and had no place in the classroom, it had yet to occur to them that both could be combined to the advantage of education.

Nevertheless, in his own quiet way, Sam Hanna persevered, making short films which assisted him in teaching his pupils how to handle, for example, a chisel or a plane. Such pioneering did not endear him to authority. Enthusiastic individuals are never the easiest of people for officialdom to live with. Indeed, over 50 years later this ‘Lowry of film-making’, as he has been called, still remains unhonoured in his own town.

Sam has the rare distinction of having had one of his films accepted as a gift for Prince Charles, when he was young. This is recorded in a letter from Clarence House, proudly framed, thanking Sam for the film Red Squirrel.

His films of local events cover more than half a century and include the Burnley Hospital Carnival of 1932; the Fourth round Burnley v Luton cup tie of January, 1945, which Burnlev won 3-1, at a time when practically every man on the terraces wore a cloth cap, and the last Burnley tram which ran on May 7, 1935.

There is the Hon. Rachel Kay Shuttleworth and historian Walter Bennett digging up Roman remains near the Long Causeway in 1951; film of the local VE Day celebrations; the Festival of Britain; the Coronation and events such as mayor-making and local elections.

In Clog Making Sam shows how the wooden soles were shaped from the tree; the clog-irons fashioned in the forge, and hints of the shape of things to come, as the workers introduce labour-saving gimmicks which, at the end of the day were to produce mechanisation, automation — and subsequent redundancies.

Fascinating sidelights also creep in, such as the blacksmith whose hand was non-too steady because he had ‘supped too much ale last neet’. That word ‘sup’ is now fast disappearing, along with the craftsmen who produced barrels made from special timber which, we are earnestly assured, helped to improve the taste of the now gone Massey’s beer. He worked by time-honoured methods, with traditional tools and, as he so nicely puts it, ‘the squint o’ th’ eye and the wrack o’ th’ mouth’.

Sam Hanna’s films bring back to vivid life the days when things were so much different from those of today. Thank goodness that someone was around who had the skill and imagination to capture a glimpse of it. Let us hope that someone has the foresight to purchase this unique collection and preserve it for posterity before it is too late!

Terence Whitaker
Lancashire Life - December 1987


Chalk and Talk
Sam Hanna
"the Lowry
of film-making"

Sam Hanna Collection

The Sam Hanna Film Collection is now with the North West Film Archive.

The North West Film Archive is a part of the Library Service of the Manchester Metropolitan University

Marion Hewitt.