Rare Film Revealed By Family Provides Window Into West Cumbria’s Past

A family film reel has provided a rare window on life in West Cumbria.

The secret collection of films, which has been hidden away for decades, has been unexpectedly revealed as part of an art project in Maryport.

Only two films which feature the town are thought to exist in public archives which makes the find even more exciting.

The reels were discovered after Cumbrian filmmaker John Hamlett was commissioned by Allerdale Borough Council to produce an oral history film capturing memories of Maryport’s town centre and shops in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

It is part of the Maryport Heritage Action Zone project, a £1.2 million scheme funded by Historic England to reinvigorate the town’s high street.

It was while John was interviewing local residents that one suddenly suggested he might like to take a look at some old family cine films, shot in the 1930s.

At first glance, John realised he had discovered a glorious journey into West Cumbria’s past.

Showing the drama of Maryport’s coastline and the carnivals, shopping and family fun of the past, the films are a fabulous trip back in time.

There are also films capturing the thrills and spills of a day out at Workington Speedway and the adrenaline-fuelled races at Braithwaite sports.

“I’d made numerous contacts in Maryport, often going door to door, to track down some of the town’s oldest residents,” said John.

“I wanted to find memories and photos going back to the war and beyond.

“I’d been filming in homes in Maryport, Downstreet, Grasslot, Ewanrigg and Netherton, captured simple but wonderful stories of day to day life, as well as memories of historic events like the night in 1940 that Maryport was bombed.

“I’d spent a lovely sunny morning chatting to Peter Greggains, who owned the garage on Curzon Street with his cousin Norman, over a cup of coffee at his kitchen table.

“Just before I was leaving, I was surprised when Peter’s wife Gillian mentioned some old family films she had, and said that maybe they’d be worth a look.


“They turned out to be an unimaginable treasure trove.

“The only films I knew of were a 1980s documentary, popular on YouTube, and a short piece of film of the ceremony for the new lifeboat in 1934, which was preserved 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.

The reels of cine film captured the same lifeboat ceremony, the circus visiting town, the harbour, the bowling club, the carnival of 1934 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 family’s blessing, and help from the project funds, I got permission to collect the films from Gillian’s cousin in Leeds and take them to be professionally scanned in high definition, before finally depositing the old celluloid reels to the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“They can be preserved there in perpetuity in their climate controlled vault.”


Cllr Mike Johnson, Leader of Allerdale Borough Council, added: “What a find.

“We are thrilled to discover these classic old memories and our thanks go to Gillian and her family for allowing us to use them.

“We hope they will be enjoyed far and wide, and bring people to Allerdale to discover the towns and their attractions as they are today.”

Working with the digital footage, John has now edited eight different short films that have been shared online on the council’s YouTube channel.

In addition, an hour-long edited oral-history heritage film will paint a vivid picture of Maryport’s past, illustrated with photographs, maps and old film.

This will be available to view in the coming months.