The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales’ special coastal film collection has a sharp tang of sea salt as it drops in on beaches and promenades, harbours and islands for a glimpse of Wales’ coastal life through the 20th century.
From Prestatyn to Penclawdd, from Bardsey to Barmouth, audiences can discover how Welsh waters have sustained fishing, global trading and whole summers of unforgettable holidays.
These films have been compiled as part of BFI Britain on Film: Coast and Sea, a project that reveals the hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from the BFI and the UK’s national and regional film/TV archives.
North Wales package:
- The Morgan Family at Abersoch (1948) – (Dur: 2′ 45″);
The Morgan family travelled from south Wales to Abersoch for several summer holidays from 1944. Bernard Morgan, the filmmaker, ran the family-owned David Morgan independent department store in Cardiff (established in 1879 and closed in 2005 – by then Wales’s largest store of its kind). Here we see Bernard (1899-1955), his wife Mary, daughter Eleanor and sons Richard and John enjoying a fishing trip. John still remembers the numbers of the beach huts they rented – constructions which today have become a symbol of Abersoch’s inflated property market.
- Prestatyn Holiday Camp (1957) – (Dur: 2’ 04”);
Armed with a new camera rather than a rifle, having been de-mobbed, Eric Smith of Salford made for Prestatyn Holiday Camp in his newly acquired car – a 1935 Morris 8 Saloon – and there recorded a poolside beauty competition for women and a gymmnastics exhibition by men. The holiday camp, scene of his happy memories, was built by the LMS Railway and Thomas Cook in 1939, sold to Pontins in the 1970s when it was renamed ‘Tower Beach’, and closed in the 1980s.
- Rhyl Fishing Fleet (1920) – (Dur: 1′ 35″);
Here, the Shannon Film Company captures footage of a local activity to put up on the big screen in its cinema in Market Street (previously run by film pioneer/entrepreneur Arthur Cheetham). In this extract, onlookers buying fresh fish, or watching it being loaded onto a cart for market, are happy to be included as ‘extras’. Derek Shannon took over Rhyl’s Market Street cinema from Arthur Cheetham in May 1919, and with the Shannon Film Company produced local topicals covering events such as the Flying Week, Lifeboat Day and May Day celebrations – no doubt aware that films like these would help fill cinema seats.
- Life Boat Day at Rhyl (1920) – (Dur: 6′ 37″);
All of Rhyl (certainly all its Scouts) turns out to launch the lifeboat in this extract, some hitching a ride as it’s horse-drawn along the promenade before launching. The vessel seen here is ‘Caroline Richardson II’, of the pioneering Richardson ‘banana boat’ tubular design with slatted deck to allow drainage. The Shannon brothers, who made this film, knew that a film showing the lifeboat’s special day would fill seats in their Market Street cinema.
- The Return of the Llandudno Life Boat (1927) – (Dur: 2′ 16″) ;
This was the last launch of the ‘Theodore Price’ lifeboat (in service 1902-1930, launched 42 times, saved 39 lives). The Llandudno lifeboat men are seen arriving back safe and sound with the crew of three from the motor yacht ‘Delphore’ on 22nd October 1927. The ‘Delphore’ had reached Llandudno and dropped anchor near the pier, but in the early evening the wind got up causing the motor yacht to drag her anchor – her mast was smashed when she drifted too close to the pier. The ‘Theodore Price’ was launched at 8 o’clock. The crew, thanks to the lifeboat men, reached dry land but the yacht was wrecked on rocks. This footage was shot by a Colwyn Bay cinema operator, Frank H Kenyon.
- Llandudno (1937) – (Dur: 1′ 40″);
Short extract (beach scene) of a longer film of a holiday in Llandudno taken by the family of George H Weaks, a professional photographer with a studio at 121 Lammas Street, Carmarthen.
- The Hardings at Llandudno + North Wales (1965) – (Dur: 0′ 37″);
The Smallest House in Britain is shut, but stunning views open up to the Harding family on their train ride through the Conwy valley to Porthmadog. This film was shot by Ken Harding, who lived in Stockport and frequently holidayed in north Wales with his family. Seen in this short extract here are Ken’s wife and two children.
- Conway Capers (1965) – (Dur: 4′ 43″);
A young boy – played by David Mawby, son of the film-maker – goes fishing off Conwy’s harbour wall and is bemused, at first, by what he catches! This comic drama was shot by Coast and Sea
- Carnival Day, Amlwch (1960) – (Dur: 4′ 30″) ;
Amlwch’s first carnival for years and the sun is out, despite the wet summer. The procession in this extract includes “beauties” lounging on the top of a car and a “beast” controlled by two boys, either or both requiring nourishment in the form of a hefty sandwich that is handed up to them by a spectator. This special day also includes a bit of “Victorian rock-and-roll”. One carnival float bears people dressed as the Gorsedd of Bards, and an empty chair labelled ‘Caerdydd 1960 Y Gadair Wag’ (Cardiff 1960 The Empty Chair). This refers to the fact that no poet’s offering had been found worthy of the prized Chair at the National Eisteddfod hosted by Cardiff the previous week. Cardiff had a reputation as a national eisteddfod host that often failed to deliver a chaired bard. Alfred Mawby (b.1918) of Llanrwst who was an early member of Colwyn Cine Club and later a founder member of the Grwst Cine Club.
- Racing on the Menai Staits (1930) – (Dur: 1′ 00″) ;
An extract from Isla Johnston’s numerous films of sail boats around Anglesey – here showing the part of the Strait around Bangor’s pier and the opposite bank. Isla Johnston’s home – ‘Bryn Mêl’, Glyngarth – overlooked the Menai Strait. Daughter of Edmund Johnston, owner of the Liverpool-based Johnston Line shipping company, Isla loved cars and boats, often racing in the latter, and filmed and photographed sailing and other local events.
- The Island in the Current (1950) – (Dur: 13′ 00″) ;
Edgar Ewart Pritchard, a Staffordshire man who regularly visited Bardsey Island (in Welsh, Ynys Enlli (‘island in the current’), came to the conclusion that, “close contact with nature yields a happiness which few townsmen know”. His film tribute to this island (of which this is an extract), illustrates how the community’s life was dominated by the sea and the seasons, the children unconsciously learning how to survive there as they played or helped the adults. At the beginning of the 20th century there were over a hundred people living on the island but by the mid-1950s, soon after this film was made, just one family was left – Wil [William John] Evans or Wil Tŷ Pella, his wife Ellen and children Jane and Ernest.
- Criccieth Beach (1938) – (Dur: 1′ 05″) ;
An extract from a longer film believed to have been shot by ex-prime minister David Lloyd George’s private secretary, A J Sylvester. The longer film shows Lloyd George relaxing with his family – but here we see a glimpse of beach life at his beloved Cricieth.
- A is for Aberdyfi, B is for Barmouth, C is for a Camel (1934) – (Dur: 1′ 15″);
Is this the first and/or last time there was a camel on the beach in Barmouth? The origins of this film (of which the camel section is an extract), are a mystery. It was left to a nephew by Frank Harding, a film buff and writer of articles on film for publications in Britain and America. Frank grew up watching films – his father would be given free tickets for any screenings he displayed advertising posters for in his hairdressing salon in south London. He met a fellow film-lover, Welshman Reg Griffin, in the RAF during WWII and visited Reg’s widow and child in Wales after the war, Reg having died in a flying accident. It may be that Frank was given this film by Reg’s family.
South Wales package:
- A Sad Saga of the Sands (1959) – (Dur: 6′ 00″) ;
The HMS Cleveland, a Destroyer built for service in WWII, survived support and convoy escort duties in the Channel, the Mediterranean and the Aegean but broke her tow when being moved in 1957 from Cardiff, where she had been laid up, to the breakers at Llanelli, and ran aground on Rhossili Beach, Gower. Efforts to refloat her failed and she was eventually broken up on the beach, having attracted a lot of interest from the public, many of whom chose to ignore the ‘Keep Off’ signs. This film (of which this is an extract), was shot by Evan Morgan of Pontypridd, a member of Cardiff Amateur Cine Society and a keen motorcyclist and camper.
- Our Holiday 1932 – Tenby (1932) – (Dur: 3′ 30″) ;
What are seaside holidays for but to allow everyone to let their hair down a bit and play ball games in and out of the water, or enjoy a bit of leisurely sunbathing or reading or general lounging about, with perhaps the odd smoke or handstand for good measure? Unfortunately we don’t know who any of the fun-loving people in this film are – it would be great if someone could help us to identify them!
- Borth, Ynyslas, Aberystwyth (after storm) (1938) – (Dur: 2′ 50″) ;
Compilation showing seaside delights at Borth and sledging on the dunes at Ynyslas, and footage of the extensive damage caused to Aberystwyth promenade by a five day storm – 15th – 19th January 1938 – which shortened the pier by 200 ft.
- Aberystwyth Promenade [trampoline] (1960s) – (Dur: 1′ 59″) ;
The King’s Hall, a landmark building in Aberystwyth from its official opening in 1934 to its demolition in 1989, is seen here (exterior only) in its heyday. Many will remember the paddling pool and trampolines and donkeys on the prom…This film was made by Thomas Ronald Jones of Llanidloes.
- Aberaeron Harbour (1965) – (Dur: 2′ 00″) ;
Aberaeron is abuzz with beautiful sailing boats and crowds of people. The filmmaker [Gwilym] Alun Davies, a son of the town who taught at Tregaron and then Aberaeron schools, captures also its attractive buildings (including those now known as The Harbourmaster Hotel and The Hive) and the greasy pole competition. Alun and his wife Mattie (a haridresser) are seen on the hills above the town in this extract.
- Haf 1933 – Cardigan (1933) – (Dur: 3′ 48″) ;
Goronwy [Ronw] Moelwyn Hughes, a London-based lawyer and Labour MP for Carmarthen 1941-45, takes his family and nanny back home to Cardigan for the summer holidays. In this extract they picnic and play at the seaside (Mwnt, and probably also Aberporth and Tresaith). Ronw’s father, the Rev. J G Moelwyn Hughes, was minister at the Tabernacle Chapel in the town and Ronw attended the Grammar School. He married Louise [Lulu], only child of Frederick Arthur Greer, a judge, who was himself the eldest of fourteen children. Ronw and Lulu had three children – two sons, Arthur and Ifan, and a daughter, Robin, all of whom feature in this film.
- Babs Recovery (1969) – (Dur: 4′ 11″) ;
Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire: silent, colour footage shot by the MOD of the raising of ‘Babs’ – the car in which John Godfrey Parry Thomas (b. 1884, Wrexham) was killed in March 1927 whilst attempting to beat the land speed record set by Malcolm Campbell a month earlier at 174.22 mph. After the crash, the car was buried in the sands and lay there until permission was granted in 1969 for Owen Wyn Owen, an engineering lecturer at Bangor Technical College, to excavate it. He restored the car over the following 15 years and it is now housed in The Museum of Speed, Pendine.
- Porthcawl – Diving, Picnics, Carnival (1922) – (Dur: 1′ 03″) ;
Picnics and parades in Porthcawl. The 6th Battalion of The Welch Regiment march along the front and the carnival wends its merry way with accompaniment from the Ynyshir ‘Savoy Cabbage Comic Band’, advertised as ‘Murderers of Music, Manufacturers of Noise’. Merrett family picnic-ers at Sker Point play cricket and put life and limb in jeopardy by taking rides down a derelict railed slope on an old wagon. An extract from a longer film from the Merrett Gridley Archive. (Sir Herbert Henry Merrett died at home in Dinas Powys in 1959, following an illustrious career in the coal trade and public life.)
- The Coast Line of South Wales (1935) – (Dur: 1′ 46″);
In this extract brothers George and Maurice Holley who worked as pharmacists in Cardiff (George in North Road, Maurice in Wellfield Road) tour their local coastline, and this is what they find at Barry! Both brothers were talented pianists and regular church -goers, and George processed films and photographs in a studio at the back of his shop.
- Life Guards – Barry Island (1966) – (Dur: 3′ 33″);
Life Guards, marching like military guardsmen but less formally attired, are presented with certificates on Whitmore Beach, Barry Island, addressed by a police chief, and demonstrate the use of a rope winch, perhaps a fairly new piece of kit. Shot by Alfred York Bailey (1895-1976) who was born in Liverpool, brought up and married in Bradford and lived for a time in Cardiff, the city he then retired to c.1960.
- Promenade – a Summer’s Day in Penarth (1967) – (Dur: 6′ 56″) ;
In this extract, Penarth’s pier and promenade star in all their Sixties glory. From Rabaiotti’s cafes and R J Middleton’s Peco Puppets (Punch & Judy), to watersports and Mods and Rockers, ‘the garden by the sea’ has something for everyone! Harley Jones, who produced this film with fellow editor Chris Bellinger, hailed from Swansea and worked from 1963-66 on John Grierson’s weekly Scottish Television programme ‘This Wonderful World’ (broadcast also on the ITV regions e.g. Television Wales and West). He was the first course leader of Newport Film Unit, later Newport Film School (established at Newport College of Art and Design).
- Holidays Under Canvas, Near the Sea (1954) – (Dur: 5′ 15″) ;
To Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, go the friends and family of Evan Morgan, a Pontypridd amateur film-maker, member of Cardiff Cine Society and loyal subject of the newly crowned Queen. There, having created an encampment, they enjoy the sea air, in this extract singing and dancing (with music provided by an accordion player and an accomplished bottle-blower) and general larking about. They also visit Tenby and the Ferryside Regatta, which includes coracles.
Find out more about the coastal film programme at the Sinemaes tent during the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 2017 here plus The Dragon Theatre in Barmouth and venues across Wales who have offered a colourful programme of coastal themed events.
These screenings and events throughout Wales are part of a nationwide programme for Britain on Film: Coast and Sea supported by BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) organisations, taking place at coastal locations around the UK, with funds from the National Lottery, and lead by Film Hub Central East (Broadway Cinema, Nottingham).
If you would like to screen any of the films from the Coast and Sea package at your venue, please contact Elen Thomas Jones via firstname.lastname@example.org
These films, and many more Coast and Sea related titles from around the UK, are available to watch for free on BFI Player via an interactive map for Britain on Film.