Britain on Film: Urban

The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales (NSSAW) special Urban: Towns & Cities film collection has the hustle and bustle of the streets and the smell of city smoke as it drops a glimpse of Wales’ urban life through the 20th century.

Audiences watch history come alive on screen and discover what life was like in Welsh towns and cities in a range of films running from 1912-1998.

These films have been compiled as part of BFI Britain on Film, a hugely successful  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 available to view online at BFI Player.

The package includes

  • Llandudno – Gateway to Snowdonia (1975) 
    From tram to cable car to the beach – the delights of Llandudno as a holiday destination are showcased in this extract of an advertising film by Llandudno Urban District Council/British Tourist Authority.
  • A Tale of Two Seasons (1967)
    Rhyl Cine Club members Michael Theaker and Barry Snelson explore the changing fortunes of Rhyl in summer and winter. In this extract, a cold and lonely beach scene is followed by summer bustle in the streets, bus park and station, with some big-name shops attracting tourists and locals alike.
  • Wrexham Co-op Society’s Procession (1912)
    Co-operators’ Day – a summertime celebration and promotion of the Co-operative Society – dawns cold and wet, and the society’s members turn out for the annual parade with their umbrellas. The event is being filmed for screening at the local cinema – The Glynn.
  • R.C.Bishop at Bangor (1960)
    The Rolls-Royce is the vehicle of choice for Archbishop O’Hara, the UK’s Apostolic Delegate, on his visit to Bangor amid much fanfare to re-dedicate the re-built Church of Our Lady Immaculate, followed by the delivery of a papal message at the Plaza cinema.
  • Annual Horse Sale and Fair (1960)
    All manner of attractions entice the crowds to this famous fair (‘Ffair Borth) which still takes place each year on 24th October.
  • A Visit to North Wales (Porthmadog, 1950)
    An extract from a film by Rev. Albert Knowles of Grindleton, Lancashire, showing the viewer some of the attractive and interesting places of north Wales. Here, we are introduced to Porthmadog with its wide streets and harbour area.
  • A Visit to North Wales (Harlech, 1950)
    An extract from a film by Rev. Albert Knowles of Grindleton, Lancashire, showing the viewer some of the attractive  and interesting places of north Wales. In this segment we visit Harlech with its steep streets and famous castle.
  • Opening Ceremony – the Festiniog & District Heroes Memorial Hospital (1927)
    Extracts of footage shot by the local cinema operator, Thomas Ellis Griffiths and his son, Mervyn Griffiths,  showing the procession to, and ceremonial opening of, the hospital in Blaenau Ffestiniog on Saturday 11th June 1927.  The hospital is officially opened by David Davies MP, Llandinam.
  • Denbigh Rotary Club Activities (1974)
    Peter Thomas, Denbigh’s Rotary Club president (1973-4), filmed a series of events organised by the club. This extract shows the Boxing Day Barrel Rolling competition.
  • Caefelin Laundry, Llangollen (1937)
    The busy, labour-intensive operation in Market Street, Llangollen seen in this extract was recorded by the owners, builder Ernest Charles Jordan and his son, E C Jordan II.  The laundry was run for them by Nellie Boote, who became the son’s second wife.
  • Dolgelley (1945)
    The delights of a sunny Dolgellau gladden the hearts of the Meredith family from Staffordshire at the end of a long, grim war. John W Meredith is behind the camera.
  • Their Purpose Served (1977)
    In this segment of P B Whitehouse’s film, we see The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway carrying coal right through the streets of Welshpool. This film by P.B. Whitehouse probably shows the line in its last year of operation.
  • Efaciwis a recriwtio (1939)
    Machynlleth opens its heart to evacuees arriving from Liverpool, and local men prepare to leave by responding to an urgent call-to-arms.
  • Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – Ymweliad Elizabeth II a Duc Caeredyn (1955)
    The Queen visits Aberystwyth to celebrate completion of The National Library of Wales, opened by her parents in 1937, its foundation stones laid by her grandparents in 1911. Extract from a film by E.C. Roberts.
  • Haverfordwest Challenge Cup  (1926)
    An extract of the final of the first ever Haverfordwest Challenge Cup on 30th April 1926, which attracts crowds to enjoy the play between the Haverfordwest Corinthians and Banks United (the Corries) and the Royal Field Artillery 406 Battery TA (the Soldiers). Neither side scored, but at the replay a few days later the Corries win 2-0.
  • Kidwelly Poison Trial (1920)
    Solicitor Harold Greenwood of Rumsey House, Kidwelly, rids himself of his wife (probably), and marries again (definitely). In fact, he marries again in such indecent haste that suspicions are aroused about the cause of his first wife’s death, and an exhumation and inquest are instigated. As a result, he is put on trial for his life in Carmarthen and is here seen arriving, wearing a cap, to face the music.
  • The Shop Assistants’ Outing to Ilfracombe (1913)
    A day long-awaited, no doubt, by Llanelli’s army of shop assistants: a trip to Devon in July 1913, on one of P & A Campbell’s paddle steamers.  Filmed by James Haggar for screening at ‘Haggar’s Theatre’ in the town, the production included shots of “somewhat humorous incidents on board” (Llanelly Mercury 17/7/1913). Sadly, all that remains of this film is this recently discovered, damaged fragment, containing the opening shots in Llanelli.
  • Dear Cambria (1926)
    Extracts of a longer ‘travelogue’ film – here showing Swsansea (with its “hurry and scurry, bang and rattle”) and Mumbles (“No, we’ll not make a joke about its name!”). Also in Swansea we see shots of the royal visit to the 1926 National Eisteddfod, with bardic robes billowing in the wind.
  • Newport Carnival (1936)
    This carnival was filmed by Ernest Charles Jordan II, one of eleven children of a Newport builder (Ernest Charles Jordan). The Jordans owned the White Rose Laundry, and this extract features the vehicle of a rival business – the Gwent Launderers.
  • Tank ‘Julian’ in Merthyr (1918)
    Whoever thought of sending battle-scarred tanks to towns in Britain during 1917/1918 to sell National War Bonds was inspired. Merthyr alone raised £1m when two tanks – ‘Julian’ and ‘Julian Junior’ – visited for 3 days in June 1918.  Nothing was safer than the tank bank, the public were told, but the borough’s Director of Education refused to permit school closures over the period, fearing squashing incidents if children were roaming free.  Viewers of this extract will appreciate his caution.
  • Cardiff the Capital City (1976)
    Extract from a film made by South Glamorgan County Council and Cardiff City Council to attract investors – a great advert for several facets of life, work and leisure in the capital!
  • Cardiff – The Capital of Wales (1935)
    The Holley brothers, pharmacists George and Maurice, record the city when horse-drawn vehicles were still traversing its streets and (as seen in this extract) policemen helped people to cross the road.
  • Turn Out of the Cardiff Fire Brigade (1924)
    The Fire Station in Westgate Street, Cardiff, prides itself on its 8 minute mobilisation – a record?
  • A Place to Play (1972)
    A taste of freedom: children in the Splott, Butetown and Grangetown areas of Cardiff get a chance to play, explore and invent in the city’s experimental adventure playgrounds, in sunmmer schemes run by Cardiff’s Voluntary Community Service. Filmed by Cardiff Cine Society. (Extract.)
  • Great Western Ports (1929)
    “Any Ware to Anywhere” – an extract of a film advertising the thoroughly modern merits of the Great Western Railway ports, including Cardiff. The shots of the docks convey the hazardous and gruelling nature of a docker’s work and the vast numbers of men employed in the industry.
  • Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club 2 (1960s)
    Extract of a film by Malcolm Capener, showing the vibrant and community of Cardiff’s docks area. Here we see a Catholic parade on St Mary Street, followed by a huge gathering in Bute Park.
  • Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club 1 (1960s)
    Extract of a film by Malcolm Capener showing the vibrant, thriving and diverse community of Cardiff’s docks area in the sixties, including a celebration and feast at the Butetown Community Centre. However we also see poignant images of the the ‘slum’ clearance which condemned the terraced streets and their social opportunities to death. The Rainbow Club was founded to encourage the children of the docks area to participate in the performing arts.
  • Samba Paloma (1998)
    The sun is shining on Cardiff, and a human samba band performing on the street faces stiff competition from a group of musically-inclined, papier-maché local birds, led by a feisty starling. Animation by Chris Elliott and Gerald Conn, for Cinetig.


If you would like to screen any of the films from the Urban: Towns & Cities package at your venue, please contact Elen Thomas Jones via

These films, and many more related titles from around the UK, are available to watch for free on BFI Player via an interactive map for Britain on Film.  |  #BritainOnFilm