Film ID: YFA 3108 Video of YFA 3108 Humber Highway 1956 HUMBER HIGHWAY 1956 Visitor TabsDescription This is a documentary made by Betty and Cyril Ramsden which chronicles the places, activities, and life around the Humber estuary. The film includes lengthy intertitles that explain some of the important facts about the areas in which they filmed. The film opens with a map of the East Riding. It is followed by the intertitles: One of the major shipping lanes in England is the River Humber. Spurn Point is connected by a peninsula which is constantly threatened by erosion and is the nerve centre. Though serviced now by a road the remains of the old railway line are still visible. The lifeboat station, lighthouse and the coastguard station, where all shipping entering or leaving the Humber is logged keep a constant watch. Lately a sea rescue helicopter service doing a regular patrol has been instituted. The army still preserves the installations erected during the last war. There is a small road that goes along Spurn Point. The car drives the entire length of the road to the lighthouse at the end. Along the way, there is a sign that reads ‘Danger Minefield Keep Out or Be Killed’. Only the lighthouse, coastguard, and few remaining buildings are left in this once inhabited area. Out at sea and on the shipping lanes, large ships and trawlers sail up and down. A coast guard looks out with his binoculars and then makes a report on the telephone. An emergency helicopter takes off and hovers above the sea. Title – The banks of the river are raised above the level of the land to prevent flooding and erosion. To ensure drainage the countryside is honeycombed with dykes that lead to automatic sluice gates actuated by the pressure of the water. Back along the point to Stone Creek, a small canal leads off from the small village. In front of it is a sandy bay where small boats are lodged in the sand whilst the tide is out. Title – Paull. Over 300 years ago ships were constructed here for the Royal Navy. This small shipyard carries on the tradition building and repairing craft up to seventy feet in length. Repairs to the boats are carried out at the dock. Without any protective clothing, some men are welding parts on a ship. One man has a large burn in the back of his leather waistcoat. An interior scene shows a workshop. The forge is lit, and the flames glow in the dark. Men take out the metal and hammer it into shape. These pieces of metal are known as the ‘ribs’ of the ship. Title – An automatic oxy-acetylene cutter capable of cutting through steel plates up to two inches thick. One of the boat builders shows how the cutter works. Title – Hull Ships from the Seven Sea berth at the docks in Hull. At the Alexandra Docks cargoes of timber and other goods are handled. In Hull, other parts of the dock are shown. Large boats from all over the world come into the docks, and cranes help to unload their cargo onto the dock bay. Two men are painting a boat; a Russian ship is behind them. Then a queue of vessels waits to depart, waiting at a lock for high tide. Tugs then pull them out into the open sea. Other ships then enter the area to unload their cargo. The film closes with more views of the busy docks showing the sailors on their boats. Some are relaxing, and washing is hung out across the boats behind them. Context Humber Highway was made by a husband and wife film team of filmmakers from Leeds, Betty and Cyril Ramsden. They began making films in 1945 and continued into the mid 1960s. During this time they made over 50 films, mostly in high quality 16mm film and in colour. Their collection of films was donated to the YFA in the spring of 2006. It is an outstanding collection: by virtue of its remarkable technical quality, composition and broad subject matter. As well as family and holiday films, there are a wide range of documentary type films and some fictional films done with a light humour. Their film collection was made the subject of a BBC/Open University television programme, Nation on Film, made in 2006, narrated by Sir David Jason. Cyril worked as a dentist, and was the original owner of the dental practice now known as Far Headingley Dental Care. Betty was a teacher before working full time doing the administrative work for the dentistry practice. They both made films, together and individually. Although not professional filmmakers they took their hobby very seriously, and won many certificates for their films from the cine group within Leeds Camera Club – as this one did for Betty – which they helped found (Leeds Camera Club was founded originally in 1893, becoming Leeds Cine Club in 1965, and later renamed Leeds Movie Makers). Relatively well off, they were able to purchase an expensive three lens camera, possibly a Bolex or Kodak, at a cost of £90 – a very large sum at that time – and imported 16mm colour film from the U.S.. They also made a number of films with their friends and fellow filmmakers Muriel and Colin Woodhead. Apparently Betty was the one with the ideas, whilst Cyril was the more technical – they made a light hearted film of Cyril making and developing a film in 1950 called Love’s Labour Lost. Unlike many filmmakers, as each of them could operate the camera, both of them often appear in the films. The film reveals how concerned they were not just to film a place, but, through the use of intertitles, to provide additional information on what was being filmed – among the Ramsden documents held with the YFA is a photocopy of an article Cyril had published on how ‘I made a Vertical Titler for only £2’, which is probably from Amateur Cine World. They would often use their holidays to make films, and in the case Humber Highway they spent the best part of their two week holiday working on it. They had to get permission from the Docks Master to film on the docks, which he was happy to give. Cyril also wrote a series of reminiscences recounting many of the Ramsden’s more comic experiences. In these he recalls making Humber Highway. Cyril notes that they had to sign a “blood chit” ‘to relieve the [Port] authorities of any responsibility if we fell in or got run over etc.’. The Dock Superintendant was so helpful that he delayed opening a swing bridge to allow a ship through whilst Betty was filming, somewhat to the annoyance of the ship captain (it can be seen in the film). Cyril also recalls how at this time a husband and wife team had made a film about their exploits with lion cubs [in his diary Cyril states that this might be Michele and Armand Dennis, but it may be Joy and George Adamson who hit the news in 1956 after bringing home lion cubs on 1st February, later made famous by the book and film Born Free], and as they resembled this pair – both women wearing slacks and both men sporting beards – the dockers used to ask, ‘ast tha got the cubs with thee?’ At lunch time they ate in the docker’s canteen: ‘We got a pint of tea and a sandwich which was over an inch thick – by removing the top half we just managed the bottom half.’ The film has a great value in showing areas of East Yorkshire – Paull and Stone Creek – not otherwise to be found on film at this time. There are also few films of Spurn Point; one of which by Rotherham filmmaker Charles Chislett, called Spurn Point, made in 1950 on the Bird Observatory on Spurn Point, can be seen on YFA Online. The Ramsden film takes us on the journey down the whole length of the 3 ½ mile spit, revealing it to be little changed other than more recently acquiring a café and a few more houses. Spurn Point is made of boulder clay deposited during the Ice Age, and which is constantly eroding. Although only very narrow, the habitat is home to a great deal of wildlife, and is a favourite with birdwatchers. In the 1950s it was still a military base, but was later purchased by the Wildlife Trust in 1960, and became a National Nature Reserve in 1996. The beautifully shot film of boats lying on their sides with the tide out at Stone Creek is evidence of the compositional skill of Betty, who was also a painter. The wide range of the film is shown as it switches from the poetical to the documentary: from Stone Creek to Paull – which is still making and repairing boats – and on to Alexandra Docks. The film is silent, but on the edit the YFA uses in filmshows it is accompanied by a soundtrack from Audio Network titled Riverbank by the Lincolnshire composer Patrick Hawes. When the Hull Dock Company, founded in 1774, opened their dock fours later, it was the largest in England. Hull’s trade has always been with the Low Countries, North Germany, Scandinavia and Russia. The trade in timber from the Baltic and Scandinavia, seen being unloaded in the film, goes back to the fourteenth century. Hull’s docks were built in two periods, three (Queen’s, Humber and Prince’s) between 1774 and 1829, and five (Albert, William Wright and St Andrew’s – upstream; Victoria and Alexandra – downstream) between 1860 and 1885. Alexandra Dock was built by the Hull and Barnsley Railway and Dock Company in 1885, hence arriving with an independent railway for exporting coal, also shown being loaded in the film. See also the film St Andrews Fish Dock (1962). As well as the merchant ships, there are river barges and tugboats. The aesthetic quality of the filming gives a somewhat romantic feeling to the work of the dockers. But not everything was rosy: the work was very dangerous, and the following year there was a dispute over the unloading of cargo – the dockers were notoriously militant. The great value of Humber Highway though, like many of the films of the documentary movement of the 1930s and ‘40s, perhaps lies in the way it blends together the documentary with a fond, almost poetic, look at life along the Humber Estuary. References N. V. Jones (ed), A Dynamic Estuary: Man, Nature and the Humber, Hull University Press, 1988. Michael Ulyatt and Edward Paget-Tomlinson, Humber Shipping: a Pictorial History, Dalesman Books, 1979. S. Ellis and D. R. Crowther (eds), Humber Perspectives: a Region through the Ages, Hull University Press, 1990. Mike Taylor, Shipping on the Humber: the North Bank, Tempus Publishing, Stroud, 2003. Leeds Movie Makers The nature on Spurn Point from the BBC On the Humber Estuary Further Information For anyone interested in the history of Hull docks, a good place to start would be The Maritime Historical Studies Centre, part of the University of Hull, and in particular the works of Robb Robinson and David J Starkey, list on the website.