Film ID:
YFA 5871



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This is a Yorkshire television documentary about the Sunley family, Joe, Connie and daughter Mary, who breed Cleveland Bay horses and run a farm without electricity near Whitby.  The film focuses on Mary and her difficulties in marrying and leaving with her fiancée Jim.  The programme was originally transmitted on 14th May, 1974.

The film begins showing Cleveland Bay horses on the moors near Whitby where sheep are being herded.  An old threshing machine is seen at work.  We meet Joe Sunley, who is described as the elder of the community and who was once paid in kind.  It is stated that Sunley breeds Cleveland Bay horses as he discusses a horse with another breeder.  Joe is seen on his farm with his sheep and his daughter Mary.  It is stated that tradition has it that at least one child, usually the last daughter, stays behind to look after the parents.  The two of them are stacking bales of hay.

The farm is very old, without electricity to the house or barn.  They all milk the cows by hand for three hours in the morning, and again for three hours every evening, seven days a week.  Joe is a tenant.  He worked as a fitter and turner for 12 years until 1931 when he was made redundant, “suspended until further notice”.  He says that he is “still suspended”.  They have 50 cattle and 16 horses.  The family are interviewed as they have their breakfast in the kitchen.   They are asked about having no electricity.  Joe states that it makes live more complicated, while his wife, when asked if she would like electricity is less sure, clearly deferring to Joe’s views on the type of life he wants to lead.  

He is also asked about his personal religion, which doesn’t allow for celebrations of any kind, either Christmas or birthdays.  When questioned about this, Mary seems less enthusiastic about this policy.  He says that he does not impose his views, but that he believes in hard labour and discipline, and using the rod for correction.  They have to carry the heavy urns which carry the milk form the pure Jersey cows.   

Mary is interviewed, and it is revealed that she started milking form the age of three, and has never had a holiday, only a day out at Leeds with her brother.  Seemingly shy to talk, Mary states that she doesn’t have friends, and that “you never miss what you’ve never had”.  

The film then shows a farm labourer form the adjacent farm, Jim Smith, who it is stated started working there three years previously.  Eventually he met Mary, and it is said that this broke her isolation that she subsequently blossomed.  They are shown together.  Jim gets into tractor, and we see a blacksmith shoeing a horse.  

Jim is interviewed, remembering the first time he saw Mary “as a woman”, and asked her out, his first ever girlfriend.  The farm he works at has electricity and the cows are milked by machine.  Jim dons a suit and takes Mary to a dance in his Morris Minor.  Joe states that really parents ought to pick their daughters husband, but he will not stand in the way of Mary.  He states that he believes in Bible principles.  

End of Part One
Part Two

Mary and Jim sit in a field discussing possible future plans.  Mary is interviewed whilst she is milking and questioned about what else she does, and the interviewer pushes her on when she might get married and leave.  She is hesitant about committing herself.  Joe desperately tries to get a horse to get into a horse box for travelling to the Wolds Fair, but which offers a lot of resistance.  At the Fair heavy horses are walked in pairs around the field, possibly in Ingleborough.  Joe hits his horses to get them to co-operate.  They run their horses around the show ground and rosettes are pinned onto the winning horses.  

Next Jim is seen dressed up in suit and tie visiting the Estate Office of the land owner.  Here he is interviewed, asked about getting married as they only take married tenants.  The landlord only has a 4,500 acre farm, which is not big enough for Jim.  But he is told that there are no other farms available, and that there are already three others looking for such a farm, and, furthermore, Teeside is expanding.  Joe does not have the money to buy a farm.  Joe is interviewed about the prospective marriage of the engaged couple, as is Mary’s mother, Connie, who is using an old mangle.  The couple are then interviewed about their wedding plans.  He is very keen, Mary says that she wants her own farm.

Jim goes to try to get a job at another farm seven miles away at Dunsley, which comes with a three bedroomed house.  He puts it to her that now they can get married, but as the couple take a walk along the cliffs near Whitby, she states that she wants to wait until “things get a bit more settled”, and that “there’ll be more chances”, and the film comes to an end.

Cameramen: Mostafa Hammuri, Dick Dodd
Producer: Julie O’Hare
Sound: Jim McCann, Mike Donnelly, Ron Gunn 
Dubbing Mixer: Terry Cavagin
Film Editors: Graham Shrimpton
Directed by Barry Cockcroft
Executive Producer: John Fairley
Yorkshire Television