Film ID:
NEFA 10906



Visitor Tabs


The son of a miner, Shildon-born author, screen writer and journalist Sid Chaplin, who started his own working life as an apprentice blacksmth at Dean and Chapter Colliery in Ferryhill, reminisces about his youth in Newfield, County Durham, in this auto-biographical arts documentary, an edition of the Tyne Tees Television series A World of My Own, first broadcast on 21 November 1969.

The film opens with a general view of an old mine shaft. Sid Chaplin walks up to the remnants of the pithead. Chaplin piece to camera introducing his return to the village of Newfield for this documentary, which he left 40 years before (in 1929). He calls the mine shaft ‘Vinovium’ (actually a Roman fort in the village of Piercebridge?). He explains the miners used to come out of the mineshaft from Newfield Colliery. He then turns his attention to the water lodge, where they are still pumping out water with an automatic submersible pump to keep the pit safe, as they had when he was a ‘bairn’. He splashes the water through an iron grille.

Chaplin explains that some good friends used to live in a house at the end of a terrace. General view of the woods and burn where he and his friends used to go explore as children.

He walks back past the mineshaft and across the fields. In voice-over he explains that he knew every inch of this area as a child. Chaplin piece to camera looking over towards the brick works. General view of the landscape, the fields empty. He explains that this was a field where they put the pit ponies out to grass in the Great Strike of 1926. He and his friends would play football at the other end of the field, a distance away from the pit manager’s house. General view of the detached house at the end of the field, standing apart from the village with a high wall surrounding it “like a border fortress”.

He walks towards an overgrown thicket of bushes. Chaplin piece to camera, saying that this is where the old drift mine used to be, down beside the River Wear. As the camera explores the old mine shafts, Chaplin recalls seeing the miners emerging into the light, bent double in the daylight, after a shift. Close-up of the old nails, numbered, where the miners use to collect and return their pit token during a shift underground.

General views of the village of Newfield, streets built around the recreation ground, the ‘rec’, a World War One memorial representing Newfield lads that did not return from the trenches on the field. A woman unpegs clothes from a washing line. General view of the tin church and graveyard up the hill. Chaplin says that some his friends lay here.

Chaplin walks into a woodyard where men are sawing up old timber. They are in the yard of Chaplin’s old school where he and his school friends played marbles, rounders, Penkers, Blobbie, or Shooty Ring. Close-up of the roof where the old school bell used to hang in the bellcote, now gone. Chaplin remembers getting the cane. He goes inside his old school, and greets two old school friends, Bert and Wilf Metcalfe, and Bert’s wife, who run a thriving woodworking industry. Old second hand timber beams are pushed through an electric saw. He walks outside into the yard with Wilf and asks him how he started in the business. Wilf explains.

Next, Chaplin walks down High Row, Newfield, where he used to live. ‘It’s one of the coldest, windiest streets in the county. And yet at the same time, one of the warmest.' An old man in a flat cap greets him from his back yard gate.  Close-up of the coal hatch at No. 17, his old house. He looks into the back yard where there’s a tin bath hanging up outside the house, and a longer one resting up against a wall. A child’s toy buggy also stands in the yard.

He tramps across some wasteland back to the heart of Newfield. He says that this used to be the ball alley. Chaplin recalls men 'stripped to the buff’ playing some kind of a ball game, with spectators slipping them side bets.

He walks through the village. A woman with a young child exits a corner shop, a cat sitting lazily in the display window where merchandise boxes are scattered. Inside, the shop keeper stands behind his counter, jars of sweets and shelves of groceries behind him. Chaplin says the village is ‘under sentence of death’ and bemoans the fact that the old pattern of traditional village life will go for ever.

General views follow of Garden Street. Chaplin talks to Councillor Morris Dodds standing outside his wood clad house in Garden Street (still there), who talks about the old days when everyone provided their own entertainment, compared with the organised clubs today, payed for by the village. Chaplin says that he has happy memories of Newfield but he wouldn’t like to come back again. Dodds explains why he prefers the village life to towns. He says that his house in Newfield will outlast him.

Young school children leave a primary school in Newfield in a snow shower. [The school closed in the early 1980s.]

Chaplin talks to his old friends from Newfield, Bessie Simpson and her brother Joe Fairless, about their young days, remembering Joe having a motor car, a rare thing in those days. Their father and four brothers worked down the pit. Bessie describes the hard life of their mother, fresh bread to bake every day, carrying water to a tin bath in the front room for the men. Joe describes the hard graft of being a miner. He started on tuppence a day for a ten hour shift. Different jobs had different rates, usually no more than a penny’s difference. The shafts were flooded with water and miners were up to their knees in it. There was no sanitation.

Now in the local working men’s club, Chaplin chats to ex-miners about conditions down Newfield Colliery. They confirm the descriptions of life down the pit given by Joe Fairless.

Pigeons land on a loft. Edward Sharp waits for his birds to return. Chaplin talks to Sharp about the secrets of ‘the fancy’. He thinks pigeons get ‘in your blood’ once you get them.

A truck drives into Bishop Auckland, the Victorian Newton Cap Viaduct, which once carried the North Eastern Railway's branch linking Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Durham, can be seen in the background. [It closed in 1968, and was converted to road use in July 1995.] General views of rows of terraced houses with smoking chimneys, the town hall, shops down Newgate Street, the architecture of the Yorkshire Bank with its towers and turrets, and the gothic windows of buildings along the Market Place. Chaplin says Bishop Auckland was a ‘Mecca for miners’.

Chaplin walks down the dirt road to Auckland Castle, the gateway and clock tower in the background. He looks at the chapel, which he says was the first beautiful building that he ever saw. They were a ‘bit frightened of the Bishop then’ and crept around the building, and peep through the iron gates. ‘It was all so apart and mysterious.’ He wanders around the parkland where cows are grazing.

General view of the countryside outside Bishop Auckland, a hill leading to the Roman camp at Vinovium. He visits the site looks at the remains of the hot baths. General view of the high vantage point of the Vinovium site. Chaplin stands looking over a stretch of the River Wear.

He walks around a deserted part of the village, recalling the friendliness and the jazz music heard belting out through the open doors of the houses; the Charleston, the shimmy, and foxtrot.

Chaplin approaches the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Newfield. Close-up of the carved stone sign. Interior views follow as a sermon is heard. Billy Willis, who retired from the Newfield brickworks after 51 years, now takes care of the chapel. [Chaplin was a Methodist lay preacher as a young man.] Chaplin talks to Billy Willis about the declining congregation but the same welcome for everyone there ever was.  Close-up of a picture of the brick works he received from the manager on his retirement hanging on his living room wall.

Various shots of the brickworks follow, supplied with clay underlying the Beaumont Seam, which in 1969 was the main source of employment in Newfield. Chaplin hears about the process of making bricks. A mechanical brick making machine is in operation inside, operated by a male worker. Outside, bricks are loaded onto bogeys by a fork lift, which is heaved by two men into another chamber at the brick works. The kiln fire has never been out since the 1926 strike.

General view of the brick works in the landscape, Newfield village on the hill behind. Chaplin says that the village looks a bit forlorn, neglected. A broken child's roundabout turns slowly on some waste ground. He sits on a wall and reminisces. He finds a cracked wall near the village, the abutments of the old bridge that carried the Clarence Railway, now a footpath. He and friends used to look for stonechats nests (birds) there as children. [It was originally intended to carry coal from South Durham to the Tees in competition with the Stockton and Darlington Railway.] He starts to head along the old wagon way, back to Newcastle he says.