Rare 1914 footage of Hartlepool bombardment revealed

A chance find has led to previously unseen footage, showing the aftermath of the bombardment of Hartlepool on 16 December 1914, being made available for the first time.

The film was discovered in a box of broken cameras and lenses, by museum curator Mark Simmons, who works for Hartlepool Borough Council.  Mark bought the box at Tynemouth Market, and only later discovered a film reel, wrapped in sheets of old greaseproof paper, lying at the bottom.

He was amazed to read the title card on the first frames – The Attack on the Hartlepools – as he’d been actively researching the bombardment since 2011, looking for new information to use as part of museum displays and memorial events.

Mark brought the reel to the North East Film Archive and, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of our North East on Film project, we were able to work with the British Film Institute to digitise the fragile nitrate film.

Made by the Gaumont Company and of unique historical significance, it can be described as the best quality of any films showing the damage inflicted on the town and shows areas not captured in other footage of the event.

During the 40-minute dawn attack, the heavy cruisers Blucher, Seyditz and Moltke fired some 1,100 shells, killing 130 people and injuring over 500 more.  The Heugh Gun Battery on the Headland targeted the three German cruisers but could not prevent devastation in the town.

The film also includes footage of the attacks on Scarborough and Whitby, which took place on the same day.  They were the only battles to be fought on home soil during World War One.

Archive manager Graham Relton said: “The World War One Hartlepool film is special, from its chance survival and discovery to its unique historical significance.

“We are delighted to have been able to ensure that the film is preserved for future generations and, importantly, make it accessible to audiences now.”

The restored film, plus further information and context supplied by Mark Simmons, can be watched online at http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/film/attack-hartlepools