Discover a vanished rural life on film in Yorkshire

We're celebrating the launch of Rural Life: a new release of over 750 films charting the changing British countryside. Explore the ways of life and unique traditions still surviving amongst communities today, as well as those which have since dwindled or disappeared entirely.

The films form part of the BFI’s Britain on Film project, that reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from every corner of Great Britain from the UK’s key film and TV archives, including the Yorkshire Film Archive, available for free on BFI Player via an interactive map. The archive films will also be visiting over 125 locations around the country for special screenings and events.

Rural Life charts the changing countryside and rural life, highlighting activities, pursuits and traditions still surviving today, as well as customs, trades and skills that have since dwindled or disappeared. The films in Rural Life date from 1900 to 1999 and are drawn from the collections of the BFI National Archive and the UK’s Regional and National Film Archives, with content spanning the whole of the UK. Anyone can explore Britain’s rural past through the Britain on Film map, which reveals films shot in almost every county. Since Britain on Film’s launch, over 6 million people have visited the site to discover their country’s heritage. With this new collection, there are now over 5,000 films to see online – 97% of which are free. By 2017, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be newly digitised and available to view.

Some of the unique customs of the inhabitants of God’s Own County are revealed in films like The Pancake Day Scramble (Swinton, 1960) and Bringing in the Coal (Gawthorpe, 1980), which recorded the 17th world coal carrying contest.

Viewers can plot their own scenic journey through the much loved National Parks of the Yorkshire Dales & Peak District in films like Clarion Ramblers (1946-54) and YTV documentary Blowing Up The Dales (1987), which reveals how impassioned campaigners like Mike Harding fought to protect the quarries; an interesting comparison to the current fracking debate.

Commuters will be delighted to step inside The Farm on The Motorway (Calderdale, 1983) and discover the story behind the incongruous landmark that remains steadfast in the middle of the M62, and whilst visitors may no longer find bather’s changing huts on the banks of the River Ure, historic monuments like Fountains Abbey and the Spa Baths are instantly recognisable in Beauty Spots of Ripon (1922).

Graham Relton, Archive Manager, Yorkshire Film Archive said: ‘’We don't want our films to sit on the shelves in the vaults gathering dust, preserved, but still hidden from view. We are delighted that hundreds of our films have been digitised through Britain on Film, we have some truly beautiful footage of the Yorkshire countryside – the landscapes, the people, the crafts and traditions – all captured on film for us to see and enjoy. We are especially pleased to be able to announce a new touring programme of ‘Britain on Film: Rural’, with film shows, screenings and events coming to venues from festivals to local village halls in the coming months.’’

Rural Life presents an illuminating and moving record of Britain's changing countryside and its people, highlighting staple traditions like village pageants, farm shows and harvest festivals, Morris Dancers and Queens of the May. There are fairs, fêtes and festivals as well as countless other seasonal celebrations, while that great British institution, the village pub, features throughout. The gorgeous heritage of rural pursuits is captured in films about sporting events. Hunting (and hunt saboteurs) and horseracing feature alongside newer additions like motocross. Idyllic country holidays are captured in evocative amateur films, while travelogues offer enticing sights to lure more hikers and ramblers. There are also films exploring the varied history of farming and agricultural techniques, from sowing to harvesting. These are films which give a rich historical insight into the way we lived outside of big towns and cities, with landscapes and people who could have walked off the pages of Thomas Hardy, Walter Scott, John Betjeman or Catherine Cookson.

The BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) will be staging over 160 screening events in 129 locations. Full details and how to book these events can be found at

This will include a new touring programme of ‘The North on Film: Rural’, with film shows, screenings and events in venues from festivals to local village halls, taking place across Yorkshire, the North East of England, and Cumbria to be announced in the coming months. The events will offer audiences the opportunity to find out more about Britain on Film from curators at the regional film archive. The project will be presented to audiences in partnership with Film Hub North, The North East Film Archive, Yorkshire Film Archive, North West Film Archive and Cine North, funded by the BFI National Lottery Programme Development Fund.

Britain on Film is one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken and is part of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (2013-17). Unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy is a key strategic priority for the BFI, and Britain on Film is the public launch of a vast programme of work, which has been ongoing for over three years. Bringing together a partnership with Regional and National Film Archives and rights holder collections across the UK, this work has included a sophisticated programme of data capture, cataloguing, copying to archival standards, meticulous preservation of original materials, thorough searching of archives across the country, new state-of- the-art equipment and digital storage facilities and the transfer of films to the BFI’s online video platform, BFI Player.