HULL STREET SCENES (c.1957) film no: 2121

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This is one of several films made by John Turner, a young filmmaker who captured life in Hull after the Second World War during a time of great social change.  The film includes footage of the terraced housing of Hull which was badly damaged by the wartime bombing, and many times children can be seen playing on these derelict sites.  The film also includes scenes of a church procession, a hunting party in Driffield, teenagers in Pearson Park, and people shopping in Hull city centre. 

The film opens with a man walking down a terraced street in Hull, and more of the townspeople can be seen in terraced streets including children playing.  There is a street sign for Emerald Terrace.  Much of the area has extensive bomb damage.  A woman picks up wood or coal from the bombed out areas, and she is watched by two elderly men.  More children are out playing in the streets and in the bomb sites.  One man, with just one leg, walks on crutches down a street.  There is a playground, with a roundabout and swings, near where the children play.  The film follows an old man walking along before shots of Paradise Place which has scaffolding in front of the swings.  On a main street, a postman walks along, and down a back street, children are out playing with a pram and a sidecar.

People are served fish and chips at Coronation Fisheries.  Outside boys play football on a large derelict area with other children, including a little boy, sitting with folded arms.

A hunting party gathers in the centre of Driffield, and there is a large crowd of onlookers gathered outside the Bell Hotel.  A man leans out of a window above a shop, ‘Southalls’, taking a photograph.  Eventually the riders round up the hounds and make their way off.  Two well-dressed women onlookers wave to the camera.  This is followed a by a woman sitting at home, leafing through a magazine with a box of chocolates.  A man sits nearby, cracking and eating nuts.  Outside the woman hangs up some peanuts in a tree for the birds.
 
The next scenes are in Hull where children play cricket on a derelict area of land, and a group of children watch from a nearby street.  I another street, on a windy day, a Salvation Army Band gathers for a church parade which is watched by people from the sides.  The procession, perhaps for Whitsun, is lead by members of the church who carry a banner.  They are followed by a long line of girls who are dressed all in white and women wearing white head dresses, carrying a banner reading ‘Queen of Peace.’  The procession continues with other members from the church, and this footage is interspersed with shots of the crowd and the Salvation Army Band.  One man watches with his daughter sitting on his shoulders.  Next in the procession are scouts, sea cadets and troops.  They are watched by the Mayor who makes a bow to the passing procession.

The crowds then disperse along the street in front of Hepworths department store and Paragon Stores.  A man pushes a car, and people queue for buses on the busy streets.  Some elderly people are seated on benches.  A group of teenagers walk past eating ice cream in wafers, and several young couples meet up in front of some shops.  There are groups of shoppers and people queuing for the cinema showing the film Don't Go Near the Water.

On the terraced streets of Hull, boys and girls play in the road, a girl is on a push scooter, and some race bikes.  In an empty back yard stands a tricycle.  There is footage of a pawn shop sign and some roofs before returning to some younger children playing in a derelict area.  A new large building is being built, and back in the city centre, children sit on a bench, and crowds pass around a fountain.  There is a quick flash of teenagers at a rifle range, before a crowded city centre street.  Women try on hats inside a large store, and teenagers looking through the record department, possibly in Hepworths Store.  After some accidental footage which seems to be pointing at the floor, the film returns to a shop with a sign for Music & Records. 

In a park, boys and girls play in a sand pit, on a roundabout, and on a see-saw.  Two boys let a dog go for a run, three children sit in a pram, and there is a group of teenagers.  An elderly lady sites on a broken bench, and a group of youths stand in front of the Prince Consort’s Statute in Pearson Park.  One of them carves his initials into a wooden bench, and children play on swings.  There is brief footage of a football match of Hull City at Boothferry Park, and the park where there is a climbing frame. 

At the Hull docks, five tugs are lined up in a row at the mouth of the River Hull.  After their arrival, the barriers to the river close behind the boats.  The tugs, among them the Merman of Hull, make their way up the river.  Larger ships are docked up in one of the bigger docks.  In the background Amos & Smith can be seen.  In among all the ships a flag flies, possibly Liberia.  Some workmen take the docking ropes off a ship and then take up the gangway.  Other flags and ships are shown, including the Brunswick Wharf being towed out.  Other tugs in operation include the ‘Handyman’.  One of the ships being towed out is the ‘Kedma’, flies an Israeli flag.  Another is the ‘City of York’, which is pulled away from the dock by a group of men.

Hull city centre is bustling with shoppers.  Some window-shop at a clothing store.  Inside a crowded food market, there is a variety of food and household goods on sale, and again the sign for ‘Music and records’ is seen in the market.  Some of the shoppers drink tea.  At the record store, LPs and singles are on display, the former for 6’6 (6 shillings and sixpence = approx. 32 pence).  There are crowds of shoppers, and many women carry hat boxes.  From inside a TV shop, a shoe shop can be seen opposite.  Back inside the market, shoppers, including an off duty army serviceman, look through the goods.  A boy in a duffle coat opens up a pen knife.  People buying goods can be seen from both sides of the counter, including a haberdashery, and more singles are shown on display.

In a poverty-stricken area of Hull, children play with a model of a castle on the doorstep of a ruined building.  Washing hangs in the backyards, and the film shows the bomb damage and poor conditions of the terraced housing.  A woman and her son return home carrying milk from the shop, and girls play skipping in the streets.  Two children sit against a wall.  Some people pass by a newspaper stall, including another boy with a duffle coat, and there is a man with a hot chestnut stall.  There is a brief view of people on a ride at a fair.

On one of the derelict sites there is a family by a caravan with a dustbin and a mangle outside.  A boy and a girl play on a home-made see-saw which has been made using a ladder and a chair.  A boy cleans a lorry, and a car is parked outside another caravan where two boys clean their boots.  Down a street of terraced housing, a man has a cart, and girls play hula-hoop.  At the fair, teenagers and children go on some rides.  Back on the streets, small children are out playing, and washing which hangs between the houses can be seen.

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This fascinating film is one of a number of films made by Hull student, John Turner. John arrived in Hull in 1957 to study Physics at the University, leaving three years later. From his lodgings on Wellbeck Street, the home of Mrs Holmes, John would venture out onto the streets of Hull and film whatever he came across. John made the films using just 4 minutes 10 second reels, which required turning over when half way through – hence we sometimes get a glimpse of John’s shoes! These short reels simply got spliced together without any editing; so that the film will skip around from street scenes, to shopping scenes, to dock scenes – something that adds to the film’s ‘fly-on-the-wall’ character. Together they make up over 100 minutes of film.
 
John kept the films until quite recently when he donated them to the North West Film Archive, in Manchester, near where John lives, who passed them on to the YFA. They had remained all that time unwatched.  But John’s father-in-law had also been an amateur filmmaker in the 1930s, and he hadn’t kept his films, thus making John aware of just how important it was not to discard these films. The film makes an interesting contrast to the film made of the visit of the Queenand Prince Philip to Hull, which also took place a bit earlier in 1957 – see Royal Visit to Hull.
 
Although John had been using a camera before he arrived in Hull, he made the films mainly as a way of getting to meet new people. The fact that John came from quite a different, and better off, background than those he met gave the filming an added interest. John had no hidden agenda, just a fascination with what he saw.  Interviewed for the ITV programme The Way We Were, John recalls some of the appalling conditions caused by poverty.  But his most abiding memory is of just how friendly people were, never objecting to his filming. Indeed, he was able to wander around the docks without anyone bothering him.
 
John notes that he may well have been influenced by the cinéma vérite that he saw at University. This was the name given to those films, both fictional and documentary, that had become especially important in France. Cinéma vérite, literally film truth or ‘truthful film’, drew upon the realism that developed in strands of French arts, especially in the novel, in the later part of the 19th century. Beginning in the 1950s, some French film directors started using non-actors, small hand- held cameras, and real life locations. Nevertheless, despite the similarities, cinéma vérite was would often manipulate what was being filmed, to get at a deeper truth, and sound was also important to this. Moreover, by and large cinéma vérite post-dates these scenes from Hull, taking off as it did in the early 1960s, so perhaps not too much should be made of the influence here. In fact this film might better be placed under the heading of ‘Naturalism’, where any human mediation between the camera and what is being filmed is kept to an absolute minimum.
 
Rather, the camera was for John more a prop that enabled him to communicate to people. Looking back on this enterprise it might be considered a brave undertaking for an 18 year old, and somewhat shy, middle class student to do. Indeed, the gangs of Teddy boy youth would certainly be intimidating, not without reason. But John would ask them directions for somewhere, and then use this as a way in to ask if they minded being filmed. Perhaps it is of some significance the fact that there is very little ‘playing up’ for the camera from any of those being filmed: something that may well be very different today.
 
Something that has certainly changed is the practice of people going around to their neighbours to watch TV. John recalls their next door neighbour, a teacher and her young daughter, popping around to watch Dixon of Dock Green. Another 1950s Hull resident, from Hessle Road, Ron Wilkinson, also interviewed on the Way We Were, notes that despite the poverty, and maybe in part because of it, there was a strong sense of community at that time, and he doesn’t remember anyone having to lock their doors. It can of course be pointed out that although much of the sense of being part of a local community has been lost, much has been gained over the proceeding decades in living and housing conditions. Yet despite this progress, it might be asked why there hasn’t been so much more given the continual housing problems and poverty that remain in Hull.
 
Ron Wilkinson also recalls that Hull City Centre in the late 1950s and early1960s was a good place to be. By and large there wasn’t any excessive drinking, and in the evening the music halls, the Continental and the Tivoli, were popular, as were the pubs, most of which would have a local rock’n’roll band playing. The film also shows the popularity of Hepworths department store, which features in other films –see The East Riding (1959) and the Context for this for more on Hepworths. Perhaps even more interesting is seeing Sydney Scarborough record store (now gone). Record stores like this were once common, but now rather rare. Those of a certain age might recognise some the records on display –during the last three months of 1957 Elvis had eight hit 45s in the charts.
 
But perhaps the most poignant images in the film are those of the children playing in the streets and the derelict areas severely damaged by German bombing. Hull had been particularly hard hit by bombing raids, and was in the process of radically re-building – see the Context of King Visit to Hull (1941), for more on the bombing the re-building.  It was a time when it was usual for children to play on the streets – John Turner doesn’t remember there being any cars on the street where he lived. There must be some irony in the way that the homes that had been devastated by bombing, and the lives lost as a result, had become the play areas of the following generation – a phenomena that is still too frequent an occurrence in other parts of the world.
 
It is perhaps easy to get sentimental about this ‘bygone age’, but it was an age when the culture was changing rapidly.  At the time John was walking the streets of Hull with his cine camera, another member of the University of Hull, lecturer Richard Hoggart, was publishing his influential book The Uses of Literacy. In this seminal work, sub titled Aspects of Working Class Life, Richard Hoggart chronicles what he saw as the breaking down of a popular culture and its replacement with a mass culture promulgated by a mass media. Whether or not John would have been aware of this book, his film makes for a fascinating compliment to Hoggart’s thesis – one that has become more relevant in the intervening years. 
 
John certainly was aware of the fact that the time he was filming was an important transitional period, one when many of the bomb damaged terraced housing was being replaced by new council estates and high rise flats. This historical background was in the back of John’s mind, though in his interview he plays down the significance the films may have. But his film will surely be an important document for social historians, and a vivid portrayal of a lost world for both older and younger generations.
 
References
 
Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life, Chatto and Windus, 1957.
Peter Wintock, Cinéma Vérite: defining the moment, DVD, Beckman Visual, 2006.

2 Comments

Does anyone recognise the Pal Joey single in the music shop window at about 16 mins 15 secs in?

Mon, 2012-09-10 11:51

People attended Hull Fair for various reasons in the 50s, eg boxing, wall of death, side shows such as the fattest lady and the flea circus. There were also the rides, popular with the teenagers, of course.

For housewives, though, one of the main attractions was Chicken Joe. It seems hard to understand these days, but chicken was a luxury normally only afforded at Christmas in the 1950s. I think it was a shilling to take part in the game on Chicken Joe's stall, and I remember my Mum tried desperately to win every year, while I wandered off to look at other stalls.

I remember one year turning round and seeing my Mum walking towards me with a chicken in one hand and a bag of groceries (also part of the prize) in her other hand. For some reason, I thought she had 'borrowed' the chicken from someone who had won one, as a joke, but eventually she convinced me she really had won it. We were both thrilled.

That would be perhaps in 1956. Seems odd these days to think winning a chicken could produce so much excitement.

The chickens, by the way, were hung up all around the stall.

Tue, 2010-07-20 14:37

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