A Film Evening
12 March 2007
For this meeting, we reverted to the technology of
yesterday and had a programme of ciné films presented by Frank
Banfield. Beginning with the earliest railway ciné known —
scenes on a French station in 1895 - Frank took us on a tour in black
and white silent film across the Tay Bridge (1897), the ”Great Train
Robbery• USA-style of 1903, and up the Catskill Mountains in 1906.
This film was remarkable because every frame had had to be photographed
and restored from a paper negative held in the US Library of Congress.
Given that it‘s about 15 minutes long that‘s around 15,000 frames!
We saw one of the slightly dangerous practices of 100 years ago,
upon which our dear Network Rail might frown: platelayers using
home-made ”sleds• to ride down the rack of the Washington cog railway -
4 miles in 4 minutes, and not much by way of brakes!!
Frank took us to Ireland to see the Listowel and Ballybunion
MonoRail in 1920, a project whose inherent complexities - including
locos with a boiler each side of the monorail and carriages where a
ladder was necessary to get from one side to the other, not to mention
”bascule• road crossing bridges like those on Dutch canals — were all so
great and unique as to have guaranteed its economic failure. But then
it was Ireland after all.
And also in Ireland, a 1950 colour film, shot by Pat Whitehouse, of
the Tralee and Dingle Railway. Delightful narrow gauge with all the
And so nearer home with a short film about ”London‘s River• made
before the war and a 1937 SR film of the transport of fruit from
Southampton Docks to London. We were flabbergasted to see the huge
numbers of men off-loading, humping, carting, re-loading and stacking
penny numbers of crates of orange boxes at each stage of a short
journey. No wonder containers are popular!
”Firsts• and ”lasts• were also featured. The first electric trains
on the Liverpool Street — Southend Victoria line and the last trams and
trolley buses in London.
It all seems so long ago now, but we felt privileged to have been
able to remind ourselves of the strides that have been made. I wonder
what 2007 will seem like in 50 years‘ time?