CAST OF IRON
George was born at North Terrace, Loftus in 1897. His father Jack was a miner at Loftus Mine, Skinningrove (now the mining museum) before taking a job at Eston in 1902. The family moved into Bottomley’s Row, South Eston. At the age of 14, George followed his father into the pit. His first job was linking up empty wagons at Pit-Bottom before becoming a horse driver at the face. He went ‘in stone’, aka mining at the face, with his father and they worked together until a roof-fall buried them in 1923. They were trapped all day beneath ironstone and timber props and were lucky to survive. George worked in the pit until 1939 when ill-health forced to him to take ‘an easier job’ at the steelworks. He was the first miner that I found. He was hugely inspirational to the project and a real one off. I filmed him at his home and on the hills in March ’88. He was the star attraction at the Premiere of the first film at Kirkleatham Museum in ’89. He lived to the ripe old age of 94. My greatest regret was that I didn’t record more of him. His story alone was a film in itself.
Shortage of work had forced 17-year old Tom down the pit “for just a week or two” and against his mother’s wishes. That was because the pit had took the life of his eldest brother, Willie, in 1903 and then his father, Alf, in 1912. Tom’s brother, Alf Jnr, suffered serious injuries through a fall of stone as did Tom. He told me the busted leg and arm, fractured skull and double pneumonia that resulted was the best thing that ever happened to him. That’s because the nurse that looked after him became his wife! Tom’s two weeks in the pit lasted 25 years. He worked until pit-closure in 1949 and became the last survivor of the last shift. He attended both the 1989 and 2004 film premieres and passed away in 2005 at the grand age of 98. Without his expert knowledge and incredible memory, I couldn’t have made the 2004 film. He was so happy to see the film take off and the miners’ forgotten story finally told.
Jack lived at Pit-Top as a kid with his parents and 5 siblings. When his father was killed in WW1, the family moved down to Eston. In 1925, Jack joined the army and served 7 years before returning to an Eston in the grips of The Great Depression. With no work to be found elsewhere, he had to go down the pit. There he stayed for 16 years until 1948 when he transferred to the blast furnaces in Grangetown. He stayed there until retirement in 1973. I filmed Jack in Dec ’99 aged 91. He was so candid on camera and had us in stitches with his patter. He was too ill to attend the Premiere so I put the film on for him at the Lodge Farm old folks home where he saw out his days. He absolutely came to life watching it and even gave us a rendition of Jerusalem afterwards! He passed away just over a week later.
Miff, as everyone knew him, was born in Belmont Street California and the family later moved to The Square just a few feet from the rumble and clatter of the winding drum and wagons. In ’39, Miff followed his father, brother, uncle, great uncle and cousin into the pit. He worked first as a horse-driver and then became a miner at the face filling for his Uncle Freddie Brighton. In May ’49, his cousin Randall Brighton became the last man to be killed at Eston. As a mark of respect, the Brightons all left that day and never went back. Miff and his relatives got jobs at the ICI plant just opening at Wilton. He was filmed at his Normanby home in August 2001. When he passed away seven years later, he was 86 and the very last Eston miner.
Lol started at Spa Wood Mine, near Charltons, before transferring to Eston in the late 1920s. For many years, he cycled up to Pit-Top from his native Guisborough. He certainly wasn’t shy of hard work and had three jobs on the go in his younger days. He would do a shift in the pit, a shift at a farm on the way home and then a paper round in Guisborough after that. He worked at the face with brother Ozzy and in later years became a deputy, responsible for safety and installing props. He stayed at Eston until the last shift in ’49 and then became a deputy at South Skelton mine until that closed in ’54. He was filmed at the age of 89 in December ’99.
Jack was the eldest of 15 in a third generation Eston mining family. His father, grandfather, uncles and cousins all worked or had worked in the pit. Jack reluctantly followed suit. For 2 years, he drove horses around Pit-Bottom until being taken down to the face to serve the miners. After working in water up to his waist and having to breathe a load of smoke from an explosion, he walked out mid-shift. He crossed the moor dreading the wrath of his father but on arrival home got a pleasant surprise. His father said to him “Good for you lad, I don’t blame you”. I filmed Jack at his home in Dec ’99 aged 86. When he passed away in December 2012, he was 99 and the very last Eston mineworker (non-miner).
Doug’s father Fred took the job of head ‘hosskeeper’ at the California mines stables in 1926 and the family moved into the adjoining Stable House. Doug started his working life in the Tip-Yard before horse-driving at New Bank and then in Trustee. When war broke out in ’39, Doug tried to enlist but was rejected because mining was a ‘reserved occupation’ aka essential to the war effort. Doug refused to go back into the pit in protest and ended up in court. He was sent to Durham jail for a week as punishment before having to return to the pit. I filmed him in July ’89 at the California stables just a few months before the entire complex was regrettably demolished. The Clydesdale horse, chosen by Doug, was hired in to give an idea of just how big the pit-horses were at Eston; and dispel the common misperception that they were ‘pit-ponies’.
Ella was born Mahala Teate, daughter of miner Albert and granddaughter of George who was killed in the mine in 1886. She grew up in South Eston and after marrying miner Tom Newman moved first to North View and then Old Row in 1936. She lived there almost 60 years and was well known in the village as a keen Salvationist, swimming instructor and dinner lady at South Eston school. She was interviewed for the first film in June ’89. The following year I took her into Normanby Primary School to talk to the kids about the mining days. They then devised a play and one of the kids played her in it. Ella was the very last miner’s wife in California.
Hilda left her native South Bank in 1933 for a humble miner’s cottage in Cleveland Street, California. She had married Albert Cole, a horse driver in the pit and moved in with him and his father who was also a miner. She described it as “pure poverty” but despite having two men and two kids to feed on pitiful wages, she still found time to help feed 300 kids at the soup kitchen at the South Bank Mission. Hilda was a lay preacher there for 41 years and a confident speaker on camera too. She was filmed in May 2000.
Gwen grew up at Bolckow Terrace on the Eston Road near Grangetown. At 18, she moved to Eston Hospital to start nursing. She tended to many miners carried from the pit as well as steelworkers arriving via the railway at the Tip-Yard across the road from the hospital. During WW2, Gwen became an ambulance driver for Air Raid Protection and then for Dorman Long after the war. In 1961, she returned to nursing and worked until retirement in 1975. Finding Gwen was a massive boost to the project. I filmed her in March 2000 and her interview was pure gold. A truly fabulous lady, we got on a storm.
Mary was born at Pit-Top and lived next door to the school which could be heard through the wall. Her young life was all helping with chores and running errands: fetching water from the well, milk from the farm, sacks of food from the pit-head and newspapers all the way from Pinchinthorpe. When Mary was 16, she started work as a seamstress in Middlesbrough. Every morning she would cross the moor and run down to Eston to catch the early bus. It was walking over the hills that she met her future husband Bill Barker who was on his way to the pit where he worked as a horse-driver. Mary was filmed in June 2000.
Gwen was born at Pit-Top, next door to Mary (above). Her father Tom was a miner and deputy in the pit, brother Maurice was a horse-driver in the pit and brother Tom Jr. worked in the Tip-Yard. Gwen’s early years were spent baking with her mother as well as gathering firewood, brambles and mushrooms. She had to collect water daily from the well and help with the possing of clothes. In 1938, with Pit-Bottom almost worked out, the family bade farewell to Pit-Top and moved down to join “The Townies” in Eston. Gwen was interviewed in early 2000 aged 77. She was the one of the last surviving Pit-Top natives and became the last surviving interviewee from the film. She passed away in 2017 at the age of 94.
In 1590, when Elizabeth I was on the throne, the blacksmith’s shop in old Eston was being worked by the Snowdon family. In 1988, almost 400 years later, I was astounded to find it still was! Bill Snowdon then aged 82, told me how he had worked there since he was 13 and that he was the last in the line. He was precious living history. I asked him if he would go on camera but being a very humble quiet bloke, he was having none of it. He wouldn’t even let me film him working. But my luck was in. In June ’89, as I turned up with a camera crew to film just the building exterior, a horse was arriving for shoeing. Bill relented! He let us shoot him at work but no interview – alas! He loved the first film attending the premiere at Kirkleatham Museum in a fine 3-piece tweed suit. The business was wound down over the next year or so. He passed away at the age of 87 and Eston’s epic dynasty passed into history.
Ironmaster of Bolckow & Vaughan
Back in 2002, my search for a mature actor to play Vaughan took me to M’bro Reference Library as they had a copy of the Spotlight Actors Directory. This comprised 8 volumes containing thousands of actors faces. Paul’s leapt off the page. I was in new territory but I had a gut feeling he could well be the one. With fingers crossed, I sent him my script for the opening scene. He was interested. As he lived in London, we did a telephone read-through with me reading for Marley. I was thrilled he was taking my script seriously. This was an actor with well over 30 years on stage and screen. He is most recognised today for his role in the BBC sitcom ‘As Time Goes By’ and it was a week after filming that, with Dame Judi Dench, that he was running up Lazenby Bank with us! It was fantastic working with Paul and on the very path that Vaughan and Marley walked up in 1850!
of Bolckow & Vaughan
To cast the younger part of Marley, I posted on the ‘Actors Wanted’ section of the filmmakers website ‘Shooting People’. In no time at all, around 50 actors had emailed CVs and photos. The very first of which was Jason and I got an immediate good feeling about him too. He had done some period pieces on the stage and was keen for more film work. He arrived the next day (and in some style on a vintage motorbike) for an audition in my front room. We did a read-through with me reading for Vaughan and I gave him the job without hesitation. The fact that he was well spoken and from Darlington, just like Marley, was a bonus good omen! Jason did us a grand job on a frantic single day of shooting at Lazenby Bank and Kildale before an evening session in a M’bro recording studio for the voiceover parts.
Voice of Henry Bolckow
To bring to life a key piece of Bolckow’s grand speech that he gave soon after the ironstone discovery, I needed someone with a commanding voice and credible German accent. I knew no German actors. The only person who came to mind was Michael Sheard who played Adolf Hitler in Raiders of The Lost Ark (and one of Darth Vadar’s henchmen in Star Wars – not relevant but very cool!) I discovered he wasn’t actually German but Scottish. Nonetheless, I had that gut feeling again and went with it. I found his website, dropped him a line and within half an hour we were talking on the phone. He was up for it! I didn’t want to shell out for a London sound studio to record just 3 lines so Michael suggested we meet at a big hotel that he knew in Belgravia and just walk in, go into a corridor and do it there. And that is what we did. We met up the following week. He appeared large as life and we strode in to this grand hotel, past the reception and went for it before we were busted! We did a few takes, his voice bellowing down the corridor. As bemused hotel guests started poking their heads out of their rooms, it was in the can. We marched straight back out, wished the unawares concierge a good day and hit the pub next door. Great fun! We chinked our glasses and I’m sitting there thinking there actually exists in this world an actor who has worked with Spielberg, Lucas and me!!
Wally K. Daly
Voice of Landor Praed
- Victorian Reporter
For the Victorian reporter, Landor Praed, who wrote, in a fantastically flamboyant style, about Teesside’s early iron-making boom, I needed someone of appropriate character. Playwright and actor Wally K. sprang to mind. We had met back in 1990 when he interviewed me for a BBC Radio 4 ‘Down Your Way’ that he was making about his early years in Grangetown. He was pleased to help and delivered Praed’s epic lines in what he described as his “finest eccentric Churchillian”. Perfect!
Jane Crawford & Veronica Twidle
as a Miners' Wife and Widow
These were two small but essential parts. Jane from Bishop Auckland had worked with friends of mine in theatre around the North East for many years. I found Veronica in Saltburn. A stage and screen veteran, she had appeared in many North East TV productions over the years including ‘When The Boat Comes In’, ‘Byker Grove’ and ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’.
This fine bunch of vagabonds…were made up of mates, neighbours, one of my old art college tutors and a complete stranger who looked the part. Only one had any movie experience and that was my mate Fran (Back row in blue) He was an extra in a Roman Polanski film back in the 70s!
(Front Row) Andy Smith, Sean Smith, Dale Warriner, Keith Murray, Neil Warriner. (Back Row) Kevin Walpole, Anth Smith, Fran Michna, Dave Williams – California, Nov 2000.
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A CENTURY IN STONE
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