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'Cumberland Story', 1946 Crown Film Unit

by ritsonvaljos

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Tom Stephenson, Tom Ritson, Joe Ritson, Humphrey Jennings, James Adam Nimmo
Location of story: 
Moresby Parks, Lowca, Workington, Cumberland, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 January 2005

Crown Film Unit Invitation Card to take part in the filming of Tom Stephenson's speech at Moresby Welfare Hall, September 1946

The making of a factual film about the post-war reconstruction of coal mining in Cumberland. Although made just after World War Two the reconstruction was based largely on ideas developed during the war.

In 1946, a Crown Film Unit made a documentary film called 'The Cumberland Story' that was subsequently released in British cinemas at the time. This invloved actual film footage of coalmines, coalminers and their communities in this short period between the end of World War Two and the Nationalisation of the Coalmines in 1947.

On 9 and 10 September 1946 I had two relatives, Joe and Tom Ritson, who took part in the film. They were asked to attend the Moresby Miners' Welfare Hall, which was a small village near where they lived at the time. I think they were paid 7/6d to attend for both nights.

This part of the film was to listen to a speech by the Cumberland Miners' Agent at that time, Tom Stephenson, entitled "The Future of the Coal Mining Industry". Watching the film, it looks like the speech lasted for perhaps half an hour, but the film makers wanted to keep changing the position of the cameras to give different views, which is why the filming was spread out over two evenings. Joe and Tom Ritson can be seen on the film, sitting in the audience listening to Tom Stephenson's speech.

The director of the film was Humphrey Jennings who was strongly influenced by 'Mass Observation'. He told the audience at Moresby Welfare Hall that he was "interested in showing reality". They had to act and react naturally. It was, of course a staged event but it did use actual people that had a personal interest in the mining industry.

Humphrey Jennings also directed a number of films during World War Two, particularly about the London Blitz. Apparently at the time he was making 'Cumberland Story' in 1946 his work was well known, and those taking part had seen his short wartime films about the Blitz.

At one time there was a copy of the film in the coal mining museum at Berry Hill, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. It is an interesting and historical record of immediate post-war Britain. The film was re-released on video in 2004 so it has been preserved for posterity, even if it is one of the lesser-known works of the director.

Additional Information

In February 2005 I viewed 'The Cumberland Story' for the first time in over thirty years. My father is easy to identify on the film, although he has a non-speaking part.

The introduction to the film explains it re-creates a pioneer effort in the reorganisation of the coalfield and that it is played by the actual people concerned. The two central characters are Mr Tom Stephenson (Cumberland Miners' Leader) and Mr James Adam Nimmo (Mining Engineer and manager). Mr Nimmo must take equal credit with Mr Stephenson for the re-created events that mostly took place during World War Two.

James Adam Nimmo arrived in West Cumberland just after the war broke out. The film shows how he built up a development plan for the mines by finding and developing untapped coal reserves, gaining the co-operation of the Miners' Union and the trust of the workforce. One scene shows Mr Nimmo reading the 100 year-old writings of a former mining engineer while going over geological maps of West Cumberland. At the time, Mr Nimmo was on 'Fire Watching' duty early in the war at one of the mines. He then uses this knowledge together with new methods of working to exploit untapped coal seams out under the Irish Sea.

Although the part of the film my father was in was filmed at Moresby Parks, most of the filming has been done closer to the coast, mainly at Workington or Lowca. The coal mines there mined seams under the sea which is where the richer coal seams are located.

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Message 1 - Cumberland Story

Posted on: 24 January 2005 by TED DANN

Hi, not sure if this will be of any help to you, but if you go to GOOGLE and type in "Cumberland Story crown film unit" you then click on a couple of items there, they indicate that some films by Humpfrey Jennings are availabe from MOVIE MAIL there is an address given I noted your title was listed, hope this will be of some help to your search.
Ted Dann.


Message 2 - Cumberland Story

Posted on: 01 February 2005 by ritsonvaljos

Hi Ted Dann
Thanks for the message.

Another member of my family has just done as you suggest. Thanks to your lead we have now discovered the film is available on Video & a copy has been ordered.

Younger relatives will now be able to see their grandad or great-grandad on the film for the first time, rather than just look at the invitation card or hear us talking about it.

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