Returning to a long lost era

This Is Wiltshire: Ken Winslow Buy this photo Ken Winslow

DURING the spring and summer of 1951 two brothers, Tony and Ken Winslow, made the most of their weekends and school holidays by exploring the historic wonders on Swindon’s doorstep. At the family home in Downs View Road, they studied maps of Wiltshire and Berkshire with their mother Kathleen before setting off to inspect and experience the area’s archaeological gems.

They climbed to the top of 2,700 year-old Liddington Castle, with its spectacular views of Swindon before venturing along the Ridgeway – both on foot and by car – to another lofty Iron Age hill fort, Barbury Castle.

In the other direction they clambered onto the prehistoric white horse hill carving at Uffington which, by luck, was undergoing repairs as a gang of workmen packed new turf around the chalky nag.

Another day, they headed west to Avebury and marvelled at the giant, craggy monoliths, some nearly 5,000 years old, at the world famous stone circle complex before scampering to the summit of mysterious Silbury Hill.

The white horse at Cherhill, cut in 1780 on the Marlborough Downs near Calne, was also investigated, along with the towering nearby 19th Century obelisk – then in a perilous state of repair before its eventual restoration.

Ferrying them from site to site in his grey Humber was their father Denis, who filmed the boys with his trusty cine-camera as they roamed the many historic monuments within a 30-minute drive of Swindon.

For decades the colour footage, now more than 60 years old, had been gathering dust until finally finding its way into the hands of freelance Swindon film and video director Martin Parry.

Martin has now cleaned and digitised the film and made it available on-line for everyone to enjoy, courtesy of his enduring labour of love, the Western Film Archive (WFA).

Just under 24 minutes long, In Search of History was filmed, edited and given its title by Denis Winslow in July, 1951, as he charted the experiences of his sons Tony, 14, and Ken, eight.

The film evokes a lost era when few cars travelled these rural roads and the region’s magnificent sites were uncluttered by hordes of visitors.

Martin said “They say the past is another country and this film seems to highlight that truism. I get the feeling that ‘history’ although a worthy pursuit, was a very different concept than it is now; this is before the age of ‘heritage’ and a ‘heritage industry.’”

Martin said the major historical sites visited by the brothers in the film “feel as if they are remote and neglected backwaters, tucked away out of sight.”

He noted that Avebury, at the time the film was shot, was disfigured with unsightly telephone poles next to the ancient stones.

“This is clearly an age before such dressing of one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites would engender widespread outrage, and that adds to the air of a place lost and forgotten.

“The film itself is very much a piece of history. I enjoy it very much for its leisurely style.

“Filmmakers then weren’t thinking that you might change channels if they dwelt a while, so none of the quick cutting and frenetic pace of much filmmaking today: the atmosphere of these places and the countryside is better conveyed as a result.”

He added: “Life seems unhurried, the land bound in a timeless slumber. Modern agriculture has yet to arise. The war has gone, and jet trails do not yet fill the skies.”

Martin, of Central Swindon, was given the film by Ken, now a 70 year-old grandfather and Swindon businessman. Tony, Ken’s older brother, sadly died at the age of 65 in 2002. (See panel) Earlier this year father-of-four Martin, who is in his 60s, received a Pride of Swindon award in recognition of his work in archiving and placing on the internet more than 1,000 videos charting the history and culture of Swindon.

His archive is a mixture of his own footage, a growing cache of archaic reels he has restored, newly filmed material, and a treasure trove of video-taped material from the vaults of Swindon Viewpoint, for many years the town’s unique community TV channel.

In Search of History can viewed, alongside countless other films, at: www.swindonviewpoint.com/western-film-archive l Martin has just produced two Western Film Archive DVDs, Swindon’s History on Film Volume 1 and Volume 2. The 90-minute discs feature selections from local films spanning a century with virtually every decade represented.

To order either, send a cheque or postal order for £13.99 each (which includes return postage) payable to Western Film Archive, 10 Dixon Street, Swindon, SN1 3PL, or contact them on westernfilmarchive@gmail.com.

Proceeds go towards the costs of restoring and digitising old films.

FATHER-of-two Ken Winslow watched with delight as his younger self and older brother scrutinize the mighty megaliths at Avebury and check-out some of the magnificent white horse hill carvings in the Swindon area.

He can’t remember the last time he saw the film; in fact, he doesn’t even recall his father Denis, a former warden at Christ Church, Old Town, shooting it.

After all, it was more than 60 years ago – and his father, over a period of 40 years between 1935 and 1975, made about 50 films.

“He was an avid film-maker,” said Ken, who lives at Lydiard Millicent and has four grandchildren. He used 16mm colour film, so it’s all good quality.”

Since the 1970s all of those movies – comprising thousands of feet of footage – had been stored in a large chest at the Winslow’s family business, Cheque Interchange in Swindon’s Commercial Road.

”I am thrilled that this is being done,” said Ken, referring to Martin Parry’s efforts to digitize the films and place them on the internet.

“We just didn’t know what to with all of these reels. Then, by chance, I met Martin.
“He said they were great interest and he’s now working on them.”

When Martin has digitised the film, and turned them into DVDs for the family, the precious reels will be stored a national archive to ensure they don’t disintegrate.

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