Now and Then 1979 – lifeboatman and local fisherman Shrimp Davies talks about life and work at Cromer

Now and Then film Shrimp Davies

The East Anglian Film Archive has some cracking stuff. Here’s a 1979 film in which local fisherman and legendary lifeboatman Shrimp Davies talks about life and work around the beaches of Cromer in Norfolk, and finishes up with some singing and stepdancing in a favourite pub. We’ve seen the last bit before, but the rest is new and it’s all interesting.

Here’s how the archive describes the short film:

‘Shots of the streets of Cromer, guided by Henry ‘Shrimp’ Davies. He shows Cromer town centre, Bob Davies’ Crab Shop, and the bust of lifeboatman Henry Blogg. He walks down to the beach to the crab boats which gives clear views of Cromer and its major buildings, including the Church and the Pier. A stills sequence, compares various scenes of Cromer in the 1970s with how they appeared in 1890. There seems to have been very little change. An interesting feature from this sequence are the bathing machines sitting on the beach. Crab boats are winched onto a trailer and then pulled up the beach by tractor and the crabs unloaded. There are shots of children playing on the beach and of a Punch and Judy man setting up. Concludes with shots of the interior of the Bath Hotel. Fisherman are singing and step-dancing to the accompaniment of Percy Brown on the accordion.’

I’d call that accordion a melodeon, but it’s still a great thing…

Btw, I love this photo of Blogg.

While we’re looking at the EAFA’s material, there’s a fabulous piece of 1902 footage showing herring drifters returning to port and Scottish fisher lassies on the Great Yarmouth’s quays, and a 1930s piece showing bad weather at Clacton in Essex – including a paddle steamer leaving Clacton Pier, probably in order to take holiday makers home to London despite the storm.

Films online from the East Anglian Film Archive

East Anglian Film Archive

There’s some great film at the East Anglian Film Archive readers Paul Mullings and John Button have been in touch to tell me about material they’ve found on the East Anglian Film Archive – and in doing so, they’ve opened a Pandora’s box.

There’s some wonderful stuff here. Typing the word ‘wherry‘ into the search box reveals a selection of videos about the craft and the trade they used to ply, including reminiscences from old wherryman Nat Bircham and a cracking sequence in which the Albion breaks her mast on-camera.

Punch in the word ‘barge‘ and you’re immediately rewarded with Venture On The Wind, an eleven-minute film made in 1970  and described as ‘an impressionistic study of an outing of cine film enthusiasts on a Thames sailing barge on the River Orwell‘. The barge sails from Pin Mill.

There’s a useful film about the history and tradition of maritime East Anglia, but my own personal favourite has to be Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow, filmed at the legendary Blaxhall Ship Inn some time in the fifties. The Ship is a wonderful put that I’m glad to say is still a singing pub today – in fact, they’ll be singing this lunchtime as they always do on a Monday. There should be more pubs like the Ship, and more singers too.

There’s a job to be done in searching the other film archives around the country for similar material – for someone who has the time. Meanwhile – thanks Paul and John!

Cromer Lifeboat crew stepdancing in the 1970s

This YouTube gem shows the Cromer Lifeboat crew stepdancing to a melodeon in the 1970s.

It’s a shame enthusiasts for old and traditional boats tend to ignore the cultural stuff – the songs, stories and dancing – that goes along with sailing and fishing.

But they’re obviously important, and step dancing is in some ways especially precious because it’s so unrecorded. For generations it was ignored by folklorists and historians because it was so very common in the pubs of East Anglia and the south-eastern corner of England and along the South Coast . And then in many places it rapidly disappeared, along with the last generation that practised it.

But all is not lost. Step dancing never quite died out in East Anglia and is now experiencing quite a revival with competitions and exhibitions, as well as spontaneous stepping in pubs. In Kent and Sussex also, families and enthusiasts are keeping the tradition alive, and working to bring it back into the public realm.

My thanks to ace melodeon player Katie Howson of the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust for spotting this one.