Take a trip back in time with BFI footage of St Albans

Clockwise: market traders in '69. Town hall square in '20. Hill End in '54.

Clockwise: market traders in '69. Town hall square in '20. Hill End in '54.


A collection of archive footage of St Albans – some of which dates back to 1913 – has been released by the British Film Institute (BFI) as part of its #BritainOnFilm project.

BFI clip from the beating the bounds ceremony in 1913BFI clip from the beating the bounds ceremony in 1913

Thousands of home videos, amateur films, adverts and newsreels filmed in Britain over the past 120 years were made available to the public on the BFI website last week.

Included among them are four clips of St Albans featuring footage of a St Albans Beating the Bounds ceremony from 1913 and a tour of the city centre from 1920.

A film from 1954, entitled View of St Albans, features picturesque shots of Verulamium Park and its lake while Market Day in St Albans, from 1969, shows a bustling market filled with shoppers dressed in quintessentially-sixties fashion.

Cathrine Newly, St Albans museum curator and post-medieval and contemporary history expert, said: “The clips are brilliant. I didn’t realise they existed but they all show St Albans in a really beautiful light.”

BFI heading down French Row in 1920BFI heading down French Row in 1920

Speaking about the footage from 1969, Catherine said: “It would be really lovely if we could find anyone who would recognise some of the faces in the market square.”

Cllr Annie Brewster, St Albans council’s portfolio holder for heritage, said: “To discover previously unseen films about St Albans at various intervals over the past 100 years is phenomenal.

“My overall reaction is to be reminded that we are important custodians of our spectacular heritage, with so little having changed in our environment save vegetation and fashion.”

The cafes that line the town hall square prove that although the likes of Costa and Caffe Nero might be new, the phenomenon of the coffee shop is certainly not.

BFI shoppers in the market in 1969BFI shoppers in the market in 1969

Cllr Brewster said she hoped to recreate the 1920s clip, which moves through the Town Hall square, past the building itself and down French Row.

She said: “The 1920 film is my favourite, containing the most extraordinary early moving camera footage which I suspect was filmed from a penny farthing due to its height above ground, its lilt, its ability to tackle the narrowness of the streets and, more telling, its acceptance from passers by.”

The project, a collaboration between various national and regional archives, is a product of an extensive process of digitisation beginning in 2012.

Angela Graham, archive manager for the East Anglian Film Archive which provided many of the clips from Hertfordshire, said she was “delighted” to be able to contribute to the project

BFI clip of Catherine Street roundabout from 1954BFI clip of Catherine Street roundabout from 1954

Heather Stewart, the creative director at the BFI, said: “The emotional power of film is huge and Britain on Film has the ability to touch everyone in the UK. It’s vital that the UK’s film and TV archives can be enjoyed by everyone.”

To view the clips for free online, click here.

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