A closer look at… “Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery” (1901)

The British Film Institute (BFI) has uploaded the short actuality film from 1901 titled Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery on their YouTube channel. The film is known to have been directed by pioneering cinematographers James Kenyon and Sagar Mitchell.

The film originates from the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection, named after the film company they owned. The company specialized in the production of early commercial motion pictures and was based in Blackburn, Lancashire. To this day, the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection is regarded as the largest surviving collection of early non-fictional actuality films by the same company. Hundreds of nitrate negatives of films by the Mitchell & Kenyon collection were discovered in 1994 by builders who were clearing out the basement of a toy store just before the building’s demolition.

Miners Leaving Pendlebury Colliery features, as the title explains, a processions of miners leaving the gates of a colliery in Pendlebury, Lancashire. The film is from 1901; it was therefore filmed at the dawning of Edwardian times.

This minute-long actuality, presented in excellent conditions of restoration, features many elements of interest. One of them is the fact that it clearly shows some of the workers being children – some of them, in fact, look no older than ten-years-old. The most surprising element, however, is a black Afro-Caribbean male appearing on the right side of the screen at around the 00:34 mark. He walks the length of the screen towards the left hand side, apparently joking with – possibly – a co-worker. He clearly steals the show, while the contrast between the color of his skin and the coal-blackened faces of the other workers is naturally ironic. This contrast might reveal that his appearance was apropos; staged.

The description of the video, as published on the BFI’s YouTube channel, also reveals that the man holding the poster, standing at the corner of the building and directing the procession to walk in front of the camera, is none other than traveling showman Albert Sedgewick. His role as producer (maybe even director) of the film in the conventional sense needs to be pointed out. He subsequently walks in front of the camera himself. This allows us to identify that the poster he is olding is an advertisement for the show that would have taken place later that night. It is very probable that the film we are seeing would have been screened at said show. It was not unusual, and in fact it was quite a common practice, for the pioneering cinematographers to shoot a film and show it shortly afterwards to the very same people that had served as the main subjects of the film. One can only imagine the wonder of the spectacle and the sheer delight of the first cinema audiences in seeing representations of themselves projected in a screening room.


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