Traffic in the 1890s

Sunderland Bridge, County Durham, 1896

People often ask us what our oldest footage in the archive is and a quick search reveals there are only 38 films pre-1900. Some of this footage includes William Gladstone’s funeral (1898), Scenes from the Boer War (1899), Brighton beach bathing scenes (1898) and the New York Fire Brigade in action (1896). All of these films deserve blogs of their own but one of our most interesting newsreels (honestly) is a montage of clips filmed around the UK in the 1890s entitled Early Traffic Scenes.

Tower Bridge, London, 1890s

Admittedly, not many people would be interested in watching two minutes of footage taken in Piccadilly Circus in 2010 but it is quite different when the film is 110 years old. Whether it is of Sunderland Bridge or Bradford Square in Yorkshire, there is something quite absorbing and fascinating about a silent, grainy Victorian recording – especially when you are familiar with the location. 

Piccadilly Circus, London, 1896

Piccadilly Circus in 1896 – any similarities to today?  The horse-drawn buses look overcrowded and as the original mobile billboard, the buses flaunt rather bold and confident advertisements such as: “Cadbury’s Cocoa. ABSOLUTELY PURE – therefore BEST”.

Outside the Bank of England, London, 1897

If there was ever a time for the congestion charge – the traffic looks worse outside the Bank of England in 1897 than it does today. You can watch more of some of the oldest online moving footage here.

Amy Johnson – 1930s Queen of the Air

Bravo Amy! Amy Johnson on her return from South Africa

Amy Johnson was a much- fêted and courageous English aviatrix. Back in the 1930s she set many ground breaking records, including being the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. A heroine of her day, the Pathé cameras would often be waiting for Amy to commend and report on her achievements.

In 1933, during a flight from South Wales to the USA, Amy and her aviator husband, Jim Mollison, crash landed in Connecticut and according to our Pathé notes it was “after Husband ignored Wife’s advice to stop and refuel”. One would have thought this would have been significant advice and urgently acted upon in a 1930s aeroplane!

You can watch an interview with the couple after their crash landing. The pair are wheeled out in bath chairs to talk to the press. Jim, with a cigarette in his hand, resembles someone who has been in a considerable brawl. He calmly states, “we didn’t arrive in quite the way we anticipated”. One can only imagine what a wife would be saying to her husband after such an event….perhaps along the lines of ‘I did tell you we needed fuel”.

"Jim, I told you we needed fuel"

The extent of both Amy and Jim’s celebrated status at the time can be seen in this film where 200,000 New Yorkers turned out for an extraordinary ticker tape parade in their honour. If it wasn’t for the enormous bandage taped to Jim’s head, the parade could be mistaken for a Presidential inauguration party.

Heroic welcome in New York

 The last film we have of Amy is from 1939 when she swapped her aeroplane for a fast car and took part in the Monte Carlo car rally. Amy died on a short flight in 1941 when her plane came down miles off course in the Thames Estuary. She was just 38 years old. Many conspiracy theories and rumours surrounded her death at the time and even to this day there is still not a clear explanation as to what happened. For such an accomplished woman whose decorated career and movements were filmed by Pathé, it does seem strange we have no film in the archive mentioning the tragedy that befell her. However, at least we only have positive reminders of this British star.

1939, Last Pathe footage of Amy Johnson

Videos of Bastille Day: Archive Footage of the French Revolution Commemorated

Every year Paris puts on a grand military parade to signify July 14th, the day that the Bastille prison was stormed, a symbol and defining moment of the French Revolution. For military and French history enthusiasts, you’ll be thrilled to know that British Pathe have dozens of videos of Bastille Day across the 20th century. Take a look at these reels:

Bastille Day 1916

Bastille Day 1932

Bastille Day 1937

Bastille Day 1938

Bastille Day 1942

Bastille Day 1943

Bastille Day 1947

Bastille Day 1948

Bastille Day 1952

Bastille Day 1955

Bastille Day 1956

Bastille Day 1958

Bastille Day 1959

Bastille Day 1961

Bastille Day 1962

Bastille Day 1963

Bastille Day 1966

Bastille Day 1968

Cannibals On Film


Today’s blog post is on the unusual but fascinating subject of cannibals. This 1959 clip follows Assistant District Officer Alan Jeffries as he arrests native tribesmen of New Guinea on charges of cannibalism, following a murder enquiry. Although the initial interest in this video stems from the core subject of cannibalism, the footage very rapidly becomes a piece of social commentary on social misunderstanding, colonialism, definitions of criminality and problems with cultural cohesion. The British police officer comes across as a bit of a Wicker Man esque Edward Woodward character, as he bounds about the jungle proclaiming charges according to his own country’s legislation.

Of course it is understandable why he would be angry, having discovered that his colleague was murdered and then eaten by the tribe. However, the British Pathe narrator is wincingly empiric when he announces –  “During their detention they’ll be taught the ways of white men, so that when they return home they’ll be able to reclaim others from savagery”.

The whole exercise comes across as ever so slightly farcical, as two naked New Guineans are handcuffed outside their shelter built from sticks. The newly taken prisoners, who naturally don’t speak English, then seem to assist the policemen in directing the party on their way across some river rapids.

The British Pathe archive has some incredible footage of previously unvisited tribes, including this incredibly early 1929 safety print of Dyak Pygmies – or this incredible 1931 material filmed in the depths of a Brazilian jungle.