Tag Archives: Charcoal Burners

Charcoal burning in the Lake District

Charcoal HayBridgeEarthburn 004
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Brian Crawley has emailed sending these unique photographs of his charcoal burn in Cumbria, telling me:
‘I am a ‘retired’ charcoal burner and we still do an occasional traditional charcoal burn in the same area of south Cumbria.’
He says that this burn was, ‘…done at Hay Bridge Nature Reserve only about a mile from the site where your charcoal burn took place.’ This was when Richard Pilbrow produced the film of Arthur Ransome’s book Swallows & Amazons on location in the Lake District in the summer of 1973. ‘As you can see there is a charcoal burner’s hut on the site like the one used to be on your site.’
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Charcoal HayBridgeEarthburn 007
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I was fascinated to see how the turf had been laid.
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Charcoal HaybridgeEarthburn 006
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Brian also sent photographs of the dip in the woods where I was shown around a similar hut in 1973 . He tells me, ‘I was shown the site by an acquaintance who lives close by and watched the filming as a young boy.’
Brian sent a photo of our old film location in the woods, taken about ten years ago, when you could still see the stones of the fireplace once set inside the hut. I remember the fire well. It was very smoky.
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Brian also sent me a scan of the postcard published by J Salmon showing the burn site, taken in 1972 about a year before Swallows & Amazons was filmed, featuring the same collier who helped us. ‘The postcard photo was probably taken by a local photographer and I also have other copies of charcoaling photos, taken about that time, from a book by the same photographer but they will be covered by copyright.’
Fortunately Simon Hodkin has just sent me this article that he’d kept in a scrapbook with a programme from the cinema:
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Charcoal Burners article probably late 1973
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I’ve also found two of my mother’s shots of filming the sequence in 1973 that haven’t been published before. The continuity girl’s typewriter stands on a folding table in the foreground and a section of camera track can be seen to the right.
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Charcoal Burners- longshot1

Behind-the-scenes on the film set of Swallows & Amazons (1974)

 
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We were busy shooting the scene when the Swallows are being shown the charcoal burner’s adder, kept under the bed for luck.
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Charcoal Burners- with Sophie

Director Claude Whatham, John Franklin-Robbins, Sophie Neville and Jack Woolgar. The 35mm Panavision camera can be seen to the left of shot.

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For earlier posts describing the filming of the charcoal burner scenes please click here
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‘…we still do an occasional traditional charcoal burn in the same area of south Cumbria.’ Brian explained adding, ‘The DVD that I have is also copyrighted but a video of one of my burns is on YouTube and can be viewed via our Coppice Association website.
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Stepehn Sykes, who lives at Hill Top, where Arthur Ransome once lived, has sent this link to a picture of Charcoal Burning near by at Bouth by Alfred Heaton Cooper. Please click here

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Brian told me, ‘Our next traditional charcoal burn will be done on 13th-15th June this year at the English Heritage Stott Park Bobbin Mill, only a couple of miles from Hill Top.’  A date for the diary. For further details please click here.
Brian’s son, who is a keen Swallows & Amazons fan will be doing a charcoal burn at Bank Ground Farm for the Coniston Regatta on Wednesday 28th May. ‘He will not be doing a traditional burn like we will be doing at Stott Park on 13/14/15 June but in a metal drum, still charcoal and smoke and possibly a snake.’
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Filed under 1973, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Film, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story

The Real Charcoal Burners ~ who we met whilst filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on 14th June 1973

Sophie Neville at the Charcoal Burners

Sophie Neville as Titty Walker visiting the charcoal burners on a cold day in 1973 ~ photo: Daphne Neville

On 14th June we were back at Ickenthwaite Forest, in Cumbria, to film the sequence when the Swallows visit the Charcoal Burners.

14th June ~ my diary aabout the charcoal burners

The real charcoal burner

Norman Allonby, the real charcoal burner outside the hut. Behind him the 35mm Panavision camera is being mounted on a small crane and short section of track ~ photo: Daphne Neville

‘He doesn’t look much like a son.’  The real Young Billy was almost indistinguishable from the actor. He seemed to take a wry interest in the filming but what he thought of us, of the crew, I dread to think. We were aliens on his planet. Terribly bossy ones.

The real Charcoal Burner with the actor

The elder charcaol burner chatting to Jack Woolgar who was playing Old Billy

Our polystrene coffee cups look so out of place. They were. How much had changed in the art of producing charcoal between 1973 and 1929 when Arthur Ransome set our story?

Charcoal Burners during the filming of Swallows and Amazons

John Franklin-Robbins playing Young Billy, chatting to Norman Allonby of Bandrake Head  during a coffee break on set ~ photo: Daphne Neville

The Call Sheet for the day scheduled Scene 110 with the adder, but I recorded in my diary that we had completed that the previous day.  I must have meant my part in it.  The Director, Claude Whatham, was probably using the time to pick-up the shots of Young Billy working with his dampened fire.

Much later, when I asked Claude what made a good director he said, ‘You need to use your time well.’  This probably makes you an employable director, but I think Claude had other assets. We all adored him for one thing, and would do anything for him. We knew that he wanted us to keep going, no matter what happened. Susan really did leave her basket behind at the Charcoal Burners’. When Old Billy called her, she was truly taken aback and sweetly ran to collect it. It’s something that rings true, a natural quality that Claude brought to the film.

The interior of the hut must have been tricky to light. I think we had a real fire burning in the stone grate and Claude was keen for the scene to be atmospherically smoky. The wood smoke itself was fine but the crew were working with smoke guns, since they were more directional and considered more controllable. The acrid fumes produced by their oil canisters choked me but Jack Woolgar was absolutely stoic and kept our attention. I loved drawing with the charcoal. I wish I had drawn him.  Apart from the amount of smoke it was lovely inside the mossy wigwam. I could have stayed there quite happily. It was nice and warm.

A daily Call Sheet for the movie Swallows and Amazons

One of our daily Call Sheets from the film, that I kept in my scrapbook

Albert Clarke, our Stills Photographer, later gave us his unwanted contact sheets to stick in the scrap-books we kept of the filming. Amongst them are these photos he took of the Producer Richard Pilbrow with the charcoal burners of Ickenthwaite Forest.

Audrey Steeley told me that the older chacoal burner is Jack Allonby who lived at Spark bridge, a well known local character. However, Myles Dickinson has written in to say that it is Norman Allonby, Jack’s brother, who lived at Bandrake Head.  Audrey thinks the other chap could be Bill Norris, who was an authority on charcoal burning and also from Spark bridge, but that the picture doesn’t look much like him.  Does anyone else remember them?

The Real Charcoal Burners 2

John Franklin-Robbins as Young Billy with Sophie Neville, Sten Grendon & the adder. Richard Pilbrow and the charcoal burner. John Franklin-Robbins & Jack Woolgar chat to the real charcoal burner.

As the Call Sheet decreed, we were scheduled to to move to Bank Ground Farm after lunch to film the receiving of despatches, a scene I look forward to describing in another post…

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, British Film, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, e-publication, Family Film, Film, Film Cast, Film Catering, Film crew, Film History, Film production, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Vintage Film

Visiting the Charcoal Burners ~ filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ on 13th June1973

The Charcoal Burners - Swallows and Amazons

Jack Woolgar as Old Billy with Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton,   Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon ~ photo: Daphne Neville

‘Let’s just run though our lines, shall we?’ Old Jack Woolgar said, in a gentle Cumbrian accent. We were waiting about for some reason, so did just that, sitting by a woodstack.  Titty had a lot to say in the scene where we went to see the charcoal burners, but the dialogue was straight out of Arthur Ransome’s book so I it was easy. Or I thought so, until there was Old Billy saying – ‘Ehh, then you’ll be climbing into that mini-bus and off back to Ambleside, I expect.’ I thought, ‘That’s not in Swallows and Amazons! That’s real life.’ ‘Eee, lass! You forgot to come in on your cue.’ I had too. I was so entranced by Old Billy, so lulled by the music of his voice, that I had simply gone on listening to him.

Jack Woolgar, Simon West, Sophie Neville, Stephen Grendon and Suzanna Hamilton with Director Claude Whatham. Sue Merry is seated in the foreground with her continuity sheets ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We were still having problems with the weather. It was grey at first but grew to be a bright sunny day in Cumbria, cold with a gale blowing that was knocking the tops of the trees about and making life hard for Graham Ford, the Sound Recordist. This was all a bit difficult as it was meant to be dead calm. ‘It’s blowing up a bit,’ Old Billy put in. I don’t think anyone watching would have noticed if we’d left it at that but our hair was blowing about so madly that Young Billy had a few savage-like words with John about why we weren’t sailing. These are not in the book.

I think Mum did well with her photographs. She only had a small camera but she tried to capture what it was like to be on set, involved in the filming, rather than just focusing on the story. Because her camera made a clicking noise she was only really able to take shots when we were in rehearsal, wearing our Harry Potter-like nylon tracksuit tops, me in a sun-hat, the rest of the crew wrapped up in their warm jackets.

When I watch this scene I notice one technical bit about acting that is never talked about much. You have to hit your mark. Without this being obvious. No looking down. Your mark is the exact position established when the shot is lined up.  The camera focus, certainly back then, required actors to be consistent and hit the same position in each take as established in the rehearsal. Look at the opening shot at the top of this post and you can see it is carefully composed – a nice triangle, with all our faces in vision. The important bit – Roger holding my hand is not masked. Do I spoil the magic if I say we are standing on our marks?

If feet can’t be seen a piece of tape was usually placed on the floor in front of the actors’ toes to provide an mark. I used to use different coloured tape for different artistes later on when I was an assistant director. We used chalk on tarmac roads. Tape didn’t stick to most of the locations on Swallows and Amazons  so we used sticks or tree bark, taking quite a pride in disguising  them. Sometimes a box would be placed on the ground so we could feel it and not have to look down. This could not be done at the charcoal burners’. We all came out of their dark wigwam blinking in the bright sunlight shuffling onto our secret marks, Suzanna glancing down quickly to check she was on her’s.

Filming the scene ~ Sound Recordist Robin Gregory in the foreground, Grip David Cadwallader. Actors Jack Woolgar, Simon West and Sophie Neville, Sue Merry seated, Director Claude Whatham kneeling, Boom Swinger Gay Lawley Wakelin, Bobby Sitwell with Camera Operator Eddie Collins ~ photo: Chaperone Daphne Neville

My diary read:

13th June - My diary page one

13th June - My Diary page two

13th June - My Diary page three

John Franklyn-Robbins as Young Billy with Director Claude Whatham. Prop men stand in the back ground with the real charcoal burner ~ photo: Daphne Neville

Was the charcoal heap was a real one? I’m afraid I think, since that hole had to start smoking on cue, that it was constructed for us with a prop man called Terry inside with a smoke gun. I know he suffered rather from getting too much smoke in his eyes and had to be treated by the nurse. There was certainly a great deal of smoke around, which had a wonderful effect.

Charcoal Burners' Adder

The Charcoal Burner’s Adder

Sophie Neville at the Charcoal Burners

Sophie Neville looking at the adder with Stephen Grendon and Jack Woolgar

Molly Friedel watching Robin Gregory plant a mirophone for the adder. Claude Wahtham is hidden by a reflector board, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Jack Woolgar wait on their marks while the real charcoal burner looks on ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We could all see the adder but the Sound Recordist wanted to hear her so he buried one at our feet. She was a lovely serpent.  Suzanna, who loves snakes with a passion, got close to touching it. She was very disappointed that you can’t see this in the movie. I was a bit scared. Ransome had added that frisson of danger – real life danger – there for us to see.

Jean Woodhouse wrote to say that, ‘ I came to watch Swallows and Amazons being filmed. It was the charcoal burner’s scene. We walked down from our village Primary School (Satterthwaite) but the scene was actually just down the road from where I lived… we were all terrified re-the snake.’ She was about 10 years-old at the time. ‘…because I used to go up and down through the wood each day, I knew the real charcoal burners who worked in there and so that scene in the film has always felt quite special to me.’

Filming the Scene: Simon West, John Frankiln-Robbins, Suzanna Hamilton and Jack Woolgar. Designer Simon Holland sits in the foreground. ~ photo: Daphne Neville

One of the most magical things for my mother was meeting the real charcoal burners. They looked exactly like the actors playing the Billies. I will include their photographs in the next posting, as we returned the following day to record the scene inside the wigwam.

Does anyone know the name of the snake wrangler?!

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Filed under 1973, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Biography, Cinema, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, Diary, e-publication, Film, Film Cast, Film crew, Film History, Filmaking, Lake District, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, truelife story, Uncategorized