What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching a collection of fascinating vintage farming films spanning from the 1920s to the 60s. Sourced from the Britain on Film collection available via the BFI Player, we’ve picked our favourite 9 films to showcase, each of them offering a unique window into farming practices and communities around the UK.
1. Arran Farmers’ Society Annual Fair 1951
Take the steamer to the beautiful Isle of Arran, for a wonderful day out in the summer of 1951 for the Arran Farmers’ Society Annual Fair in Lamlash. Everyone is spruced up, as immaculate horses, cows and sheep are displayed for the camera and the happy crowds – even the children get to show off the calves. Share some ice cream from a popular ice cream van, or watch vintage bicycles, vans and buses go by, for a day out to remember in this lovely local topical film.
2. Norfolk Young Farmers’ Annual Rally 1952
Here at the Norfolk Young Farmers’ Annual Rally, young women compete in tractor driving trials whilst the men are tested on their sewing skills to repair sacks. Started in the 1930s, the Young Farmers’ Clubs were set up to be both social and instructional with talks, demonstrations and events for young people from farming communities. For thousands of teenagers in the countryside the Young Farmers Clubs were the centre of their social life.
3. Wenvoe and district agricultural and flower show September 1948
Capt. H C R Homfray, as President of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Agriculture and Horse Shows Association (and Master of the Glamorgan Hunt) hosts a tea party at his home – Penllyn Castle, Cowbridge – for the ladies of the area who ensured that the Royal Bath & West Show, held in Cardiff in 1948, ran smoothly. There is also a visit – probably by members of the Association – to view the Craven Llewelyn herd of pedigree Ayrshire cows at Cefn Cethin, Fairfach, Llandeilo.
4. Life on a Hill Sheep Farm in Weardale 1951
A gifted amateur filmmaker, Edward Roberts grew up in a mining community in County Durham and retained a passion for its landscape and people, which shines through in this sensitive, instructive portrait of traditional sheep farming in the harsh landscape of Weardale – herding flocks in mid-winter, sheep dipping, blade-shearing, and lambing in spring.
5. Land of Ulster 1950
Experience the changing face of Ulster agriculture from John’s farm in Ballymena to Eileen’s University laboratory. Poetic words transform government policy and the harsh realities of farming into a rousing tale of good-humoured resilience. Find out how the great problems of collection are overcome in a land littered with little roads running through one another like a bag of weasels. Will Ulster farmers be able to move mountains under the inspector’s watchful eye?
6. When it’s Hop time 1928
As this charming early news film of workers in the Kentish hop fields proves, “‘opping” was a family affair. Grubby-faced toddlers hang on to their younger siblings while the adults work busily close by. A popular feature of working-class life for London’s East End poor, the annual hop-picking season offered a modest income and a communal get-together in the fresh country air.
7. Story of a Norfolk farm 1930
The day to day life on a busy Norfolk farm in the 1930s is shown in this instructional film, detailing all the processes that keep the farm running throughout the year. Runner beans, pears and corn are grown and taken to market, whilst poultry is reared, allowing the sale of eggs and hens. New-born chicks are shown emerging from their eggs, whilst puppies and piglets run around the yard in this idyllic representation of Norfolk life
8. On the Farm – winter and spring 1965
This rather charming film was made to show school children, most probably in the inner cities, life down on the farm during the winter months. As an educational film, the brief would have been to illustrate that farming is a year round existence and requires hands on hard work to keep livestock, harvest the beet, feed the land and sow the spuds. Filmmaker, Hugh Brandon-Cox lived in Cambridgeshire and was said to have filmed on a nearby farm.
9. Castell Gorford Farm 1935
W H Buckley, a non-executive director of Buckley’s Brewery, Llanelli and master of the Carmarthenshire Foxhounds, reveals his interest in machinery, capturing on film the following items in use on his farm, Castell Gorfod, Llangynin, Carmarthenshire: a hay loader, a Clyde Higgs grass-cutting machine, a potato-laying machine invented by himself, a Caterpillar tractor, and Cymag gas equipment for the extermination of rabbits.
Visit the BFI Player to watch more films from the Britain on Film collection and view new material released every month.