The Poacher

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Edgar Pritchard in a self-portrait. Clearly a remarkable and talented man.

I love keeping this blog – sometimes, it’s hard work, and sometimes it gets on top of me, but then something will turn up that makes it all worthwhile, and that’s why it’s so very enjoyable.

Such an event has just occurred – a history thread that started here with the 1934/5 Brownhills Carnival film, and has progressed incrementally through small jumps, called at more film in the form of the curious Hope Springs Eternal recording, then expanded suddenly with the recent contributions of Margaret Thompson.

The link through all these things is the film-maker Edgar Pritchard, brother of Syd, immortalised in Bill Mayo’s recent book. Edgar was a talented cameraman, and today I can share a 1952 film with you called ‘The Poacher’s Apprentice’.

I know very little about the 20 minute silent story, which was found by Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler in the University of East Anglia Film Archive; but it’s beautiful for a number of reasons – not least because it was filmed in and around the village of Hints, near Tamworth.

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Tis is the Old Schoolhouse in Hints, from my 365days journal about 5 years ago. Note no bellcote.

To those who know the area, lots of familiar places crop up in this remarkable cinefilm; the Church, ford, Rookery Wood, the old Schoolhouse. It’s also a portrait of a lost age; the last gasp of rural Staffordshire life before everything changed. In not many films do ferrets get a starring role.

I was amused to note the artistic licence with the ‘school bell’ – that’s actually on the Church. Little things like that make it for me.

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The bell is actually on the Church – and hasn’t rung in a while due to the delicate condition of the structure.

The child actors in this film may well still be around. Can they be named? Can we contact them?

The archive only says the following:

Amateur; Natural History

A young boy befriends a poacher and they go ferreting by night. Includes shots of hand scything and a village school.

Background Information:

The boy is seen reading `The Poacher’s Handbook’ by Ian Niall. This was first published in 1950.

 Distributor: Institute of Amateur Cinematographers

There is much to write about this work, but I won’t waffle on just yet. Wallow in it. Get a cuppa or crack a beer, sit down and absorb it.

I added the music to make it flow – if it annoys you, turn it down. I have so much more to say on this in the next week or so. But for now, just watch.

Thanks to Peter, David Evans and particularly Margaret without whom none of this would have been possible. Thanks, all.

Comments please – or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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13 Responses to The Poacher

  1. Mick Bullock says:

    Excellent piece of film but as was said the music did annoy somewhat .

  2. aerreg says:

    what a wonderful find I knew the brothers pritchard from my childhood the boy in hopes spring eternal should have been me but chicken pox prevented it my dad was the gardener at the pritchard home and aclose friend of edgar in public life hence my knoledge re edgers world he used to spend a lot of film time in bardsy island with an elderly couple it was there he made an award winning film he went out with the fishermen filming i recall seeing it as a boy what happend to it i dont know following edgars death sid used to wring me and ask me to call in for a natter on old brownhills 0n one sutch occasion on the table were spools of un edited film he also said some of edgars film world was in a museum in aberisworth there was so mutch history of a very talented man where it all went i will never know but ime proud to say i knew him and sid anthanks to the lady for sharing her history god bless

  3. Clive says:

    What a great find, well done to all involved.

  4. Stuart says:

    Well done to all, I love this kind of thing and have forwarded the link on to folk I know who live that way on.

  5. Pedro says:

    For me, and I am sure Bob, who have tarried around Hints, the film is a remarkable record of the village from some 60 odd years ago. If you have a mind you can use Street View to see the Church gate, which appears at around 6.50 on the film, and notice that not too much has changed.

    It would also be of great interest for anyone interested in the history of Hints, but unfortunately Hints village history site seems to have faded away around the same time as Tamworth Timehikes.

    On the blog we have the chance to see three of Edgar Pritchard’s short films, but there seems much more to this man than his local filming. Perhaps he should be up there with a few other local personalities that have been discovered by Bob and his readers.

  6. Sue Hayes says:

    It was a real pleasure to watch this. Thank you for posting it.

  7. david oakley says:

    What a lovely little piece of filming, and quite atmospheric in the night shots. Anyone who has ever camped in or near a large wood, will remember the stillness of the wood at night, tinged with that air of expectancy, the occasional rustle of small animals, the snapping of a twig, the dying squeak of a rabbit encountering a stoat, breaking the silence at intervals. So much going on in this tiny animal kingdom, undercover of the velvet blackness which was ‘night ‘ so many years ago.
    A few bits of artistic licence, but who cares? I was particularly struck by the poacher, who after discovering the lads ferret, in order to search for the lad, cupped his hands around his mouth (16.42), and in all probability let out a shout which in the silence would have alerted every gamekeeper in the vicinity, but, fair dues, in a silent film, some visual evidence of a search was vital to the plot.
    Loved the catapult shots, even though the rubber, ¼” x ¼” looked to be ‘store bought’. We made ours by using rubber strips off an old motor tyre inner tube. Cycle inner tube was too thin, with a wooden ‘Y’ off a suitable privet hedge, and a sling cut from the tongue of a working-man’s boot. Wire-bound was better than string as it bit into the rubber, better, under tension. I note that the lad searching either beech or hazel for a replacement, both excellent woods, but I never knew privet let anyone down if the forks selected were strong enough.
    Finally, a word about scything. This method of reaping on a large scale was well before my time, but I remember Council employees, particularly in rural districts employing scythes for cutting grass verges, ideal in narrow situations, before the motorised verge cutters came along. On departure, for the day, the scythe was carried on the back in a perfectly safe manner, affording no danger to the carrier or to any passer-by. Yes, the film was a nostalgic glimpse of my childhood days, and my deepest thanks to all involved in getting this treasure of a film, to us.

  8. If you would like to give me a ring on 07757701792 I have some information on your hints film thank you simon

  9. Chris Breen says:

    Wonderful short film and for many a mirror image of how they got into fieldsports and the ways of the countryside. A little early for me, a late fifties child, but we were left to our own devices and encouraged to use our imagination. I’m still ferreting and involved in fieldsports today. Most folk that are that way inclined embrace everything that’s around them, thanks for showing. Chris

  10. Pedro says:

    Further information concerning Edgar and the film…

    The making of the film by Edgar was actually the subject of another 10 minute film made by the National Coal Board in 1953, and entitled Private Eye. It reportedly shows Edgar, the NCB Surveyor for Walsall Wood Colliery, leaving on a Saturday and at the location making his film about poaching. It comments that he is producer, director and camera man!

    Simon has kindly told us that the poacher in the film (not in real life!) was a gentleman called John Smith, originally from Mile Oak. The boys in the film came from a family called Gibson, and the school mistress was the actual long-serving teacher Mrs Smith (no relation).

    Edgar’s film “The Poacher’s Apprentice” was made around 1953, and features the boy holding a copy of “The Poacher’s Handbook” written in 1953 by Ian Niall. A short very interesting book written in a style similar to Izaac Walton and The Compleat Angler. It is possible that Ian and Edgar may have met. Ian was living in North Wales when he wrote the book, and Edgar had spent much time at Bardsey and North Wales. There are bits of evidence in the book that may show that it was the basis for the film, but unfortunately catapults do not feature…

    “…The poaching of rabbits gets into the blood of hundreds of country boys. The ragged youngster at the village school tries his hand at it as surely as he sets a line for trout or goes gathering plover eggs on a Sunday in April…”

    The author also, through his lack of care, gets caught by one of his own gin traps

  11. Pedro says:

    In September of 1869, at Rushall Petty Sessions, William Snape and Charles Capewell were charged with having nets and rabbits in their possession. One was fined 4 and the other 2 pounds and costs. The alternative to be two months imprisonment with hard labour.

    They appeared before some characters well-known to readers of the Blog…JE Bealey, J Harrison and B Bloomer.

    • David Evans says:

      Hi Pedro
      JE Bealey..erm..the name does not ring a bell, unlike the other two men sitting on the bench..
      many thanks, another gem!
      kind regards
      David

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