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Mining Review 20/10: Out of the Past (1967)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The commentary doubles as a synopsis, and is reproduced in full below:

John Barton is a lamproom attendant at Eccles Mine in Backworth, Northumberland. Ever since he can remember, John has been interested in the machinery, the buildings and tools which fashioned the rich history of north-east England. John Barton records them on film, and rescues them when he can. Gradually, these often beautiful objects are disappearing. When they can be rescued, they become collector's pieces.

But John Barton is not alone in his concern for the past of his part of England. In the south-west corner of County Durham near Barnard Castle stands the Bowes Museum. It was founded in the last century by John Bowes and his wife Josephine. The family fortune was founded on coal and the Bowes family built the museum to house the treasures they amassed in their travels. The mansion was built by a French architect, and there is strong French emphasis in much of the furnishings. The fireplace is of white porcelain. This desk belonged to Marie Antoinette.

Frank Atkinson is director of the museum today. Durham County Council administer it. Atkinson's great interest is in local industrial history. And side by side with the Goya and the El Greco, he has created an unparalleled collection of local antiquities. Here are preserved a fifteenth-century oak truss from a haul in Yorkshire, and a wooden horse-drawn plough.

Mining history is well documented, from a wooden shovel to the complete winding engine of 1800 from a disused mine, donated by the Coal Board. There's nothing new under the sun, as this 1800s spin dryer proves. The cheese press is rather earlier. Frank Atkinson believes in preserving from the past what is typical, be it good or bad, and he has a veritable jackdaw's collection of stuff, some of it donated by John Barton.

With John Barton is 83-year-old Mrs Bella Davidson, whose late husband was a winding man at the same mine Barton works at. Some of John Barton's favourite pieces have been given modern uses in their new lease of life. A Victorian commode doubles today as a cocktail cabinet. That's one piece that's not going to the Bowes Museum, says John. It goes without saying that the museum won't get Mrs Barton - nor Mrs Davidson either.