The 'British Pathé' Cockerel & the Heywood Monkey

It would be hard to imagine going to the cinema now and sitting through on-screen news clips before the movie started, but before the advent and eventual dominance of television, that was just about the only way that people could ever watch news footage.

The most famous provider of such news in Britain was Pathé News, with its legendary cockerel symbol. For many people, Pathé News is an icon of a black-and-white 20th-century Britain, but it was actually a French creation. The ‘Société Pathé Frères’ was established in Paris in 1896 by Charles Pathé and his brothers, who used the cockerel (the national emblem of France) as the company trademark. French Pathé began showing newsreels in 1908 before opening an office in London in 1910.

The newsreels were silent until 1928. At first they were issued biweekly and ran for about four minutes, but after 1918 British Pathé produced longer and more comprehensive newsreels. By 1930 British Pathé had been sold to First National and was creating a wide range of programmes including the Pathétone Weekly, the Pathé Pictorial, the Gazette and Eve’s Film Review, covering news, culture, sport, and ‘women’s issues’ from the length and breadth and nooks and crannies of Britain. It was then acquired by Associated British Picture Corporation in 1933, and then Warner Bros. in 1958. The rising popularity of television negated the need for news in cinemas, and Pathé stopped producing the cinema newsreel in 1970, although French Pathé News continued until 1980.

The British Pathé archive of 3,500 hours of filmed history, 90,000 individual items and 12 million stills was digitized in 2002, a project partially funded by the UK National Lottery, and was made freely available to the public online in April 2014, a move that allows us to highlight some Heywood-related filmed right here on Ten Thousand Years in Monkey Town.

1. Building Darnhill flats (1963)

They might be gone now, but Darnhill flats dominated the skyline of southeastern Heywood for decades. This film shows the construction of one of the first of them. Ingenious stuff, but as with most 20th-century architecture they were obviously not built to last forever and have recently been demolished. The estate was built by Manchester Corporation to house some of the people displaced by the large-scale Manchester slum clearance that took place in the early 1960s.

2. Motocross in Heywood (1946)

A piece of farmland around Heywood was turned into a mudbath in 1946 when a Lancashire vs Yorkshire motocross event was held there, attracting 65 riders and the interest of British Pathé.

3. 'Cotton Mill Scenes' (1940)

The whirring machinery of a 1940s cotton mill is captured in this unused footage. Shots include machinery at work; man cleaning wheel; spindle rotating; woman tending winding machine, woman taking full spools off machine and placing in basket. CU; woman collecting full spools (no audio). Any suggestions as to which mill this is are welcome.

4. 'Cotton Mill aka Production Princess' (1948)

This sequence begins with workers in the Stanley (later Wharf) Mill hard at work, then leaving, and then getting back together to watch this beauty contest with entrants from Darwen, Heywood and Nelson mills. Joan Ridsdale is the 'Heywood Princess' (no audio).