Archive gold found in British Pathe’s video vault

A massive archive of historic film, going more than a hundred years, and much of it Croydon-related, has just been made available, free online.

British Pathe is the historic movie brand famous for the crowing cockerel that introduced its news reels in the days long before 24/7 news channels.

Their news reels pre-date television altogether, and were at their peak into the 1950s, when often they offered the public their only moving pictures of the major events of the day, when the reports were run in between the main attractions at the cinema.

The British Pathe archive consists of 90,000 videos, including newsreel, sports footage and social history documentaries from 1896-1976. There’s more than 200 clips in the collection which feature Croydon in some way.

We’ve already run a simple “Croydon” search here: British Pathe, which serves to reinforce quite how important Croydon Aerodrome once was in the fabric of the nation.

Pathe’s archive is chocabloc with clips taken at London’s first airport between the wars, when their cameramen might have been based almost permanently on site, just as the paparazzi these days wait at Heathrow for the comings and goings of minor royals and B list celebs.

(Not so much has changed: for instance check out from 1932, “Au Revoir”: “Princess Ingrid of Sweden, romantically linked to the Duke of Kent, leaves England by plane”)

Among the prize picks is historic footage of Amy Johnson’s return to Britain in the gathering dusk after another record-breaking pioneering flight almost exactly 80 years ago. There’s no contemporary estimate of the crowds outside the Aerodrome Hotel, but they appear to be four- or five-deep for the safe return of a true 1930s superstar.

It was not all fun and joy – among the Croydon-tagged clips, there’s footage of at least two air crashes, plus a bombed out factory from the Blitz in 1941.

There is also grim footage from the South Croydon rail disaster in October 1947, when 32 people were killed as two commuter trains collided.

There is a propaganda-type feel to some of the clips and their commentary, such as one which shows 15-year-old apprentices at work in 1948, re-building Croydon’s housing stock. “The only waste,” the clipped accented voiceover tells us, obviously mindful of post-war austerity, “is the mortar dust they take home on their coats.”

There’s some sport, such as the arrival of the first Australian Test cricket team to fly to England, rather than travel by ship, in the 1930s, and previously unreleased footage of one of Britain’s greatest distance runners, South London Harrier Gordon Pirie, attempting to break his 2,000 metres world record at a packed Croydon Arena in July 1955 (you might note how one of the runners uses a sprint start for this five-lap race).

The list goes on. If you have a spare couple of hours, go and delve into the Pathe archive for a fascinating historical resource.

A hat-tip to our hyperlocal blog neighbours in Brixton for alerting us to this.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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