Druids in Richmond! (Again!)

After the last blog post on the film Arcadia, I thought I would have a look through the British Film Institute’s free online archive, from which many of the clips used in Arcadia were taken. I was intrigued by the clip of the druids that was in the film, and although I wasn’t able to find the exact footage in the archive, it looks like it may have been taken from Berdh Gorsedh Kernow and the New Grand Bard, a 1964 film shot in Cornwall of the Gorsdh Kernow – the Gorsedh of the Bards of Cornwall – which is a cultural (rather than spiritual) Druid order.

The BFI archive also allows you to search for films by location and I was delighted to discover the clip (above) from the 1929 Richmond Historical Pageant:

The North Yorkshire town of Richmond sees Druids, chariot-riding Roman legionnaires, Christian maidens and Norman knights brought back to life in a magnificent pageant to celebrate the 600th anniversary of its charter, granted in 1329 by Edward III. Produced by one Mr Avalon Collard, the theatrics involved 500 local people from Richmond and nearby Swaledale. The festivities culminated with an ox roasting in the marketplace, and were “all very exhilarating”, according to a report in the Yorkshire Post.

BFI Website

There’s also a Pathé news reel but sadly it doesn’t show much more footage of the Richmond druids, but does give a bit more context to the event:

Continuing the subject of Richmond, there is the wonderful Where and What to See in the Yorkshire Dales, a 1972 “magical mystery tour through the rich history of abbeys, cathedrals and druid temples nestled among the even more ancient Yorkshire landscape of scars, crags and caverns.” The film mentions the “legend of King Arthur” in association with Richmond Castle, and I was subsequently amazed to discover that Richmond Castle is supposedly built over a cave where King Arthur is said to lie with his knights waiting to be awoken to defend Britain in her hour of need. I had heard of the story many times, but always connected to locations in the south of Britain, never this far north. It’s a legend that seems to be dying out in the area, so one that I shall definitely be telling in future!

The story goes that a potter by the name of Thompson was walking by the river Swale below Richmond Castle one day when he saw a cave in the cliff face and squeezed through the opening. He followed the passageway until he reached a cavern. Within he saw a huge sword in a scabbard and next to it a horn lying next to it on a table, surrounded by sleeping knights in full armour. Amazed at what he saw, he picked up the sword intending to take it back to his wife to prove his tale. As he lifted it from the table the knights began to stir and awaken. Terrified, he dropped the sword and ran, and as he raced towards the cave mouth he heard the voice of King Arthur himself echoing around him:

Potter Thompson, Potter Thompson!
If thou hadst drawn the sword or blown the horn,
Thou hadst been the luckiest man e’er was born.

Although he spent the rest of his days looking for the opening to the cave under Richmond Castle, Thompson never again found it.

Also worth a mention from the BFI online archive is a fascinating 1962 documentary on the River Tees from the then newly-established Tyne Tees Television – presented by the astonishingly young and strangely ‘BBC English’ speaking north east legend Mike Neville!

by Liz

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