Walsall’s “Haunted Harbour”

June 20, 2014 § Leave a comment


The cast list and production notes.

The cast list and production notes.

Walsall being as far from the sea as one can get didn’t stop an enthusiastic group of Scouts from the Walsall Third forming a Sea Scouts troop in 1927.
Around 1933/34 an ambitious project was launched by them to make a film based on one of Percy F. Westerman’s books, Haunted Harbour. In the 1930s, Westerman was the most popular author of adventure stories for boys, writing 174 books in his literary career which spanned over fifty years.
The project was headed by one of the early stalwarts of the Walsall troop, Leonard G. Stanley, son of the owner of Alfred Stanley Limited. An idea for the plot was sent to Westerman who, in six weeks, turned the idea into a 300 page book.

The film details consisted of twenty five foolscap sheets, containing 44 scenes, 532 shots and 110 screen sub-titles as this was sadly a silent production. With just ten days to shoot the film work began on the opening scenes at Amlwch Port, Anglesey and included the S.S. Roamer as the gun-running boat, the sinking of a motor launch, a mill on fire and an aeroplane crashing into the sea. It was then back to Walsall for the remaining scenes which were shot at the George Hotel, the White Hart on Caldmore Green, the old public baths, the County Court and Council offices, the Head Post Office and Rushall Police Station. The film, which was released in late 1935, was edited down from 2,800 feet of footage to 2,400 with a screen time of  one and a half hours.

Two photographs from the film taken on location in North Wales.

Two photographs from the film taken on location in North Wales.

The picture above shows the leading man, Leonard A. Done, alias Dick Hargraves standing with his leading lady, Muriel Thatcher, alias Joyce Hargraves. In the second picture the man leaning over the side is lead “baddy” Otto Schwarz played by A. C. Fraser-Wood, J.P., a senior partner in Fraser-Wood, Mayo & Pinson, the well-known Walsall estate agents. Muriel Thatcher, wearing the white flying suit was the daughter of the family that ran the Thatchers Chemist chain, another well-known name in the town from the past.

A still taken from the film which shows two of the "baddies" and a Walsall registered B.S.A. motorbike.

A still taken from the film which shows two of the “baddies” and a Walsall registered B.S.A. motorbike.

Another picture taken during filming on location in North Wales.

Another picture taken during filming on location in North Wales.

The group of Sea Scouts above are not listed by their individual names, they appear in the cast list as Walsall Sea Scouts. Below is the car crash scene, which for an amateur production was very well staged by the production team.

The car crash scene, plenty of smoke and steam and the odd body.

The car crash scene, plenty of smoke and steam and the odd body.

The following images are all stills taken from the film. The first features a lorry scene, as the cab door is opened it can clearly be seen the lorry belonged to Piper Brothers of 18 Mountrath Street, Walsall. To make sure his vehicle came through filming safely, the driver was G. W. Piper! The next image features the driver and his two mates, G. Piper again and J. Elstone and F. Hickman.

Piper Brothers lorry used in the film.

Piper Brothers lorry used in the film.

The driver and his two mates.

The driver and his two mates.

Just over halfway through the production a scene is shot on Caldmore Green featuring the centuries old White Hart. The first picture below shows a “baddy” skulking down the side of Caldmore’s most famous hostelry, following that image is the lorry again outside the pub. As the lorry drives away, one of the Sea Scouts runs across Caldmore Road and jumps into the back of the truck as it heads off down Corporation Street. On the left of the lorry, at the top of Watery Lane, is the grocer’s shop that used to be run by Billy Craig way back when if I remember correctly, and later became an insurance brokers. A little further down, still on the left is Rutter Street.

A skulking "baddy" in Caldmore.

A skulking “baddy” in Caldmore.

The lorry outside the White Hart...which is spelt, for the film, Harte.

The lorry outside the White Hart…which is spelt, for the film, Harte.

Corporation Street and the "baddies" lorry.

Corporation Street and the “baddies” lorry.

The image above is one part of the production where the “joins” are definitely visible. As the lorry drives away with our brave Sea Scout attempting to conceal himself under a tarpaulin the scenery changes in a second from Corporation Street to the leafy lanes of North Wales.

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