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Lowlands Film Secrets

17 January 2008 by stepheng

photo of four people standing around a old projector and a stack of old film

Representatives of West Derby Community Association at the Antiques Roadshow. They are (l to r) Stephanie Grogan, James Ashton and Stephen Guy, with specialist Jon Baddeley at the far right.

When I, Stephen Guy, discovered a cache of films stored away unseen for more than 40 years, I wondered what to do.

I am a trustee at Lowlands, the Grade II-listed home of the West Derby Community Association, Liverpool – a superb Italianate former merchant’s mansion dating from 1846. It was the home of the basement Pillar Club where many of the major bands of the 1960s played in their early days. The Quarrymen (early Beatles) famously failed an audition there and are thought to have played in the Pillar Club once or twice as the Silver Beetles. Later they became resident band at the Casbah Club, literally over the road, at the home of drummer Pete Best.

When we started planning the restoration of this historic building, an inventory was made of the contents. This vast, rambling place has many secrets including sealed doors and mysterious unused rooms.

We discovered the films along with the original camera, projector and editing equipment. In excellent condition, they were among piles of books, reports, equipment and furniture. We were advised not to attempt to show the film on the projector but to transfer the film professionally on to DVD. We did not want priceless film being shredded or singed in a faulty projector. There the matter rested because of other priorities. Volunteers cleared the building and prepared for the builders to start the £1.1 million Lowlands project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Then we heard that the Antiques Roadshow was coming to Liverpool. In my capacity as National Museums Liverpool press officer I supervised filming programme links with presenter Michael Aspel at the Walker Art Gallery and Merseyside Maritime Museum. I mentioned the films and equipment to the producers and was invited to come along to St George’s Hall. I went with other West Derby Community Association representatives, Stephanie Grogan and James Ashton.

Engineering specialist Jon Baddeley admired the superb 1950s British projector and Russian camera, in the sequence that was broadcast on Sunday. He added that if any of the film had images of the Beatles it could be worth around £100,000. Our eyes popped.

Some days later the BBC rang and offered to transfer one of the reels of 16 mm silent colour film to DVD at no cost to the Association, a registered charity.

We now have the DVD and it contains 15 minutes of stunning images – local people and Danish guests at Lowlands, Speke Hall and Croxteth Hall, fun and frolics at New Brighton open air baths plus tantalising glimpses of other vanished sights such as New Brighton Tower and the Fish and Chip Boat. The final sequence features colourfully costumed dancers and musicians performing stick and belly dancing on a visit to Lowlands.

But no Beatles.

However, there are four reels yet to be transferred on to DVD, so who knows? Watch this space.

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