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NONSUCH REVIVAL
by Norman Bull

The Hatch Furlong Archaeological Dig has been taking place spasmodically over the last three years and has involved a considerable amount work by those who have taken part. But I think even this pales into insignificance when compared to the Nonsuch Palace dig that took place in 1959.

Nonsuch Palace Dig 1959
It involved scores of people removing hundreds of tons of spoil to reveal the surviving remains of the foundations of that historic building. It was probably one of Henry VIII's most ambitious and elaborate palaces. The 1959 excavation of Nonsuch has been described as a key event in the history of archaeology in the UK.It was one of the first post-Medieval sites to be excavated, and attracted over 60,000 visitors during the work.
Happily one of our most stalwart members was on hand to record the momentous event. Geoff Walker had a free pass to come and go as he pleased whilst he single handedly recorded the proceedings on standard 8mm cine film all through those months. During that time in the late fifties and even later adding sound to film was a completely different ball game.
Nonsuch Park
A reel to reel tape recorder was employed and had to be physically synchronized with a projector and sound added after wet splicing and editing of the film. This was all a bit hairy as the 1/4 inch tape was led off the tape recorder, threaded around some pulleys on the projector and then back to the tape recorder, through the sound heads and back onto the take-up spool of the recorder. It was then all fingers crossed as the start mechanisms were released on both pieces of equipment in the hope that the splices held up, thus avoiding the film ending up in a tangled heap on the floor. This scenario I might tell you was not unknown when, in a darkened projection room, the eye was in sharp lookout to ensure that the sound and vision were kept in perfect synch. When the lights went up and it was discovered that the latter disaster had happened, the cry went out on many occasions -"DON'T MOVE!" You then had to be very eagle eyed to spot the trailing end of the film lurking somewhere in the confused muddle. Generally speaking once this was achieved; the film could be re-attached and safely but gingerly rewound to the take-up spool.
The commentary was written and performed by the then chief librarian at Bourne Hall, John Dent. By all accounts, Geoff assures me that Mr Dent executed the commentary straight off perfectly without a fluff or fault over its entire 30 odd minute duration. The film has had several public showings since that time and an attempt was made to copy it. Much to Geoff's annoyance there were mumblings of selling copies off to the public without reference to him.
Luckily this was nipped in the bud before it went too far. But as far as the copying went, synching up the sound proved to be beyond the resources at the time, - although a copy was lodged somewhere in the vaults of the Ministry of Works. Over the years I have been conscious of the interest that has been generated on seeing this film and even to this day when talking about Hatch Furlong, conversation turns to the Nonsuch Place Dig.It's not surprising really because that was the event which primed the launch of the Epsom & Ewell Antiquarian Society into existence (now the Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeological Society -EEHAS).
Professor Martin Biddle

PROFESSOR MARTIN BIDDLE HEADED
THE DIG

Knowing all this I ventured to ask Geoff Walker if he would consider having his film copied to video professionally. What with the technological wizardry we have now days I knew that we had a good chance of getting the sound added in synch later on. Understandably Geoff has grown to be very protective of his film but after a conversation with Diggy he became more comfortable with the idea. I have in the past made crude copies of old club films by using a camcorder but there is always a tendency to show signs of flicker and a hot spot or darkening around the edges of the frame.

MARTIN BIDDLE BEING INTERVIEWED
BY ALAN WHICKER
I decided to use the services of the Widescreen Centre, up in Baker Street, as I knew that they had a good reputation for this type of work. The film was originally shot at 16 frames per second but later on 18 fps became the norm. A quote was obtained at the former speed of £165 but I got a shock when I asked what it would cost for a copy to be made at 18 fps - the answer came back £320! I soon discarded the last option as I knew that once I had the film in a digital format I could recapture the footage to a computer and slow the speed down so that it would match up synch with the sound.
Nevertheless this was a substantial amount and would weigh heavily on club funds. With the agreement of Geoff, I approached Jeremy Harte of Bourne Hall and Jon Cotton of The Museum of London and asked if they would be willing to split the cost three ways so that copies could be made for archive purposes. The response was positive and a meeting was arranged that was convenient to all parties. The meeting took place at Bourne Hall on Thursday morning 29th May with David Brooks, Jeremy Harte, Jon Cotton and his line Manager Roy Stephenson, Ron Everitt and myself in attendance. We were soon to be very pleasantly surprised to learn that Roy Stephenson was happy for The Museum of London to pay for the whole process. The conversation lead onto the fact next year would be the anniversary of the dig and talk of how to celebrate the fact. Several ideas were put forward but the film was to be one of the major features. We didn't hang about much as on the following Monday Ron, Barbara Gollop and myself (with a Freedom pass in hand) took a trip by train and underground to Baker Street. Barbara also wanted a film copied which coincidentally was a 400 footer as well but in colour and on Super 8mm. The charge for this one was about two thirds the price of the standard 8 format you might be interested to learn. Whilst at the Widescreen Centre we were given a demonstration of how to erect a Stumpfl portable screen which we had our eye on for the club but the price at £720 seemed a little hot for our budget. Back home I emailed the Museum of London and very soon got one back saying that payment had been made. Later that same afternoon I received a call to say the two films had been copied and were ready to be picked up. I can now report that Geoff has now been returned his original copies of Film and magnetic tape and after viewing the processed and sound synched video version, is very pleased with the result.

SECOND TAKE - June 2008

 

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