This film is part of Free

800 Years A City

‘Soak the Serf’ for 3 groats along with the revellers and laughing nuns at Durham City’s 800th anniversary celebrations.

Amateur film 1979 15 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for North East Film Archive


In 1179 the city of Durham was granted a charter by Bishop de Puiset. In the shadow of the looming cathedral and castle, locals re-enact their city’s proud history in the 800th anniversary celebrations. Jesters, dancing bears, mystery plays and a wayward dragon lend a medieval flavour to the fun. A more contemporary mix of colourful politics and pageantry plays out as the recently ousted Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan attends the annual Miners’ Gala.

This ambitious film was made by an amateur filmmaker from Sunderland, Michael Gough. He first picked up a Super 8 camera in 1969 and had been a member of Newcastle & District Amateur Cinematographers Association since 1972. His newsreel documentary Welcome to Washington won the 1978 ACW Ten Best trophy, considered the Oscar of the amateur film world. The publicity surrounding this award helped in gaining co-operation from a multitude of organisations during the making of 800 Years A City over a period of one year, including The Sealed Knot, the oldest civil war re-enactment organisation in Britain, and the National Union of Miners.