Weight coming on

Round Our Way

by Northern Life


Historian Heather Norris Nicholson’s book, Round Our Way, masterfully combines stills, essays, and archive photography to document Sam Hanna’s unique visual record on film. It focuses on East Lancashire, chronicling a time of profound change. Born in 1903 to Esther Alice, a weaver, and Jimmy, a coal miner, Sam grew up in a typical terrace house in Burnley’s Sandygate area. In his 1993 autobiography, Better Chalk Than Talk, he recalls using chimney soot as toothpaste: “This fine abrasive soot certainly worked, and over 80 years on, I still have most of my teeth.”

Sam Hanna

At the age of seven, Sam fell ill during an outing to Burnley’s Victoria Theatre. Diagnosed with pneumonia and pleurisy, he was too sick to be taken to the hospital. Doctors performed surgery on his kitchen table, removing two ribs and draining fluid from his lungs. The long recovery forbade Sam from roughhousing and playing outside with his friends, so his Uncle Tom brought him a magic lantern to keep him occupied. In an interview with Eric Beardsworth for Northern Life, Sam recalled, “I had never seen anything like this before. I gave ‘shows’ to my family and friends, and they, too, marvelled at the coloured pictures appearing on a white wall. …This was indeed just wonderful.”

“I wanted to impress on them the value of ordinary people, to pay tribute to ordinary men and women in crafts,”

Despite his burgeoning interest in film making, Sam decided at 12 to follow his mother into weaving. This part of his career was short-lived as he decided to tinker around to make the loom run faster. He succeeded but had the unfortunate consequence of making the cloth too thin. His mother was briskly informed that he had no future as a weaver. He then turned his skills to woodworking, excelling in the craft and earning a top wage of five shillings a week. However, ongoing health issues led his doctor to advise a career change.

Playing out

Sam found work as a woodworking teacher in a Burnley school, arriving in style in his black Austin Tourer. “When I got to the school gates with my Austin, they said I was showing off. I think I started on the wrong foot with the staff,” he told Eddy Rawlinson. Not initially welcomed in the staff room, which was reserved for ‘proper academics,’ Sam soon became a fully qualified teacher and began making films to show his pupils. He created videos of people at work in various trades, including textiles, engineering, woodworking, coopering, blacksmithing, and even charcoal burning.

Burnley Communist Party

“I wanted to impress on them the value of ordinary people, to pay tribute to ordinary men and women in crafts,” he explained. “I thought I would find out about these craftsmen and record them on film. The first series I did was about clog making because everybody wore clogs then.” Despite resistance from fellow teachers, Sam pioneered using educational films in the classroom. His focus remained on ordinary folks, from artisans to locals, and his films were even utilised in WWII training.

Sam at work

Hanna’s work vividly captures the everyday people and evolving communities of northern England and beyond. His images, whether of named individuals or anonymous faces, tenderly depict humanity, inviting viewers to imagine the untold stories behind each scene. Hanna’s artful eye transforms ordinary moments into cinematic portraits rich with emotional depth and social commentary.

Man Utd

Round Our Way pairs Nicholson’s engaging essays with Hanna’s striking visuals, creating an immersive artistic experience. The book’s unique design cements it as an essential volume for preserving Hanna’s work. Decades later, these evocative scenes transcend their era, shedding light on the universal struggles and resilience of the human spirit.

Round Our Way: Sam Hanna’s Visual Legacy by Heather Norris Nicholson £25 Available from Pendle Press.