Once Upon a Time in Blackburn – the western movie was invented!

Published Thursday 24 October 2019 at 15:55

Blackburn is famous for many things – and now it can add inventing the classic Hollywood cowboy and western movie to the list.

New research has found that the first wild west film was made right here in the borough in 1899, by legendary filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon. It is the first known example of the classic genre – which means this quintessentially Hollywood genre was invented right here in Blackburn!

To celebrate this, a big parade will be held in Blackburn town centre, featuring an old west re-enactment group who will be in authentic costumes, showing how real cowboys looked in the days of the old west – the renowned Lonestar Old West Re-enactment Group.

There will also be a banner parade and special viewings of the incredibly rare film, which was discovered in the 1990s. It has been certified by the British Film Institute as the first example of a Western movie.

It is being overseen by Blackburn artist Jamie Holman, who has weaved together the story of Mitchell and Kenyon with the cotton famine in the North West during the American Civil War, and the support given by local weavers to President Abraham Lincoln and the fight to free the slaves; establishing an unexpected link between industrial revolution Blackburn, and the ‘Wild West.’

Mitchell and Kenyon are recognised as the one of the best filmmaking teams in history, pioneering the artform when it was very new, and filming normal, everyday scenes and people all over Blackburn, Darwen, Lancashire and the UK.

The big parade will officially close the British Textile Biennial, which has held events across Blackburn and Lancashire over the last month, including the massive adidas spezial exhibition, which attracted visitors from all over the world.

Commissioned by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s Townscape Heritage Project, the banner parade and special screening will take place in Northgate, in the historic heart of Blackburn at ‘High Noon’ – or 12pm – on Saturday 2 November 2019. There will then be viewings of the film at the Cotton Exchange.

Held in a private collection, the following films – ‘Kidnap by Indians’, ‘The Tramps and the Artist’, ‘Diving Lucy’, ‘A Tragic Elopement’, and ‘The Poacher’s Revenge’ – will be shown publicly for the first time. The parade will start at Mitchell and Kenyon’s base at 40 Northgate, in the Townscape Heritage Project area.

There will also be live performance elements on the parade and during the screening with a Western re-enactment by 25 performers. As part of the event, hot bean stew with flat bread will be served for free. The food references the three ships of aid that Abraham Lincoln sent to the Lancashire weavers after their support for the North and rejection of the Confederacy.

Councillor Phil Riley, Executive Member for Growth and Development, said:

These movies and the belief by experts that this is the first Western film ever made, right here in Blackburn, is a massive find and a big surprise.  It is the most classic and well known Hollywood film genre so to have it begin here is amazing.  Jamie Holman is a great artist and has done a brilliant job bringing all this together.

I am really looking forward to the parade and the showing of the films, it should be a really fun and interesting event. We’ve even got some proper cowboys coming along and we want as many people as possible to come along and join in. “


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