Musical theatre group premiere homegrown film recreating Dronfield's boom and bust steel town history

An amazing story from a north Derbyshire town’s past has been recreated for a film to be premiered at a golden anniversary celebration.

Thursday, 5th May 2022, 2:12 pm

Rail Britannia, a film featuring members of Dronfield Musical Theatre Group, was made after the company was unable to perform its planned show in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Two years on, the film will be shown to the public for the first time as part of the group’s 50th anniversary programme of entertainment.

Rail Britannia tells the story of what happened when a steel rail works opened in Dronfield bringing hundreds of workers from all over Britain to work there. Dronfield became a boom town. But exactly ten years later, the works shut down and was moved to Workington, where raw materials were cheaper. As a result, Dronfield became what the Derbyshire Times described as “a ruined town….a town full of ghosts.”

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Rail Britannia is a film about how Dronfield became a boom town during the Victorian era.

The film tells the story of the trials and tribulations of workers and their families as they struggled to survive and overcome all the hardships that beset them. It is also the story of the indomitable spirit of the workforce who produced huge quantities of steel rail which was exported across the globe.

Shot entirely on location in and around Dronfield, the film has traditional and original music.

Alan Powell, chairman of Dronfield Musical Theatre Group, described how it all began. “Not being able to perform

live came as a great shock to us but we were determined to keep the spirit of the group alive. We had already started rehearsals, so we carried on using Zoom and recorded much of the music from home. As we gradually came out of lockdown we started to film, meeting in small groups at first, and then expanding as the lockdown tiers receded.

Members of Dronfield Light Opera Group in a still from the film.

“It has been a great way to keep the group engaged and we have enjoyed the new challenges of filming a story (in monochrome) rather than putting it on stage. Group member Gavin Ward, who usually plays the dame in our pantomimes, taught himself the art of cinematography and editing and colleague Tommy Jones (often a panto villain) wrote and recorded original music for the score.”

Alan added: “As well as the cast, other members contributed to the technical and location process and many Dronfield people were curious when they saw us all dressed in Victorian costumes filming on location on early Sunday mornings.

“We have also had superb co-operation from many people who have helped us by providing locations, not least William Lee on Callywhite Lane who allowed us to film inside the works.

“The Rail Britannia story is a truly remarkable one which forms part of Dronfield’s rich industrial history and needs to be remembered.”

Cast members spent Sunday mornings in Victorian dress filming in various locations round Dronfield.

A public showing of Rail Britannia is at Dronfield Civic Hall on Saturday, May 21, at 2.15pm. Tickets (all £6) from [email protected] or call 0751 985 2244.

As part of the celebrations, the group will perform a show composed of songs and dances from many of their productions down the years. Musical Gold will run on May 18 and 19 at 7.30pm and on May 22 at 2.15pm in Dronfield Civic Hall. Tickets £10 (including interval buffet) can be obtained through the above email address or phone number.

Dronfield's wealth of old buildings provided the perfect backdrop for filming.
Rail Britannia film shows how the steelworks in Dronfield shut down ten years after opening, with the business transferring to Workington where raw materials were cheaper.
All the scenes for Rail Britannia were shot in and around Dronfield.