Shropshire Star

Pontesbury woman talks about her family's time on film

Stella and her family all got to appear in that movie, parts of which were filmed around, and even in, her home. And there was a bonus. They got paid £1 a day.


Those days back in 1949 when the movie Gone To Earth was filmed partly on location in Shropshire are the stuff of childhood memories for Stella, who these days is the 74-year-old Mrs Trow, and lives at Pontesbury.

Starring Hollywood actress Jennifer Jones, it was based on the novel by Shropshire writer Mary Webb.

Stella and her family in their extras costumes outside their home, Chapel House. Stella is front, second from right.

"My mum and dad were Beatty Jones and Tom Jones and we all lived at Lords Hill, at Chapel House. The five of us were born there. The chapel was joined to our house. We all went to chapel, and dad used to do the cutting of the graveyard and everything."

In Webb's book Lords Hill, near Snailbeach, is "God's little mountain" and it is here that Edward Marston, played by Cyril Cusack, lives and marries Hazel, played by Jennifer Jones. Moviemakers Powell & Pressburger descended on Lords Hill (spellings of which, incidentally, vary) to use the authentic setting.

"I was only seven, but things stick in your mind. I was a little monkey, I think. I used to have my dress washed every day. I was always running around, wasn't I? My mum used to say to me: 'Can't you stand still for five minutes?'

"We were just extras but we had a lot to do with Jennifer Jones when she came first. She was American but they wanted her to talk very broad Shropshire. She had my brother Terence sitting on her knee and we had to tell her to say 'I dunna' and 'I wanna'. She did manage it in the end. There were all of us and other children sitting around her trying to get her to talk broad Shropshire, and she was copying us."

The four-legged star of the movie was the fox, or 'Foxy'.

"I used to get in the pen with the fox in his little cage. He was very tame. He escaped once and they had to go up behind the chapel to find him. He was lovely. Apparently, it was a pet fox belonging to a chap from Rodington. I know foxes are naughty, but I love them to bits.

"And I fell in the baptising pool. They had to build two of those. One was in front of our house, but the farmer Harold Roberts wouldn't let them put cameras in the field to film it. I don't know why. So they had to build another one up at the graveyard, where there was quite a lot of space so they were all right up there. That's the one I fell in.

"I was being nosey, I expect. There were steps in it. When Jennifer Jones was baptised in the film my mum helped her into the baptising pool."

A still from the film shows Stella's mother holding a towel in the scene.

"Jennifer Jones was shivering when she came out after being baptised." In the same still, her brother Keith is standing under a tree. We used to get £1 a day and went to the parish hall at Minsterley to get our money. That's when I couldn't stand still in the queue."

Stella's mum, Mrs Beatty Jones, in costume

In the movie, Jennifer Jones marries in the chapel, and the wedding breakfast is in the parlour at Chapel House, and Stella's mum appeared in the scene.

"My mum also went to Shepherds Bush studios in London, and my sister went with her."

It is known that some scenes shot in Shropshire were subsequently reshot in London, although it is not clear if that is the case with this particular scene.

Stella continued: "The actor David Farrar had to be taught to ride. He was so nice, although not in his film part. I had a little dog called Smokey. The canteen was right outside the chapel gates and he was like a little pudding because they kept feeding him all the scraps. He could hardly walk.

"I shall never forget Jennifer Jones' feet. She did all the running up Pontesford Hill and up to the Devil's Chair in bare feet, and her feet were bleeding.

"She was absolutely brilliant, a lovely looking girl."

Stella thinks Jones stayed at the Long Mynd Hotel at Church Stretton.

A cherished possession is a full programme produced for the charity provincial premiere of Gone To Earth at the Granada cinema in Shrewsbury on October 15, 1950, which the family attended. It was among her late parents' things – possibly they had it from that showing, although Stella does not know for sure how they acquired it, just that it has been in the family for years.

It includes a list of all the extras, pictures taken during the shooting in Shropshire, and also an account of an unexpected difficulty in shooting the final hunting sequences, when the British Field Sports Society sent a circular to the 189 Masters of Foxhounds belonging to the society forbidding them to take part in "anti-blood sports propaganda".

Stella's mum guides Jennifer Jones in a scene

It led to an impasse which halted production, and there was talk of completing the film outside Shropshire. However, after over a fortnight of deadlock 49-year-old farmer Daniel Bertie Stephens, of Llangeitho, Cardinganshire, offered to help, giving his 10 pairs of foxhounds, and gaining a Ministry of Agriculture licence permitting him to hunt over any part of the country. Another treasured possession is a picture, which still bears the faint signature of Jennifer Jones, of the family in their costumes outside their home, sitting, as it happens, on a bench from out of the chapel.

"It was taken on my granny's birthday, outside Chapel House. I think she was 70 something. Jennifer Jones signed it."

They are, back from left, Stella's brother Keith, dad Tom, mum Beatty (or Beattie) ("My dad used to call her 'Beat'") and Stella's cousin Basil Hotchkiss. Front, from left, sister Sylvia, who is now Sylvia Lewis living in Pontesbury; brother Terence ("everyone calls him Sam"), granny Mrs Evans ("I forget her first name, she was my mother's mum"), grandad William Evans, Stella herself, and brother Ken Jones. "My granny only had one leg, bless her. I don't know what happened. She was on crutches."

Gone To Earth was filmed at various locations around the county, including Much Wenlock, Longner Hall (not to be confused with Longnor Hall), Snailbeach, the Stiperstones, Eyton-on-Severn, Pontesford Hill and Ludlow.

During the making of the film, the Regal cinema in Church Stretton was used to view the newly-filmed sequences. A hangar at Sleap airfield was turned into a film studio.

Among the cut scenes that were filmed in Shropshire was one at Farley Crossing, near Much Wenlock. It is said that it was not used because telegraph poles were in shot, although there is a theory that it was because the locomotive was too late for the period.

Gone To Earth was released in 1950 to lukewarm reviews. Even director Michael Powell was to describe it years later as "a disaster, except for Jennifer Jones' performance", although the modern assessment has been kinder.

For the American market significant changes were made and it was renamed The Wild Heart and did a bit better.

Stella's father, who was secretary of Snailbeach football club for years, died in 1968 and her mother died in the 1970s.

Currently there is a special exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery which celebrates Mary Webb's work, running to June 5, and complementing the exhibition will be special screenings of Gone To Earth at the Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury on April 20.

Stella will be going to the matinee, although she has of course seen the film before, and has it on video and DVD.

"I've watched it with the grandchildren. They were saying: 'Where were you, nan?' And I took it up to somebody who wanted to see it, and they couldn't get over it.

"They said: 'You're a film star!' I said: 'I wish.'"

As it happens, Gone To Earth was not the only Mary Webb novel to have drawn the filmmakers to Shropshire.

Earlier, in September 1947, film technicians had gone to Bomere Pool to shoot lake scenes for the making of Precious Bane starring Robert Donat and Ann Todd – originally Ingrid Berman had been considered.

However, the movie never materialised because, according to one account, Donat was "finicky and vacillating."

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