New short film explores one of the worst tragedies in Newhaven history

A grimly significant moment in Newhaven history has been recorded in a new short film, now available to view on YouTube.

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 7:05 am
Lucy Alexander
Lucy Alexander

Brazen Souls, which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/Cjgq8JFt70o, tells the story of the sinking of HMS Brazen off the coast of Newhaven in 1800 with the death of 105 crew, leaving just one survivor.

Its loss led to fundraising for one of the first lifeboats in the country, years before the RNLI was set up.

The film was funded by the Arts Council and ties in with last year’s 900th anniversary celebrations of St Michael’s Church in Newhaven, its oldest building.

Mike Flood, the writer and director, is also organist at the church.

“We had a committee of people and were planning various bits and pieces for the anniversary, and one of the things I wanted to do was to write a suite of music covering the 900 years. I cherry-picked stories from Newhaven history and I did a lot of research. I came up with eight or nine different moments in time from the 1100s until now, and I decided to write songs and music in styles appropriate to the times. We did an album in 2019 and the plan was to have various performances of the album in the church during the celebrations. We were going to be doing a lot of things because the committee wanted to try to get the whole of the community involved, so we got the album done and then our plans were all thwarted by the Covid situation. But I wanted to have something that was tangible from those celebrations.”

Which is how the film started to take shape.

“One particular piece on the album was a poem I wrote which I set to music to mark the sinking. There is an actress called Lucy Alexander who grew up in the area, and she did the track Brazen Souls.

“The sinking of HMS Brazen is a very important story in the town. It sank suddenly in a storm and the townspeople tried to save the sailors stranded just off the shore, but nobody could get to them. Because of that, moves were afoot to raise the money to have a lifeboat in Newhaven, because of the tragedy, because of not being able to get to the sailors. Newhaven had one of the first lifeboats in the country, so some good did actually come out of the sinking.

“So I wrote the words for the piece and tried to put myself in the shoes of the captain’s wife. The poem is said as if through the eyes of the captain’s wife. And as I said, I wanted to have something tangible from 2020 because so many things had been cancelled.

“We did a show in 2019 of all the pieces of music and explanations about it all, and I thought it would be good if we could make a little film about the Brazen.

“We were very lucky. We put it forward as a project to the Arts Council and they gave us funding to do it, and we got Lucy Alexander, who narrated the poem on the album, to act the part. There is just one character in it, who is the wife.

“My wife Jenny was the producer and the filming was a week, Monday to Friday at the end of September. I am really pleased with the result. You can watch it on YouTube. It’s a community project and because of the Arts Council funding, we were able to make the best possible fist of it.”

They even nearly found themselves mixing with the big boys.

“There we were, doing our final recce at Newhaven West Beach, and when we arrived, the car park was filled with Bristol Film & TV filming crew vans!”

The crew were making the first episode of the new Brighton-based TV detective series Grace.

“We had thought they would be filming in Brighton and possibly Peacehaven, but not Newhaven. It was quite a remote car park. But it didn’t matter in the end. By the time we started filming, they had all gone.”