ID: PH01_MAG / Elaine Barker

TitleMagic Lantern Shows in Peldon
AbstractThe Magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector and was invented in the 1600s. It used a light source, a lens, glass slides, and a screen often made from a sheet of cotton or calico. A variety of light sources were used, from candles and kerosene lamps to limelight and electricity. It worked like a camera in reverse, shining light through a lens with a slide placed between light and lens.

One of the collection of magic lanterns belonging to Rene and Allan Marriott

The heyday of the Magic Lantern was in Victorian times and slide shows were shown in Peldon right up to the end of WW2. The earliest slides were beautifully hand-painted and the shows were accompanied by narration and sometimes by music.

Picture of a Magic Lantern Show from an engraving in 1881 signed Smeeton Tilly from La Nature (Vol 1) (Science Museum)

There is a reference to a lantern lecture being held in Peldon's school as early as February 1868, by the rector in Some Record of The Parish of Peldon 1867 ERO Ref: D/P287/28/6. Tantalisingly, in this case, no title is given but as a general rule the lantern shows shown in the village were as much educational as entertainment.

The Peldon school logbook reports a lantern lecture is held in the schoolroom in November 1901.

Again the logbook reports a lecture for the children in 1906, India as visited by the Prince Of Wales. This visit to India by Edward VII was between 1875 and 1876. With 50 slides this show was manufactured sometime between 1876 and 1888.

In November 1907 the school logbook reports a Lantern Lecture in the evening in the schoolroom to which parents were invited on Peary's Dash for the North Pole. Peary was an American Arctic explorer who claimed to reach the North Pole in 1909 but had two failed earlier attempts, these expeditions were 1898 -1902 and 1905 - 1906. It is these two attempts which must have featured in the lantern show in Peldon.

Magic Lantern Slide depicting Peary's Dash for The North Pole

In November 1914 there is a lantern lecture in the evening in the schoolroom in aid of the National Relief Fund. Then in December the same year War pictures are shown by Magic Lantern, again in aid of the same war-time fund. Precisely which war they depicted is not reported but popular shows of the time featured the Boer War and the American War of Independence.

Slide from

In April 1933 the Women's Conservative League in Peldon had a lantern show in the schoolroom on India.

Slide from a set of Magic Lantern Slides on India

The same group had another lantern show in December 1934, this time on British Tropical Africa.

David Livingstone preaching from a waggon ( National Portrait Gallery )

Many slide sets were put together for the Society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts and the titles reflect missionary work overseas.

In January 1937 the scholars of the village's C of E Sunday school had a series of lantern slides shown in the Rectory and in the same month the Essex County Standard reported an evening organised by the Church Association

An interesting lantern lecture was given in the Rectory Room on January 14th 'Britain's Best Benefactor' being the story of William Tindale. Over sixty slides were exhibited.

Magic Lantern Slide of William Tyndale of 'Tyndale's Bible'

During WW2 a bit of light relief in the form of lantern shows was offered to the villagers in Peldon.

Peldon residents on Whit Monday found an opportunity to 'go to the pictures' in their own village and there was a good attendance at the School where Mr E Rogers of the Good Tidings Mission told his life story 'From Workhouse to Pulpit'. The story was illustrated by lantern slides, the lantern being operated by Mr Leslie Mallett. Essex County Standard 30.5.42

MADAGASCAR An interesting lantern lecture entitled 'A Recent journey across Madagascar' was given to a highly appreciative audience at the Women's Land Army Hostel ... on Friday September 18th Essex County Standard 26.9.42

A lantern slide of Malagasy Fishers made circa 1900 - thanks to

In July 1945, the last reference to a lantern show in the village was the newspaper report of a W I meeting when a highly interesting lantern lecture entitled 'Assam: the borders of Burma' was given by Mrs Milward of the India-Burma Association, photographs taken by herself being shown on the screen. The lantern lent and operated by Rev Griffth Lloyd of West Mersea.

The 35 mm slide projector, a direct descendant of this larger-format Magic Lantern, was to take over as the village entered the 1950s and people could entertain family and friends in their own home.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Rene and Allan Marriott
Essex County Standard

AuthorElaine Barker
PublishedJanuary 2020
SourceMersea Museum