Muybridge in my own back yard

Muybridge. A Sketch from Life

Drawing of Muybridge c.1890 by Hastings resident Harry Furniss, published in 1914. Furniss was also a lantern lecturer of note, who toured the country with his shows featuring political cartoons.

About once a week I cycle past Warrior Gardens, Warrior Square St Leonards, next door to my adopted ‘home town’ of Hastings on England’s South Coast. I didn’t know until recently that some of the flower beds were once the location of the Royal Concert Hall, dating from the 1870s. And this week, I discovered that Muybridge lectured there in 1890.

I had always thought it odd that he listed no south-east coastal towns in his promotional brochures – perhaps they weren’t too successful, and he didn’t have any really positive newspaper reports to quote for his advertisements. Some years ago I spent several days trawling provincial papers at Colindale (BL Newspaper Library), mostly following up clues from his own writings about where he’d lectured, and I found reports on most of the shows that I was looking for – though it was hard work for few returns – maybe a couple of lecture dates and a report or two for an afternoon’s work and five hours’ travel, if I was very lucky. I never did get to look at the papers for the South Coast.

The results of my searches were incorporated into my essay ‘Projecting the Living Image’, published in Eadweard Muybridge. The Kingston Museum Bequest, in 2004. A few straggling lectures have turned up since through digital searching, but this is the first for a while. It popped up during a random Google trawl for “Muybridge 1895”. I stumbled upon this extraordinary website about Victorian photographers in Sussex – and the advertisement for his lectures.

Reserved Seats, 2s.6d.; Second Seats, 2s.; and Third Seats, 1s. – (etc) Each lecture treats a separate matter, and the two complete the subject…. Children Half-price. First and Second Seats Reserved for Schools at half-price. Hastings and St Leonards News, 9 May 1890.

So, off to Hastings Library to find a report of the talk. I haven’t yet found an account of the evening lecture, but the afternoon show seems to have been a bit of a washout. The Hastings and St. Leonards Observer reported on the 10th: “The lecture, which was illustrated with views from the zoophaxiscope [sic] (which instrument is a wonderful invention of his own) was rather poorly attended, even considering the bad state of the weather.” A brief description of the presentation followed.

So that’s another one (or rather two) to add to the list. Back in America in 1892 he claimed to have just returned from Europe after giving 200 lectures – so there are more to be found.

The Royal Concert Hall eventually became the Elite Cinema, was bombed during WW2, and burned down in 1947 while advertising the film “Fire at Noon” – or so the local story goes. I can’t find any record of a film with that title. I suppose I should check the papers, but I’ve had enough of microfilm newspaper microtype for one week, and I’m following a more interesting story by digital means, the trail of Helios……

Posted here by Stephen Herbert

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