Magic lantern slides saved for Southwold

Hayley MaceMagic lantern slides featuring photographs of Southwold from about 1880 to 1920, have found a new home and become one of the main summer attractions at the town's Edwardian-style picture house.Hayley Mace

Packed away into uninspiring wooden boxes and donated to an antiques shop in Southwold, Frederick Jenkins' vast collection of magic lantern slides could have been sold and lost from the town forever.

But now the antique slides, featuring photographs of the resort from about 1880 to 1920, have found a new home and become one of the main summer attractions at the town's Edwardian-style picture house.

About 1,000 delicate glass slides, each measuring three-and-a-half inches square, were spotted on sale at an antiques shop in Southwold in April.

When John Bennett, manager of the Southwold Electric Picture Palace and keen local historian, went to look at them, he instantly saw their importance as a visual record of the town's history and they were bought by the Southwold Film Society.

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He then had to set about finding an original magic lantern projector so that the slides, which feature scenes including the beach, the harbour and views from the top of the lighthouse and the church, could be shown to the public.

"I went straight on to Ebay to see if we could get hold of a projector and luckily I found one. It dates from about 1895 and was in great condition. It would originally have been lit by an arc lamp and had already been converted to electricity.

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"The only change we've made is to put a small xenon bulb inside it so that it doesn't get too hot when it's being used.

"These slides would have been shown on a very similar projector when they were made more than a century ago," he said.

The elegant metal projector, which was made in Blackburn in the early days of cinematic innovation, now has pride of place in the back row of the picture palace and was used to show the slides for the first time at a special black tie premiere on Saturday night.

The impressive collection was produced by photographer Frederick Jenkins, who came to Southwold in 1904 having heard that the photography shop at 94 High Street was for sale.

He has captured images covering every aspect of life in Victorian Southwold, from visitors bathing on the sandy beach to fishermen landing their catches at the harbour.

As well as building a career in the town as a photographer, Mr Jenkins was father of Barrett Jenkins, who would go on to be town mayor three times and gave annual slide shows for many years using his father's old magic lantern projector.

Mr Bennett said: "The slides show what has changed in Southwold in the last 100 years, and some things which haven't changed. As an educational charity, we thought we ought to buy them, restore them and look after them here in the town.

"There are also four boxes of slides with hymn verses which would have been used in local churches. It's lucky they were spotted because if we hadn't been able to take on the whole collection, the slides might have been sold separately.

"I think they had come from Jenkins' family, who just had no use for them any more. The best thing is that we can show them here at the picture palace as they were intended - they have found a new home."

A selection of the slides will be shown at the Electric Picture Palace, on Black Mill Road, on August 6. For more information and booking details, visit www.south or telephone the box office on 07815 769565.

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