Eight little clockwork cinemas…. Sean Harris at the Wells and Mendip Museum

One of Wells and Mendip Museum’s volunteers – its lifeblood – demonstrating perfect technique in operating a flipbook-box with one hand whilst illuminating its contents with a wind-up torch (held in the other). Within the box, a hyaena galloping  though 100,000 years of climatic fluctuations…

So, just how does one address the huge and universal themes – of time, change and truth – suggested by this extraordinary collection of prehistoric animal bones?

Well, here’s my stab at it; a collection of flipbook-boxes – little hand-cranked animation machines – installed amidst the displays of the Balch Room. Each one is a little cave; a window on the mind of one of the cave hunters whose exploration and thinking changed the story of the world.

These draw on the early animation technologies which so fascinated the Victorians and Edwardians, of which the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge was such a pivotal part.

Am I going to upload some demo animation? No. This is a haptic experience, all about the rattle and hum of the rotating mechanism and the turning of the crank handle – at the rate you want to, not at which the little plastic box you are currently peering into prescribes.

So please, go and explore! Wells is a wonderful city, its museum a (somewhat hidden) gem within it; run entirely by locals and full of local stories – of international importance and with international resonance.

And if you do, don’t forget to ask the wonderful volunteers at the front desk for a wind-up torch…

And please do then tell us what you made of the experience. You can do this by writing in the special notebook which is also kept at the front desk with the torches.

Balch Room
The Balch Room, mammoth tusk and bear skull unearthed by H.E. Balch in nearest case
Boxes 3
Windows on the minds of the Cave Hunters…
Boxes 1
…whose treasures, unlocked from subterranean tombs, fill the cases that the animation machines overlook…
Balch and bear
H.E. Balch, on the wall behind the bear skull, surveys two new companions on the mantlepiece
Turn the handle on the side of the box to bring the flickering images within to life…
Balch notes
Inside the mind of H.E. Balch – big beasts run through the pages of his journal…
Boyd Dawkins
… and that of his mentor Sir William Boyd Dawkins…
Two pages from the H.E. Balch flip-book…
Boyd Dawkins FBB 06
And one from Sir William Boyd Dawkins’