Weymouth Timewalk PART I: The Creation of a New Attraction

In May 2018, I was led by torchlight into the gloomy remains of plague-ridden streets, a shipwreck and a long-abandoned ballroom. Where in its glory days, thousands of visitors would enjoy an immersive adventure through the town of Weymouth's history are now vast, silent sets in pitch blackness, decorated with the droppings of their pigeon residents.

Some of what remains of the Timewalk experience, nearly a decade after closure; pictures by Liam Findlay

Opening in 1990 and closing in 2010, Weymouth's Timewalk was arguably the town's most iconic attraction, recreating its turbulent history with powerfully immersive walk-through scenes. Locals and visitors from around the world remember it fondly, a good number, including myself, growing up with it. Although in my younger years I was anxious to stand in the dark with the glassy eyes of a plagued corpse glaring at me from behind, its unique way of storytelling had a significant effect on me personally, leading on to my own career in designing immersive themed attractions. Meanwhile, the Timewalk became a significant part of Weymouth's history in its own right.

One of the pungent plague scenes, photographed by visitor John Ward

Despite its impact, barely a record was left over for people to look back on- very few articles, images or videos are available for the public to see, leaving the attraction at risk of being virtually forgotten. In the interests of keeping its memory alive, I undertook this research project to collect and archive its unique story; please enjoy this five-part journey through the creation, life and afterlife of Weymouth's Timewalk...

“PREPARE TO BE TAKEN ABACK”

A video walk-through of the Timewalk by local Stuart Morris

A leaflet for the Timewalk

The Timewalk's Creation

The man who kindly showed me around what remains of the sets was Roger Dalton, the Timewalk's original Project Director. When Weymouth's brewery site became unused in the late 1980s, the owner Devenish and the local authority started a huge redevelopment of the four and a half acre harbourside land. In what is now known as Brewer's Quay, Roger managed the creation of a shopping centre and traditional museum, but a theatrical visitor attraction was deemed necessary to encourage the seaside resort's tourists to visit.

A design for the huge Brewer's Quay redevelopment

“The original designs for Brewer's Quay's theatrical attraction were not really very practical. They had actors performing in some of the brewery vats, and it was all very unsatisfactory!” Roger explains. Following this, he went on to hire John Sunderland and his team, who developed the concept for what became the Timewalk experience.

John pioneered the idea of immersive museums in the 1980s, carrying the dream that “museums could be more like movies”. At Jorvik Viking Centre, he had led the creation of a life-like, authentically constructed, smelly, noisy viking village, with models of real people living out their day-to-day lives. Museums before this were mostly glass cases and information boards, but John's influence helped change the way we step into the past. He now lives in the Spanish mountains and generously scoured hundreds of his design journals to recover information on the Timewalk's creation.

One of John Sunderland's unused designs, where guests are shrunk down into a barrel of ship rats

“Design work began in 1988; it was a time when I was up to my eyes in various schemes,” John tells me. According to Roger Dalton, there were “monthly meetings both with the creative people like John, right the way through to the architects and the engineers.” The redevelopment team consisted of 30 or 40 people, the budget from the council being half a million pounds and the brewery company spending about four million.

A sign for the Timewalk; notice how the surrounding decorations of the redeveloped brewery maintained a consistent 'olden days' aesthetic that complimented the attraction; picture by Stuart Morris

The new Timewalk attraction was promoted with an elaborate carnival float, featuring an array of historical characters

Costumes of the attraction's feline narrators were also made for promotions

PART II takes a close look at each individual scene that visitors journeyed through, featuring before-and-after shots, making-of photographs, surprising facts and fabulous designs!

Unless otherwise stated, imagery in this article is from the wonderful Weymouth Museum archive. All concept designs are also stored there.

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