Quite excitingly, one of Weymouth Timewalk's main purposes was to present local artefacts in an engaging way, so most of the props were authentic. When visitors walked into the first scene, they were surrounded by objects and documents that really existed back then.
Early 1300s: The Attic and Cargo Hold
Design by John Sunderland
The cat Wink Wink Roley greets guests in an attic of nautical curios. He describes Weymouth's involvement in fishing, transporting goods and smuggling...
Picture by John Ward
Wink Wink Roley is presented to us as a taxidermy figure of his former self, before we enter a cargo hold and meet the real deal- this is the magic of time travel! He lays in a hammock, fishing (or 'ratting') for rats with a piece of cheese.
“Good day to thee there, my beauties. Wink Wink Roley be the name.”
Clockwise from left: A design by John Sunderland, a picture from the Weymouth Museum archive, a picture by Loz Hurley
Wink Wink Roley looks out for rats; picture by Chris Tyas
In hindsight, Wink Wink Roley knows what these rats carried into the ports of Weymouth. I remember standing in this part on one occasion when I was younger, telling my friend's mum that I didn't feel well; I was anxious about what I knew was coming next...
1348: The Black Death
Project Director of the Timewalk Roger Dalton explains how the local authority were not keen on promoting the fact that the plague entered England through Weymouth's ports, “but actually it was a huge, significant event throughout Europe and the UK. So we started with that for dramatic effect!”
A mourning family and a priest chanting in Latin beside John Sunderland's original design
Many people remember this scene for its smell. “I've never forgotten it because the smells were so much part of it. You didn't realise it at the time, but they really created the atmosphere,” says local Shirely Dunne. According to Roger, John Sunderland's creative team knew where to buy various odours, which took the form of a liquid essence, heated up over a bulb base like an oil burner, where the scent would be released.
The source of the smells was actually a company called Dale Air, now AromaPrime. When John's team were working on the Jorvik Viking Centre, possibly the world's first truly immersive museum experience, they contacted Dale Air, who made air fresheners at the time. John's team asked something along the lines of “if you can make nice smells, can you make bad ones too?” Dale Air took up the challenge, producing all sorts of odours for the Viking Centre's village sets, and they continued creating themed aromas for attractions, theatres, shops and other environments ever since then. Following the success of the Viking Centre, Dale Air provided a dungeon smell labelled Dragon's Breath to bring the Timewalk's plague scene to life in a deathly way!
John Sunderland's concept for the Black Death scenes, including information boards that later became unnecessary due to the audio narrations
“Bring out your dead... Bring out your dead...”
The family's black cat describes the abysmal situation as two men cart the staring, gaunt body of a local priest away- the very same priest from the previous tableau. This was the second most unnerving scene for my younger self to pass- the worst was yet to come!
Picture by Loz Hurley
The black cat now belongs to previous staff member Janet Jones, who worked at Brewer's Quay and the Timewalk for a decade. She owns a larger cat who comes out at Christmas time, and her daughter Gemma worked at the Timewalk too!
Today, the plague set is relatively intact and acted as a backdrop for artists to take photographs with a few years after closure. On the topic of photo-shoots, it was also used for pictures when the attraction was still open:
A picture of the derelict scene by Liam Findlay and actors using the set for photographs
1588: The Sailmaker's Loft and the San Salvador
John Sunderland's concepts and the final sailmaker's loft
In this scene, Shifty the cat (designed to look like an Elizabethan punk) explains England's conflicts with Spain as images are projected onto one of the sails. He misses a rat's head with each swing of his club.
Clockwise from left: John Sunderland's design for Shifty, a picture by Loz Hurley, Shifty in the workshop
After the Timewalk's closure, artists rethemed this set for their own uses; picture by Liam Findlay
Visitors are encouraged to flee when an explosion is heard. Spanish cabin cat José Cortez, standing on an authentic San Salvador treasure chest and before a stormy window, boasts of Spain's superiority...
Left: A picture by Loz Hurley; Right: pictures from the Weymouth Museum archive
During my recent exploration through the darkness, I saw this area, which is the other side of José Cortez's set. You can see the light that brightened his window, and the space is now used as a small storage area; picture by Liam Findlay
As a child, the next scene was the most unnerving of all. It involved pushing through double doors and in the dark, walking down a narrow, stinking passage among the chalky-faced corpses of Spanish sailors. They were slumped over cannons and laying at a level where they might easily grab my feet! I would think about these figures as I laid in bed at night, imagining them making their way to my home...
A design by John Sunderland and one of the infamous Spanish corpses
On the top deck, visitors find the sailmaker and his apprentice looting the Spanish treasures, just as locals did in real life when the San Salvador was destroyed in Dorset:
Clockwise from left: A design by John Sunderland, a picture from the Weymouth Museum archive, images from the workshop
These days, the deck of the San Salvador is doubly destroyed! Strewn with debris and the air dense with dust, it still resembles a ship if you have a torch to hand. Without all of the scenery, it's amazing to think how huge some of the Timewalk rooms would be if the sets were taken out.
PART IIII of this project reveals where some of the old dummies are kept today, as well as some more exciting shots! Part I and Part II can be found here if you missed them.
Unless otherwise stated, imagery in this article is from the Weymouth Museum archive. All concept designs are also stored there.