Weymouth Timewalk PART V: Why it Ended and What Happens Next
Project Director Roger Dalton explains how profitable Weymouth Timewalk was when it opened. “Once we'd made that initial investment, it was giving us between 85-90% gross profit, which was hugely beneficial. It only took 2 members of staff to run all 26,000 square feet, and we made additional profits from the shop sales when people came out.”
Many Weymouth locals struggle to understand why the Timewalk finally closed, because it was such a high-quality source of income and entertainment for the town, not to mention a valuable heritage exhibition. As we explore the final scenes of the experience, I shall explain how the Timewalk came to end, what happened after its closure and what we can look forward to next.
As Roger guided me up the steps during my tour of the Timewalk's dark remains, we passed a rather interesting leftover...
Picture by Liam Findlay
It was an impressive experience to suddenly find myself inside caves and discover that the artificial rock walls from the smuggler scenes are still in place. Here, guests would meet lookout cat Dartington O'Keefe.
Left: A picture by Loz Hurley; Right: A picture of the remains of the smugglers' cave by Liam Findlay
The next room is huge, a boat lying in the middle where smugglers once unloaded their goods. Now, it is covered with old material from the previous King George scene, decorated by pigeon droppings. You often see and hear the pigeons flying above, under a single stream of light.
The smuggler boy from this scene is another figure that I purchased when the Timewalk closed. With his disgruntled glare, he is excellent for spooking guests!
Clockwise from top left: A design by Farmer Studios, a design by John Sunderland, a picture by Senem Cakiroglu
For the next scene, visitors looked over a miniature street. A building's wall was made of fabric so when the room inside lit up, we could see the smuggling business going on within. Some of the building structures are there today, while other parts and some of the miniature people were acquired by Weymouth's Old Town Hall.
Left: A picture from the Weymouth Museum archive; Right: A picture of the remains by Liam Findlay
A Time Capsule: The Beach
The beach scene featured a sit-down video show, played from a Punch and Judy theatre where a cartoon ginger cat in a straw hat named Lucky Chance explained the history of Weymouth's seaside. However, as the 2000s progressed, the imagery in this video began to look dated, and this was one tiny hint of the Timewalk's integral weakness...
An early proposal for the beach scene, back when Ms. Paws was still a male with black fur, illustrated by John Sunderland
Top: A design by John Sunderland; Bottom: A picture by Chris Tyas- notice the Ms. Paws sandcastle!
The room is now stripped bare but for signs that still welcome you to 'picturesque Weymouth'; pictures by Liam Findlay
After explaining how the attraction was so very profitable, Roger described how this changed with declining visitor numbers, ultimately leading to its demise. However, numbers didn't drop out of coincidence; there was a specific reason why this happened.
“In most attractions, you have to refresh them every 2-3 years, taking the profit and reinvesting it, but the brewery never did. After one visit, you've seen it all unless it gets changed. Once we'd got through every school group, local family and relatives of local families, our numbers started to decline because we hadn't changed it. Our peak was within 2 or 3 years of it opening, then it was a slow, steady drop. Because of this, we ran it for shorter periods over time- 9 months of the year, then 6 months, before it closed.”
Although updates weren't frequent, the brewery didn't entirely neglect to expand the experience. In 1999, the entrance room and final brewery area had new features added. Here are some designs by Farmer Studios, showing scenes of local history which were never included in the expansion after further investment was declined:
While it was a great shame for the Timewalk to lose its momentum, 20 years is an incredibly successful lifespan for educating and inspiring locals and visitors. I know for sure that without it, I would never have grown up knowing as much about my town's history as I did, nor might I have the same career today due to its influence! It goes without saying that many other locals feel this affection towards the Timewalk, and we can all be grateful that it was there for us to enjoy. Meanwhile, Brewer's Quay's role in telling Weymouth's story is far from over, as we shall explore further on. For now, let's look at some giant singing sacks.
1821: Devenish Brewery
“Hops are there, hops are here! Put the flavour in the beer!”
The final era approached the present day again, with a large, bright brewing chamber of vats. This originally included information boards, but the 1999 expansion introduced sacks which would rise from the vats, dance and sing whenever visitors pressed red buttons.
Top: Designs by Farmer Studios; Middle: Pictures by visitors showing the interactive elements of the room; Bottom: Pictures of the space today by Liam Findlay
It was very interesting to encounter the giant sack characters again after all these years, still in place. The big buttons that activated their singing, possibly untouched for nearly 10 years, have cobwebs stretching from them. Pigeons fly to and fro, often landing by the tall windows- it is their home now, and there is a certain romanticism in witnessing the forgotten, undisturbed chamber.
Following this part, visitors would encounter employees working in the brewery (including a life-size horse), as well as a projected video about the brewery.
Top: A picture from the Weymouth Museum archive; Bottom: A picture by Senem Cakiroglu
The brewery area led into a gift shop, which included an old-fashioned tastings bar, a self-playing piano and wonderful merchandise unique to the attraction. I seem to remember a colouring book with Ms. Paws' different incarnations illustrated within, which would be a delight to see today. This was also added in 1999, along with the animated sacks, allowing for an additional £16,000-20,000 extra turnover due to the new custom that was attracted.
The shop has now been cleared out and appears run-down, with smashed lamps and plants growing in the foyer just outside, but with the light coming through the stained-glass window at the end, it still looks quite beautiful in this state.
Pictures by Liam Findlay
Visitors left the attraction down a set of stairs, which led to a more general shop within the Brewer's Quay shopping centre:
A plan of the final shop from the Weymouth Museum archive
Closure and the Future
When Brewer's Quay closed in 2010, the building became an antiques emporium. Many of the attraction's props were auctioned, the cats were distributed among staff and the human figures were later claimed by local dealers.
A crowd of characters; picture by Mark Vine
If you pass through emporiums around Dorset, you can still bump into some of the familiar personalities...
Pictures by Liam Findlay
The brewery space is going to be developed into accommodation; it will certainly be a beautiful place to live, considering the views across the harbour, right out to the countryside. However, Roger Dalton emphasises how the brewery remains a historic building, and this is important. Regardless of how its purposes change, Weymouth Museum stays at its core, sustained for the community and its visitors so that we can all continue to learn about the town's history.
The Museum itself is currently hoping for lottery funding in the interests of an ambitious development. They are submitting the first round's application this month, and as the brewery enters a new age, we can look forward to what its future holds and do what we can to support its heritage endeavours.
Special thanks to David Riches and Weymouth Museum, John Sunderland, and Roger Dalton for their contributions to this research project!
Unless otherwise stated, imagery in this article is from the Weymouth Museum archive. All concept designs are also stored there.