Nursery Rhyme magic lantern slides


Victorian magic lantern showmen knew that the best way to ‘work’ an audience was to encourage participation and today’s slides would have had children enthusiastically shouting at the screen. They would certainly have been more familiar with the rhymes than children are today. Nursery rhymes are an interesting subject, as many of them now seem to be meaningless nonesense but most have fascinating and often rather dark origins. I’ll let you work out these two puzzles for yourself.

I’ve given quite a few magic lantern shows to children over the last forty years. One of the most memorable was a museum open day where I gave two shows to members of the public who had no idea what a magic lantern was. The first audience comprised mainly young mothers with babies who screamed throughout the performance (the mothers not the babies); the second mostly teenagers focusing more on their iphones than my efforts ….. not my best day! Another was a museum where I was told to expect a much older audience than the one that turned up. I found myself presenting stories of sinking ships, child poverty and death to a group of five year olds! They’re probably still having nightmares and the museum manager wasn’t impressed!


At a film festival, I was asked to give shows for 16 and 17 year old media students and separately for primary school children. For the latter, I was told that about thirty children would be present and over three hundred showed up! That was an interesting challenge but, to my surprise, both audiences engaged, enjoyed, applauded and asked lots of questions afterwards.

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