In November 1890, the patients of the Cottage Hospital in Burford were treated to a glimpse of new technology that would, although unknown to them, transform 20th century society.
A Mr Smith of Asthall arrived at the hospital with the aim of cheering up the ill inmates. He brought with him a magic lantern, an image projector that had been around since the late 1600s, but that was soon to develop and become the precursor to the movie camera.
The lantern enabled the screening of moving images, consisting of a concave mirror, a light source, and a lens. The latter would transmit a larger picture of the original image used onto a screen.
Mr Smith used the magic lantern to show the patients views of London, the capital city, which many of the Cotswold town’s residents would never have visited. Whilst the views played out, Smith provided a narrative, bringing to life the panorama. The patients watched and listened attentively, and the show was described as “affording them a pleasant afternoon’s enjoyment” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 22/11/1890).
The days of the magic lantern were already numbered, though. The world’s first motion picture had been produced two years earlier, and within ten years, films were being created with their own narrative structure.
So perhaps, the patients were seeing the dying embers of a previous form of entertainment; but this burst of metropolitan glamour in a small Cotswold hospital must still have seemed like magic to them.