Museum of... The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter - Museums Association

Museum of… The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter

Lynsey Ford sees how three centuries of the moving image are brought to life in a remarkably extensive collection
Museum Of Tv and Film
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Lynsey Ford
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A magic lantern slide for Alice in Wonderland
Where

The museum is in the Old Library on the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus, to the north of the city.

What

A museum of the moving image that was founded from the collection of renowned filmmaker Bill Douglas and his friend Peter Jewell, who donated their collection to the university after Douglas’s death in 1991. The Accredited public museum, which opened in 1997, has an upper gallery containing cinema ephemera dating from 1910. The lower gallery looks at the origins of film with optical entertainments such as a magic lantern and shadow puppets.

Collection

The collection holds 85,000 artefacts dating back to the 17th century. “The most valuable piece is a Lumière Cinématographe, one of only around 200 made of the first camera-projector to make and show moving images,” says the museum’s curator, Phil Wickham. “We also have a full set of original prints of the first panorama in England in 1792; magic lantern slides, 3D stereoscope cards, and original animated toys such as the praxinoscope.”

Highlights

“We have an extensive library collection of 25,000 books,” says Wickham. “This includes the first ever film star autobiography, Pearl White’s Just Me. Our copy is inscribed by White to the explorer Ernest Shackleton. Another important object is a menu card from the first kinetoscope screening in London, which is widely considered to be the first film show held in Britain.”

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Help at hand

Two full-time members of staff – Wickham and a curatorial assistant, Mike Rickard – are supported by 10 student volunteers from the University of Exeter.

Budget

The museum is funded by the university, with some philanthropic support and royalty income. Admission is free and the museum is open every day.

Sticky moments

“In the pandemic it has been frustrating not being able to operate as normal, and when we have been able to open, reduced capacity has been an issue,” says Wickham.

A praxinoscope, one of the first animated toys
Survival tips

“We have been busy all through the pandemic supporting our students with digital learning by teaching online and scanning materials so they can engage with the collection,” says Wickham. “Our website and social media meant we could continue to communicate with the public.”

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Visitors

About 9,000 visitors every year.

Future plans

“We reopened with new student-curated exhibitions,” says Wickham. “We aim to link the university together with what we do, and extending our storage space means we can acquire further donations that can be displayed or accessed for research.”

Lynsey Ford is a freelance writer

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