Musical Echoes: Engaging the past through virtual performances in a Victorian Music Hall


Dr Jo Robinson (School of English), Prof. Pat Thomson (School of Education), Dr James Goulding, Victoria Shipp (Horizon Digital Economy Research), Matt Buck, Jo Cox-Brown (Malt Cross), Julian Hanby (Hanby and Barrett), Time/Image, Broadway Cinema, Nottingham Theatre Royal

Overview of project

Malt Cross

This pilot project aims to examine the creative and engagement possibilities for using archive film footage of music hall performances in combination with projection technologies, to enhance the experience of visitors at a musical heritage site: Nottingham’s Grade II listed Malt Cross Music Hall. In doing so, we seek to explore what we are terming Musical Echoes, performance memories ingrained into the structure of the building over the centuries, but which are now re-emerging from that fabric. Through innovative re-adaptations of archived performances, we aim to investigate how new technologies can bring histories of working-class entertainment back to life in a way that is both compelling and integrated into the architecture of the building itself.

The broad aims of this feasibility project synthesize three aspects:

  • To investigate archived document and film material of performances at the Malt Cross in the late 19th and early 20th century and develop historical understandings around them.
  • To understand how projection technologies may be employed to engage visitors in musical heritage environments, assessing display and content challenges associated with presenting the archived data.
  • To work alongside both heritage professionals and audiences to examine visitor engagement, via a design workshop and a feasibility exhibit at the Malt Cross Music Hall.

These goals will result in a technological pilot, a research report based on the archival materials, an impact analysis, and recommendations for further advances and future funding opportunities.

The Malt Cross: A Victorian Music Hall


The Malt Cross is a charity run entertainment venue based in the former Victorian music hall on St James’s Street in the heart of Nottingham. The Malt Cross runs a social enterprise café bar whose profits are donated to the Trust and plays host to a diverse and vibrant programme of arts, events, artistic communities and live music. The organization has recently submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HFL) with a view to celebrating its heritage in a variety of ways; this collaboration represents an opportunity to bring the history of the building to life in innovative ways. Given the compelling architectural space presented by the Malt Cross, we are particularly interested in exploring the possibilites of (sensitive) integration of projection technologies within the environment.

Our Research

This project brings together 3 parallel research strands:


  • Led by the Horizon Digital Economy team, we are undertaking an ethnographic study establishing current practices at the Malt Cross, examining current visitor experience, the architectural space and interaction with archive materials to provide a baseline for comparison during the project installation. This phase will include carrying out observations and informal interviews with staff and visitors, as well as exploring the use of techniques such as first person digital ethnography
  • A collaboration between Julian Hanby of Hanby and Barrett and the Horizon team to explore the possibilities for using projection technologies to present archive film to a contemporary audience as musical echoes. How might best use be made of a heritage site for such activity? What are the technical barriers to such work and how can they be overcome?
  • Led by the School of English, research into the performance history of the Malt Cross Music Hall during the 1890s and the location of film archive material. This research is well under way and we have identified a number of performers and performance types: serio-comic vocalists, Negro comedians, big boot dancers, jugglers and boxers. The nature of the Malt Cross and its relatively lowly position on the theatrical circuits of the Victorian era means that these records are patchy and the performers themselves obscure but our knowledge of performance types now means we can locate appropriate films with the help of the Centre for Creative Collaboration.

Planned Outcomes:

Charles Coborn - Music Hall Performer
Charles Coborn – Music Hall Performer

Following initial research, a participatory design workshop will be held later this month with key stakeholders (the project team, Malt Cross representatives, and HORIZON representatives) that will bring together the findings obtained in the first phase and relevant demonstrations of existing HORIZON and UoN technologies. Participants will be encouraged to examine the potentials of these technologies for developing engaging experiences with the newly archived material as well as assets at the Malt Cross.

Outputs of this workshop will inform the design of a small-scale deployment at the Music Hall – planned for the weekend of 25-27 October – which will be followed by an evaluation of the technologies enacted and their impact. The outcomes of the technical pilot study will be analysed, including an in-depth evaluation of visitors’ feedback.


About Time/Image

TIME/IMAGE is a heritage and collections consultancy. We predominantly work to enhance historical and cultural collections through research, digitisation, curation, creative promotion, and improved online presence. We offer a diverse range of services to help enable access, encourage exploration, and provoke engagement. We’re always happy to hear about new collections and projects, so if you’d like to have a chat, please get in touch.

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