With no television, cinema, internet or smartphones, what family entertainment was available in the late nineteenth century? Part of the answer to that was provided by Joshua Dyson, born in Glossop, Derbyshire in 1851. At a time when entertainment could not always be relied upon to be family friendly, he devised a multi-layered attraction within the price reach of the middling classes, which was fun, educational and provided a modest spectacle.
He began life as a pork butcher following in his father’s footsteps, and married young, living with his wife Elizabeth in Sheffield. In 1881 they were living on Cemetery Road but a few years later Joshua took a decision which was to change their lives forever. He created a travelling show, “ Dyson’s Gypsy Choir and Dioramas” and did not look back. Since the choir and instrumentalists were all well rehearsed, the lanternist skilled, the pictures spectacular and his narration dramatic, he received good reviews throughout his career. Audiences enjoyed the variety of the programme,and the drama of the virtual tours of places they might never visit but could be amazed by. Sometimes his show became an informal advertisement ; members of the audience might in fact be inspired to visit for example the Peak District, to enjoy in reality what they had seen on the screen.
It is not surprising that Joshua died at the relatively early age of 59; the touring, the responsibility for the performers and equipment and multiple programmes, and the nightly personal performances, must have taken a toll. But by the time Joshua died in 1910 the days of the dioramas were numbered. Waiting in the wings were the silent films, with the cinema poised to take the crown for mass popular appeal.