Hi, thankyou for the helpful answers.
The servos look very feasible to me, I've watched the videos and looked them up on google and i'm getting excited about starting this project. I have someone to help me with the programming and wiring up because, as suspected, this area isn't my forte.
I love the idea of getting the cogs to speed up and slow down, but as per MichaelMeissner's sound advice i'm going to start small and just get the things moving first, adding the bells and whistles later (as time and competence allows!).
I looked at the soleniods too, but i don't feel up to building an authentic victorian-era machine yet. I hope i won't offend any steampunk ethics if i just glue a couple of soleniods on for visual effect (they look cool!)
So wish me luck, I'll post back to let you know how things progress and if/when i need more help!.