How our research led us to find where John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ scroll is kept

For those of you that don’t know, John Doman Turner (25 October 1871 – 3 January 1938) was a deaf British painter and member of the Camden Town Group. There was little known about his works for many years, but in recent times, more and more of his work is beginning to surface – the most recent being four giant scrolls that Turner completed towards the end of his life.

After becoming aware of and visiting  Turner’s scrolls at Walberswick and Southwold, my father and I were surprised and delighted to hear references about another scroll we had not heard about before.

When reading an introduction to the Trinity Fair scroll by Simon Loftus of The Adnams brewery and The Swan Hotel, Southwold, Suffolk, the following came to our attention,

“Encouraged by the response to this extraordinary work, John Doman Turner embarked on the Trinity Fair Scroll, displayed here, and then completed a final scroll, featuring the travelling circus which used to visit Southwold during the summer. That scroll was purchased for the Theatre Museum in London in the early 1980s, at the same time that Adnams acquired the Trinity Fair Scroll.”

Introduction to the Trinity Fair scroll at The Swan Hotel, Southwold

As soon as we returned home from our visit to Southwold, I started to google the Theatre Museum in London to find out what happened in the 1980s. I found that the V&A had taken over all the museum’s artefacts when it closed down.

My father contacted the V&A Theatre & Performance Archives to see if they had the scroll, but they had no luck tracking it down from his description. I wondered whether they needed more evidence to describe what we were looking for, so I sent them photos of the references to the Theatre Museum along with pictures of Turner’s other scrolls. I referred to it as the ‘Circus Scroll’. A couple of days later, they got back to me and said they might have found what we were looking for.

My father, James W Robertson, and I at the V&A’s Blythe House

It was an exciting day as we made our way down to the V&A’s Blythe House. We didn’t know what to expect and were completely blown away by what we saw when entering the reading room.

John Doman Turner’s Fairground Frieze at the V&A’s Blythe House Reading Room

It was a scroll in its most original form. It was different to the others. The Walberswick Scroll is stored inside an old football table at the Heritage Hut in Walberswick, Suffolk, the Trinity Fair Scroll was stored in huge picture frames in The Swan Hotel, Southwold, Suffolk.

Turner’s ‘Walberswick Scroll’ at the Heritage Hut, Walberswick
Turner’s ‘Trinity Fair Scroll’ at The Swan Hotel, Southwold

The V&A refer to the scroll as the ‘Fairground Frieze’, which they describe as a ‘Frieze or panorama of the fairground, fairground attractions and circuses at Southwold, Suffolk’. The scroll is 743cm long (approximately 23ft) and 22.5 cm height. The paper is rolled around a wooden ‘cotton reel’ composed of a series of pencil drawings and watercolours.

James W Robertson observing the ‘Fairground Frieze Scroll’
at V&A Blythe House, London

The scroll includes images of Gallopers and Pinders and Kayes Brothers circuses, Clyde and Staffs Cottages, fairground workers and fairground booths. It was made in 1934 and inscribed Trinity Fair, South Green, Southwold, May 28th 1934; Pinder’s Circus, Carter’s Marsh, Southwold, August 3rd 1934, Southwold Common, August 20th 1934.

A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
Pinders Circus. Carters Marsh Southwold. Friday 3rd August 1934
Southwold Common. Monday 20th August 1934
Gipsy Boswell and the old race
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
Kayes Bros Circus All British
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934
Ringmaster & Elephant after the late Hal Bert
A section of John Doman Turner’s ‘Fairground Frieze’ from 1934

The archivists told me and my father that the scroll hadn’t been opened for many years hence the colours of the works were incredibly striking.

During our visit the scroll had to be unwrapped six times so we could see the whole thing. At the very end of the scroll, we spotted the signature of John Doman Turner’s and pointed this out to archivists who made a note of our finding.

John Doman Turner’s signature can be found at the end of the scroll

The V&A were then able to update their archives with this new information.

Here is a screenshot of their website before our visit –

The V&A website, before our visit, artist/maker ‘unknown’. January 2016

and after –

The V&A website, after our visit, artist/maker ‘John Doman Turner’. April 2017

The website has since had a refresh, but more details about the ‘Fairground Frieze’ is available at V&A.

Unfortunately this work is not on public display.

I have also been made aware that there is currently no access to the V&A’s study collections at Blythe House, including the Theatre & Performance Archives, while relocating them to the new V&A East Storehouse in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Full access will resume in 2024.

Written by Stephen Robertson. 2022.

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