|Artist||John Doman Turner|
|Date||c. 1931 – 1932|
|Dimensions||123ft (37.5 metre) roll of cartridge paper|
|Distinguishing marks||John Doman Turner describes the scroll as being ‘A Dioramic Pictorial Record of a Suffolk Village’|
|Exhibitions||WE, Ipswich, 1994|
|Source||Walberswick Parish Council / Village Hall http://walberswick.onesuffolk.net/|
This remarkable work is one man’s view of Walberswick in the summer of 1931 but with some small additions in 1932, painted in watercolour on a roll of paper 123 feet long.
The artist was John Doman Turner (1871-1938) who depicted every house in the village street and the riverside area in some detail, starting at the gamekeeper’s cottage a mile to the west of the church. He then followed the route of the old narrow-gauge Southwold Railway, which closed in 1929, as far as the then-surviving Walberswick station building before moving across to the top of the main street. Here he continued his pictorial trail down its north side, around the Green and down to the river. Here he became engrossed with the riverside buildings, the steam ferry (dramatically scuttled in 1942) and the cluster of artists’ studios along the river bank at the time. Then he made his way back to the top of the village, recording houses on the south side of the main street. The side turnings – Palmer’s Lane, Levere’s Lane and Millfield Road – seem to be an afterthought, appearing as small pencil sketches inset at the top of the paper.
In the 1950s the scroll, wrapped around a wooden spindle, was kept in a cupboard in the Gannon Room which was, in all except name, the village hall of this period.
The precious document could then be unrolled for inspection on trestle tables without prior arrangement, and was lucky to survive the great flood of January 31, 1953. The Gannon Room stood approximately on the footprint of the present village hall, with it’s long axis running north-south. It’s architectural style owed something to the “tin tabernacle” tradition – except that it was made of wood. In 1953 it was not protected by the more recent flood defence bank, completed in the early 1960s, but it certainly got its feet wet in the flood as the water reached The Anchor sign. Luckily the scroll was safely stored in its cupboard.
Where did John Doman Turner stay when he came to Walberswick and Southwold?
Most visiting artists arriving in the village in the 1920s and earlier would simply book in at Bell or Anchor, which both acted as accommodation agents. Both had one or two rooms available, but the majority of high-season visitors were farmed out to local families who had an available room (some families put their children in makeshift attics or outhouse spaces to make this modest enhancement of income possible). It should be remembered that The Anchor was, until 1927/28 when the present building came into use, a small timber-framed building standing on what is now the forecourt. This was dismantled and re-erected with very little alteration to the original structure further up the street and renamed Anchorlea.
It seems likely that Turner adopted the above booking procedure on his earlier visits to the village. At the time of writing the only definite details so far recorded is that in 1922 he lodged with a branch of the English family at Harbour View, just off the Green. At this period, there was a very substantial cluster of huts, previously used as net sheds or sail lofts on the south bank of the river between the old steam ferry slipway and the present ferry landing stage, converted into artists studios by their enterprising owners by the insertion of glass panels in their north-facing walls. Most were let for a summer at a time, and records are very sparse. Turner was keen to have a riverside studio which could also serve as his summer home. He achieved this aim at some time before 1930. It appears on his Southwold scroll of that year, standing on the north side of the river on what is now a car park between the Alfred Corry Lifeboat Museum and the river wall. It even had a name – Jane – thought to be a reminder of a female friend.
The writer recalls an unresolved disagreement in the Bell, circa 1975, between two village elders on the subject of ‘Jane’. One said that she was a hut, while the other insisted that she was a caravan; they eventually agreed to differ. Some time later there was a slide show in Walbserswick of the Southwold scroll of 1930, depicting not only the ‘beach houses’ along Ferry Road but also those on the north bank of the river. Jane was featured and it was clear that the elders were, in a sense, both right. She had started life as a caravan of the type popular in the 1920s, with a raised section along the middle of the roof, which allowed occupants to stand at full height. Her draw-bar and wheels had been removed and she had been mounted on a solid plinth. A ‘carahut’ invented, perhaps?
What makes the Walberswick Scroll so special?
Quite simply, Turner just loved Walberswick and portrayed everything he saw in searching detail. This even extended to recording carefully the many signs and advertisements he encountered during his progress around the village, and the very comprehensive tariff of charges for the steam ferry – rich sources of material for historians trying to construct a detailed record of life in the village in 1931. One sign which always causes some amusement at scroll showings is to be found at the junction of Levere’s Lane and The Street. Parking was forbidden between that point and the Green – surprising to most of us, who had assumed that this was a much more recent problem. Turner’s almost child-like attention to detail can also be found in the numerous flint and brick walls.
A rather special example of the later can be found at the Freud stables, where not only is every brick lovingly portrayed but he includes the carefully tapered course of bricks inserted during the build process to correct an accidental departure from the horizontal by the bricklayer, another example of this situation can be found on a cottage on the Green.
Weathervanes were another source of interest, and they were apt to be drawn oversize (this is particularly true of those on the Southwold scroll).
One cannot help noticing that the architectural details of the church and of the Methodist chapel do not seem to excite Turner’s curiosity as much as one might expect. A good example, next to the chapel is a telegraph pole complete with carefully observed foot-pegs, ceramic insulator bobbins and a turned finial at the top (we are told that these were there to prevent the perching of pigeons; quite a number survive in parts of Suffolk).
We all come away from a scroll showing with our own impressions and memories. For more than 25 years I was involved in showing the Scroll, and even at the end of this time I found that I was spotting details not previously seen.
Between 1931 and 1932, J. Doman Turner, a local artist, decided to paint a picture of every house in the village. Starting as you enter the village, he worked his way along one side, round the Village Green, down to the ferry and back up the other side. The scroll is over 123 feet long and is an incredible record of the village as it was at the time. He paid particular attention to notices: a tortoise is lost and the list of prices for different uses of the then steam ferry is long and intriguing. We have a last peep at the station, Manor Farm and the Walberswick Pottery, together with glimpses of then contemporary village characters. Various sections of the scroll are reproduced on this website, it is a remarkable and almost unique work of art.
To protect the scroll the housing was made from an old table football case by Tony Whittenbury in 1988, he also devised and created a mechanism to allow the scroll to be rolled from one end to the other whilst being viewed through a glass panel in the top of the table. The scroll itself is in a remarkably good condition, considering it spent years rolled up and hidden away, and the mechanism is as smooth as ever, but the housing needed to be restored to make it secure. The dedicated team known collectively as the Scroll Advisory Group, or SAG have completed the refurbishment. The case has been renovated and the whole put on castors to enable its precious cargo to be moved more easily.
The Scroll has now found a permanent home in the newly upgraded Heritage Hut on The Green.
This scroll used to be under the control of Richard Scott, who has now handed over this responsibility to John English who occasionally shows the scroll to those interested. Enquiries to the Walberswick Village Hall should be made to establish the next viewing arrangement – http://walberswick.onesuffolk.net/
A panorama of Walberswick village (building by building, shack by shack). This ‘Dioramic Pictorial Record of a Suffolk Village’ – 123 foot long – was shown at WE, Ipswich,1994.
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