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Foxearth and District Local History Society – Meeting 10th Oct 2017 – Report

The artistic connections between two painters and the Suffolk/Essex landscape.

This was a subject fully explored by Dr. Judy Ivy – Liston resident, member of the Society and university lecturer – in her talk to the Foxearth and District Local History Society on 10th October 2017. A large audience of about 25 members and guests were treated to a comprehensively illustrated exposition of the individual approaches that Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable had to the countryside of the Stour valley; the obvious affection they both had for the area shines through in their work.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury in 1727, the son of a weaver. Having impressed his father with his talent for painting heads and laandscapes he was allowed to go to London in 1740 to study art privately. One of his earliest and best-known  works is his portrait of Mr and Mrs Robert  Andrews – newly-married landed gentry – of about 1750. This is an unusual composition in that the sitters are outside, there is no sign of the house which would ordinarily have been included as a status symbol and half of the picture is concerned with the farm land as evidenced by the seed drills and the stooped corn.  Later portraits were more conventional but Gainsborough’s favoured subjects were landscapes and it is possible that the combination in the Andrews picture was to show off his preference to wealthy clients. Some landscapes suggest a dreamy side to Gainsborough’s character and there are even fantasy compositions. Thomas Gainsborough elevated the genre of British landscape painting and was a founding member of the Royal Academy.

John Constable was born in East Bergholt in 1776- one of six children. His father owned Flatford Mill and when he left school young John worked in the corn trade. He loved to take sketching trips in the Suffolk and Essex countryside and, although his family did not want him to become a painter,  in 1799 he persuaded his father to allow him to study at the Royal Academy where he was inspired by the works of Gainsborough – who had died in 1788.  Although Constable painted many fine portraits, he found this work dull; it provided a living but his real interest was in scenes of ordinary daily life involving villages, churches, farms, cottages, mills, rivers and such like.. This was somewhat unfashionable in an age that looked for a more romantic style. One painting, commissioned as a wedding gift, is a landscape featuring Dedham church in the background and farm workers in the front dealing with a large pile of manure! Constable was a persistent sketcher and many of his most well-known paintings like Flatford Mill, The Hay Wain, Willie Lott’s Cottage have an associated number of drawings from various angles. In fact Willie Lott’s cottage was derelict in the 1920s but was rebuilt with Constable’s paintings and sketches providing valuable guidance. John Constable was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1829. He died in 1837.

Judy demonstrated a deep level of research into this important piece of local history and warm thanks were expressed to her by Secretary Clare Mathieson. Both artists lived and worked at times in other parts of the country but the affinity which each had for the countryside in which they were raised endures in their beautiful legacies.

Next meeting: Tuesday 14th November 2017 7.30pm when Corinne Cox will talk about Foxearth and The Great War.

Ken Nice

Foxearth & District Local History Society Meeting 12th September 2017 – Report

The feelings and actions of a young weaver from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, who served at Waterloo were dramatically portrayed by local historian, Anne Grimshaw, to members of the District Society on Tuesday 12th September. In costume of the period – which was subtly altered to reflect  different people – Anne appeared as mother Dolly, sister Sally and wife Phoebe to John Grimshaw (born 1789) ; no relation as far as Anne has been able to discover.

In 1806, very much against his parent’s wishes, John left his job as a hand loom weaver  and enlisted in the Coldstream Guards. His first letter home was from London which he described as “bigger than Blackburn”! Next he was in Spain “hotter than Lancashire” and then in Portugal which was said to have “flies everywhere” and “people sleeping in huts with their animals” In 1815, after Waterloo, he wrote again from London  about the “big fight” and mentioned that he had been injured. More about this came to light when he came limping home at Christmas 1818 giving a graphic account of how a surgeon had removed a musket ball – which had been flattened when it hit his hip. He was also injured in the right arm. Whilst recuperating he was given a carbine to shoot the rats that were around the hospital. On his arrival home he enquired whether another local lad, Thomas Pollard, whom he had met in 1811 in Portugal had been in touch. Dolly replied that he had – and he had married John’s sister Sally! John saw action in several other battles and after his army service he suffered from bad dreams and episodes of sleep screaming indicating that “battle fatigue ” is not a modern condition. He was discharged from the army in 1818 as unfit having received a number of medals and awarded a pension of 9d a day.

As “Sally” Anne described some of John’s expeience of Belgium where there was said to be a lot of fever and ague. John returned to work as a hand loom weaver and in 1828 married Phoebe Tomlinson, also a weaver, and these two became involved in the active unrest that workers started to show as they saw the introduction of machinery into weaving and steam looms as threatening their livelihood. “Phoebe” recounted her arrest, her appearance at the Assizes for rioting and her sentence of 12 months hard labour. John died in 1851 of asthma aged 61. His army record showed him to be older indicating that he may have been untruthful about his age when enlisting!

This “one woman show” demonstrated the deep level of research Anne had undertaken to compile this intriguing account in which, she said,  a few assumptions had been made on the basis of the evidence of the times. A carefully designed and interesting evening. Anne related how Thomas Pollard was quite a hero having received a campaign medal with 9 bars. The whereabouts of this decoration was unknown for some years but persistent enquiries by Anne had finally unearthed it and it now was held proudly in the regimental archives. Anne was warmly thanked on behalf on 17 members by Secretary Clare Mathieson.

Information was presented about the Society’s annual dinner on 12th December at the George, Cavendish and members should book their place with Clare as soon as possible. The next meeting will be on 10th October at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Judy Ivy will talk about the artistic connections between John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough in the context of the Suffolk/Essex landscape.

Ken Nice

Foxearth and District Local History Society – Report on AGM held on 14th March 2017

 The Annual General Meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society was held on 14th March 2017 in Foxearth Village Hall with Mrs Lynda Rumbold in the Chair. There were 23 members present. A very warm welcome was expressed to former Treasurer John Geddes on his return from major surgery.

A financial report showed a satisfactory situation. An application to the Parish Council for a grant of £250 had been made for 2017/18 and it was agreed – since the Council requested predictive figures for future years – that this should be increased to £350 subsequently. It was also agreed that the annual membership subscription and the meetings fee for guests should remain at £10 and £2 respectively. Cheque signatories would continue for the present.

Preparation of the 2017 programme and the general running of the Society, had been in the hands of the Chairman and Secretary Clare Mathieson and thanks were conveyed for a job well done. It seemed quite unnecessary to extend the Committee beyond these two very capable and willing volunteers who were happy with the situation but who asked that members  provide their contact details if there was a sudden need for help.

The success of the web site was a tribute to the continuing diligent work of Andrew Clarke.

The President, Ashley Cooper, reminded members of the book fund which he had established several years ago and which existed to support publication of literature of local interest; the fund stood at just over £900.

In connection with local archaeology Corinne Cox asked that anyone interested in having a 1 metre square test pit being dug in their garden should contact her. The procedure would be carried out by volunteers who had already uncovered some ancient finds in the villages.

Members had been asked to bring along wedding photographs and after a refreshing cheese and wine break the anecdotes began to flow. We heard about how the happy day had been mildly disrupted by weather, football crowds, vehicle breakdowns, how money was still owed for a taxi fare and how courtship at a distance had thrived by the exchange of numerous letters which were still in the family archive. It was generally felt that the spontaneous response of members to the challenge of providing their own entertainment had been successful and enjoyable. One member suggested an evening devoted to the history of our houses and this was met with enthusiasm.

Next meeting: 11th April at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Andrew Richardson will talk about the History of the Quay.


Ken Nice