Explore the Galleries

Explore Castle House room by room

Arranged thematically, the rooms of Castle House showcase pictures from Alfred Munnings’ six decade career. Sketches and preparatory works hang side by side with finished oils. Personal items and ephemera remain in situ from when Sir Alfred and Violet Munnings were in residence. Each year the displays are renewed and refreshed to explore a new avenue of Munnings’ life and work.

Castle House was described by Alfred Munnings as “the house of my dreams”...

“now I come to what I consider to be the main event of my life … but what is the use of meeting a wife if you have no house?”

Munnings came to look at Castle House in the summer of 1919 with a party of friends. He wrote:
“I had indeed found my dream house, river and all … it was a big house for one man.” He was persuaded by a friend to make an offer of £1,800 which was accepted: “Still full of fears, I began to wish I had never thought of buying such a thing as a gentleman’s residence. I should never be able to keep such a place! Who was I?”
Violet McBride was an accomplished horsewoman, known in the best circles, and Munnings met her in 1919. She caught the his attention: “Here was a subject to paint – a good looking woman on horseback, silk hat and gardenia – all complete.” He asked if she would sit for him. Initially she declined but finally she was persuaded. Violet first visited Castle House in the winter of 1919 to celebrate Christmas along with other friends of Munnings including Laura and Harold Knight.

Following their wedding in March 1920 Violet undertook all the domestic elements of Munnings’ life including the accounts and organisation of the household. Violet also contrived many of his commissions during the 1920s and 1930s some of which she secured from her contacts in the horse and hunting world. She saw it as her role to release him from the mundane activities of everyday life so that he had the freedom to carry out his work uninhibited.

He wrote “I have been more than blessed with a good wife.”
She said “he was never such a good painter after he married me.”

Prior to his death in 1959, Munnings and Violet had discussed making his paintings more accessible to the public and so, with enormous support from the public, it was she who opened Castle House as a museum in his memory in the spring of 1961. In an interview with The Daily Mail in 1961 she said that “I feel that his spirit is still here.” In 1966 the Castle House Trust was founded to manage and maintain The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum. Lady Munnings and the Trustees acquired further paintings in order to show a more fully representative body of Munnings’ work. Lady Munnings died in 1971, having moved to Chelsea in the late 1960s but the Trust continues to run the museum today.



Munnings: Making A Picture

In 2024 we take a look behind the scenes at the ways in which Alfred Munnings created his pictures. Understand more about what influenced his ideas, how life events and circumstances affected his work and discover the details of how he placed paint onto canvas.

Munnings: Making a Picture features an eclectic mix of over thirty works including well-known titles such as The Ford, Tagg’s Island and a Portrait of Daniel Tompkins.


On entering the high-ceilinged Hall of Castle House with its Georgian lantern above there is hung a selection of equestrian portraits featuring Munnings favourite models. This includes a large and personal painting of his wife Violet riding on Exmoor and others of his early models and friends Nobby Gray and Fountain George Page, known famously as the “brigand” Shimp. Studies, photographs and items of costume tell the stories behind the creation of these pictures.


The North Room of the house, known as the Library, introduces you to an array of portraits from charming young ladies and men of soil who modelled for Munnings in his early career. Gloriously rich and sensual depictions of Nellie Gray and Cassie Jeweller reveal influences on the young Munnings from John Singer Sargent and the French Impressionists. Old Norman and Nobby Gray can be seen in their rural working habitat and travelling lifestyle.


In 2024, the Dining Room, Drawing Room and Morning Room feature a display of important pictures, ephemera and objects illustrating Munnings stellar career from humble beginnings in Suffolk to President of the Royal Academy.  His relationships with friends and acquaintances are explored from village folk in Suffolk, bohemian friends, such as Laura Knight, in Cornwall and later to the Lords and Ladies with whom he dined and debated including Winston Churchill.


Upstairs in Gallery I horseracing studies create a dazzling rainbow of colour. Working sketches, left in the studio after Munnings died, provide an insight into his working methods and finished oils fizz with the energy of the horses and jockeys ready for the race.


Gallery II offers another side to Munnings’ animal painting. A plethora of dogs, pigs, cows and bird motifs which captured his imagination as a boy and tested his skills as a maturing artist demonstrate that he was more than a one trick pony!.


In the garden stands Munnings’ former Studio which houses his painting materials and props. It also presents a display of the Belle Époque poster designs Munnings created as an apprentice commercial artist during his teenage years in Norwich.


The Architecture of Castle House

“Castle House. Castle Hill. Late fifteenth century Front Range, and south range added in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, all timber framed and plastered. Early nineteenth century additions on the north side, rendered brick, including the drawing room. A circular room with domed ceiling was formed in the existing south range. Some later nineteenth century decoration including moulding and gothic detailing in the staircase hall.” (Pevsner; The Buildings of England: Essex).

A Brief History of the Dedham Cloth Trade

In the fourteenth century Castle House was one of the prominent clothier residences in Dedham, where weaving was the predominant industry. Woollen cloths were sold primarily at the Flemish Markets and also at Dedham market once it was established. The industry peaked in the fifteenth century enabling merchant weavers to fund the building of Dedham church.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the English Civil War and the closure of the Flemish Markets caused the weaving industry to decline but there were forty known clothiers in Dedham operating from the sixteenth century onwards, including a number based at Castle House.
At the turn of the eighteenth century the cloth trade in this part of the country was again on the up but had relocated to portside towns leaving Dedham in a state of poverty. Huguenots fleeing France sought refuge in Britain and brought with them the skills to weave silk. Silk cloths were worth much more than wool and so Dedham once again became prosperous. This new found wealth enabled the local inhabitants to modernise and make fashionable their houses, bringing them into the Georgian age. This included the extension and remodelling of Castle House.

The Dedham silk weaving industry declined throughout the nineteenth century largely due to its geographical position with the port towns, again, proving to be much more efficient trading centres.

Castle House #ThenAndNow