The Ringland Hills

Meeting a landlord who looked like one and just a ride had opened up a new world with fresh ideas. My first short stay at the Falcon was only a feeler for my future painting on Ringland Hills, a mere beginning, a foretaste of things to come.

Shrimp on a White Welsh Pony, 1910, the Munnings Art Museum

Already I had arranged matters with Drake, who often stayed with his family and caravan near the Bush Inn in Costessey, an establishment of lesser fame a haunt of harpies of the lower world, connected with the trotting fraternity of Norwich. Dependent on Drake to supply ponies, horses or figures, I was full of resolutions, boiling over, impatient to begin straight away at Costessey and on Ringland Hills, making pictures out-of-doors, in the right environment, with the models I needed.

Thw Falcon Inn, Costessey, 1910, private collection

Here was a lucky start, full of possibilities the landlord, the place, the river, the hills, the gorse beginning to bloom ; horses, ponies and, above all, Shrimp, that utterly uneducated, wild, ageless youth, who slept underneath Drake’s caravan. When not wanted, he lay on the dusty ground or grass (each came alike to him), smoked cigarettes, and played with the lesser dogs, lurchers and children. He was a good bare-back rider and sly as a fox. On my instruction Shrimp had gone to Norwich, to a tailor in Dove Street who made clothes for the fraternity, to be measured and fitted for the usual cut of tight cord trousers and black-fronted, sleeve waistcoat a garment of the past, a Georgian relic. Cut long, with drabbet sleeves and back, a black cloth Front with step collar, deep pocket-flaps and black pearl buttons, it was useful and picturesque. Shrimp, thus attired, with a yellow handkerchief round his neck, was a paintable figure. At a fair or market, with customers around, Shrimp, in this guise, ready and waiting, with halters slung round his shoulders, would receive his commands. The voice of Drake would be heard: “Go in there, boy, and git that bay colt”.

Shouldering into that crowded herd of wild Welsh ponies, Shrimp, borne off his feet in the crush, reached and flung his arms round the unruly, rearing colt. Haltering it at last, with the long halter-rope in his grasp he struggled clear, and other hefty fellows seizing the rope, the plunging victim was hauled from the mob.

Ponies in a Sandpit, 1909, the Munnings Art Museum

Campfire and Caravan, 1910, the Munnings Art Museum 

I grew to like Shrimp. My memories of him are touched with regret, thinking how much I could have done for him. But I console myself with the reflection that my last gesture to him was to present him with the dun-coloured horse and blue caravan which, shortly afterwards, was to be added to my painting properties.