Update: A Coastal Mystery No More

24 Jun 2020|Jonathan Yates

  • Library, Arts & Archives

When the blog on the Hall’s painting by Edward Seago was published last month, I received numerous suggestions for its location.

The first clear lead was provided by Teddy Hall Fellow, Prof. Steve Roberts. Steve is a keen sailor, and he posted the query on a sailing and yachting forum. This produced the suggestion that it could be a view of the village of Morston in Norfolk. From a map the view from a track south east of the village would seem to give the correct angle between the church and the coast.

I then contacted the local vicar. Our painting was shown to a Morston resident who felt sure it was her village. So, case closed? Not quite.

The parish administrator sent the blog to a local art expert. While he felt that it invoked the spirit of Morston he wondered if it was instead a composite image, as the coastline had strong similarities with Seago’s paintings of Brancaster – further down the coast. However, Brancaster does not have a church in the right location.

I was then contacted by an alumnus, Richard Hatt (1970, Geography) who sent me a photograph of the coast at Brancaster Staithe taken from Barrow Common – part of one of his favourite cycle rides (see map). He had noted the strong similarities with our painting. As Brancaster Staithe has no church he also wondered if the artist had painted a composite image – something Richard’s father would do in his own paintings of Norfolk. When I told him of the alternative Morston theory Richard visited Morston and took some photographs. These show that while the church is a good match, the land nearby does not have sufficient elevation to give the right view of the sea.

Last week I was able to get to my college office with the picture archives. There I found a letter from the then Chairman of the college picture fund, David Phipps, dated 14th November 1953, which reads:

“as a result of a recent ballet the JCR has purchased from Mr Edward Seago a painting of Norfolk Estuaries, price 80 gns… I shall be seeing Mr Seago on Tuesday”

Sadly David Phipps died in 2007, so I can’t ask him about his experience meeting the artist. However, the way the picture is referred to, as being of “Norfolk Estuaries”, fits with the theory that the picture is a composite, rather than a precise location.

In conclusion I think the painting is probably a fiction. It combines the view of the coast at Brancaster Staithe with a classic Norfolk church within a village, invoking the feel of a village such as Morston. I don’t think this detracts from the painting. Rather, it shows the enormous talent Seago had for capturing the sense and feeling of locations. Seago has distilled views of places he knew so well, combining them in his mind to give us a picture, which while not literal truth, gives us an utterly convincing and evocative view of the north Norfolk coast.

I grateful to everyone who provided their comments on the blog. In particular I would like to thank Julia Thompson, the administrator for the Benefice of Stiffkey and Bale, and Richard Hatt (1970, Geography).

Map of Morston
View of Morston Church from Holt Lane
Map of Brancaster Staithe
Brancaster Staithe from Barrow Common

Category: Library, Arts & Archives