Historic Mudeford beach paintings found


An exhibition at Mompesson House in Salisbury gives a glimpse of the Mudeford coast during Queen Victoria’s reign.

‘A Century in a Suitcase’ is an exhibition of paintings, sketchbooks and painted ceramics by Barbara Townsend (1842-1939), who lived at Mompesson House, in Salisbury’s cathedral close, for nearly a century.

The Townsend family’s seaside house was Gundimore at Mudeford near Christchurch to the south. Gundimore had been built in 1796 for 21 year old poet William Stuart Rose who designed a tented room. There he entertained fellow poets Coleridge and Southey. Sir Walter Scott stayed there whilst writing Marmion.

The Townsend family bought the house in 1859 when Barbara Townsend was a teenager and she continued to visit the seaside villa until her death at the start of the Second World War.

Throughout her life she painted daily except on Sundays and some of her watercolour landscapes were recently discovered in a case by her nephews.

The collection includes Boscastle in Cornwall and a lane in Dorset but several are of Mudeford.

In the Mompesson drawing room, on a table laid for tea with a fruit cake, there has long been a plate featuring a view out to sea with a tip of the sand bar to the right. It is dated 5 August 1886.

This is just five years after the Mudeford spit had begun to grow by turning west at the Black House, by the present Christchurch Harbour entrance. Eventually the long sand bar ran parallel to the Mudeford beach as far as Highcliffe Castle.

This created a long narrow harbour entrance which until a storm washed it away in March 1935, the year after Barbara Townsend inherited Gundimore at the age of 92.

The special exhibition now provides further views showing the spit and the Isle of Wight. One view painted in 1880 from the beach depicts the very new sand bar beyond a deep channel.

The Gundimore garden seems to have merged with the beach. All pictures look out to sea and one on a tile shows trees, with maybe pink blossom, on a very low cliff. Another has two garden chairs on the beach.

One watercolour called just ‘Gunnery Practice 1881’ showing ships on the horizon may well be Christchurch Bay. Another, labelled Mudeford, shows a moonlit scene with what appears to be tree stumps on the beach giving the impression of a henge.

The 1880 view is on sale as a postcard.

‘A Century in a Suitcase’ exhibition is at Mompesson House, a National Trust property, until 29 October; Sat-Wed 11am-5pm; admission £4.40.

About Leigh Hatts

Leigh Hatts is an experienced walker and has known the local coastline since childhood. He is the author of many successful walking guides.
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