When I was a teenager I played the part of Autolycus in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. This rogue is described as ‘a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’ and I always felt that the phrase caught something of my own pleasure in seeking out items needing a little refurbishment – the source perhaps of my lifelong interest in conservation. Well, some months ago I happened to be browsing in Blackheath Demolition and Trading reclamation yard near the Hythe in Colchester – a place full of ‘unconsidered trifles’: sash windows, cast-iron fireplaces, bricks, timber, tiles, furniture, and odd items that defy categorisation.
The centre is housed in an old dockside warehouse on several floors and in one gloomy corner of the top floor I came across some large pieces of moulded plasterwork. All included figures in full or bas-relief; some were terminally fractured and all were covered in what looked like centuries of accumulated dust and cobwebs. The one that caught my eye particularly, however, had a familiar inscription: ‘Wolsey Art Gallery’ and above the inscription was a large relief of the head of Cardinal Wolsey. It was clearly a tondo* of the completed stone bas-relief above the garden entrance to the Wolsey Art Gallery at the rear of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.
I enquired and discovered that the casts had been disposed of by a local firm of stonemasons – L.J. Watts of Colchester - clearing out their yard they had chanced upon these items which appear to be full-scale plaster models perhaps for commissions completed in the 1920s and 30s. The asking price was £500.
It seemed to me that it would be a great loss if we did not in some way acquire the tondo for Ipswich. The Ipswich Heritage Forum was an obvious group to consider this opportunity and, through the good offices of Richard Wilson and the Friends of Ipswich Museums, the tondo was snapped up at a bargain price.
Further researches revealed that L.J. Watts had a site in Cemetery Road, Ipswich, until c.1934 and Richard Wilson speculates that the tondo may have originally come from the Ipswich site.
The Wolsey Art Gallery opened in 1932, a permanent memorial of the celebrations of the Wolsey Pageant which was held in Ipswich to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the Cardinal’s death in November 1530. We are uncertain why the plaster tondo was originally made. It might have been produced by the designer, A.W.Bellis (1883-1960), as a mock-up of the design to be carved by the stonemasons [see the photograph on the front cover].
At the time of writing the future siting of the tondo is still under consideration. I would be interested to hear suggestions from readers of the Newsletter. The cover illustration shows that the condition of the tondo is good considering it has been languishing for eighty years or more! Who knows what other unconsidered trifles are out there waiting to be discovered?
I would like to express my thanks to Richard Wilson, of ‘The Friends’, and to Robin Gaylard for their help in producing this note.
[*Tondo: a circular easel painting or relief carving.]