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Image credit: JWW Turner, Tate Britain

Local resident Val Racher is working with the team that are developing the Pevensey Arts and Literature Festival, which is planned to be an annual event. Here she reveals the moment she visited Tate Britain and saw one of the pages in the Turner sketchbook .—Bay Life, 28 June 2018

As the pages were turned for me, I could see sketches of landscapes and the coast

A while ago I came across a book of paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Towards the back were two pictures of particular interest to me. “Pevensey Bay from Crowhurst Park” circa 1813 and “Pevensey Castle, Sussex” circa 1820-23.

So Turner, who is often described as the greatest British painter of all time, definitely came to this area in the early 1800s. But did he actually come to the Bay or just paint it from a distance?

I had to find out.

I went on-line to research his travels and found details of his “Hurstmonceux and Pevensey Sketchbook” circa 1806-10. On page 12 was “Pevensey Bay with beached boat”. A simple sketch but one that proved the great man did indeed set foot in the Bay.

I found the sketchbook on the Tate Britain website and decided I must go and see it.

It is housed in the Prints and Drawings Room on the top floor of their building at Millbank, London. Members of the public can visit, free of charge, but must make an appointment in advance. I travelled to London for a mid-afternoon appointment and on arrival at Tate Britain I had time to view some of his masterpieces including his self-portrait which hangs in the Clore Gallery on the ground floor.

Taking the lift to the third floor, I was met by a security guard who checked that I had an appointment before informing me to press the intercom on the door of the Prints & Drawing Room.

Greeted by a member of staff inside, I had to show photo ID and sign in their register in pencil.

Only pencil is allowed in the room. My bag was stored away for the duration of my visit.

I was provided with a pencil and paper to make notes and walked over to a distant table where the sketchbook was already out on display, resting on a perspex support, with a printout of the contents placed next to it.

I was not allowed to touch it or even get too close to it. This sketchbook is after all over 200 years old.

It is bound in marbled calf, with two broken clasps and holds 97 leaves of off-white wove paper prepared with a buff wash. Page size is 715/16” x 51/16”.

As the pages were turned for me, I could see sketches of landscapes, skeletons of animals, buildings and coast and then on Page12 the sketch that I had come to see

”Pevensey Bay with beached boat”. As I looked at it I imagined J M W Turner standing on our beach, in our Bay, sketching our shoreline.  Amazing experience. It was definitely a wow moment.

Could he be the most famous visitor the Bay has ever received?

Val Racher

Notes: Building the Pevensey Arts and Literature Festival

The festival team is comprised of two parish councillors, a number of people with experience of developing conferences and major local tourism events, as well as a number of teachers and people with an input into local arts and writing groups.

There is also outside input from a number of key organisations including the Goon Show Preservation Society, The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society, The Tony Hancock Appreciation Society and a number of other national bodies.

Val Racher has experience of managing major budgets in a comprehensive campus in North London, working with the headmaster Michael Marland, promoting major arts events and talks.

The planned festival is comprised of eight talks each year. The talks are presented by key figures from organisations in the country that have knowledge of an aspect of a historical link to the locality.

Pevensey Castle
The site of Pevensey caste dates from around 238AD and of course we have a unique place in the 1066 story. We have our own panel on the Bayeux Tapestry that says “Ad Pevensae”.

Narnia Chronicles
Pevensey is also home to the Pevensie family in the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia, In Puck of Pook’s Hill by Kipling, the Eastern Gate of the castle becomes ‘England’s Gate, to the mythical Albion.

Situation comedy
Pevensey Bay appears to have played a part in the birth of situation comedy in this country. A comedy script written for Tony Hancock by best friend, Larry Stephens in 1951, titled Vacant Lot, was, perhaps amongst the first situation comedies planned by the BBC. The script was set in a place called Churdley Bay, with a Martello Tower and shingle beach. A previous landlord in the local hotel was given the name ‘Mr Pevensey’.

Hancock himself was here and stayed at the Bay Hotel in Pevensey Bay. Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan were here in the summers of the fifties. The Goon Show is littered with references to Pevensey Bay. The parents of Peter Sellers stayed at the Bay Hotel and his mother came to live here in the 1960s with a home in Coast Road.

A public resource building here in Beachlands is named after community activist Ethel Wood. Ethel Wood was cleaning lady to Peter Sellers.

Pre-Raphaelite figures
We may be the only village in England with two roads named in parallel after two famous pre-Raphaelite figures. We have Rossetti Road and Val Prinseps Road.

JMW Turner was also here, sketching the spire of St. Nicolas church and the beach in Pevensey Bay.

This is a rich mix of literature and art that has been partly embedded in the local landscape. Pevensey Bay has been called the hidden jewel in the crown of Sussex. Pevensey is in a unique position to tell the story of what historian Michael Wood called “The Great British Story: A People’s History”, The locality, the team believe, is ripe for a smalls arts and literature festival.

Building the festival
“As we build the festival year by year”, the team say “we hope to tap into this rich, small, but distinct vein of arts literature and culture here”.

“Pevensey and Pevensey Bay represent a unique admixture of history, legend, arts, literature and comedy and we want to capture something of this eclectic spirit with these eight keynote talks each year.”