Thomas Gainsborough:

Preserving a Pylon Threatened Masterpiece.


This must be a rather unique opportunity for lovers of landscape art. In Sudbury, Suffolk it is possible to visit the birthplace of one of our most revered landscape artists, Thomas Gainsborough. The 

Gainsborough’s House Museum is internationally recognised and houses some important works including the oil painting, Wooded Landscape with Herdsman Seated.

The unique opportunity comes from the fact that you can then drive just a couple of miles south and walk down a public footpath below the historic St Mary’s Church, Gt Henny and take in the very view that inspired Gainsborough for yourself.

Although there has been notable flattening of the landscape by agriculture (ploughing) since 1748 when the painting was produced, the view remains remarkably intact and so far as we can establish, is the best example of a Gainsborough or Constablelandscape that still exists.

The key identifiers that this is indeed the view that Gainsborough painted are the Henny church spire and Thornycroft Farm House which is seen below it in the above images.

The small oak tree in the painting is now a huge, mature and a somewhat broken oak. You can even detect the water course at thebottom of the painting which is now only a line of reeds in the field.

But the academic world of art was unaware...

This is clearly a view of great cultural heritage significance and yet surprisingly, the academic art world was not, until now, aware of it. They tend to believe that Gainsborough's work was from the imagination. 

So why have Stour Valley Underground put so much effort into bringing this to the nation’s attention through local and national newspapers?

This view is threatened by National Grid’s pylon proposals for the heritage landscape of the Essex / Suffolk Border, and if you simply walk up the hill behind Gainsborough’s vantage point you can see why.

From this higher viewing position you clearly see the pylons that already blight this valley. National Grid have identified a corridor for another line of such pylons. According to the maps supplied by National Grid, that new line could be placed between the existing ones and the church, making them far more impactful on this wonderful heritage asset.

Local Knowledge...

Stour Valley Underground is just one of numerous organisations that oppose National Grid’s proposals and we sit on the consultation process’ Community Forums along with members of the public, local councillors and council officers looking at the environmental assessment data National Grid’s consultants, TEP bring forward. But the data presented by TEP is far from comprehensive enough for the communities needs when considering this issue. And the consultants clearly demonstrate a tendency to value data from official sources far more highly than local knowledge and values. This, as is demonstrated here is wrong.

and its importance...

This newly publicised, internationally significant heritage site is for us an example of just how importantlocal knowledge of the value of the landscape here in South Suffolk and North Essex is. It is vital that people attending National Grid's public consultation meetings ensure that such local knowledge impacts NG's decisions and goes to ensure that suchculturally important landscape views (and their settings) are not ruined for current and future generations by utterly inappropriate lines of pylons. And of course, it is important that such locally sourced information goes forward to impact the planning process and prevents the despoilment of this wonderful countryside.

Visiting for yourself.

The painting...

The Gainsborough’s House Museum can be found in the lovely Suffolk market town of Sudbury, situated near the town centre in Gainsborough Street. More details on their website here. You can even gain free admission on the 11th February 2012.

The view...

To take in this inspiring view for yourself, head south from Sudbury on the A131. and proceed a couple of miles, passing the Bulmer Fox and on to the turning left into Watery Lane, signposted for the Hennys and the Henny Vets surgery. 

Proceed along this sometimes deep sunk and winding lane until your reach the old timbered Henny Parish Rooms (on your left) just beyond which is a sign to Henny Church, directing you left.

At the Church the footpath runs downhill from the other side of the road, opposite the church gate. There are a couple of styles to clamber over and you might need wellies as the path can be muddy. 

Walkers on Boxing Day 2011 passing Thornicroft Farm on their way to take in Gainsborough’s view.

Follow the footpath across the valley bottom and as the ground rises again you reach a field boundary on your left. Look back and to your left and you will see the church and farm house. Simply walking alongthe field boundary until the farmhouse aligns with the church spire takes you to Gainsborough's 1748 vantage point.

The actual vantage point is on private land belonging to Ryes Hall Farm who’s owners have set aside this land to let it return to the more natural form seen by Gainsborough. You can find the location on Google Maps by clicking the image below.

This is not the only Gainsborough view in north Essex. We have pointed up the importance of others on our “Artists” page. The important thing to realise is that in this area the whole of thelandscape needs preserving and protecting and that includes the overall setting oof these views, not just a given view itself.The Suffolk / Essex border is an area strewn with such little known though valuable cultural and historic gems upon whichlocal rural economicbenefitcan be developed. And these are of course assets that we should hand on to future generations, intact.

Lastly, to illustrate just how much more clearly intact this view is than the Constable ones at Dedham, the following,identified as the best available is from theBBC website and concerns Constable's painting "Stour Valley and Dedham Village".

This in no way diminishes the important heritage landscape that is Constable Country within the 

Dedham Vale and its Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It merely serves to show that an undesignated landscape is under threat and that local knowledge is key to identifying its heritage value and ensuring that it is preserved, intact for generations to come.

Stour Valley Underground and indeed everyone who values this important identification of a culturally significant view is deeply indebted to local historian, Barry Wall of Alphamstone (Essex), Chair of the 

Sudbury History Society for discovering the location and bringing it to our attention. Our thanks are also due to the Morton family of Ryes Hall Farm for allowing us access to it in order to photograph it.

And now there are new and exciting reveations on why Gainsborough painted Wooded Landscapehere.