Painting damaged in the Bombardment

The damaged painting
The damaged painting

by Jeannie Swales

It’s not the most inspiring of paintings – a rather chocolate-box depiction of Scarborough’s sea front in, perhaps, the late Victorian period. But what a story there is behind it.

See those gaping holes in the canvas? On December 16, 1914, this pleasant little painting, by an artist we know only as J Chambers, was hanging in number 28 Westbourne Park, at that time the home of John Hall, architect, Alderman of the Borough of Scarborough, and Justice of the Peace.

John was upstairs dressing when German battlecruisers opened fire on the unsuspecting town shortly after 8am. A shell crashed through the dining room and exploded; the force of the blast was directed upwards. The floor opened up beneath John’s feet and he was mortally wounded, suffering horrific injuries. His daughter found him following his cries for help and she raced out to get a doctor. There was little the doctor could do given the state of his injuries and he needed immediate hospitalisation. The ambulance came and he was rushed to hospital but sadly died on the stretcher as they were carrying him up the steps.

The painting was damaged in the blast, and later donated to the town by his widow – it’s now part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and art owned by the borough.

John was 65 when he died – the oldest person to die in Scarborough that day. Just a few doors away, number 22 Westbourne Park was the home of the youngest victim of that day’s events – 14-month-old John Shields Ryalls.

The centenary of that most dramatic of days in Scarborough’s history takes place next Tuesday.

Special commemorative events on the day will include an early morning civic ceremony organised by Scarborough Borough Council, during which a maroon will be fired from Scarborough Castle to simulate the attack, and the name of each individual who died will be read out. Scarborough Castle will also be lit up during the ceremony and a flotilla of boats will be stationed outside the harbour. The event will end with the release of 18 white doves.

Later in the day, the Friends of Dean Road and Manor Road Cemetery and invited guests, which will include 18 local school children, will lay a wreath on a newly constructed commemorative cairn at the cemetery.

The Old Fish Market can be seen in a major new exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery commemorating the Bombardment and those who died. Remember Scarborough runs until January 4, 2015. For further information, please call the gallery on (01723) 374753.