A Seaside Phantasia
Artist : Barrie Morris
Media : Mixed Media
Size : 56 x 74 cm. (plus frame)

Price : £2,950.00 (inc. VAT)

‘FRONT of HOUSE’ by Barrie Morris  A seaside phantasia.

 Once upon a time, ‘FRONT of HOUSE’, the title given to this picture by artist Barrie Morris, was the home and business premises of Wine & Spirit Merchant, Mineral Water Manufacturer and Proprietor of a Steam Laundry, William Porter Baker.  This imposing façade, reimagined from an illustrated bill of sale of the 1890s, rediscovered in a local Holt antique shop, was then situated at 53-55 Church Square, Cromer, Norfolk. Today, Church Square has become Church Street, but that original building still exists, though now rather different from in its resplendent heyday.

Chief character in our little tale is William Porter Baker, born in 1853, son of a Postmaster and Farmer, in Erpingham.  By 1871, he was listed as a ‘Painter’, living at ‘Ditchells House’, East Street, Cromer.  Not until 1891, at the age of 37, did he marry Sally Augusta, nee Witting who was 28.  The marriage lasted for only 10 years, cut short by William’s premature death in 1901, at a mere 48 years of age. The couple produced four children: William Porter Baker junior; Dora Augusta Baker; George Robert Baker and Leonard Victor Baker.

From 1904, the business was renamed S.A. Baker Witting, Wine & Spirit Merchant, run by his wife Sally with help from staff:  Helen Cumby, servant/barmaid, aged 21, and two domestic servants: Martha Neal, aged 12 and Florence Neal, aged 13.

By 1911, the property had become ‘ The Ship Hotel’, with Sally as landlady, a job she had retired from by 1939, then living with her youngest son Leonard and his wife Nora at ‘Dahmoi’, in Bernard Road, Cromer.  Sally died in 1942 at ‘Dahmoi’ aged 80, leaving £5784/14 shillings in her will. By this time, William Porter Baker junior was a Director of a Haulage Company and Coal Merchant. Sally’s younger son with whom she had lived, only outlived her by 20 years.

This painting revisits the late nineteenth century manifestation of the site using both realism and artistic licence to create an impression of its atmosphere and glorious, colourful history. We can only imagine the comings and goings on within and without, but we are certain that it was flanked by a Chemist and Druggist, and, overtime, by a Pork Butcher, Poulterer and Bookseller.

As for The Ship Hotel, by the 1950s it had become ‘The Old Ship Hotel’, a popular watering-hole in the seaside town, which became well-known for its unique seven feet long, three dimensional relief mural of a beach scene in Cromer, created in plasterwork behind the bar.  This was a very detailed, lively and beautiful triptych by Scottish muralist, John Moray-Smith, an artist originally from Aberdeen, who came to live in Norwich. Apparently his work can still be seen in Cromer Museum to this day.

From its glorious beginnings, the premises of 53-55 Church Street has taken on many guises – the latest manifestation in Covid-ridden 2020/21, is as an M & Co store, though one wonders for how much longer?

In the 21st century, the premises could not be more different from its more romantic past, that sadly now only remain in books, old photographs, heritage centres and now in this extraordinary painting.