John Moray-Smith panel

Have you ever walked in to a pub and seen a scene like this? This panel portrays a traditional pub scene unlike we see now. It was created by the Norwich artist, John Moray-Smith in the middle of the twentieth century. This artist’s work appears on the outside of buildings and inside of pubs across Norwich and Norfolk. His work commemorates and celebrates trades and livelihoods from across the city and county.

Little is known about Moray-Smith’s life. Mysterious rumours circulated for years that he was an Italian gypsy who first came to England during the First World War as a Prisoner of War. Known for being eccentric, perhaps this story made sense, however thanks to research by the Norwich Society we now know that this is complete fabrication. Moray-Smith was born in Scotland and later lived in London where he met his wife. The family moved to Norwich in the early 1930s.

Moray-Smith was employed by Norwich brewery Morgan & Co. For twenty years he produced work to decorate the brewery’s pub. Morgan’s brewery was a large brewery based in Norwich and King’s Lynn and owned pubs all over the county. John and Walter Morgan bought Conisford Brewery from Charles and Henry Thompson in 1844. The company took over many other breweries and by 1904 they owned 600 pubs with 80% of them outside of Norwich. In 1961 the company went into liquidation and were taken over by Bullards and Steward and Patteson. Many other breweries suffered the same fate. Big breweries consolidated, lager which was brewed overseas became very popular and brewing in the county rapidly declined. Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of micro-breweries and Norfolk is once again a brewing county.

One of Morgan’s pubs was the Jolly Farmers in King’s Lynn. This panel is one of six which was on display in the pub. They were unveiled on the 25th February 1948 by Sir Robert Bignold, the managing director of the Brewery. Through Moray-Smith’s panels Morgan’s brewery created a theme for this pub and rather appropriately it was farming! The panels in the set portray threshing, harvesting, sheep shearing, a cattle market, a farmyard and this pub scene. In this pub scene we see musical instruments being played, beer drunk from mugs and a dog under the table. The only woman in the scene is behind the bar. The Jolly Farmers pub is now closed like many rural pubs which are closing or are at threat of closure. Now pubs in the county are being saved and run by their communities, hosting knit and knatter groups, running theatre performances and expanding their daytime offer to include coffee and cake.

Originally the panel would have been painted with bright colours, matching the happy scene it portrays. It is darker now and stained brown with tobacco from the many years it was in a smoky pub. Moray-Smith made his panels from wire and plaster. Despite their size and chunky finish these panels are delicate and expensive to conserve. It is wonderful to be able to display one of them within the ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’.

A version of this blog post appeared in the Eastern Daily Press.


Collections in the summer holidays

Happy Summer Holidays!

Early Birds

On Monday we held our second Early Birds morning for those with autism and their families. Thank you to everyone who helps to support these sessions – they are really valued by the families who use them and give them a safe setting in which to explore the displays. Lauren is now looking at how we can share some of the learning from these sessions with other sites. Beginning with our sister sites in the Western Area she is helping Thetford and King’s Lynn museums think about how they can adapt their offer for those with autism. She has also made contact with others across the council to advocate for our work and to find out what other services can offer.

Photographs in the collection

We have also been working on organising the historic photos in our collections. This will make it easier for us to find images when visitors and or enquirers want to see an original photograph. Work experience students started the process and we will continue working through the existing files in the next few weeks. The historic photos include some gems – like this one. It depicts Bertie and Harry Dack, sons of Bertie Wallace Dack, the Billingford blacksmith who served in the Army Veterinary Corps during World War One.  The postcard shows Bertie and Harry in army uniform. It was sent to their father whilst he was serving on the front line. The photograph is one of a large collection of images, printed ephemera and objects donated in 1984 by the Dack family. We recently had an enquiry from the Museum of Cambridge who would like to use the image in a display and small publication.

Once Upon a Time – working with Dereham library

We have already asked you all for help with our Once Upon a Time exhibition. This will be focussing on children’s books. At the moment we are asking everyone 3 questions:

  • What is your favourite children’s book?
  • Do any places at Gressenhall remind you of a book?
  • Do any displays objects at Gressenhall remind you of a book?

Please do post replies below.

We have also been working with Dereham Library to gather responses from their users using the  sheets above, displayed on a board in the library. We are really excited to be developing this relationship and look forward to working with staff and library users over the next few months to develop the exhibition.