Eric Ravilious in Dover

Firing a Gun, 1941.

Following a short spell in Dover in May 1941 Ravilious returned to the family home now in Ironbridge, near Braintree, Essex. At the end of July he returned to Dover for a six month spell. That summer Ravilious commenced his second commission as a war artist. He was asked by the Admiralty to record the cross-channel shelling of the south coast.  Stationed at Dover Ravilious managed to visit Underhill Farm near Rye where Diana Low had temporarily returned from Wiltshire and where Stephen Spender, her sisters’ brother-in-law and his wife were staying along with Diana’s husband Clissold Tuely.  Diana’s sister Margaret married Humphrey Spender in 1937, Humphrey became famous for the mass social observation project ‘Worktown’ based in Bolton. Margaret died in 1945 …….   See

On the 19th  of August Ravilious wrote:   Dover is a good place. Except for shelling all the bombardment takes place on the other side and is an extraordinary sight – Fireworks very clear and small.  It is difficult to paint and I rather think funk trying to the dramatic again….. Last night when there was more shelling as well as wind and rain, it was pandemonium for a short time – The beaches are fuller than ever of curious flotsam and there was a skeleton under the cliff the other day; it was hard to tell, but I think it was a horse.

Bombing the Channel Ports by Eric Ravilious 1941 looking East towards Dover. A forerunner of radar, acoustic mirrors were built on the south and northeast coasts of England between about 1916 and the 1930’s.

There was a parachute and a lobsterpot with three crabs inside and a capital rowing boat by G Renier of Guernsey, bright red and banana yellow – I wonder if somebody landed in it ?  It was so irresistible I made a tolerably good drawing of it, with some shelling going on at sea. This happened at the time – aimed at some trawlers – so I put it in as inconspicuously as possible.  Under the big cliff there is driftwood and logs and bits of plane, boats and rope ladders.  Last year my landlord found a draper’s roll of black pinstripe suiting which he wears on Sundays now.

South Coast Beach Drift Boat

But then Ravilious moved his lodgings to c/o Mrs Jarvest, 27 Old Folkstone Road, Dover.

This is about a mile out of Dover under the Shakespeare Cliff….it is a nice place here, not too big and grand and majestically naval and I feel a stir in me that it is really possible to like draw wartime activities.  The town is almost empty and lots of sad ruins and I feel tempted to try some of the wallpapery interiors, in fact will do so later on.  There are a few beauties.  It is much livelier where I am now, also more on the spot for drawing.  I got up during the night to have a look at the shelling from the Cliff and it is an appalling noise but that is about all.  It did no harm.

Cross Channel Shelling Searchlight at Dusk Shelling By Night, Dover Harbour.

There is a great flash and explosion on the French side and then about 80 seconds later the shell lands in the sea – and a second bang and the sky lights up – I doubt if I can draw this –  It is too formless.   I’ll try it very small and see what happens.

Tirzah wrote I wonder what you were doing while they were shelling Dover.  I hope you are still intact.  Luckily I only hear about these things a long time after they have occurred.

Following his spell in Dover Ravilious travelled north to Rosyth lodging there with John and Christine Nash.   See……

Graham Bennison, February 2021

2 thoughts on “Eric Ravilious in Dover

  1. Thank you for forwarding this; it really is interesting to see a collection of watercolours depicting scenes which are so familiar; the guns on the cliffs and the descriptions of the activities by the artist are truly evocative as are his impressions of the town of Dover at that time.


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