Archive for April, 2010

Morris, Merrymaking and Mayhem,


Brackley 'old hat' 😉

I’m posting this today, instead of tomorrow, the first of May, as I won’t be around…read on to see why….

I, Sue Newstead have been involved in Morris Dancing for over 30 years (Just like Alcoholics Anonymous -I‘ve said it- ) either as a dancer or as a musician and in that time I have seen this very ancient tradition, this strange phenomenon, this oddity amongst many English oddities, be derided, be deprecated, decline, be defended, dust itself off and dance again and then decline once more. WHY?

Brackley Morris men in 1913.. hasn’t changed much

Perhaps the fashion of the moment is not for the past…for the old, the tried and tested, but for the New and the unknown. We no longer buy the lovingly cared for antique but whizz off to Ikea in our 4 by 4’s to buy – well…… the same things everyone else has in their houses. We no longer buy “ The best we can afford” but the cheapest and most ‘dispensable with’ – to be discarded when we are tired of it ( or it wears out…which of course it will…sooner rather than later.)

How sad. How temporary. All this in a Green tinted and Pleasant land where we are supposed to be conscious of recycling and waste, landfill and leftovers. Morris belongs to this Old World.

Dancing at Sulgrave...a local landmark

I am proud to belong to one of the oldest sides in Morris. The Brackley Morris Men ( We have two female musicians ) from South Northamptonshire.

Below: The Brackley Paten, with its inscribed names.

We think that there was side in this little town as far back as 1623 as it is recorded on a dated silver paten given to the church, probably by the men of the Morris. It must have been active before then. Perhaps,long before then.

Brackley Morris today

Musician and all round entertainer Richard York.

Dancing and playing music are as old as the hills. The urge to do both is very strong in human beings of all continents, colours and creeds, and Morris, it is said by some, may have started life as a pre-historic dance to appease the ‘Gods’…whoever they were, and to have a jolly good time while you were doing it. It may also have been a pairing fertility dance in the days when Christianity had not yet frowned upon the ‘free love’ society of pagan Britain, though we must say we have no direct evidence for either of these theories. Like the smile of the Sphinx – we simply cannot say what it’s all about. And perhaps that is part of its charm.

It was certainly originally home grown in one of the most charming and beautiful parts of the British Isles- The Cotswolds and although the basic Morris is the same to all Cotswold sides, in many cases each tiny place involved has its own particular way of performing it, its own tunes, some of which we can almost trace back to the centuries before music was written down and notated. Brackley is one of these. We do know that in London on 19 May 1448, performing Moryssh daunsers were paid 7s (35p) for their services. 🙂 Doesn’t cost much more than that now! 😉

Why MORRIS? There are many schools of thought about the name. Perhaps, as many of our folk tunes and folk instruments did, the tradition came from the land of the Moors with the returning crusaders in the 11th century. Maybe the practice of blacking the face ( it is said for anonymity ) gave rise to the idea that the dancers were Moorish. Early records tell us that ‘Morys’ was danced in courtly circles by both men and women. When the Moors were eventually driven from mainland Spain in the 15th century, the dance, The Moresca was invented to celebrate. Danced with swords, perhaps this, over time, morphed into the Morris with its sticks?

The Moresca

It’s all really lost in the Mists of Time. And the bells and hankies? Well, it ‘s said that the Devil doesn’t like the noise or the swishing movements of the nose clouts….keeps him away. Pretty handy for unruly children too…. 😉

The Morris Federation... the logo...bells and hankies

So why should all this harmless tradition, this trifling activity attract such derision and scorn? No one complains about football supporters wearing rosettes or waving scarves, singing inane ditties ( well maybe they do…). 🙂 There is very little demur when people dress outlandishly to run in a Marathon or race around the streets on bicycles. No one thinks it odd when the young traipse into a field and jump up and down a la Dervish, on the spot in the mud to tribal rhythms till the early hours of the morning

Morris men may go to bed late….but they are up betimes on MayDay morn with the lark! It shows you Morris takes a certain amount of stamina. And in Processional dances where the side will progress for miles, stepping and jumping, arms waving, feet tapping and bodies weaving in and out of the line, A LOT of stamina. The best Morris dancers can leap into the air with grace and balletic ease…not the simplest of things to do…over and over again. It takes a good sense of rhythm…like rubbing the tummy and patting the head, to maintain a Morris. It’s a very special skill to be able to know where your feet should take you, at the same time know what your hankies are doing and be aware of your place in the line. And the manoeuvre you are about to make….Line Dancing…eat your heart out! 😉

In this homogenised era, when all nations are gradually evening out and losing their peculiar identity, what is wrong with celebrating the coming of Spring with colour, movement and music in a special and very Ancient English way?

No..No more. No more morrish ... p l e a s e !

So next time you are out and about as Spring turns to Summer and you hear the tinkling of bells and the air – rush of massed hankies, don’t run like the clappers after the hastily departing Beelzebub… be BRAVE and stand your ground. It’s very lucky to be hit by the Fool’s bladder, you know ( it’s a pig’s…dunno his name and it doesn’t hurt!) and I don’t know about you, but just at the moment I could do with a bit of Good Luck!

Brackley celebrated last year, fifty years from the re-formation of the side.We had a whale of a time. It was all good clean – well almost 😉 harmless, fun. Go to the website. for more information.

Here’s to the next fifty years!

Don’t worry….. you can’t keep a good Morriser down! 🙂

Our Squire...John...Putting the boot in ( don't worry it's a dance. ) with his bladder. Not HIS you understand, just some pig's.. 😉

And the connection with dummy boards?

Wearing white, holding bells, sports a hanky, got a silly hat... hmmmmm?

Is this do you think…a very early young Morrysh dauncer…. with his bells and hankies? ( Yes it’s male… young boys, remember, were dressed as girls till they were about 6 or so.).

I’ll leave you to decide.



Something new….something old.


The weather in the last few days has lulled us into thinking it just might be Spring! This means it will be Morris season proper soon. Tomorrow, a day early, I will be adding a May Day post as of course, on the day itself I will be up with the lark and off to tootle my whistle at 5.30 a.m. for Brackley Morris men and won’t be at my computer.

Brackley men ...a very long time ago...some of them are still dancing 😉

Meanwhile, can I guide you over to my NEW BLOG? Whimsicals

Please do go and have a look. It’s been created by popular demand as I had originally no intention of doing anything like it. It’s a bit of fun and if you feel like contributing to a worthy cause ( the Katharine House Hospice in Banbury – ) you can contact me on PastMastery to ask for information on the pomanders. I can easily send you pictures in an e mail or I will post them on the Whimsicals blog! I can make almost any figure for any occasion in any colour way.

Here though on this blog…. let’s explore another dummy board. And since you all love them so much…let’s do another Dummy Detective Story!

You remember way back at the beginning of this blog when we were introducing the types of figures that we might see as we go about the world, we mentioned that very rare creature…. the Blackamoor. ( Just Hangin’ Around )

It’s a very old word and …… no I am not being rude in using it… is just a description of objects, be they porcelain, metal, plaster or wood, which are made in the form of the black person. They are usually boys and sometimes men. We often find them made as candle holders and these are often referred to as Blackamoors. ( Gueridons )

The first reference I can find, to a blackamoor or black boy dummy board is in Ben Jonson where he mentions them

( 15741637 ) in the early 17th century in his play ‘Bartholomew Fair ‘ ( Act 1, Scene i ) where he quotes “ I thought he would have run mad o’ the Black Boy in Bucklersbury (Tavern) that takes the scurvy roguy tobacco there.

“This Quiet Life” Susanne M. Newstead

There must have been earlier references but this is quite early for a dummy board.

The phrase “at the sign of the Blackamoor “ or “ at the sign of the black boy” began to be synonymous with the address of a tobacconist. This is probably because the tobacco plantations were staffed mainly by black slaves.

When one such shopkeeper in Philadelphia in the U.S. moved his premises he took out an advert in the newspaper where he mentions no new address by street or number but that he can be found “under the sign of the black boy”. They were also characteristic of Linen Drapers and Pewterers and this sort of painted figure was commonly placed outside coffee houses in the 17th century.

Are there any surviving ones?

Not many…in fact with my own eyes I have only seen two. One is 19th c. and not very worthy of the name Blackamoor but the other is early 17th century and is a wonderful example.

The 19th c. American Black Boy

And this is how I found the Oxfordshire Black Boy.

As it is said, they used to be placed outside pubs and so me (with my crafty mind ) 🙂 thought that I would see how many pubs there were that still had the name, The Black Boy, The Black man, The Blackamoor or The Black’s head. There were quite a few.

The new sign at the Black Boy in Headington Oxford. Pity it's not in keeping with the old one...but more PC I suppose?

As I was reading through an old document about one of these pubs which had been burnt down in the 1930’s I found that they had had a dummy board in an alcove above the front door. Was it rescued from the fire?

I crossed my fingers and rang them.

No it had perished.

BUT, the lady who ran the pub had seen one not far away.

I couldn’t believe it as it was a quarter of an hour’s drive away from where I lived!

I rang that pub….. also called the Black Boy. ” Do you have a dummy board ?” I asked.

At first the lady was very circumspect. No, they didn’t have a dummy board. ( AHA! I thought…she, for one, knows what I am on about…that is, in itself, unusual!) Most people just grin, stare or frown. The answer was too quick! 😉

I managed to convince her that I was a bone fide { or as DD says…Bony Fido 😉 } dummy board scholar and was not going to steal it!

IN the end I got an invitation to go and look. The lady had removed it from the public bar to her home as, the patrons were throwing darts at it and it was riddled with little holes, and was very yellowed with age…and nicotine!

The most perfect 4 foot black boy or Pompey as they were known…Black Princes, with his tobacco plug still in his hand. So this one had been made to advertise tobacco. Amazing that he was an advert for the stuff…and that he was covered in the resulting muck!

No I wasn’t allowed to take a photo… but the owner had a black and white one which, sadly, I’m barred from sharing with you here. I can’t tell you where he is either…. just in Private collection in Oxfordshire

A little while later I painted a miniature in oils ( now sold ) and so you can see his colours. He was quite delightful.

Sad that he is no longer on show…but in 1974 he was valued, because of his rarity, at £10,000. What would he be today? Nearer to 20K I suppose. Not really the sort of thing you want on display in a country pub!

Mind you it would be quite difficult to tuck him under your arm and make off with him.

Before you ask…..Yes…. I thought about it! 😉

Down to detail


I worked on both the mini cat fireboard and the girl with her doll yesterday afternoon.

Both now have a second coat of paint and look a bit more realistic

Here they are for you to look at. It won’t be long before they can have the final detail and be cut out. Small Dog’s photos got lost in the ether and Sandra is on a camping trip at the moment so we shall leave our canine creation till later.

The cat fireboard ( two coats of paint )

Sandra's mini dummy board - three coats

Special attention had to be paid to the pattern on the dress of the “Lydiard girl”, as if you remember in the original, we had very little to go on. We have managed to make the face quite sweet and the doll does look as if she is squashed against the little girl’s body too. These were our major problems when trying to create a nice figure from two not very distinct originals.

Three paint layers of the girl's face

If you need to refresh your memory about the Lydiard girl and the Easton Neston girl who are our inspirations, then this will help…“You lose some, you win some”.

and Fireboard

For a while I have been privately tutoring someone locally in painting. In the course of the past year, my ‘student’ and I have touched on quite a few important points about simply how I paint and I thought it might be an idea to share some of them with you, as I am often being asked how it’s done. We can expand points and single out those things that are useful when painting miniatures on wood in oils.  Shall we use these two commissions as examples? If you are not interested in how it is done, well in part anyway, go and make a cup of tea or something, and come back later. 😉

  • RULE NUMBER ONE – PATIENCE – something that we MUST HAVE. It is not possible in oils to paint something great straight off unless you are merely drawing with the paint and one colour at that. If you tackle your subject again before it’s dry enough you will have an unholy fudgey blotch.  🙂 Believe me, even the small works can become a mess…more quickly than larger paintings, actually. This is where acrylics score but they can’t be ‘worked’ like oils and sometimes, that is what is needed.

  • We have our original drawing in outline on the wood. We put on the colours that we want the piece to be and gently stroke in the shadows. RULE NUMBER TWO – always take the brush strokes the way you want the piece of cloth, skin, fur, feather, what ever you are painting, to go. If the girl’s dress is slightly rumpled and there is a crease in it…drag the brush the way you want the fold to go. It’s a simple rule but how often have you seen a painting which seems to fall towards you or lean backwards? Light hits objects in straight lines and so the representation of that object should mimic this. Common sense maybe, but perhaps, not so common! 😉

The above picture ( forgive me for using one of my more modern full sized creations- Under the White Horse ) is a perfect example of how to stroke the paint the way you wish the viewer to imagine the actual object is going.

The paths grass and shadows are all painted so that the illusion of fallng down a slope is created.

  • Look carefully at your original. What can you keep and what can you leave out. I’ve touched on this before. Unless you are one of those painters who can execute a Mona Lisa on a grain of rice, ( sadly I’m not one of those  – but I am practising…. ) it’s not possible to put every tiny detail into your miniature, especially when it is as tiny as the kittens in the fireboard.

cat detail..not finished yet though....

  • RULE NUMBER THREE Distill the essence. Find out what makes the composition work, what makes it appear as if it has all the elements and stick with those features. If you don’t you will have one of those fudgey messes again….this time because you are trying too hard.
  • RULE NUMBER FOUR Work in short bursts. Not only ( in oils ) does this allow you to let it dry a tad but you will find that when you come back to the work after about twenty minutes or so, you are refreshed enough to see where you may have gone wrong or if not, what is now required more readily. It also gives you time to get your focal length back to normal…. and you can get a bit of housework done in the meantime thereby staving off an acrimonious divorce! 😉
  • On the last coat of paint…and it’s up to you how many you do- but remember there is such a thing as overworking a piece, you can work on wet- ish paint as the joy of oil is that it blends and moves. I find that the more I work a piece the more real it gets and for example when painting the girl’s dress we can get a look of fabric by blending the folds together and adding the highlights in a colour whitened with Flake white. We then  stroke this along the patches we need to pick out. RULE NUMBER FIVE- don’t overwork ie: add too much paint but do work what you have.

Detail of the frock.

  • Layers. When painting mini dummy boards, I tend to let the piece dry between coats and add the shadows in particular with thin layers of paint.This is another joy of oil. RULE NUMBER SIX many thin coats are better than few thick. If it’s good enough for Gainsborough, then it’s good enough for us! 😉
  • Painting detail. This is done ( by me anyway) in the last two coats. ( I usually do

four ).
Remembering about stroking the paint the way the object goes in real life, I add, for example, in the cats, the furry bits; the pattern on the kittens fur, the basket weave pattern on the bed, the detail of the cats eyes; on the girl, the flowers on her frock, the division between her fingers etc., the dolls face, the shadow on the lace, the flowers in her hair, the light on her face and I finish the eyes. I also add all the main and brightest points of light. RULE NUMBER SEVEN if you haven’t got the eyes right ( forgive the pun…) then you might as well start again. The eyes, apart from being, as Shakespeare says, ” the mirror of the soul ” are most important. This goes for all animates with eyes. ( Don’t worry about it with worms!) This is where your own eyes will be drawn and they have to look alive. They don’t have to be too detailed.… but they do need a spark of life! The tiny white highlights which I apply with flake white on a no 10 o’s brush, must go in the right place for the figure to look where you want it to be appearing to look. How often have I seen this done and the ‘sparks’ in the wrong place make the poor figure look cross eyed? 🙂

Rather an exaggeration but you get the point ..and a pun thrown in !

Sorry to rattle on…got it off my chest now. Hope it has been useful. You can all go away and practice now…

I shall be sending round an examination paper later – to make sure you have all been paying attention!


The Camera Never Lies


Well…here we are back from a hectic weekend!

First St. George’s day revels and incidentally, Delphi Dog’s birthday. Then Stephen gave a lecture on garden design on Saturday morning ( see Preston Bissett Nurseries blog ) and afterwards we went to the Adderbury day of dance to watch the morris.We then travelled to Wiltshire to see my mother on Sunday. It was her 80th birthday. Who said weekends were for Rest and Recuperation? Real Life isn’t like that.

Back in the land of the dummy board…not real life at all….but one that can convince you that it is.

Have a look at this wonderful dummy board that was sent to me by Loa C. Winter. It was snapped in a Finnish Forest and is so realistic it would really fool you into thinking there was a lady there! Thanks Loa.

A forest fright... you might think you had seen a ghost!

On the Victoria and Albert site, there is a wonderful dummy board painted by John Ronayne of a member of the security staff in his warder’s uniform at the museum in 1977. It was part of an exhibition entitled ” It’s not really there ” and I think it’s the finest figure I have ever seen. It’s modern of course.

The Victoria and Albert warder

People have been asking me why this fantastic art form died out. Well yes it largely did as a painted form ( and to see my answers go to Every Dog has its day….), but look around you…. you can see dummy boards everywhere in almost every walk of life.

The photographic dummy board

They are most usually to be seen as point of sale displays….photographic of course. Others concentrate on famous people. If you want to have the Incredible Hulk as a dummy board then you can have that too…though why anyone would……? I suppose if you are a devotee………?

Thank you Ratchet's Hulk collection.

There are even companies who will produce a photograph of you as a dummy board. A friend of mine did just that and had them dotted around at his 50th birthday party! GREAT FUN!

So whilst they aren’t mainstream folk art any longer, they still exist.

Even in miniature. If you had a modern miniature shop, for example, you too could have a point of sale dummy board. Choose an image and PastMastery can make a photographic figure for you. They are made in exactly the same way as the hand painted ones, except they are photographs fixed to a piece of basswood and cut out and finished as dummy boards.

I have recently made a photographic figure of a particular lady herself, dressed in Venetian costume, complete with mask, for her husband’s birthday present.

She is now standing in their own dolls house. The best of both worlds.

Photographic dummy boards have even been used to deter criminals.


You might think twice if you just caught a glimpse of this nice young police lady lurking by a 30 mph. sign 😉

Problem is….. the dummy boards are such fun…they get stolen! 🙂

Mumming…. our way through the 23rd.


Saint George and the Heathen fight- a while ago mind...

HAPPY ST. GEORGE’S DAY!...( though why a Middle Eastern or Eastern European knight should be our patron saint I cannot fathom… much better to have a home grown one like St. Edmund…but that’s another story 🙂 )

Like the Pantomime, Mumming has become part of the English calendar. It’s our own version of this silly and thoroughly entertaining art form. ( Panto was originally Italian and evolved from the Commedia dell’arte ). It’s traditionally performed at Christmas, usually Boxing Day, and today…St. George’s day.

It all revolves around a few chaps in silly costumes posturing and spouting drivel -like doggerel ( but amusing drivel-like doggerel ) the origins of which are really rather hazy. There may also be a bit of cross dressing. The plot goes something like this.

  • A Narrator, a man who likes the sound of his own voice, a super-duper doggerel – driveller.
  • St. George – bold hero, dragon slayer extraordinaire, maiden kisser and general all round Good Egg. A bore.
  • Wicked Saracen or possibly Heathen or possibly Infidel or possibly Foreign Knight…you get the picture…. A Bad Man.
  • A Doctor – probably struck off for devious behaviour but still practising ‘alternative medicine’.
  • A dragon….or monster. ( Please be aware that no animal is harmed in the mumming of this ‘play’. ) A thoroughly evil creature, though undergoing therapy.
  • Other persons,some maybe “female”, ( we aren’t fooled ) hangers on and general hissers and booers.

St George, that good man is being taunted by a multi purpose baddie, the Saracen Knight. Georgie is rather a big head so it’s not surprising. The baddie is also a big head but that doesn’t matter. HE is a Baddie. ( It’s never really determined who starts the fight but again, that’s immaterial, Georgie is a Goodie. )

Saint a dummy board? No actually it's Aaron but it's Biblical- it'll do.!

With various bits of rubbish added and bits taken away ( no- not yet…) depending on which mumming play you are watching, the Baddie challenges the Good St George to a duel. There may or may not be a’ female’ present… but we still aren’t fooled.

Now there may be bits taken away. No-Only joking… the swords are usually bits of card covered with silver paper!

St. George ‘kills’ the Bad Saracen Knight. ( this involves stabbing him right through with his trusty bit of cardboard covered with silver paper. ie: under the arm. No vital organs there! )

Please at this point suspend disbelief if you haven’t already 🙂

Enter the Medical Practitioner. I must say that I find this bit very odd as our Doctor is usually kitted out in top hat and tails as if he has just come in from the Opera. Very unhygienic.

WARNING – the next bit is really moving and may bring a tear to the eye of the sensitive reader. You may need to have a box of tissues handy!

After a lot of haggling ( the Doctor is not a Good Man despite his skill), the Heathen is cured of his death! Money changes hands… he is a Private Patient.

The Heathen is brought back from the very doorstep of the Pearly Gates. He has glimpsed the glint of St. Peter’s Key. He has put his very eye to the Celestial Keyhole. Does he repent?

Nahhh. He is a Bad Man, remember.

A Saracen Knight dummy board 🙂 That doesn't look like silver foil covered card!

He challenges Georgie to another duel. Some people never learn.

This time Georgie is not going succumb to the Doctor’s blandishments. He is going to keep his money in his ISA, ( International Saints Account).

The Heathen stays dead.

Georgie is insufferable. He struts, he pontificates, he generally puts it about!

There is a R O A R !

( The crowd so far have been roar-less only hissing or booing so What Ever Can It Be?)

A Dragon Appears. A Hideous Monster…breathing fire and smoke. ( The chap inside the costume is having a fag!)

It too, is a Bad Thing. It too is Hubris Personified. It speaks? ( OM-I-GOD! Now we have anthropomorphization! I forgot to say that this play is usually performed outside a pub, so there may be a wee bitty alcohol consumed, hence the ‘speaking dragon’.) 🙂

The Alvechurch Dragon. Hubris personified? Rather cute really...

Not one to be put off by Creatures of the Devil. Georgie reciprocates. They fight. This involves a lot of huffing and puffing, growling and yelling, and dancing round but not a lot of actual fighting. The dragon falls, again, stabbed with aluminium foil! He must be allergic to it.

Georgie is again insufferable. Why they cheer him on I just do not know. No one could really ever live with such a pillycock!

Anyway, he gets a fit of the collywobbles. The R.S.P.C.D. will be onto him. Striking down defenceless animals indeed- carries a fine of over One Pound!.Shame on him. He calls for the Doctor. The same one. Some people never learn.

Did I need to say, the Doctor is also a Dispensing Chemist. He carries a bottle. He is also an alcoholic.

For a fee ( he is an E.N.T. specialist… he will lead you by the ear, grab you by the throat and make you pay through the nose. ) he will revive the dragon. No one asks the dragon.

The Symondsbury Mummer's doctor.

Unlike the Ungrateful Heathen, the Dragon has seen the error of his ways and slinks off to seek easier prey and to ravish a maiden or two… how that is accomplished inside that costume……? I will draw a veil….

Georgie gets his ‘girl’….( he will get a rude awakening when he tries know what. ) I thought that Saints were a Celibate Species…mmm.

George is unspeakably arrogant and thoroughly obnoxious. And remains so whilst the Narrator winds it all up.

And remains so when they go into the pub for a well deserved drink. No one buys him a pint!

We shall, as Brackley Morris Men be performing our Mummers Play this evening {Delphi Dog will be there for her birthday celebrations! } to, no doubt be hissed and booed by the local populace.

No change there then….

There  WILL be some cheering. OR ELSE!

Even card covered in silver foil has its uses.

“To be or not to be…that is the question…”


The Lydiard Girl for Sandra and the cat fireboard are drying nicely in the studio. I haven’t yet had my instructions on the large fireboard, so, today we shall continue to tell you about historic figures, in the hope that you haven’t all fallen asleep and all still find it interesting ;

Those of you who don’t fancy costume or philology ( word study ) or anything Spanish… switch off your sets now 🙂

When I first started to study this art form, I was unaware of the huge diversity that is the historic dummy board and the number of subjects I would have to tackle in order to understand them better.

I am not, let me state, an expert in all the disciplines I have had to range through. If anyone reading this blog, finds a fact that they dispute or that they can correct, please do let me know and we can explore it together.

One such is the nature of the Spanish language!

Now I am pretty good in Swedish, ( and so can recognise Norwegian and Danish ) having lived there four years. I can get by in French, I can sing 🙂 in German and Italian and so recognise quite a few mots. But Spanish… apart from the few words which have a common root in Latin… I am scuppered.

So when I got a phone call from the very nice gentleman who looks after the building and the collection of goodies that is Castle Drogo in Devon, I got in my car and drove to Dartmoor to see what they’d got…..because they weren’t at all sure!

This site had been sold to the Drew family at the end of the 19th century by a Spanish banker Adrian de Murietta, a friend of the future Kind Edward VII, who was attempting to avoid the ignominy of bankruptcy by selling off the family home and treaures. Consequently many of the items decorating Castle Drogo today are of Spanish origin. Legend has it that these dummy board figures are also Spanish.

They have three dummy boards. We shall call them Juanita, Pedro, and Carmen!

The Drogo baby, Juanita 3 ft

It transpires that these three are rather a puzzle. They look very old. The stands however don’t. The costumes are indeed very historic, 17th, even 16th century and they have been at the property, which is itself only about 100 years old, despite the title ‘castle’, for that number of years. We can’t say then, that they have a good documented history of ‘belonging’ as some figures do, or being catalogued, in remote history which is a very good way of determining how old a figure is.

I went over these delightful dummy boards with a fine tooth comb…. well actually a magnifying glass!

The Drogo girl

They are canvas on wood. That is, they have canvas mounted onto a wooden backing, upon which a painting is executed. We shall come, in a later post, to these figures ( and others ) and their canvasses, when we explore the fact that it’s rumoured that dummy boards have been made from cut out portraits mounted onto a piece of wood, later in their history.

Have my previous researches thrown up any actual tradition of dummy board manufacture in 17th century Spain yet ? No…not yet. This means that if these figures are Spanish as is suggested, they may not have been made in Spain.

For a better understanding of these figures I had to do quite a bit of reading of texts on Spanish culture in the 17th century and on costume in particular. Not in Spanish I hasten to add. 😉

So – what we gleaned is – 16/17th century historic Spanish style meant that the body was a stiff and motionless frame on which a richly ornamented, skillfully wrought masterpiece of the tailor’s art could be hung! It was as if the costume formed an outer case for the body, showing different contours on the inside and outside. Gold and silver chains, jewels, enamels and precious metal lace were worn on the costume to excess. The female shape began to be exaggerated at hip and shoulder and children were not exempt from this corseting and padding. Guess what? All three Castle Drogo figures show this stilted type of dress.

For some of the 16th century, Spain was master of much of the Netherlands. { It’s a long and complicated story and I shan’t go into it here, but as you might imagine the Lowlanders didn’t like it much! 🙂 } We know that the most exquisite lace was produced in the Low Countries at this time …we have painted one of the craftswomen responsible….in the Lacemaker. So does the sort of lace exhibited on our three little children conform to the sort of thing they might be wearing if they were Spanish? Indeed it does.

NOW we get to the most interesting part and the ‘knitty- gritty’ of our problem; one that might really help identify our little chidren, who may…or may not be Spanish.

The young man appears to be a scholar by the horn book he holds in his hand. ( This was a rudimentary teaching aid covered with a thin sheet of semitransparent horn ). The alphabet on his horn book is missing the letters J, U and W and this might be indicative of a place of origin. I have more or less established that W has been, in various texts, considered a ‘foreign’ letter in modern Spanish and J may have been replaced by the ll symbol. He can’t be English or Dutch for example, for the letters would all be present from A to Z. But is he Spanish?

If anyone can help really clarify this… I would be very grateful! But for the moment, Pedro and his sisters are Spanish.

Either that or the person who painted him didn’t know their alphabet and it’s all a big mistake.

” Oh… Nigel… forsooth…I cannot seem to fit all ye alphabet onto his horn booke!”

“Er… … How vexing. Just paint a few, Claude and hope none will be incommoded by it.”

Every Dog has its day…and every cat too!


No less than three e mails, with questions about dummy boards, were waiting for me this morning!

I’ll answer them here, if I may. Pat asks..

“Why, when they are such a wonderful ‘invention’ did dummy boards disappear so dramatically?”

A very pertinent point Pat! 🙂

*Every dog has its day. Changing times made them less useful and less effective. With the improvements in window glass technology – remember glass was rather opaque and green tinged and could only be made in small panes, early on – homes became lighter as windows got larger. The dark corners where dummy boards could lurk, were suddenly illuminated – and so was the dust!- 🙂 and the trompe l’oeil trick wasn’t so realistic after this.

This might give you a bit of a scare of a dark night

The invention of gas and electric lighting also tolled the death knell for the dummy board figure. Coupled with these we have the invention of photography. It became more fashionable to have a photo than a dummy board and ‘real art’ too suffered a decline, as the demand for portrait painting took a nose dive. Rather like today… no one would have a tape recorder when they could have an IPod! Also:

Trompe l’oeil continued to be held in favour right up until the nineteenth century when it became tainted with the moral considerations of that age and the idea that it was deceitful and of little merit being ‘merely trickery’.

This Quiet Life Susanne M. Newstead

Drina asks

“When was the dummy board at its height….when were most of them made?”

They were made in considerable numbers from about 1600 to 1780. There is evidence to suggest that they were made a bit before this but so far we have few surviving and documented boards to pin point a date. The oldest figure we know about is of Saint Charles the Good in Belgium.

The oldest board?

He lives in the Church of St. Salvator in Bruges. There are records of a figure being there in the 15th century though this probably wasn’t trompe l’oeil. The present figure, which has been painted over several times, is and dates from 1609, so a very old one. Really good trompe  itself  – when they got it right, – dates from the end of the 16th century and it would be wrong to suggest that there were no figures made before this date but we just don’t know for sure. Records tell us that certain painters dabbled in making them, but they have disappeared.

Or have they? §See below.

Gone but not forgotten? The form lasted up till the beginning of the 19th century* see answer above. The hey day was from about 1680 to circa 1730-40 when most of the really good ones and all bar a very few of the small pairs of children were made. Not a long time for something to flourish….. not when you consider how long some antiques went on being made.

If you believe what I wrote about on Monday… till the 1950’s! 😉's a dummy board - a 50's one!

§ I am on the track of a dummy board which, if it proves genuine, will be an absolute coup! Made by the first chappie who decided to make it part of his job as a painter…. to paint them – watch this space!

Is this a real Cornelis Bischopp? We'll see.....


On Facebook…. on Brackley Gossip Girls….yes I belong…. 😉

Lisa ‘Roo Signs’ Slater asks

Three Homes in Brackley were broken into last night – whilst families slept in their beds…. Can we as a community, catch these b******s?

Mmmmm.? We all need trompe l’oeil dummy boards positioned in the right place every night. It won’t help to catch the perpetrators, but it might help frighten the b****y  life out of them!

I’ll make them all. 😉

Here’s one I made earlier!

Sir Frank in his Baronial Hall oil on board 5 ft.

Failing that get a fierce dog!

A Verrrrrrrrrrry Fierce Dog!

From Canine to Feline……

The tiny fireboard which I designed a while ago is now ready to be painted properly.

This is how it looks with just the outlines…

The bare bones of the composition.

And this with the first coat of oils.

Bit wishy-wash...hard to tell what's what..? All will become clear.

We are using:

Raw umber, Mixing white, Lamp black, Paynes grey, Yellow ochre, Van Dyck Brown and Burnt Sienna. We will also use small amounts of Cadmium yellow and Flake white in the last coat.

Just to let you see… this is what it looks like on the work slope- and how small it is.

The fireboard at the work station.

Goes without saying that we shall use the magnifier, both the desk mounted one and the head mounted one, throughout. We’ll be cross-eyed by the time we have finished!!

Oh what a beautiful mornin’ !


“singing” Oh what a beautiful mornin’

Oh what a beautiful day,

I got a beautiful feelin’ Everything’s going my way!

( Rogers and Hammerstein -Oklahoma ) – it’s fine… I can sing….

After my luck in the last few days do you think I’m maybe, tempting fate, mocking the Gods, courting danger, asking for trouble?

But I have to say the weather has made me feel better and I had a bit of a rest yesterday whilst I fiddled with Facebook…. DD has gone with ‘Daddy’ to work where she will be frogging and chasing rabbits all day, so for me, today – it’s on with ‘work.’

Here is the mini fireboard ready for its first drawing. The piece of wood is quite tiny. The grain must go vertically in nearly all my work as ( you have seen this before ) the detail is difficult to cut out if you are against the grain. Here, though, it doesn’t really matter as this is a rectangular piece and there is no nail biting cutting! 😉

Basswood for the fireboard

Sandra kindly sent me some photos of the sort of doll she thinks our girl should hold.

Two lovely ladies

So we shall do our best to make her look something like this. She will be very tiny, our little doll but we ‘ll see what is possible.Here then is the Lydiard girl drawn onto her basswood. There is a space for small dog as Sandra -waving arms here 🙂 – has yet to take THE photograph!

Sandra's dummy board

Sandra’s nursery room box – Tower House Dolls– is to be decorated in pink, blue and other nice pale pastel colours so we shall need to ‘doctor’ the image a little to change the colour. If you remember, the Lydiard girl is a’ copy’ of a probably older figure which I have named the Easton Neston girl ( now lost). The only photo we have is in black and white and so we can do what we like with the colours there. The Lydiard girl has had some water damage ( I think ) to her table so she will need a bit of licence there too, to fill in the detail. ( for a look at these originals go to: You lose some, you win some. )

All in all… a very satisfying challenge today.

See why I’m singing?



I have now worked on the Lydiard Girl for about half an hour. Here is what we have with her first coat of oil paint.

First coat, pretty colours

I am using:

Mixing white ( a lot ) as most of the shades I shall use will be pastel.                           Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Paynes Grey, Sap Green, French Ultramarine and Cadmium Deep Red Hue – all Artists permanent oil colours.

The girl will have  straw blond hair in ringlets, a pale blue skirt which will have pale pink and green sprigs, a pale green overdress drawn up with pale pink flowers, ( I’ve dotted some in so you can see ), white sleeves and small pinky red shoes. Her doll will be primarily baby pink. I will fade her feet into the ground and sit Small Dog on the same background, which will give the dummy board quite a bit of depth.

There isn’t much to see in the way of depth yet but there will be with the second coat. She has to dry for a while now. As we can’t see the face well on the black and white photo and this is without doubt a prettier  figure than the Lydiard girl….I’ll use that on which to base a ‘new’ face.

Cor! If only it was that simple in real life! 🙂

Next post? Cats.

Overcoming gremlins


Oh…dear… we have had a spot of bother! You might have wondered where I have been?

I did say that I wouldn’t be around for a while as I was attending a couple of fairs. True. I did. And when I returned I was all ready to post something to find to my dismay that Facebook ( to which I thought I had linked my posts- only linked mind you -) had overwritten all my WordPress blogging functions. Mmm? Count to ten.

Tearing out of the hair! What little I have left!

It was a long while before I could get it all back again. So here we are at last. Better late than never.

IN my e mail tray this morning ( amongst a few rubbishy missives – it’s amazing how many squeeze past the spam filters over an unpoliced weekend 🙂 ) was a very nice e mail from one of my French ‘spies’. The Professor, as we shall call him, is a dummy board fancier. He is very good at spotting them when he is out and about on his travels and when he does, he takes a picture for me.

This is what he sent this morning. It was in amongst all the rubbishy Viagra adverts.

Two probably 19th century 'early' dummy boards

The young lady is trying hard to convince us that she is 17th century, the young man is playing at being 16th century!

Now we know, don’t we, that dummy boards were only ‘invented’ in the 17th century and that anything as obviously ” Elizabethan” as this, is bound to be a pastiche at best, at worst a fake !

He is also the wrong shape with that rather effeminate arm. He isn’t convincing anyone. We hope.

We don’t know anything about these two figures, except that they are for sale in an antique shop in Belgium and they are expensive. They may be classed as antique – and that to my mind means anything over 100 years old. Some things that are labelled ‘antique’ nowadays have barely reached 50…and if that is truly the case, then I am an antique too! ( Alright…if you insist.. 🙂 as long as I can be rare and beautiful, well crafted, expensive and downright desirable! )

What’s that?

You want to know if I have got Queen Anne legs? Cheeky!


They are, actually, more likely to be 20th century. The faces tell us that. That is one feature it is very hard to fake. Every age has its face and these look a bit 30’s to me.

So – now things that are 1930’s are antique…? No, more properly “Vintage”. There is a huge fashion for Vintage at the moment. Vintage fabric crops up everywhere. We are encouraged to fill our kitchen with ‘Vintage kitchenalia’. ‘Vintage furniture is all the rage.

Vintage it hygienic?

Someone somewhere might think, then, that these two dummy boards are just the thing to add to their ‘ Vintage collection’. Me, being a somewhat suspicious type, I do hope that they are not being marketed as ‘The Real Thing’…. the genuine article….the ‘historic dummy board’. Sadly a lot of figures were made in the 30’s and they were made to deceive. Could they catch us out now?

I have a theory.

I think that Vintage is the new ” antique” because genuine antiques are getting quite hard to find and they are beyond the pocket of most people. Dummy boards were definitely beyond the means of Hoi Polloi when they were new and sparkly back in the 17th century. And it won’t be long before some of these ‘fakes’ can be labelled genuinely the real thing. Real Antiques. They will be old enough with a price tag to match. How time marches on….

There is no doubt they have a certain charm and, as long as they are labelled as 19th/20th century we will be able to admire them for what they are – reproductions, “about as Elizabethan as the ‘genuine Elizabethan’ warming pans that fill the gift shops today” ( Dummy Board Figures – Amoret and Christopher Scott, Homes and Gardens Magazine 1974

"Elizabethan man" maybe a Theatre figure? late 19th century possibly 20th.

Liz and Walt. Elizabethan dummy boards -Hollywood style!

Even things made in the 1970’s are Vintage now…. goodness me! I AM antique!

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness


I wasn’t feeling too brilliant yesterday and so I didn’t work on the blog….or on anything else for that matter.

I did however go and get my hair done. This should have made me feel much better I suppose.

However…they dyed it the wrong colour and so I am now very unhappy with them to say the least…and with myself for letting them do it, despite my protestations! It isn’t as if I have a lot of it….I keep it very short. Now it’s short and too dark!

Ah well….

But you don’t want to hear about my coiffeuring disasters do you? 😦

You’d like to know more about dummy boards. And from the e mails and comments I’ve had, you rather like my ‘dummy board detective stories’.

So here is another.

I think I said a while ago that some figures are still in the collections or the houses for which they were made. Some are even still with the same family who either had them made a few centuries ago or acquired them a long while back.

It must be wonderful to own something so historic which appealed so much to your ancestors, that it has been handed down through many generations and is now in your keeping! Some people are lucky enough to own very rare dummy boards. The rest of us have to be satisfied with Great Aunty Euphemia’s 1920’s tea service! ( plates chipped and teacups cracked!) 😉

The dummy board that I want to talk about today is an early 17th century figure which is one of those special boards that make up the group I like to call Sweepers.

We have met the Saffron Walden Sweeper in another post. Sweeping it all away.

This one I like to call the Lullingstone Sweeper. She is a lot older than her mate in the museum and she has been in private hands from the 17th century. She is the figure I use in my sidebar to demonstrate what a dummy board looks like, to newbies to this blog and she is very beautiful. Photos do not do her justice.

The Lullingstone Sweeper by kind permission of Mr & Mrs.Hart Dyke

I first discovered her in a very old 19th century booklet in black and white. She looked stunning even then. It’s a wonderful feeling when you find a dummy board ( or any superb artifact for that matter ) that, after a bit of digging here and there and a few judicious phone calls, exchange of e mails, maybe, or the odd bit of paper on snail mail, you find that, unlike the figure you were searching for last month…. this one is STILL THERE!

So off we went to deepest, darkest Kent to have a look.

Mr and Mrs Hart Dyke own Lullingstone Castle. It has been there since William the Conqueror hit these shores and before. The family is now in its 20th generation at the Castle! They made us most welcome and were very helpful when it came to examining their dummy board and all the legends that had grown up around her, so we could try to tease out the truth from fiction.

Lullingstone Castle Kent

It is said, in family legend, that this figure was painted by Van Dyck the famous court painter to Charles 1st, when he was staying at Lullingstone Castle in the early 17th century. Apparently he fell ill and the young servant girl who nursed him back to health is depicted in this dummy board with her broom as a reward for her endeavours.

One has to ask:

  1. Why a dummy board, why not a small painting?
  2. Why paint her with a broom?
  3. Why does she not look like a maidservant? Her clothes are too fine.
  4. Why if it was done especially for her, is it still in the castle and not with her descendants? Would you let something so personal and valuable stay with your employer? No -I thought not. 🙂
  5. Why should he bother to paint her at all?
  6. We also need to ask…does it look like Van Dyck’s work?

The answer to that last question is definitely

It’s a nice tale but common sense tells us that it’s untrue. We have to say that quite a few stories have grown up around these older dummy boards and most of them are just that…stories.

The Canterbury Sweeper

The V&A Sweeper originally at Cobham Kent

We know that there are other figures just like this one ( and when I say just I mean identical) in other collections around the globe. Many of them are right here in Britain and more interestingly, many of them are in the East of England! When we start to dig in the records, we find that many of them started life in Kent and the surrounding area.

The Lullingstone Sweeper's face and falling ruff

Now let us examine her costume. She wears an expensive falling ruff, a tight bodice with capped sleeves and an expensively embroidered skirt and cap. However she has a workaday apron and on her very well manicured hands that have never seen a soap sud, she wears rings. She also sports a series of plaited hair bracelets. The lace she is wearing alone, would have cost more than a whole year’s wages for the housemaid. She has a very fine boned face and seems very elegant, for a servant.

The embroidered hem of her dress- identical in pattern to her fellows.

The broom she is holding has a round stock. This means that the bristles are fixed tightly around a pole and are not the usual ‘besom’ that we find at this time ( and still today) which is a flat broom. If we look at pictures of contemporary Dutch interiors,we find quite a few of this type of broom. There is even one in our lacemaker picture …which we have used to make a dummy board of a seated girl.

Her costume is without doubt Flemish, what we would call today Belgium. Knowing what we know about dummy board manufacture in the 17th century, can we put two and two together here? 🙂

The clues….

  1. Her costume is Flemish
  2. Her broom may be Dutch /Flemish. She is in Kent now as are/were many of her sister dummy boards

We know that dummy boards are originally a Dutch ( or Low Countries) invention back in the early 17th century when this figure was made. We know that she isn’t a later production because she is featured in an inventory of the early 1600’s and was seen by Ned Ward, a 17th century gossip columnist then. So…she is probably, Dutch or, if she was made in this country, at the very least, in the Dutch style. It isn’t too far across the Channel to Holland for her ( or her idea) to travel.

Some later Sweepers dummy boards do look like servants, why not this one? What is going on?

To answer this question we have to look at the way people organised their lives in the 17th century, the hierarchy, the customs and the etiquette of 17th century life….in Holland, in particular.

Ned Ward can help us here!

Ned was a pioneer journalist who attempted to chronicle current events, trends and social behaviours in the latter quarter of the 17th, early part of the 18th century. I suppose his rudimentary gossip newspaper, The London Spy, was the ‘Hello magazine’ of its day- perhaps amalgamated with “Private Eye’. He certainly lambasted the prominently fashionable folk of the age but he also had an eye for the minutiae of 18th century daily life, for the interesting fact and the titillating tale.

He talks about some dummy board soldiers at the Tower of London

“ these were cut out with as much exactness on board as the picture of a housewife with her broom.” ( p. 238 )

Here he must refer to our Kentish Maids. He goes on to say that these housewife figures are set up in the best houses of good families as examples to the servant girls to make them –

“mindful of their cleanliness.”

So he seems to be saying that they were depictions of generalised mistresses of a house which could be set up at strategic places all over the home, on staircases and in halls, to keep the servants in order.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

So someone in the 17th century was turning out these figures in or in the vicinity of Kent?- Couldn’t we just do with something like this now? 😉

Many hours scrabbling around in dusty old bits of paper pays off then!

I am at two fairs this weekend and so won’t have the time to blog. See you all next week.