James Brunt: Coastal Ecologies will now run from Saturday 6 July – Sunday 1 September 2024 at Scarborough Art Gallery

The Old Fish Market, Scarborough

J. Chambers (active 19th C)
The Old Fish Market, Scarborough

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 16th 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 and is now part of the collection at Scarborough Museums and Galleries. 

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.