Outside of Shaftesbury, Dorsetshire, England

Sometimes eBay turns up the most unexpected treasures. Last month Neil found a beautiful hand-painted postcard of Shaftesbury’s Tout Hill, shy sibling to the celebrity big sister that is Gold Hill. Dated 1939, the postcard is remarkably intricate in its watercolour-and-ink detail, portraying the steep hill that runs down alongside The Ship, the town’s most characterful pub, and gives way to the gentle undulations of the Blackmore Vale, a little more mountainous in this depiction than in reality. Behind The Ship the artist has added a towering tree, perhaps an elm, long since gone; look again and you can also make out the outline of the young monkey puzzle that will one day grow up to be one of the town’s sentinels. (Neil hates monkey puzzles but he will make an exception for this one.) Two silhouetted figures can be seen in the foreground, one pausing for breath, the other standing with arms folded (or is he carrying something?), undefeated by the sharp ascent he had just made. It’s a timeless scene and, lost elm aside, not so very different from the one you can see today, if you pause long enough to gaze. The postcard’s caption - Outside of Shaftesbury, Dorsetshire, England - and artist’s signature are written in the tiniest and tidiest of hands, at odds with the looping cursive script on the reverse. Free to fill the space, he tells us that he is Harry Gull, ‘an ex-soldier-officer’ of a now-demolished street in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough. A simple dedication says ‘for Tommy’. I immediately take to Google to find out more. Unsurprisingly, there is no digital footprint for this soldier-artist of 80 years ago and my imagination runs wild as I fill in the blanks. Whatever his story, I hope Harry enjoyed a moment of peace at the top of Tout Hill.

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