Writing of his schooling aboard H.M.S. Conway, John Masefield (1878-1967) lamented the Captain’s refusal to allow model-rigging as part of teaching: “All can learn much from models; either by rigging or unrigging. We were expected to learn too much from books. We longed for model masts, and topmasts, rigged like the merchant-ships of our time, with wire standing rigging, set-up by screws, and heavy yards that would hurt if we played the fool…”
In later life Masefield would occasionally construct models of ships. Robert Graves in his memorial address for Masefield remembered renting accommodation from Masefield in 1920 and “used to trudge up from my cottage and pass his garden work-shed half-hidden among gorse trees. Though assumed by his energetic Ulster wife to be working hard on Right Royal, for the family’s support, he was, as often as not, idly engrossed in a favourite fo’c’sle occupation: carving and rigging model sailing ships”. An obituary in Ships Monthly for Shiplovers and Shipmodellers noted “The prize-winning cadet who became Poet Laureate could have swept the board at any exhibition of ship models”.
Three models are known to survive. The Triumph, dates from 1921 and was presented to Thomas Hardy. In The Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1928, Florence Hardy recalled that the model “was much valued by Hardy, who showed it with pride to callers at Max Gate”. It is now part of the collection of the Dorset County Museum. Another model, of unknown date and name, was kept by Masefield and displayed on top of his main bookcase. In this location it features in many photographs of Masefield. Recently restored, it is now located at the Leonard Cheshire John Masefield Care Home built on the site of the poet’s final residence near Abingdon. This, the third extant model, was recently discovered in the attic at Cliff House.
The ship took Masefield many months to build. A letter, conjecturally dated mid to late 1930 states “I am hard at work on your Brig, and hope to finish her by about mid-October. Will you please let me have a line saying where you will be, then? She is much the best model I have done, but of course I am a poor craftsman and she won’t be any great shakes. We think of calling her the George and William or the Ann [sic] and Michael…” Later correspondence from Masefield notes his trouble with new rigging and suggests that Yeats received the George and Willy by the beginning of 1931: “I had hop’t to have the brig sent to you in time for Christmas Day, but the rigging slacks when new, and has to be tauten’d once or twice, so that I shall be late for Christmas. She should however be in your hands by New Year’s Day at latest.”
In a letter dated 1 January 1935 from George Yeats to her husband, she comments on visits by Oliver H. Edwards who was preparing to write a biography of W.B. Yeats. George notes that 'I showed him Masefield's Ship...' (see ed. Ann Saddlemyer, W.B. Yeats and George Yeats The Letters, Oxford, 2011, p.387)
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