Farewell to Rye `Reprobate’ legend
Roy Godwin writes:
DES Chestnut, who lived and worked in Rye for thirty years, is estimated as having personally framed at least 10,000 paintings and related works of art.
His death, at the age of 66, means that a select company of artists are deprived of the services of another, specialist craftsman, able to interpret their needs with an unerring eye.
When someone said that it was a pity that he didn’t sign each frame, a friend said that any local artist worthy of the name could identify a “Des”. He was also a craftsman in his own right, and some Rye homes are privileged to have an original “Des” gracing a wall.
Desmond Chestnut was born in December 1946. He did well at school, and began his training at the highly regarded Glasgow School of Art from where transferred to the Edinburgh School of Art; having found out what he wanted to know he left before graduation and took “ordinary” jobs before winding up in London where he began his career as a picture framer. It was there that he met Louis Turpin. They came to Rye; and over the next thirty years Des framed something like 4,000 of Louis’ paintings.
At his strictly secular funeral at Hastings Crematorium, the encomium was delivered by Caroline Ede, a civil funeral celebrant. Well briefed by Des’s family and friends she was able to build on his huge capacity for life, and especially drink; there was a bottle of Newcastle Brown and a glass on his coffin. Louis Turpin, no mean singer-guitarist, sang a blues number of his own composition, “Picture in the frame”.
Des had become one of Rye’s legends. The late Dick Pearce, when he was running the Ypres Inn, dubbed a small bunch of his regulars “The Reprobates”. While he was happy to have their money coming over the bar, he felt that men with their training and ability should be working, not occupying his pub from, allegedly, opening to closing.
The name stuck, and like “Old Contemptibles” or “Desert Rats” it became a badge of honour; the “Reprobates” became the most exclusive club in Rye.
Being of anti-authoritarian mind, they decided to take on an allotment at South Undercliff, and run it as a commune. There were five of them, one of whom gave a lot of advice Another did a lot of ill-advised double-digging. Des and another did planting, weeding etc. The fifth turned up for the harvest. Eventually it all fell apart.
During her address, Caroline Ede referred to Des’s prodigious drinking. ( a pre-requisite of being a card-carrying “Reprobate”).
The list of pubs where he knocked back the booze, and from some of which he was sometimes temporarily barred, would have read like a litany if read out in full. He had a number of cars, all of which were famous for their decrepitude. One had the registration OUCnnnH, and was always known as “Ouch”, something not unconnected with the number of dents it acquired while Des was trying to get to wherever he was living after a session in a pub. Inevitably, he was convicted of drink driving.
Famously while Des was still banned, another Reprobate, Christopher Russell who died in 2010, was in his car proceeding along Cinque Ports Street. Des was in the front, on the right hand side, from where, with window open, he was waving to friends he saw. Someone reported a banned driver at the wheel of a car, and the police moved quickly, only to find that it had been Chris at the wheel of his left-hand drive Volvo. Des celebrated in fine style.
For some time, he had a workshop opposite the Bell at Iden. With his then car out of action, and seriously short of money, he picked up a load of wood needed for his framing from a yard in Rye. There being no other way, he put the heavy load on his shoulder and carried it to Iden.
He could take the hard times with the good. For some years he lived in Oak Corner at the bottom of Trader’s Passage, and did a good job of looking after it for the expatriate owners. On other occasions, he slept in his car or workshop; it was all the same to Des.
He was rehoused in Badger’s Gate. His close neighbour and friend, Rod Saunders, said “Des was a brilliant cook “People gave them all sorts of surplus food, including fish unsold in Rye. Des could always turn it into something highly edible.
His 92-years old mother made the journey down from Scotland for his funeral, and other relations supported her. The crematorium was packed with them and his friends.
He is survived by five sons and a daughter.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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