The Falcon Inn at Costessey, just a few miles west of Norwich, provided an ideal headquarters for Munnings during his painting expeditions to Ringland Hills. The inn was situated near the river Wensum, just opposite the gates to the Hall and within sight of the Jerningham mansion, the spires and turrets of which formed a long silhouette on the skyline of the dark woodlands of Taverham Hall. The artist fondly remembered the landlord, Mr Lyons with his mutton-chop whiskers, bowler hat and slightly superior air (he had once been a butler at the Hall).
Munnings had first discovered the Falcon on cycling jaunts from Norwich to Ringland in the days when he worked as a lithographer in the city. In April 1908 a ride from his home at Swainsthorpe took him back to these old haunts. Introducing himself to Mr Lyons he humbly inquired whether the inn took lodgers. Mr Lyons called for a boy to take care of the artist's mare, 'Then he took me into the parlour on the left side of the entrance, where I had eggs and tea - how well I remember it - and when I had stood him a drink, and told him my story, he said that seventeen shillings and sixpence a week was his charge, and I agreed to come the following Monday' (An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 210). James Drake, the horse dealer who could usually be found with his family and caravan near the Bush Inn in Costessey, supplied Munnings with his models. 'Here was a lucky start, full of possibilities - the landlord, the place, the river, the hills, the gorse beginning to bloom; horses, ponies and, above all, Shrimp, that utterly uneducated, wild, ageless youth, who slept underneath Drake's caravan' (op. cit., p. 211).
That first short stay in 1908 was 'only a feeler for my future painting on Ringland Hills, a mere beginning, a foretaste of things to come'. In May 1910 Munnings returned to Ringland and the Falcon 'in full force' with his blue painted caravan, string of ponies and the lads Bob and Shrimp as helpers. Shrimp was always something of a handful as an incident at the outset of the expedition demonstrates. Munnings recalls how he sent the caravan ahead to the Falcon with Shrimp and Bob. Despite giving Bob strongly expressed instructions that he was not to let Shrimp drink during the journey, Munnings arrived at the inn to be told by Mr Lyons that both lads had appeared at lunchtime rather the worse for wear:
'"Your men and ponies and van arrived about mid-day sir. Both men were drunk".
My description fails entirely unless the reader can really try to imagine the voice of that dear old ex-butler, the landlord. His nose showed the slightest crimsony tinge on a very red face, perfected by reddish-brown mutton-chop whiskers. His black bowler and dark suit gave him an air of decency and resonsibility, and he took snuff, and spoke with rather an important nasal twang.
"Good God!" said I.
"Yes, sir", said he, "and the fellow Shrimp, or whatever his name is, just as he was pulling up the van, fell off the shafts, and the front wheel stopped against his head as he lay on the ground. It was shocking, sir".
"What about Bob?" I asked, my wrath rising.
"Well, Bob was not so drunk as the other fellow", said the landlord.
"Anyhow, we put Shrimp under the kitchen tap and gave him some tea, and they went off again quite all right!"
... Seeing my luggage was there safely, I stayed not a second. I was off down the road to Ringland Hills as fast as I could go. Past the woods on the left, with the river on my right, I soon saw, at the foot of the gorse-covered slopes, the pones already grazing and the caravan pulled off the road on to the grass. Bob took my mount, but Shrimp lay face down on the grass, snoring. Whilst Bob stuttered out explanations I took a running kick at Shrimp's behind as he lay there'. Munnings tells how he berated the boy but concludes with affection, 'I forgave Shrimp his drinking habits. He was a good lad, a son of the wild. He could neither read nor write, and had no need of either. The best model I ever had' (op. cit., pp. 215-217).
Shrimp modelled for a great many works including another inn courtyard subject, The Inn Yard, The Bush Inn, 1910 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston; see S. Booth, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1878-1959, London, 1978, illustrated p. 83).