It was in November 1979, that I first saw the work of Jim Feasey at a small auctioneers in Plymouth, Cornwall. A finely detailed 1/24th scale waterline model of The Tea Clipper Ariel had caught my eye. This beautiful model was finished to such a high standard and sailing on a most natural looking sea that I couldn’t resist it.
I began correspondence with a Mr. Michael Newman of the auctioneers W.H.Lane and Son, who kindly effected an introduction to his ‘well known model maker’ and it was there that a lifelong friendship began. Mr. Newman introduced Jim thus - 'I am very pleased to be able to put you in touch with Mr. Feasey, who is in my estimation one of the finest Modellers at present practising in the British Isles and yet one who is still able to produce superb models at very realistic figures.’
A commission of the Thames Barge ‘Kathleen’ was our first ‘project’. Jim was busy working on a 1/10th scale model of the 10 Gun Cutter Entreprenante of Trafalgar and so I had to be patient. Jim’s attention to detail was extraordinary, and whilst he was working on the Entreprenante, he had secured a book by Edgar Marsh and a set of his plans on the building of the barge Kathleen. He was so confident in his craft that he knew to suggest that the model would look at home ‘moored in a muddy estuary with the tide out and sails furled. This would look good, but it is of course however he wishes.’ The model took Jim three months, and it is still one of my favourites in my collection.
Based in Bodmin in Cornwall for the first six years that I knew him, Jim and his wife lived a simple life. His wife and his son Chris enduring his obsession with the ships and the models that took most of his time. Jim detested the hustle and bustle of London and would conscript anyone he knew to deliver the completed models for him, neighbours, friends but more often than not it was his son Chris, who lived in West Ewell, who was engaged to deliver the models.
In October of 1985, the family moved to Halesworth in Suffolk, and it didn’t take them long to settle in, although Jim confided they were missing their friends in Cornwall, they occupied themselves in restoring their new garden. Jim telling me that they found they went out far more than when they were in Cornwall.
Jim didn’t talk much of his early years during the war, but soon after his move to Suffolk, he had his ‘old Bomber pilot from Melbourne Oz staying since May (until 19th July) so as you might gather, haven’t done any modelling - but lots of talking.' He was to take a trip with his wife a few years later at Christmas to visit his friend in Melbourne - he described it as going ‘backpacking in Oz’. In a lovely letter he wrote to me he said ‘I was in Melbourne at the time enduring temperatures of 30-40 - Christmas dining on patio (but it ain’t the same).’
On a business trip to Austria once, I posted Jim my latest letter, when it arrived the postmark flummoxed him - 'I must say I was rather startled when it arrived and I saw it was from Austria. I sat looking at the envelope before opening it, and not knowing anyone out there I began to think that some Burgomeister had traced my crew to sue for dropping a load of incendiary canisters and HE.' (high explosives Ed.)
After the war, Jim went into the police force and was based in the London Docklands for many years before he retired to Cornwall. A fitting place for a man with such an interest in ships and marine life.
Jim and I continued our correspondence and friendship over the years and I continued to buy many more models from this humble, gentle genius. The majority of my collection of model ships have been created from the hand of this skilled model builder. I have over sixteen models in my collection from him including Endeavour, Titania, Ariel, Entreprenante, Neufchatel, Shannon, Pickle, Captain and of course the beautiful Thames Barge Kathleen.
Jim had an ongoing conflict with himself over the infrequent times he submitted his models for exhibitions, mostly at the annual Model Engineering Exhibitions in London. Often deciding not to make the trip for any reason he could find, he removed himself from the competition before it began. On those occasions when he did pluck up the courage and confidence to make the trip to deliver the models, he was often left scathing of the judging due to his attention to detail and quest for perfection. Jim did garner several awards over the years for his models including two bronze medals and one silver medal but ultimately he was always his own most severe judge.
In late 1996 and early 1997 my letters to him didn’t get a response, and so I called his house and spoke with his son Chris who told me his father had passed away. A sudden abrupt, but mercifully quick end for this gentle, passionate man.
In my opinion, Jim was on a par with Donald McNarry, the renowned model builder and when I put their models side by side, you can see the work of two masters of their art. I have a lovely collection of models from my lifetime’s passion, however it is my long friendship with Jim Feasey that I cherish the most.