‘Departure Point’ is an ongoing project using drawings, photography and text to document and explore different aspects of a geographical area surrounding the mouth of the River Stour in east Kent. The coast here is a fringe both in a physical and psychological sense – a forgotten edge where buildings are left behind and, with the coming of new roads and development, poised for change. I am drawn by the area’s sense of abandonment, its discarded detritus and unloved buildings, and most importantly, I am interested in the layering of its history.
The area’s position at one corner of the country, makes it a natural leaping-off point, and evidence of this is spread along the estuary. The imprint of the UK’s first international hover-port spreads along the bay, and upriver are the scant remnants of Richborough harbour and boat yards. Here, the skeletal remains of the first ever roll-on-roll-off rail ferry project from the mud. Built with conflict in mind, it efficiently transported troops across the channel to feed the trenches of World War One. The only buildings that remain from this great endeavour are the officer’s bungalows and a detention block that once housed German prisoners of war. It’s a cow shed now, but on the cell walls is graffiti that has survived for a century. Depictions of the Kaiser, Prussian streets and saucy music-hall dancers, etched into concrete walls, are slowly been covered by the brash, spray-can colours of modern life. Within sight of these remnants of the Great War, lies the hulk of a coastal defence boat from the Second World War. It appears in the estuary mud at low tide, like the skewed remains of a Viking funeral. There are smaller, more personal pieces of history here too: the roof of a jeep, stuck in the mud and abandoned to the incoming tide, and the rotting fibreglass hulls of old pleasure craft, drawn up, windows broken, holding deep green puddles of stagnant water, a Victorian clay pipe stained with tar beneath its thick crust of mud.
Part of the project looks further inland, examining the marks left on the East Kent landscape by war. Exploring this landscape, looking for forgotten details left by the waves of history that have washed across it, you quickly become aware that you are surrounded by the abandoned paraphernalia of the second world war. The architecture of conflict is everywhere. Pillboxes sit on horizon-lines like long-barrows. Concrete lined tunnels disappear into the earth, the hieroglyphs of decayed warning signs and modern graffiti covering their walls. Ziggurats of concrete and packed earth dominate cliff tops. Some of it attempts to hide, while some sites were built to dominate the land around it.
I am particularly intrigued by the idea of ‘Stop Lines’: where natural features, reinforced by man-made obstacles that would halt potential invaders. Like ley-lines for the modern age, they have left ribbons of immovable concrete architecture strung across the map. Now, woodland hides forgotten, henge-like formations of tank traps, and the gun loops of half buried pillboxes survey fields and orchards; indicators of human aggression and fallibility squatting unnoticed in tranquil countryside.
Like characters in a story, this landscape gives away its nature as much by what it hides as what it shows off. The marks left by our passing through it remain as a testament to the gap between what we aspire to be and what we end up as. New development means it is a landscape in flux, and this body of work is a personal record of places and features as they exist in memory.
…sic transit gloria Mundi.