Saturday, November 01, 2008

A bulwark shore

Essex... 'This is a bulwark shore, creating an architecture of sea-walls, lighthouses, forts, tidal defences, gun-emplacements, airfields, Martello Towers, sea-forts, decoys, piers and harbours,' Ken Worpole observes in 350 Miles: An Essex Journey, his collaboration with photographer Jason Orton. The photograph following this description shows a minewatching tower at Dengie, looking like a strange church, isolated against the flat horizon. Later in the book, Orton photographs the 'United Reform with Methodist Church' in Burnham-on-Crouch, a solid brick structure with narrow, almost slit-like windows. Worpole sees 'an uncanny correspondence between some of these austere church buildings, with their minimal window apertures, and the fortified military buildings in and around the coast.'

I have only got to visit certain parts of Essex in the last ten years or so, and have never, for example, made the musical pilgrimage to the jetty at Canvey Island (see below), which features at the end of a bleak sea wall in one of Orton's photographs. However, I've carried around Billy Bragg's musical map of the county, 'A13, Trunkroad to the Sea', since hearing it on John Peel in 1983 and maybe one day I'll do the full trip down to Shoeburyness. The V&A's collection of contemporary writings on Essex (which includes extracts from 350 Miles: An Essex Journey) features Bragg's reflections on the road. He concludes, that whilst memories slide into the past, 'the A13 is still there, rolling through a Springsteenesque landscape in which riverine Essex takes the place of the New Jersey shore, a tarmacadam trail to the Promised Land'.

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