Friday, 26 July 2013

Ecology Artists Residents - contextual research part 2

Following on from  my initial contextual research I have now expanded on my original 3 areas, Ecology, Artists and Residents,  into an in depth investigation, in order to become more immersed in the study. 

The first and probably the most profound area of my research concerns the welfare of the ECOLOGY of the area.

The Dungeness peninsular is currently still under threat from the EDF and the Environmental Agency in a plan to extract shingle at the rate of 50 to 100 lorries a day, each carrying 30 tons and measuring 3.1 meters wide, using the unmade road that services up to 99 houses on the spit, 5 days a week.

Diggers will also be used in the extraction of up to 30,000 tons of shingle a year which will be used to add to the local sea defences and also to protect the power station from sliding into the sea.

This information was researched from an article in the Guardian  

This whole area is supposed to be protected as an SSSI, (site of special scientific interest) so I fail to see how this action can even be under consideration.

A campaign to stop the quarry has been set up here

It's interesting to note that local people have said that quarrying would also set back the area's growing tourist interests, which include photographers, bird watchers, artists, school children and anglers. All of whom add to the local economy by buying fish, riding on the train, shopping in the local shops and eating and drinking at the public houses.

So, as times have moved on from scraping an existence from this hostile environment, maybe there is a symbiotic relationship with locals, tourists and artists.

When looking at the ARTISTS who reside on the spit the obvious person to investigate has to be Derek Jarman the artist writer and filmmaker. It is said that when he started making his garden  the locals thought he was creating magic against the power station, with his strange installations.

He himself compared his cottage to Dorothy's in the Wizard of Oz and the power station to the Emerald city.

Information researched here here

It was very interesting to discover that in 2009 Burberry's  menswear Spring  collection  designed by Christopher Bailey was inspired by the clothing that Derek Jarman chose to wear when he was gardening. The colour pallet was also inspired by the garden, moss stone peat etc.

At the other end of the artistic spectrum is the architect designed buildings that have been appearing on the shingle over recent years. The latest one being a conversion of the old smoke house, which has been renamed The Shingle House. It was commissioned by the philosopher Alain de Botton who has set up the not-for-proffit company Living Architecture.  
The reworking of the this building was carried out by Nord Architecture (beautiful images can be seen here) who are a young Scottish practice.

In this case the integrity of the original building has been kept intact and it has to be acknowledged that it does provide a beautiful setting for anyone wanting to experience the rawness of Dungeness, without getting their hands dirty or fingers frost bitten.

But at the time of the reworking I spoke to some of the longterm residents who were understandably  resentful at the idea of someone with enough money to invest in this venture being able to provide another holiday  home for outsiders.  They would not have had the funds to purchase the house for themselves or members of their family.

I was fortunate enough to discover a lovely book when starting on my RESiDENT study. The book is written by Ken Oiller who is a member of one of the 4 main fishing families who have lived and worked on the peninsular for the last 2 centuries.

The book is full of wonderful anecdotes from his boyhood to the present day and it gives an exceptional insight into the harshness of battling the elements in order to make a living, and the small details of family life lived in a tight knit community.

Oiller describes what it was like to live on the spit during the second world war, when the residents required passes to go in and out as the whole area was vulnerable to an enemy attack  and the beach was mined.

While researching the local activities I discovered that dungeness was the last lifeboat station where women launched the lifeboat. This was a fascinating discovery and immediately caught my attention with a view to a more refined area of subject research.

Launching the lifeboat on Dungeness was particularly difficult and dangerous in this area as there was no slipway due to the fact that the shingle constantly shifts with the tides. Even today Hastings has the only beach launched fishing fleet in Europe.

It was a hazardous procedure as 8' lengths of timber were laid on the beach and the boat was pulled over them, after which they were removed and placed in front for the process to continue to the sea.

There was a very sound reason for women to launch the boats as it was imperative that the men stay dry as they could have succumbed to hypothermia in the freezing temperatures. In rough weather women would carry their men to the boats.

It was difficult to find information on these amazing women but I did find a piece in another book, again written by a local resident Niko Miaoulis and beautifully illustrated with paintings by Andy Hoyler.

I have also identified one of the lady launchers as Madge Tart, who together with her sister in law, were awarded the RNLI Gold Badge in 1953.

Thanks to a British Pathe  link I was able to find an image of Madge. 

She is in the lead, striding forward at the age of 66. It is interesting that she is unique amongst the line up of ladies in her choice of headwear, a French beret as opposed to a British head scarf. The Tart family originated from France where they were driven out by the Huguenots.

researched from a photo here

I have found it very insightful studying the fragments of information about these remarkable women working in such a hostile environment alongside the men, forming a partnership of lifesaving on one of the most used lifeboats in Britain.

Contrary to how we have been encouraged to think of women in the past, as the 'weaker sex', these women proved themselves more than equal to the task. I feel it will be a fitting starting point for a tribute piece dedicated to their tenacity, pride, strength and sense of community.


  1. Hi Sharon. I have really enjoyed reading your research. A friend of mine (maiden name Oiller) was born and brought up at Dungeness. Her parents moved from the beach only a few years ago. If you are interested, would you like me to ask her if you can contact her - I am sure she can tell you lots about the traditional families, and she may have access to photographs that may interest you. Regards Sheila

  2. Fascinating reading Sharon. The potential quarrying is of nightmare proportions.

  3. Gosh, Sharon - this is really building up into something special. Really excited to see what this is going to be, and what you'll be doing with it. Maybe a spell in a gallery in Dungeness.....?

  4. What a fascinating and thought provoking post. I have great admiration for these ancestors who raised families, ran homes and worked either on land or by the sea.

  5. I admire your resolve to devoting yourself to such an in-depth study.I look forward to following your progress.

  6. I love how you are immersing yourself in the research aspect...very, very interesting and I for one am not in the least bit surprised that preservation or SSSI status means nothing to the powers that be...are you? really?