Friday, 2 August 2013

Refining the brief

This project started with a brief that was concerned with strength versus fragility, in the context of the Dungeness nature reserve.

Having refined this within the sub headings of :




I now find myself strongly motivated by the stories of some of the long term residents of the area. It is of course impossible to separate the residents from the other two subjects of enquiry as these have formed an integral part of the process of identifying the exact area of research that I want to explore.

I am working towards expanding my study by concentrating on the strength of the women who brought up families in this environment, at a time when there were no modern facilities available to them. This investigation will also include the women who launched the lifeboats at Dungeness.

There was no mains water on the spit till the end of the Second World War, up to that time there were only hand pumps that drew fresh water from wells. This was carried in buckets attached to a wooden yoke. As each child became old enough, they took their turn to fetch the water.

There were no inside toilets, only a bucket in an outside shed that had to emptied by digging a hole in the shingle, and then covering the contents. This was later replaced by an Elsan chemical system.

Obviously no bathrooms existed so all baths had to be taken in a metal bath in front of the fire, after the effort of filling it from the hand pump and heating the water.

Information researched from Dungeness Remembered Ken Oiller

Electricity did not arrive until the late '50's, and when it was first supplied the cables were cased in lead which very soon disappeared, being the perfect material for fishing weights! 

Information researched from here

Many couples raised large families in these conditions and the women often took part in the business of processing the catch that the men brought back, as well as maintaining the home environment. 

When I realised that one of the women lifeboat launchers that I had focused on, Madge Tart, was 66 in 1953, and therefore  must have been born in 1887 she would definitely have experienced life as described above. I don't know anything about her life apart from her involvement with the lifeboats, so this is an area for further research.

As part of my peripheral research I read Sheila Kaye-Smith's novel, Joanna Gooden, which is a story, based in the Romney Marshes, set in 1887. Joanna is a very strong character who inherits and runs the family sheep farm. She described Dungeness as a "tedious hole". Her fiancé on the other hand thinks it's wonderful. Kaye-Smith description of '.....the end of the Ness' reads "....a strange forsaken country of coastguard stations and lonely taverns and shingle tracks. The lighthouse stood only a few feet above the sea, at the end of the point, and immediately before it the water dropped to sinister, glaucous depths.

I have also used Ken Oiller's book Dungeness Remembered to help create a mental picture of life on the Ness. He makes a point of highlighting the hardships that the families had to overcome, not least the unpredictable income from fishing, that they had to survive on. It was sometimes necessary to shoot the odd rabbit or water foul to supplement their daily diet, but as he explains this was never undertaken for sport.

All the cooking was done on a wood and coal fired range, and Oiller writes  that he can remember his mother cleaning it with black lead " keep it spotless and shining."

Later on in his life Oilier remembers the winter of 1961 when the sea froze over at low tide. The mains water pipe to their house also froze and they were without a proper water supply for 12 weeks. However their water pump didn't freeze so his wife and another young mother were able to rinse the babies nappies, after boiling, in freezing cold water. So cold in fact that they had to take it in turns with the pumping just to get the circulation back in their hands! 

Its anecdotal gems like this that really provide a strong sense of the community  in this unique place.


I am keen to find a way of recording this particular aspect of the history that surrounds this unique place.  I think its important to remember and pay tribute to the strength and determination of such women who maintained a life that was completely based within the family unit, which in turn was totally integrated into the community that lived and worked on the Ness.

Our lives have become centred on working outside of the home and therefore women, in particular, have incredibly  high expectations placed upon them, to be the homemakers and the income providers. The conditions within the home are now far easier but I wonder if women actually have to work as hard and as many hours as their predecessors, often without the back up of the extended family and their community.

This slide show is the beginning of the process of converting my research into imagery.


  1. This is a fascinating and superbly put together project. I have enjoyed reading it, and putting all the references together that you have mentioned during your research. I'm looking forward to hearing and reading further developments.

  2. I love the pun on 'ladies who launch' - such an incredibly different lifestyle to the more usual phrase about ladies of leisure who meet up for lunch.

    I'm a keen family historian, and the type of research you're doing, at the depth you're doing it, is very similar to what I've been doing in order to develop a better understanding of the lives of my ancestors. Factual and fictional works both have a part to play in this. What struck me about your work is that Madge Tart was born in 1887 - the same year as my grandma, and also that's the year Sheila Kaye-Smith's novel is set. My grandma had a hard life too, but in an inner city environment rather than the harshness that you're exploring here - the work, the life, the elements, the number of children. And yet for decades women were prevented from doing certain kinds of work because they would not have had the physical strength!

    This is definitely a master's degree project, Sharon!

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  4. Sharon, the research is fascinating and I can imagine how you can get lost in this subject. The slide show is an excellent tool. Did you do the background artwork? I love it, gorgeous mark making

    1. Hi Karen, thank you for your lovely comment, yes I did do the artwork on the slide show

  5. Thanks for your supportive and complimentary comments,they are much appreciated.I am in awe of your determination to follow through with this research into Dungeness.It's a mammoth undertaking,but quite obviously a subject close to your heart.I shall follow with interest.