Tag Archives: urban details

Initial forays

1 Jun Emstrey sunset

24th January 2008 – Emstrey

My expeditions into the Shrewsbury Edgelands began when I took some photographs around Emstrey and Shrewsbury Business Park areas.   Photographs can be seen on the Edgelands Gallery pages.

It was a clear and cold late afternoon, so the images include a sunset over the greenfield adjacent to the existing Business Park development.  Building work was underway with steelwork being erected for some new offices.  There was evidence of hedgrows destroyed by caterpillar tracked excavators and a large bonfire constructed with various site clearance debris, wooden pallets and traffic cones. 

The estate roads spread out into the site like grasping fingers, the blank ends appearing so stark against the empty field, more usually used by dog walkers.

The clinical construction of the surface water balancing pond with its gabion edging and concrete drain outfalls presents a harsh contrast with the pond in the farmland on the other side of Thieves Lane.  It would be interesting to find out the history of this pond, which itself does not seem natural; perhaps a remnant of a larger pond or merely trapped run off in a depression left following the construction of the A5 Shrewsbury by-pass in a cutting just a little further to the south, or maybe it is indeed a mere.  In this area to the south of Shrewsbury there are several meres or pools in depressions in the glacial till left after the retreat of the glacial ice sheet. This pond is quite overgrown and ringed with trees and saplings, it is a haven for birds and particularly rooks or crows, which I often see circling above. 

7th February 2008 – River Severn

I investigated a couple of areas not actually on the edge of town, but areas within the town that show signs of reverting towards a derelict and wild state.

The River Severn had recently flooded once again during the Winter, and I found an open derelict shed where the flood waters had encroached.  Inside there was a burnt out car, with the packaging from a bag of Christmas presents left on the passenger seat.  The atmospheric scene was one of perfect devastation as the floor was a mass of engine parts, twigs, branches, old bikes, a broken TV set, fragments of glass and other general debris. 

The corrugated roof was open in several places, and new vegetation was finding its way into the building.  It surely could not take long for the building to be overcome by overgrowth.

7th February 2008 – Roman Road/Kingsland

 There is an old derelict brick building with no roof and a tree growing through it in a field alongside Roman Road (the “old A5”).  I can only guess it was formerly a changing room as it has some old metal urinals inside.  Seems an unlikely isolated location for a public lavatory.  There were various rusting metal tank and pipe fragments laying around.

I carried on into a low lying wooded area between Longden Road and Beehive Lane.  Parts of it were quite overgrown, and had become a dense thicket.  Alongside the path and sheltered by a tree, I came across a sleeping bag, which appeared to have been vacated only a short while beforehand.  A figure was receding along the path about 100m away – surely they had not been sleeping here?

28th February 2008 – Meole Brace

I explored the outskirts of Meole Brace, starting out from the Park and Ride car park.  These are strange quiet places, thronged with waiting cars.  The block paving was covered in moss and lichen in places, indicating how infrequently people actually walk around this place.

The land rose to a green field with distant views of the new football stadium.  Dotted around within the long grass, there were small piles of rubble and tarmac, presumably fly tipped.  The edge of the out of town shopping centre is a harsh brutal landscape.  Superficially it had been planted with low maintenance shrubs and prickly bushes, but the fencing was topped with razor wire, festooned with plastic carrier bags.  Approaching the football stadium, there was a pathway beneath the railway line which emerged near the training ground, at a junction with two smaller paths extending either side of the stadium.  The paths were narrow and hemmed in by metal fencing.  An upturned shopping trolley lay on a pile of debris at the path junction.

Turning to the north, I joined the Shropshire Way as it enters Meole Village.  Passing alongside some arable fields the rural feel changed into urban with rows of graffiti covered garages and houses appeared through the trees as I crossed the Rea Brook.  There was the constant drone of traffic in the distance.  For some way into the woodland there was fencing, always fencing, and endless litter, from piles of cans indicating drinking and smoking dens, to tiny indistinguishable plastic fragments totally engrained within the soil.

I encountered various dog walkers and a runner, but there was an eery quiet and a feeling of “I shouldn’t really be here in this secret place”.  I came across two men busy taking out an old steel railing fence to be replaced with another.  Did they work for the Council?  One of them wore a high visibility coat, but it was filthy and well worn, and their slightly uneasy demeanour suggested they may have had other personal motives for reclaiming the scrap steel.  They seemed happy enough for me to take their photograph though.

The woodland was quite dense with fallen and twisted trees of significant maturity.  Someone had constructed a rudimentary den, which had subsequently been pulled apart and dispersed.

The houses at the edge of the town backed onto the woodland with a steep drop of some 6-8m.  Fill spilled down the bank around a new house currently under construction.  One house had a greenhouse perched precariously on paving slabs above the level of the fence.  Leylandii and other hedge cuttings had been dumped directly over the fence, as if it would just disappear into the unseen woodland. 

There was a definite sense of the housing development turning its back on the “wilderness” beyond the fence.  There was a tension, a sense of danger – places on the edge, where kids hang out and thieves, imaginary or otherwise, prowl looking for houses they can get into undisturbed.

29th February 2008 – Bicton Heath

Julie accompanied me on this walk from the Co-op Park and Ride.  The Oxon Business Park is expanding along a new road that connects with a Nursing Home and the Hospice.  there was a strange surface water pond with a fence surround, which like the Emstrey balancing ponds, was in stark contrast to the nearby Oxon Pools.  These were heavily overgrown surrounded by saplings, and strangely (given the density of saplings) more trees had been planted fairly recently.

As we walked along the road, a public road, we were apprehended by a Volvo driver, asking if we were lost.  Although he had a friendly attitude, this also seemed to be a challenge as to why we were there.  Surely it cannot be so strange to see two people going on a stroll along a country lane – there were not exactly many other roads to get lost on.  Yet again this built up a sense of not being wanted, people looking out, security, protection.

A pathway into a field passed a house with a fence where barbed wire had been used at a point of access.  Had they been burgled?

Again there were piles of leylandii cuttings left beyond the fence.  Further on leylandii trees had been used to screen the Blackmore haulage yard.  We could just see through, as if we were spying on some secret industrial process.

Hurry up and slow down

29 Mar Grille

Motivation in much of my art work stems from a strong belief in trying to minimise impact on the environment, and in taking a global perspective but also noticing the wealth of details all around.   Understanding situations and taking in the view takes time.

 The environmental crises in the world will not be wholly “solved” by technology, although technology will no doubt have a significant role in our adaptation to changes.  What is needed is a radical cultural shift away from an accelerating way of life driven by the expectation of continuously growing economies and the seduction of new gadgetry with ever shorter useful life. 

 What we need to do is slow down, stop even, look around, breathe in and live in the present.  And keep doing that until we notice our surroundings, and learn to love them again.  This is not a radically new concept, and there are plenty of other people saying the same thing, but not so many acting on it.  The Slow Movement is well established, and Carl Honore’s “In Praise of Slow” is a great read, challenging the “cult of speed”.

 By environmental crises I mean climate change, water stress, reduction in biodiversity and shortages in food, energy and other natural resources.  These are all exacerbated by human population growth.  The treatment of the symptoms is just papering over the cracks until the dam really bursts and wipes us out.  And this is a chartered civil engineer talking.

 The behavioural changes needed to counteract environmental disaster on a global scale are colossal, and the secondary impacts of these changes will be unimaginable.  But the changes at an individual level, are relatively simple and could in theory happen over a short period of time.  In reality, such change, if it happens at all, will almost certainly take a long time.  Even from a personal perspective, I am all too easily sucked into the mindless whirlpool of modern life, dominated by technology – after all, what am I doing now but tapping away on a computer, wondering what is on the TV?

 But I am trying.  I know that my daughter Eliza, won’t be the cute little toddler she is for long, soon she will be off to school and then a teenager.  Her months of being a baby whizzed by in a blur of sleepless nights (these have not gone entirely) and days fluctuating between joy and frustration.  So I am acutely aware that I need to treasure these moments, good and bad, and to experience them in the moment. 

 The need to slow down and regain contact with the natural environment was the theme of the Cloud Space installation, produced by the Cloud Gallery artists’ collective for the Greenhouse Shropshire exhibition in 2008.  As a member collaborator with the Cloud Gallery, I became convinced at that time that the simple activity of walking, sometimes stopping and using our senses could play a significant role in changing people’s perspective on life.

 This is an extract from the Cloud Space statement:

 “Global warming is just one symptom of human consumption.  In the relentless drive for wealth and success, many people lead a frenzied existence with narrowed-down vision and minds caught up in an almost virtual world of electronica. 

 This installation and the associated walk allow people a moment to refocus our thoughts and regain awareness of the “here and now”.  In these spaces, we can appreciate the passing of time and see the detail and distinctiveness of the place around us.  It is a time to use all our senses, to experience being in our own bodies in this place, and consider that “being” is as important as “doing”.”

 A selection of my photos that were included in the event is shown below.  Each is a detail that might ordinarily have passed me by, but which struck my attention once I had slowed down to the pace of thought.  For that short passage of time, almost every detail seemed to present itself as a potential subject.

Grille

Grille

Stay hear

Stay hear

For the Blind

For the Blind

River

River