This is a topographical snapshot through which I pass on a regular basis and one which demonstrates the complex entanglement of emotions, memories, perceptions and debate that landscape engenders. In discussing the relationship between landscape and Englishness David Matless asserts that "if landscape carries an unseemly spatiality, it also shuttles through temporal processes of history and memory. Judgements over present value work in relation to narratives of past landscape".
"And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres."
The bridge was on the edge of eighteenth century Kingswood Chase, a remnant of the much larger Royal Forest of Kingswood that covered 200 square miles until disafforestation in 1228. By the eighteenth century, and continuing into the nineteenth, Kingswood was viewed as a hot-bed of criminality, non-conformity, popular protest and general unruliness, with a rapidly growing population of colliers, quarrymen and other squatter-inhabitants. John Wesley sums up the areas reputation succinctly: "Few persons have lived long in the West of England who have not heard of the colliers of Kingswood: a people famous from the beginning hitherto, for neither fearing God nor regarding man". By the time of the black and white photographs shown here much of Kingswood and the areas surrounding Stapleton had become heavily populated and industrialised and Eastville Park, bounded by the bridge, had been established as a municipal green lung for the urban population. As it has largely remained, the area was already an oasis of residual or revenant rurality, surrounded by 'Ouses, Ouses, Ouses'. The chimera of old world stability and orderliness is further undermined by a decidedly non-photogenic landmark a mile down the road. At the opposite end of the village stood (and still stands) a huge Victorian complex that had seen time as a prison for 5,000 French soldiers during the Napoleonic wars, a lunatic asylum and workhouse for the poor.
Cycling home over the bridge and under the flyover I feel the full force of these diverse and conflicting temporal and spatial energies; a flash mob of liminal stimuli skulking in the shadows. Landscape as multi-sensory immersion. I sigh heavily at the imagined memory of the old house, 'Sunnybanks', (though I have never seen it) that used to stand on the higher ground above the bridge and was demolished to make way for the motorway embankment. But I also can't help finding the fleeting phenomenological experience of under-passing the concrete monolith exhilarating; sound-tracked by the disembodied harsh monotone of the traffic above, like a minimalist symphony of repetitive drones. And the prospect of the last mile home along the still green banks of the Frome, with the potential for sightings of heron, kingfisher or barn owl, spurs on my tired limbs and lifts the landscapist spirit further.
Avon Archaeological Council and Avon Local History Association, 1982 Avon Past 7 Pamphlet.
Baker, Kenneth (Ed.), 2000 The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry London: Faber and Faber.
Bartlett, John, 2004 Images of England: Fishponds Stroud: Tempus.
Brace, Keith, 1971 Images of Bristol London: Robert Hale.
Fairbrother, Nan, 1972 New Lives, New Landscapes London: Penguin.
Johnson, Matthew, 2007 Ideas of Landscape Oxford: Blackwell.
Matless, David, 1998 Landscape and Englishness London: Reaktion.
Smith, Veronica, 2004 Images of England: Stapleton Stroud: Tempus.
Wylie, John, 2007 Landscape Oxford: Routledge.