Perspectives on our coastal towns.
The English town of Weymouth is currently courting controversy as a result of a local photographer’s twitter post and his remarks of the shabby state of some areas. As a resident of the area I can concur with some of the views but this is a malaise of the British coastal town in general. Several recent news stories highlighted the problems of widespread seaside poverty, and problems with educational standards in seaside towns are even admitted to by central government so there is an issue at a national level for coastal communities.
Long gone the royal visitations that gave Bognor its’ Regis name tag, and locally to the village of Wkye Regis and the Borough of Melcombe Regis, favourite of George III; both subsumed into greater Weymouth.
The mirror of time – Weymouth’s maritime imagery.
You can’t get away from the sea. Some might say that’s a problem if you live at the seaside, others would say it’s a gift. It dominates, drawing like a magnet, inspiring and angering in equal measures. Constraining yet, at the same time, offering the open vistas of hope and opportunity. The big skies, the far off horizon an apparent chance to escape, to flee, but economically a millstone of low wages and part-time, seasonal employment. The history of the British seaside, our great maritime naval traditions, our culinary delight of fried fish and chips, of ship building, scientific exploration, changing with time and, like the tide, subject to its’ never ending ebb and flow.
A glorious past captured by the camera, the bathing beauties, golden sands, charabancs and Mr Punch, mirrored by war and destruction. The bombs that rained down on those same golden sands taking the lives, snuffing out the dreams. The plumes of smoke and flame as The Rex burnt down, the rebuilding of shattered dreams, hope and expectation. Yet, behind it lies the sea, ever present but changeable, shaping our fortunes, forging our destiny, framing our outlook. So moody, blue or grey, cold yet inviting, calm one day angry the next.
The days of the coaster with its’ salt-caked smokestack, the sleek grey of the warship, have been and gone, and the fishing nets lie abandoned. Even the ferry, the twice daily lifeline, gone. But not the sails, they remain, some large, some small, that link with a pre-mechanised past, the time of the engravings, the leather bound volumes, the smell of the salt sea air. Intermingled the Tupperware cruisers, chrome and shiny, whirling radar, and flapping aerials. But the sea, she lies, waiting to pounce, the orange of the lifeboat ever present, another linking thread back through the cameras lens, back to the black and white, the rowing boats and rescues; the breeches buoy, and the rocket apparatus. The ever present sea, at times angry, surrounding, enveloping, shaping, changing inspiring the artist and giving work for the news reporter.
You can’t get away from the sea.
All images used are by, and remain the copyright of, John New.
NB: The above piece was inspired by an exhibition of Weymouth and South Dorset history in photographs. Weymouth Library, January 2017.