L A N D S C A P E S.
By RO S S PAXT ON , an E N G L I SH M A N
L A N D S C A P E S. VOLUME
Containing an account of a journey and the inhabitants within. Including translations from the earliest Times to the present.
By RO S S PAXT ON , an E N G L I SH M A N
For how hard it is to understand the landscape as you pass in a train from here to there and mutely it watches you vanish.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the tour! As our journey begins you will see some very old pre-industrial buildings, which form the longest facade in the country. It was the Romans who were the first people to settle here in Manch . . .” “DON’T LISTEN TO HER!,” shouts the crowd. “SHE’S LYING!”
“We are going to start this tour with a little bit of background history...
“It was here at the beginning of the 19th century when all the men in town began gathering in the local taverns to talk and drink.
“These meetings eventually led to an explosion of scientific, philosophical and creative thinking, which ultimately changed the western perception of everything. At that time the philosopher Voltaire wrote –‘It is now to Scotland that we look for all of our ideas for civilisation.’
“Men like James Hutton, the father of geology, for example, whose collection of stones from Arthur’s Seat pushed back the estimated time of the earth’s existence – from six thousand years to millions of years. Then there were people like David Hume, whose thoughts on reason and consciousness explored whether or not our state of being and our world is in fact the creation of a creator or not.
“Over on the right-hand side now you will see a great place to walk the dog. Oh, and they have been fixing that roof for ages but it’s going to be splendid when it’s all done.”
“In the far distance you can see the limestone cliffs of the Great Orme. ‘Orme’ is the Viking word for sea monster, and the Great and Little Ormes are thought to have reminded early sailors of giant sea serpents.”
â€œAhead now we can see the lovely Victorian iron pier which was built in 1877. This pier was modelled on the one in Brighton and provided a good birthing facility for the growing number of passenger ships arriving from large cities like Liverpool. This is our second pier â€“ the original was built in 1858 as part of a plan to make Llandudno a major seaport for Ireland.â€?
“You can now see the 19th century home of Mr Bartram who once toured Edwardian England with what was known as a Patagonian Kap Dwa. The Kap Dwa was a giant man captured by Spanish sailors in 1673. His stuffed body has been on display in English sideshows since 1900. In the 1930s, two doctors and a radiologist examined the Kap Dwa at Mr Bartom’s home and found ‘no perceptual evidence of it being a fake.’ They conjectured that it was some kind of conjoined twin that could perceive the world from two different perspectives at the same time.”
“Shortly as the bus turns the bend, note the East gate to the right. Standing proudly above it is Chester’s most famous landmark, the East Gate Clock. It’s the second most photographed clock tower in the country.”
“If you look straight ahead you will see Shakespeare’s birthplace. We know that a man called Robert Arden had a daughter, Mary, who was the youngest of seven. She was his favourite so he left her money and land. John Shakespeare heard of Mary’s good fortune and they were married and went to live in Henry Street in Stratford. There they had eight children, the third of which was William. It is thought that the original stone floors in Shakespeare’s birthplace are made from a stone quarry near Wilmcote. This stone was also used to build the floor of the Houses of Parliament in London.”
“To the right is where the Forest of Arden once stood. In Shakespeare’s time, this would have been a track through a forest. Although it was a large dense forest it disappeared very quickly because the trees were chopped down and sent to the coast to build ships. Henry VIII built many ships using this wood, and so did his daughter, Elizabeth I, who also needed many ships to fight against the Spanish Armada. Today, all the trees are gone, but you can see the beautiful view of the rolling Cotswold Hills, which stretch as far as Bath.”
“As we circle around this bend I will tell you a little bit about the famous architecture of Bath. Much of Bath was designed by John Wood, the Elder, and his son, John Wood, the Younger. The Woods believed that their circular architecture was a development from biblical times through to the druids.
“In 1740 John Wood the Elder created the most important survey of Stonehenge ever made. He believed that the Druids based their layouts on the Pythagorean planetary system. At that time, Sir Isacc Newton’s friend William Stukeley strongly disagreed with Wood’s ideas. He attacked Wood’s concepts because he failed to see the significance of recording the stones in such detail. However, Wood’s drawing became vitally important later as a section fell down in 1797. The ruins can now be reconstructed using computer-generated models based on Wood’s survey. It’s also said that both Wood and Stukeley were Freemasons.”
“Coming up on the right is a Masonic Lodge. Many Masonic halls are based on the designs of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The temple is said to have been destroyed in the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Although there is no evidence for the existence of the temple, sketches of it are described in the Hebrew Bible.
“The external facade of this building was transported from an old lodge in Durham, which had fallen into disrepair and was about to be demolished. The internal layout was partly reconstructed from collective memory and a single photograph.”
â€œLooking to your left you will see five standing stones. They were once part of a mysterious stone circle. No one knows how they got there.â€?
“The view on the right was once home to the third largest ship building port in the country. It was once so busy you could walk from one side of the harbour to the other on top of boats full of herring. In 1885 a Russian Schooner called the Demetrius was wrecked just outside the port along with its cargo of coffins. The next morning the townspeople found, much to their horror, many bodies in various stages of decomposition scattered along the harbour.
“The wrecked Russian schooner was named ‘Demetrius,’ a tribute to Demeter the Greek Goddess of Grain, Mother Earth. Demetrius was one of the central figures of the 1400–1200 BC Eleusinian Mysteries. The Mysteries were an ancient cult in which anyone could join as long as they were free of ‘blood guilt,’ such as committing murder. Although their secret core rituals are unknown, some theories suggest that they involved fire worship and consumption of a powerful psychoactive drink called Kykeon.”
“We are now on Great George Street. In the 1941 Blitz most of this street was destroyed; the last remaining house is coming up on your right-hand side. It is a typical example of a rich merchant’s house. I have a photograph of this street before it was bombed and it was absolutely beautiful.
“This last remaining building is now a one-stop wedding shop. The original owner of that house was a slave trader, so it’s still serving the same purpose now, as it did all them years ago!
“Hold on a second, what’s Moose’s van doing there? He must have been drunk last night in my local pub, and left his van. If anyone wants a pint, I’ll be sitting in there after!”
“As you look right you can see the Scarborough Spa, which was discovered by Mrs Thomas Farrer in the 17th century. Thousands of visitors once flocked to the town to benefit from the water’s medicinal qualities. It was not until the 1930s that the spa taproom was finally sealed off as the water was declared unfit for human consumption.
“After this, a popular reason to visit the town became extreme sports such as tuna fishing. Only the bravest men would set to sea to catch the giant tuna fish! A famous angler called Mr Stapleton-Cotton hooked two large yellow fin tuna estimated at well over 600lbs, but sadly lost both.”
“Straight ahead is the old Seaton junction railway line which was opened in 1886 and closed by Doctor Beeching in 1964. Beeching closed a third of Britain’s 7,000 railway stations, and his name later became the title and theme song of the mid-Nineties BBC TV comedy, ‘Oh, Doctor Beeching!’
“‘Oh! Dr Beeching, what have you done? There once were lots of trains to catch, but soon there’ll be none! I’ll have to buy a bike, ’cause I can’t afford a car. Oh! Dr Beeching! What a naughty man you are.’”
“Now if you look to your right you can see the beautiful Axe valley, which is home to plenty of wildlife. They say there are more birds and wildlife on this tramway than you will find outside the ODEON cinema in Exeter on a Saturday night, so keep your eyes open gentlemen.”
“Underneath the bridge ahead you will see the Glasgow coat of arms which features the four miracles of St Mungo:
“Here is the bird that never flew, Here is the tree that never grew, Here is the bell that never rang, Here is the fish that never swam.”
A famous train was named after St Mungo. The train was an A1 Pacific which was designed by Arthur Peppercorn. It became known as one of the best steaming locomotives to ever run in Britain. Peppercorn retired from British Railways in 1949, after only 2 years with Dr Beeching’s new regime. He died on 3rd March 1951. St Mungo was last seen in York in 1966 before it was cut up into scrap.
â€œThe hill on your right was constructed from layers of mud, soil, clay and stones. Originally built on the orders of William I to dominate the former Viking city, it was once fortified with a circular mote and topped with a wooden tower. On several occasions it has been conquered, destroyed and refortified. It is now a protected heritage monument.â€?
“We are now passing over an underground bookstore which has a tunnel connecting it to a building called The Radcliffe Camera. Camera is the Latin word for ‘room.’ This room once held only scientific and history books. The first book to be placed in this library was Thomas Carte’s ‘A General History of England.’”
“In 2009 the Skegness Standard reported an April Fool’s joke that suggested the Clock Tower was going to be moved to a museum. The locals were outraged with the thought that their famous landmark was going to be taken away, and many had suggestions for how we might save it.”
“Look over to the right now and you will see the area where the old Hancock amusement arcade once stood. It is said that these amusements had more light bulbs than any other in England. Local man Mr Frank Adey recalled the spectacle on a cold winter’s evening in February 1934:
‘The rain was heavy and there was a biting wind, but that did not stop us gathering in the street. The sea began to encircle the entire building as bright blue and red flashes sparked across its surface. Then there was a huge bang and the entire building went dark and floated away into the sea. The next morning we were all out on the beach looking to reclaim some of the pennies that we had spent over the years in Hancock’s.’
It is said that one old lady did not escape the building and on that fateful night she was washed away glued to her favourite slot machine – Paradise Flush.’”
“Up ahead you can see the old path that was taken on the bus journey to the Blaydon Races. A famous song was sung about these races, which refers to a race meeting in Blaydon on 9th of June 1862. The song describes the hazardous journey to get there:
“’Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun; Thor was fower-an-twenty on the ‘bus, man, hoo they danced an’ sung; They called on me to sing a sang, aw sung them Paddy Fagan, Aw danced a jig an’ swung my twig that day aw went to Blaydon.’”
“Looking to the right now you will see the Old Stamp House where William Wordsworth once worked when he was a distributor of stamps. Later he was to become one of England’s greatest travel writers. Countless tourists have wandered the Lakes looking through the eyes of Wordsworth. A passage of his book called a ‘Guide to the Lakes’ reads:
DIRECTIONS AND INFORMATION FOR TOURISTS “A foot road passing behind Rydal Mount and under Nab Scar to Grasmere offers very favourable views of the Lake and the Vale, looking back towards Ambleside. The horse road, which runs along the western side of the lake under Loughrigg Fell, as mentioned before, does justice to the beauties of this small mere, of which the traveller who keeps the high road is not always aware.”
“Over the lake and behind the hills you can see Coniston Water, where Sir Donald Campbell lost his life in 1967 (aged 45). He was attempting to set a world water speed record unsurpassable to any foreign competitor. His boat was pulled out of the water in 2001 and is currently been rebuilt into a working craft that will run at speeds of up to 100mph. The Bluebird Project Leader Bill Smith said: We want it to be a living exhibit rather than a facsimile of what it once was’.
“Today the Lakes are used commercially as reservoirs. The water is carried away via an underground Victorian tunnel that was built in 1894. The genius behind its construction means that the water can be moved by gravity all the way to Manchester, 84-mile’s away! Where it is then used to fill baths, wash cars and brew the beer for their taverns.”
‘A General History Of Timeless Landscapes’ was produced throughout the space of two years. Each image was taken from a ‘circular’ guided tour in different locations throughout the UK.
Each tour immerses the traveller in a world of facts about their immediate landscape. As the passengers view the world it gazes back at them. The land becomes alive through our awareness of the knowledge that it holds. As W.G Sebald famously wrote-
‘things... know more about us than we know about them: They carry the experiences they have had with us inside them - and are - in fact the book of our History opened before us.’
Thanks to all the photojournalism lecturers at the London College of Communication who have changed my way of thinking about photography