Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Postcard from Essex: Jaywick

Jaywick Martello tower is one of many defensive structures built along the eastern and southern coasts of England to keep out Napoleon's forces in the early 1800s, inspired by similar structures on the island of Malta. Those on the southern coast were built first, and the eastern Martello towers followed a couple of years later, with hundreds of thousands of Kentish bricks transported to Essex by barge. Now renovated and open as a tourist attraction, Jaywick's solid brick tower tells the story of these defences, as well as hosting changing exhibitions. A text work by poet Julia Bird encirlces the building in concrete, and her poem 'Watching the Red Arrows from Jaywick Beach', installed onto the windows of the rooftop viewing area, incorporates the thoughts, hopes and desires of local residents. Given their fortress-like appearance from the outside, the Martello is surprisingly light inside. Many are empty, but some of the Martello towers in Kent have been converted into homes; there's currently one for sale in Clacton as a business premises for £220,000. Jaywick Martello is adjacent to Jaywick's notoriously run-down 'plotlands' estates (temporary housing intended as holiday homes, but settled permanently after the Second World War). Jaywick is regarded as being the most deprived area in England - see Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope's film Jaywick Escapes, which gives voice to some of the residents and captures the isolation of life lived on the edge of a receding coastline, and at the end of the bus line. A couple of miles along the coast, past sand drifts and rows and rows of offshore wind turbines, is the sprawling seaside resort of Clacton, complete with amusements and a pier; a plaque is the only reminder of the large Butlins holiday camp which stood there until its demolition and replacement with housing in the mid-1980s. On a drizzly, windswept day, this is the English seaside at its bleakest.

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