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Corrugated Iron, and Dungeness too…

Perhaps oddly, corrugated iron buildings seem to form part of my my search for a little bit of paradise! I’m drawn to them. I can’t drive in the countryside or city without trying to spot them. And, where possible, photograph them.

For me there’s a fascination in the contradictions inherent in corrugated iron. Where, on the one hand you have prefabrication, mass production and an attempt to conquer the world with corrugated iron and on the other you have a local need and local resources combining in corrugated iron to create utterly unique, one-off structures.

Corrugated iron structures are, by design and intention, explicitly functional, though their original function has often been left behind long ago. Some would say they’re brutal and irrelevant structures too, but I’d strongly disagree. For me, in their seeming simplicity and functionality, lies a kind of beauty. However, it’s a fleeting beauty as these seemingly timeless structures are rapidly disappearing – literally dissolving – into the soil.

Corrugated Iron posts therefore record and celebrate corrugated iron and the boats, railway stations, farmyard sheds;, churches and homes that have been constructed from it…

That said,this post is a bit of a fraud as it has nothing to do with corrupted iron! I’m hijacking the post to share some gorgeous images of one of the most hauntingly beautiful and oddest places I’ve ever visited – Dungeness in Kent.

(There are a few corrugated iron buildings there, honest!)

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The name Dungeness derives from Old Norse nes: “headland”, with the first part probably connected with the nearby Denge Marsh. Popular etymologyascribes a French origin to the toponym, giving an interpretation as “dangerous nose”.

Dungeness is a headland on the coast of Kent, England, formed largely of a shingle beach, one of the largest in the world, in the form of a cuspate foreland. It shelters a large area of low-lying land, Romney Marsh.

There have been five lighthouses at Dungeness. At first only a beacon was used to warn sailors, but this was replaced by a proper lighthouse in 1615. As the sea retreated, this had to be replaced in 1635 by a new lighthouse nearer to the water’s edge known as Lamplough’s Tower.

As more shingle was thrown up, a new and more up-to-date lighthouse was built near the sea in 1792 by Samuel Wyatt. This lighthouse was about 35 m (115 ft) high and of the same design as the third Eddystone Lighthouse. From the mid-19th century, it was painted black with a white band to make it more visible in daylight; similar colours have featured on the subsequent lighthouses. This lighthouse was demolished in 1904, but the lighthouse keepers’ accommodation, built in a circle around the base of the tower, still exists.

In 1901 building of the fourth lighthouse, the High Light Tower, started. It was first lit on 31 March 1904 and still stands today. It is no longer in use as a lighthouse but is open as a visitor attraction. It is a circular brick structure, 41 m (135 ft) high and 11 m (36 ft) in diameter at ground level. It has 169 steps, and gives visitors a good view of the shingle beach.

As the sea receded further, and after building the nuclear power station which obscured the light of the 1904 lighthouse, a fifth lighthouse had to be built. This started operation on 20 November 1961 and is constructed of precast concrete rings. Its pattern of black and white bands is impregnated into the concrete. It remains in use today, monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations and Planning Centre at Harwich, Essex.

There are two nuclear power stations at Dungeness, the first built in 1965 and the second in 1983. They are within a wildlife sanctuary deemed a Site of Special Scientific Interest and hugely ironically birds flourish in the warmer water created by the power station’s outflow!

The older power station closed on 31 December 2006, while the newer station has had its licence extended to 2018.

In addition to the power station and lighthouse, there is a scattered collection of dwellings, called ‘the Village’. The majority are wooden, many built around old railway coaches, were previously owned and occupied by fishermen, whose boats lay on the shingle beach; however, increasingly the community became more bohemian and property prices soared as people tried to escape the rat race. (Mmmm, that sounds a bit like a boater’s mindset!)

Perhaps the most famous house is Prospect Cottage, formerly owned by the late artist and film director Derek Jarman. The cottage is painted black, with a poem, part of John Donne’s “The Sunne Rising”, written on one side in black lettering. But the garden is the main attraction: reflecting the bleak, windswept landscape of the peninsula, Derek Jarman’s garden is made of pebbles, driftwood, scrap metal and a few hardy plants.

All round it’s a quirky and rather un-English place and one that lingers in the memory.

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There’s something definitely ‘Wizard-of-Oz’-ish about the place, more Dust Bowl America than Kent, it’s worth exploring if you get the chance.

Other posts in the Corrugated Iron Series can be accessed by clicking HERE.

2 comments
  1. To Dungeness by Steam Train… |

    […] Today, for example we spent a cracking’ day riding the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (post to follow) and then, after a picnic in the pebbles, we spent a few hours beach combing at Dungeness (post to follow, though I’ve written about this hauntingly beautiful place before, HERE…). […]

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