Food On The Move: The Extraordinary World Of The Motorway Service Area

food on the move

Food on the Move is a lustrously presented social and cultural history of the motorway service area in Britain. After finding the distant origins of this non-place in the coaching inns of the turnpike era, David Lawrence traces the germination of the service station as we know it back to the post-war bureaucratic imbroglio it emerged from.

Lawrence treats the MSA not as a static historical subject but as a complex, ever-changing institution formed through a panoply of cultural, commercial and political processes. Following a traditional historical analysis of how we arrived at the present iteration of the MSA, Lawrence breaks the service station into its constituent parts and explores each discreetly—from table setting, portion control and nomenclature to shop, carpet and ecology.

food on the move 1

© David Lawrence

Although a serious work of historical scholarship, Food on the Move borrows the form of an architectural book and is furnished with beautiful archival photography. This is supplemented by richly-detailed scans of menus, advertising material and other interesting ephemera one might reasonably expect to have been lost. This book’s scarcity is surprising, particularly in light of its gorgeous presentation and unique subject. Admittedly the history of motorway service stations is a niche pursuit, but a slew of far inferior microhistories have been coveted by the reading public in the past decade.

food on the move 2

© David Lawrence




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Newcastle Through the Eyes of Nazi Planners

When war planners during the Second World War settled on aerial bombing raids as an effective strategy, the need for an unprecedented level of geographic intelligence intensified. In order to ensure maximum destruction both sides looked beyond traditional military targets—weapons storage facilities, airfields and bases—to the infrastructure embedded deep within the urban fabric of towns and cities that was vital in sustaining the war effort. Under this doctrine it was as useful to target a remote Army training facility as it was an inner city steelworks.

Nazi Germany employed a range of tools for gathering geospatial intelligence, from planting German spies on British soil to deploying Luftwaffe planes equipped with cameras on flyovers to create detailed topographical impressions of major targets. Perhaps the most useful data on British cities was inadvertently provided by the Allies themselves in the form of the ubiquitous Ordnance Survey maps of entire country. While most military sites of critical importance were excluded from these maps, they still furnished the German planners with a detailed—but largely generalised—knowledge of the geographical specifics of any city they needed.

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Cover page of Nazi Object Maps for “The Border” region. © Library of Congress.

Ordnance Survey maps certainly provided Nazi Germany with the most detailed cartography of Newcastle and Gateshead they could hope for. In a series of maps—entitled Militärgeographische Einzelangaben über England: Militärgeographische Objektkarten und Objektbildern or roughly The Military Geography of England: Object Maps and Object Images­—Ordnance Survey maps were overlaid with purple outlines indicating a ‘military object’.

RC Wheeler points out that although this project was grand in ambition, the ‘scheme was flawed by shoddy execution and by the inadequate base of topographic intelligence used to support it’. Wheeler’s analysis of the data used by Axis planners to map out Lincoln shows several mistakes, most glaringly the fact that ‘all but one of the engineering works are annotated “product unknown”—this in a city which had been one of the centres of production of tanks and aircraft in World War I’.

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Nazi map of the banks of the River Tyne, with markings denoting important strategic targets. © Library of Congress.

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Nazi map showing Blaydon and Scotswood with strategic targets marked. © Library of Congress.

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Nazi map showing the banks of the Tyne on the Newcastle side with important industrial targets marked. © Library of Congress.

The ‘object maps may have been ineffective as a war planning tool, but they’re an important historical document nonetheless. The Library of Congress has made available a full set of these pertaining to the route along the River Tyne and Wear on both sides, which you can browse online for free.

Library of Congress Militärgeographische Einzelangaben über England collection, originally published by Generalstab des Heeres, Abteilung für Kriegskarten und Vermessungswesen (IV. Mi.-Geo.) in Berlin 1941-42.

RC Wheeler, ‘German maps of England of World War II and associated publications’, Sheetlines 68 (Dec 2003): pp26-31.

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England’s Underwater Cities – Plashetts

plashetts underwater city

Map showing Plashetts. © Disused Stations

In a testament to the power of the legend of Atlantis, myth seems prevail when whispers of any potential underwater city are in the air. For decades the legend that an obscure mining village called Plashetts was submerged to facilitate the creation of Kielder Water has persisted. The artificial reservoir was constructed in the mid-1970s and opened in 1981 to meet the growing demands for water in the North of England. According to legend, if divers were to plunge to the bottom of the artificial reservoir they would be able to swim through the village, walk the streets of what once was Plashetts and perhaps even enter the old church or schoolhouse and bear witness to the toll 40 years of inundation has taken on a once-thriving community.

In contrast with Dunwich—which was the victim of natural forces—Plashetts was reputed to be the victim of enterprising planners and local officials. The myth was perhaps sustained by the British government’s history of using Compulsory Purchase Orders to seize land for large civil engineering projects. But would a malevolent authority really disenfranchise an entire village in their utilitarian zeal by clearing its population and flooding it with billions of gallons of water in order to strengthen their hydrological infrastructure?

Britain’s largely unwritten history of flooding remote rural settlements to create reservoirs only serves to add to the mystique. In 1939 the village of Mardale in the Lake District was submerged when the Haweswater valley became the Hawswater Reservoir to increase water supply to Greater Manchester in the North West of England. Before the submersion, its few villagers were moved out and the Royal Engineers were called in to demolish the buildings with explosives.  Mardale’s demise is well-documented and its story leaves little to the imagination but another one of its contemporary sunken villages of the early 20th century invites fables. In 1944 the former village of Derwent in Derbyshire was drowned to create the Ladybower Reservoir as a solution to increased demand for water in the East Midlands. Although the village was demolished planners left the church tower of Derwent standing as a memorial to the lost village. As the water levels rose steadily the spire could be seen poking out of the deep waters. It would eventually be destroyed with explosives in 1947 after being deemed unsafe. To this day, in the right conditions, the structural foundations of houses and even bridges in Mardale and Derwent can be seen.

ladybower reservoir underwater church

Church Tower in Ladybower Reservoir. © unknown, 1946.

Although a cartographic analysis will confirm that parts of what was formerly the village of Plashetts are submerged under Kielder Water, the true story is slightly more nuanced than folklore suggests. Plashetts was indeed once a thriving village with 500 residents and all the amenities you might expect of a classic village—place of worship, school and of course a village pub. Plashetts’s relatively short life began at the height of the mining industry in Victorian Britain when it was created to house workers of the nearby mine, quarry and brickworks. Its remote location in the rolling hills of Northumberland meant it could only be reached by rail. Plashetts railway station connected the village with Edinburgh to the South and Hexham to the North and served both freight and passenger services.

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Plashetts Railway Station in 1925. © John Alsop collection at Disused Stations.

The coal produced by the Duke of Northumberland’s mine was carried over the border into Scotland by pack ponies where it sold extremely well. By the start of World War I, the colliery at Plashetts employed 120 miners and its school had over 100 children enrolled. The village even had an active football team called Plashetts Rovers which played in a league with other local Northumberland sides. This paints a portrait of a blooming village very much in line with the legend—but this is where the real narrative deviates to contradict myth.

Subterranean conditions in the mine became increasingly torrid leading the miners of Plashetts to join the national 1926 General Strike by mine workers around the country who were protesting against decreasing wages and deteriorating working conditions. Although the national strike lasted just nine days, Plashetts held out for four months and by the time the miners returned to the pit the mine was more or less unworkable. The mine struggled on until 1928 when it was eventually shut down owing to a dramatic decrease in output. And so the mining industry which had been responsible for the birth of the village was also accountable for its death.  With the largest employer gone it was only a matter of time before residents left for opportunities elsewhere. Although the school managed to stay open until 1939, already by 1930—just two years after the colliery’s closure—the village was described as “remote and desolate, with many of its dwellings derelict, and a dwindling population”.

Although there were scattered attempts to revive the coal mine Plashetts had become completely desolate by the early 1960s. In 1962 the Forestry Commission took the decision to level the village completely, observing that all of the houses were in an advanced state of dereliction with no doors or windows and unstable roofs. Although the Royal Engineers Corp of the Army were scheduled to demolish the village, they were prevented from using their desired type of explosive. This left the forest workers themselves to destroy the shell of the village.

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Plashetts Wagonway running into Kielder Water. © Les Hull.

With the village almost completely demolished by the late 1960s—five years before the construction of Kielder Water—any rumours of an entire active village being flooded can be put to bed. The remains of most of the buildings can be found on land near the edge of the water, but that is not to say that parts of the remains of the old village were not submerged by the reservoir. Plashetts colliery itself was drowned along with the foundational remains of the village train station and some waggonway tracks in and out of the mine.

Archives of the Hexham Courant Newspaper

Beryl Charlton, Upper North Tynedale: A Northumbrian Valley and Its People

D.J. Coats, N.J. Ruffle, ‘The Kielder Water Scheme’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers

V.J. Hallam, Silent Valley: A History of the Derbyshire Villages of Ashopton and Derwent

‘The “Lost Village” of Mardale’, BBC Cumbria (November 2003)

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England’s Underwater Cities – Dunwich

For centuries we have delighted in the mythical possibility that the lost city of Atlantis remains undisturbed and exportable under the sea. Adventurers, explorers and even scientific investigators have dived into the mystery with the hopes of seeing the sunken city first hand. Atlantis remains elusive—its existence questionable—but the concept of the submerged settlement is not exclusive to the realms of legend.

In the United Kingdom thousands of communities have been lost in the past millennium. Their downfalls are mostly traceable to population shifts associated with rural flight and the decline of industry, but in a few unique cases entire cities and villages have been lost to water. Whether deliberately flooded or swallowed by the sea, the United Kingdom has more real underwater settlements than you might expect.

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© Dunwich Museum Fisk Collection

In the 12th century Dunwich, which lies on the Suffolk Coast of South East England, may have been as important as London to the nation’s commercial development. The affluent port city was the sixth largest in England, the capital of a Saxon kingdom and records from the period show that it had 19 places of worship and two hospitals. The city’s strategic location on the coast allowed it to thrive as a harbour serving shipping traffic from all around the world, attracting wealthy merchants who made it their base of trade. Much of Dunwich’s prosperity was owed to its blooming fishing industry and its fleet travelled as far as Iceland for fish to sell domestically and internationally.

Dunwich continued to grow well into the 13th century. The local shipbuilding industry was instrumental in helping King John enforce his recently-passed Magna Carta, kitting out military ships to fight the French who were complicit with the intransigent Barons opposing the new charter. By the middle of the century the port boasted 80 ships and was frequently called on to assist in military endeavours. Although there are no population records for the city at its zenith, Dunwich had all the hallmarks of a bustling medieval settlement—a plethora of places of worship, voluminous international trade and even parliamentary seats.

Despite the buoyancy of its markets, Dunwich’s existence was marked by a constant battle with nature. Throughout the 13th century officials frequently had to dig into the city fund to repair the storm-battered port. Its position on the fringes of the Suffolk coast meant that Dunwich was susceptible to flooding caused by freak weather and coastal erosion of the cliffs it rested on compounded the looming existential threat.

By 1268 local authorities had run out of money and failed to pay their debts and the city was seized by the King. The confrontation with the sea continued into the 14th century and in 1347 a storm destroyed more than a quarter of the city. This plunged Dunwich into permanent decline and was the first of many severe storms which ate into the city. By 1602 the combination of brutal storms and coastal erosion left Dunwich only a quarter of its original size and in 1755 the only remaining church had to be abandoned. By 2016, at least 2,000m of the old city had been lost. With churches, houses, farms and roads swallowed by the sea Dunwich is now a small hamlet with less than 200 inhabitants.


Map showing Medieval Dunwich. © Southampton University

For centuries the ancient city was the subject of local folklore which purported that the entire settlement lay dormant underwater—its infrastructure and architecture pristine, crying out for adventurers to map. One of the most persistent tales was that the bells of one of Dunwich’s submerged churches could be heard ringing from underwater during certain tidal conditions.

By the 1970s analysis of historical records by local historians had largely disproven the myth of the ringing bells, but hopes that vestiges of the old city remained underwater lived on. Dunwich held considerable allure for marine archaeologists and hands-on local researchers alike and it would eventually be local enthusiasts who catalysed progress in locating the remains of the city. Although excavations had taken place in 1935 by Ipswich Museum and in 1970 by The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History, their investigations were confined to land. Members of the North East Essex British Sub Aqua Club were the first to take the quest underwater when they began a series of dives off the coast of Suffolk in 1970. Conditions could be treacherous and they faced a constant fight against poor visibility. The team were selective in their dives, taking advantage of the weather whenever possible.

Despite faltering initially, after a few attempts the divers located some masonry remnants of All Saints Church and more discoveries soon followed. Along with the church remains they found sections of wall up to 15 feet long and pieces of a bridge. The divers became more sophisticated in their search throughout the 1970s and by the end of the decade had started mapping the remains they had found, which included at least two churches standing tall along with several other buildings. Grids were used to calculate the dimensions of the remains as the team began to document their research meticulously. Their findings were published by Jean and Stuart Bacon in 1979 in a book titled The Search for Dunwich City Under the Sea. The husband and wife team had previously written Ancient Dunwich: Suffolk’s Lost City, the first comprehensive history of the town since Thomas Gardner’s 1754 account.

Progress remained steady but tidal conditions and visibility on the ocean floor oscillated between low and zero, severely limiting their surveying efforts. It would not be until 2008 when Stuart Bacon teamed up with Professor David Sear at Southampton University to find the lost city that the full extent of Dunwich’s remains was revealed. The project team drew on a range of historical maps to roughly determine the position of each part of Dunwich. They then used sonar technology to create a 3D map showing what had been invisible to previous divers. Sonar works by bouncing acoustic signals off targets and measuring the sound which bounces back.

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3D visualisation of the remains of Dunwich created using sonar technology. © Southampton University

By the time the project concluded in 2013 it had found six new ruins on the seabed and 74 sites of potential archaeological interest. The researchers were able to confirm the precise boundaries of the city limits and the probable ruins of the old Town Hall and five places of worship. Wooden structures were found at the Northern end of the boundaries, suggesting that this was the location of the commercially vibrant port.

Professor Sear, summarising the project’s findings, noted that Dunwich “is a sobering example of the relentless force of nature on our island coastline. It starkly demonstrates how rapidly the coast can change, even when protected by its inhabitants”.

S.E. West, The excavation of Dunwich Town Defences, 1970

Archive of Dunwich Museum

David Sear, ‘Touching the Tide Project Report: Dunwich Marine Archaeology Survey’

University of Southampton Press Release, ‘Secret streets of Britain’s Atlantis are revealed’

Jean & Stuart Bacon, The Search for Dunwich City Under The Sea


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Topography melts into biography in Nick Papadimitriou’s Scarp. Landscape immersion becomes Papadimitriou’s analgesic for alienation from society as he is guided by a brew of scattered concepts—some grounded in the international avant-garde of the 20th century, others borrowed from obscure denominations of Christianity and Indian philosophy.

The book is ostensibly the distillation of thirty walks Papadimitriou undertook in 2011 around Scarp, an amorphous area covering much of the former County of Middlesex. Early on we’re warned that Scarp ‘is neither a detailed geographical and historical survey, nor a wholesome itinerary of “fine” places within easy reach of the metropolis written for the benefit of the casual walker’. True to his word, what follows is a haze of memory, polemic, psychogeography and transcendence. Pulled together this unusual blend forms what Papadimitriou calls deep topography.

“It’s about getting a very very dangerous balance between finding the overlooked and showing it to the other people who have an eye for the overlooked and not making the overlooked into something that is gazed at, you know, like people looking through the bars of a monkey house or something”.

Nick Papadimitriou speaking in The London Perambulator (2009) about the concept of deep topography.

In the course of his journey through Scarp, Papadimitriou encounters Celtic ‘thin places’—‘where a sense of something other lurks just behind the visible’. Engaging with thin places disconnects Papadimitriou from the present, allowing him live through the lives of those who were there before him. As he drifts through time and space Papadimitriou becomes a suicidal hippy runaway, a serial killer who lived for 300 years and his younger self, locked up in the 1970s for a string of arsons. Through the yogic concept of prakrti-laya—or ‘absorption into nature’—Nick becomes one with the landscape, allowing Middlesex to flow through him.

Fantastical as it can be, this is essentially a work of topographical writing, through derelict brownfields, beaten canal paths and sewer farms in a changing London. Scarp, along with Papadimitriou’s elucidation of the concept of deep topography, is a seminal contribution to the field of psychogeography (a term Papadimitriou disavows).

I highly recommend watching John Rogers’s The London Perambulator before reading this book. Scarp’s impact is going to be strongest for those with a grounding in the epistemological development of psychogeography as a form of subversion and artistic method, especially those scornful towards the sanitised academic strain whose output is confined to over-priced and under-read academic monographs where re-hashing of theory rules supreme and praxis is scant.

As a side note, it’s an absolute wonder that this book was published by a mainstream publisher. Credit to commissioning editor!

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Cumberland Hodge Fights the Devil in Gateshead

cumberland hodge

All ye whom literature engages,
Come read my book through all its pages,
It far surpasses former ages
For truth and diction;
Compar’d with which the wisest sages
Wrought nought but fiction.

When the irrepressible Wesleyan preacher Hodgson Casson arrived in Gateshead in 1827 and stood in the pulpit of the chapel on High Street to deliver a sermon only a few of the faithful stared back at him. Ever the populist, Casson told the empty benches how displeased he was with the low attendance and took off into the night. Once he was as far as Sunderland Road he turned around—coat and hat stuffed underarm—and ran as fast as his legs would permit back to the chapel, all the way shouting those magnetic words… ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’. Hot on his heels and tantalised by the promise of a ruckus, the crowd piled into the chapel after him. Casson proceeded to the front, availed himself of coat and hat and rolling up shirtsleeves addressed the clamouring crowd. ‘My friends you have come to see a fight; you shall not be disappointed; for I am just going to have one with the devil!’. Casson flowed on with ebullience, delivering a characteristically effervescent sermon to his unsuspecting congregation.

News of Casson’s stunt spread across Gateshead and into Newcastle. Soon after a satirical account was published reimagining the event as a boxing match between Cumberland Hodge and Brimstone Harry. The piece took the form of a poem written by the devil himself, a lamentation over Gateshead in which he impugns the fair old town for abandoning him. Thousands of copies were sold and Casson remained the talk of the town for weeks after, firmly imprinting himself into the collective consciousness of Gateshead.

O Gateshead, Gateshead, Gateshead, O!
What makes you so uncivil,
To turn your back on your best friend–
Poor old Nick the Devil?

hodgson casson

Part of the charismatic Casson’s brilliance was that he could generate this kind of strong buzz. He was well-travelled and reached his zenith in Gateshead, where he could address any audience with signature vivacity. Yet more remarkably if there was no crowd, he almost certainly would be sure to attract one. Casson’s showmanship made him unorthodox among his Methodist preacher peers but few would deny that he could get the job done. Before long a waning congregation was swelling, with many travelling over the water from Newcastle to hear him speak each week.

Casson’s short time in Gateshead was dotted with apocryphal tales of Messiah-like happenings. His hagiographic autobiography effuses on his time in Swalwell, where he found a general dereliction of Methodist morals and local workers committing acts of impiety on the Sabbath. One particular group of fellas showed particular indifference to Casson’s firebrand exhortations on how they should be occupying themselves on their only day of rest. After the preacher cited them as paragons of turpitude in a lecture that evening, the group were incensed and such was their distaste that they resolved to stone Casson to death. The following day—so the story goes—one of the conspirators was overcome with a mortal ailment. On his deathbed the man known only as W.T. repented with Casson at his side before succumbing to his illness.

The scorn towards Casson abated but did not disappear in Swalwell, at least until another fantastical occurrence. The tale holds that a group of disenchanted disbelievers crowded his horse as he rode through the village. One of the gathered took aim at Casson with a stone, but before he could get his shot off Cumberland Hodge reminded them of what happened to W.T.—the last man to threaten him with violence. Casson’s thundering words caused several of the men to atone on the spot and became some of his warmest admirers. Ever the forgiver, Casson welcomed them with an abundance of love and in his correspondence would refer to them as his ‘Swalwell darlings’!

Although his tenure in Gateshead lasted only two years—from 1827-1829—Casson left a distinct impression. He subsequently spent two years in Durham and another two in North and South Shields before moving to the non-conformist parish of Birstal in what is now East Riding of Yorkshire.

R.W. Hetherington, ‘Early Recollections of Gateshead Fell – The Chapels’, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle (7th January 1882): p3.

A. Steele, Christianity in Earnest as Exemplified in the Life and Labours of the Rev. Hodgson Casson (1853)

Dr. Doublespur, The Devil’s Lamentation over Gateshead (date unkown)


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Art as Technique

When Calvin Payne decided to release a book documenting his research into the history of manhole and sewer covers in Sheffield he got an unusual amount of media attention. A national tabloid newspaper called him “The Drainspotter”—running an article with the tagline ‘Sheffield man spends his time taking pictures of manhole covers – it’s not very exciting but he thinks it’s grate’. The article’s semi-smarmy tone frames him as an eccentric in pursuing an unconventional but ultimately inconsequential pastime. But Payne is much more than a good old English eccentric—he is subversive. In trekking around Sheffield, staring down at something tens of millions of people walk over idly their whole life, Payne is dragging us through a process of defamiliarisation—rendering the familiar ultimately unfamiliar whether he means to or not.

The drive to defamiliarise punctuated philosophy throughout the 20th century, from Michel Foucault’s genealogies of complex social structures like sexuality and crime/punishment to feminist thinkers who unpacked gender roles. The development of theories of space and place at the same time shared this preoccupation with defamiliarisation—the Situationist International’s psychogeography is the most blaring example.

Defamiliarisation as a theoretical motif certainly didn’t have its genesis in Viktor Shklovsky’s 1917 essay Art as Technique, but he was certainly one of the first to distil the concept from art and crystallise it as a useful framework for future investigations.


Viktor Shklovsky

And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war. “If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.” And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important…

After we see an object several times, we begin to recognize it. The object is in front of us and we know about it, but we do not see it -hence we cannot say anything, significant about it. Art removes objects from the automatism of perception in several ways.

Read the full essay here, in which Shklovsky further elucidates the concept by drawing on examples in the work of Pushkin and Tolstoy.

The concept of defamiliarisation seems especially pertinent to the study of hidden geographies and unmediated space, the very bread of butter of Metal and Dust.




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Oystershell Hall, Newcastle

Although considered something of a gastronomic indulgence now, Oysters were once staples of the English diet. In 1910 the British Government estimated that the oyster trade was the most important industry in the world and in Victorian metropoles oysters were sold freely on the street. Pubs even offered them gratis to entice punters through the door. Their wide availability meant it was not unknown for local authorities to designate them a ‘poor food’, exempting them from taxes to keep them affordable.[1]

Britain’s relationship with the oyster stretches back at least as far as the Roman occupation. A boom triggered by increasing populations, intensifying poverty and the advent of rail transportation began in the 1830s and continued through the middle of the century.[2] Although there are no records of oyster production in Newcastle and its environs there are certainly indications of consumption. Paneling recently lifted off the front of a barber shop in South Shields revealed the ghost sign of for the West End Fish Mart whose primary offering was oysters.

oyster market london

Working class Londoners queue up to buy oysters.

Another relic is Oystershell Lane. The street—near St. James Park—was swallowed by the expanding Scottish and Newcastle Breweries reducing it to an internal service road in their vast complex. Oystershell Lane lay dormant until the demolition of the breweries and disappeared completely when the site was leveled. As part of the development of Newcastle Science City Oystershell Lane seems to have been resurrected as one of the paths cutting through the new park.

Oystershell Lane presumably took its name from a quite remarkable building that once stood at the edge of a garden on the adjoining Bath Lane. Oystershell Hall was an ordinary dwelling, save for the fact that the whole building was covered with oyster shells from the ground to the top of the chimney (with the exception of the roof). They were fixed on the building with the inside of the shells facing out. It was resplendent in sunlight and the concave shells produced a brilliant effect that turned the house into a local curiosity. Oystershell Hall was surrounded by orchards and well-tended gardens looked after by Mr. Moat, the local gardener who also owned the house.

oystershell hall

Sketch of Oystershell Hall from the memory of John McKay.

According to the recollections of John McKay who visited Oystershell Hall, it was pulled down sometime between 1850 and 1860 and seems to have been largely erased from the record. Miraculously this marvelous piece of Geordie architecture did not make it into any of Pevsner’s guides, or anyone’s guides as far as I can tell.


[1] Drew Smith, Oyster: A Gastronomic History (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2015).

[2] Robert Neild, The English, The French and the Oyster (Quiller Press, 1995).


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doha mall 1

A replica of Venice’s canals inside the Villaggio Mall in Doha. © Lars Plougmann.

Shopping malls are surreal. Time stops in them and you are simultaneously somewhere and nowhere. The sumptuous consumer paradises have no history—they just exist. They force you to adapt to a new geography—one of a prescribed route through nameless air-conditioned streets. They are places of leisure—where you can enter early doors and leave after dark having had your every need catered for in the same building.

Once you’re in you can’t escape. Elevators and air-conditioning enable an architectural space where distinct places blend into one—the cultural centre, theme park, cinema, restaurant, nightclub, supermarket, fashion boutique and sometimes even art gallery, casino, transport hub, hotel, mini-golf course, aquarium, ski resort and beach.[1] Yet despite being a blur of all of these places, the mall is still curiously a non-place. Like airports, supermarkets or the dentist’s office, we do not form a meaningful bond with them architecturally like we might with an opulent country house or Gothic cathedral. Non-places are there to be passed through, we’re not meant to form a bond—they are ‘lived through in the present’.

doha mall 2

A simulation of dawn inside the Villaggio Mall’s replica of Venice’s canals. © Erik Torner.

Rem Koolhaas calls these junk spaces. In his playful 2001 essay Junkspace, he riffs on the tendency towards such totalising spaces, connecting them with the rationalisation of Modernity. The piece is cleverly constructed with tantalising prose and luscious inviting imagery and offers no absolutes, mirroring precisely the junk spaces he describes. It is to be drifted through—just like the shopping mall, so aside the highlighters and reference works and enjoy.

Superstrings of graphics, transplanted emblems of franchise and sparkling infrastructures of light, LED’s, and video describe an authorless world beyond anyone’s claim, always unique, utterly unpredictable, yet intensely familiar. Junkspace is hot (or suddenly artic); fluorescent walls, folded like melting stained glass, generate additional heat to raise the temperature of Junkspace to levels where you could cultivate orchids. Pretending histories left and right, its contents are dynamic yet stable, recycled or multiplied as in cloning: forms search for function like hermit crabs for a vacant shell…

Full text available here.

[1] These all exist inside at least one shopping mall around the world—in most cases in several.

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Guerilla Heritage in Newcastle

Newcastle does not boast much in the way of Czech heritage so it’s surprising to see a blue plaque dedicated to Jára Cimrman, the famous inventor, traveler, philosopher, detective, amateur obstetrician, writer and poet. Cimrman’s national acclaim was recognised when the Czech people voted him The Greatest Czech in 2005. Although he topped the polls, Cimrman was disqualified for the trifling matter of him never actually existing.

The deindustrialisation and gentrification of Ouseburn has brought with it a glut of creatives so it seems fitting that this is where the Czech legend’s blue plaque has appeared. In a worthy tribute to Cimrman, the plaque lives on a building with a door that leads into thin air, which is a sterling example of a Thommason.

cimrman plaque newcastle 1

cimrman plaque newcastle 2

His dedication reads:

Jára Cimrman
1869 – 1966 approx.

Bohemian philosopher, adventurer and inventor.

Jára Cimrman invented the electric light bulb, assisted by local inventor Joseph Swan. Thomas Edison later copied the idea and patented it in his name.

Cimrman is also noted for donating Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle after winning it from Lord Armstrong in a game of cards.

Quite a remarkable fellow, all considered. It’s not surprising someone wants to highlight his universal genius and undeniable contributions to Newcastle’s history.

Cimrman (TSIM-er-mahn) was the invention of radio hosts in the 1960s but his popularity as a mythical figure in Czech history skyrocketed leading to apperances in many books, plays and films. Cimrman’s status as national anti-hero has been cemented by memorialisation in street names and playful commemorative plaques all around the Czech Republic, and even a renowned theatre in Prague bears his name. The NYT explored his history and achievements in a piece suitably titled ‘Feeling Short of Real Heroes, Thus Fond of a Fake One‘.

cimrman bust

Auto-bust of Cmirman, whose face was never photographed.


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