Hadleigh in Place


Hadleigh in Place was a multi-disciplinary arts programme that aimed to reveal and re-imagine the unusual, personal and special characteristics of Hadleigh and its environs through five artists’ residencies and commissions. Mat Do's specially commissioned film LEAD / LIGHT was premiered at HOFS, and Mat curated Citadel Screenings - a series of artists’ and documentary films for the project. The programme culminated in a weekend of activity and an exhibition at HOFS on 25 and 26 May 2013.

Artist Simon Callery invited people to join two geological walks led by Rosalind Smith and Ian Mercer of the Essex Rock and Mineral Society to understand how geology forms the landscape of the area and produced a photographic, drawn and text based document. Artist and writer Rachel Lichtenstein gave an illustrated talk on the lives of people associated with the Thames Estuary and South Essex shoreline, with a series of photographic portraits by James Price. Damien Robinson dressed the fire station’s former practice tower in thousands of recycled CDs reflecting local walking routes in and around Hadleigh. Sue Willis created an artist’s interpretation of the Hadleigh in Place project in newsprint following the project’s evolution.

The programme was supported by Arts Council England and Essex County Council.

Soft Geology

Simon Callery

Guide to the Images

Hadleigh is known to the art world through Constable’s painting ‘Hadleigh Castle’, 1829. It is adramatic image of man’s best efforts crushed by the overwhelming power of nature, a central theme of C19th Romanticism. Constable’s painting signals the rise of landscape as a subject for art and touches on the fundamental narrative of how landscapes form.

The narrative reveals the sequence of geological events that created the estuarine landscape where the remains of Hadleigh Castle are found. This part of south-east Essex has been formed, above all else, by the action of water, either as warm or cool seas, freshwater rivers or glacial ice, over millions of years. Beneath the surface deposits of clays and sands, is chalk, which was laid down when this part of the earth’s crust was situated further south and under a shallow tropical sea during the Cretaceous period, 145 – 66 million years ago. As this part of the world was shunted north, water draining from the Welsh mountains to the east and melt water pouring from glaciers encroaching from the north shaped a vast delta of water channels. Fluctuating sea and land levels have maintained the relationship with the water, which carried in the clays and sands that give the landscape its present material character. This is soft geology and can be unstable. Unstable landscapes are prone to move as they seek equilibrium. Signs of this process grow more evident as we approach where the river valley meets the North Sea. There is no better example of this than the sight of Hadleigh Castle collapsing on a landslide down towards the river valley floor.

This project is a research into how the accessible and everyday aspects of landscape and architecture, recorded in photographs, provide clues to what lies underneath our feet. An understanding of the underlying geology leads in turn to an awareness of landscape as a dynamic and changing environment. The idea of landscape as static or enduring -as proposed by much landscape-based art - evaporates.

1. Ancestral River

The brand new Morrison’s supermarket is built on the Raleigh Hills - gravel terraces high above the present day Thames river valley. These gravels were carried from Kent and were deposited by the waters of the ancestral Thames and Medway, which, 700,000 years ago, flowed north over Hadleigh. This present day high ground was once a river bed lying below land level. It is now left stranded as the less resistant deposits around it have been eroded and carried away. The ancestral river would have flowed through Hadleigh at a height now occupied only by the air above the supermarket.

The Thames was diverted to its current course as a consequence of the encroachment of the Anglian ice sheet, which penetrated this far south 450,000 years ago. The ice effectively blocked the water from its earlier north-bound course forcing it to divert and to carve out a new course draining away to the east. The Anglian ice sheet was up to 1000 metres in height and extended as far south as the outskirts of current Chigwell and Brentwood.

2. St James the Less

The two best known buildings in Hadleigh, the Saxon Church, St James the Less and Hadleigh Castle, are stone. This is somewhat contradictory since there is no local stone. It implies the architects of both buildings were involved in high status work. All the stone would have been brought in across the river from Kent or gathered up from the glacial deposits to the north of the county. St James the Less incorporates Kentish ragstone, chunks of sarsen and pudding stone, a conglomerate with sacred significance to the Saxon builders.

3. Shipwright’s Wood

Although there is no local stone the geology does provide opportunity for specific types of commercial exploitation. The historic woodlands around Hadleigh remain in place because the soil is poor, too sandy or full of gravel for other use. These woods are maintained and chestnut and hornbeam thrive and are coppiced.

There are pits and backfilled pits in West Wood. They are signs of local farmers or landowners seeking profit from small-scale gravel extraction. In terms of using geology for profit the best-known local example is the Salvation Army brick making at Hadleigh Farm. In many ways the geology here is perfect for brick making as it consists of fine sands and clay, providing all the materials. By 1912 brick production here had reached two million per year. The barges that used to take these bricks to build east London returned full of rubbish which was used for landfill and reclamation of marshland at Benfleet Creek and Hadleigh Ray. The brick clay pits are now out of use and flooded.

4. Water Course

This image shows a stream making its way down a slope in Hadleigh Country Park on route to Benfleet Creek. A source for this stream is found higher up where there is a spring line. The emergence of water at this point is evidence of a change in geology, in this case, from sand to clay forcing the water to emerge.

One sign of a spring is the presence of reed beds. These can be used to locate spring lines and are very evident in the woodlands around Hadleigh. Although the landscape is cut through with numerous water channels leading to the marsh and salt marsh of the river valley, this area is the driest in the UK in terms of annual rainfall.

5. Flint

In the very centre of this image is a tiny piece of flint lying in the middle of a small stream running off Sandpit Hill. It is so ordinary and such an everyday sight as to be of no significance at all. The story attached to how a piece of flint got here is intricately bound up with the story of how the landscape was formed. This piece of flint wouldhave originated in the slurry-like Cretaceous period chalk seabed. As sea levels receded and land levels were pushed up, flints would have been exposed and eroded out of the chalk forming ancient beaches. These beaches of the highly resistant flint would be caught up by rivers and the flint would be carried off, eventually to be deposited elsewhere to places like the Rayleigh Hills. This flint is now making its way back down the hill to the river via this small stream. A big storm would help it on its way. Once in the river it will be carried out to sea again. In this process the shape of this broken flint will be rounded by the action of being rolled and tumbled by water as it was once on an ancient beach. It is possible to say that flint could go through this process many times as sea and land levels rise and fall over the expanse of geological time scales.

6. Drawing

Hadleigh Ray, Canvey Island and the river from Hadleigh Country Park.

I often make drawings in the landscape but very rarely exhibit them. Making a convincing drawing with just pencil and paper is an exercise, a challenge and an opportunity to look really carefully. I have included this drawing alongside the photographs because I am interested in seeing how drawings and photographs work in different ways, even when depicting the same subject.

Within the art world there is a debate about the threat photography poses to painting.

This debate rears its head on a regular basis often accompanied by proclamations of the death of painting. It is important to recognise what painting and drawing can do that photography cannot do.

7. Estuary

The view over Hadleigh Ray, Canvey Island and the Estuary to the Kent coastline from the Country Park is without parallel. Our industrialisation of the estuarine landscape is clear to see.

Like most people I am always affected when I encounter water; be it a lake, the river or the sea. I have always wanted to understand what it is about these places that can transform our moods and emotions so powerfully. For an artist, that would be knowledge worth having.

8. Rotational Landslide

This is a view looking towards Southend from within the shadow of the drum tower of Hadleigh Castle. This rolling landscape is an example of a rotational landslide - a mass of unstable landscape shifting and resettling lower down towards the floor of the river valley.

Water permeating down through the surface layers of sand reaches the underlying clay which then becomes lubricated until all the material above it begins to move and slides away. All the slopes of sandy deposits with underlying clay are candidates for rotational landslide.

9. Hadleigh Castle

What we see as a romantic ruin is in reality an example of bad planning. Hadleigh Castle was built to have a commanding position overlooking the mouth of the estuary. In order to have this strategic overview the architects obviously thought it was worth the risk of building on this slope. Most probably the sheer weight of the masonry of the immensely thick defensive castle walls bearing down on soft and sloping ground would have sealed its fate.

This is a lesson for anyone eyeing this landscape for development and exploitation. The specific nature of the geology, its instability and dynamic nature has kept us at a distance and helped to preserve its character.


Mat Do

LEAD / LIGHT, a short film by Mat Do, was commissioned for Hadleigh in Place and premiered at HOFS in May 2013. The film explores the symbolism of the Thames Estuary and South Essex landscape, and the major influence that aspirational migration has had and continues to have in sculpting the region’s collective consciousness. To view go to:

Estuary: Working Lives

Rachel Lichtenstein

In this short film Rachel Lichtenstein reveals the working lives of people associated with the Thames Estuary and the South Essex and Kent shorelines through a series of oral history interviews. These memories from the river have been mixed with ambient sound recordings whilst on location with photographic portraits by James Price.


Damien Robinson

Damien Robinson, a Southend based artist, was commissioned to create a temporary installation on the former training tower of the old fire station, serving as a beacon to the centre’s development as artists’ studios and community facilities. The tower was dressed in over a thousand recycled CDs, collected from local groups and individuals, into which patterns were worked drawn from local references and walking routes in and around Hadleigh.

The artwork became a visual reference point for the town, alluding to the towers of Hadleigh Castle, which acted as a beacon to ships approaching London up the Thames Estuary. Illuminated at night, the contrasting light and dark of the CD patterning loomed unexpectantly from different vantage points around the town. The installation remained in position for six months.

Photos: Anna Lukala

An Echo

Sue Willis

Sue Willis produced an artistic interpretation of Hadleigh in Place in the form of a limited edition printed news sheet, An Echo, drawing upon Hadleigh’s strong associations with print media.