Another walk and I find occult markings chalked on the path to Fort Clarence in Rochester…
As a walker, often deep in thought, I spend a lot of time examining the ground beneath my feet (instead of looking up, which is what I think Iain Sinclair prescribes for a fruitful walk) and one thing I’ve noticed is the amount of pharmaceutical litter on the streets. From headache pills and cough sweets to laxatives and codeine – does this mean we have become a depressed, self-medicating population walking round in a foil covered blister-packed haze, slowly losing touch with our own bodies and by extention, the world around us? Or is it a sign of the triumphant dominion over nature that the pharmaceutical industries have achieved?
I mentioned in my last post about my feeble attempt to photograph the bricked up sally port and tunnel connected to Fort Clarence. What I didn’t describe was the park from which I tried to gain access. It is called Willis Gardens – a plot split in two by the Fort’s trench.
It is an unlovely place with a melancholy air – perhaps less because it has been neglected but more because it has been forgotten. It is tended in as much as the grass is cut, but otherwise it is a drab little experience. What makes this a little tragedy is that it was donated to Rochester by a philanthropic cove by the name of Charles Willis (died 1943). Mayor, alderman and Freeman of the City, Willis gave boots to poor children and coal to the citizens of Rochester during the depression and on his death his house was bequeathed as a refuge for fallen women.
His gift of this park to Rochester was as a memorial to the death of his son, 2nd Lieutenant George White Willis, RAF,
shot down killed on active service in a flying accident while carrying out an engine test in France on the 4th January 1919 when the engine of the Sopwith Camel he was flying stalled at 200 feet. His distraught mother is said to have slept with the propellor of the doomed plane in her bedroom so crushed was she by grief.
The connection with this place, Charles Willis and aeroplanes runs a little deeper. Willis was instrumental in negotiations that led the Short Brothers to transfer from the Isle of Sheppey to Rochester in 1913 and he sold them the 8 acres of land on which they built their Seaplane Works. During the 2nd World War Shorts built a massive underground aircraft factory under Fort Clarence. The tunnel complex is now sealed off and under the stewardship of English Heritage, but developers of the site claimed that the tunnels still contain componentsof wartime aircraft.
Now a used-car lot on the Delce Road in Rochester, the original defensive military brickwork can still be seen. A few years ago at the end of Rochester Avenue, where it leads into the Delce, the road collapsed – allegedly because the tunnel system beneath had given way.
I made a healfhearted essay to the sealed tunnel entrance opposite Fort Clarence on the Borstal Road, but the collapsed wooden fence that had been so easy to climb over has been replaced by vandal-proof metal secuity fencing. My heart wasn’t in the job and I walked back to the road. I was caught up by a bloke I had taken for a street-drinker, hailing me as his long-lost firend Kev. When he realised his error he apologised in the over effusive manner of the underdog, practically bowing his apologies to me. We started talking as we walked back towards Rochester and I told him what I’d been up to. He told me that the new fencing has been erected after kids’ fires down there had begun to get out of hand, setting fire to garden fences and sheds backing onto the wastlground.
He then told me a story of a building site he’d worked on down this way. When a human leg bone was disinterred in the foundations the dig had to stop while an archaeologist was called in. It was dated as Anglo-Saxon and the downtime cost the developer £1500. So when a week later a human arm bone was dug up they were instructed to slop on the concrete as quickly as possible and bury it. Shades of the Tudor Wall demolition at Restoration House, and probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shady destruction of our past.
He told me of the “hundreds of miles” of tunnels under the Medway Towns that him and his mates used to play in as kids – all now inaccessible and blocked up. Some of this might refer to the Shorts Tunnels or maybe earlier Napoleonic tunnels connecting the Medway forts.
I walked Rochester’s Riverside Walk between Doust Way and Cory’s Creek. Less than a mile long it was closed down shortly after its initial opening when all the railings were nicked overnight.
Eventually it will be engulfed in new housing but now it wears the air of indecision.
Looking across Limehouse reach I watch oystercatchers mob a crow above a barge that has lost the fight against entropy and is blurring the space between identity and landscape. Shedding off the pain of individualism and merging with Medway.
A wild eyed man walks past talking to himself. These days the adroit schitzophrenic just needs to get equipped with a Bluetooth headset and lose himself among a thousand estate agents with gelled hair and fat purple ties.
Perhaps it’s better to be feared than to be despised.
I have been interested to hear that in the last week a pigs head – breathlessly described as a ‘severed head’ – was deposited into the small green space next to St John Fisher’s Catholic church in Rochester. This was described to me by a churchgoer as part of a ‘satanic plot’ that has also included the tortured remains of a kitten being tied or nailed to a tree in the same place. I’d not heard the kitten story before, but was the recipient of some very excited and graphic descriptions of the pigs head
Animal cruelty has often been attributed to the slaves of Satan acting out their apocalyptic visions… it seems however that it not always so easy to actually provide any evidence for this.
I’ve not noticed anything in the local press about this – and sadly wasn’t around with a camera on the day it appeared. I only hope this doesn’t make it more difficult to get a pigs head from the butcher – I had read a recipe for cooking one recently and thought it might be a nice one to try.
Amidst the welter of official “Sorry, No Trick or Treat” posters and some nicely carved pumkins, I came across this extraordinary memento mori display with real skulls.
Diabolists or theatricals… I’m not certain.
This curious assemblage occupied the pavement outside Rochester Library today. Like the prey of an oversized psychedelic spider, wrapped in multi-coloured webbing. Perhaps the bolus contained the original occupant of the chair, just the exsanguinated husk left behind.
I wonder if the artist was echoing the work of Louise Bourgeois – whose giant spider titled Maman explores notions of the maternal relationship. This clever piece perhaps references this by looking at what is left behind, the detritus that remains after the meal has been consumed.