Richard White

explorations in place and time

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The Finest View in Europe.

“The road from the little village of Bath to the Fountain of the Medicinal Spring, is most horribly romantic, and partakes very much of those anticipations of the sublime of Nature, which, in his progress through particular vallies, the traveller cannot fail to have frequently experienced. The narrowness of the path, and the precipices upon one side, are to strangers somewhat alarming; but the beautiful scenery with which the journey is rewarded, affords some consolation.”

(Beckford W:  A descriptive account of the Island of Jamaica)

Join me on foot or online Saturday 28 May

Saturday, May 28 Bath School of Art and Design Sion Hill, Lansdown   BA1 5SF

Open the conversation. Meet at reception 11.00. Approx 3 mile walk. Return approx 13.00.

ud stepped logo small versionin conversation

Opening and closing on foot. Walk and talk. Listen. Sense. Consider the views.

A free and open conversation in which artists, writers, thinkers and anyone else who wants to join in can engage with themes that correspond with the best of our aspirations and the worst of our nightmares.

11.00 Open the conversation, stretch minds and legs on a networked walk to

The Finest View in Europe (but it may cost you to get in! Please fill in the contact form if you are coming and we can get a group discount)

Out of the enchanted city, over the fields, up the hill and back again down the road. Disenchanted.


1330 for 1400 – 1700   Lecture Theatre

Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe

Guest speakers include:

  • Kate Rigby, the newly appointed Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University and author of Changing the Climate: Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe;
  • Linda Williams, a specialist on human-animal relations, climate change and mass species extinction; and
  • Rachel Withers, writer and critic, focussing on art and ideas.

17.00 Wayfaring in the Enchanted City

The conversation continues in the café, online and on foot walking through the heart of utopian Bath, approx 19.00 arriving at “Bath’s Artisan Quarter” for exhibitions and the utopian/dystopian pub, The Bell, in Walcot Street.

In the two walks opening and closing the day I hope you will join us, share thoughts and generate resonances on utopian/dystopian aspects of the city. Follow and contribute @walknowlive and #walknow #utopiadystopiaSomerly Beckford book title

more from this book by William Beckford of Somerly (our man’s cousin) here:

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Walking not Drowning…

Walking not Drowning …Some thoughts to walk with considering the purity of spring water…..

In the days of the Atlantic trade a significant proportion of people enslaved in West Africa did not survive the journey. Thrown overboard like fruit gone rotten, forced overboard for resisting, abandoned at sea in insurance scams. The heritage is a watery one, relics perhaps as bleached bones at the bottom of the ocean. On the plantations enslaved people built irrigation canals,  and with the wealth generated  back in England the beneficiaries employed labourers to construct country mansions and reconstruct the landscape.

Its in the water: memories, traditions, sounds, enchantments. The hotsprings were the draw for Bath, slaves built and serviced the first city here. Coldwater springs fed the streams that drove the mills and the second city grew. The River Avon harnessed for  hammering, shuttling, crushing, rolling mills, the energy that shaped the metal and powered the factories. The once tidal river became the Navigation, put the labour of enslaved people at a distance and the flow of wealth fed the enchanted city.
May Day Walk notes unedited
Thundering bridge where for years there were warning signs: men working below. The signs always troubled me. No one there as we walked through liminal Avonmouth. The river slow off  to the estuary almost more mud than water.

bridge view rail

We walked thinking about the river and what it carried  and more and more I am thinking of the memory it holds. A legacy that is with us and part of us. From the heady heights the road roared, bars restrained us and coaches teased us. The lure of speed in its deadly spate, great chunks of metal roaring past us. The past roaring at us from behind bars looking down to the river.

Smoothing down and out of that epic adrenaline enchantment to more overgrown tracks we walked into Pill. Here as promised a ghost crossing to the Lamplighters. The river drifted by its run slowing as the tide turned. An indifference.
Avon ghost crossing Pill to ShLamplighters
Down this river went the brass and cloth from mills at Keynsham, Saltford and Bath; guns, gunpowder and more from Bristol. Where were the shackles made? Boats built, repaired, cleaned, loaded unloaded along this river. Here. We tried to imagine them going by. Boats returning feeding the european addictions, sugar, tobacco, rum:  wealth on one form or another.

We spirited up a galleon decked with flags first down river then motoring up where strong men would have heaved. A pirate ship, a heritage spectacle not even harnessed to the wind, an enchantment of adventure and enterprise appeared on cue.
Cabot boat Matthew wide
So we walked on into the wreckage of neoliberalism. A contemporary epic narrative of adventure freedom and enterprise decides who deserves, seizes ownership of shared assets and re-writes the story of collective mutual support. Those deemed undeserving are abandoned. Thrown overboard. Assets are repurposed. The legacy of slaveownership runs deep.

At last arriving at Bristol old wharves, great red brick boxes, the bonded warehouses in which I once imagined the merchants counting their gold by candlelight, loomed through the gorge. Under Leigh Woods, graffitti walls for years emblazoned with Hendrix Lives. Deeper and out of site another palladian mansion stands triumphant the origin of its wealthy statement barely challenged.

graffitti locked in

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a disenchanted May Day walk out and over the Avon

Sense-ing the legacies of slavery and slaveownership
Join me recceing a section of the River Avon up from Avonmouth to Bristol Temple Meads  Sunday 1 May.
Meet at Avonmouth train station at 10.00.
Its about 10 miles up the gorge, towards Bristol, under the Clifton suspension bridge… an all day walk.
Should be spectacular but maybe not for those who suffer from vertigo as the walk begins crossing the Avonmouth bridge!

Its always good on these things to travel with companions on foot and/or online. On this walk I am beginning to think about how this would work as a return journey to Bath…what came up the river as legacies of slavery and slaveownership.

Lots of ideas bubbling away from the rotting worm eaten boats that had to be clad with copper to ward off the Caribbean worms, the sweet stuff and tobbacco leaves to fuel the addictions and all kinds of wealth. Eels? Ill gotten gains, ideas of justice and human rights.

How will this be expressed in what we make of what we see? Do join me, share what you know and we’ll start to find out…
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notes from a days wayfaring down the river Avon from Bath to Bristol

Along the tow path from Bath to Bristol, setting out with a thought intention or purpose of sensing the legacies of slavery and slave ownership on the river.  At first confronted by my childhood and a tricky entrance.
Bath entrance Albion
My chosen path along the river was closed for the reconstruction of the Destructor bridge.  It carries a crossing between the Argos warehouse carpark and the council depot; home to the city dustbin trucks and recycling centre. Already a queue of cars engines running waiting for the gates to open and there to leave their magnolia cuttings in exchange for duty done Bath green smug satisfaction. The old bridge was a ramshackle rattling military seemingly temporary construction leading to gasworks and once derelict industrial heartlands of the city. New sleek swift money buildings rise context free from these sites. New anonymous des res needs new shiny bridge;  across the other side of the grey river I could see it shrink wrapped waiting to be slid into place. Will such a bridge earn its predecessor’s powerful name?

Between two myths of England I tried to find the entrance, and found an enchantment.  St George was Turkish if those stories are to be believed and Albion connects back to a notion of Englishness from before the Peasants Revolt. And the plaque we got planted in Swindon. In the days of Thatcher’s Poll Tax, a council intent on making its mark named a civic building Wat Tyler House. We chose the words of Tyler’s comrade, John Ball:
“Nothing will go well in Albion until all things are held in common”
A phrase once heard in a small US town: Albion, Michigan.

Chasing such obscured appropriations the entrance did not reveal itself. Disenchanted. A wall with discontinuities compounded by mythology.  I continued at a distance from the river along the Upper Bristol Road where a bouncy castle caught my eye. Contained behind railing spears and named Treasure Island. Awash with thoughts of pirates, galleons, maps I remembered the well loved story and its scary telling.The parrot, Robert Newton’s iconic ooaarjimlad performance. And the menace deep inside it, the Black Spot. I walked on, now on the tow path towards the waters weir roar and the story or more its context haunted me…was this a legacy of the Atlantic trade, the more I thought about it I couldn’t find a black face in the telling. Does Treasure Island warrant a re-telling for new times. Is the bouncy castle its metaphorical presence, what would Treasure Island disenchanted say.

Treasure Island

Riffing on islands walking along the river towpath. A newly discovered name for the island on the other side of the lock where great clattering wool mills once stood. Dutch Island. Now the bus depot. Hard flat tarmac behind old walls enchantment but no romance, sealed in stories of those who worked there and where the products of their labours were sold. No bouncy castle on Dutch Island. My thoughts moved on as I walked deeper, beyond sadness that the Dolphin our summer pub by the lock by the small humpback bridge the millworkers crossed, is permanently closed.
Haile Sellassie was here1
I followed the path once taken by Haile Sellassie in exile. In my modern eyes photos show him with pride, dignity and melancholy, like a lion of Longleat but with a human intelligence and self awareness. In his imagined steps I thought of the spirit of empire he appealed to and the metallic brutal modernity he was caught up in. The romance of the exile that connects to the Caribbean back and forth over the Atlantic, a network of intent and consequences with Britain at its core. The mesh.

It was a long days walk and for the most part I journeyed alone, slipping in and out of the enchantments offered. Strange portals opened and closed, embankment clearing on the old Great Western Railway appeared to show a gateway..but perhaps simply revealing the construction technique. Hard work forgotten. I looked for the memorial tree before Saltford, it had been felled. I found another.
plastic crap7
Almost keeping pace with the flow. The river now as leisure: rowing, walking, sailing, fishing. Where before it had been work, food, fuel and communication. I looked for the old fords and imagined the river shallow and wide. Freshford. Bathford. Saltford. Swineford. I saw plastic in the flood blasted trees, caught like flowers, closer shredded in the thorns, no natural disaster here just chuck away plastic normality accepts the mess and continues to reproduce it. How did we get to a place like this I thought as we looked across the river to the former chocolate factory emerging from its plastic wrappings as luxury housing. A hundred yards down river from a brass mill where the currency of slavery was made. Who picked the cacao, how did it get to Keynsham. What went down this river what came back up….
Cadbury's behind trees2
Two of us now walking and wondering if there had been an Avon Bore like the one on the Severn, a great wave moving powerfully up the river. Into the gorge and under the bridge. Passing the last weir where the river was first tamed we were on the edge of the city. Coal mines, smelters and furnace remains, once the stinky east end of Bristol, poisoned lands forgotten, reclaimed, landscaped. Heritaged. A great green tube embedded in the cliffs carrying effluence from today’s city, lycra cyclists whizz past and the bins overflow with responsibly bagged dog shit. The gateways of Bristol opened and closed: so much to think about so much to carry so much to care. To take into care.
Bristol Avon harbour feeder3
and the river kept on going …. in its man made shredded plastic lined and muddy cut scar, flowing out to the sea.

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Year of walking early observations

I am about half way through this year of walking, essentially a series of monthly recces for future projects and walking though of ideas. This is what I have learned and what I have observed:

  • An informal collaborative social network approach seems to work….list of 20 walkers to date
  • Social media is no replacement for old style participatory arts development…need to take this further and bring in wider networks
  • Walking tours are popular..making the transition to something collaborative is a challenge, people expect to be led on walking tour
  • Story/narrative is vital , a clear storyline reinforces the narrative structure of the walk itself and thus gives a walk coherence. Cf HonouringEsther
  • Sound, both oral testimony and other voices and music help generate depth and engagement for walkers and online
  • Walking and social media is not something many feel comfortable with…I can walk and type only twisted my ankle once.
  • Live online active participation is rare but the number of people engaged especially in the almost live facebook updates is considerable acrtoss a range of projects
  • Length of walk, in time, as well as time to build relationships amongst wlakers on foot, enables an audience and audience online participation to build
  • Length of walk in distance builds respect, those meeting walkers or following online recognise that an effort has been made
  • Staged, themed stopping points for talk/ drawing/ capture of sound and images/gathering thoughts produce timed clustering of live postings, the audience knows when to check in, walkers, especially those new to social media feel some sense of solidarity.

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Going down the river

First steps today exploring a bigger project developing the work on Bath’s Last Legal Slaveowners and getting into larger legacy of slavery.Bath start

Those boats did not set off to West Africa empty. They carried goods some of which must have been made and transported down the River Avon to Bristol. River energy used in the manufacturing process as well as its flow harnessed for transportation.

Brass. Brass goods. Cloth. What else?

What else went down river to Bristol and on to West Africa to be traded for human beings?
Saltford lock1
Thinking of the people who worked in those mills in the cold wet banging deafening stone built brass mills where the water turned hammers beating the metal into bowls, incessant trundling of stone rollers, roar of the furnace  and in the cloth mill the nimble fingered children and women on the clattering looms. This was a valley of working noise and smoke.

The coal mines are long gone, the scars in the hillside landscaped away. The mills survive as street or house names romantically converted. Mill owners long gone to big houses or next speculation bankruptcy. Salford Brass Mill water wheel occasionally turns as evidence of work once. The product of the labour less well documented.

Twerton Mills bridgeIs my history all messed up or could it be that the products made by the sweat and labour of Wiltshire and Somerset men and women was used to trade for their enslaved brother and sisters along the coast of Africa. What kind of legacy does that give us?

Bath River alley

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River Crouch Festival Walk day 2

Waking up to the river, a great expanse of wet grey and small boats. Tonight as the dark gathers round the pool of lights on the timber ship up the river I am reflecting on this day in the distance a line of orange street lights. Southend.

Today we crossed the river for the first time. A walking day but not extreme either in distance or weather. Summer grey clouds and a wind that drove the spattering of rain dried us off just as quick. Two  flags fluttering in the wind driven by the motion of the boat: we returned with three. This was Burnham’s day the Mayor turned out to greet us and children from the local primary school came to launch their paper boats and hand to us a box of memories for safe keeping across the river.
Burnham brief the mayor
A good gathering of potential walkers greeted us at the quay the result of some good networking with U3A and slowly the school children and parents gathered out side the yacht club. Why Corinthian…?the tweeted question was never answered…maybe Burnham is  twinned with Greece..could be an empathetic link. The Burnham community flag was unfurled and local artist Alan invited us to get into position to see the paper boat launch.

Burnham outside RCYC2The school did not have a twin across the river, only some land, Wallasea.  About to become the largest bird reserve in Europe, so the mayor told us but perhaps this lack of a structured connection with people across the river was a mistake.
Burnham paper boat launch2
Excited school children all tagged and risk assessed walked onto the pontoon and in the distance we saw their creations open up to flat paper and flow away on the fast falling tide out to see. Proud parents looked on. I was given a decorated shoe box of casts of interesting and strange things found on the northern river shore, the memory box, to care for and carry across the river. Great concept but I am not sure the children understood it, the idea of a biodegradable time capsule was perhaps a bit too conceptual.  I loved it but did not feel that I was carrying something precious to them or to Burnham. The full story did not seem to have been told but the flags photos and Facebook begin to fill the gaps.
Burnham memory box
Across the river with the memory box and two flags on the Burnham Ferry, we walked the sea walls.

Burnham ferry1First to the west through old shipyards and over looking timber yards,  a ship unloading and the air rich with the smell of creosote. We walked and talked and the dynamic resumed. A returning walker and child from yesterday carrying the banners and the U3A walkers hoping to do a bit of bird spotting but game for discovering ghost crossings  and the Great Festival Walk!
Wallasea walk3

Creeksea ferry pub3
At last we came to the RSPB reserve and the landscaped under London mud from cross rail, here the Wallasea flag was exchanged for the memory box. Wallasea memory box handover

The box will be buried and GPS tagged so that in a virtual world it will always exist even if the box and its contents return to the soil. One wonders if anything will be left in this world, in the actual memories of the children of the workshop and the specific object they found and cast.

Walking back we saw the last flight of a Vulcan bomber and I remembered a bored school day brought to life when one such flying triangle roared hedge height my long distance stare out of the classroom window. A Hurricane flew over sounding like a flying bentley, it barrel rolled over my head . I shouted and clapped. Walking and talking again, diving stories, home made wet suits, Portland Harbour, Clarks shoes and sandwiches for parliament. Visiting the Taj Mahal. Love.
Creeksea ferry lane 2
The walk brings it out and connects. Bitterness and missed opportunities fall into place, fall into perspective. We move on.