In this short series, I explore and investigate the unique English seaside town of Jaywick, famous for its poverty and negative appearances on Benefits by the Sea. It was named the most deprived area in England in 2015.
A morose, Essex beach. Town in decay. Peeling walls and crumbling ceilings.
Jaywick is a curious town; small detached bungalows work a grid over the land up to the sea wall and the desolate beach. Between the rickety shack bungalows run gravel roads, narrow and littered with rusted truck chassis, with lumps of rock and concrete chipped from bits of walls and bollards, old cars; a few usable, some serviceable, most wrecked or decomposed beyond repair.
Elsewhere you see burnt out caravans. Now a crumbling exo-skeleton. They sit lopsided at the side of the road or in trashed driveways like boulders; unlikely ever to be moved. In the time that remains they are left to erode. And just as biological matter decays back to the ground that spawned it, so too do the rotten, burnt caravans—structures soaked and melted by rain—decay back to their own industrial spawning grounds. As eventually the roofs and walls peel back until just a rusted frame remains. Then it sits at home amongst the detritus of Jaywick.
This is a seaside town that never recovered from the recession. I don’t mean in 2008. I mean in the forties. It’s the sort of place where people sell used fishing rods, sofas, VHS cassettes, garden ornaments, from fold-up plastering tables erected in their front gardens, with hand scrawled prices on note paper blu-tacked onto a stained tablecloth.
The shops that were open here when I was a kid are mostly closed now. Not only closed but boarded up and shedding flakes of paint, roofs swelling inwards from damp, weeds and nettles poking out through the gaps in unbagged rubbish dumped shoulder high in the back-access alleyways. The beach has changed too. It seems less picturesque and idealic and so more real. In that closeness to reality it finds greater beauty. And the less uniform something is, the closer to nature it is.
Long, dry grass grows on the beach now. It prickles your ankles and shins as you walk and rustles in the wind. The sand no longer has a soft decline towards the water. The gradient is different. Now the beach is made of small ridges with little channels of sea water runoff. Still there are the lines of black, crispy seaweed, dried in the sun and stinking of salt. There’s about four lines of weed up the beach, each one a different resting place of the tide.
The buildings here are almost all wood frame. They burn like small stars. Viewed from the sea a burning structure here would cast a flickering orange light across all the isolated roof tops around it. That sort of light suits the atmosphere of this town. Lots of people might observe Jaywick and call it a throwback, say that it is old fashioned. I think that a place this decrepit, with this many burnt out homes, that reeks this much of poverty and crime, can only be a taste of the future.
It is a town built upon fragments. Built up as fragments. The homes started as holiday huts before people lost their city houses and moved to those huts out of desperation. Then they started to add fragments—extensions—until all the rooms made a home. Many have only three; a living room with a kitchen and sink area, a bathroom and a bedroom.
Peopled salvaged what stone and other usable building materials came ashore and soon it’d be part of their front garden wall. History—literally—sits in the improvised walls of the residents.
The caravan itself bears describing. It says a lot of this town’s character. It is very old and un-roadworthy, probably from the seventies or earlier. The road-facing outside window is smashed and covered with a sheet of cheap wood. Once the exterior was a fresh summer cream. Now it is the off yellow of a chain smoker’s index finger. It is lined with dust, sand from the beach and dots of green and black mould.
The inside is small, consisting of a kitchen-type side unit at the front, next to a tiny toilet room, then two sofas facing one another that convert to beds. Around the ceiling and parting the two sofas are cabinets and draws. All of these units are covered with faded mahogany-effect panels. It tries but there is no hiding that this was always a budget caravan. The wallpaper, where wallpaper remains, is creased and full of tunnels of air. The paper itself has the lankness of grey flesh, moulded and peeling off in strips and tears.
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