Coast of teeth: textual and visual reportage of England's seaside towns in a time of crisis

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Shaped by a prosperous and imperial past and increasingly by the contemporary forces of austerity, Brexit and climate change, seaside towns occupy marginal, liminal and contradictory spaces in England’s imaginative geography. Such communities are not only geographically but socially and culturally far from England’s land-locked heart and the myths attached to it – village cricket, rolling meadows, ‘Old London Town’ etc. Modern journalism and psychogeographical writing has tended to spotlight what we dub ‘inland England’. This includes Robert Macfarlane’s fascination for ancient rural byways or Alan Moore’s preoccupation with his hometown of Northampton because it is, he argues, ‘right at the centre of the country, and so all of England’s inner conflicts have more or less passed through it.’ Those other chroniclers of inland England, Iain Sinclair and Nick Papadimitriou, have a penchant for ‘edgelands’ that muddy the boundaries between country and city. But seaside towns, too, are liminal spaces given their hazy situation between land and sea, metropole and periphery, home and abroad. This ‘in-betweenness’ makes for contradictions between wealth and poverty, frivolity and misery, familiarity and alienness, past and present, fact and fantasy. Torquay, Scarborough and Southsea’s architecture has been fragmented into an uncanny jumble of historical eras and cultural themes.

Such quirks are some distance – spatially and visually – from the uniformity of the
English interior and its interchangeable ‘everytowns’, as the philosopher Julian Baggini terms them, of retail citadels, fast food factories and red-brick estates. Seaside towns, sited as they are away from metropolitan centres of education and the media, can be incubators for fringe delusions whether anti-vax graffiti in Dorset or Princess Diana conspiracy-pushing museums in Devon.  Other towns with current and historical links to the armed forces are being infected with new variants of chauvinism, nationalism and militarism, arguably nurtured by Brexit. If some seaside towns are literal (littoral) and metaphorical bulwarks against the rest of the world, others ‘import’ unusual facets of foreign culture. This is true of Jaywick and St Osyth in southeast Essex, where trailer parks and shanty-style dwellings lacking mains gas or electricity resemble a ‘Global South’ slum.

These insights, drawn primarily from cultural theory, have been confirmed by our
practice-based research as a journalist and reportage illustrator who travelled to and reported on 21 English seaside towns in 2021-22. By using such ethnographic techniques and psychogeographical methodologies as the dérive, we gained direct, lived experience of these communities, how they self-identify and how they are identified and perceived by the broader culture.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2022
EventMeCCSA Conference 2022: 'Silenced Voices' - Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sept 20229 Sept 2022


ConferenceMeCCSA Conference 2022
Abbreviated titleMeCCSA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • reportage drawing
  • seaside towns
  • journalism
  • counter narrative

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