Radical ESSEX




Tap and then 'Add to Home Screen'


Please view the site on the landscape view or on a mobile phone.


Tap and then 'Add to Home Screen'

Current Past




800,000 tonnes: Talking Rubbish

Talking Rubbish was a one-off series of artworks and discussions exploring how our waste, from past to present, has shaped Essex’s contemporary landscape.

By virtue of its proximity to London, for much of the 19th and 20th centuries Essex was treated as a so-called “dust-bin” for the capital. “Bovril boats” – yellow tankers carried up the Estuary filled with sewage and household waste – would leave London and dock at Tilbury for a disposal and management of the refuse they carried. Millions of tonnes of household and commercial waste has been dumped in landfill sites dug across Essex, from Colchester to along its coast with the Estuary. More recently, Essex hosts a number of cutting-edge recycling sites, as well as an influential and successful ‘re-wilding movement’ – returning so many former landfill sites outstanding nature reserves. In Talking Rubbish, I wanted to bring together these histories and the different, even antagonists, investments we have in waste management together.

I was very much inspired by the Tim Burrows, a writer based in Essex, who’s piece ‘The Only Grave is Essex’ made some fascinating links between social histories of the county and its industries of waste management, from recycling to landfill to power generation.

Tim opened our first discussion of the day, joined by fellow Essex resident and PhD researcher Holly Firmin. Tim recalled how his grandfather would go fly fishing and see waste being illegally dumped into the lakes, backhanders and bribes going back and forth between the drivers. Holly drew on her research on the politics of waste-management and how their attendant conflicts dramatise wider political concerns. She told us how, in October 1982, a resident action group of 161 people in East Tilbury was formed in protest against the tipping of hospital waste as part of a contract with the GLC. The group unanimously decided to organise a picket at all entrance gates, physically preventing GLC waste from entering the tip – bringing together aspects of modern ecology movements, community action, and radical political to Thurrock.

In the afternoon, we heard from Mark Harling, site manager at Cory Environmental’s landfill site just outside of Colchester – ‘Stanway Quarry’. Mark gave us a detailed step-by-step presentation on how landfill – from capping to sealing – actually takes place. Mark was also one of the lead voices on the project to rewild Mucking Marsh (formerly one of the largest landfill sites in Europe). It was interesting how he thought through this movement, from working on a historic to ‘live’ landfill site. Landfill, he suggested, was unfortunately the only solution we have to storing the amount of waste we produce given how low our recycling rates still are. His suggestion that we need to shift our focus from waste management per se to our levels of consumption was followed by a lively audience discussion.

We then had a welcome contribution from Pete Hansen, architect at van Heyningen & Haward architects. vHH worked on the firm’s construction of the new visitor centre at the re-wilded Mucking Marshes. Using principles of ‘moving architecture’ to cope with the ground’s unsettled foundations, the building has been designed with spaces of ‘built in slack’ to accommodate the soil’s shifting movements.

Finally, we received a fascinating talk from Professor Kate Spencer, an environmental geochemist at Queen Mary’s University London. Kate has been tracking the number of historic landfills planted along the coastlines of England. These sites – including a large one in East Tilbury – are now at risk of coastal erosion, with the former generation’s rubbish being churned up into rivers and sea. As Kate suggested in her presentation, some of this waste simply will not decompose, as witnessed by the dated, 1950s newspaper article she encountered in the ground along the East Tilbury shoreline.

Blog: Eloise Hawser

This event was presented as part of 800,000 tonnes: Waste Management and Recycling in Essex, a programme of displays, site tours, and discussions that took place to map waste in Essex past and present by artist Eloise Hawser, who wrote the above text. 800,000 tonnes was supported by a National Lottery Grant from Arts Council England.

Focal Point Gallery, Elmer Avenue, Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom
External link {{{mark.content}}} {{mark.address}} (View on Map) {{mark.location.address}} (View on Map) {{mark.address}}

Radical Essex is a project re-examining the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. A programme of events will take place across Essex throughout 2016 and 2017, shedding light on the vibrant, pioneering thinking of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The project will celebrate the crucial role Essex has played in the history of British Modernism and its utopian ideologies under the themes ‘The Modernist County’ and ‘Arcadia for All’.

The Radical Essex site is designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Alex Rich, developed by Twelve.

Radical Essex is led by Focal Point Gallery in collaboration with Visit Essex and Firstsite. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England it forms part of the country wide Cultural Destinations programme, a partnership with VisitEngland, supporting arts organisations to work with the tourism sector to deliver projects that maximise the impact culture has on local economies.

New Logos

Subscribe to Newsletter

If you are a business or arts organisation interested to be involved in the project or learn more information, please contact us here

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our project partners: