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October 5th 1858   - The Victorian painter William Dyce takes a holiday in Ramsgate with his family where he is inspired to paint “Pegwell Bay: A Recollection of October 5th 1858”.


Dyce’s work shows his wife, her sisters and his child, all strongly fore grounded, searching for fossils on the chalk pavement with the bay and steep cliffs behind them. At the right hand edge, small and distant, a man carrying a portfolio (an artist?) stares up at a comet in the sky.  The wife and child stare out at the viewer, the tone is cool and autumnal, and a critic commented that there is “curious feeling of waiting,and unease”

This mysterious painting is remarkable in that it attempts to explore time through a particular moment in time, 1858 – a testing time when geologists, astronomers, natural scientists and fossil hunters were challenging common held beliefs about the origins of the earth and the existence of a Creator.  Humanity suddenly found itself vulnerable and seemingly insignificant in the face of nature and the great forces of universal time and space. Dyce captured this moment of fissure in a direct, yet oddly dream-like way, which still speaks strongly to us today

Arts Council England

Hovernaut was a research project that explored the feasibility of producing a regenerative arts event at the abandoned hoverport, Pegwell Bay, Kent. Working in partnership with Ramsgate Arts, with funding from Arts Council England, our research strategy included site visits, archival research, interviews, community engagement, and logistical appraisal, with the aim of examining the landscape’s shifting form - its histories, evocative nature, patterns of use, and how over time it had shaped and defined the character of the communities that had inhabited and passed through it. Our collaborative research partners included: Kent Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Thanet Council, Cliffsend Residents Association, and the National Hovercraft Museum.


The abandoned hovercraft port is situated on a stretch of coast between the towns of Ramsgate and Sandwich. A vast curved natural inlet of sea, sand, shingle, marsh, and chalk cliff. Pegwell Bay exists physically and in the imagination as a liminal, constantly reforming, in-between place. The compressed chalk boundary that forms the bay is being continually dissolved by the ebb and flow of each tide, this combined with periods of profound economic and social change, has gradually erased the major traces of human use and occupation, replacing them with more subtle patterns of existence– it is a place in constant process, vanishing and remerging: a landscape in performance.

Working in direct response to the topography and history of the site, and utilising a creative vocabulary that included performance, a ‘drive thru’ movie, sound and structural intervention (viewing stations), our research aim was to devise, in partnership with local arts organisations, a project framework that would suggest methodologies to raise public awareness of, and engagement with, the site’s distinctive natural landscape, birdlife and flora, and its recent history as a site of a futuristic form of transport.


A transcendental landscape

The hovercraft terminal not only redefined the economics of the locality but also how the British holidayed and related to Europe. A rapid energetic travel enterprise existing for a short time in a very ancient landscape, one that has richly shaped the character of the communities that had lived there, or individuals who had visited - day trippers, bird watchers, fossil hunters, painters, and wind farm engineers.


Pegwell Bay has throughout its history been a point of invasion, exodus and exploration.  Roman, Viking and Norman hordes have dragged themselves up its shoreline, and the same gentle incline allowed St Augustine and his followers to bring in Christianity in AD 597. Centuries later steam packets and the hovercraft took exiles and pleasure seekers out across the Channel to the continent, with shrimpers, fossil hunters, painters, ornithologists, wind farm engineers, and economic regenerators  following on,  each in their own time and on their own terms leaving a mark on the place.

This arc of activity across deep geological time, universal human time, ‘space’ time, compressed and future time has combined to create the expansive enigma that is Pegwell today. These notions of time, allied with the processes of erosion, incursion, transportation, transcendence and translation, plus uses ecological, economic and recreational, combined to provide a rich thematic silt from which Hovernaut , a landscape performance research project could take flight.

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