London is a city of layers. Like a painting, some of the layers have been worked up so that they have become fully opaque- we can see only the top layer, the new modern buildings that seem to spring up weekly. But in other places we can see right through, back to former times.
David Shariatmadari asked me to create a piece of artwork around the area where he lives in Southwark, South London. First up, here is the picture, for those who prefer to look at pictures (a standpoint with which I have great sympathy):
Going way, way back, the area where David lives used to be marsh and wetlands. He referred me to this excellent article on London’s hidden rivers, and something called the Rockingham Anomaly:
To quote directly from the article:
‘What I didn’t know, but which was revealed by the geological survey, is that underneath the Elephant & Castle there lies… a peat bog. You can see it clearly on the British Geological Survey, and on my map – a dark grey smudge, two concentric oval pockets of alluvium and peat. Covering the ancient village of Newington, this feature is a one-of-a-kind within the London landscape. This peaty bog sitting in a deep depression in the gravel is known as the Rockingham Anomaly after the housing estate above it. Perhaps it’s a scour-hole caused by the shifting, eroding Thames after the last ice age? We don’t know for sure. It’s possible it is the collapsed remnants of a periglacial phenomenon known as a ‘pingo’. This is a volcano-shaped mound of ice that develops when water freezes and expands underneath permafrost. When the ice melts, the mound collapses, leaving a spherical depression in the earth. It reminds us that London was once a landscape of wind-blown frozen tundra.’
Anyone familiar with Elephant and Castle, and the fate of the Heygate housing estate (see also the wonderful artist Marcus Coates: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/apr/08/marcus-coates-artist-elephant-castle) may feel as I did, that this absolutely makes sense- it’s a weird area, with a bit of a cursed feel about it, as places always are in stories when they are built over an area which basically had no business being built over: sacred lands, burial grounds, swamps.
But I digress… the picture is not about Heygate or elephant and castle, but the modern growing up through the ancient. Or it could be viewed as a projected future- that whole area is a flood plane; if people ceased for whatever reason to intervene with the environment it would in time revert to its original state.