The New English Landscape

For more than a decade we – photographer Jason Orton and writer Ken Worpole – have documented the changing landscape and coastline of Essex and East Anglia, particularly its estuaries, islands and urban edgelands. We continue to explore many aspects of contemporary landscape topography, architecture and aesthetics, and in 2013 published our second book, The New English Landscape (Field Station | London, 2013), the second edition of which was published in 2015 and is now out of print.

Category: Literature and Books, Landscape, Photography, Topography

Take back control?

Starling murmuration, Hen Reedbeds, near Southwold © Jules Pretty

There is a lovely if chilling flight of fancy in Jules Pretty’s newly published appreciation of the East Anglian landscape, The East Country. Reflecting on Britain’s thousands of lost villages, which over time disappeared from the landscape as a result of war, plague, economic abandonment or other catastrophe, the author imagines how a new wave of end times will occur when nature finally takes back control:

Pavement and walkway would be quickly overrun by grass and flower, which given low nutrient status would mean highly diverse meadows. Expect many orchids.

Existing grasslands and parks would grow tall, then scrub and trees invade. Lawns would take on bramble and birch, becoming scrubby wood within fifteen years. Houses would disappear, like those Mayan ruins. Solar panels would continue to generate electricity, but no one would use it; wind turbines would turn until high gales ripped them apart. Existing woods would darken to dense forest, but some would be eaten out as deer invaded in growing numbers. Many fox would survive, as would badger. Pond and swimming pool would clog with reed; there would be dragonfly and damselfly. The rivers at low bridges would be blocked with debris, water spilled over banks to create wetlands. Beaver would spread.

The Conradian horror continues, as Pretty anticipates the slow extinction or reversion to a feral state of domesticated animals and livestock, the dereliction of all built structures, and ultimately the disappearance of all we thought might last for generations to come if not forever. Richard Jefferies offered a similar dystopian vision in After London or Wild England, but Pretty’s nightmare seems more credible today, attuned as he is to the latest forms of economic and technological hubris.

Author’s garden, Nayland, Stour Valley © Jules Pretty

Happily all is not doom and gloom in The East Country. The book is a vivid calendar of the seasons, as seen from the author’s garden window, widening out to reflections on walking in the wide-skied terrain of Suffolk and north Essex, home territory of most of his life. There is a kind of zen aesthetic underlining Pretty’s experience of the everyday world, stitched into place by his own short affecting poems, along with citations from Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and writers from the Black Mountain school.

Like Richard Mabey, Pretty reveals a rich taxonomic imagination in his knowledge of indigenous and migrant flora and fauna to be found in the region – he is a distinguished environmental scientist in his own right – which makes his concern with continuing environmental degradation prescient and trustworthy.

There are other anxieties too, which give the book its sense of urgency. In the period covered by his diaries, the author’s ageing father’s failing health leads to hospitalisation, and eventually death, all of which weigh heavily on the diarist’s own sense of mortality, having shared a love of the same windswept foreshore and meandering river-courses of the Suffolk coast and heartland. One of the most moving poems reads:

I could not believe I fell asleep in a dream.
I was walking with my father,
Yet felt so tired.
Nothing in the dream was reference to any place in the known world.
I fell asleep,
But was already asleep.

Some of the descriptive passages in what is a composite almanac derived from a number of years of observation can be dated from the weather extremes described – the summer when temperatures reached 35 plus degrees for days on end, the winter when it rained continually for more than a month, drowning all the fields, or a recent November evening when high tide on the East Anglian coast briefly reached 1953 disaster levels – causing Pretty to wonder whether seasonality, as once celebrated, is losing its symbolic and therefore emotional resonance.

Change is constant in the region, though now less patterned by the weather, and not always for the worst. The climate will certainly grow warmer but there may be more extreme weather events. The little egret is here for good, and no doubt other exotic birds will follow. A well-known advocate of re-wilding, Pretty looks forward to the return of sea eagles to the Suffolk coast – a small compensation in an uncertain environmental future, but uplifting nevertheless.

For much of the twentieth-century the literature of landscape and place was in the hands of conservative thinkers and writers – extremely so in the case of the notorious James Wentworth Day – and it is rewarding to see how the terrain has been secured today by more generous and outward-looking imaginations, as is evident in this deeply felt and open-hearted book.


The East Country can be obtained with a 25% discount by citing 09EAST and ordering from:

A rather large lorry…


A rather large lorry arrived yesterday, full of boxes containing, we are pleased to say, copies of our new book The New English Landscape. The book has been printed in Belgium by Cassochrome, who specialise in the production of art and photographic books, so no expense has been spared. This is what it says on the back cover:

The New English Landscape critically examines the changing geography of landscape aesthetics since the Second World War, noting the shift away from the arcadian interior to the contested eastern shoreline.  It discusses how writers and artists gravitated towards East Anglia, and latterly towards Essex, regarding them as sites of significant topographical disruption, often as a result of military and industrial occupation, and the dramatic incursion of the sea.

These are landscapes of unique ecological and imaginative resonance, particularly following the Thames, and the islands and estuaries of its northerly coastal peninsula. The book assesses the past, present and future of this new territorial aesthetic, now subject to much debate in the contested  worlds of landscape design, topography and psycho-geography.


The New English Landscape contains 22 colour photographs, an 18,000 word essay, extensive bibliography, maps, and is a medium-to-large format paperback.

ISBN 978-0-9926669-0-3

Publisher: Field Station|London

Price £15.00

Ways to buy The New English Landscape.

1. By cheque.

Send a cheque for £15.00 (postage-free) made payable to ‘Ken Worpole’ to 40 Clissold Court, Greenway Close, London N4 2EZ.  Don’t forget to include your address. We’ll send the book by return.

2. Using PayPal.

For sales in the UK only

Buy Now with Paypal

For International orders use the RIBA Bookshop link below:

RIBA Bookshop

3. You can also buy it in the following bookshops:

Figures in a landscape?


From time to time academics debate the geographical area required to talk meaningfully about a distinctive landscape type: parish, county, region? All seem to make sense at some time or another as a catch-all envelope for topographical distinctiveness.  Sometimes, though, a landscape can be as commanding as a mere twenty yards of pavement adjacent to a bricked up flank wall, as it is in Colin O’Brien’s evocative collection of photographs of Travellers’ Children in London Fields just published.

O’Brien took these black and white photographs in 1987, after coming across a temporary travellers’ encampment close to the railway arches next to London Fields in Hackney.  Most importantly, he took them after asking permission from the parents and children, and these vibrant portraits are now published for the first time in one collection. It was noteworthy that some of those portrayed so many years ago came to the book launch, a celebratory affair which took place less than 100 yards from where the photographs were originally taken.

Some will argue that this is ‘street photography’, a genre that has very little to do with landscape. Can we be so sure?  A lot of street photography historically has been voyeuristic (taken surreptitiously too), using a grim urban background to add depth to what is essentially an anthropological gaze.  There are exceptions, for example in the work of documentary photographers like Helen Levitt in New York and Roger Mayne in Notting Hill, whose respect and admiration for the children they photographed shone through.  Respect and affection for his subjects shine through O’Brien’s photographs.

There is every reason to regard these portraits as ‘figures in a landscape’. The run-down setting of Hackney’s former industrial backstreets – halfway to ruin at the time the photographs were taken – represents the marginal places where travellers arrive, stay for a while and subsequently move, or are moved on.  Significantly the book’s title Travellers’ Children in London Fields evokes the pastoral landscapes that once existed here, residual elements of which exist in the shape of the popular park which now takes that name. As such, the few yards of Martello Street which provide the backdrop to these portraits are imbued with genuine topographical elements – not stage scenery.

This elegant book is the first publication from the admirable Spitalfields Life blog, already gaining an enviable reputation for heroic endeavours in the field of local history, and well in the forefront of the ‘history from below’ movement in its 21st century digital manifestation and reach.