By Frances Presley, commissioned by Tideway
Frances Presley has been commissioned by Tideway to create an artwork for Falconbrook Pumping Station.The permanent Tideway commissions respond to the site-specific narratives set out in the Tideway Heritage Interpretation Strategy.
The cultural meander for the Central section is–‘Babylon to World City: Civic London’. Within this concept, the artist considers the site-specific narrative for Falconbrook Pumping Station, which occupies part of the York Gardens near Clapham Junction.
The poet, in response to the Tideway’s historical Heritage Interpretation Strategy (HIS), has based her response on the Falconbrook, the Lost River, which created the need for the pumping station in this location combined with uncertainties around the redevelopment of the area and the impact on the open green space.
The poem explores ideas of history and written records, concerning the river and its surrounding land, through the etymology of Falcon Brook and especially its earlier name of Hideburn. The name Falcon Brook, and the image of a falcon rising, seems to originate with the family crest of the seventeenth century landowners after the Reformation.
The name Hide Burn was used in mediaeval times when the land was in church ownership and strips of land, ‘hides’, were let to local families for subsistence farming. ‘Hide’, in this context, is derived from the word for ‘household’ used in the earliest human language.The poet brings the idea of the household into the present day with the Winstanley & York Estates’ communal park, concrete modernist flats and the people who live and work here.
There is also a play on contemporary usage of the word ‘hide’ and a hidden human history. The other main element of the poem is the stream itself. It has two tributaries which merge into one as they descend from the hills and, at times, threaten to submerge the inhabited land, so that the river has been redirected and channelled.
In the final verse the river, the surrounding land, and people’s lives, are given equal value and foregrounded, or rise up,through the writing.The poet has collaborated with typographer Rob Green to design the layout of the poem in Doves Type. The poem has straight left and right margins to suggest a strip of land and also the containment of the river.
The internal spaces and punctuation have semantic and visual significance. They can suggest variant readings of verse units, as well as the unwritten or yet to be written history of the area.They can also suggest the hidden flow of the river.
The poet has conceived the commission to be an accessible work, redolent with current resonances and historic intrigues. The plaque is 60cm by 60cm and will be cast in bronze and located in the public realm outside the pumping station.
The artwork will enhance the public realm with the poem in a rich material, contrasting strongly with the Brutalist concrete surfaces of the pumping station. It will respect both the location and adjacent residential area setting. Doves Type was created at Hammersmith as a reinterpretation of hand drawn manuscript letters that preceded the creation of print. A bitter feud between the two partners Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, of Hammersmith’s celebrated Doves Press (named at the Dove’s Pub), lead to the protracted disposal of their unique metal type into London’s River Thames from Hammersmith Bridge.
Robert Green, a contemporary designer,began to re-create the Doves type as a digital facsimile in 2013. In 2015, after searching the riverbed of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge with help from the Port of London Authority, 150 pieces of the original type were recovered, which helped Green to refine the font.Doves Type is being used in several Tideway commissions, in addition to this one.