on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Neil A White

Lost Villages

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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We are currently on the move to the East Riding of Yorkshire and naturally any photography projects about the area drew some interest and in particular it was Neil's Lost Villages project that really struck a chord when I was visiting the coastline of this area of the world. We caught up with Neil in the Summer for a chat about this and other projects. It's well worth including the project statement before continuing with the interview.

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The Holderness coast located in the North East of England endures the highest rate of coastal erosion in Europe. The devastating consequence of this is villages and land slowly disappearing into the sea. The Lost Villages project aims to explore the constant battle between the North Sea and the mainland, and to document the irreversible change taking place on the Holderness coast.

The speed of the erosion has increased significantly in the past decade thanks to rising sea levels, which is linked, of course to climate change. It is estimated that up 32 villages dating back to the Roman times have already been lost to the sea. During World War II many outposts were built on this 61 km stretch of coastline. What remains of these outposts is now falling into the sea.

The historical events which took place on this coastline are fascinating. Since Roman times it is estimated that a strip of land three and a half miles wide has been washed into the North Sea. Two miles are estimated to have been lost since the Norman invasion in 1066 AD. Most of the information about the lost villages and towns of the Holderness coast are chronicled in the works of Abbot Burton (1393-99 AD) of Meaux Abbey, East Yorkshire. In the Chronica Monasterii de Melsa, he names all the towns and villages that have been lost to the sea.

One such lost village, Ravenser Odd, is particularly significant. Described as a mediaeval “new town” founded in 1235, it was also a thriving sea port. At the height of its fortunes in the early 14th century, Ravenser Odd was a town of national importance, regularly supplying the king with two fully equipped ships and armed men for his war with the Scots. It had a Royal Charter, a market and annual fair, a town mayor, customs officer and other officials, as well as numerous cargo ships, fishing boats and warehouses. There was also a court, prison and chapel. Shakespeare’s Richard II also speaks of a town called Ravenspurg (Ravenser).

By 1346 it was recorded that two thirds of the town and its buildings had been lost to the sea due to erosion. In the years that followed from about 1349 to 1360, the sea had completely destroyed Ravensor Odd. The final days were characterised by looting and general panic as the inhabitants took flight – many to neighbouring Kingston Upon Hull to start a new life – and latterly, the grim sight of bodies being washed up on the shore and mass graves. For a short time it became an island and a lair for pirates, before the town completely disappeared in around1366. It is the history of this particular village that has been an important inspiration for this project.

Today the village experiencing the severest threat is Skipsea. With a population of around 600, many homes there are set to disappear completely in the next five years. The average annual rate of erosion is around two metres of land per year, or two million tonnes of material. Most of the land here is covered by glacial till, a soft boulder clay deposited over 18,000 years ago. The clay material once washed out to sea is not entirely lost though, some of it being re-deposited on the Lincolnshire coast and some forming the Spurn Peninsula.

I have always been fascinated by changing natural environments. What drew me to this coastal area though is not just its reputation as one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe, but also because it is very close to where I grew up. When I was a child my parents would take me on day trips to this area, in particular a town called Withersea. Returning to this stretch of coastline as an adult after so many years and helped bring back fond memories of playing on the beach, my grandparents close by keeping an eye on me from their deck chairs.

The Lost Villages project will continue to document the erosion of the Holderness coastline and the difficulties experienced by the people, who are quite literally living on the edge there. In just over a year of working on this project, I have seen the coastline change markedly right before my eyes. This really does bring the speed of the erosion into reality.

Neil White

Tim: Hello Neil!

Neil: Hi Tim

Tim: How are things? I presume from you're number that you're in London?

Neil: Very well thanks and yes I'm originally from the North of England but I've been living in London for about twelve years now I think.

Tim: Whereabouts are you from then?

Neil: I'm from a small village near Hull called Elloughton-cum-Brough. I left there a long time ago now though.

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Tim: Could you tell me a little bit about your background as a photographer?

Neil: Yes, I've been a professional photographer for over ten years now and I've done commercial work for corporations and charities and some press work. I don't do much of that sort of work anymore, my work is more fine art and landscape I suppose. In 2006 I did an MA in documentary photojournalism at the LCC (London College of Communication) with Paul Lowe and spent a year trying to find other ways to take my photography and ever since then I've been moving towards different areas of photography. I've been using large format for this work almost exclusively. So I have two websites now, one website for my commercial and one for my 'proper' photography if you like.



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  • Neil

    A remarkable set of images – fantastic! Would make a superb book.

    Andrew Nadolski

  • Steve Barnett

    I get it, I like the pictures. But having grown up in the era of the New Topographic’s it seems to me there us a pregnant pause associated with the set, and I’m asking ‘yes…….and?’ It’s about time landscape photography shook off the dour format of the neutral view, which is a very transatlantic stance emanating from the 1970’s, and engaged the viewer with an opinion on show. I know ‘passion’ is a dirty word in some circles of art photography, but it at least means the photographer shows what they are thinking about things other than making pictures by numbers. I get it, but I’m left cold even though I am a big fan of this genre.

  • Malcolm Firth

    In 2000 I did a “two Year +” project on the erosion of the east coast of Yorkshire particularly Holderness from around Withernsea to as far north as Scarborough, based mainly on the effect of tourism, which I found a completely engaging subject and still add to photographically when I can thirteen years on,
    The angle Neil White has taken, “LOST VILLAGES” sounds a very interesting research subject and from reading the Forward he seams well into it “wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back in time for a week with a modern camera” ? and get some authentic images of those lost for ever hamlets of coastal life.
    Sounds really exciting, keep up the good work, I myself are getting too old now, but I still love the thoughts of it.
    Should you need older images your welcome to contact me if I can help you I will. msf@ntlworld.com

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