“The landscape and atmosphere of Dungeness on the south-eastern tip of Kent are marked by the weatherbeaten remains of 19th and 20th century fishing activity and activated by 21st-century lives lived in ad hoc, literally marginal conditions. In the late 1980s, the filmmaker and Aids-stricken gay activist Derek Jarman’s retreat to his weatherboarded Prospect Cottage gave Dungeness the reputation of being a uniquely strange bolthole for uniquely strange, often creative loners.
The strangeness had already been identified in the 1840s by Kent-born writer Richard Harris Barham, who declared: ‘The world, according to the best geographers, is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh.’ Denge Marsh in Dungeness is part of this peculiar fifth continent of shingle and random punctuations of sea kale, viper’s bugloss and medicinal leeches.
Dungeness seems brusque and unremarkable in the same way as Jaywick in Essex. Though not obviously physically interesting, Dungeness is a National Nature Reserve harbouring 600 plant species and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is also faintly surreal: police patrol cars pass along Dungeness Road every half hour or so as part of the 24/7 protection of the Dungeness B nuclear power station; the miniature passenger-bearing steam engine and coaches of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway rattle along a 15-inch-wide track past the hut-like houses on the shingle; a purple Ukip flag lolls above the porch of one of the small houses; and beyond the Tiger Inn, a row of bungalows eddies northwards along the strand towards Lydd-on-Sea. A bit further north are the remains of the concrete ‘sound mirrors’ built between the wars to detect incoming aircraft.
Among the plant species enduring at Dungeness are a few that are classified botanically as ‘casual aliens’. The architects of wealthier incomers have also planted casual aliens in the shingle – fisherman’s structures and ex-railway carriages reborn as mod-vernacular homes, mostly as black as the bitumen that has been the coating of choice here for two centuries.
Shepway District Council will allow architects to reinvent what exists here if they follow the pitches, ridgelines, and footprints of what they are replacing. The finest early example is the cleverly two-faced Gelon Hanna House by Simon Conder. Less clever (or perhaps too clever by half) is the recent fin de la terre luxe Pobble House by Guy Hollaway, whose slick multi-materiality seems bumptious by comparison.”