Over Christmas 2022, I read ‘Derek Jarman’s Garden’, as a result of an unexpected visit to Prospect Cottage earlier in the year. One of the best things about staying in a holiday cottage is ploughing through the leaflets left behind by former occupants. You make interesting discoveries, which may not always be on the general radar of ‘things to do.’ One such leaflet led to an unexpected adventure across Romney Marshes in search of St Thomas à Becket Church in Fairfield. I was drawn to the unusual church exterior in a remote location, intrigued that the village it served, no longer existed. I imagined it shrouded in mist, with grazing sheep on nearby pastures leaping across the watercourses – perhaps an ideal photo opportunity?
St Thomas à Becket Church
The leaflet led to other churches, one of those being St Clement in Old Romney. The interior was not your standard church – for a start it had box pews painted pink. This was due to a Walt Disney film – ‘Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow,’ which was filmed here in 1964. It starred the actors Patrick McGoohan (of ‘The Prisoner’ fame) and George Cole (of ‘Arthur Daley – Minder’ fame).
Following a brief wander around the graveyard, I noticed a rather unmissable grave – that of Derek Jarman. Very simply, his signature was scrawled across a very large headstone. It was decorated with shells and pebbles, then I realised that Dungeness was nearby and therefore Derek Jarman’s garden and cottage, which I’d heard of, but knew nothing about. I decided it was perhaps worth a visit.
The pink pews of St Clement
Derek Jarman’s gravestone
The location of Prospect cottage in Dungeness is otherworldly. The landscape, like the marshes is flat, bleak and remote. It is exposed to the elements – the ‘easterlies bring salt spray which burns everything.’ It is an unusual place. Chugging behind the cottage are trains from the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Then there is the ominous silhouette of the (decommissioned) Magnox nuclear reactor. In the book Derek Jarman’s Garden, the power station is described as being akin to an ‘ocean liner at night, or a small Manhattan ablaze with a thousand lights of different colours.’ Jarman talks about ‘the mysterious shadow that surrounds it, making it possible for the stars still to glow in a clear summer sky.’ It is somewhat a surreal place, but unforgettable, as is Prospect Cottage and its garden.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and Dungeness B nuclear power station
A bleak landscape illuminated by a Broom plant
The book by Jarman is interesting. It explains how he found the cottage on a bluebell hunt with Tilda Swinton. He discusses the challenges of growing plants in such a difficult area – shingle with no soil, local flora and fauna, the changing weather and how it affects the landscape, as well as poetry and his battle with HIV.
Beachcombing collections by Jarman
Flowerbed planting – In his book, Jarman mentions Sea Kale as being the most prevalent plant in the area, in fact more grows here than anywhere else in England.
Jarman’s circle of stones
The Sunne Rising – John Donne
Jarman paid a remarkable price for his property and the surrounding land with no walls or boundaries. You’ll have to read the book to find out much!
View from the back garden
The black and yellow colour scheme with daffodils in the foreground.
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