documentary

The Bricklayers Arms by Nigel Rumsey

The Bricklayers Arms, Stone Street, Gravesend

Another of Gravesend’s recently closed pubs. Since the turn of the century, 24 pubs in the town have closed.

The Bricklayers Arms opened in 1851 and closed in 1910.  It reopened as The Station Hotel in 1914 which closed in 2002. Reopening later as Bar24 and then The Bridge Bar, which finally closed in 2017.

This is part of an ongoing project.

Ascot Arms by Nigel Rumsey

The Public House, the pub, with maybe the church, was once at the centre of every English community. In my parent’s generation most men, and sometimes women, would have ‘a local’ a place to go and chat with friends about their lives, their troubles, or at least how poorly their football team were playing that week.

Yes, they sold beer, but mostly they were about community. Where I grew in south-east London, they served a very small clientele, that might only be the residents of half a dozen streets. Most of their regulars knew each other, they knew their partners, their parents and their children. It was a very territorial thing, half a mile if that sometimes, further up the road would be another local with its own regulars, another separate, distinct community.

Over the last 25 years, maybe more, that’s changed. In my own town of Gravesend since the turn of the century, 24 pubs have closed. Granted we started with a lot, being an old port on the Thames, Gravesend had more than its fair share of pubs. Nevertheless, the attrition rate is shocking.

The Ascot Arms is the latest to close, finally shutting its doors earlier this year. The brewery has advertised for new tenants, but it seems more likely it'll be turned into yet another convenience store, or demolished and the land used for housing. The Ascot Arms started life as the Central Hotel; opening in 1932. It’s a huge rambling place, so it’s hardly surprising the latest landlord struggled to keep it open.

Part of an ongoing project.

The Day I Photographed a Rodeo by Nigel Rumsey

 Watching the rodeo, Hayesville, North Carolina

Earlier this year when planning our trip to North Carolina, I saw the ideal opportunity to fulfil my ambition to photograph a rodeo. 

After much time spent with Google, I settled on the Bar W Rodeo. My decision was based in no small part on the fact it is held at the brilliantly named Cutworms Corral, a proper actual corral! The Cutworms Corral is close to Hayesville, NC, we found a chalet to rent on Chatuge Lake, just outside Hiawassee which is about 15 miles away across the border in Georgia.

 Friends at the Rodeo, Hayesville, NC

North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful part of the country bounded to the west by the Appalachian mountains and the east by the Atlantic ocean. As you fly into Raleigh/Durham airport, the landscape all the way to the horizon is entirely carpeted with trees. The buildings and roads are on land neatly carved from the forest. 

Shooting the rodeo was an amazingly exhilarating experience and something I’d love to do again. My one mistake was to go on Saturday evening. The rodeo is held across two days; if I'd gone on Friday I would have been back on Saturday night to shoot again. 

I’ve made a small book featuring some of my favourite shoots including the ones you see here. 

My introduction to the book:
Finding Hayesville, North Carolina (pop. 311), on the map is not easy. If you do, look to the northeast and the green of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s early evening you are travelling along the Tusquittee Creek Road, heading deeper into the forest. Before the sun goes down, you can glimpse the beautiful Hiwassee River on your left. Sections of the river have local names reminiscent of earlier times, Schoolhouse branch, Mull Cove and just ahead is Greasy Creek. Go through Tusquittee, take the bridge on the left over the river and the Cutworms Corral will be in sight. If you’re lucky, and it's rodeo time, a cowboy will be at the gate to welcome you.
                    
This literal dot on the map is where I nd myself. It’s May 2017, and this is my first rodeo. We park our rental - almost the only vehicle that isn’t either a truck or an SUV - in the eld next to the corral. I’m feeling just a little out of my comfort zone.
                    
The show starts as it always does here with the singing of the National Anthem and a heartfelt thank you to the members of the military in the crowd. From then to the end of the night I am strangely in my element.

 Riding the bull at a rodeo

Steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding hadn’t played much of a part in my experience growing up in South London. Apart from TV, I don’t think I’d even seen a bull until I was out of my teenage years, so the prospect of riding one seems crazy to me. To be fair, it soon became apparent it seems pretty crazy to most of the crowd. But ride them they did - even if, in most cases, it wasn’t for very long.
                    
Much of the time I don’t have a clue what was going on. But the imagery is wonderful. I feel as though I’ve found a seam of gold in these North Carolina hills and I just can't stop digging. This is the second day of a two-day meet, and I'm kicking myself for not being there on day one.

 Rodeo cowboy

I take my hat off to the brave women and men who take part; they put on an amazing show. This certainly won't be my only visit to a rodeo, and it’s unlikely to be the last time I navigate the Tusquittee Creek Road.

 After the rodeo

You can find more of my rodeo shots here and the book here.

Mecca-on-Thames by Nigel Rumsey

 Marks & Spencer, Bluewater shopping centre

Gravesend like so many towns is caught between the twin threats of online shopping and the out-of-town mall. In our case that is Bluewater. 

Built in a former chalk quarry the Bluewater site occupies 240 acres and has 154,000m2  of sales area, making it the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK and the sixth largest in Europe. It has 330 stores, 40 cafés and restaurants, a 13-screen cinema and parking for 13,000 cars. This is a shopping destination.

It’s something of a blessing and a curse employing 7,000 people many of whom live in Gravesend.  Yet the overwhelming majority of the stores are national or international chains so the bulk of that revenue heads of elsewhere. Bluewater serves over 27 million visitors a year, that’s a huge number of drivers on local roads, very few spending other than at the centre itself.

What to do? Gravesend certainly can’t ignore the behemoth only 5 miles west. I for one would hate to see it become a ‘theme town’ resting on its history and connection to the Thames, but I’m not sure I know the alternative.