Denman Road

Concrete blocks mark out its absence. Oblong spaces of decaying tarmac surrounded by low crumbling red brick walls, car parking spaces stolen from the surrounding scrub grass, derelict concrete stairs that no longer lead anywhere, large stone boulders placed along the road to stop fly tippers, these are the only reminders of the Denman Road Estate. A fitting legacy to the FUCKED generation who inhabited the now totally demolished flats that used to line Denman Road in the 1990’s. The pits that made up the Manvers Main complex; Manvers Main, Wath Main, Kilnhurst Colliery, were all closed in 1988 only three years after the strike. By the end of the 80’s the generations leaving school, my generation, had nothing, no prospect of a job, no hope and no future. Punk created an aesthetic around No Future we had no choice! Stuck in the middle of nowhere, with all the anger of the miners strike, hatred of the police, no workplace, no union organisation and no way out. The pressure cooker of long term unemployment and boredom, combined with drug and alcohol abuse, fused into an angry collectivist counter culture and Denman Road was one of its centres. There were parallels between Denman Road and the large squatted streets in London such as Ellingfort Road and London Lane and there were influences from the traveller scene. Thatcher had used the same tactics against the convoys at the Battle of the Beanfield as she had against the miners, but there were also differences. The Denman Road scene was fiercely working class, no one could afford a converted bus to live in and why squat when you could still get a council flat? The hippy pacifism of the peace convoys was rejected in favour of a brand of uncompromising CLASS WAR, which manifested itself both locally in campaigns against a proposed toxic waste dump and keeping the far right violently in check, and nationally in the Poll Tax Riot. The street had a constant stench of weed. Rumour had it that skunk was being grown under sodium lights by ex miners in the old mine shafts. Walking down the street you were accompanied by a soundtrack that would shift from flat to flat, moving from hardcore techno, acid house, to anarcho punk and dub.

The Denman Estate became notorious for its drugs and lawlessness, but this is not enough to explain its complete disappearance. In many ways Denman was just a prelude to the sacrificed estates that can be found all over England. What marked Denman out was cultural. A creative autodidactic culture existed here, kids who had been thrown out of school learned about politics through a practical DIY scavenger culture of making do and making it yourself. Denman was an autonomous zone and a signal of a nascent politics coming into being. Denman was the edge of civilization, the final strip of housing before you entered the post apocalyptic poisoned waste lands that Manvers had become. In its 90’s dereliction Manvers was an overpowering site, reports at the time suggested that the site was the largest area of contaminated and derelict land in Western Europe. The Denman Estate housed the children of this poisoned wasteland and in this marginal outpost traditional social structures were being reconfigured. A tribalism was emerging, one that refused hierarchical structures but had its key figures, organisers, musicians, working class intellectuals, gurus and dealers. It rejected consumerist festivals in favour of a cyclic calendar of annual sacred festivals and nomadic meeting points. It ridiculed religion whilst developing a materialist worship of the Psilocybin mushroom, harvested annually from much guarded sites. Time became cyclic. Progress meant nothing; you have to have a belief in a future to believe in progress. A cult of environmentalism was emerging and who could argue with those who had been suckled on the poisoned breath of Manvers Main’s billowing smoke stacks and abandoned to inherit their ruins. This was a savage community, but one with a strict morality. Testing on animals would be vehemently condemned, but dropping an acid tab in someone’s drink would be a laugh. Informal communication structures emerged. Direct action to shut down the BNP’s Welling bookshop was organised by leaving flyers for distribution with the main dealers, key nodes in the communitie’s network. I felt for a while that capitalism might be undermined by an intensification of the counter structures of this emergent underclass. In retrospect Denman Road represented the start of a wider shift in far left politics, a retreat from economics and a turn towards culture. Readers of continental philosophy cite the defeat of the May 68 movement as a point of rupture, the shift from modernism to post-modernism, but this rupture was uneven and spatial. It takes a long time to dismantle a Nation’s industrial base, the huge swathes of plant and machine that forged our landscape and the communities that had grown up alongside them could not easily be destroyed. It was only in the defeat of the Miner’s Strike that the rupture finally fractures the industrial north. And it was those living in the edgelands who most intuitively felt this seismic quake that shattered both space and time.

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John Wild

John Wild is a London based artist who works across photography, video, sculpture, code and performance to explore and reimaging the digitally expanded city.

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