We hit upon a massive structure, the sheer size of it could rival Manvers Main in its heyday. An enormous expanse of grey corrugated metal rises into the sky forming an acute angle as perspective sends our eyes hurtling forward along the immaculately straight Brookfields Way. This is an impressive blank, a minimalist vista of grey vertical lines broken by a perfectly angular green strip of manicured privet bushes and grass. Equally spaced floodlights only occasionally break the riveted lines that form its walls. There is no indication of what this immense place houses, why it is here, what its function is. Manvers Main was incapable of maintaining the separation between inside and outside, with its constant frenetic activity refusing to be bound and hidden, men and machines transported into and out of the earth, skips of slag and waste drawn from below and exposed in man made mountains, train carriages shifting materials to and fro, and that constant smoke. Manvers exposed its inner operations in a flamboyant display of exuberance, but this structure hides secrets. There are no traces of the workers, not even a fag packet dropped on the way to work. No one walks this pristine pavement. The inner operations, of this anonymous structure, are hidden from inquisitive eyes. Its huge expanse of zero visual stimuli is strangely enjoyable when contrasted with the usual constant bombardment of spectacular images. We continue down the street, mouse clicks and blurred renderings, until we arrive at a high, yet open, black gate. Ahead we can see a car park and another identical corrugated grey structure, but we cannot proceed further. A large sign at the gates warns, ‘Private Road Authorised Vehicles Only’, another less significant sign contains the NEXT logo, this is the only clue provided to the purpose and operation of this vast secretive area with its full car park and two imposing buildings.
Heading back along Brookfields Way we pass another large corrugated structure, but this one is less shy. Mid blue and grey, running its full length are two stores of glass windows looking proudly out onto the street and shouldering a pair of oversized Maplin logos at each end. The drift continues, faceless corrugated structure after faceless corrugated structure. There is a uniformity that starts to render these imposing buildings invisible. A repetitive colour scheme of greys, light and mid blues desensitise you from scale. LOGISTICS. This is the camouflaged STUFF of the falsely imagined immaterial economy. The hidden back end of so much consumer noise; billboards, radio and TV advertising, website banners, online shopping and the spectacular glass dome of the Medowhall out of town shopping centre.
The mysterious secrecy has a purpose, this blank concealment is important, here the goods hidden inside these oversized warehouses remain just STUFF, mountains of STUFF, that hasn’t yet been applied with the magic that will render them into admirable fetishes ready for consumption. There’s a danger. In this gap between production and consumption these large storages of goods can be seen for what they are. Simply STUFF. And questions may be asked as to why all this STUFF cannot just be taken and used.
Street View respects private property and drifting this territory exposes this as its blind spot. The distinction between public roads and private roads produces sudden unexpected invisible boundaries. We are repeatedly stranded at the entrance to a set of roads leading to buildings and structures we cannot reach. In map view we can see row after row of uniformly straight roads, each accessed via spokes radiating from a collection of central roundabouts, but our access to these zones are permanently barred. Sometimes there are visible boundaries, gates or barriers, but mostly just a simple road sign is all that is required to abruptly stop us in our tracks. This restricts our investigation of these sites but in doing so exposes the scale of privatisation of this former nationalised and publicly owned landscape.
White clad with an overhanging arched roof and two banks of green tinted windows separated by a central column, this building stands out against its neighbours. This is one of the few buildings within the restricted zones that we can still clearly see from the street. A tall mast rises above it like a watchtower. Banks of communication equipment, circular dishes and long oblong white masts are clustered together by a triangular scaffold and suspended in the sky. The security is overt. CCTV cameras stand guard on raised poles at the entrance. A high mesh fence toped with razor wire surrounds the site. Some form of double security system is used at the entrance and a yellow sign warns, YOU ARE ON CCTV. Cameras are visibly mounted on each corner of the building and these are reinforced by heavy duty round horn public address speakers. This building suffers from paranoia, but, unlike the secretive NEXT building, the workers here are visible. A bus shelter like structure has been provided at the rear of the building and it is rammed with smoking workers, litter collecting at the foot of the security fence behind them. As I zoom a strange glitch occurs. In a single movement we time shift. A white blossom tree, previously barely noticeable, suddenly expands to obscure our view, sensing our presence the blossom is summoned into action to cloak the shelter with at least twelve months extra growth. Resting above the buildings central column is a corporate logo. Two overlapping squares, one yellow, one blue, intersect to create a third smaller green square, an angular representation of set theory. The logo is accompanied by the letters tsc in some variation of the Times New Roman font. Tsc operates call centre services for corporate clients such as BT, Vodafone, sky, EE and Sainsbury’s. Tsc is owned by Webhelp and boasts that is has moved beyond the call centre and also offers internet based services such as social media monitoring and analysis. Tsc is one of a number of call centres, including Ventura and T-Mobile, who have set up operations at Manvers.
Another grey and mid blue corrugated structure, two stores of glass windows run its full length, identical to the Maplin building, except for a cheap printed vinyl sign, Garnett Dickinson Publishing. Parked at its entrance is a converted trailer. Glossy black paintwork with gold lettering that reads, ‘Lenny’s Hot Jacket Potatoes and Pasta’ and is accompanied by a gold cartoon of a potato with arms and legs wearing a chef’s hat. A serving window has been cut into the front and we can see a selection of bright sauce bottles on the counter. A man wearing a blue catering hat and tabard, probably Lenny, is leaning into a white van parked next to the trailer. There is something significant about Lenny’s trailer. It stands out in this carefully ordered landscape. He has found a temporary gap in this development. A small space of land awaiting development and he has occupied it with the only accessible place to buy a hot drink and something to eat we have witnessed on the drift. He is an opportunist, parasiting this territory, but this trailer adds some warmth to the cold anonymous greys and blues that surround him. We are also finding gaps, ways to occupy the cold, static images presented by Street View. We have no ability to alter these images, no opportunity to change or intervene in them, but we occupy these images with stories, memories, speculative theories and discussions. Spaces we have only viewed on Street View become locations we know, significant sites have emerged, inaccessible zones have become mysterious, vanished estates remembered and steps taken to move beyond the cinematic desire to return to the point of trauma.
MANVERS DOES NOT EXIST