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[About me] About the author

Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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abandoned places and things architecture bristol coastal dorset events highlands history industrial lake district lakes london mountains not the uk photo essays photography politics protests rural rural decay science scotland somerset structures the north uk urban urban decay wales westcountry all tags

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Sun, 13 Jan 2013

On the canals at Castlefield


[Tag] Tags: canals, history, industrial, manchester, railways, the north, uk, urban decay, urban

Sun, 26 Aug 2012

The dismal town of Yeovil


[Tag] Tags: crap towns, flowers on dual carriageways, somerset, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry, yeovil

Sun, 8 Jul 2012

In Credit Crunch Caernarfon


[Tag] Tags: caernarfon, castles, gwynedd, history, recession, uk, urban decay, wales

Tue, 5 Jun 2012

Denny Church Walk


[Tag] Tags: architecture, council housing, denny, falkirk, scotland, structures, uk, urban decay, urban

Wed, 8 Feb 2012

Burst of bicycle couples


[Tag] Tags: cycling, industrial, netherlands, not the uk, urban decay

Thu, 2 Sep 2010

Location: Arno's Vale Cemetery

Arno's Vale

In the 1830s, on the eve of the Victorian era and with maturing industrial and agricultural revolutions and a growing empire, Britain's urban population was booming. Around the country people were leaving the land for the historic port cities and industrial new towns; the mills and potteries and mines. And they kept dying, as people do. The old parish churchyards, designed for small and low density settlements, and already with several centuries beneath them, were overflowing. Literally: new burials were taking the plots of old; burials were stacking up; decaying flesh was somehow ending up in the water system, and diseases were spreading. In 1832, parliament passed laws to legalise encourage private cemeteries; not small churchyard burial grounds, next to people's houses and shops and wells, but great out-of-town parks. In London, the magnificent seven most famously Highgate Cemetery were created.


In Bristol, the population had doubled in the three decades since the turn of the century. Its dead suffering from the same issue of post mortem accommodation as those of every city, a shareholder company was formed in 1837 to establish the park cemetery at Arno's Vale, on the Bath Road, two miles south-east the city centre and on the then outskirts of the city. The gently sloping site was landscaped in the Arcadian style, with neo-classical mortuary chapels and entrance lodge by local architect Charles Underwood, and the first burials were made in 1839.

Tomb of Ram Mohan Roy

Nine years earlier, the Indian writer and reformist Raja Ram Mohan Roy had come to Britain as an ambassador from the Mughal Emperor. A lifelong campaigner against sati, the Hindu tradition of widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, Roy was seeking to influence British lawmakers who had the power to uphold or overthrow the Bengal governor's decree of 1829 outlawing the practice. He died of meningitis in Stapleton, then a village just beyond the northern limits of Bristol, where he was buried. Supporters and admirers felt that his basic resting place was suitable for such a great man, and in 1843 was moved to the new cemetery at Arno's Vale and reinterred in a Bengali-style "chatta" tomb, one of the most impressive and unique of the cemetery's listed monuments.

Arno's Vale

In total there are 25 Grade II* listed monuments statues, obelisks, mausolea, and war memorials alongside the four Grade II* listed buildings. A driveway leads between two entrance lodges, sweeps past the doric non-conformist chapel, past rows of obelisks and statues and up to the grand corinthian-style Anglican chapel, set on a rise to one side. Then, behind the grand buildings and monuments, paths wind away up through trees and denser fields of more modest memorials. And these densely filled plots were almost Arno's Vale's downfall: it got full, and at exactly the wrong moment.


In the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcher's societyless Britain, plots were running low at Arno's Vale, and business was drying up. Still an independent company, the owners needed to make some efficiency savings, and downsize their workforce: the gravediggers and gardeners had no place left in this business. The cemetery began to be taken over by nature, and by vandals. But the owners did have a good idea for saving the company. They noticed that, while the burial trade was looking down for them, they did happen to have a valuable asset: 45 acres of almost pristine development site on a main road and only a mile from the main railway station. Attempts to build on the site were blocked with the help of campaign groups, but the buildings and monuments continued to decline until the owners finally packed in the business and locked up in 1998. Even, so they didn't let their assets go without a fight when the city council put in a compulsory purchase order for the neglected land and its crumbling listed buildings. Arno's Vale finally became public property in 2003. These pictures were taken in 2006, not long after the peak of the cemetery's gothic phase, when the buildings were boarded and monuments overgrown. Some vegetation clearance had already begun at this point, but most of the restoration work had yet to begin. Since then, all of the buildings have been repaired and reopened.

Arno's Vale

More pictures of Arno's Vale can be found in this gallery.

[Tag] Tags: arnos vale, bristol, cemeteries, gothic, photo essays, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry

Mon, 31 May 2010

This is Cincinnati

Mill Creek Valley

You've probably heard the name, but unless you're American, you won't really know where it is. It's in Ohio, the Mid-West, but it spills out into Kentucky and Indiana. It's where the Rust Belt meets the Bible Belt to the south, and the Prairies of the West. A city of two million sprawled over an area the size of London.

Danger! Pool Closed

I lived there, for a year, nearly five years ago. While I was there, I wanted to find out what the city was like, to document it through photography. I didn't set out to tell this specific story. I didn't seek out these specific places. They mostly found me, and right from the start. Still jetlagged, we walked up our street, West Clifton Avenue. It was the second day of August, not long after 8am, the heatwave had already set in for the day, and the senses were largely overpowered by the uncollected garbage. Pausing for water at the Starbucks at the top of the hill, two men with shotguns held up the savings-and-loans opposite, before being chased by a pistol-wielding cop down our street. Down the path we had been walking five minutes earlier.

Cincinnati Cincinnati

That was our neighbourhood, Clifton Heights. Somebody had put a lot of effort into it, once, laying out streets around the hillside, with parks on promontories overlooking the city. People had bought their own plots and filled them with huge three-story homes, each one unique, a mashup of American, German, and Italian architectural styles. That was a hundred years ago, though. Now the houses crumbled, the sidewalks cracked. People had paved over the gardens with parking lots, but now those were cracked and crumbling too, often pleasantly overgrown.


Nobody cared for the neighbourhood by now. Not the students, whose near futures they knew did not belong there; or their neighbours, whose crack-den might get picked on, packed up, and moved on next time the mayor or police chief was under pressure to look busy. Not the Mexicans in the corner shop, who just wanted to blend in and not be noticed. Not the crazy people, the shell-shocked and schizophrenic, who wandered the streets unsupervised, day and night, stealing from the Mexicans, and sleeping in the doorway of the Catholic church, where the wind raced down the empty rubble-strewn plots along Calhoun and McMillan. This was a third-world neighbourhood, now; a neighbourhood that people didn't have time to care for, because it was already enough work just to survive. And everywhere there were third world neighbourhoods.

Smokestacks spewing black smoke...

This was a third-world city, a city full of crime and poverty, dereliction and shanty towns, houses not fit for habitation. Streets that looked like the poorer parts of South America and industry that looked like the decline of the Soviet Union. And its most starkly third-world feature of all was its corrupt, dysfunctional, divided, and deeply racist police force. In 2001, Cincinnati Police shot and killed 19 year old Timothy Thomas, father of a one-year old. Sorry, Police shot one unarmed black male. Sparking what were, at the time that I was there, America's most recent race riots.


Cincinnati was a town of casual conversational racism and deadly daily racism. Each morning the newspaper reported on what the black male was up to. The police department erected memorials to their fallen in the war with the black male. It was normal to talk that way.

And it was a third-world city where the minimum wage was $2.80. an hour.

There were signs of the developed world, though. Shining high-rise office blocks downtown and shining high-tech laboratories in the hills; expensive hospitals, and most of all, expensive cars.

Cincinnati Cincinnati

Cincinnati is a third-world city because five great interstate freeways cut through its historic neighbourhoods to converge on the heart of the city, allowing its first-world residents to flee from any sign of poverty and decay out to shining white houses scattered in gated "communities" amongst the forests and farms and shopping malls, thirty miles from the bearded sixty-something black male who would shout and slur and stumble at them in the street, smashing bottles on the sidewalk; from the forty-something threadbare-suited black male who would stop them to beg for money, tell a half-plausible story claiming to be a pastor, a refugee from New Orleans; from the eighteen-year old black male who would punch them in the face for a dollar. The inhabitants of the first world don't need to see the crumbling houses, cracked side-walks, or corrupt police; the scruffy cinderblock churches that take the little money that communities have, the silent ivy-covered factories, the guy with the hot shotgun and bag of cash, fleeing the cops through the children's playground.


From nine to five, Cincinnati pretends to be a first-world city, paying first-world wages and providing first-world services with a first-world infrastructure. When there's a ball-game on, the first-world rolls into downtown Cincinnati and hands over ten dollars a head. Downtown Cincinnati is an enclave of first-world skyscrapers and stadia, whose first-world workforce drive their trucks down first-world freeways, past the third-world neighbourhoods; third-world neighbourhoods that they can't see, that aren't their fault, aren't their problem anymore.

The car gave middle-class Americans the freedom to travel, to go where they want, to live wherever they like. The freedom to organise themselves, to segregate themselves, to flee to the suburbs and forget the problems of the aging city.

Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati

[Tag] Tags: abandoned, cincinnati, derelict, midwest, not the uk, ohio, photo essays, poverty, urban decay, urban, usa

Sun, 25 Apr 2010

Neighbourhood II

...continued from last week.

Or else stay on the south bank, follow the river around through North Greenwich, and enter the realm of the last remaining real industry, even as it falls to the rolling redevelopment.


And you're forced away from the river onto the Blackwall Tunnel road where cars rush through the windswept wastes to better places to be.

Footbridge That.

Through the crushed remains of the peninsula's past, piled on the flattened plots that surround the Millennium Dome, not yet all concreted over for extra ever empty unused parking spaces.


Overlooked by the brave new world of east London.


As the ferry boats that almost emptied at Greenwich keep sailing back and forth, past A Slice of Reality.

And the high tides keep bringing in the dredgers loaded with the sands of the estuary, the cargo ships of unrefined sugar, the emptied refuse barges returning to their riverside boroughs.

Silvertown + North Greenwich

And the river just keeps flowing.


Until somebody tells it to stop.

[Tag] Tags: east london, greenwich, industrial, london, river thames, uk, urban decay, urban

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My other blog is a...
  • Science blog! A blog about cancer cell and molecular biology, coming soon...
  • Skepticism blog! I contribute to the group blog Lay Science on the nature of science, skepticism, and bad arguments.
  • Science publishing blog! It's called Journalology and it's a group blog about publishers, journals, papers and data.
  • Fiction blog! Where I make stuff up, coming soon...
  • Cycling and transport policy blog! I run the group blog At War With The Motorist, where we look at evidence-based urban planning and transport policy, and ride bikes.

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Creative Commons License All text and photography on this site is Joe Dunckley 2001-10, except where stated otherwise. Text and photos are released under the terms of the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, meaning that you may reuse, remix, and republish the work for non-commercial purposes, on the condition that a credit is given to "Joe Dunckley/" and you make it clear that the work is released under this license. See this page for more detailed conditions. Contact me to enquire about commercial and editorial use.