The Observer’s architecture critic discovers a fascinating collision of industry, historic churches, waterfront and wildlife
‘And this also,” says Marlow, the narrator of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “has been one of the dark places of the Earth.” He’s talking about the stretch of the Thames estuary near Tilbury in Essex, that is now bookended by the imposing pylons of the cable-stayed Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and the bulk liquid storage facilities of Canvey Island. It’s a little downstream from Purfleet, which Dracula found a handy place to keep his 50 boxes of Transylvanian earth. It’s just off the A13 – a road, according to Iain Sinclair, of “memory, mess, corruption, dying industries, political scams, satellite shopping cities”.
So what better place to lift the spirits than this land where the villages are called Fobbing and Mucking, where your lockdown-weary lungs can inhale the scents of salty mud and – when you’re close to the Procter & Gamble factory in West Thurrock – soap? I can’t think of one. Why would I want to be anywhere else?