The starting point for this post was a thought about one of Wesley’s earlier posts on this blog in which he said:
“The promenade thus has the odd quality of being of the past and of now and so it is a key locus of that strangest use of the past, Heritage.”
I was thinking this through during a visit to Deal, a Kentish seaside town. All along the promenade at deal we see benches, not the strategically placed municipal furniture common to the promenade form, but in this case small wooden benches, in some place standing alone and in some places squashed up against one another. These benches ran the length of the promenade.
On closer inspection it became clear that these benches were part of a heritization of the promenade at deal, but on the level of the individual and of the family, rather than as a selective social history of the seaside. These personal histories have now been made public. These stories told by these benches are now told together and the individual connections of the deceased to the seaside are stitched together in a patchwork of memories that illuminate an otherwise unremarkable stretch of concrete sea-defences.
These benches all commemorate the lives of individuals, sometimes groups of related individuals. The wood of the bench is typically engraved with the name of the deceased, their dates of birth and of death and a message. The message is sometimes an expression of the grief of the family left behind and sometimes a short phrase that in some way sums up the life that has passed: “Shine on you crazy diamond” providing an example that presents us with a new constellation of the seaside and 60’s psychedelia….
By turning our backs to the sea and lowering our gaze we can access these personal heritages, artefacts of the social space that offer us glimpses into the lives lived on previous promenades.