Gruff Multiple / Of The New City: BATA

Last month, whenwebuildagain visited East Tilbury in Thurrock, on the north bank of the river Thames. The Bata factory and accompanying workers’ community, built by the British Bata Shoe Company between the 1930s and 1960s, was the focal point of our explorations. But for all the fascination of the modernist geometries and rust-blistered shoe boxes, the life of East Tilbury isn’t just the Bata life, and we didn’t just want to goggle at the Constructivist cubes and beautiful typography without doing something vaguely constructivist ourselves. So, we took stuff with us to read and think about as we  wandered; we also noted the things that struck us and took some photographs. Here, then, is our gruff archeology of East Tilbury, accompanied by a mix-tape of us, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Rocker, Manuel Maples Arce and John Dos Passos.

factory floors turned storage facilities; cheap offices; rust hissing at us from the staircase above and us deciding not to climb it

‘O city all tense / with cables and strains / all humming with motors and wings’

Manual Maples Arce, trans. John Dos Passos, ‘Metropolis’ (1929)

a sandwich shop, its walls all shimmying with sports memorabilia and gilt-framed autographs; a thriving mug factory out the back, too

‘People forgot that industry is not an end in itself, but should be only a means to insure to man his material subsistence and to make accessible to him the blessings of a higher intellectual culture.’

Rudolf Rocker, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (1946)

the grid, then land suddenly spreading 

‘But you can’t live in a loaf. / So build houses. / It’s hard to build houses. / So become a bricklayer’

 Hans Magnus Enzensberger, ‘Rondeau’

cubes and flat roofs, with xmas ornaments adorning them

‘The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.’

Bertrand Russell, ‘In Praise of Idleness’ (1932)

beautiful warps all around us 

‘Simultaneous explosion / of new theories’


farm lands, a trace of them; but no carrots to speak of

‘The fastest of our machines, / parallel architecture’

HME, ‘A Hare in the Data Processing Centre’

a cinema turned village hall, available for parties for an hour at a time 

‘Serious-minded persons are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime’


a chip shop

‘Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained from consuming them.’


white vans parked outside the houses, the vehicles of mini-industries in the absence of a big one

‘The ever-growing power of a soulless political bureaucracy which supervises and safeguards the life of man from the cradle to the grave is putting ever-greater obstacles in the way of co-operation among human beings.’


the sign of Bata still  

‘What does it matter if literary inkspitters fail to understand / the untouchable beauty of a sweaty century’



About whenwebuildagain


  1. irene

    Very interesting.

  2. lovely photos. no carrots indeed.

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