Welcome, and thanks for coming along!
Lovely collection of Fire Insurance Marks all from the C15th Garrick Inn, Stratford Upon Avon
"I have a belief, I guess, in the power of the aggregate human attempt – the best of ourselves. In love and hope and optimism – you know, the magic things that seem inexplicable. Why we are the way we are. I do have a sense of trying to make things better."
The Photo Detectorist
It’s been a long journey into Norfolk and I feel drained and famished. I haven’t the energy to cook something up in the van, so I head into Thetford to try and find a cafe. I walk straight from the car park into the high street - it looks a little dated and worn around the edges.
Feeling tired, gnarly and disappointed, I find myself in a queue at Greggs. I’m standing next to a framed photo of Captain Manwairing on the wall. I turn to the chap behind me. ‘What’s that all about?,’ I say. ‘Oh, Thetford is where Dad’s Army was filmed.’
He tells me that there’s a statue of Captain Mainwairing in town and that he’ll take me to it, if I’m interested. I say yes, and buy him his lunch for his kindness. As we both walk over to the statue with sausage rolls in hand, I tell him that I write a travel digest, and I want to take a photo of the statue to share it with my subscribers.
‘ Don’t tell ‘em, Pike!’ He shouts.
We both laugh.
The sausage roll has done the trick, and I ask him for directions back to the car park. ‘I’ll take you there’, he says.
Back in the camper, just before I set off, there’s a knock on the sliding door. I Iook over and there’s a lady in a colourful hat waving at me. I open the door.
‘I love your camper!’ she says, and then, observing the inside of the van: ‘Are you an archaeologist?’
I laugh and think about her observation. 'Actually, I’m more of a detectorist. A photo detectorist.’
I tell her of my work and she tells me that Thetford is full of hidden gems. She takes time to share her knowledge and gives me a list with detailed directions. And so I head off into ‘hidden Thetford’ with my camera.
On my way back into town, I start to think about the idea of being a photo detectorist. Is it the buildings or is it the photography? I can’t work out which. I conclude that it’s probably a happy mix of the two - but it’s always been the camera that has kick-started my journey.
I see my camera as a divining rod. It helps me see the stories within the walls and isolate narratives beyond the bricks and mortar. It gifts me a clear perspective on things.
On returning to Thetford, I start to frame things up through the viewfinder. It’s a slow process, but the light is good and the journey is rewarding.
I pass the Mainwairing statue again and say to myself: “Don’t panic, you stupid boy!”
And then the town unravels before me.
The intrinsic beauty of Thetford is in the details, the textures, and the correspondence of place with what lies beneath.
Through my lens, I can see how this town came about, and observe the aberrations, lapses and silences in its history.
I can sense how its people overcame adversity through time.
I observe how they tied the past into the warp and weft of the present - a material act of not letting go; a way to preserve the thread of history, as if the world might unravel if they didn’t.
At times like this, Dorothea Lange's words always resonate with me : ”The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
Up until recently, I thought I’d grasped the meaning of her words. However, what eluded me was the realisation that my camera was also teaching me to see and understand myself. My work serves as a healing balm for an introvert. I use my lens as a tool to dispel my creeping solitude and forge connections.
My camera doesn’t just help me see; it also aids in overcoming introspection by connecting with others and, through them, discovering the best of humanity when I least expected it.
After finding whispers in the walls through my lens, I upgraded my assessment of Thetford, but nothing proved more potent than the opportune guide from Greggs and the lady of counsel in the colourful hat.
Bury St. Edmunds
The day after Thetford I find myself in Bury St. Edmunds.
My heart leaps when my travels take me to Bury St. Edmunds. The 'combined aggregate attempt' of the people of Bury over time has been to produce a beautiful town that is full of character.
I head for the 'Hobbit Houses' of Bury, but before I get there I visit the wonderful Romanesque St. James' Gate.
Through the arch of the gateway I can see the Hobbit Houses. They are domestic residences that were built into the former walls of the abbey. They are still occupied as domestic residences.
If there is any place that has tangible whispers in its walls - it is here.
St. Edmundsbury Cathedral is looking magnificent in the light - but I want to move on to another building that was part of my formative years as a photographer.
I first photographed the Bury St. Edmunds Unitarian Meeting House when I was learning all about architecture. The building taught me a lot about materiality and the use of brick. Built on the cusp between naivety and politeness in 1711.
I've visited it so many times - but never had the chance to go inside - it's always been locked.
Just as I'm finishing photographing the facade, somebody catches my eye from behind the gate.
"Would you like to see inside?"
It's such a kind offer for somebody to give up their time to let me see inside.
The interior is a delight. My guide is Caroline Holt and she's a tour guide for the town. How lucky am I? She gifts me the guide and history to the Meeting House.
Thetford and Bury are both beautiful places, but there's an additional feeling of sanctuary when you experience the kindness of people.
Before I head into the streets, I partake in some refreshments at the early C16th Mason's Arms which has a lovely timber-framed interior.
After fish and chips (thankfully there's no nasty, soggy chips) and a pint of local, I head into the streets - it's the 'golden hour' and the light is seeping into the details.
Bury St. Emunds: the streetscape (pure scroll - no words)
I lodge at Thetford Forest CAMC. Within the forest there is a memorial area and guided trail dedicated to the Desert Rats, who were based and trained here during the Second World War. It's particularly poignant for me as my grandad Marshall fought in North Africa during the 2ndWW.
This time last year: " Tuxlith Chapel is testament to the powerful healing powers of place, the tangible mixed with the intangible - a place that is simple and yet so powerful in its spirit. The chapel dates from the 1300’s and has many a curiosity lodged within its walls and sills."
A new Comperandum! Timber Framed Buildings
Recent Digest Sponsors:
The Membership sponsored by Leisuredrive has now been taken up.
Can you help my Member Powered Mission?
Member Powered Photography (MPP) is helping me offer my professional services for free to historic locations in Britain.
Click the box below for more info:
I put my heart and soul into the Genius Loci Digest and it takes a day a week to produce. With your support, I’m able to keep this digest free and public facing. 📸🏛🚐
Sponsor a Membership and get your own landing page on the DigestMore Information
Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.