Time Travelling Through Oceans and Running Through Conduits

First blog post from Anna Chrystal Stephens – Somerset Art Works Lead Artist.

Working on the Water Histories project has been exciting and expansive, a journey through local geology, through the Chard town centre and out to the reservoir, through industrial history to environmental conservation. A variety of participants have already been involved and connections have been forming. The work so far has consisted of archival research, investigations of local folk histories around water, workshops which have included mapping activities, clay prints from fossils and a jigsaw watercourse game. Adjacent to these were site visits, conversations and an amount of exploring and documentation which has generated visual material such as photographs and film.

Since the project launched in April 2022, during these first months I have been working with Chard Museum who found fascinating materials from their archives for me, as well as supporting the project in general and hosting our collaborative event: ‘An Exploration of Water in Chard’ in September.

The presence of water is always felt in the town centre; the two streams
emerging in Chard high street flow down either side as well as branching off
down Holyrood (a side street). The commonly held belief is that the streams
diverging paths ultimately take them into different seas, one flows into the
Bristol Channel and the other reaches the English Channel. A beautiful idea,
comforting in its worldly connectedness, and as far as we can see this is true:
the town lies directly on the watershed 1.

I have been told that the stream water originates from springs nearby and is supplemented by water running off the hills. The tiny streams travel through the town, down the hill and away; making connections with mineral deposits and other water sources, adaptable and fluid in their behaviour.

I’ve been asking people about the way these streams are experienced on a
day-to-day basis to find out what is felt about them now and how they live in the town subconscious. There is some degree of love for the old concrete
troughs which are now being replaced by wider ones, but also positivity
around the streams being celebrated by their new smooth stone containers.
People have mentioned the risky placement of the taxi rank right beside the
stream at the bottom of the street and I have heard stories of people stepping out directly into them and dropping bags, keys or coats in the water.

Gary Huish who looks after the guildhall shared some thoughts on them and
how they could have been part of the town water supply. He is currently an
unintentional custodian of the streams and their sluice system, monitoring the flow. 

A discussion with researcher Gerrie Bews from Chard Museum about local
fossils in the archive sent me far back in time. Maps of the surrounding sea of
the cretaceous/ early Paleogene period show the meeting of these water bodies above the land we stand on. A shallow sea, an area where a
geologically significant fossil bed now lies.

Late Cretaceous, 66 million years ago. 2
Documentation of local fossils at Chard Museum

The relationships between the rock composition and the water flowing on or
though it are part of the story of the beginnings of Chard town I think; On one side of the town, to the west (Snowdon Storridge Hill Ridge), the pervious greensand and chalk drains and transports water away from the surface. This was an arid dry area. On the East side we have the opposite situation: underlying clay around the Cuttiford’s Door area retains the water, unable to drain through the impervious layer this was a moist, waterlogged area. But in the middle ground (Old Chard, Forton, South chard, Tatworth, Langham, and Crim Chard lie a series of springs and underlying waterways where the water – carrying greensand meets the clays… A handy water supply; a good place for a settlement. 3

Early human settlers were probably here because of the springs: Originally a
source of clean drinking water but later the moving surface water would
become a power source for mills as well as being manipulated to form an
early sanitation system. These waterways are often underground now but water continues to be a major feature of the town centre, reminding us of it’s essentiality, its lifegiving quality but also the instability and changes that water can cause; loose foundations, landslides and floods.  

Chard reservoir represents a rapid change from large scale human
manipulation of the landscape for industrial purposes to a harmonious
nurturing of a burgeoning ecosystem where biodiversity is protected. A walk
around the reservoir reveals a huge range of edible plants and fungi around
the shores and it stands as a hopeful example of how our interventions can be turned back into abundant wild spaces.

I made a film, a fragmented collage of water explorations so far, it is a
collection of research elements, imagery and emerging narratives, relating to
the things I have talked about here.

The initial stage informed a series of workshops I am now delivering at
Holyrood Academy. I’ll be working with a group of students to investigate the water history of their school grounds using the ancient craft of dowsing, we will be documenting our water-seeking activities and discussing environmental issues and ideas for the future as we collect imagery and footage. We’ll also be experimenting with different mediums to explore water behaviour and local geography. As the project develops further, the work emerging from these sessions will heavily inform the final project outcomes in April 2023 at the Culturally Chard Spring Festival.


1 https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk
2 https://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth#66. Ocean map 66 million years ago.
3 Chard, A Geological Survey, Chard History Group, 1970, p.9

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