After Tom graduates and during the years of his own personal development 1787 – 1791 he travels this road at least once. It’s a period of open opinion and lively conversation. On the 8th of January 1793 he travels down this road again but this time on solemn business for the Friends of the People group. The route takes him through Berwick, Newcastle, York, and Grantham and onto London all in a 4-day journey.
Relationship with Place
Brought up in Glasgow I’d travelled to London many times before. The route I chose was always the fastest road at the cheapest price. However when I was invited by the Fine Art department of Sheffield Hallam University in October 2009 to give a public talk on John Latham’s idea that when producing an art work, ‘Context is half the work’, I came up with the idea of driving the Great North Road that Thomas had bumped along in the 1780’s and ‘90’s. I had another invitation from the Firstsite gallery in Colchester. This was to take part in a series of talks in support of Steve McQueen’s exhibition ‘Queen and country’ on display at the University of Essex gallery. I felt that if I could combine these two travel budgets I could give myself a chance to explore the length of the Great North Road and take a series of photographs that would describe what I found and provide some of that cultural and physical landscape that I wanted to be at the heart of this project.
On the Sheffield round trip I drove before dawn on the 21st of October 2008, down to Newcastle (from Glasgow to Carlisle then west along Hadrian's wall) stopping in at Gateshead (near the old Crowley Steel Works) and Chester Le-Street. Then after the talk I drove back up the Old North Road, stopping at Leeming. This is where I slept in the van in the service station (not a great choice since it wasn’t a 24hr service station, so no toilets). On the road back to Glasgow I stopped at Scotch Corner, Durham, Morpeth, somewhere around the Holy Island, and Berwick Upon Tweed.
On the Colchester round trip on the 9th of November 2008 I got up even earlier and travelled through the night to reach Pontefract at dawn. From there I pressed on to Newark on Trent and Stamford. The day after the talk I got to see the impressive ‘Firstsite’ new build, then made my way east to hook up with the Great North Road. What a journey that was! Essex, I guess is pretty nodal. It was an epic cross country drive with lots of wrong turnings (not really wrong, I got to see some places I didn’t intend to visit but this has to be welcomed as part of any adventure), before reaching St Neots where I met a nice bit of dead end that was the original Great North Road, and from there I made my way back to Glasgow.
Journey times between Scotland and London were cut in half over the second half of the 18th century. It must have felt a bit like the democratization of air travel did for me in the in the 90’s, full of excitement and possibility. Turnpike trusts would pay for the upgrade of a road by collecting something like a shilling and six for a coach and four, or ten pence for a drove of, perhaps, 20 cows. This allowed a real mix of traffic up and down this road. Ideas traveled freely in both directions. ‘The manners, fashions, amusements, vices and follies of the metropolis now make their way to the remotest corners of the land along the turnpike road’ (On country manners of the present age, 1761 / Transport and Economy, Eric Pawson, 1977.)
Fee for public lecture Firstsite Gallery Colchester £200.
911 miles round trip by road.
Mileage rate. 30p per mile: £273
In Colchester I stayed in a Hotel paid for by ‘Firstsite’ gallery.
Sheffield Hallam University
Fee for public lecture. ‘Transmission: Host’ £150
528 miles round trip by road.
Mileage, using the 30p a mile model: £158.46
During this round trip I slept in my van stopping through the night at a service station in North Yorkshire.