Derek Jarman outside Prospect Cottage Photo by Howard Sooley

Derek Jarman Pocket Park blog – part 8

Discovering Dungeness – part two

Derek settled here, in Dungeness ready to face the inevitable end but while doing so he made a garden for the future, facing out to sea, to the far horizon. (Mindy, volunteer gardener)

…how would I feel about visiting the place we had talked about, visualised and had been our inspiration for the last two years
? (Paul, volunteer gardener)

We arrived in Dungeness on a sunny September morning – our visit generously supported by the Manchester Wellbeing Fund. Piling out of our taxis, we were immediately transported into the world of Derek Jarman with the reality, beauty and other worldliness of his beachside home. We had finally arrived at Prospect Cottage!

We had pored over photos and descriptions of Jarman’s Dungeness home for the past two years, but this didn’t dampen our excitement at seeing the real thing, almost to the point that we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Derek himself, standing in the yellow-framed doorway or tending the garden…the garden that we had read and heard and thought so much about.

I was amazed by the atmospheric vibe of the garden at Prospect Cottage and felt the need to lie down on the shingle and bathe in the sunshine.  (David, volunteer gardener)

Having no physical boundaries, the garden invites visitors to wander, following the pathways between shrubs and sculptures, circling the cottage itself. The soothing crunch of shingle beneath our feet was a constant calming soundtrack throughout our visit.

I noticed preoccupations: circles and patterns and repeating themes. The garden is a world of found objects, where their placement exalts them above mere existence. (Mindy, volunteer gardener)

Following Derek Jarman’s death in 1994, he bequeathed Prospect Cottage to his close companion, Keith Collins. Keith lived at the cottage until his death in 2018, maintaining it as it had been when Derek was alive. After a period of uncertainty about the future of Prospect Cottage, a successful Art Fund campaign took place in 2020 to save the cottage and its contents for the nation. This means that it can continue to be a place that anyone can visit to learn and be inspired by Jarman’s legacy. Creative Folkstone are the custodians, and it was their staff, Hamish and Rueben who greeted us and showed us round the cottage during our visit.

I found the interior of the Cottage to be exceptionally moving, the furnishings as he left it. To see and feel how he lived in such serene tranquillity, so atmospheric. (Philip, volunteer gardener)

The tours of the cottage are carried out with great sensitivity and respect, acknowledging that this was Derek’s final home, cherishing his memory and ensuring that it doesn’t become trivialised or taken for granted by those who are lucky enough to visit. Creative Folkstone purposefully avoid giving a set guided tour of the cottage. Instead, visitors are encouraged to spend time quietly in the cottage, reflecting on its contents and atmosphere as well as being given the opportunity to ask questions or discuss Derek’s life and work.

The opportunity to visit Prospect Cottage was undoubtedly the highlight, I felt his presence in every room, it was an incredibly moving and personal experience. (Paul, volunteer gardener)

We all found it a very thought-provoking and moving experience. Derek’s spirit truly lives on at Prospect Cottage and each room felt lived in. It was as though Derek had just stepped out for a short time, leaving his writing and creative materials where they were, his painting shoes tucked under his studio table and everything ready to make his next meal in the tiny kitchen.

The cottage evoked smells from my childhood: polished wood and rag rugs. We were in the intimate interior of an artist as he faced his ending on this earth. (Mindy, volunteer gardener)

After spending the morning at Prospect Cottage, we walked along the road to Derek’s favourite place for fish and chips, The Pilot Inn. We were lucky to get a table as it is clearly a favourite for lots of locals. As we ate our lunch (and yes, some of had fish and chips!) we reflected on our project at Manchester Art Gallery, at the opposite end of the country to Prospect Cottage and in a very different environment. Despite the difference in settings, we hope that we have managed to capture some of the spirit of Derek’s work and his garden so that Manchester citizens can continue to be inspired by his legacy and we can keep his memory alive and relevant for younger LGBT+ generations in our city.