On a salt marsh in East Sussex, on a site that was once an island, lie the feint traces of a deserted medieval village known as Northeye.
Leah Fusco describes the landscape as an “area of transience, where geographic and human details are revealed and concealed repeatedly through dynamic water levels”.
An artist and researcher, Leah works with illustration to capture alternative timeframes and readings of place. In her project entitled Northeye DMV, she examines the role of drawing as a narrative device for inhabiting territory between past and present readings of the site.
Now scheduled as an ancient monument, Northeye has experienced significant change since it was first documented in the 13th century. Tsunamis, salt mines, Black Death and smuggling have shaped the physical geography and socioeconomic history of the area. Only a series of earthworks now remain as visual evidence of the village foundations.
Leah’s interest began when she uncovered a map of the site while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. “Northeye was a limb of the Cinque Port town of Hastings and had a strong salt production industry, so as an island, it thrived as a trading location”, she notes.
“Over the centuries, storms have reshaped the coastline and transformed the archipelago into marshland. The subsequent decline in salt production is thought to be the main contributing factor in the village’s desertion, although, according to a recent geoarchaeological report carried out by Oxford Archaeology, it is not known when the port of Northeye ceased to exist.”
Now studying for a PhD, Leah’s visual work explores this reshaping through archival research and fieldwork. And while the island on which Northeye grew is now gone, its presence is still felt in the passing quality of the surrounding landscape:
“Walking across flat marshland to reach the anonymous rise in the landscape that is Northeye, evokes the sites former island status. The watery properties of the levels are a constant reminder of the force that has shaped this landscape. The sea on the horizon, small wooden footbridges that cross dykes and sluices, the nearby pumping station and dew ponds that appear on the high ground in winter - all describe the transience of the marshes.”
* If you are interested in learning more about the lost islands of Sussex, check out this article by Tom Chivers we published in 2013.
Leah Fusco explores ideas in relation to landscape, people and time through contemporary illustration practice. Drawing on geographic and historic subject matter, she is interested in past, present and future stories that observe the shaping of communities by physical environment. Her current doctoral research investigates the documentation of a deserted medieval village in East Sussex and considers how communities engage with lost places in the 21st century (AHRC). More broadly, she is concerned with developing methods for visual storytelling through documentary narrative, with a focus on the role of drawing as a means of recording experience and readings of place.
Alongside her practice, Leah is a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art.