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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Prospect Cottage

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas JULY. 04, 2020

I took these photos way back in May 2007, I have only now gone back and re-edited them into a set. I remember clearly the beautiful day in the bleak surroundings of Dungeness with the enormous nuclear power station looming on the horizon. There is a certain end of the world feel to the place. The garden was not well known at that time and the cottage was only seldom used by the owner. There were no fences and it just merged in with the beach. No one was home, but there was a sign on the door saying they did not mind photographers taking photos as long as they were not used commercially . Professional shoots needed permission. There were only four of us there on holiday in the area and we had the garden to ourselves for about an hour. It was a memorable experience.

Prospect Cottage is a house on the coast in Dungeness, Kent. Originally a Victorian fisherman's hut, the house was purchased by director and artist Derek Jarman in 1986, and was his home until his death in 1994.

Jarman bought the house following the death of his father, at a time when he was looking to leave London. Actress and friend Tilda Swinton recalls Jarman buying "gallons of pitch black paint" to redecorate. The timber walls of the cottage are weatherproofed with tar, and one wall is decorated with lines from the John Donne poem "The Sun Rising". Jarman's 1990 film The Garden was filmed at the house.

Sculptures and planting in the garden

Jarman cultivated a garden in the shingle surrounding the cottage, a mixture of sculptures assembled from driftwood and other flotsam from the beaches of Dungeness, and hardy plants which could survive the coastal weather, supported by manure from a local farm dug into small holes in the shingle. Writing of his early months at Prospect Cottage, he said that initially "people thought I was building a garden for magical purposes - a white witch out to get the nuclear power station". Jarman described his garden as "a therapy and a pharmacopoeia", and would go on to write a book about it, Derek Jarman's Garden, illustrated with photographs by Howard Sooley and published posthumously in June 1995.

After Jarman's death in 1994, the cottage was bequeathed to his partner Keith Collins. The house was put up for sale in 2018 after Collins' death, its interior still containing artwork by Jarman's friends and admirers, including Maggi Hambling, John Maybury, Gus Van Sant and Richard Hamilton.

With the possibility of the house being sold privately, Art Fund launched a campaign in January 2020 to raise money for "a permanently funded programme to conserve and maintain the building, its contents and its garden for the future". The appeal was featured on an episode of BBC1's Countryfile in February 2020, with rare filming inside the cottage allowed for the programme. As part of the fundraising efforts, costume designer Sandy Powell, a friend of Jarman's, collected film stars' signatures on her white suit at the 2020 BAFTAs award show and 2020 Oscars ceremony, to be auctioned online between 4 and 11 March by Phillips auction house, London.

Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman (31 January 1942 – 19 February 1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, and author.

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