© e-flux journal / issue #33: 12.03.2012

“If the creative-class thesis can be seen as something of a hymn to the perceived harmony between the “creatives” and the financiers, together with city leaders and real-estate interests, guiding the city into the post-industrial condition, perhaps the current grass-roots occupations can be seen as the eruption of a new set of issues related to a new set of social relations of production.”  Martha Rosler

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‘Meshwork Worcester’: Arts Council England Lottery Funded

‘Meshwork Worcester’ is an artist-led initiative that builds partnership with Worcester City Council (Heritage & Design Team) and University of Worcester (Humanities & Creative Arts). The aim of ‘Meshwork Worcester’ is to invest artist thinking (R&D, action research, and infrastructure building) in the recent ‘Master Plan for Worcester’ 2011 (David Lock Associates) in advance of the City Council’s commissioning of second level master plan studies in 2012 (which include Public Realm Strategy, Lighting Strategy, City History Trails, Active River Strategy, Public Art Programme, and Programme of Cultural Events).

John Fennyhouse Green

John Fennyhouse Green (1727 – 1774), Under Clerk of Works to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Company, was responsible for identifying John Acton’s stubble field and the neighbouring meadow owned by Wilson Roberts at Lower Mitton as the site for the River Severn terminal at what is now Stourport Canal Basins.


John Fennyhouse Green’s appointment was confirmed on 17 March 1767 – at an annual salary of £50 paid monthly, and subsequently increased to £80 on 15 September 1767. An earlier record shows him working with the surveyor Samuel Simcock on the levelling work at Tettenhall Bridge on 22 July 1766.

As assistant to the Clerk of Works John Baker, Green’s tasks would have been some or all of the following: “…to attend the works and see that everything is executed pursuant to the surveyor’s direction to measure the works to enter all contracts for work to give in Bills and Accounts to be settled by the Committee and when approved by them to pay the Bills and Money or rent for the lands to be purchased and keep the account to be passed by the Committee and then deposited with the Clerk to the Proprietors.”

Surviving documentation (primarily Staffordshire Record Office) indicates that Green carried out a wide range of specialist tasks, all of which he recorded in great detail. He made site visits and undertook surveys and levelling work, he attended key meetings and managed James Brindley’s Order Books, he kept his own ‘Day Books’ (these diarise the setting out and construction of the canal and basins and provide the only detailed day to day account of the work), he managed the ‘Cutting Accounts’ and dealt with land purchase and compensation to land owners. He also identified the site for the navigation’s inland port at the River Severn, and, as such, could be considered the founding father of what is now Stourport upon Severn.

John Fennyhouse Green was the second child of Fennihouse Green (1694 – 1769) and Rachel Smythe. He was baptised at All Saints in Lapley, Staffordshire on 12 November 1727 and was buried at the same place on 9 February 1774. The gravestones of his mother, Rachel, and sister, Sarah, can still be seen at All Saints. Set between these two markers is a third gravestone, now destroyed. This is probably the marker for John Fennyhouse Green.

Locating the Basins at Lower Mitton

Construction of the canal began at Compton near Wolverhampton and worked south towards the River Severn, before returning to Compton later to go north to the River Trent. By October 1768, and with the canal builders hard on his heels, Brindley was under pressure to fix on the site for the connection to the River Severn. His earlier conviction about locating this at the confluence of the Severn with the River Stour had been shaken when the Stour went into flood in April 1768. Even so, Brindley had ordered that the land at the Stour be surveyed, and as late as mid-October 1768 this was still the intended location for the inland port.

On the 27th October 1768, John Fennyhouse Green was assisting John Dadford in setting out a culvert at Broadwaters when John Baker, the Clerk of Works, directed Green to “go down to the Stour’s Mouth and observe where the Canal might be brought to the Severn.” In his Day Book for 1 November 1768, Green records his visit to “Mr Price’s at Stour’s Mouth” (now the Angel Inn) and assesses the potential of the immediate landscape as the location for the inland port, “If canal is bro’t above… If Bason is made there…”. He was looking for a piece of land that was both broad enough to accommodate what is now the Clock Basin and which sat “high enough out of flood’s way”. John Acton, the local Church Warden at Lower Mitton, owned just such a field – a stubble field, measuring something over 5 acres (20,000 m2) and lying high enough above Mr Roberts’ meadow that ran along the River Severn.

On Wednesday 2 November, Green met with Brindley and Sir Edward Littleton, Chairman of the Canal Company, at Acton’s stubble field to discuss his observations. The outcome of this meeting was that “Mr Brindley…fixed on going thro’ Mr Acton’s Stubble field above Mr Price’s House for making of a Bason and building warehouses et on it” and ordered that “the Setting out of the Canal and new Water course of 17th October be altered”.

Thus the canal basins and river locks came to their present location, and, as history shows, the town of Stourport upon Severn grew rapidly there about to service and benefit from the new navigation.

Note On Surviving Records

This article draws on original 18th century documentation, mainly John Fennyhouse Green’s Day Books, to summarise the sequence of events leading to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal’s terminal being located at Lower Mitton.

A few of John Fennyhouse Green’s original papers are held at Staffordshire Record Office and at the British Waterways Archive in Gloucester. Unfortunately the majority (including the all important Day Books) appear to have been destroyed in the early 1970s, and now exist only on microfilm held at Staffordshire and Worcestershire Record Offices.

The front piece to this microfilm states: “These documents were, apparently, ordered to be destroyed, but the officer requested to do this balked at the prospect as he felt they were valuable historically. His son, in due course, approached the Staffordshire County Archivist and it was agreed that copies would be made either by the Staffordshire or Worcestershire Record Offices or both and that eventually the originals would be returned to their proper ownership, British Transport Commission, with no names mentioned. See Worcs RO File 223:100.9:3, 7 August 1971.”

Update 21.02.2011

The 34 original Day Books seem to have survived their planned destruction in the 1970s, and were sold at auction on 13 February 2009 at Halls Welsh Bridge Salerooms to Staffordshire Record Office. The auction description says: “James Brindley (1716-1772)/ John Fennyhouse Green – A collection of 34 ‘Day Books’ each hand written manuscript containing detailed notes on the construction, surveys, levelling and land owners associated with the construction of the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal, each volume 8vo, mixed bindings of vellum and marbled boards. John Fennyhouse Green was employed as the under clerk of works to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company. His duties included a wide range of tasks all of which he recorded meticulously. These day books offer a detailed account of Brindley’s working practices.”



I have borrowed the term ‘meshwork’ from the philosophy of Henri Lefebvre. There is something in common, Lefebvre observes, between the way in which words are inscribed on a page of writing, and the way in which the movements and rhythms of human and non-human activity are registered in lived space, but only if we think of writing not as a verbal composition but as a tissue of lines – not as text but as texture.

Tim Ingold: ‘Bringing Things to Life – Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials’ 2008

Martha Rosler: ‘Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism’

When Abstract Expressionists explored the terrain of the canvas and Pollock created something of a disorientation map by putting his unstretched canvases on the floor, few observers and doubtless fewer painters would have acknowledged a relationship between their concerns and real estate, let alone transnational capital flows.

Space, as many observers have noted, has displaced time as the operative dimension of advanced, globalizing (and post-industrial?) capitalism. Time itself, under this economic regime, has been differentiated, spatialized, and divided into increasingly smaller units. Even in virtual regimes, space entails visuality in one way or another. The connection between Renaissance perspective and the enclosures of late medieval Europe, together with the new idea of terrain as a real-world space to be negotiated, supplying crossing points for commerce, was only belatedly apparent. Similarly, the rise of photography has been traced to such phenomena as the encoding of earthly space and the enclosing of land in the interest of ground rent. For a long time now, art and commerce have not simply taken place side by side, but have actively set the terms for one another, creating and securing worlds and spaces in turn.

Part #1: Art & Urbanism

Part #2: Creativity & Its Discontents

Part #3: In The Service Of Experience(s)

Space and Time in Labour

“Doing work by the piece opened my eyes to the difference between Space and Time. Philosophers are pleased to inform us that we live in a Space-Time Continuum and that both are the same thing. I do not question it. But I am free to say that in the agricultural world they are mighty opposites. When you are working by the hour, time drags. When you are working by the space, time flies. Doing piece-work you want to cover so much ground, so much space – and so time moves fast. If you have no space to conquer but only time – then time stands still.”

John Stewart Collis: ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ 1973

Becoming part of the world’s work

“I had only been working on the land a question of weeks, but one morning as I went past the potato field I realized with what fresh eyes I now could see a field, this field. It was no longer just a bit of earth the beauty of which I perceived from the outside, I saw it a hundred times more clearly, it was a hundred times more real. For I had sown it with potash and superphosphate, I had walked up and down it endlessly, I had counted the minutes nearer the midday meal, I had tried to plough it, I had put down potatoes in the furrows. Already I was no longer an onlooker, a spectator, excluded as if by excommunication from its factual and actual existence. I no longer hung in the void, but had entered in at the door of labour and become part of the world’s work in its humblest and yet proudest place.”

John Stewart Collis: ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ 1973