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5 September 2013 Trent/Mersey Canal to Cauldon Canal Ethnography

Today marks the beginning of the canal tow path ethnography. I am doing this in stages as I do not have the time to do the whole length of the canal that passes through Stoke on Trent in one day. Day 1 has focused on the section of canal that runs from Festival Park (China Gardens Pub) to Shelton New Road. We were forced to stop here as the tow path is closed for maintenance. I don’t have access to a boat so we will have to return to do that section at a later date. 

Image

Yellow- Industrial, Red – Graffiti, Light Blue -Canal Route, Purple – Tow Path Closed, 
Pink -Main roads, Blue – Education. 
(Please note, the graffiti marked not on the canal path
 is from two separate ethnography sessions)
 
Starting at the china gardens, which also happens to be a docking area for canal barges and in the centre of a shopping/entertainment complex, we headed towards the start of the Cauldon canal. The first bridge we encountered had a council commissioned mural that had graffiti painted over it. The graffiti was not the type that we have seen before in that it was just black spray paint daubing slogans and symbols as opposed to a particular artists tag and it made references to ethnicity and a particular area. 
This is what many think as stereo-typical graffiti. It has most likely been done by a local group of youths, who distinguish themselves by their shared ethnicity/race/religious background, who are marking that area as their territory. It is possible that this is where they choose to meet up, although that they identify as ‘Shelton 187’ means that this could be outside their area, but they have chosen to mark their visit in possibly another groups territory. There was no more instances of this that could be seen along the canal. However, this area falls under Stoke on Trent city council, who have a strict policy to remove any graffiti referencing race, so it could have been removed. 

Straight after this bridge on the left was an array of larger pieces. We recognised many of the styles and were reassured that the canals were going to be fruitful, as we had expected. 

What stood out for me was the age of some of the pieces. Those on private property are the owners responsibility to clean and some property owners either don’t seem to mind it or don’t want the expense of cleaning. There was then a large expanse of canal without graffiti. This we assume is due to the lack of areas to paint. There was no industry for this stretch, just peoples homes that appeared very well looked after.
At the point that the Mersey/Trent canal forked and formed the Cauldon Canal there was a disused docking bay attached to the now canal museum. This bay was full with old graffiti. However, it was difficult to get pictures as there was now gates in place. It was obvious from the age of the graffiti that it is not a place regularly used anymore. 

From here the majority of the graffiti was found on or under bridges. 

As we approached the Shelton New Road Bridge we had to come off the tow path as it is undergoing repair and we could not continue. I did find at this point, viewable from the canal and Shelton New Road, a disused college/training centre that appeared to have many big pieces of graffiti. Unfortunately we could not gain access (See post ‘The day that ethics got in the way..’). We continued to take pictures around this area and were approached by a local bike mechanic that spoke of seeing people who ‘didnt look like tramps or smack heads – they were too well dressed’ jumping the small wall to the old college at various points through out the day. We assume he meant graffiti artists from this statement. There did not appear to be any hostility towards graffiti artists in this area, but it is worth noting that this area is one populated by young uni and college students. 

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