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GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR THE MOORCROFT RAINHAM MARSHES COLLECTION By Catherine Gage

Posted on - 21st August 2023
GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR THE MOORCROFT RAINHAM MARSHES COLLECTION  By Catherine Gage

 

Above, Angel Ascent by Moorcroft designer, Vicky Lovatt. Limited Edition of only 10 pieces worldwide.

It was an interesting launch of the RSPB Rainham Marshes Collection this month, with sunshine interjected with moody mists and stormy skies. In truth, the latter climate caused the Moorcroft Chairman, who had been trapped in his car due to a sudden shower, to embrace the dreary day and carry Magwitch into the mist. The design is, of course, named after the Magwitch, a character in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations and who first appears in Rainham Marshes itself as an escaped convict. Our image of the Chairman holding Magwitch, just as if Magwitch had just been pulled out the mist, went viral on our Facebook page, receiving over 1000+ likes.

Above -Moorcroft chairman pulls Magwitch out of the marshes, harsh and unforgiving. Dicken's Magwitch can only cling under the platforms in the mudflaps but he will have no place to go when the tide rises.

The RSPB Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve is located at New Tank Hill Rd, Purfleet, Essex, RM19 1SZ, a stone’s throw from the Thames Estuary with the silhouette of the London Skyline looming over the marshes. When the fog comes down, London disappears completely, and as we all discovered on Saturday 5th August, only the birds coming out of the marsh land are visible. Sunday 6th August proved to be a remarkably sunny alternative, where even binoculars were quickly changed for sunglasses on the nature walk, and tankers, sending cars to Dagenham, drifted like giant copper icebergs down the Thames.

 

Magwitch is absent for much of Great Expectations, but functions as a major instigator for plot activity. He is also key to changing the way Pip understands the world. After Magwitch appears in London and reveals himself as Pip’s benefactor, he tells his life story to Pip and Herbert. Magwitch makes it clear that his life of crime is rooted in impoverishment and neglect: “what the Devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach.” This explanation suggests Magwitch may have preferred to live as a contributing member of society, but was driven into a life of crime through inertia. His decision to fund Pip’s transformation into a gentleman, some believe, is motivated by his desire to get a vicarious taste of all the things he could not experience himself: “I’ve come to the old country to see my gentleman spend his money like a gentleman. That’ll be my pleasure.”

          

In consequence, it was rather ironic that a visitor to the Moorcroft stand, which overlooked the marshes, and who came on the sunny Sunday, when the cityscape was in near perfect view, was a retired Policeman who pointed to the roof of 1 Canada Square in Paul Hilditch’s London vase, and stated that he had ‘been up there.’ Interestingly, he advised me that the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, visited the location on the 11th May 1988 and arrived secretly by river boat along the Thames at the time of the Irish troubles. This was at the start of the construction of 1 Canada Square - the building was completed in 1991. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in Europe, standing at a height of 235m with 3960 windows. The unnamed retired Policeman, who incidently purchased the London prestige vase, had been fortunate enough to take a bird’s eye view of his patch from the top of 1 Canada Square to ensure all was safe. In truth, Canada square remains the vanguard of London’s real estate icons, as architects reveal more of the weird and the wonderful of London’s skyline, including the controversial Gherkin building, which is also captured in Paul’s cityscape. Fortuitously, I was also taken to the RSPB viewing platform and shown the building in the London skyline for myself by the unnamed policeman.

In Great Expectations, Magwitch does not develop as a character, but as more information is revealed about him, Pip (and the reader’s) perception of him changes significantly. In his interactions with the young Pip, Magwitch is a terrifying and sinister figure. When he first reveals the role he has played in Pip’s life, Pip is disgusted and ashamed so that “every hour increased my abhorrence of him.” With time, however, Pip becomes concerned with keeping Magwitch safe and begins feeling kindly toward him. As you can see, the Moorcroft Magwitch, is actually a grey heron, a frequent visitor to Rainham Marshes, who has much in common with Dicken’s anti-hero. The Grey Heron is a distinctive species with grey, black, and white plumage. It is often seen along rivers or lake margins, or standing, as they did at RSPB Rainham Marshes, in flooded fields as Lapwings wade in the mud flaps infront of them. In flight the grey heron’s large size, impressive wingspan, long legs, and folded neck give them an unmistakably daunting silhouette. In truth, this is keenly felt when one flies down over you, just before entering a viewing hut in the storm as I did, with its very own harsh ‘kraank’ call. Our RSPB nature guide at Rainham marshes however, only had fond words for their herons – familiarity and understand of our natural world does indeed bring us closer to our feathered friends.

View RSPB Rainham Marshes Collection

It was a pleasure to be accompanied on the Nature walk by Moorcroft Collectors: Andy, David and Jude and their family members. They can all vouch that we did come across the insects in Vicky Lovatt’s Angel Ascent design - Brimstone butterflies, known for their large greyish-green body and veiny, pointed abdomens, and male Ruddy Darter dragonflies, whose blood-red, club-shaped abdomens are almost hidden by their soft, blossom-pink and white wings. Finally, just before the children scaled a mock terminate mound, a migrant bluish-green Lesser Emperor dragonfly.

 

The RSPB have truly restored Rainham Marshes to its previous splendour following 100 years of use by the MoD as a shooting range. The marshland has a fantastic array of wildlife including birds, mammals, insects and reptiles as well as grazing cows. The reserve is a fantastic day out for all the family, displaying a window into how the marsh was 200 years ago. A network of trails, boardwalks and viewpoints cover the reserve, all of which are wheelchair accessible. Seating is present at various points around the walkways.

 

Sharp eyes needed at the RSPB Rainham Marshes. Pictured, Moorcroft designer Vicky Lovatt explaining to RSPB's Louise Skevington, RSPB Product Licensing Manager, the technical difficulties of tubeling with liquid clay. Also attending the event was the RSPB’s Head of Commercial, Mel Owen-Jones 

There are picnic areas, an adventure playground, and an award winning visitor centre containing a café and gift shop where you may find some souvenirs of the more elusive species like their famous water voles.  Notwithstanding the fact that RSPB Rainham Marshes have worked hard to create the largest water vole population in the United Kingdom, water voles were hidden in amidst the reeds with only the sighting of basking seals on the bank of the Thames as a very well received consolation prize – especially when our RSPB guide pulled out a long range telescope for us to view these marvellous creatures.

Nonetheless, collectors who did attend the event were able to see rare design trials of Water Vole Haven with two vases, which were quickly snapped-up, featuring water voles scuttling and peeping around a vase. In her design within the Collection, Kerry takes you from the feathery margins of low-lying Thames River floodplains into the heart of this wetland reserve, and richly rewards you, just as Pip was, with a curious little Water Vole clutching the reeds with twitching whiskers.

 

A watervole pops up to investigate the Moorcroft watervole designs, including an unusal trial vase.

Life is a curious thing, once Pip learns that Magwitch is actually Estella’s father, he also feels more invested in him. While we rarely get insights into Magwitch’s emotions or motivations, he is humanized through Pip’s increasing affection for him. When Magwitch is finally arrested, Pip vows “I will never stir from your side.” Magwitch’s illness and death create the opportunity for Pip to finally show integrity and loyalty to someone who has made a significant impact upon his life. In much the same way, it was in visiting the RSPB reserve that I learnt a greater insight into my father’s own love for roaming, or as his father would say, loitering, in the British hedgerows as a young boy – something which his own father would say on his death bed, was ‘the making’ of him. Education can only take us so far, and in some cases, becomes superfluous in the lives of some. Moreover, I also discovered just how a piece of Moorcroft can truly come to life in our affections, not only through art, but through our interactions with others in the beautiful natural world. Needless to say, I purchased my very first RSPB design, Angel Ascent, at the event. In truth, each time I consider its fluttering glory, and the little knowledge I gleamed from inertia in the great outdoors, I smile.