Rubbish Seaside: a ‘backhanded love letter’ to urban Britain

So, my name’s Jack Hurley, I’m 40 and I guess I’m an illustrator. I say “guess” because this all came about through expedience rather than design after I rather rashly threw in the towel on my career as a mental health worker without much of a plan as to what I was going to do next. The last five years have been a seat-of-the-pants crash course in learning on the fly, screaming at Adobe Illustrator and generally blagging my way through a scene I came to relatively late in life.

I ended up making these posters while I was doing some freelance T-shirt design work and I got a request to do one for Cleethorpes with “The Last Resort” as the punchline.

This got under my skin for a couple of reasons. The first was that I grew up by the seaside – first in the Southsea area of Portsmouth, but mainly in a very sleepy South Devon town called Teignmouth – and any vehicle that could be used to exact revenge for an adolescence spent in what felt like the end of the Earth was right up my esplanade.

On top of that, I’ve always been a fan of the railway poster aesthetic. So that was how the first poster came about, but I realised that this concept had legs, so I started doing more – Blackpool, Grimsby, Redcar – and, much to my surprise, found that people really liked them. That’s when the series became Rubbish Seaside and started to get a bit of traction.

The move to inland destinations was, again, one of expediency: I sell prints and postcards in a shop in Leeds called Fabrication and we were always getting people coming in asking for a Leeds one. Eventually I caved, but I really enjoyed making that poster and it opened up so many possibilities for the series as a whole. Of course, this does mean that I’ve painted myself into a corner where I get a ton of sarky comments pointing out that Leeds isn’t by the sea, but I can live with it.

I think there’s a uniquely British reason behind their popularity: we have trouble with outward displays of affection and these posters have sort of become a backhanded love letter to a lot of places. It always tickles me when someone will tell me that I’ve managed to capture the crapness of x or y town really well and yet they always do so with a real sense of pride: “This may be a shithole, but it’s our shithole and you’d better believe that it means the world to us.” That’s the sort of feedback that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Leeds has been my home for the last 16 years and I love the place to bits. It’s a dirty, handsome city with deep reserves of civic pride, but one that’s also able to laugh at itself and is comfortable in its own skin. I also love this poster because – aside from the standard Saturday night carnage, hipster absurdity and general grubbiness – it’s quite a personal one. See those newlyweds? That’s me and my wife: the town hall is where we got married. Awwww…

I have a love/hate relationship with Manchester, having been to uni there. On the one hand, it was amazing – arriving there from back-of-beyond Devon was mindblowing in all the right ways for someone who had always felt like he was missing out on the party – while on the other, some really bad things (assault-y things, gun-y things, keep-you-awake-at-night-for-good-few-years-after things) happened to me as well.

I still visit regularly, but I can’t help feeling that it’s becoming a city of extreme contrasts. The skyline is spiked with cranes, there is clearly money – lots of money – sloshing about at the high end, yet the view from street level is positively Dickensian, especially with the level of homelessness and extremely visible drug abuse. A lot of that feeling runs through this poster, in that you can have the time of your life in Manchester, but that rawness will never be more than a few yards away.

Endlessly fascinating, York. I do a shift in a shop there every other Friday and during the day it’s part genteel medieval gawpathon, part theme park for some fantasy projection of a Britain that only exists in fiction and part solid bastion of well-heeled, burgundy cord-wearing North Yorkshire. Then 6pm comes and it’s like someone flipped a switch – suddenly the entire north-east has turned up and the place is now an all-compassing stag-and-hen hellscape. Fascinating!

Southsea is my hometown, God love it, and a place that very much reflects the thing that made it: the Royal Navy. Portsmouth knows that it’s the cockpit of imperial violence, Britain’s knuckle-dusters, the place where rough lads set off to do the empire’s dirty work. Southsea, though, with its Waitrose and elegant Georgian parades, has always liked to think of itself as the officers’ mess of this otherwise harsh enterprise. Thing is though, that while it may have its little finger raised, you don’t have to scratch the surface too hard to find it’s pure Pompey underneath.

It reminds me a lot of Pompey, Hull – except that while Portsmouth is defined by the Royal Navy and all its attendant violence, Hull seems to owe more to the merchant navy. The similarities are unerring – both were bombed to smithereens and rebuilt in a hurry, both are at the end of the line, are unsettlingly flat and are aware that they are bywords for roughness. Yet despite that, they also have these amazing old town quarters and some incredibly stately Victorian civic architecture. Having said that though, the cruddy brown of the Humber really can’t hold a candle to the turquoise Solent – sorry, Hull!

My trips to Brighton always follow exactly the same pattern:

Day 1: My god, this place is so vibrant! So alive! It feels like a party that never ends! Right, we’re moving here.

Day 2: Wow, Brighton sure does love being Brighton. Also, how much did I just pay for that pint, and why is everything so keen to broadcast how achingly cool it is? Maybe take the house off the market.

Day 3: JESUS CHRIST, I JUST WANT A STEAK BAKE AND SOMETHING NON-ARTISANAL TO DRINK. THAT’S IT – WE’RE LEAVING!

I have been to Blackpool many more times than a person should, yet every single time, it somehow manages find new and ingenious ways to shock me. My abiding memory, however, is queuing to ride The Big One in freezing, horizontal March rain. The line goes up several flights of stairs and ahead of us was a small army of scallies, all of whom had matching coldsores and were passing the time by gobbing on everyone below. It just seemed to sum the entire place up perfectly.

Baffling place, Southport. An esplanade that’s not on the seafront? An inland lake as the point of focus? A pier so long it needs a bloody tram to get to precious little at the end of it? A beach so vast as to be entirely useless? Madness!

I’m ashamed to say that Great Yarmouth is one of the very few places that I did blind, so I can’t really speak with any great authority about it. However, I will say this: when I drove the little Google Street View car around, I found an embarrassment of decaying seaside riches. Everything looked like while it was just about holding it all together, and it would only take one really good storm to lay the place flat on its back. My kinda town.

Jack Hurley is a Leeds-based illustrator. More of his work is available on his website, loudribs.com, Instagram and Twitter

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