Photojournalist Peter Dench


  • Photojournalist Peter Dench captured the mood of the country in the wake of Brexit on journey along the A1
  • In his exhibition called ‘Britain on the verge’ he pictured characters, sights and locations on his 410 mile trip 
  • He said he found ‘there’s an optimism for the future…British people are very stoic and have a can do attitude’ 

It is the longest road in the country, winding 410 miles between the capitals of England and Scotland.

Embarking on a visual tour of the A1 photojournalist Peter Dench wanted to capture the mood of the country as he made his way north from his home city of London.

His aim was to explore the idea of British identity in the wake of Brexit by picturing the characters, sights and locations he passed as he travelled to Edinburgh.

Speaking to MailOnline he said: ‘It was a snapshot from the nation to gauge how people were feeling…it’s called “Britain on the verge”.

Mr Dench’s journey began in St Paul’s where he pictured workers in Panyer Alley, with a red London bus in the background

Bill, 67, (left) and Spencer, 43 (right), both painters from London, aren’t worried about their jobs following the Brexit result

Photojournalist Peter Dench

In Corbyn’s north Islington constituency Mr Dench found a ‘Kick the Tories Out’ poster outside Highbury and Islington station

Photojournalist Peter Dench

19-year-old Ornella, of Congolese-Irish descent, is a Labour supporter and student studying Health and Human Sciences at City of Islington College

Matt, 20, from London, who is studying mathematics in Nottingham, holds a copy of The Revolutionary Communist Group newspaper, with the headline FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM!
Photojournalist Peter Dench

A young worshipper arrives for Friday prayer at the Holloway Mosque which can hold around 300 people

An elderly Arsenal fan of Italian descent carrying a Malta bag, pictured on the Holloway Road in north London

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Mark, 32, from Essex, selling fruit and vegetables, in north London – he said he’s optimistic about the future of his business

Photojournalist Mr Dench, who lives in Crouch End, said he wanted to meet the real people of the UK as he journeyed up the longest numbered road in the country.

He told MailOnline: ‘There’s a few reasons I wanted to do this. I am a photojournalist and I’m known for my work on Britishness. Ten years ago I produced a book on alcohol in Britain and I’ve also done one on Brits abroad.

‘Britain is my home country and I wanted to explore the idea of British identity post-Brexit.’

The project was also intended as an homage to Paul Graham who undertook a similar photographic expedition in 1981 and which encouraged Mr Dench to become a photographer when he was a young boy.

He said: ‘I wanted to find out what people expect from Brexit and what the country is going to do…I wanted to see whether they think it’s going to the dogs or whether it can be a success.

‘Generally I found there’s an optimism for the future. British people are very stoic and have a can do attitude. And while people were a little bit worried and uncertain about what was going to happen, they felt we needed to get on with it and make it work.

‘Brexit seems galvanising for people in a way…it’s made them want to work a bit harder to maintain their business and their lives. It’s quite a cleansing time for people, a time for them to take stock.’

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Challis Cooper, 20, and Arnold, 22, take a break at Baldock Extra Motorway Services, on their way to visit family in Great Yarmouth

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Matthew is the proprietor of the Rockery Centre in Bedfordshire which lies on the A1. Mr Dench pictured him standing his selection of giant animal sculptures, imported from Kenya, that are on sale for £6,000. Commenting on the business he said: ‘You’ve got to do something different. It’s the only way to survive’

The A1 starts near St Paul’s in London, passing the Brutalist architecture of the Barbican Complex.

In the capital Photojournalist Mr Dench captured slick city workers in their suits glued to their mobile phones.

Further north in London, he photographed young Muslims removing their shoes as they prepared to enter the The Holloway Mosque which can hold around 300 worshippers.

In Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency he discovered Socialist Worker leaflets fluttering outside Highbury & Islington underground station.

He pictured Labour supporting 19-year-old Ornella, of Congolese-Irish descent, and Matt, 20, brandishing a copy of the Revolutionary Communist Group newspaper.

At another point on the Holloway road, Photojournalist Mr Dench met Mark, a 32-year-old fruit and vegetable seller from Essex.

Mark said his business had suffered because of price rises in transportation and import costs as a result of Brexit but remained optimistic his business would survive once things ‘settle down’.

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Don, 58, has worked on the railways for 40 years and now volunteers at Nene Valley Railway

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Jenny is also a volunteer at Nene Valley Railway, a preserved railway in Cambridgeshire

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Therapy manager Emma (stood far right) with employees at the Living Health Natural Therapies and Chiropractic Clinic in Grantham in Lincolnshire. The Grade II listed building was the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Lithuanian couple Vilma and Darius were on their way to Sheffield after a stop-off at an OK Diner – they have been living in Britain for more than a decade and said they weren’t worried about their residency in the wake of the Brexit vote

Leaving London, Mr Dench met Challis, 20, and her 22-year-old boyfriend Arnold, at the Baldock Extra Motorway Services both dressed in camouflage tracksuits, socks and open-toe pool shoes. They were travelling north to visit family in Great Yarmouth.

He then bumped into Matthew, the proprietor of the Rockery Centre in Bedfordshire, which lies on the A1.

He was upbeat about his business. On sale for £6,000 was a selection of animal sculptures, specially imported from Kenya. ‘You’ve got to do something different,’ he said. ‘It’s the only way to survive.’

At the Nene Valley Railway, in Stibbington, Mr Dench met 58-year-old Don, who has worked on the railways for 40 years. He voted remain in the referendum and although a traditional Liberal/Labour supported, backed the Tories in the 2015 General Election to ‘keep UKIP out’.

Working his way up north Mr Dench met employees of the Living Health Chiropractic Clinic in a Grade-II listed building in Grantham that was once the childhood home of Margaret Thatcher.

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Babs sat under the menu board in BABS cafe where she has worked with her husband Pendleton for ’27 long years’ in Blyth, Nottinghamshire

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Just over a mile up the road, visitors to Flo’s cafe can read complimentary copies of the Truckstop News while a cardboard cut-out of the Queen watches over

Photojournalist Peter Dench

56-year-old Sikh, Vaz, hoses down the entrance of Sri Guru Kalgidhar Gurdwara before worshippers arrive on a Sunday in Doncaster, in South Yorkshire

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Dave, who lives in Doncaster, waits for friends at a Little Chef for a Sunday motorcycle ride

Paul in the Busy Bees Diner in Darrington, in West Yorkshire. He previously worked in the army and as a policeman before leaving to set up a gardening and property business

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Self-employed James, who works in concrete, holding the takeaway meal he bought from the Busy Bees Diner

Mr Dench then paid a visit to some of the A1’s service stops.

‘It’s here you find a hot bed of opinion’, he said. ‘You see diners, truckers and manual labourers coming and going.’

After a break at an OK DINER in Newark, in Nottinghamshire, the photojournalist met Lithuanian couple Vilma and Darius who said they weren’t worried about their residency in the UK despite the Brexit vote.

He then travelled to Blyth, in Nottinghamshire, where he found ‘Babs’ working tirelessly in her cafe – as she has done for the past 27 years with her husband.

In the Busy Bees diner in Darrington, West Yorkshire, Mr Dench bumped into Paul, who previously served in the army and as a policeman before setting up a gardening and property business. He also found self-employed James, clutching a box of takeaway food, who worked in concrete and said ‘business was good’.

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Mr Dench met 76-year-old Norman living in a retirement home for the over-40s in Darrington. One of six siblings, Norman recently lost a brother to bowel cancer, the same disease that cut short his father’s life aged only 37. It’s a disease Norman has survived. He put his own illness down to poor eating habits and having worked on the railways since he was 15

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Luna with her father Ryan, Katie, her great, great, great Aunt (far left), Susan, her great aunt (middle) and Sylvia, her great grandmother (second left), in Wetherby, West Yorkshire

Photojournalist Peter Dench

A father holds up his daughter as he poses for a selfie in front of the Angel of the North, designed by Antony Gormley

An exuberant Newcastle United supporter celebrates their title winning success in the city centre after they pipped Brighton to the league

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Dylan, pictured with his dog Rusty, on the Byker Estate where they live in Newcastle – the estate is a long, unbroken block of 620 maisonettes in the Byker district of the city that were designed by architect Ralph Erskine and constructed in the 1970s

Photojournalist Peter Dench

Richard, who works in the motor trade, with wife Helen, mother-in-law Iris and dogs Devon and Dragon on a walk through the Holy Island of Lindisfarne

As he journeyed into Scotland Mr Dench passed Adi’s Diner, which is just a few yards on the English side of the border

Photojournalist Peter Dench

A French couple, who arrived in Hull by ferry, take pictures next to the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ signpost

Photojournalist Peter Dench

A family on holiday from India at the northern end of the A1 at the junction of North Bridge and Princes Street, in Edinburgh

As he reached the end of the A1 in England Mr Dench photographed a father and his daughter taking a selfie in front of The Angel of The North, which is thought to be the largest sculpture of an angel in the world.

Entering Newcastle, he pictured a jubilant Magpies fan celebrating his team winning the Championship on the final day of the football season.

Moving into Scotland Mr Dench met a French couple taking a picture of the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign. He also pictured a Indian family on holiday outside a Scotsman newspaper billboard in Edinburgh.

Reflecting on his journey Mr Dench told MailOnline: ‘What I discovered was there isn’t so much a north/south divide as a London/everywhere else divide in Britain.

‘It’s not so much a resentment of London, it’s more a mistrust and envy that all decisions are made in London so people feel removed and detached from what’s happening.’

He added: ‘Driving the length of the A1, Britain doesn’t seem full. At times it feels lonely. But if the stoicism, drive and grit of the people I met is an accurate reflection of the nation, Britain is going to be okay.’

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