Pauline, who’s 71, came up to Shalesmoor for the day from Maidenhead to try and find the places where her parents and grandparents lived. Her grandparents were Ukrainian Jews who came to Britain in the late nineteenth century. Fleeing persecution, they left their hometown of Novograd-Volynsk and sailed to Liverpool from Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea. Pauline doesn’t know how her family came to live in Sheffield, but told us about the large Jewish community that lived in the slum dwellings around Scotland Street at the turn of the century. Her father was born in 1902 and is buried in Sheffield. The family ran a grocers shop at 51 West Bar Green from 1910 until as late as 1951. She told us her memories of hearing Yiddish spoken at home, of chicken soup and matzah bread, and of the rich, enticing smells in the family shop. She told us that she remembered how, as a child, she would be given old Bisto posters and empty boxes, so she too could play shop. She used to love the Blue Riband biscuits she was given as a special treat and remembers the sound of the cellophane packet being torn to release its contents. We walked together to Allen Street, but the family home that once stood there has long since been demolished or destroyed. We couldn’t work out which school her father must have gone to, although we wondered about the Infants School on Blue Boy Street (so named because of the blue jackets that the schoolboys were made to wear). Pauline ran away to New York to marry her husband. When she told her mother she was going to start researching their family history, her mother warned against it, saying that there were ‘too many skeletons in the cupboard’.
It was a strange kind of serendipity that minutes before we met Pauline and asked if we could take her photograph for the (Sheffield) Don magazine, we had been discussing the fact that there’s also a River Don that flows through Russia and Ukraine.
The magazine, which we wrote, edited and produced in 24 hours, will be launched on Friday June 22nd. See here for more details and to reserve a place at the launch.
As part of a project entitled ‘Materializing Sheffield’, architect and academic Prue Chiles wrote this thoughtful article on how we might re-imagine the city of Sheffield:
(Prue also designed one of my favourite Sheffield buildings, the Hillsborough Park Pavillion. Well worth a visit if you haven’t seen it already. See www.pruechilesarchitects.co.uk/projects/pavillion.html ).
Sunday 19th February
Many things to write of in the aftermath of a lovely Sunday, but I think that the feeling of surprise comes at the top of my agenda. Surprise at what’s there, what we’re missing and what could be. Had a very strange feeling when I went to look back on the route that we took, tried to drop the little man in on Google maps in order to see if I’m finding the right location, and to discover that there is ‘no data available’. Instead, all that there is, is unlabelled, uncoloured mass. No roads, no paths, no pictures. And yet the sights we saw!
Sights that were characterised by confusion. What is this place? An industrial wasteland that is history-rich, foreboding pylons towering over ivy tombstones, motorcyclists tearing through. As far from the Information Commons as imaginable. And descending into real-world really-known Sheffield, Hillsborough College star-trek piercing spikes and casino plants with a car-park too big. Graffiti: ‘YOU BET WE DIE’. Animal rights over the dogs at Owlerton? A morbid reminder reflecting graveyard poetry? The drain on community of gambling, and these money-making cold-houses? KFC drive through. Drive-thru.
So to start at the beginning, we rambled in through Kelham Island’s beautiful derelict waterway woven flat-lands. Something to savour in a city of hills! Bricked in doorways and broken windows, eerie sunlight and old oil-lamps, beautifully simple lettering and works of all kinds, bridges and bricks, one wall with the other three missing, three walls with the one missing, cobbled streets, chimneys, large-scale machinery. So easy to romanticise! ‘GLOBE WORKS’ reminds me of Sheffield’s influence worldwide. This was the centre, where it all began. And now the abandoned steelworks are adjacent to abandoned apartments. Luxury apartments that appeared too late for the housing boom and so exist almost as empty as their neighbours. Yet they were never full. Round the back of such shiny, new, urban renovation schematisation we walk over weeds and rubbish dumps, weave between heaps of rubble. As if it’s a bomb site, vast areas are reduced to these heaps, among which tin cans are oxidised, vodka bottles are emptied. Tyres, bin bags, strange greenery, wire fencing, and occasional warning signs are found.
I don’t know how many times it is acceptable to use the word ‘abandoned’ in one piece of writing, but I’m pretty sure that I could push the boundaries here. Buildings at all stages of delapidisation, in the depths of the process of decay. We walk along this sludge mud-track and see but one truck driven by but one man, clearly a little confused. A Sunday football friendly takes place somewhere unseeable, and again I hear – “what is this place?” We find ourselves in the most uneven terrains of ups and downs and diagonals, irreducible to straight lines. There are no straight lines in nature. A cemetery crowded and fertile, mystified in filtered light, recent burials with only thirty years to their name are found, yet no sign of even a trace of a fresh bouquet. Further up the hill, across an (abandoned?) railway track, a field of sorts, and a view. Beyond the crooked fluid entanglement of gravestones and ivy lies grey stone and clarity. Electricity in the making, the hearable static crackles. Iron, concrete, brick. Sturdy, imposing, fixed.
And so we come to the question – what to do? With what we’ve seen, with what has sparked, with what there is to see or spark.
Tanya Hart, 2012
Section 2 Pennsylvania to Parkwood Karting
Walk expectantly down Albert Terrace Road to cross Infirmary Road. Left here, and then detour right down Gilpin Street where the boundary casts a block of burned out sandwich shops out of Upperthorpe. Right takes us back to Albert Terrace Road, past blue industrial units born again as evangelical churches. They are also sublet as student exam halls.
A multinational white dove flies in through a skylight as the students sit their business exams, with an olive branch in its mouth. This corporate holy spirit flies in clockwise circles around the ceiling. The invigilators convulse on the floor and speak in tongues. All the students score 95%, but fail.
Carefully cross the arterial Penistone Road, then walk east to find Rutland Street on the left. Pass the first of many industrial estates, ignoring the DIY superstore opposite, which changes hands over and over.
Just before Rutland Bridge is a beautiful old steel works building, recycled as offices, and hence currently deserted. It has fine broad windows over the river, and the repeated logo of a Samuel Osborn’s works, white hands grasping for lily-white hearts. Cross the Don, which is squeezed here by reeds and willows. If this is the stenosis, the infarct must be the downstream industrial and gastro-pub heritage area to the right.
As you reach Neepsend Lane, this is probably the outer edge of the red light district, marginalized from the city centre into ever more deserted industrial spots. At this time of day it’s difficult to tell. But what is evident as you go left along the Lane is that there are remnants of working industry scattered around here, some of them metallic.
Pass the derelict frontage of the old Stones Brewery, up to the corner of Bardwell Road, which bears its Soviet-style office building. Conscientious vandals have smashed every deco window on the stair landing, right up to the top floor.
Veer right up Bardwell Road, past the indoor skateboarding room, where my son went before he grew too tall. Pass commissioned, and therefore neutered, graffiti murals. Here we first notice a pervading smell of gas, bad enough to stop my companion smoking.
Follow a dreadlocked man up to the railway bridge (MAC/124).
The boundary of Upperthorpe goes along the railway line, presenting an access problem. One solution might be to adjourn and traverse this section by train, but only one train now uses this line, daily taking steel between Stocksbridge and Rotherham. We decide to follow the outer edge off the boundary just beyond the line, but outside Upperthorpe.
To take this option, go under the bridge, turn left off the road that continues up the bumpy hill to the ski village, on to Wallace Road. This street was the lowermost part of the former Parkwood Springs Estate, built originally by the railway company that owned this once busy line, for its engine drivers, and other employees. It was demolished in 1978 to make way for a council landfill site.
After a short while the road disappears into a travellers’ camp, caravans blocking any progress along to the next two bridges. Fearing guard dogs, my companion having been bitten the previous week in the Mayfield Valley, we retrace our steps clockwise now, back down to Neepsend Lane. Where Wallace Road becomes the muddy entrance to the camp is where George Orwell stayed with a family while visiting Sheffield in the 1930s, and he described the area in his classic The Road to Wigan Pier.
In retreating we are too scared of the ‘other’ on the hill. But also reversing our circumnavigation, even temporarily, is like going against the grain, from counterclockwise to clockwise. But then an anticlockwise cog will drive a connecting neighbour clockwise, which would then pass on its motion to further cogs anticlockwise, onwards and outwards reversing direction each time, in successive and multiplying revolutions and counter-revolutions, a sort of neutralising machine.
Going west further along Neepsend Lane we pass feverish earth moving. Fences decked with toxic warning signs can’t conceal the bulldozers and diggers moving hardcore and steaming soil, and the gas smell reaches a crescendo. They are demolishing the site of Orwell’s gas works. A vast site, it even contained a power station with cooling towers at one time. To follow us go right, up Parkwood Road. Juggernauts rumble up here with topsoil, followed, like a pilot fish, by a little street scrubbing wagon trying in vain to mop up the mud.
Halfway up, climb a flight of steps which leads to a footbridge back over the railway. This is the site of Neepsend Station, closed in 1940. Part of its rocky cutting was carved into the shape of a fairy castle, but this has now vanished. Take the footpath beyond the bridge up the hill, but then branch off to the left, along a path over the scrubby hillside. This should emerge at bridge MAC/126, and you have reached the farthest point of Upperthorpe. Just over the bridge, rejoin Parkwood Road before it leads up the hill to the landfill site. Here is the clockwise go-kart circuit, lined with tyres.
Eddy Dreadnought, 2012
Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk (2 hours)
The exact boundary of Upperthorpe, and of the ‘Upperthorpe Project’, had begun to concern me. Although boundaries are arbitrary, limiting, even harmful as in partition, discussions and postings had taken an elastic view of its shape, and gone round and round in circles.
What better then than to act out this circularity, and thereby have to follow a fixed version of its circumference?
This walk then, uses the invisible boundary of the Council defined ‘Neighbourhood’ of Upperthorpe.
So this Upperthorpe also includes a lot of Philadelphia, Birkendale, and over the quietly flowing Don, Neepsend, where nobody seems to live. And inexplicable rectangular street-shaped retreats and annexations.
The map above reveals two images, the distant pseudopodia of Neepsend shaped like a diving fish, the proximal part a straight edged cubist camel. And indeed they do have very different characters.
It doesn’t include Wardsend Cemetery, Hillsborough, the city morgue on Watery Street, the Barracks, or the Old Royal Infirmary. Not that Upperthorpe has been spared traumatic death. Air-raid victims, down by the river drownings in the Great Sheffield flood; and a recent tragedy right beneath its eyes.
For no particular reason the route is anticlockwise, keeping Upperthorpe always on the left. Circumambulation can be ritualistic, classically in biblical Jericho, circled six times in silence, with a final circuit of shouting and the blowing of rams-horns, the birth of free jazz. But no ill will is intended in this walk, no education, and no patronization, just voyeurism.
The walk was tested with a companion on the last day of January 2012, mid-morning in cold weather. At other times of day, in other seasons, it could have been very different. We took no cameras, sound recording equipment, notebooks, or sketch-books. We had a street map and a passing interest. And a vague artistic notion.
This guide is entirely subjective and full of inaccuracy.
Eddy Dreadnought 2012
Joshua Holt, Upperthorpe series, January 2012
Wardsend was opened in the early 1850s, when a nearby churchyard became full. The name Wardsend is a corruption of “Worldsend”, which is reputed to be the site of the second coming of Christ, and is listed in a land agreement in 1161.
The site of the cemetery (see map opposite) occupies 5.5 acres and once included a small chapel, office and a sexton’s house. The railway line runs through the cemetery, dividing it into a western half which is wooded and an eastern half which is open (see pictures).
The first burial was in 1857 and was of Mary Ann Marsden aged 2 years. By tradition the first body was always given the title of “Guardian of the Cemetery”. By 1900 the number of burials totalled 20,000 and the site was extended.