Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk – Section 1

Albion Street to the Brain Injury Rehab

Running downhill in a line from the southeast end of Albion Street, like a financial bar chart, is a row of seven blocks of flats.  Thirteen storeys high, they seem well-loved, neatly re-clad in shades of chocolate, closed.

The boundary threads through them, so bypass Oxford (not in Upperthorpe), walk downhill just inside a broad grassy area, past Albion, Bond. Burlington and Martin (in Upperthorpe), then back along a dog path to Martin Street on the other side of Adelphi and Wentworth (not in Upperthorpe).

The grassy land is called the Ponderosa (largely not in Upperthorpe), from the name of the ranch in the 1960s TV western ‘Bonanza’. The opening credits were over a map of the Ponderosa carelessly catching fire. My companion remembered in 1963 when Kennedy was shot, a brief TV newsflash announced it, and then the scheduled Bonanza was shown in full as usual.

Go down Martin Street, then round the corner of the Philadelphia Working Men’s Club to enter Upperthorpe Road. Go left along the side of the elegant old Royal Infirmary (not in Upperthorpe).

These opening moves of the walk, by the flats, and the apron of low-rise maisonettes stretching across to the north boundary, seem to avert the eyes away from Upperthorpe. We focus centrifugally on the stuff outside.

And that seems alright, we do not want to stray inwards from the edge, to pierce its hermetic bubble, to breach the UPVC double glazing, to trespass along the security alarmed side streets. No more domiciliary visits, no more interrogation, no cases to re-open.

Richard Sennett said in a recent interview, ‘…what you get is indifference as a way of managing difference. People keep to their own turf.’

Inside the houses tiny fans of electric appliances lazily revolve. Reptiles protrude their forked tongues longing for the smell of their returning owners. Dog hairs drift round the ceiling lights, computers sleep. This area seems frozen and striated, it deserves a longer pause before its next reterritorialisation.

At the next junction Oxford Street crosses. Pause here to note two important sites. Just up its hill the next intersection is with Shipton Street, very close. That corner has some old gritstone gateposts, a short flight of shallow steps ending in a carpark. This should be the site of the Shipton Street Settlement, judging by old photographs which show streets in different places, and buildings that have totally disappeared.

Founded at the turn of the last century, Shipton Street Settlement was one of three established in the poorest areas of Sheffield by left wing, sometimes religious, philanthropists. As David Price has written in his book, from which this paragraph extensively draws, they aimed to provide encouragement, education and support to the disadvantaged. It had a hostel, which became a YMCA. Annie Besant, Conan Doyle and Edward Carpenter stayed there when visiting Sheffield, presumably not together, before it was sold off as a nurses’ home in 1924. It provided free legal advice and had a strong educational bias, with classes, study circles and conferences. It had a theatre, which eventually moved in the 1950s to the leafy west end of the city (the Merlin Theatre). For many years the warden was Arnold Freeman (Freeman College is named for him). The Settlement reflected the lost idea that ‘social improvement is not just about economics, but also about social interaction and relationships.’ It was demolished in the 1960s.

Back at the lower corner of Oxford Street and Upperthorpe Road is the Brain Injury Rehab Centre. Inside a computer shows a scan result. On the screen are sectional images of a brain, ranging from back to front, to and fro, like a magnetic tide. A patient stares at its flowing sepia inlets and black holes, not listening to the specialist. Retrograde amnesia seeps out into Upperthorpe.

Walk downhill on Albert Terrace Road to begin the next section of the walk.

Eddy Dreadnought   2012

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