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