Confronting objects, waste, histories: a conversation between Amanda Crawley Jackson and David McLeavy

Diary Entry, September 2012 (Amanda)

Furnace Park is being cleared by two men sent by the University’s environmental services team. I watch them scrape up scratchy foliage, broken glass, iron rods, lumps of metal stuff that we can’t identify, condom wrappers, syringes, plastic bags, CD boxes… The detritus of lives played out around the edges of the security fence, thrown over its gates. I try to ignore the layby opposite the main entrance, where tyres and condoms, wet wipes and plastic bottles, stained mattresses and police cones pile up one on top of the other, dishevelled pyramids of crap.

The rubbish is being sorted into waste streams and taken away – somewhere. The upper part of the site is becoming visible for the first time. Here and there, the dried-out, headless carcasses of birds, greasy feathers ligatured to hollow bones, their substance sucked out by the foxes I’ve heard live on the site. Some bevelled, rusting rods emerge from the lip of land that overhangs the concreted part below. We can’t pull them up so have to cover them with painted plastic bottles, identifying them as trip hazards. Resistive, non-compliant stuff, incorporated nonetheless in our scheme of things. Some soft black rubber hoops, which look like bicycle inner tubes but which I’m told are used to seal window frames, lie half buried beneath the loose rubble, wood chippings and leaves. They slither easily out of the humus, bringing their friends with them, tangled coils of dirty black snakes eating their own tails.

David is wearing thick gloves and collecting fifty objects from around the site. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with these things yet, but we’re anxious to salvage stuff before it all disappears. It seems invested with an importance connected to this place that none of us understand. Once it’s gone from here it’s gone.

All over the site we see lumps of industrial stuff, chunky hieroglyphs that none of us know how to interpret. Someone finds a Tate membership card, sheathed in orange plastic, hiding dirtily under the buddleia. A couple of our brand new padlocks, sawn off with angle grinders by contractors frustrated by the awkward tilt of the gates, squat shiny and scarred, fat round scarabs on the suspect soil. This surface is awash with disordered pasts.

 Email from David to Amanda, March 2014

Being asked to select objects from a site you’re unfamiliar with, within a strict timeframe and for a project you may have no real idea about poses certain issues.

Firstly there is the problem of understanding a site within a short time frame. What is Furnace Park and why have Amanda and the team invested so much time in it? On an entirely visual level it seems to be just like any other brownfield site once used for industry that has been left to stew in its own detritus, the only possibility being that one day it may provide affordable parking opportunities for commuters. How do you go about navigating and appreciating this site without any prior knowledge of it?

The second is the selection of the objects themselves. The site is strewn with debris from empty spray cans to condom wrappers, all of which provide a conflicting account of the site’s history. It is apparent that some of the objects may have no real connection to the rich history of the site. However, how am I to decipher between the myriad of urban and industrial histories?

And thirdly, why am I doing this? The site is scheduled to be cleared the day following my visit so the objects will no longer be there. It seems like a frantic scavenge attempt in which I am attempting to collect anything that may hint at an interesting history, leaving the conceptual aims a post ‘collection day’ thought.

I never knew picking up rubbish would be this hard.

Contrasting with the representative scene of the visibility of speech is an equality of the visible that invades discourse and paralyses action. For what is newly visible has very specific properties. It does not make visible; it imposes presence… (and possesses an) inertia that comes to paralyse action and absorb meaning” (Jacques Rancière 2009, p. 121)

Diary Entry, September 2013 (Amanda)

The temptation is always to see sites such as the one on the corner of Doncaster Street and Matthew Street as blanks or voids, the negative spaces of the city’s redevelopment. But this presumed negativity (which is both ontological and moral) is a complex product of discourse, an illusorily static nexus of largely unchallenged perceptions.

Hours spent in the local studies library unearthed a series of histories associated with the Furnace Park site. In 1886, a stockyard wall collapsed and tons of iron bars and timbers cascaded on a group of children playing below, killing eight. In 1899, a boiler explosion at the Don Cutlery Works, now a listed but derelict building that adjoins Furnace Park, killed seven men. In 1931, Cllr Graves opened a children’s playground on the part of the site where the Doncaster Arms had once stood. The gate that currently stands at the entrance to Furnace Park traces the pub’s ghostly outline. On the lower part of the site, where the ground is more stable (a mixture of concrete and brown floor tiles) we have been able to make out a wall that used to be part of the Council’s Municipal Lighting Department. Before that, this part of the site was overlaid with slum housing, arranged in grandly named ‘courts’.

Looking at photographs of the playground with a local policeman, we conclude that the handful of twisted iron rods, a couple of feet long and protruding from the surface of the soil by the lip of land that overhangs the lower site, probably once anchored the seesaws and swings. We’ve been unable to pull them up, so deeply are they rooted. But the majority of the objects we find on the site are alien supplements – weirdly disconnected from the activities and architectures that have come up in our research. They refuse to give themselves up as material expressions of their own owners and users; they resist our expression of them (and overflow it).

When I asked David to collect objects he found interesting and may be ‘able to do something with’, I’m not really sure what I was asking of him. I have an idea that we might just exhibit them in a provisional museum of the rusty, tattered and ordinary, or that we might cast them in concrete or polish them up. But to what end? Why this urge to salvage, protect, collect, display? The semantic texture and density of the site, the multiplicity of its historical and recent uses, rendered in this anarchic proliferation of things, countermand the idea of the site as void (in the sense of its begin devoid of meaning, if not of ‘value’). But they also resist incorporation into a narrative or an aesthetic. They remain a paralysing jumble of stuff, awaiting (impossible) re-enchantment in David’s studio.

David McLeavy, 2013

David McLeavy, 2013

David McLeavy, 2013
All images copyright David McLeavy, 2013.

Diary Entry, November 2014 (Amanda)

Behind the shipping container, two large water butts are filled with waste: banana skins, blackened, soft; sandwich cartons; plastic bottles; packing tape; latex gloves. When people come to work on the site, they leave their rubbish here, in the expectation that it will be removed, taken away. But at the moment we have no provision for waste removal, other than taking it ourselves to the local tip. The problem is that none of us drive.

A group of students have just put forward an idea for a site-specific performance which would involve bringing two tonnes of sand on to the site. My first question was not about the performance itself, but how they planned to get rid of the sand afterwards, when those two tonnes – wet with rain – may well weigh in at four tonnes. How would they stop it dispersing across the site? How would they dispose of it when rats and foxes may have soiled it, thereby making it unsuitable for donation to a school or playground? Their immediate thoughts were about the suitability of the site in terms of bringing in the sand. They couldn’t, for example, do this at a smaller indoor venue they had also considered for their performance. My concern at the moment is: how will you take what you bring away?

Getting rid of our waste is something we take for granted. Contrary to all the laws of physics, in our world stuff disappears. Even the materials we put in the blue bin for recycling aren’t recycled by us; they aren’t re-used and re-incorporated in our world. Other people, other bodies, do that for us.

At the moment, however, we are confronted with sights and smells of decay; with waste we struggle to manage and dispose of ourselves. Each time I go down to the site, it seems people have tipped their waste – wet wipes, cans, food packaging – over the fence. Others must come in vans, throwing their tyres, signs, boards and rubble into the buddleia which, not yet flowering, barely functions as a screen. This ‘wasteland’ – a repository for waste. Yesterday, in my orange work gloves, catching my face on the dried stalks as I crouched among them, I picked up as much detritus as I could, cramming everything into plastic bags from the garage down the road. I’m scared of coming across a syringe (I don’t) and I don’t want to pick up the wet wipes. I have an idea of what they have been used for. In the end, I propped up a large fibreglass mould that someone had pushed under our gate (the site economy relies on the donation of ‘useful’ or ‘interesting’ waste) against the buddleia that grows by the gate in an attempt to hide the rubbish I didn’t have time to collect and store away, for now, behind the shipping container.

Email from David to Amanda, April 2014

I have a strange relationship with objects (to use the word in this context as the ornaments and signifiers of memory that we surround ourselves with on a daily basis). On one hand I have little time for the act of hoarding, which Channel 4 amongst other sources have made us increasingly aware, is a common issue within cramped domestic dwellings. I dispose of a lot of my ‘stuff’ on a regular basis, as I don’t feely terribly precious over the banal objects I tend to posses. On the other hand I do envy collectors in a romantic way. The idea of a ceramics mogul collecting historical pots from progressive artists such as Braque and Bindesboll has always seemed attractive, perhaps that’s due to the inherent value that the ceramics possess or perhaps its the enviable status that a collector of such rarity possesses in certain social circles.

It’s interesting to note why people collect things. My impression is that its due to a number of reasons, ranging from hierarchical social ambitions, a genuine interest in the formal, contextual and conceptual value of the objects to a more addictive scenario in which the collecting becomes more of a compulsion. There is also the sense of inherent monetary value that these collections begin to acquire (the common example of a mint condition Star Wars figurine still in its packaging that becomes the sci-fi pornography to a certain generation of uber fan). In most cases this results in the collectors projecting a specific value onto an object that far exceeds its material value or the value of its constituent parts.

 This brings me to Furnace Park and the objects that I was urged to collect. The interesting opposition to my previous statement is that these objects have no value or very little at best. More often than not the value of the materials is more than what they are worth as a whole. I imagine this is due to their function, or in fact their lack of function. The objects I collected are often broken parts ripped from working machinery along with fragments of machinery that has since become obsolete. The only value they seem to have is determined by their new home, or by someone willing to project a value. The difficulty I am finding is trying to project a value on the objects I have collected when I have no emotional or melancholic connection with them at all. Perhaps this is something that will form over time, like the friendship between Tom Hanks and Beasley the dog in Roger Spottiswoode’s classic feature Turner and Hootch. Or perhaps my hunt for an emotional connection with the objects is a wasted pursuit altogether.

 Initially I thought that the outcome of my research and residency period at Furnace Park would take the form of some sculptural works inspired or using the various fragments that I collected. Instead it seems to have fuelled more of a critical dissemination of the point of collecting and our forced relationship with objects that we project a false melancholy upon.

All photographs copyright David McLeavy, 2013.

Some maps, some words (before Furnace Park)

1894 map of area where Furnace Park now stands
1894 map of area where Furnace Park now stands
1853 map of site
1853 map of site
1890 map showing the layout of the back to back houses laid out in 'Courts' on what is now the Furnace Park site
1890 map showing the layout of the back to back houses laid out in ‘Courts’ on what is now the Furnace Park site

In 1914, Sheffield’s Medical Officer of Health described properties on Matthew Street and Doncaster Street  (along with others in the adjacent area) as being ‘in a condition so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation’ (see Scott Lomax, The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War [Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2014], p. 2). A municipal slum clearance project began in the 1920s and was clearly still ongoing when, in 1936, George Orwell stayed with a family living on Wallace Street, just a mile or so away from what we now call Furnace Park.

Had a very long and exhausting day (I am now continuing this March 4th) being shown every quarter of Sheffield on foot and by tram.  I have now traversed almost the whole city.  It seems to me, by daylight, one of the most appalling places I have ever seen.  In whichever direction you look you see the same landscape of monstrous chimneys pouring forth smoke which is sometimes black and sometimes of a rosy tint said to be due to sulphur.  You can smell the sulphur in the air all the while.  All buildings are blackened within a year or two of being put up.  Halting at one place I counted the factory chimneys I could see and there were 33.  But is was very misty as well as smoky – there would have been many more visible on a clear day.  I doubt whether there are any architecturally decent buildings in the town.  The town is very hilly (said to be built on seven hills, like Rome) and everywhere streets of mean little houses blackened by smoke run up at sharp angles, paved with cobbles which are purposely set unevenly to give horses etc, a grip.  At night the hilliness creates fine effects because you look across from one hillside to the other and see the lamps twinkling like stars.  Huge jets of flame shoot periodically out of the roofs of the foundries (many working night shifts at present) and show a splendid rosy colour through the smoke and steam.  When you get a glimpse inside you see enormous fiery serpents of red-hot and white-hot (really lemon coloured) iron being rolled out into rails.  In the central slummy part of the town are the small workshops of the ‘little bosses’, i.e. smaller employers who are making chiefly cutlery.  I don’t think I ever in my life saw so many broken windows.  Some of these workshops have hardly a pane of glass in their windows and you would not believe they were inhabitable if you did not see the employees, mostly girls, at work inside. The town is being torn down and rebuilt at an immense speed.  Everywhere among the slums are gaps with squalid mounds of bricks where condemned houses have been demolished and on all the outskirts of the town new estates of Corporation houses are going up.  These are much inferior, at any rate in appearance, to those at Liverpool.  They are in terribly bleak situations, too.  One estate just behind where I am living now, at the very summit of a hill, on horrible sticky clay soil and swept by icy winds.  Notice that the people going into these new houses from the slums will always be paying higher rents; and also will have to spend much more on fuel to keep themselves warm.  Also, in many cases, will be further from their work and therefore spend more on conveyances.

(From the diaries of George Orwell, 1936. Available at

Courts no. 4 & 6 Shepherd Street and elevation to Charlotte Square from Shepherd Street taken from under the works of J.W. Bartholomews and Sons, Doncaster Street (1937). Copyright Picture Sheffield, uu00686.
“The town is being torn down and rebuilt at an immense speed. Everywhere among the slums are gaps with squalid mounds of bricks where condemned houses have been demolished…” Courts no. 4 & 6 Shepherd Street and elevation to Charlotte Square from Shepherd Street taken from under the works of J.W. Bartholomews and Sons, Doncaster Street (1937). Copyright Picture Sheffield, uu00686.
Map showing Courts 4 & 6 on the corner of Shepherd Street and Doncaster Street
Map showing Courts 4 & 6 on the corner of Shepherd Street and Doncaster Street

In April 1931, just a few years before Orwell’s visit to Sheffield, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield opened the Matthew Street playground, the construction of which had been funded by local philanthropist Alderman J.G. Graves. The playground occupied a site made vacant by the recent demolition of the Doncaster Arms public house, which had fallen into a state of disrepair and dereliction, and 97 nearby houses.

Picture Sheffield, Image Ref No:u00349
Picture Sheffield, Image Ref No: u00349

The corner of the playground, visible here, is where the entrance to the Doncaster Arms once stood. The large building in the right-hand corner of the image is the Don Cutlery Works. The upper level of Furnace Park now occupies what was once this children’s playground. The smaller buildings which stand in front of the cutlery works (to the right of the image) were demolished many years ago.

Read this wonderful guest post by Anne Grange on what flourishes here today, where children once played.


“When the image is new, the world is new.”
― Gaston BachelardThe Poetics of Space

In early summer 2013, Amanda Crawley Jackson worked with Luisa Golob from Ignite Imaginations to organise a series of den-building workshops at Furnace Park. SKINN designed maquettes for two of the dens, and a group of artists worked with children and young people (aged 3-18) to construct dens using reclaimed materials and willow. The results were fantastic.



The Children of Furnace Park // Free performance at 3pm, Saturday July 5th

In 1886, eight children were killed in Shalesmoor when the wall of a warehouse belonging to Daniel Doncaster & Sons collapsed on them, unleashing tons of steel bars, timber and slates. children We will be remembering this event on Saturday July 3rd as part of the Changing Gears festival when Elaine Parker and Dave Langridge will perform The Children of Furnace Park, written by Alice Collins. The performance begins at 3pm. Free entrance. Read Colin Drury’s piece on The Children of Furnace Park from when it was first performed in March 2014.

Pedal Pusher at Furnace Park

Pedal Pusher

Marco was incredible. The Italian hero courted by politicians, partied with rockstars and adored by his fans. Marco was the champion the Pope himself asked to meet. He should have been the greatest cyclist of his generation.

But Marco is lying dead in a hotel in Rimini.

And the greatest is an American called Lance.

Pedal Pusher is the true story of the Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich  three professional cyclists battling to become champion of the Tour de France.

Combining docu-drama and high octane physical performance- from Armstrong’s battle with cancer to Pantani’s tragic crash, as well as the allegations of drug abuse that blighted the Tours, Pedal Pusher charts five years that changed the sporting world forever.

Drawing on interviews, archive footage and news reports, TheatreDelicatessen used devised performance and physical theatre to carry the audience through the mountains, the sprints, the crashes and into the intriguing dangerous world of professional sport

After all, to put yourself through all this for the sake of a bicycle race you’d have to be crazy.

Or on drugs.

First staged in a disused London workshop space in 2009, Pedal Pusher was selected as one of Time Out’s Critics’ Choices of the year, before transferring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was described as “A muscular production nothing short of ingenious”.

Now, five years on, Pedal Pusher has been reworked and re-imagined in response to the explosive and well-publicised admission by Lance Armstrong of his use of performance enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Theatre Delicatessen and the University of Sheffield are staging a weeklong festival that combines theatre, arts and cycling to welcome the Tour De France to Sheffield during the first week of July 2014. Headlining the Changing Gears festival at Furnace Park will be an outdoor performance of Pedal Pusher.

For more information & to buy tickets for Pedal Pusher, please click here.

Furnace Park garden project

“In a very special post Mark Bennett, whose PhD research deals explicitly with the representation of landscape in literature, responds to the Furnace Park Garden Project Blog. Mark tells us about how writers went about ‘re-creating’ real sites (such as country house gardens) within the pages of eighteenth-century popular print.” 

– Adam J Smith

In a previous post for the Furnace Park Garden Project, Adam J Smith challenged us to think about the extent to which print culture ‘creates’ the eighteenth-century garden. This is an important question that speaks to my own research interests in eighteenth-century travel-writing and its relationship to popular fiction. In what follows, I’m going to attempt to pick up Adam’s query and reframe it slightly: what happens when the treatment of the garden in eighteenth-century print culture involves an imaginative critique, or recreation, of real sites and spaces such as the landscaped estates of wealthy property owners?

I’d like to begin by recounting a visit by a schoolmaster to the remains of Roche Abbey in Maltby, a few miles northeast of Sheffield, in the summer of 1776.

The tourist in question was William Gilpin and, during the following decade, he would become one of the most popular travel-writers in Britain. He would do so by putting forward the notion of ‘The Picturesque’: a new aesthetic category that invited a growing audience to participate (whether as tourists or readers) in viewing, discussing and re-presenting the British landscape. This included responding to the nation’s great estates and gardens, many of which had been recently remodelled according to the practices and principles of the great landscape architect, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. When Gilpin arrived at Roche, Brown himself was in the process of re-designing the abbey site as an aesthetic feature of the Earl of Scarborough’s estate. Gilpin was clearly pleased to witness the famous improver at work, but that didn’t stop him expressing reservations about the project:

“Many a modern palace he [Brown] has adorned, and beautified: but a ruin presented a new idea; which I doubt whether he has sufficiently considered.”

In particular, Gilpin was unconvinced by the addition of an artificial lake adjacent to the ruin and by the removal of smaller pieces of masonry from the vicinity. The former addition is judged to be so expressive of ‘the marks of the spade, and the pick-axe’ that ‘at present, the lake and the ruin are totally at variance’. The displaced rubble, meanwhile, was originally ‘very ornamental; and very useful also’ in ‘uniting’ and composing the larger pieces of the structure.

Roche Abbey as painted in the 1770s by the artist Paul Sandby. As a result of Brown’s improvements the grazing livestock pictured here would have been hidden beyond a ‘ha ha’ or sunken fence.

Gilpin’s opinions were eventually printed in his 1789 Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (the third in a series of very popular domestic tour books published during the 1780s and 90s). Much of his critique of Brown is specific to his own aesthetic principles and, obliquely, to a broader debate about the rapidity of “artificial” improvements and their threat to a historical continuity embodied in the sensitively managed landscape. As sites with often volatile political and ideological associations, ruins can become focal points for these discussions; it is no accident that, when they make their way into popular fiction such as the Gothic Novel, they frequently appear as landscape features approached through the vocabulary of contemporary scenic tourism. This complicated literary relationship between the aesthetics and politics of landscape management is a personal research interest, but here I’d like to make a simpler observation about what Gilpin is doing when he criticises the Earl of Scarborough’s improved landscape garden. . . and invites his readers to do so along with him.

Brown’s alterations were designed to repurpose Roche Abbey as a decorative feature of the landscaped estate. The lake would provide a pleasing contrast (and reflective surface) whilst the removal of intervening rubble would ensure the site remained unimpeded in a prospect view designed for the enjoyment of the Earl of Scarborough and his guests. This reminds us that the move to a more ‘expressive’ style of garden (described for us in Adam’s introductory post) was still designed to draw attention to the taste of the landowner and the scope of his holdings. Visitors were free to indulge their imaginative and affective capacities, but they did so under the implicit license of wealthy property owners with the means to hire professional improvers like Brown. It was for these men to define the physical and aesthetic properties of the landscape garden and for those of lesser means to express their appreciation for such estates along with the taste that had created them.

Title page of the first edition of Gilpin’s 1776 Observations, in which the account of Roche Abbey appeared.

The problem that might be posed to this arrangement by the theory and practice of Gilpin’s scenic tourism was twofold. Firstly, the popularity of his illustrated Picturesque travel books was such that readers no longer needed to visit great estates in order to engage in their appreciation and discussion: instead they could do so from their own armchairs as the literature of scenic tourism moved the landscape garden well and truly into the sphere of popular print culture. Secondly, this treatment might not restrict itself to simply recording and approving the designs of landowners. It might be critical of these (as at Roche) or, perhaps worse, it might indulge and encourage new imaginative improvements and alterations.

It was these latter tendencies that irritated the poet, William Mason, at whose home near Rotherham Gilpin had stayed on his 1776 tour. Mason supported and assisted with the publication of his friend’s travel journals before becoming increasingly suspicious of their re-presentation of garden estates for a popular readership. The two men carried on a correspondence during the 1780s that usefully illuminates some of the issues raised by Gilpin’s success. Mason initially found the illustrations to Gilpin’s first book, the Observations on the River Wye (1782), to be ‘outrageously deficient in point of verity’. When Gilpin continued to defend the imaginative and critical license of his aesthetic principles, Mason attempted to persuade against the publication of any material describing the estates of wealthy landowners:

Print only that part of it which relates to scenes, not to places, & particularly not to Houses. [. . .] Your descriptions of Seats & Gardens . . . are often imperfect, frequently flippant, & sometimes false. [ . . .] Be advised therefore from a friend to your Fame, as well as your Peace of mind; and do not print any thing that will either hurt or offend the Owners of Places, when in so doing, you will bring upon you much, & I fear, some well-deserved Criticism from Real Connoisseurs.

As a landscape poet Mason was happy for the estate garden to be the

occasion for literary reflection, but he was much less comfortable with its becoming the subject of a more popular print culture.

Mason’s disagreements with Gilpin persisted during the 1780s as the latter’s readership continued to grow. Faced with this success, Mason resorted to dismissing that audience by appealing to a (possibly imaginary) ‘literary friend’ who had found Gilpin’s style to be debased in its popularity:

As you tell me that you are revising & correcting all your tours, which I construe into making them fit for the perusal of the Ladies, I think I shall do well to keep my Copy of the Western tour as an Estate in fee, not as I now hold it for Life only, in order that Posterity may learnyou could once write like a Man.

Mason’s analogy perfectly reveals what is at stake in his objections. In writing for a popular audience so unacceptably broad as to include women readers, Gilpin is dispossessed of the metaphorical ‘estate’ his writings are no longer an acceptable representation of and denied the taste its possession underwrites. Gilpin’s response is, in my humble opinion, one of the eighteenth-century’s best put-downs:

Get you along – get you along, you & your friend, out of the precincts of taste. Go, cultivate some clod of earth. In the regions of landscape – of lights, & shades, & glowing tints, you have nothing to do. – I write for the ladies! – No, sir, – nor for such critics as you, & your cold,    unanimated friend. I write merely, & solely for people of picturesque genius – whethergentlemen, or ladies, I reck not.

It is Mason, together with his landowning and ‘literary’ associates that are to be evicted from the landscape garden now that it has become the property of a popular print culture to which wealth and gender are no barrier.

Where does that leave the eighteenth-century garden then? Well, I’d suggest that the career of a popular writer like Gilpin helps us understand the importance of such spaces, precisely because it reveals some of the friction involved in their transfer to a broader “public sphere” of discussion and debate. It also helps us to see some of what could be achieved in this process as new social groups were authorised to reimagine and critique locations at the emblematic heart of Britain’s economic and political power. The legacy of this is still with us today as we concern ourselves with the history, affective power and future management of our national landscape whilst defending the right of different social groups to participate in the issues they raise. Gilpin’s more immediate legacy was also significant. He wasn’t much of a Romantic (and despite describing more ruined castles and abbeys than the entire Minerva Press his works are generally about as “Gothic” as Catherine Morland’s laundry list) but he nonetheless contributed to form a readership for the more radical re-definitions of the landscape and its imaginative capacity that were to follow.

On a final note, I’d like to think William Gilpin would have wholeheartedly approved of an endeavour like the Furnace Park Project, which invites diverse groups and disciplines to participate in the discussion and re-imagination of the spaces at the heart of our collective culture.

Further Reading:

Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760-1800. Stanford, Stanford UP, 1989

Carl Paul Barbier, William Gilpin: his Drawings, Teaching and Theory of the Picturesque. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963. [Barbier reprints much of the correspondence between Gilpin and Mason].

Stephen Copley and Peter Garside, The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1994.

Amongst other things Mark Bennett is also currently running the University of Sheffield Gothic Reading Group. To get involved, or read more of Mark’s work, check out their blog:


Selling ‘The Garden’ in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture // Adam J. Smith

Selling ‘The Garden’ in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture
’In the first of two posts postgraduate researcher Adam J Smith discusses the impact that eighteenth-century print culture had upon conceptualisations of the garden.’

A few weeks ago Jane Withers introduced us to Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery; an ‘Idiot’s Guide’ to getting the most out of your kitchen garden first published in 1744. Jane discussed the text’s production and shared with us some of the timeless advice found within (if you haven’t yet read her post it is definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve yet to discover the secret of curing headaches with onions and string). The very existence of the text also intersects with a series of historical narratives crucial to an understanding of the eighteenth-century garden as a pragmatic (and gendered) domestic space, an important component of the popular imagination, and a physical landscape symbiotically connected to the rise, diversification and steady democratisation of print culture.

Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery opens with a prefatory claim that wouldn’t be out of place in the 2014 edition of the Gardener’s World annual (although, I would hope that Monty Don might articulate this point with fractionally more tact and sympathy than his eighteenth-century predecessor):

This little treatise of Kitchen-Gardening is chiefly designed for the instruction and benefit of country people, who most of them have a little garden spot belonging to their house, and at the same time let it lie useless, for want of knowing how properly to manage it; or otherwise, if they do attempt the cropping of it, ’tis at improper season, so that they have not the desire success, which discourages them from making any farther attempts.

Our author is informing us that though many ‘country people’ have ‘a little garden spot’ the majority ‘let it lie useless’ because they don’t know ‘how properly to manage it’ (and, those who have attempted to do something with their garden have made a simple mistake which has put them off trying again).

Although I can certainly relate to the situation being described here something that is harder to imagine is that in 1744 the idea of everyday people (by “everyday people” I of course mean: people who might not have owned a country estate but were certainly well off enough to buy this book which is no mean feat at a time when it is estimated that single-author novels were still out of the affordable price range of 90% of the population) having their own garden was a new idea. Suddenly more people do have ‘a little garden spot belonging to their house’, and, fortunately for the booksellers behind Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, they haven’t yet figured out what to do with it.

Luckily there are lots of texts which are also suddenly on hand to provide just such advice, and for the price of such a tome new gardeners could find out what it was they were expected to with their garden and how to do it.

Which begs the question: to what extent is print culture creating the garden?

At the same time that more and more people are acquiring these ‘gardening spots’ the eighteenth century also saw the emergence of Britain’s first ever twenty-four hour consumer society and the invention of cheap print. This well-documented explosion of print culture saw the market flooded with books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals and magazines. For the first time the success of such texts was dependent on discerning readers of the public who could now access and buy these texts on the street, rather than the author’s ability to attract and attain the royal patronage of the courts.

Popular culture was born.

And, given the sheer quantity of gardening manuals acknowledged in Jane’s last post, it seems that the people were interested in gardening (or, perhaps more cynically, the market made sure readers were increasingly aware that they were interested in gardening).

Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery couches itself a response to an urgent need: there are gardens out there that are not being used. But, to what extent is it creating this need? Are texts like this prescribing and inventing the garden that we know today in order to sell books which prescribe and invent the garden we know today? To what extent is our idea of what a garden is and should be the consequence of an eighteenth-century commercial enterprise, in which Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery is just an example of a single participant? And, are assumptions being made in texts such as this (possibly with further commercial motivations) that have subsequently become embedded in our own cultural consciousness?

For instance, a most cursory glance at the title of this example, Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, reveals a gendering of domestic space. Obviously, as Jane’s post stresses, the title capitalises on biblical associations. The implication is that the reader’s garden becomes an Edenic space, and like Adam and Eve, the garden’s owners will become stewards over their ‘little spot’ of nature (although, given the enduring impact of John Milton’s Paradise Lost 70 years previous it is hard to image that the target audience could have imagined Eden without also associating it with the fall of man).

The title does more than this though. It situates Adam (the first man) in the garden, and Eve (the first woman) in the Kitchen; a divide which is emphasised further within the text, as the first half of the book instructs male readers on the labour necessary to create and sustain the garden where the crops will be grown and the second telling male readers what their wives must do in order to transform these crops into food.

Not only do such texts prescribe such assumptions, but as we tend to access the past through the written word they can also propagate preconceptions in our minds about what the eighteenth century was like. Just because the text genders the garden in this way (possibly for no other reason than that the readership it targets is one of fairly affluent men) was this necessarily reflected in lived reality? And if readers did not strictly adhere to the behaviour prescribed to them by print culture and market forces, how can we ever really appreciate the role of the garden in the eighteenth century?

One solution might be to access the period through texts which were not written for sale or publication, such as private letters, diaries or journals (if you haven’t seen it yet Thomas Flint is currently examining just such a journal in a series of posts examining the private writings of Parson Woodford).

In my next post I will be reflecting on the utility of findings made by the recent Nostell Priory Library Project when addressing exactly these questions. The project, which was a collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s School of English and the National Trust (directed by Dr Hamish Mathison and Dr Joe Bray), sought to contextualise a selection of medical and veterinary texts stored within the house’s magnificent and extensive eighteenth-century library using letters, receipts, invoices and other forms of ephemera. As a researcher on the project I was privileged enough to catalogue much of this material, and next time I will share some of the correspondences of two of the house’s eighteenth-century owners, Sir Rowland and Lady Sabine Winn, with a view to better understanding (and complicating) our notions of the eighteenth-century garden.

Jane Withers // Microhabitats – a symposium report

‘Last week one of our researchers, School of English MA student Jane Withers, ventured down to Furnace Park to attend the“Microhabitats Symposium.” It was Jane’s first time at the Park, and today she shares with us her thoughts, responses and photographs.’ – Adam J Smith

There’s a little plot of land, just a stone’s throw from the University that I had never seen before. Its sharp metallic fence looks unimposing amongst the many other buildings in the area, surrounded by the same silent guard.

I peek through the bars expecting a wasteland, the tired remnants of the industrial era, packed neatly away behind functioning garages and shops; but there’s colour. A bright fence separates the sloping levels. Happily painted tyres – ones that look suspiciously like those stacked in the car dealership behind me – line a wood chipped path up to the top tier. I walk on, gazing through the brittle branches of slumbering bushes and the cold blue steel of the fence; more colour. A makeshift den stands at the back of the plot, interspersed with old planks of wood and plastic bottles to create bursts of light and dark. Oversized benches swathed in purples, reds, and yellows takes centre stage around a makeshift coffee table. A strange triangular object, pieced together with half a breeze block, some twigs, a brick, some wire, and many other things besides, stands on its own, a little from the seating.


My eyes move past this puzzling object to the raised planters behind, bursting with life. Familiarity washes over me. I considered all the research I had done on the 18th and 19th Century kitchen gardens as I looked at those planters. I imagined the people of Sheffield (some of whom may have lived or worked in this very spot) who used their allotments or gardens as a den: an escape from the real world of smog and smoke and that plants they would have grown there. I saw them in the planters before me, the swaying sheaves of wheat, and the curled leaves of the rhubarb. It was as if I was watching their phantom hands carefully tilling the soil, and breathing a sigh of relief that the rain hadn’t caused too much fuss, followed by their silent prayer for a bit of sunshine.


This was the first time I had visited Furnace Park, and seen the driving force of the project; the planters.  Whereas before I had only sat in front of books and journals, reading of the history of allotments in Sheffield, and the types of fruit, vegetables and herbs to be grown there. There I was, stood in front of those very same fruits, vegetable and herbs growing in the 21st century. The two married together in my mind, and the project seemed to grow tendons flesh and skin over its academic bones.


The reason for my visit to Furnace Park was for the Microhabitats symposium held at Bradley’s Café in the Nichols Building in Shalesmoor. The symposium was organised by Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson of the University of Sheffield, through the Occursus group in collaboration with Art in the Park. The event brought together many minds from many different walks of life, from lecturers at both Sheffield Hallam, and from the University of Sheffield, to poets, photographers, artists and the chief executive from Art in the Park itself.

inside the park

The day’s discussions all concerned the idea of ‘microhabitats’. We discussed the idea of worlds within worlds, covering topics such as sheds and dens, to bunkers and hiding places. Sat on the quaint sofas, cushions piled around us with our hands wrapped around our mugs of tea, the talks were insightful and interesting, differing vastly from speaker to speaker. Although each speaker warrants their own in-depth description, this short blog wouldn’t do justice to the brilliant projects that we were given an insight into.

In very brief summary, each of the speakers discussed the instinctual need for every person, young or old, to have a den, or a hideaway; a world of their own within the wide world that we all share.


All of these talks made me ponder Furnace Park, and the purpose of this strange little plot of land in a highly developed area of the city. The park in itself is a hideaway, protected and enclosed by its blue steel fences, giving you a sense of security and ‘other-worldliness’ in the middle of the city. Then the structures within the park give you worlds within the world of Furnace Park, within the wide world – that’s a lot of worlds. I can see the appeal of the park, it’s a malleable space, a clean slate ready to be built on, and then swept away and rebuilt. A space not dedicated to industry or business, but purely to being a space for imagination and creation to run wild amongst what is at first view, a barren wasteland. I can now see that the imposing blue steel fence that I speculatively peered through on my approach protects the park, not from people, but from development, from builders and industry-men, fighting for new ground to build offices, factories, more and more money for more and more business. Do not get me wrong, business is essential to keep a city like Sheffield alive and vibrant, and the city is one with a proud industrial background that many of its residents would be eager to tell you about. This piece of land is different though, not one of the manicured parks, nor the levelled plots with cranes towering above, ready to sketch a piece of architecture from stone and mortar. It is a material representation of an idea, able to be manipulated, used and formed in whichever way the users need or want; and at the end of the day, the gates are locked, the park is put back to sleep, ready for another day, another fresh idea to be formed on its eager ground.


Furnace Park reminded me of the allotments that I had pored over in my journals and books. The allotment, an idea of its humble owner, realised in sweat and soil. Able to be ploughed, planted and reaped, and then ploughed again, turning over new soil, for new plants, for the reaping of new crops. The allotment, a world away from the trials and tribulations of lower class life in the 18th and 19th centuries, a world within a world. The gardener’s den and hideaway. I can see their longstanding appeal; I can understand why Furnace Park is the perfect place for the recreation of the gardening heritage of the city and country; an idea grown from the history of the people themselves on land protected for the people.


If you ever do get the chance to visit this little retreat in the big city of Sheffield, I strongly urge you to. To me it was food for thought, causing me to reassess what this space means to not just me, but to the city as a whole. It made me realise that we all need that place to escape to, a place that’s open for our imaginations to run wild within, unleashed from the constraints of work and day to day life. I thought of my little dens and hiding places that I had used throughout my life, and I smiled at the memories. Furnace Park was a happy place for me that reminded me of fond memories, and the promise of new experiences. If you visit Furnace Park, what will it mean to you?

Note: All images were taken by myself and are of Furnace Park and the surrounding area.

Further Reading

Come build a den at Furnace Park!

Join us this spring at Furnace Park, where we will be promoting play, exploration and the use of natural and found materials by creating microhabitats!

On the 15th and 17th of April, there will be free workshops where families and children will be able to work in collaboration with artists and students to build dens on the site. Furnace Park, once an abandoned industrial space, has been transformed into a creative space for the local community.

Both workshops are from 12pm – 3pm, there is no booking necessary. There will be indoor space available if it rains, please wear comfortable and weather appropriate clothing.

Find more info about Furnace Park here and more about the workshops here.

Join our facebook event page here! microhabitats workshops

The Eighteenth-Century Medicine Man who Fascinated Virginia Woolf

‘Post-graduate researcher and current School of English MA student, Thomas Flint, who is working on the heritage garden at Furnace Park, casts the spotlight on the diary of Parson James Woodforde: a clergyman with an inclination towards medicine and a tendency to prescribe a ‘dram of gin’ as a cure to the ailments of his congregation.’  – Adam J Smith

We might think that we know the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of our knowledge, however, comes from the history books; texts written much later with the benefit of considered and thoroughly informed hindsight. Some might thing they can come to know the past by observing its artefacts, now lying silently in museum cabinets or siting on display in stately homes, or by looking at paintings and drawings from the time. Historians might look to the record keepers of the past for this crucial insight, poring over accounts, ledgers, census information, marriage and death certificates or army & navy muster rolls. For those of us concerned with literature, the novels or poetry of the time promise an glimpse of the social concerns of authors and readers, as do newspapers, letters, pamphlets, and, occasionally, diaries.

It is the diary that I want to consider in this post. Diaries offer an unparalleled utility to those interested in the everyday lived life of our ancestors, and perhaps one such diary is that of James Woodforde; a pastor of a tiny parish of about thirty homes in Norfolk from 1775 to 1803.

Fascinatingly, this wasn’t always the case. When Woodforde’s diary was first published in 1924 his editor, John Beresford, noted that “the [book’s] welcome was immediate and widespread”. Prior to this, though, Woodforde had lived a life of anonymity. He isn’t even recorded by the Historical Manuscripts Commission.

The diary itself amazes. Woodforde provides a new entry to his work every day for nearly fifty years. He keeps an immaculate record of his household finances and his activities as a parson, whilst also using it as private journal; recording all the rumours, gossip and criticisms that he likely would be unable to express elsewhere. His personal routine is recorded with frankness and fairness, as are interactions with his family and parishioners, details of the weather and, very prominently, his dearest hobbies: cards, drink (as often as not purchased illegally from the local moonshiner) and good food.

While gambling, gastronomy and bootleg booze were clearly among the man’s keenest interests (he records his daily meals and their various merits and shortcomings with gusto, and in intricate course-by-course detail) he also allows space for another fascinating pastime: treating his sick parishioners with home medicine. The concoctions he would feed his ailing flock (or force upon his servants) sound exotic (sometimes barbaric) to our ears. His enthusiasm, however, for doses of “tar water” to treat consumption, henna powder for fever, and a dram of gin for just about anything else, places him amidst the transition from medieval witchdoctory to the standardised, scientific, researched approach that characterises Western medicine today. Indeed, often his practices seem more akin to the folk remedies championed by the wise women and quack doctors of the middle ages: a brush with a black cat’s tail clears up a particularly nasty stymie, the horn of a red deer ground and mixed into water and imbibed combats numbness in his hand and tongue, but “it made me very low on occasion all the day long”.

Despite his curious indebtedness to the arcane and his penchant for dosing the local farmers, the popularity of the complicated Parson Woodeford has dwindled in recent years. In some respects it is not hard to see why. His diary keeping was a miracle of self-discipline and consistency. Whether consumed by work or travelling or even on his death bed, Woodforde kept writing. Yet his life lacks the violence or excitement found in of those of Evelyn or Pepys. It contains no great events or tragedies that excite casual readers or thrill one to picture oneself in the place of the author.

As Virginia Woolf, who was fascinated by the books, put it:

“Looking through the eyes of Parson Woodforde, the different lives of men seem orderly and settled. Far away guns roar; a King falls; but the sound is not loud enough to scare the rooks here in Norfolk.”

His work was his diary, but his life he was neither adventurous nor ambitious. His diary is a record of everyday life in a small rural parish, in all seasons and moods, whether fearfully expectant of French invasion (the Parson himself comes across as remarkably unworried by the prospect) or facing the very real possibility of the assassination a revolt against the King. Woodforde is unmoved by the threat of bloody revolution and republicanism, concerned only with the daily life of a rural community in a time when technology was limited. Achieving an adequate harvest was the only thing that mattered.

Reading his work, one cannot help but better appreciate the perspective of these poor, struggling people as they battled weather, crop failure, decades of war-depleted national resources, and only the most limited understanding of (or interest in) what lies beyond the oceans, or indeed the village boundary. News travelled slowly. Travel was slow (17 hours in an uncomfortable coach to London) and a small cut could kill you (and a viral infection risked killing your whole family). Though not an exciting life, it is nonetheless a life worth reading of.

It is these challenges that the Parson reflects upon. Every ailment had a tried and tested cure, and more often than not he reports that the complaints of those subjected to his remedies recover (though perhaps more often despite his concoctions rather than thanks to them). And through all he finds his peace in a hefty three course meal, some decent plonk, a round of cards.

The importance of the lessons taught in the diary of James Woodforde bear great importance to the project unfolding in Furnace Park. His concern for the healing power of the natural world, and very real belief in the potions and powders with which he dosed his sickly neighbours, tell us of a time when man’s relationship with plants was unrecognisable to the one we share today. While the nobility of Europe laid out vast stately gardens to leisure in and spread court gossip, for the majority, in the countryside and the city, your garden was your pharmacy and your larder and not merely a pretty folly to swan around in. What your patch produced could and would extend your life. Physicians were distant, out of reach to all but the richest or those dwelling in the largest urban centres. Medicine was poorly understood and not to be trusted to your local barber or blacksmith.

This is the garden we are growing: one that would be recognisable to the everyman of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Sheffield. One familiar to the normal man or woman. A beautiful garden would be one with the potential for productivity, functionality and safeguarding your loved ones from sickness and hunger. This is the psychology of Parson Woodforde and his neighbours and it is what we seek to uncover in our project, two hundred and eleven years after his death.

An Everyman’s Eden: Unearthing the History of Sheffield’s Allotments

Postgraduate researcher and current School of English MA Student, Jane Withers, who is working on the heritage garden at Furnace Park begins to dig up the history the allotment, unearthing as she does so its startling connection to the history of Sheffield. – Adam J Smith

Sheffield is a city to be envied. With its vast city centre parks and breath-taking views across South Yorkshire, it’s no wonder Sheffield has been branded ’the greenest city in the UK.’ But what of the less grand green spaces? What of the small patchwork quilt of humble allotments that blanket areas of the city?Peppered with private Edens of escapism, hidden away from the humdrum of city life, the industrial hub of Sheffield has shared over 300 years of its time with the lesser known history of the garden allotment.

The whereabouts of the first allotments is steeped in speculation. The exact time of their evolution from strip farming is thought to have occurred in the late seventeenth century, but strong claims have been laid to the origin of allotments en masse as having taken place here in Sheffield.

Ralph Gosling's 'Plan of Sheffield'

Ralph Gosling’s ‘Plan of Sheffield’

As shown in the above map (the Cathedral is circled in red), urban gardens dominated Sheffield city centre (seen by the yellow arrows radiating from the Cathedral). Although the gardens illustrated in 1736 cannot be proved as allotments (very little documentation survives alluding to the use of these plots) it was thought that the total number of gardens shown could be in excess of 200.

These plots were popular with craftsmen of the time, whose green fingers itched with creativity and cultivation. The popularity of the city centre escapes grew, and by 1780, Flavell claims that there is evidence of between 1500 and 1800 allotments being leased within the city boundaries of Sheffield (see the ‘Further Reading’ section at the end of this post). This expansion could be accredited to the discovery of a more efficient crucible method for producing steel, thoroughly placing Sheffield on the industrial map and causing a need for an alternative past time, away from the grime and smoke of the industrial sites.

It was not only steel workers who realised a demand for these little plots of paradise, but their managers as well. Middle-class businessman, made up of merchants and industrialists, used the profits of their businesses to buy land, which they then divided and leased as allotment plots to workers.

Records from the mid eighteenth century give details of the occupations of the leaseholders of 43 manorial plots within the Sheffield boundaries. Each plot would average between 150-200 square yards at a price of 0.3d. per square yard – so in decimalised terms, factoring in inflation, a 200 square yard allotment would cost £56.09 per year. Not bad for a little place of one’s own?

The occupiers of these kitchen gardens are also listed in documents from the Sheffield archives. One plot of 43 different lease owners contained:

  • 28 x Cutlers
  • 2 x Button makers
  • 2 x Shoe makers
  • 2 x Bakers
  • 2 x Innkeepers
  • 2 x Widows
  • 1 x Clerk
  • 1 x Grocer
  • 1 x Schoolmaster
  • 1 x Husbandsman
  • 1 x Gardener

These records build an idyllic picture of city life. The individuals, all concerned with their own trades and occupations, are apparently brought together by the promise of blue sky and green grass. You can imagine it now, the stern Schoolmaster with his sleeves rolled to the elbow, puffing on a pipe in the afternoon sun. The Widow who leases the plot next to his walks past carrying her crop of rhubarb, the Schoolmaster tilts his cap, the Widow replies with a healthy, “How are you? Any luck with the peas?”

They then become engrossed in swapping stories of leek success and lettuce failure. The Grocer strides across the plots, his little dog in tow, clutching at his radishes with pride as they blush red in the South Yorkshire heat.
“Are they for the table, or the shop?” The Schoolmaster asks, lifting his cap to just above his bushy brows, and so on and so forth the image goes.

Whether events such as these happened is entirely left to speculation and creativity, but we can be assured in the knowledge that in the eighteenth century, the people of Sheffield loved their allotments, and why shouldn’t they?

As well as being a form of escape or relaxation allotments provided crucial sustenance for working families. Fresh produce was expensive to buy, and many families lived in houses without access to gardens. Renting a plot of land was seen as an investment, for not only could the family eat their produce at the cost of a pack of seeds and time, they could also supplement their household income by selling surplus produce at local markets, adding to the already thriving market gardening scene across England.

This romantic ideal of green England was not to last untouched, and in Sheffield, the vulnerable plots of earth and natural nourishment were to come under threat from the gluttonous industrial era that boomed in Sheffield in the nineteenth century.

That is the topic for my next post, where I shall discuss and illuminate the trials and tribulations of the allotment gardeners of Sheffield in the nineteenth century. However, for now, let us bask in the spring sunshine that has graced these seven hills in the last few days, and close our eyes. Imagine the breeze ruffling the stalks of the onions around you, making the pea pods dance and the spinach flutter. You’re sat in your allotment, you breathe in the beautifully clean air as you wiggle your toes in the turf around your makeshift chair. Eden has come again, and grown by your very own hands.

Further Reading

Flavell, N. 2003. ‘Urban Allotment Gardens in the Eighteenth Century: The Case of Sheffield’, The

Agricultural History Review, 51(1): 95-106

This article, along with many other documents detailing Sheffield’s past, can be found in the Local Studies section of the Sheffield public library in the City Centre. Information about the local studies archive can be found via this link:

The heritage garden project at Furnace Park – from seeds to seedlings!

Seeds have arrived, but due to our limited potting shed space we are hoping that Sheffield gardeners, that may mean you, will take a seed or a handful home! Once there we ask you to germinate them and increase our seedling stocks for planting in the Park or being part of a fund raising plant sale.

We have good numbers of classic allotment crops available and also some heritage varieties which will demonstrate the plant forms of yesteryear.

These include Prince Albert peas lazy house wife beans and Burpees Gold Beetroot!

If interested please tweet us or get in contact with us through the website here.

We look forward to hearing from and meeting all the interested gardeners of Sheffield!

Upcoming occursus & Furnace Park events – dates for your diaries

Saturday March 22nd, 2-3pm, Furnace Park: The Children of Furnace Park

A talk by historian Chris Hobbs and a performance of a work by Alice Collins commemorating the deaths of 8 children in 1886 on what is now the Furnace Park site

Friday March 28th, 11am-4pm: Microhabitats – a symposium

A symposium about studios, sheds, dens and huts at Bradley’s Café (The Nichols Building, Shalesmoor)

Friday March 28th, 7pm: NEURONE

See the sculpture made by Dr Nathan Adams, live at Furnace Park

Tuesday May 27th, 11am-2.30pm: No Picnic

Event at Furnace Park launching the book of the Sandpit project, with researchers from the University of Sheffield and artists Hester Reeve and Bob Levene. Book your free place here

Tuesday June 3rd, 10am-4pm, Jessop West (University of Sheffield): plastiCities – a symposium

A conference bringing together speakers from across the disciplines to explore the ways in which recent advances in the understanding of neuroplasticity might be used to construct new models for negotiating urban landscapes and temporalities.

The Children of Furnace Park

In 1866, eight children were killed in Shalesmoor when the wall of a warehouse belonging to Daniel Doncaster & Sons collapsed on them, unleashing tons of steel bars, timber and slates.

On Saturday March 22nd, we will be hosting an event at Furnace Park that remembers this accident through talks and performance.

The event will include:

A monologue written by Alice Collins and performed by Elaine Parker and Dave Langridge

A talk by historian Chris Hobbs

A talk by Neil Anderson, local publisher and relative of two of the children killed in the accident

The event is free, although you are welcome to make a donation.

Reserve a free place on our eventbrite page

Children of Furnace Park QR code

Would you like to use Furnace Park?

Are you an artist? Do you belong to a community group? Are you a performer? Designer? Architect? Would you like to use Furnace Park?

FP graphic

Furnace Park is a one and a half acre brownfield site devoted to education, the arts and performance.

It’s also space in which people can come together to think about the ways in which we live in, design, represent and plan our cities.

If you have a project (a talk, a performance, an exhibition, for example) that would work well on an outdoor site and are looking for a place in which to host it, please contact Amanda Crawley Jackson (

We don’t have a budget to commission works, but we can offer you free use of the site and we’re also willing to lend a hand with funding applications.

We have a 40′ shipping container, part of which can be used for storage or indoor activities. We also have seating for up to 40. The top part of the site is a garden area, with lots of room for things like immersive theatre, readings, performance, etc.

The bottom part of the site is concreted over and very flexible – ideal for all kinds of uses.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.09.43

You can use the space for an hour, a day or a week – we’re happy to negotiate this with you.

The main aim is to turn this site – which we’ve spent a year working on, in order to make it safe, legal and welcoming – into a real community asset, for use by you.

There’s no application form – just send Amanda an email with an outline of your idea and we can get together to talk about it in more detail.

We look forward to hearing from you!