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 http://www.chrishobbs.com/orwellsheffield1936.htm)

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.

Microhabitats

“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: http://sheffieldgothicreadinggroup.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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.