Sheffield riverscape (1)

I walked with Daisy along the River Don from the Wardsend cemetery to Neepsend. At Wardsend, we started off a little way down the railway lines that run stark and clean through the undulating and overgrown cemetery, then veered off to follow the river itself, along the newly surfaced track that cuts through the vast mounds of debris – spolia from demolished works? – that loom either side. The electricity pylons hummed and crackled overhead and the thunderous engines of quad bikes rumbled and reverberated in an undefinable distance.

Everywhere we walk, waste. And amidst the waste, lilac and jack-in-the-hedge. The river bank is strewn with tyres and bottles and fast food wrappers, mattresses and plastic chairs, podgy black bin bags. A sign screwed to one of the metal kissing gates put there to stop the quad bikes : fly tippers – we are watching you.

At Wardsend, on the hill amidst the silver birch, there has been a fire. Graves squat in scorched earth, black tipped tendrils clasping shards of stone, displacing fragments of Victorian ironwork.

The Hillsborough playing fields are to our right. A man in a vermilion jersey sparks across the pitch. A sheep’s skull – or perhaps it is just a carrier bag – is revealed, briefly, as the river washes across it. Bottle-green, muddy mallards drift.

Neepsend. Eviscerated drag cars and deserted roads, leading to an empty, elevated horizon.


occursus commissioned Luke Bennett and Katja Hock to produce SCREE – available as a free pdf download here.

The Wadsley Bridge to Neepsend escarpment runs along the northern edge of the upper Don valley. To the geologist this ridgeline is made up of coal measures and shales overlain by sandstone. To the local residents of north western Sheffield it is comprised of scrub, dereliction, pylons and a landfill tip. To the local historian it is an area rich in industrial and urban history.  To my kitchen refuse it is a final resting place.

To me it is all of these things, and more. In the pages that follow, Katja I and I set out to traverse this ridgeline and to depict in words and images what we find there. We can’t claim that what we find are essences – for the truth of this place is infinitely multifaceted – but what I do hope that we’ve brought closer to surface is the richness of materiality and meaning that can be found even on this steep scrubby hillside.

(Luke Bennett, extract from Scree)

Photograph by Katja Hock, 2013.
Photograph by Katja Hock, 2013.

Project reflections #1

On our second visit to Neepsend I was much impressed by the change in the seasons. Not only by the marked contrast in the weather – so fiercely hot on our first excursion into this terrain and now so cold and with much sleety rain – but also by the presence of so many faded flower heads of Buddleja. On our last visit these vivid purple blooms were alive with butterflies. Now, with the season for progeneration long over, they hang drooping, spent and rotten.

Buddleja, often misspelled Buddleia but commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, is a genus of flowering plants. The generic name, bestowed by Linnaeus, honours the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662–1715), a botanist and rector from Essex who could never have actually seen a plant of the genus, which originates from the warmer climes of the New World and from Africa and Asia. Adam Buddle was an expert on bryophytes (mosses and other damp dwelling plants), he also wrote a new English flora, unpublished on his death, that sits within the library of the Sloane museum in London.

The most popular cultivated species is Buddleja davidii from central China; it takes its second name from the French naturalist Père Armand David (1826-1900), the Lazarist missionary priest, zoologist and botanist who was the first westerner to record the existence of the giant panda. Buddleja davidii is a great coloniser of dry open ground. It often self-sows on waste ground or old masonry. It is frequently seen on derelict factory sites and, in the aftermath of the Second World War, was often found on urban bomb sites. This earned it the popular nickname of ‘the bombsite plant’ among people of the war-time generation.

It is listed as an invasive species in many areas of the United Kingdom.

Paul Evans, December 4 2011