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.

Furnace Park // Some Background

Furnace Park is a Sheffield-based project engaging artists, architects, students, community groups and a range of researchers from across the disciplines to develop an external exhibition and performance space on an abandoned brownfield site in a former industrial quarter in Sheffield. Creative practitioners and researchers from the arts are leading on the project in collaboration with SKINN, with the aim of testing on site knowledges typically marginalised by discourses of planning and urbanism (literature, philosophy, history, fine art, for example). A series of transdisciplinary collaborations taking as their research question the design, representation and practice of the city will result and have already resulted in exhibitions, performances, talks, symposia, model making, temporary constructions and a variety of durational interventions.

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We came across the site (an acre and a half of buddleia, concrete, wild poppies and detritus owned by Sheffield City Council) in the course of a programme of urban walks led by occursus, a loose, transdisciplinary spatial studies research group founded by Amanda Crawley Jackson at the University of Sheffield in 2010. It was once home to Daniel Doncaster’s foundry, established in 1778 ‘to apply the crucible steel making process to the manufacture of hand tools’. An 18th-century cementation furnace, now a scheduled monument, still stands at the southern entrance to the site, sectioned off within the HSBC staff car park, and lends its name to our project: Furnace Park. In August 1886, the wall of a warehouse in which Doncasters were storing steel and iron bars collapsed, killing eight children from the slum housing nearby who were playing beneath it. Other than some short notices in the News of the World at the time of the inquest and a sketch in The Illustrated Police Review of September 1886, the incident has slipped virtually without trace into the thick field of unwritten industrial histories.

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The slum houses (arranged in clusters of ‘courts’) were cleared in the 1920s and in 1931, a children’s playground was opened on the upper part of the site, at the corner of Doncaster Street and Matthew Street. Doncaster’s stockyard, situated on the lower part of the site, was demolished in the 1950s and, as Luke Bennett explains, the Council went on to use the site to house the offices and workshops of its municipal Lighting Department. The site is now littered with the spolia of all of these constructions, bricks and bits of piping lying in heaps around the perimeter. Two large stones that we think topped the Victorian gateway lie heavily in the shadow of the derelict works that adjoin the site on Doncaster Street.

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The site, an awkward palimpsest, is a blank-not-blank space; a post-traumatic, post-industrial landscape of the kind we find all over our cities, in the cracks produced within an urban order structured by cycles of development and decay, occupation and abandonment, investment and neglect. Luke Bennett describes the irreducible tension between the site’s absence and surplus of meaning:

I hear no voices. There are no ghosts of activity here. The only legacies are those I see (bricks) and sense in the ground (contamination). The emptiness of this site does not deliver to me an upwelling of the past as an occupied place. But I do sense the ghosts that Michel de Certeau sees stalking the inner-city: “seemingly sleepy, old-fashioned things, defaced houses, closed-down factories, the debris of shipwrecked histories [which] still today raise up the ruins of an unknown, strange city.” (1998: 133)

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In fact, we have a surplus of documentation about this patch of contaminated land in central Sheffield. We made the decision early on that rather than occupy the site in a clandestine way – to trespass or squat, make an ephemeral intervention – we wanted to have the experience of making space differently; of working within the planning system to test its edges and push its boundaries; to create, by developing and using minor practices, an other – sustainable – space within the major spatial language of urban regeneration. For this, we learned, we have to have public liability insurance, provide water and toilet facilities, produce and approve a risk assessment for all stages of the project (including construction, events and dismantling), agree the terms of a licence and seek planning permission. The project thus unfurls in a bureaucratic legal framework that few of us had anticipated and which collides with our desire to create a loose space; an open work that is responsive to the contingencies of our encounters, dialogues and discoveries. And yet, through this collision of practices and priorities, we have come to understand some of the ways in which city making works; the networks of power and finance that can sanction a project or stop it in its tracks; the many lines and forces which intersect on our site and amidst which we are, of necessity, obliged to work, even if that is with a view to subverting and inflecting them.

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We have had to commission environmental (contamination) surveys, topographical surveys, assets searches and, most recently, a UXB survey.  We have worked with the police to think about access to the site and the problems of metal theft and vandalism. We have a project folder running to over 200 pages of tabulated data, diagrams and maps, which still gives us only a partial reading of the thick space it purports to contain and circumscribe.

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All photographs by Andy Brown, 2013.

Quiet flows the Don (Тихий Дон)

Pauline, who’s 71, came up to Shalesmoor for the day from Maidenhead to try and find the places where her parents and grandparents lived. Her grandparents were Ukrainian Jews who came to Britain in the late nineteenth century. Fleeing persecution, they left their hometown of Novograd-Volynsk and sailed to Liverpool from Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea. Pauline doesn’t know how her family came to live in Sheffield, but told us about the large Jewish community that lived in the slum dwellings around Scotland Street at the turn of the century. Her father was born in 1902 and is buried in Sheffield. The family ran a grocers shop at 51 West Bar Green from 1910 until as late as 1951. She told us her memories of hearing Yiddish spoken at home, of chicken soup and matzah bread, and of the rich, enticing smells in the family shop. She told us that she remembered how, as a child, she would be given old Bisto posters and empty boxes, so she too could play shop. She used to love the Blue Riband biscuits she was given as a special treat and remembers the sound of the cellophane packet being torn to release its contents. We walked together to Allen Street, but the family home that once stood there has long since been demolished or destroyed. We couldn’t work out which school her father must have gone to, although we wondered about the Infants School on Blue Boy Street (so named because of the blue jackets that the schoolboys were made to wear). Pauline ran away to New York to marry her husband. When she told her mother she was going to start researching their family history, her mother warned against it, saying that there were ‘too many skeletons in the cupboard’.

It was a strange kind of serendipity that minutes before we met Pauline and asked if we could take her photograph for the (Sheffield) Don magazine, we had been discussing the fact that there’s also a River Don that flows through Russia and Ukraine.

The magazine, which we wrote, edited and produced in 24 hours, will be launched on Friday June 22nd. See here for more details and to reserve a place at the launch.

May 12th – creative workshop with SKINN & CADS

Explore Shalesmoor and Kelham Island, one of Sheffield’s most interesting areas, through an afternoon workshop of walks and mapping.

The focus is on ways of interpreting the city; What draws you to particular elements of the city? Why do you feel uncomfortable walking down a particular stretch of the road? Why are there streets where one side is derelict and another is full of new developments?

The workshop will investigate the hidden coding of the area by mapping and juxtaposing descriptive sensual observations and factual, numerical data that is usually hidden from our eye.

Open to people from all disciplines & backgrounds
No experience necessary.

The workshop is free but places are limited. Please book a place here.

The work produced during the workshop will be exhibited as part of the plastiCities summer series.

Saturday 12th May
12:00 start
@ CADS, 7 Smithfield, S3 7AR
A free lunch will be provided.