Finding paintings in Upperthorpe

Finding Paintings in Upperthorpe
   On 11th April 2012, I had a wander through Upperthorpe in order to find some source material for a forthcoming exhibition. I was looking for some found paintings. That is, accidents in paint that turn my head. I’ve been collecting them for years, along with stuff that looks like sculpture. (See http://foundpaintingsandsculptures.blogspot.co.uk/ for more examples).
   As I started it became apparent the Upperthorpe doesn’t have much in the way of this stuff. There are bins with hand-painted house numbers on them, but little else. I did notice that some brick walls looked like they’d been cleaned recently. They sometimes have a tell-tale scrubbed section in their centre, indicative of a graffiti clean-up team. I walked all the way up Upperthorpe to wear it touches on Walkey (and enjoyed a bagel and coffee at the New York Deli on Commonside), before heading back downhill on Springvale Road.
   It was a beautiful morning (though hail would pummel the place later on), but aside from some blossom, nothing much to photograph. I walked all the way down to the Tesco’s on Infirmary Road and then cut up through the nearby housing estate and woods (with seemingly abandoned skate bowl and five-a-side pen). It was here that I did find some stuff. On one of the green picnic tables someone had scribbled a circle in white paint and some trees nearby have pink spots sprayed onto their trunks. I’m assuming this is a death sentence of sorts. One tree had some thick pink paste on its trunk. On the housing estate I had seen the rendered wall equivalent of the scrubbed brick. Graffiti on these walls is painted over with neat, modernist, rectangles and two of these were painted on an end wall, either side of a rust stained outlet for an extractor. Perhaps accidental marks are more acceptable than deliberate ones.
   I turned uphill on Fox Road and ended up back at the small parade of shops. Just before that some has amended a reflective chevron sign, probably in order to make it more dramatic in the dark. Perhaps the black was fading and no new sign as forthcoming. The image has the touch of Jasper Johns or Jim Dine, which I like.
   Time was passing and I need to get back to the city centre, so I started back towards the blocks of flats. On Martin Street (or it could have been Oxford Street), I saw that someone had sprayed a radial design on the top of a bin. Erosion or something more deliberate had knocked it back, but it was still recognizable as a sympathetic piece of work. Just as I was leaving the district with only a few pictures, I noticed that – yes – someone had dropped a tin of white paint at the foot of one of the blocks. There’s always an accidental Jackson Pollock.

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk #3 (Eddy Dreadnought)

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk

Section 3   Club Mill to the Buddhist Centre

 Walk downhill on Parkwood Road, then round a wide corner. Here the boundary becomes anarchic and runs streetless straight downhill to the river Don and dives in. It wades downstream to drag itself out at the next bridge like an escaped prisoner, trying to conceal its tracks. The best you can do, confined as you are by high steel palisade security fencing on every side, is to continue down to Hoyland Road on the right, then right down Sandbed Road, past the vanished Hillfoot School, to join the surprisingly unenclosed riverside Club Mill Road.

This sedate descent is through more industrial estate land and business parkage, with occasional second hand car lots and sandwich bars. It all looks ersatz, insubstantial and nomadic, as though it could be packed away and removed in a day like a circus.

Walk left beside the river. There is a weir and a mill goit feeding the site of Club Mill, buried beneath a subsequent works, which is now itself being demolished. In 1795 various sick clubs and friendly societies clubbed together to build a watermill to provide wholesome and inexpensive flour. Before laying the first stone there was a parade through the town with banners and a band. Within a few years the scheme failed.

Towards the end of the road is a recycling plant, with conical heaps of debris. An overhead conveyor belt dribbles a few lumps into the Don. Joining Neepsend Lane once more, pass by the landmark Farfield Inn. To cars passing on Penistone Road it looks in business, sheltering under the gasometer, but it was closed after being flooded in 2007.

Walk across Hillfoot Bridge. We decide that this transpontine part of Upperthorpe we are just leaving is much more interesting than the frozen and populous left bank. Maybe we were intoxicated by gas fumes, but Neepsend is more engaging, a place in flux, deterritorialising and reterritorialising in a constant loop, a smooth space.

Cross Penistone Road, then climb up the steps to Wood Street. Here is a vast half-cylinder building, like a Soviet swimming pool, simply labeled ‘Mecca’.

A central part of a pilgrimage to Mecca is to pass round the granite cube of the Kaaba seven times anticlockwise. Circumambulation happens constantly, except during prayer times when birds and small angels are said to take over.

Over Infirmary Road is a boarded-up crater overflowing with buddleia plants. This is the only unhealed socket of the massive Kelvin flats, built in 1967, demolished in 1995 before the trams came back, and brutalist architecture became worth saving. It made a canyon of this thoroughfare, which now blinks in unaccustomed light.

Look up and glide along the streets in the sky- Edith Walk, Kelvin Walk, Portland Walk and Woolen Walk. Watch out for apports of diseased concrete which materialize and float down soft as polystyrene.

Go uphill on Whitehouse Lane for a moment, then left up Fox Road. On the left is Pennsylvania Green Space, a strip of reclaimed parkland with fruit trees, even mulberry bushes to go round on this cold and frosty morning.

Continue uphill, zigzag up Sherde Road, then straight up Daniel Hill Street. This begins the final long steep climb of this section, taking you onto Fulton Road through Birkendale, along its frontier with Walkley. It is a property ladder. At the bottom low rise social housing, further up Victorian artisan terraces with original features, then younger terraced houses with small front gardens, interesting pubs but triple locked cars, then larger semis, internal viewing recommended, then some detached properties painted in period colours, up and up to new Yorkshire stone clad executive-style homes and flats. Sheltered among these last in an old hilltop church is the Buddhist Centre.

To avoid pressure sores during prolonged meditation on Buddhist retreat it is common to have periods of the Zen-derived walking meditation or kinhin. Participants walk clockwise in a circle, alternating painfully slow steps with periods of loping round.

I could only giggle attempting this, a sign foretelling later problems:  Who wants to be enlightened?  Who believes in reincarnation?  Who can worship devotionally? Time to get off the Noble Path.

After the long ascent of Fulton Road, burst out into the crescent Matlock Road, then left onto the crest of Heavygate Road, which then falls downhill to Howard Road. Go across to Sydney Road, then coast downhill.  Imagine a time-lapse film of all the buzzing delivery vans, builders vans and skip lorries pollinating these houses.

The boundary seems to be tiring, and it starts to weave about. But suddenly it charges acrobatically through gardens and even houses like a chased action hero.  You have two choices- either to rush after it and risk prosecution, or like the more sensible detective in a buddy movie, circle round the back alleys to pick it up as it re-emerges.

But really there is no drama here, dogs bark in kitchens, pigeons doze on chimneys. The best advice would be to improvise the remaining few blocks of the walk using the looming Upperthorpe flats as your target.

You should now be back at the starting point of Albion Street, at the end of this virtuous and at times vicious circle.

 Eddy Dreadnought, 2012

project reflections #28

Upperthorpe Botanicus

Poor flowers in the flower beds of manicured gardens.

They look like they’re afraid of the police …

‘Alberto Caeiro’  from The Keeper of Sheep XXXIII

Feeling conscious of the absence of an introduction, I thought that it might be worthwhile to draft a short conclusion to the project reflections that I have written about the botany of the Upperthorpe, Netherthorpe, Shalesmoor, Neepsend and Wardsend edgelands (project reflections 1, 3, 4, 5, 14, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27 respectively).   

The aim, in principle, was to create a tentative psycho-botany of the various weeds and invasive plants that thrive on “disturbed ground” around the edges of habitation; to not only describe these ‘flowers that grow in the wrong places’ in botanical terms but to examine – at least in brief – their cultural significance.

Also, last weekend, whilst in conversation with a botanist friend, I was reminded of the fragile precariousness of this urban weed-ecology. Essentially most of these transitional or pioneering plants (poppies, buddleja, Rosebay willowherb etc.) will propagate only in areas of vegetation clearance; in the course of natural habitat development they will soon be deprived of light by forest canopies and, given time, will simply cease to exist. It is a transitory, human-determined and human-dependent flora that has been created in these areas.

In terms of the way that we have become accustomed to contemplating nature, I’m therefore left with somewhat conflicted feelings – where’s the (cleansing) spiritual connection? This is – it would seem – a somewhat muddied, muddled, mitigated nature; perhaps a somewhat less than fully ‘natural’ nature – in comparison to what we might hope to see in a timeless, ‘pristine’ ecology – perhaps in Alaska, for example …

In terms of structuring the texts, I quite enjoyed the caprice of writing the introductory (in bold) paragraphs in the ‘voice’ of an nineteenth century naturalist – a voice that I hoped would contrast with the ‘thick description’  or fact-heavy content of the remainder (culled heavily from Wikipedia but also informed by other texts including The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey – and by a few personal experiences).

I also enjoyed the way that, at times, the language of botanical description formed a dense, impenetrable ‘thicket’ – growing from Greek and Latin roots. This was particularly evident when the botanical description of the complex structure of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale – project reflection 22) lead to a baroque profusion of technical terms: bracts (modified or specialized leaves, especially associated with reproductive structures such as flowers, inflorescence axes, or cone scales – from the Latin bractea, thin metal plate, gold leaf variant of brattea … of obscure origin); glabrous (having no hairs or protrusions – from Latin glaber – bald): involucres (a series of bracts beneath or around a flower cluster – French from Latin involocrum – wrapper, envelope); pappi (a modified calyx composed of scales, bristles, or featherlike hairs, in plants of the composite family, such as the dandelion and the thistle – Latin, old man, down on certain seeds, from Greek papposcalyx (the sepals of a flower collectively, forming the outer floral envelope that protects the developing flower bud – from Latin, from Greek – kalux shell, from kaluptein to cover, hide …

The reason for choosing Rosebay willowherb, bindweed, Japanese knotweed (donkey rhubarb) and dandelions was simple – they all feature on the weed control section of Sheffield City Council’s website. Poppies, bracken and briar, sycamore and buddleja were all chosen because they also fall within the categories of pioneering or invasive plants – and they all, on investigation, yielded surprising amounts of cultural – psycho-botanical – reference.

Paul Evans, 2012

Sunday walks #2

Sunday 19th February

 

Many things to write of in the aftermath of a lovely Sunday, but I think that the feeling of surprise comes at the top of my agenda.  Surprise at what’s there, what we’re missing and what could be. Had a very strange feeling when I went to look back on the route that we took, tried to drop the little man in on Google maps in order to see if I’m finding the right location, and to discover that there is ‘no data available’.  Instead, all that there is, is unlabelled, uncoloured mass.  No roads, no paths, no pictures.  And yet the sights we saw!

Sights that were characterised by confusion.  What is this place? An industrial wasteland that is history-rich, foreboding pylons towering over ivy tombstones, motorcyclists tearing through.  As far from the Information Commons as imaginable.  And descending into real-world really-known Sheffield, Hillsborough College star-trek piercing spikes and casino plants with a car-park too big.  Graffiti: ‘YOU BET WE DIE’.  Animal rights over the dogs at Owlerton?  A morbid reminder reflecting graveyard poetry?  The drain on community of gambling, and these money-making cold-houses?  KFC drive through.  Drive-thru.

So to start at the beginning, we rambled in through Kelham Island’s beautiful derelict waterway woven flat-lands.  Something to savour in a city of hills!  Bricked in doorways and broken windows, eerie sunlight and old oil-lamps, beautifully simple lettering and works of all kinds, bridges and bricks, one wall with the other three missing, three walls with the one missing, cobbled streets, chimneys, large-scale machinery.  So easy to romanticise!  ‘GLOBE WORKS’ reminds me of Sheffield’s influence worldwide.  This was the centre, where it all began.  And now the abandoned steelworks are adjacent to abandoned apartments.  Luxury apartments that appeared too late for the housing boom and so exist almost as empty as their neighbours.  Yet they were never full.  Round the back of such shiny, new, urban renovation schematisation we walk over weeds and rubbish dumps, weave between heaps of rubble.  As if it’s a bomb site, vast areas are reduced to these heaps, among which tin cans are oxidised, vodka bottles are emptied.  Tyres, bin bags, strange greenery, wire fencing, and occasional warning signs are found.

I don’t know how many times it is acceptable to use the word ‘abandoned’ in one piece of writing, but I’m pretty sure that I could push the boundaries here.  Buildings at all stages of delapidisation, in the depths of the process of decay.   We walk along this sludge mud-track and see but one truck driven by but one man, clearly a little confused.  A Sunday football friendly takes place somewhere unseeable, and again I hear – “what is this place?”  We find ourselves in the most uneven terrains of ups and downs and diagonals, irreducible to straight lines.  There are no straight lines in nature.  A cemetery crowded and fertile, mystified in filtered light, recent burials with only thirty years to their name are found, yet no sign of even a trace of a fresh bouquet.  Further up the hill, across an (abandoned?) railway track, a field of sorts, and a view.  Beyond the crooked fluid entanglement of gravestones and ivy lies grey stone and clarity.   Electricity in the making, the hearable static crackles.  Iron, concrete, brick.  Sturdy, imposing, fixed.

And so we come to the question – what to do?  With what we’ve seen, with what has sparked, with what there is to see or spark.

Tanya Hart, 2012

Upperthorpe Perimeter Round Walk #2

Section 2   Pennsylvania to Parkwood Karting

Walk expectantly down Albert Terrace Road to cross Infirmary Road.  Left here, and then detour right down Gilpin Street where the boundary casts a block of burned out sandwich shops out of Upperthorpe. Right takes us back to Albert Terrace Road, past blue industrial units born again as evangelical churches. They are also sublet as student exam halls.

A multinational white dove flies in through a skylight as the students sit their business exams, with an olive branch in its mouth. This corporate holy spirit flies in clockwise circles around the ceiling. The invigilators convulse on the floor and speak in tongues. All the students score 95%, but fail.

Carefully cross the arterial Penistone Road, then walk east to find Rutland Street on the left. Pass the first of many industrial estates, ignoring the DIY superstore opposite, which changes hands over and over.

Just before Rutland Bridge is a beautiful old steel works building, recycled as offices, and hence currently deserted. It has fine broad windows over the river, and the repeated logo of a Samuel Osborn’s works, white hands grasping for lily-white hearts.  Cross the Don, which is squeezed here by reeds and willows.  If this is the stenosis, the infarct must be the downstream industrial and gastro-pub heritage area to the right.

As you reach Neepsend Lane, this is probably the outer edge of the red light district, marginalized from the city centre into ever more deserted industrial spots. At this time of day it’s difficult to tell. But what is evident as you go left along the Lane is that there are remnants of working industry scattered around here, some of them metallic.

Pass the derelict frontage of the old Stones Brewery, up to the corner of Bardwell Road, which bears its Soviet-style office building.  Conscientious vandals have smashed every deco window on the stair landing, right up to the top floor.

Veer right up Bardwell Road, past the indoor skateboarding  room, where my son went before he grew too tall. Pass commissioned, and therefore neutered, graffiti murals. Here we first notice a pervading smell of gas, bad enough to stop my companion smoking.

Follow a dreadlocked man up to the railway bridge (MAC/124).

The boundary of Upperthorpe goes along the railway line, presenting an access problem. One solution might be to adjourn and traverse this section by train, but only one train now uses this line, daily taking steel between Stocksbridge and Rotherham.  We decide to follow the outer edge off the boundary just beyond the line, but outside Upperthorpe.

To take this option, go under the bridge, turn left off the road that continues up the bumpy hill to the ski village, on to Wallace Road. This street was the lowermost part of the former Parkwood Springs Estate, built originally by the railway company that owned this once busy line, for its engine drivers, and other employees. It was demolished in 1978 to make way for a council landfill site.

After a short while the road disappears into a travellers’ camp, caravans blocking any progress along to the next two bridges. Fearing guard dogs, my companion having been bitten the previous week in the Mayfield Valley, we retrace our steps clockwise now, back down to Neepsend Lane. Where Wallace Road becomes the muddy entrance to the camp is where George Orwell stayed with a family while visiting Sheffield in the 1930s, and he described the area in his classic The Road to Wigan Pier.

In retreating we are too scared of the ‘other’ on the hill. But also reversing our circumnavigation, even temporarily, is like going against the grain, from counterclockwise to clockwise. But then an anticlockwise cog will drive a connecting neighbour clockwise, which would then pass on its motion to further cogs anticlockwise, onwards and outwards reversing direction each time, in successive and multiplying revolutions and counter-revolutions, a sort of neutralising machine.

Going west further along Neepsend Lane we pass feverish earth moving. Fences decked with toxic warning signs can’t conceal the bulldozers and diggers moving hardcore and steaming soil, and the gas smell reaches a crescendo. They are demolishing the site of Orwell’s gas works. A vast site, it even contained a power station with cooling towers at one time. To follow us go right, up Parkwood Road. Juggernauts rumble up here with topsoil, followed, like a pilot fish, by a little street scrubbing wagon trying in vain to mop up the mud.

Halfway up, climb a flight of steps which leads to a footbridge back over the railway. This is the site of Neepsend Station, closed in 1940. Part of its rocky cutting was carved into the shape of a fairy castle, but this has now vanished. Take the footpath beyond the bridge up the hill, but then branch off to the left, along a path over the scrubby hillside. This should emerge at bridge MAC/126, and you have reached the farthest point of Upperthorpe. Just over the bridge, rejoin Parkwood Road before it leads up the hill to the landfill site. Here is the clockwise go-kart circuit, lined with tyres.

Eddy Dreadnought, 2012