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.

Resurgam: A Libation in Light for the Almost Forgotten

“Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory.” 

Irvin D. Yalom,  Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

The forgotten corners of cities conceal surprising narratives and striking imagery.  Wardsend Cemetery is just such a place, a burial ground officially closed since 1988, but whose population has been unchanged since 1977.  I came upon the existence of Wardsend during one of those chance conversations you have on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  The following week I was winding along an industrial access road, conscious of the rich golden quality of the late afternoon light.  The metalled road crossed the bridge built to replace one severely damaged by the Sheffield floods of 2007.  Progress then ended abruptly, blocked by large boulders set in place to prevent access to the muddy tracks flanking the River Don.  

Ph. Richard Ward 2012

From the unheralded cul-de-sac, anonymous stone steps rose.  In the absence of signage a welcoming party of gravestones huddled a few metres on, cast in partial shadow.   At the foot of the steps the electrical guts hung from a small concrete bollard.  The wind-blown detritus of modern life was strewn through the adjacent undergrowth.  Alongside, woven into the vegetation, was a smattering of larger offerings to the dead.  These comprised of the usual suspects: tyres, paint cans, an incongruous left shoe and lumps of rubble.  The sense of isolation from the mainstream of the city is immediate. 

Elec

It was not until 2nd February that I came to write about the photographs I had taken some weeks before.  Only then did the poignancy of a favourite image from that earlier visit strike me.  The beautifully crafted headstone of one 27 year-old stood out, captured in a libation of warm winter sun.  Frederick Stephen Goddard had passed away one-hundred years ago to the day.  His headstone was crowned with the single word ‘Resurgam’, which means ‘I shall rise again’.  I thought immediately of all those city spaces that lie dormant on a similar premise.

graves

Wardsend reveals strong parallels for me with other urban land in apparent decline.  Rendered in the pre-sunset glow of Winter light the memorialised dead jostle in a sun-dappled crowd amidst the pell-mell ingress of nature.  Similar vistas play out in the post-industrial brown-fields mottled with buddleia, bramble and rosebay willow herb.  Our heritage takes many forms and speaks to us in many ways, many of which are themselves individuated in their interpretation.  None is perhaps so poignant as the neglected memory of the dead.

Throughout Wardsend nature tries to make sense of a space less manicured than the dead might ever have dreamt in life.  The tension with a natural succession shines through in many of my images.  Silver Birch, the classic pioneer tree species of open disturbed ground, abound and encroach, albeit gradually.  This quest for a new equilibrium also plays out where industry has died, or is in transition, as much as in a place of burial.  Here at Wardsend, the process has been managed since 2010.  Consequently, some identities have been refreshed from beneath a blanket of vegetation.  Others are lost to us, their memory shattered by frost, or corroded by the action of wind and rain. 

Broader questions about the spaces we offer to the dead and how we memorialise within crowded urban settings are of considerable cultural and social relevance. Does this apparent decline really matter?  Is it a decline at all, or is a more radical position, one in which we surrender the dead to nature, a more fitting epitaph?

Richard Ward, 2013

Sunday walks #1

Wake up to a very sunny morning. Maybe early spring? Flinty crispness in the air. Wince at the shards of metallic light thrown across dirty, dishevelled garden, struggling and slothful, crippled with winter’s hangover. Or my neglect. Headline news on the French radio. Whitney Houston’s funeral. Buried in a silver coffin. Marine Le Pen. Most of the meat in the Paris region is halal and no one even knows. Spokesperson for the French meat industry. I assure you this has no impact on the quality of the meat produced and sold. William Hague on the TV politics show. Eurozone countries signed up for this. Germanic discipline. Iran’s nuclear programme. Is Israel planning a strike? The US is not sharing any plans with the UK. We know nothing. Bring Iran to the negotiating table. The threat of a new cold war. Arms race. Without the safeguards we had in the old cold war. In the house opposite, a slightly deflated, crumpling balloon droops over Christ on the windowsill.

On Sunday we walked from the Ship Inn to Kelham Island, curling around the back of the Riverside pub and down along Mowbray Street… Then past the Crystal Suite to the Farfield Inn on Neepsend Lane, before joining the river Don where it courses unseen alongside Penistone Road… Finally we make our way down the almost impassable  track to the Wardsend Cemetery, our feet clogged and heavy with viscous mud. The noise of motocross and electricity lines crackling overhead. The inscription on a tombstone reminds us: our fate awaits you too.

ACJ 2012

Upperthorpe Grocery Store. Photograph by Neil Theasby.

Read Gareth Parry’s response to the walk here: Abandoned

project reflections #19

Briar and Bracken

On the clearest day in December I visited the long-abandoned burial grounds of Wardsend. These range across a hillside that faces roughly south west, somewhat towards the setting winter sun as it falls below the occupations on the valley ridge of Upperthorpe. About the many forgotten memorials, each delicately graven with the names of the dead, I observed an abundance of the growth-fronds of common bracken Pteridium aquilinum – now brown, friable and themselves long dead after the summer blaze of green – and also many dormant briars or brambles of the blackberry Rubus fruticosus

 Part I: Briar or Bramble?

Briar or brier is a common name for a number of unrelated thicket-forming thorny plants, including species in the Rubus genera. Rubus is a large genus of flowering plants in the rose family, Rosaceae. Blackberries  are a common, widely distributed member of the genus. Blackberries, as well as various other Rubus species with mounding or rambling growth habits, are often called brambles. The genus Rubus is believed to have existed since at least 23.7 to 36.6 million years ago.

Most of the Rubus briars have woody stems with prickles like roses; spines, bristles, and gland-tipped hairs are also common in the genus. The Rubus fruit is an aggregate of small units known as drupelets. In blackberries the flower receptacle is elongate and part of the ripe fruit, making the blackberry an aggregate-accessory fruit.

The generic name means blackberry in Latin and is derived from the word ruber, meaning “red”.

The  word bramble comes from Germanic bram-bezi, whence also German Brombeere , Dutch Braam and French framboise. In popular UK usage the term primarily refers to the blackberry bush; in Scotland and the north of England it refers to both the blackberry bush and its fruits.

The scientific study of brambles is known as batology.

Bramble bushes have a distinctive growth form. They send up long, arching canes that do not flower or set fruit until the second year of growth. Many types of brambles bear edible fruit, and many have recurved thorns that dig into clothing and flesh when the victim tries to pull away from them. Some types also have hair-like thorns. Brambles usually have trifoliate or palmately-compound leaves.

One cup of blackberries contains approximately 0.029 mg of thiamine (vitamin B1).

Part II: Bracken

Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken or Common Bracken) is one of several species of large, coarse ferns of the genus Pteridium.

Ferns (Pteridophyta) are vascular plants that have alternating generations: large plants that produce spores and small plants that produce sex cells (eggs and sperm). Brackens are in the family Dennstaedtiaceae, which are noted for their large, highly divided leaves. Brackens are cosmopolitan, being found on all continents except Antarctica and in all environments except deserts. The genus probably has the widest distribution of any fern genus in the world. In the past, the genus was commonly treated as having only one species, Pteridium aquilinum, but the recent trend is to subdivide it into about ten species.

The word bracken is of Old Norse origin, related to the Swedish word bräken, meaning fern.

Evolutionarily, bracken may be considered to be one of the most successful ferns. It is also one of the oldest, with fossil records stretching back over 55 million years. The plant sends up large, triangular fronds from a wide-creeping underground rootstock, and may form dense thickets. This rootstock may travel a metre or more underground between fronds. The fronds may grow up to 2.5 m (8 ft) long – or longer with support, but typically are in the range of 0.6–2 m (2–6 feet) high. In cold environments bracken is winter-deciduous, requires well-drained soil, and is generally found growing on the sides of hills. The spores used in reproduction are produced on the underside edges of the leaf in structures called sori. The linear pattern of these sori is different from other ferns which are circular and located towards the centre. Dead bracken provides a warm microclimate for development of the immature stages.

Pteridium aquilinum is the most common species. It has caused such a problem of invading pastureland that at one time the British government instigated an eradication programme. Special filters have been used on some British water supplies to filter out the bracken spores.

Bracken fronds contain a variety of poisons: ptaquiloside or PTQ, pterosins and some metabolites. The plant is carcinogenic to animals such as mice, rats, horses and cattle when ingested, although they will usually avoid eating it unless nothing else is available. The spores have also been implicated as a carcinogen; Danish scientist Lars Holm Rasmussen released a study in 2004 showing that the carcinogenic compound in bracken, ptaquiloside or PTQ, can leach from the plant into the water supply, which may explain an increase in the incidence of gastric and oesophageal cancers in bracken-rich areas.

Uncooked bracken also contains the enzyme thiaminase which destroys thiamine (vitamin B1).

Paul Evans, 5 January 2012

project reflections #18 (Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield, 5 January 2012)

Wardsend was opened in the early 1850s, when a nearby churchyard became full. The name Wardsend is a corruption of “Worldsend”, which is reputed to be the site of the second coming of Christ, and is listed in a land agreement in 1161.

The site of the cemetery (see map opposite) occupies 5.5 acres and once included a small chapel, office and a sexton’s house. The railway line runs through the cemetery, dividing it into a western half which is wooded and an eastern half which is open (see pictures).

The first burial was in 1857 and was of Mary Ann Marsden aged 2 years. By tradition the first body was always given the title of “Guardian of the Cemetery”. By 1900 the number of burials totalled 20,000 and the site was extended.

P. Quincey, Burngreave Messenger

project reflections #17 (Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield, 5 January 2012)

George Lambert VC (16 December 1819 – 10 February 1860), born C0unty Armagh, was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy.

A Sergeant-Major in the 84th Regiment of Foot (later the 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment), he died in Sheffield on February 10, 1860.

84th Regiment. Sergeant-Major George LambertDate of Acts of Bravery, 29th July, 16th August, and 25th September, 1857For distinguished conduct, at Onao, on the 29th of July; at Bithoor, on the 16th of August; and at Lucknow, on the 25th of September.
(Extract from Field Force Orders of the late Major-Gcneral Havelock, dated 17th October, 1857.)

project reflections #16 (Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield, 5 January 2012)

There used to be a chapel and a sexton’s cottage at Wardsend Cemetery. The cottage was burned down by rioters on 3rd June 1862 when a crowd tried to get hold of a gravedigger suspected of selling bodies for dissection. The gravedigger was later sentenced to 3 months – not for selling bodies but for selling the same graves over and over.

Martin Elms