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.

Abandoned places // Gareth Parry

Litter scattered amidst the weeds, hopes strewn beneath broken concrete, flowers break through to feel the sun beauty hiding amongst debris.  walking through a city of discarded places lost to the excess blind to the hopes that lie tangled in the forgotten places we build empires on the fallen past behind security gates and cameras we lose our identity amongst the concrete no room to breathe just consume the forgotten places hidden discarded where dreams can be revealed

Gareth Parry, 2013

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Sheffield, Globe Works, 2012

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Gareth Parry, 2012

All photos by Amanda Crawley Jackson

 

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.

Hull (again)

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The Reckitts chimney stands 141m tall. Located on Morley Street in Hull, it’s where Reckitts, in 1884, began making synthetic ultramarine (often known as dolly blue). Used as a laundry product, ultramarine prevents the yellowing of white fabric when it is washed and enhances the brightness of colours. It is now widely used in the cosmetics, paints and automobile industries.

Natural ultramarine was derived  from ground lapis lazuli, sourced in the mountains of Afghanistan. Artists reserved the use of this expensive bright blue pigment for their most important (usually religious) works. Cennino Cennini (b. c.1370 – c. 1440) described it as “illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colors”. Vermeer used natural ultramarine extensively (Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663-1664). In 1828, the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet developed a synthetic equivalent, which was used for example by Renoir (Les Parapluies, c. 1880), Monet (Gare St Lazare, 1877) and Pissarro (La Côte des boeufs, 1877).

For decades, the chimney pumped sulphur dioxide into Hull’s atmosphere. My grandparents lived in Stoneferry, the area in which this factory was located. I remember the sweet smells drifting from the cocoa processing plant on Cleveland Street and the hot metallic tang of the factories by the river.

(Image licensed under Creative Commons; http://www.mylearning.org/local-history-pack–a-how-to-guide/images/2-1838/)

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. 

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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.

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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

Interstices of the City

Interstices of the City

Often those seemingly forgotten or forbidden places, shadow cast and foreboding, hide stories that arterial roads never bring to light.  We hurtle by, their narratives not lost on us because they were never found.  On a sunlit Sunday, I was taken to just such a place.  Between decaying buildings a short access road to a new nowhere, the quaintly named ‘Sylvester Gardens’, was lined with the social gargoyles of other lives lived.  Silver nitrous oxide capsules cascaded from the innards of black bags, drinks cans piled together, their chaotic state of equilibrium incongruously crowned by the chess board lid of a small games compendium.  These cairns of indulgences past form tribal boundary markers on a journey into a borderland where societal values are potentially contested.  They speak of other cultures and existences, a rabbit hole for the ‘curiouser’, or a potentially threatening place where social taboos are enacted.   Half swept streets make strange bed-fellows with suburban sensibilities.

With each step, the austere walls of decaying industrial units gradually gave way to surfaces adorned in art of growing complexity.  The lane opened out onto a concrete slab relict that betrayed former purpose.  Onto the whole played the golden light of the winter afternoon as to our right the Porter Brook roared with the passing of Friday’s snowfall.  All around clumps of mucky whiteness persisted in the shadows.   Each remnant vertical surface had something to say, or a legacy of someone with something to say.  Beautiful, complex and sometimes perplexing images were interposed with short bold statements, themselves often foregrounded with teeming mounds of rubble and rotting timbers.  The whole place asked many questions across a bold and unpromising canvas of brick, broken windows, concrete and flaking paint.  On the surface the scale of endeavour and striking imagery are magnificent.  The whole speaks of a deeply unconventional meeting of minds, a place where counter-cultures can be and are enacted beyond the opprobrium of the bigger society.  Is it an appropriation of space, or embellishment?   I have attempted to capture some images in this fairly secret gallery.  If this is a space in transition how long will it remain?

Richard Ward, 2013

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