Last time I wrote about Sheffield was when I started using my sound recorder for the first time, following the River Don and through the deserted streets of Attercliffe. At the time I hadn’t developed the film I took on that trip, and have been looking for a way to write about it since then, that didn’t simple involve uploading the images.
The last month has seen some of my favourite sports on the television, the Hockey World Cup, and the Cricket Test match, however my favourite sport at this time of year for the shear spectacle of the level of endurance is the Tour de France. Every year, for a two-week period the house is alive with words like peleton and Maillot Jaune (all of which my 23 month old daughter is now picking up). However, this year for the first time in a while the Tour set of from the UK, and the second stage culminated in Sheffield.
When I sat down to watch the final section of stage two, I had no idea of the route through the city. So I was suddenly surprised to see a building with sign saying Bronx on it.
I had been past this building on my first sound walk around the city. The building is a former pub named the Norfolk Arms, after the Norfolk Steel works that stood behind it until the late 80s.
In it’s prime the Norfolk works covered a 15 acre site
Very little remains of the Norfolk works now, except for the entrance way to one of the former melting works.
and the former site medical centre, that was explored by the urbex group 28dayslater in 2010.
A couple of weeks back, whilst visiting Megatron, AEM told us about this undergound place he had visited, sadly we ran out of time on this occasion. After looking through his photo’s I was intrigued, and decided this ‘a must see’.
There isn’t much info kicking around about this place, however I did hear that it was linked to Firth Browns Steelworks. This place is truly a hidden gem, and now sadly buried below a car park with no obvious signs of what lies beneath.
Just a small place, but an early insight into a long demolished factory. It’s difficult to work this place out, whether it was above ground, or covered over with earth by design, or covered over post demolition. It’s not strictly ‘underground’ in that it wasn’t dug out of the earth. We’ve since been told that there may be more to find in the vicinity, hopefully the locals will get out there and find it… “there was a canteen beside it, an ambulance station (he thinks the entry on the roadside is bricked up) and, believe it or not, a rifle range”. You never know.
an amalgamation of posts from, Underground medical centre – Sheffield – 28dayslater (2010)
I had always assumed from the shape and name of the building and it’s position that it was now a dodgy nightclub, when I did some research to find an image; I was surprised to discover it’s real use. Their website describes it as Yorkshire’s only gay and bisexual sauna.
Coming from a conservative background, and as someone whose gay friends are not to my knowledge into this niche aspect of the lifestyle, I didn’t even know these places existed. I was even more surprised that it was situated within this (post)industrial/edgeland environment. At this point I didn’t know about Attercliffe’s reputation, while it has many adult shops, I hadn’t been aware of it’s gay and underground club scene. I assume though that it is partly due to its position far enough out of the city centre to avoid grief on a Friday and Saturday, from any local hotheads. A legacy to when the gay community wasn’t as welcome in society as they now are.
As the peloton rolled past the Bronx, next up on the left hand side was a Costa Coffee, situated within a disused Victorian building, that I had gone into, soaking wet in my scruffy hiking gear, and with a huge camera bag and heavy Manfrotto tripod. I suddenly realised as the camera bike carried on that we were about to go past a nondescript black gate set in a stonewall. ‘That’s the gate I jumped’, I exclaimed to my wife and daughter, ‘look on the right hand side, that’s the main cop shop for the area, I can’t believe no one saw me nip over the wall’.
I had spotted the area on the other side of the wall, during my first walk down the river, but from the opposite bank. From that spot I could see the elaborate graffiti under the railway bridge, and from this I knew that the site had to be accessible on some level.
When I got back to Norfolk I checked it out on the OS map I bought at Meadowhall. It showed the weir and a short tributary running off the main stretch of the Don. You could clearly see the railway bridge and a small pocket of white space either side of the bridge and water, divided off from the main road by a boundary.
A quick check on Google street view confirmed that there was access to at least one side of the bridge. At this point I agreed with myself that it worth a visit with a film camera the next time I was in Sheffield.
At a recent symposium on Art and the Edgeland, held at Exeter University during the Easter break, we discussed a couple of points based around access to these sites, the first being the physical access to locations. I started my real photographic career during my third year at Falmouth, working on a body of images based around the disused asylums within the M25 belt.
Meeting fellow urbexers you quickly learn that trespass is only a civil offense, and not a crown one. You can be taken to court by the landowner, but not arrested by the police. This is unless it is aggravated trespass, ie you have already been asked to leave and refused, or you are causing or have caused criminal damage while gaining access or once at a location, (please don’t take this as letter of the law, if in doubt look it up on legislation.gov.uk).
So in reality you can choose to hop a fence with limited chance of any legal ramifications, personal safety etc. are all your responsibility to act in an intelligent manner. For more information on urbex, plase read Dr Bradley Garrett’s book Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City (2013), as well as his article in the Times Higher Ed, for when it does go all wrong, Place-hacker Bradley Garrett: research at the edge of the law
The second point we discussed was surrounding the limitations of a traditional map. Thinking about aerial roadways, flyovers, bridges etc. When you look at a map
you can only see the thick blue line of the motorway. It is only by being there, inhabiting the space that you can start to experience what lies beneath the roadway.
The example we looked at was a pop up architectural space in a motorway undercroft. During the summer of 2011, an ugly and unused plot beneath a motorway flyover close to the Olympic Park in east London became home to a temporary cinema and events space built by architecture and design collective, Assemble.
Folly for a Flyover was a temporary project that demonstrated the potential for a disused motorway undercroft in Hackney Wick to become a new public space for the area. For 9 weeks, this neglected and unwelcoming non-place was transformed into a host space for local residents and visitors alike – attracting over 40,000 visitors in the course of one summer.
Beneath the massive concrete beams of the flyover a simple bank of seating descended towards the canal that runs along one edge of the site. A core of scaffolding supported the stalls and the adjacent structure, which mimicked the brick buildings of the local borough but was merely a cosmetic frontage for the café and events spaces. Construction was completed in a month by a team of volunteers using locally sourced materials, including wood and clay bricks that were removed and reused locally once the folly’s brief occupation had ended.
The Folly invested the site with a positive future by re-imagining its past – posing as a building trapped under the motorway. Its roof pushing up between the East and Westbound traffic above, Folly for a Flyover hosted an extensive programme of waterside cinema, performance and play delivered in conjunction with the Create Festival, the Barbican Art Gallery and numerous local organisations and businesses. By day the Folly hosted a cafe, workshops, events and boat trips exploring the surrounding waterways. At night audiences congregated on the building’s steps to watch screenings, from blockbusting animation classics to early cinema accompanied by a live score.
I could see from the maps and street view images that the site by the River Don was accessible and had photographic potential, but it wasn’t until I jumped the wall that I could actually understand the space.
Just through the gate a small disused path dog legs to the left, through small trees and shrubs, on the right hand side is a pile of ballast, that has clearly been sitting undisturbed for some time, as the grass and moss has started to recolonize it. Empty bottle and beer cans litter the site. The path carries on for 10 metres before opening up as I get close to the bridge for the first time. The stream that I could see running off the Don is on my left hand side, covered with silver birch, that over hang it slightly. A large clump of bulrushes sit in the water, and as I catch sight of the dark pool under the bridge, as it appears through the trees and rushes, I am startle as a heron takes off, huge and pterodactyl like.
Underneath the bridge itself is a slimy pathway, about 1 metre wide, the ground is slick with moss and soft silty mud, the water has a oily metallic sheen in places, and is covered in a milky white scum. The graffiti that I could see from the opposite side of the river is on one of the bridge walls, while on the other is another piece, a black and white tribal figure, with a spear lodge through the tail end of a giant fish. The graffiti is one of many in Sheffield by the local born artist Phlegm.
The pool itself is formed by a metal flood gate damming the water supply, barrels and tree debris sit half submerged in the shallow liquid, the muddy surface, threatening to suck them in. over the flood gate is a rusty metal walkway to allow access to open and close the gate. I decide to risk crossing it with my heavy bag and tripod. After placing a foot tentatively on the dark ochre chequer board, I am convinced that it will support my weight. It doesn’t start to feel dubious till I’m half way across and a feel a slight increase in the bounce underfoot, nothing concerning but certainly noticeable.
The other side of the water opens up in the lee of the railway embankment. I come out into the small void of white space I could see on the map.
It is covered in bracken and brambles, I venture closer to the rivers edge, the stagnant pool to my back. As I walk other the covering on bracken I realise the ground is increasingly squishy underfoot, I am standing on a semi solid void between the bank and a brick casing holding back the embankment from toppling into the river, which is a three metre drop below.
I quickly take my photo. It isn’t the worst situation I have been in while trespassing, that still is held by standing on a small section of the second floor of a burnt out ward in Cane Hill asylum, that I realise once I packed my camera away was a honeycomb of holes, with a thin layer of rubble on top and nothing below until the foundations under the missing first and ground floors.
This doesn’t even come close, but still feels suspect. I have a more pronounced feeling for personal safety since the birth of my daughter. While standing there, a group of people walk down the other side of the riverbank. They are from a local community group cleaning up the debris flushed down the river from recent heavy rain. They look confused to see me, but wave anyway. Most people assume you are supposed to be there and don’t bat an eyelid.
Worrying that my time might be cut short I cross back over the floodgate, stopping half way to photograph the pool. On the other side of the gate is an area were flood debris has collected, silting up the water to a point that it is solid enough to stand on. The water starts again five metres beyond this point. I clamber down, intent on taking a photo. A makeshift fence of corrugated metal, topped with trident spiked galvanised security fencing and razor wire separates the space from the breakers yard next door. A blue metal post, supporting the corner of the improvised wall, holds up my side, a pile of tires sits against the other side of the fence from me.
Just next to it is one of the many storm drain grates, large round metal doors holding back the escape of water from the sewage system, waiting to be opened if the weather turns biblical. The water that I have come to photograph is beautiful, and surrounded by green foliage, juxtaposed against the shipping container and fencing. A sign barely visible is attached to the back of the container, a legacy to its previous life on another edgeland site; I can make out ‘Twines, Wiper, Load, Rope, 77321 for service’. I wonder who was the last person to read the sign, or call the number for service; no one is going to see it here.
I finish making my images just as the rain starts again, sheltering under the bridge I listen to the birds, the water dripping from the iron work above, splashing with a plop into the now disturbed water below. A train thunders over head, deafening, and break the semi-peace of the location, the traffic continues beyond the tree line, a constant wall of static that until I pause to listen to, I haven’t been aware of. I pack up my camera bag, happy with the roll of 120 that I’ve shot, and venture back out in the world beyond the trees, descending on the Costa next door.
Further down from this void of space, is a larger pocket of trees and tracks, seemingly inaccessible trapped between the railway tracks and scrap works. As of yet I haven’t come up with a plan to access it, but hope to return on a future trip.
The Tour de France continues along Brightside lane, past the Police station and Royal Mail depot. It hits the roundabout in front of Forgemasters steel works and swings up the valley towards Jenkin Road, or Côte de Jenkin Road as it will now most certainly be known.
Jenkin Road begins just outside the local steel foundry, the sort of area where you find discarded hubcaps at the kerb. Painted on the surface, along with the names of cyclists, are the names of people who live there: “TEESH”, “KATH”, “SHAZ”.
Up it goes, past Brightside Post Office, past the Nisa corner shop, past Chafer’s decorators, eventually coming to an elevated end in the shadow of some smart but unprepossessing 1920s brick houses. Round the corner is the boxing gym that turned Prince Naseem Hamed into a champion. An Arctic Monkeys song pumps out of some speakers. I try to imagine Jacques Anquetil or Luis Ocana puffing their way up here back in the day, and for once my imagination fails me.
Think of Le Tour, and its classic peaks pierce the mind. The verdant and regal Tourmalet; the scree-flecked wilderness of the Galibier; the snow-capped moonscape of Mont Ventoux: all as pleasant to watch as they are unpleasant to ride. But on Sunday, the humble suburb of Wincobank in east Sheffield wended itself into the Tour’s rich heritage. With a maximum gradient of 33 per cent, Jenkin Road or the Côte du Jenkin Road – is the steepest section of this year’s race.
There is a reason the second stage had been described as Yorkshire’s answer to the Spring Classics, a course to rival the Amstel Gold Race or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. There is a Belgian-style inconsistency to the landscape. It is not so much the severity of the climbs, but their relentlessness. There is a barely a moment to catch your breath before the next upward slog. And Jenkin Road, placed just three miles from the end of a long and gruelling stage, represents nothing less than half a mile of pure pain. It is a short but brutal climb, a residential road so treacherous that there are railings along the pavements for pedestrians to keep their balance.
At which point it is natural to engage one’s sadistic side, and congratulate Christian Prudhomme and the organisers for yet another magnificent piece of routing that again ripped up the rulebook. Second stages are not meant to be as brutal as this. Hills should look like hills. Climbs should be death in paradise, not murder in suburbia.
Why would anybody make a road this steep? And why would anybody live on it? “You should see it in winter,” one resident calls out from her front garden. “Some days it can be snowing here and not at the bottom. They didn’t tell me that when I bought it.”
There is a YouTube video of Marcel Kittel, yesterday’s yellow jersey, riding up the hill a few months ago with John Degenkolb and his other Giant-Shimano team-mates. By the time he is halfway up, it is clear his main objective is not so much moving forwards as trying to avoid moving backwards. “This stage is super hard,” Degenkolb told ProCycling magazine afterwards. “The final result in Paris will not be decided on these roads, but it will surely lost by some because they are very dangerous.”
And it was the prospect of high drama on the high slopes that brought as many as 60,000 people to the roadside on Sunday. Before the race, Chris Boardman had picked this out as the most important segment of the stage, the place where attacks could be made and decisive time gaps could develop. And the words “Shut up, legs” painted on the road were a portent of the brutal ordeal that awaited.
Those with pocket radios had kept us apprised of progress. And as the whirr of team cars and police sirens got ever closer, a whisper spread through the crowd. “Is that him? It’s him! Froome’s in the lead!” The roar was colossal as bike No 1 led the pack up the hill. Froome looked calm, untroubled. So too eventual stage winner Vincenzo Nibali behind him. But as the frontrunners receded into the distance, the mood of those following was subtly different.
Fabian Cancellara went past, grimacing like a man undergoing an unanaesthetised vasectomy. Brice Feillu’s mouth hung wide open, as if breathing for the last time. Niki Terpstra looked deeply unimpressed, like a man who had just locked himself out of the house. Sylvain Chavanel chuckled a rueful chuckle at the sheer madness of it all.
Cycling, you crazy old crone. Never change.
Several minutes later, loud cheers greeted the grupetto as it brought up the rear of the field. Everyone made it over, but the real toll of Jenkin Road will be felt in the days ahead.
“Sheffield,” George Orwell wrote during one of those frequent periods when he was struggling to pay the rent and taking his frustration out on the industrial North, “could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World. The town is very hilly, and everywhere streets of mean little houses blackened by smoke run up at sharp angles, paved with cobbles which are purposely set unevenly.”
Well, Orwell can get lost. The cobbles are long gone, but the sharp angles remain, and nobody here would have it any other way. Cycling can be tremendously ugly at times, but this was not one of those times.
In fact, to stand by Jenkin Road, as the last of the stragglers cleared the crest of the hill, with the sun setting behind the steelworks, was to be possessed by a rare and very particular beauty.
Tour de France 2014: Murder in suburbia as riders embark on steepest hill in this year’s race, The Telegraph, (2014)
The aerial footage of the tour highlights the changes still happening in the areas surrounding Meadowhall. Even so many years after it’s industrial demise and change of use, the location is still ridding itself of it’s former heritage. On the right hand side of the riders is a large expanse of waste ground, being cleared to become a shiny new commodified space, one that is in keeping with it’s commercially orientated surroundings.
The current image of Meadowhall, Tinsley and Attercliffe is in stark contrast to the one captured by John Darwell in the 1980s. Published in the last couple of years for the first time by Café Royal Books, I have shown images from them before, but didn’t own copies until they were delivered o the same day the Tour past the same locations.
When I was producing these images it felt like the end of an era (later it was labelled ‘post-industrialisation’). Thatcherism was in full flow and the steel industries of Sheffield (along with the coal mines and docks) were suffering, both from the effects of this assault, and from the increasing competition overseas.
The steel industries began to be replaced with temples to the new consumerism and Meadowhall was the centre of this in Sheffield. It was fascinating to watch the new structure take shape and the tell tale dome became a point of reference for much of the work I produced in Sheffield at this time.
Joining the previous books, Sheffield, Meadowhall, Hyde Park, Ponds Forge (2013) and Tinsley Viaduct (2013) is Sheffield, Things Seen Whilst Wandering around Attercliffe (2014). In reality many of the sites feel little changed, especially once you leave the main road through Attercliffe, and descend into the cobbled backstreets and around the industrial warehouses.
The tour finished outside of the Premier Inn by the Motorpoint Arena, my base for whenever I’m working in the area.
The aerial coverage from stage 2 and 3 of Le Tour was suburb, as the peleton wound it’s way through Sheffield old industrial quarter, and the East End of London, Stratford, Silvertown, Poplar, the camera picked out little pockets of edgeland and urban wild spaces, tucked between new builds and infrastructure of the DLR. the images below are screen grabs of the best shots.