NORTHERN SPIRIT

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Sheffield: Out Of The City.

September 28, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

The Plough.

So my week draws to a close. I hope that you have managed to get some sense of Sheffield as a place from these posts, and discover some new music that you love along the way. I have had an absolute blast. I shall close my time as curator of this Wondrous Place by responding to Natalie Bradbury‘s question from last Friday:

“Sheffield is celebrated for its close proximity to the countryside, sitting on the edge of the Peak District. Where do you go when you want to escape the city?”

She’s right you know. From my front door I can walk to the Peak District within about half an hour, and it really is one of the things that has made me fall for this place so much. I used to live slap bang in the middle of Manchester before hopping over the hills, and have exchanged the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street for voyages along the Rivelin Valley, jaunts to Bradfield and short train journeys to Grindleford. I have fallen upon two favourite escapes from the city whilst I’ve been living here, both of which revolve around going for a nice long walk, and both of which have a cracking pub at the finish.

My current favourite trip is to go for a walk from Crookes (the lovely bit of Sheffield which I call home, and that is also home to one of the finest delis around in the shape of Urban Pantry), heading towards Manchester along Manchester Road, before diving off the beaten track, and over the hills towards the village of Bradfield. This is a really nice 7 or so mile walk, which takes in hills, villages, loads of blackberries at the moment, and affords an opportunity to visit Sheffield’s independent dairy & ice cream makers Our Cow Molly. After a wander around the Damflask Reservoir you reach The Plough in Lower Bradfield (see the image above), a delightful country pub that serves Bradfield Brewery ale (make sure to try both Plough and Farmers Blonde) and serves terrific food.

The Pole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other go-to escape route is to catch a train from Sheffield Station out to Grindleford, and wander over the hills via Wooden Pole (an actual wooden pole – see the image above) back towards Totley and Dore. Once again, this is a brilliant walk over some patches of beautiful unspoilt scenery, which offers some fantastic views back into the city, and emphasises just how close this kind of countryside is to Sheffield. The alehouse at the end of this walk is The Cricket Inn in Totley. Run under the Thornbridge Brewery banner, this place has some of the best food that I have experienced in Sheffield, and thanks to the Thornbridge link has a great knack of suggesting matched real ales to go with the delights on the plate. Well worth a visit.

Cricket Inn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that, I believe that my work here is done, at least for the time being! This has been a really great experience, and I am hugely thankful to Chris Meads and all at Northern Spirit for inviting me to be part of this hugely interesting and stimulating project. To be placed alongside the other writers involved in ‘A Wondrous Place’ is a real honour, and I hope that we can all provide something close to a picture of what The North means to us. My personal thanks go to the people who have made me feel so welcome in Sheffield since moving over here, and given me the feelings towards the city that mean I can geniunely say I have fallen in love with the place. Of particular note are Dan, Vinnie and Daniel, Pete, Cara, Markie, Kate and everyone else who I call a friend in this great city. Without you lot being so welcoming I would probably still be pining for rain, Hydes Bitter and Eccles Cakes.

Oh, and of course one last Sheffield band for you. I have purposefully saved this one for last, as this song pretty much sums up why I, and most people I know, love the city. I give you Robberie‘s love letter to Sheffield, a song of simple beauty which I could very easily have posted on the first day and left there to do the work for me really…

Next up here are two really exciting poets and writers from Newcastle, whose work I have been pouring over since being introduced to it recently as part of this project. Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell are collaboratively in charge next week and will be inducting the North East into A Wondrous Place. To get them started, I pose this question…

“I’m a real museum geek, and on my last trip to the North East I didn’t have any time to go exploring any museums or galleries. What are your suggestions for the best places to drop into for a bit of a mooch, especially any unexpected gems?”

 

 

Avatar of Dan Feeney

Dan Feeney

Hello there! I'm Dan, a professional Northerner, expert in tea & ale drinking, writer of cultural words, non-league football fan, DJ, museum worker and 2nd hand book addict. The main place you can find my writing online is my blog 'in a town so small' (http://inatownsosmall.wordpress.com), which is inspired by what the idea of 'cities' means. I also run a clubnight/fanzine/record label called Pull Yourself Together (http://www.pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk), have written for Creative Tourist, Time Out, Nude Magazine and am currently working on a new project called ‘Missing Teeth’ alongside some artists whose work I really love.

Sheffield: City of Landscape and Architecture. Part Three – The Arts Tower

September 27, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Resize Arts Tower Karl

This seems like an apt closing point for our whistle-stop tour of the modernist buildings which set Sheffield apart as a city from everywhere else for me. Once again, we find a building which makes the most of the landscape around it, a theme which you may well have seen developing throughout my posts this week. It just seems that so much of the building that went on in Sheffield during the era that these beautiful buildings were erected was done with such thought for the fact that these were structures which would sit within the City of Sheffield as a whole, not just things which were being plonked down and would speak entirely for themselves. Admittedly, this is one of my pet gripes about a lot of new buildings, which seem to bear very little thought for their surroundings. I’m digressing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading just out of the city centre, you start walking up the hill towards the University of Sheffield, heading in a Broomhill/Crookes direction. As you round the corner from the University Supertram stop (The Trams Of Sheffield! How have I not shoehorned them into this discussion of the city before now? Digressing again…), passing the bland looking and horribly named ‘Information Commons’, the real star of the University comes into view. The Arts Tower is a thing of profound beauty in my book, a huge concrete grid frame, filled almost entirely by glass which allows light to pour into the building (unlike a number of other University buildings which seem to view light as a resource counterproductive towards academic progress). However, for me it is how these windows reflect the city back out to itself that offers one of the most impressive features of the Arts Tower. This video shows just how much the Arts Tower becomes a part of the landscape, reflecting the day.

Designed by Gollins, Melvin, Ward & Partners in 1961, along with the sumptuous Western Bank Library which is connected by a stunningly simplistic bridge, the Arts Tower is Grade II* listed, and is the highest/tallest (I’m never sure which one of those stats is true) university building in the country. I feel that the tower needs to be read from a distance, before making the most of the approach to it. From across the road (somewhere near-ish The University Arms pub) you get a real sense of the scale of the buidling, and also notice for the first time the fact that the tower doesn’t actually sit on the ground, it is on a stilt like structure which acts to emphasise the concrete grid above it. It is flashes of design like this that really speak to me, in a similar way to the flat roofline of Park Hill which I mentioned earlier in the week. They are the kind of things that on first glance seem very ordinary, even mundane. Yet once you start to pick apart the design and structural features you realise just how much they are adding to the building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again I am going to draw an inevitable parallel between Manchester and Sheffield, and once more we see Sheffield maintaining the modernism which saw it find a place on the architectural map. The Arts Tower and Western Bank Library have been protected, maintained, and over recent years genuinely cared for by the University of Sheffield. Switching our gaze to Manchester, the Womersley designed Maths Tower (built 1967-68) has been ripped down from the city’s skyline, and replaced with an oversized tin can. Sheffield is a city which celebrates the 1960s architecture which has become as much a part of the landscape of the city as the seven hills, five rivers and 2.5 million plus trees.

NB – over the course of the past three days I have barely started to scratch the surface of the beautiful architecture of the city. I’ve had no room to look at David Mellor’s Park Lane house in Broomhall, Hallam Tower Hotel (supposedly built to accomodate visitors to the city for the World Cup in 1966), the Grovesnor Hotel and nearby Sheffield Telephone House or any of the raft of new buildings which tip their hat to Sheffield’s architectural upbringing. I would suggest picking up the Pevsner Architectural Guide as a good starting point for further investigation.

Image credits:

Arts Tower Against Blue Sky by karl101

Arts Tower & Western Bank Library by Rob Gunby

Arts Tower art print by Jonathan Wilkinson / We Live Here

To accompany this soaring gesture of beauty and learning, I present today’s Sheffield band – The Sweet Nothings. These guys make the kind of pop songs which make me fall in love with them a bit more every time I see them, and claim to be the city’s best socialist pop group. I would tend to agree with them.

 

 

Avatar of Dan Feeney

Dan Feeney

Hello there! I'm Dan, a professional Northerner, expert in tea & ale drinking, writer of cultural words, non-league football fan, DJ, museum worker and 2nd hand book addict. The main place you can find my writing online is my blog 'in a town so small' (http://inatownsosmall.wordpress.com), which is inspired by what the idea of 'cities' means. I also run a clubnight/fanzine/record label called Pull Yourself Together (http://www.pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk), have written for Creative Tourist, Time Out, Nude Magazine and am currently working on a new project called ‘Missing Teeth’ alongside some artists whose work I really love.

Sheffield: City of Landscape and Architecture. Part Two – Castle Market

September 26, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Castle Market Resize

Moving down from Park Hill and into the city centre proper, another piece of functional modernism rises out of the site of Sheffield Castle, the oft-threatened but still holding on Castle Market. Planned and commissioned under the stewardship of City Architect J. Lewis Womersley, and built over the course of 1960-65, Castle Market is functional modernism at its finest in my eyes. The exterior of the building doesn’t try to make any grand statements, instead placing an office block of Mondrian-esque straight-lines atop a system of walkways and bridges, with the market itself becoming part of the undulating landscape of Sheffield in much the same way that Park Hill does on the other side of the valley.

The interior is where my interest in this building is sparked, by the straight lines, multiple levels, labyrinth like hustle and bustle, formica tables charged with milky cups of tea and some quite beautiful faded glamour. The frankly stunning cantileverd stairs which connect the market to the gallery are a joy to behold. Whilst other cities would see their market places shoehorned into bog standard boxed Arndale complexes (indeed, Wormersley himself had a hand in the design of Manchester’s in the early 1970s), Castle Market is very much a building which is designed with the market place in mind.

Market units fit perfectly into the building’s straight lines, with natural breaks in ‘genre’ occurring within the different floors of the building – each of which opens out onto a different part of the hill which the building is set within – a point which I found mighty confusing on my first few visits, but have come to view as one of the finest parts of the design! It is hard to capture just how well the 1960s design and ethos have been preserved here in words, but it is important to note that this is not preservation for aesthetics cause – Castle Market still exists in the form it does because of the people who use the building. It is a hugely effective market place, still loved by stall holders and customers alike. Construction is now underway across the city on The Moor for a new Sheffield Market; on one level this could provide the kind of shot in the arm that has seen Manchester’s new Arndale Market become a forward thinking place of exchange once more, but you can’t help but feel that a piece of Sheffield’s history, community and identity would be lost by moving a single one of these traders out of Castle Market. Give me a choice between this building or a regen heavy pedestrian route to the Victoria Docks, I think it is pretty clear which would be my choice to represent Sheffield.

Image credits:
Keycutters image of Castle Market – evissa
Castle Market exterior image – Sheffield Libraries and Archives

To accompany the mixed experiences of Castle Market I have selected possibly the most interesting band in Sheffield at the moment, whose blend of afrobeat, drone, loops and feedback tick pretty much every box that I have to tick. Blood Sport are rightly being talked up by a lot of people locally, and are making the kind of music that you would expect from a Battles/Fools Gold crossover. Last time I saw them was at Sheffield’s annual music for all festival Tramlines, with far more people than surely should have been packed into a room crammed together and moving as one to the band’s hypnotic sounds.

Avatar of Dan Feeney

Dan Feeney

Hello there! I'm Dan, a professional Northerner, expert in tea & ale drinking, writer of cultural words, non-league football fan, DJ, museum worker and 2nd hand book addict. The main place you can find my writing online is my blog 'in a town so small' (http://inatownsosmall.wordpress.com), which is inspired by what the idea of 'cities' means. I also run a clubnight/fanzine/record label called Pull Yourself Together (http://www.pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk), have written for Creative Tourist, Time Out, Nude Magazine and am currently working on a new project called ‘Missing Teeth’ alongside some artists whose work I really love.

Sheffield: City of Landscape and Architecture. Part One – Park Hill.

September 25, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Resize Park Hill 3

“Sheffield was once an extremely architecturally important place.”

Owen Hatherley, A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain.

Recently a friend came to visit me in Sheffield, spending a prolonged period of time in the city for the first time. Having spent a couple of days seeing bits and pieces of the place, he declared, “It’s a bit weird isn’t it? It just doesn’t feel like anywhere else.” Some cities would take the hump at this kind of protestation, but I personally feel that my friend captured a lot of what I want to highlight about Sheffield. Having spent the best part of a decade living in, and loving, the look and feel of Manchester, all of a sudden Sheffield was something very different in architectural terms – a real hodgepodge mixture of sleek, and in some places not-quite-so-sleek, 1950-60s modernism, coupled with odd elements of new blandness, flashes of civic grandeur, and hidden areas of cobbled streets (now suitably cleaned down to host the inevitable footsteps of solicitors and moneymen). The element of this mix which jumped out to me, and can’t fail to capture the eye and the imagination when on my daily walk down the hill from Crookes towards the train station, is the impact of architectural Modernism on the shape, style and outlook of Sheffield as a city. Like no other place I know, Sheffield is a city in debt to Mies van der Rohe, Fritz Lang, Le Corbusier and Alphaville-era Godard, with straight line, concrete and wood counterbalancing the rise and fall of the hills and valleys, creating a style which is very much part of the landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overlooking the city from its lofty perch above the train station is the structure which, to me at least, defines just what sets Sheffield out architecturally, the brutalist masterpiece of Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith’s Park Hill. Built at a time when Modernist approaches to social housing were being investigated, and in some places failing already due to a distinct lack of the social/community side of life, Park Hill’s streets in the sky were a triumph, giving communities a home in a building which has endured in a manner which one expects the hastily assembled ‘executive’ housing of the 90s/00s property boom to fail. The largest listed building in Europe sees five-ish arcs of 4 to 13 story flats slot beautifully into their surroundings, cast in concrete balustrades.

It is this fitting into the landscape which has always struck me as the most impressive part of Park Hill’s design; take yourself over the road from the station and look back up at Park Hill, and you’ll see that the roofline of the entire estate is absolutely flat, despite the fact that it ranges in height throughout. This respect of its surroundings means that Park Hill makes the most of the natural makeup of the city, and in doing so becomes integral to the identity of the place. I’m not going to use this piece to re-spark the debate around the Urban Splash-ing of the building, which I have already written about here, instead highlighting the fact that this fantastic piece of architecture still encapsulates what this city is, and endures as a monument to a form of urban and social planning which has utterly disappeared in other places. Where the Hulme Crescents last only as a memory of streets in the sky living in Manchester, lives still revolve around Park Hill in Sheffield. People who moved here when the estate first opened are still in their communities, and whilst the pubs and amenities may have been disappearing over time, the spirit of Park Hill remains; and it remains very much a part of Sheffield.

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Today’s musical accompaniment comes from Algiers. Some of you, though I sadly fear nowhere near enough of you, may know the work of a band called Dartz! who were fairly popular in the mid to late-00s. Well, Algiers is a new duo, including one of said now defunct band. I really like the angular nature of songwriting which underpins these guys, and they are a load of fun to watch live too.

Avatar of Dan Feeney

Dan Feeney

Hello there! I'm Dan, a professional Northerner, expert in tea & ale drinking, writer of cultural words, non-league football fan, DJ, museum worker and 2nd hand book addict. The main place you can find my writing online is my blog 'in a town so small' (http://inatownsosmall.wordpress.com), which is inspired by what the idea of 'cities' means. I also run a clubnight/fanzine/record label called Pull Yourself Together (http://www.pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk), have written for Creative Tourist, Time Out, Nude Magazine and am currently working on a new project called ‘Missing Teeth’ alongside some artists whose work I really love.

Sheffield: An Introduction. Or, My Love Letter To The North.

September 24, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

Resize Sheffield Profile

Hello hello, this is Sheffield calling. I’d like to be able to make some grand statement here about how much a part of the Sheffo landscape I am myself, bleeding Henderson Relish and whatnot, but I must confess early on that I am a fairly newcomer to the city. Having lived in the North West all my life I upped sticks about a year ago, crossing to the dark side of the hills, and experiencing something close to mild panic about being a Lancastrian in White Rose territory. Not just being in Yorkshire mind, but Sheffield: The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. Yet they accepted me, with something close to open arms. And do you know what, I have totally fallen for this city.

When the fine folks at ‘Northern Spirit’ approached me to write about what Sheffield means to me it gave me a timely chance to recap on what my feelings for the place were, and where they have come from. Shifting from the city centre bustle of Manchester (where I had been based for the best part of decade), here I found myself in a city which has four trees per person, green space, hills, valleys, the Peak District, modernist beauty, pop music, art and ale. Lots of ale. All of these things are facets of city living which mean a lot to me, and having spent a year getting to know some wonderful people, who have shared the city which they care about so much with me, I can honestly say that I love this city. Sheffield has very much become home, and no that doesn’t mean that I have turned my back on the North West – it is more that I have a broader appreciation of just how blooming great The North is.

With that, I’ll get on with telling you just what Sheffield means to me, and how it represents itself through two of the things which are inescapable wherever you go in the city – the landscape and the architecture which has been sited within it. I’m no architect or urban planner, the following week is an account of someone who just loves walking around city centres and getting wrapped up in the way that space is used. If you enjoy these posts then wander over to my blog in a town so small for more words on Sheffield, Manchester, Cardiff, Portsmouth, and anywhere else that I’ve been moved by the way that space, building and people combine to form a sense of place.

Oh, and before I get started, HUGE thanks to Natalie Bradbury for her terrific foody trip around the Greater Manchester region last week. Admittedly there were a huge number of meaty treats which she missed out by necessity, but some of those recipes looked terrific, and will be making their way into my kitchen soon enough!

I’m also going to be using this week to introduce you to some of my favourite new bands from Sheffield. So you might want to start each of my blogs by popping to the bottom of the page, hitting play, and then dashing back up to the top to start reading. To kick things off, may I present Oxo Foxo. Here we have some of the most interesting music coming from one woman in the city, all of this is a series of pedals and loops and brilliance. Take this as the starting point of realising that there is way more interesting music being made in Sheffield than ‘The Reverend’ and his bunch.

 

 

 

Avatar of Dan Feeney

Dan Feeney

Hello there! I'm Dan, a professional Northerner, expert in tea & ale drinking, writer of cultural words, non-league football fan, DJ, museum worker and 2nd hand book addict. The main place you can find my writing online is my blog 'in a town so small' (http://inatownsosmall.wordpress.com), which is inspired by what the idea of 'cities' means. I also run a clubnight/fanzine/record label called Pull Yourself Together (http://www.pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk), have written for Creative Tourist, Time Out, Nude Magazine and am currently working on a new project called ‘Missing Teeth’ alongside some artists whose work I really love.