A couple of Mondays ago, a group of Sharrow Songs explorers were invited to ‘Look Behind Walls’, as we were guided around hidden corners of Sharrow by Brian Holmshaw.
Brian led the group around Sharrow sharing a wealth of historical research about the local area, and armed with two anthologies of Sheffield poems (Poetry from Sheffield 1750-1940 compiled by Yann Lovelock and The Sheffield Anthology, edited by Agnes Lehoczky, Adam Piette, Ann Sansom and Peter Sansom)
He began with a reading of the poem that inspired the walk –
TONY WILLIAMS – THE LOOKING BEHIND WALLS CLUB
“We looked for lost traces, evidence of things, stuff, items, trinkets”…
…along Club Garden Walk, behind Waitrose, opposite the Beer Engine, the new building that was once the Landsdowne Pub – now student flats and a bustling gym.
We spot a poem high up on the building, half hidden behind London Road restaurants and advertising boards.
THE SHARROW FESTIVAL POEM
To the Committee, team and artists
Many faces, different races
These are the places where nations unite.
Colour, vibrancy, people together
This is a place where everyone excites,
To capture this miracle in a loving way,
Sharrow Festival doesn’t happen every day.
Look around and celebrate
The community starts within you,
Each voice speaks multicultural words,
Long may it continue.
We sing in rainbow harmony all races
In a place with no pain,
Where we get on with our neighbours
Though we’re not all the same.
And it’s good to be different
We need more compassion
We need more kindness
Toward every nation.
We come as a family to meet our friends
Walk across the grass in bare feet
All cultures harmonising
The world in fun, food and music meet.
A tiny world in miniature
a wonderful mélange of cultures,
a superb melting pot
of hope for all our futures.
And when the day has to end
We reflect on our festival in Sharrow
in the oasis of Mount Pleasant Park
the show with a heart and a wow!!!
We find “The left and forgotten down-at-heel sites: foxgloves, broken boxes, a flat football.” before seeking The Hermitage, Little Sheffield, and another poem attached to another block of student flats…
“Within these walls the future may be being forged.
Or maybe Jez is getting trashed on cider.
But when you melt you become the shape of your surroundings.
Your horizons become wider.
Don’t they teach you no brains at that school?”
Written for Off the Shelf JARVIS COCKER – WITHIN THESE WALLS
On London Road, Brian introduces us to Ebeneezer Elliot, the Corn Law Rhymer, who talks of a bygone Sheffield, even back in Victorian times – “A romanticised wistful image of a place disappeared. Now a place of crass ignorance and domestic strife.” We wonder if, huddled outside Sainsburys, as cars rush past, all blown exhausts and acrid fumes, we might be wishing ourselves away to our own pastoral imaginings.
Brian reads FROM THE VILLAGE PATRIARCH WHERE BLIND ENOCH TAKES THE ROAD TO TOWN PART XII and XIII
‘harsh grates the saw, where coo’d the wood-dove coy’
Next, on the same theme but fast forward a hundred years or so to the 1970s, and Stanley Cook too is writing of urban decay and dislocation, leaving a sour taste which mixes with the taste of London Road fumes. Brian reads:
STANLEY COOK – WALK INTO TOWN
Seeking sanctuary under a newly blossoming tree in Broom Close (the name a remnant of the besom makers trade) Brian tells us of new discoveries. How, in ‘AN ACCOUNT OF ECCLESALL’ there are references to gypsies –
“creating an image of Little Sheffield as a place of encampment, a squatter settlement on the edge of the town of Sheffield, working on woodland crafts, bonnet making, cowherds, besom making to service the needs of the townspeople, going into the Haymarket and Beast Market in Sheffield and hawking goods, knocking on doors and selling services such as knife-sharpening, tramping with their wares around sheffield and the region; and I think possibly running their own ad hoc market selling goods in the place we now call London Road” – Brian Holmshaw
JOHN CLARE – THE GYPSY CAMP
The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
‘Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.
As we make our way up Sharrow Street, there are ‘damaged’ houses, previously unnoticed by many of us. Wartime building regulations stipulated that buildings should only be re-built up to one storey in height. The german bombs of the Sheffield Blitz helping to create a few pockets of odd Victorian-era repurposed terraced bungalows. Brian reads PIRATES by YANN LOVELOCK.
‘rehoused in sterilised estates’ ‘bombs exploded here, burying my neighbours two by two’.
We climb the gentle hill away towards Sharrow Lane, and take a left to the corner of London Road, we find the grander, more solid structures of Highfield. It’s a High Victorian civic area for Sharrow with tall well-built shops, centres of religion, of finance, of learning and law and order. The Civic ambition of Highfield Library, grade II of 1876, Designed by E. Mitchell Gibbs with its classic of Victorian ideals in the inscription above the door:
SHOULD ONE MAN DIE
IGNORANT WHO HAD CAPACITY
FOR KNOWLEDGE, THIS I CALL A
TRAGEDY, WHERE IT TO HAPPEN MORE
THAN TWENTY TIMES IN THE MINUTE,
AS BY SOME COMPUTATIONS IT DOES”
While in general agreement with the sentiment, we struggle to make our own ‘computations’ as we round the corner back to Sharrow Lane to find the site of the old police box, just to the side of Rossi’s rastaurant (formerly a Bank). Introduced in Sheffield in 1928 by the then Chief Constable, Percy J Sillitoe, of gang-busting fame, they were eventually phased out in the 1960’s. The boxes were used by patrolmen for meal breaks and writing reports. Perhaps nowadays they’d have WiFi and USB charging points?
The surprise hit of a wonderful walk – a look inside Mount Pleasant. We giggle and shout excitedly as we are offered a rare chance to see upstairs of one of Sheffield’s oldest buildings. A family home first for the Sitwells among others, later an asylum, a Girls’ Charity School and base for WW2 operations. It’s home now to a group of artists and campaigners who take care of the building, offer it security, and bring new life to its old bricks.
Sharrow has never been a static community, people have always come and gone, travelled. The people living here are often between here and there, migrants and immigrants and people wanting to be emigrants, those who left in the C19th to join the gold rush to Australia and the Yukon, to make a new life in Canada and South Africa; those who come here now fleeing persecution or domestic violence, its cheap and there’s plenty of available rental. Some stay and establish themselves, being on the edge of the city suits, and whats needed for them is that it isn’t either a suburb or a city.
The Last poem is read as we look back down Club Garden road towards the lights of the City Centre. LESLEY PERRINS – YELLOW
Poetry, exploration, and the city. We all left that evening, firm members of the Looking Behind Walls Club.
The next Sharrow Songs session is meeting at Regather, Club Garden Road, on Monday 9th May at 7pm. For more details, email email@example.com. or visit www.facebook.com/sharrowsongs