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Upperthorpe (f)art

March 4, 2012

Upperthorpe is a hobby horse.

“Dada is ‘yes, yes’ in Rumanian, ‘rocking horse’ and ‘hobby horse’ in French. For Germans it is a sign of foolish naiveté, joy in procreation, and preoccupation with the baby carriage” – Hugo Ball

I cycled through Upperthorpe this morning on a daring expedition to receive a free shower from the rain. Just around the corner from the bottom of Blake Street, at the fringes of Upperthorpe, someone had placed a child’s hobby horse, presumably for refuse collection. The dead eyes of this forlorn sodden creature, the stoic, the joker, the whore – told me I was in Upperthorpe now – it is both the punctum and the studium of the scene. I’d been in Upperthorpe ever since I’d turned onto Blake Street and held onto my brakes as I hoped my bike wouldn’t decide to aqua-plane down Sheffield’s steepest hill and propel me into the foreboding brick wall that lies at the end; but when going down there my eyes were diverted toward looking across the entirety of the city of Sheffield, and when you’re looking at the whole world – who the hell cares where your feet are?

I am entirely indifferent as to geographical boundaries that signify where a place ‘is’. To name a place is to signify a limit of the area that it envelops, but it wholly ignores pervasive ambiance. To define a place is arbitrary, for nature has no limits but those we impose upon it – and to fester in anthropocentric buttressing is only to challenge nothing but progress. Boundaries get shifted to concentrate political views – it’s all just Walkley ward anyway – Upperthorpe simply inhabits the same space that I am myself right now. The heritage of a place comes under the title of a name, but that is all still just human stuff anyway. Upperthorpe is not human. Sure, it has a name, and it has a face in the form of a slowly rotting hobby horse, but I ain’t gonna stifle myself with trying to tame the place in such a way – even the hobby horse wants to play Buckaroo. If I take the view that Upperthorpe is an area north-west of the city centre of Sheffield, and one can find the location by knowing that adjacent to the borders are Kelham Island, Woodside, Hillfoot, Langsett, Walkley, Birkendale, Crookesmoor, Netherthorpe, and Philadelphia, then I can deduce the location. Umberto Eco states that “in any system, whether geopolitical or chromatic or lexical, units are defined not in themselves but in terms of opposition and position in relation to other units. There can be no units within a system” (“How Culture Conditions the Colours We See”).

Upperthorpe does not exist.

If I take the view then that Upperthorpe is what lies between and borders all the above places, then I become aware of how I feel as a flâneur in the area I am aware is not the above places, but that void that exists between them. I know how I feel psychologically when I think I’m walking around the above named places, which are themselves defined by them not being the places they border. The names – as far as the individual is concerned – only change when they feel as though they have entered a new district. I admittedly have a massive fetish for maps, but I simultaneously like to be lost – hence Debord’s ideas of the dérive and psychogeography are things that’ve always appealed to me – I’d rather found a new system of cartography wherein we define boundaries by ambiances than pretend I’m in two places at once when one foot steps across an invisible boundary as defined on a council map.

Art is a parrot word replaced by DADA” (Tzara). If dada is the hobby horse, then Upperthorpe is already producing anti-art by itself. Anything I can do is superfluous, and anything I designate as art before it is ‘done’ is merely to mis-label what I perceive as future fun. Art can surely only be labelled as such by one who is not the creator of said art – and even then – how does one gauge their sincerity? Thoughts and words can be disconnected, and perhaps the finesse of their lie is more artful than any action the not-artist has taken in the name of creation. I don’t want to do anything for or against the community as I don’t want to be a patronising cunt – I wanna be neutral. Sure, I live on the cusp of the area, and I lived in Upperthorpe itself for 1 year of my life, but I feel as though I have no real right to actively attempt to mould it – and I’m fully aware that anything I do that changes the place in any way could be potentially ‘damaging’, despite however good any intentions are. I like to use space creatively, and I like Upperthorpe as a space because I’ve become so familiar with it over the past 5 or so years – it’s refreshing to approach it with a different perspective. Practices of Space (de Certeau text link) because it happens to be that it is space that can be used. Rather than be stricken in the headlights of responsibility though and ‘do nothing’, then my preference is to do ‘something’ with no intention for it to have a defined effect outside itself. Meaninglessness is beautiful, but music is the best
Some true facts about Upperthorpe in Sheffield: it is 3 miles away from Wales and it used to have a train station:

They may be facts about the Upperthorpe in Killamarsh, near Rother Valley Country Park, and Wales may be the small village to the north-east of it.

Hell, there’s even an Upper Thorpe Gulch in Colarado, USA:  However, Neepsend really did have a railway station  – 1880 – 1940 (totally demolished 1970).

Hegel’s lectures on history were lectures to extrapolate the definition of geist. Can one discover the geist of Upperthorpe from the history? Hegel also says “history is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history”; so perhaps it’s prudent to design a multitude of Upperthorpe interventions that disrupt any sense of harmony of the area to ensure that there is continuously an antithesis to provide an opposition to the thesis that is Upperthorpe at present and uphold the dialectic – it’s all well and good to ensure a preservation of naive joy toward the unknown, but it’s also to stagnate the unfolding of Spirit in time; and Hell, if everything’s to be teleological and deterministic anyway, then whatever interventions we deign to invoke in Upperthorpe are ultimately ‘right’ anyway.

The above paragraph was unnecessary posturing. I could pepper (litter?) this post with a lot of references to some names of intelligent theorists and philosophers who have books that I can see the spines of on my bookshelf, and then shoehorn their ideas into my perceptions of Upperthorpe, and then end it by wrapping it up with a lengthy treatise on how our sense can never know the noumenal Upperthorpe, and Upperthorpe is the supplement of the city, or some such yarbles. The Upperthorpe Project as différance. Hegel, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Eco, Kant, Debord, Badiou, Sartre, de Certeau, Kristeva, Lacan, Freud, Popper, Plato, Baudrillard, Neitzche, Brecht, Borges, Wittgenstein, blah, blah, blah. There you go, they’re all referred to now, and I don’t feel the need to quote them any more. I can see de Sade books lying around too, but I figure that convoluted metaphors about liberating Upperthorpe through sodomising it aren’t entirely appropriate. The only truly relevant book for this on my bookshelf is the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Sheffield, which contains a few pages dedicated to Upperthorpe.
I should scour the library’s local archives and get some useful history, which I would probably do if I was a more thorough disciple to the discipline I have a BA in. Anyway:

“Royal Infirmary was the first hospital in Sheffield and located in the fields when opened in 1797. It closed in the 1980s and, stripped of many later additions, was converted to office use in 1990. The remainder of the site has been used for a supermarket and the presence of this with its ‘Crystal Palace’ atrium and attendant car park diminishes the appearance of the surviving buildings”” (Pevsner)

“Building in the area began in the late Georgian period, from which the former infirmary (now offices) and a few houses survive. Construction continued, with many large Victorian houses and a car-free late-20th-century housing estate surviving. The Kelvin Flats were a landmark in the area, of similar design to now listed Park Hill, but were demolished in the early 1990s. The area is served by the Infirmary Road Sheffield Supertram stop” (Wiki)

So, there, succinctly, is the accepted narrative history of the ‘main’ bit of Upperthorpe where most people are likely to visit, for either a trip to Tesco, Zest’s swimming pool, or even a takeaway on their way home from town to Hillsborough or Walkley. Aside from those venturing to play folk music at the Gardener’s Rest pub, no-one wants to write about those creeping through the Upperthorpe that’s north of the tramlines as it’s all hookers and Johns, and then we’re back to de Sade.

We can glean that the ‘history’ of Upperthorpe begins somewhere in the late 1700s, and prior to that it’s all a bit of a void. The predominant ‘history’ of the area seems to be that Kelvin Flats existed there for 30 years and have the same volume of individual’s folk tales just as the more notorious (yet surviving) Park Hill – which is all well and good if you have a fetish for romanticising voyeuristic ‘poor’-gazing, or something; but it still puts one in a dilemma about what tales to pick and choose from to ‘represent’ the ‘authentic’ experience and whatnot. Then there’s the terrible Scarborough Arms (1867) baby incident, but that’s nasty – a ‘wound’ within the predominant contemporary narrative of the area. Plus there’s stuff like the Infirmary being there for a long time, and myriad businesses in Neepsend – such as Stanley’s Tools and Ward’s Brewery. E.H.Carr (in “What Is History?” (1961)) writes of how millions have crossed the Rubicon, yet history only remembers Caesar doing it – history is a series of accepted judgements, existing just as much for the present as the past – and historical facts are merely just a tiny proportion of all possible ‘facts’, and the rest were left to decay in limbo alongside myriad other potential facts that weren’t chosen for the canon. History as what historians choose and write; Upperthorpe as how we choose to define it. Manufactured blind faith. Kurt Schwitters made awesome Merz art from any old crap he found lying on the streets. Dada finds nothing to be objectively more important than anything else.

There’s something like 4.5 billion years of history of the earth prior to that. Can one presume that, since the hospital was built in 1797, just 6 years after the Enclosure Act 1791, that what is now ‘Upperthorpe consisted of some of the 6000 acres of Sheffield land that was previously common land for the use of the people of Sheffield? The area was definitely known previously as ‘Upperthorpe Meadows’ before being built upon (see (1) below). Sure, it wasn’t gonna be ‘naturally wild’ uninhabited land, as it woulda been managed for agricultural production or whatnot (just as Peak District landscapes are pedantically managed), but at some point there was a point where the area did transition from being wild to being shaped by human wills – before the area was seen as ‘useful’ for the population and an onset of sterility was imposed upon the area’s biodiversity as ‘wild’ness gave way to monocultural agriculture which gave way to tarmac and the smog of industry which gave way to whatever you/I/we think it is now.

. See (2) below for the actual geology of the area – as you can see, the central, prosperous area of Upperthorpe is alluvium, whilst the areas north of the tramlines are predominantly sandstone and coal. My environmental MSc dissertation research mostly revolves around cultural heritage in the environment, but the more I ponder the subject, the less I care about preserving tiny human snapshots in nature – as if we really matter –  when everything about it has always been in total flux anyway. The early 90s compounded the difference between the 2 geological sides of Upperthorpe when the Supertram network was built, and presumably Infirmary Road and Penistone Road became widened over the years too to cope with the volumes of traffic since they’re 2 of the main routes out of Sheffield. Thus a rupture was created in Upperthorpe – a scar and divide as the south side sits pretty basking in the 24/7 lighting from Tesco, whilst the north becomes ‘that old Sheffield industrial area’.

Buildings of note still remaining:
Public Baths – 1895, Upperthorpe Public Library – 1874, 22 Blake Grove Road – 1830, Madico-Legal Centre 1975, Infirmary Road – some 1850s shops/houses, Bedford Street – late 1800s stables/coach houses/workshops/stalls for Joseph Tomlinson, Bath Steel Works, Philidelphia Steam Corn Mill building – 1843. What buildings do people notice now? Probably the plethora of dominating tall buildings full of flats built 1959 – 1961, towering above Upperthorpe and scattered liberally around the Ponderosa –

What does the council plan to do to develop the area? See the relevant sections of the UDP ( for the map of land plan designations, see the map in (3) below) – and for the words of the plans from the UDP documents, see (4) below)

Where do I come from? The Rough Rock of Dada and the Situationist International. Mostly. No art, no truth, no beauty (Dada) (“beauty will save the world” (Dostoevsky/Solzhenitsyn); but I ain’t no savior). Nothing. Dada. No distinction between life and art – ride the hobby-horse into battle – it’ll be fun.

[edit: 2-days-after-original-post addendum:] When my friend Adam read this post, he suggested Upperthorpe as Tarkovsky’s “Zone” (from the film ‘Stalker’) – an area of danger and ambiguity where people venture to have their wishes fulfilled in the ‘Room’ at the centre. Yes! Coupla links of info about the film/Zone: 1, 2. Or, y’know, watch it as it’s awesome.






(1) – this was from 1917 –
    “Sixty years ago, Walkley was delightful. It was all gardens, trees, and fields, with ferns, hills, and rocks, and Mr. Charles Hobson, in the Town Planning review, told the story of it.  About 1865, social reformers in the town made an effort to help the artisans who lived there to a betterment of their conditions.  As a rule, so far as was possible, they lived near the works, and the effort was to take them to the swelling hills and beauties of Walkley side. The fields abutting on Upperthorpe, Langsett Road, and the old Turnpike of Lower Walkley were secured, until a full dozen Land Societies had been established there, with about 3,000 members, each a holder of a plot of land, for which he paid a certain monthly contribution.
    The land so dealt with covered an area of no less than 292 acres. The plots were of various sizes from 300 to 1,200 square yards, and the price from one shilling to two shillings per square yard, the latter being the maximum, plus the bonus for choice of plot, ranging from £1 to £50. To that had to be added cost of road making, management, legal and other charges, usually resulting in the £30 plot becoming £50, and the £60 plot £120.  How great was the attraction, a natural one in a town where practically every workman had a love for gardening, was quickly seen. Hardly had the separating stakes been driven in, than the owners were busy digging and fencing, till very soon the rough ground became lovely gardens, and the little freeholder had been given a fresh inspiration.
    Soon, detached houses, many of them very scanty in accommodation, had been built, and so Walkley became the workers’ West End. Some of the societies met with disaster, but nothing was so serious as the Corporation’s exorbitant demands for road making.  Mr. Hobson cited instances, how a 600 yards plot cost £90, but the Corporation’s charges were £45 more, and, as a result, a number of the freeholders tried to get rid of their plots.
One offered his plot free if he was relieved of his liability; another sold what had cost him £100 for £25, and there were many other cases in the same proportion got rid of because of the Corporation’s demands.
    Dreams faded away and the scheme, once so promising, resulted in very many cases in the comparative ruin of the freeholders, and in them being
once again faced by one of two things, either accepting the ramshackle brick row buildings which were so quickly erected, or going into the smoky town once more, where were no gardens, and the only sign of beauty a plant pot in the window”.

(2) (click picture for full size)

(3) –

(click picture for full-size)

(4) Sheffield UDP 17 – Putting the Plan into Action:

Future action and investment will be targeted in those areas of the City where there is greatest need, opportunity or both. They will be known as Priority Regeneration Areas.
TheCity Council will concentrate its regeneration activities in these areas,improving the environment, co-ordinating and promoting development and meeting the needs of the local communities. It will also actively encourage private investment, partnership ventures and funding from out sidesources in these areas.
15 areas are proposed (with numbers in brackets shown on Map 26, facing page 304)
Upper Don -Upperthorpe -Netherthorpe (I I)
 The Priority Regeneration Areas will be reviewed from time to time. New areas may be added as
opportunities or problems arise. And existing areas may be taken out as intensive action brings about improvements.

A high quality environment in the City Centre, including improved pedestrian areas, new paving, lighting, seating, signposts, litter bins and tree planting.
Similar improvements in older housing areas, especially Darnall, Norfolk Park, Shiregreen, Burngreave, Sharrow, North West Inner-City Action Area and in the Manor redevelopment.
Improvements to District Shopping Centres including Firth Park, Spital Hill and Darnall.
Transformation of derelict or run-down industrial and commercial areas, through land reclamation, planting, new lighting, improvements to walls and fences and new paving, to take place as resources permit in:
Philadelphia/Shalesmoor/Kelham Island;

(HTML for re-posting: blog )


Disclaimer: this post is basically just a load of notes of thoughts. It’s not meant to be nicely written and well structured. Sorry. Rick.

  1. Hi Rick. Really enjoyed this. Right up my street if you can excuse the pun. Look forward to more.

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