On Three Outcrops: Granite – trial and ordeal

“A rock, an event, a past, cannot write itself…and yet it does” (Schlunke, 2005)

I now close this outcrop trilogy with a multi-site rumination on the imperviousness of granite.

Haytor

haytor1

Granite always involved a journey inland, and a negotiation too. Growing up in a household without a car it was always a convoluted trek to Dartmoor to commune with its stout grey sentinels. It would entail finding a spare seat on the extended family’s convoy into those hills. But the relative difficultly of reaching these rocks added to their lure. To be there, amongst them was to be somewhere made meaningful through its relative unattainability; special through a (modest) trial and ordeal. Whilst barely 30 miles from my town, these bulbous grey mica flecked outcrops felt regional, rather than local. I hold cherished memories of actual visits, but the yearning to visit was always stronger than the specific memories of actually being there. In melancholic moments the image of being up amongst these windswept peaks was a strong one. A wished for recuperative:  something to blow the cobwebs away, to recharge the batteries, to fill a hole.

Granite sits and broods, squat and strong, its forms asking to be clambered upon, pored, investigated. But it doesn’t give much away. It leaves you to speculate. Unlike the perishing, unstable and ubiquitous rocks of Torquay, granite has a resolute firmness and mystery. And there is something sinister in granite’s sly Easter Island faces: a silent leeching of radon from its radioactive pores, that gas seeping into basements, slowly poisoning unventilated air and bringing 1,200 lung cancer related deaths each year in the granite zones across the UK (Laurance 2010). A slow, silent-but-deadly, rock fart.

Bluff Rock

“Bluff Rock sits. Bluff Rock towers. It is the silent main character in this crime cum ghost story – it is always there, it always remains.”

Bluff Rock

Kristina Schlunke’s Bluff Rock (2005) is an account of her attempt to investigate an 1844 massacre of aborigines atop a local granite outcrop close to her Australian outback childhood home.  Schlunke ‘s research ranges across contemporary accounts, wider cultural context and the material conditions of the event-space. The rock itself is offered up as a mute witness to whatever happened there. For Schlunke preoccupations of the present inevitably seek to project onto any attempt to interpret the past. She sees the urge to order and make sense via selection and narrative as something to be – if not resisted – then at least laid bare. In that sense her investigation becomes resolutely autobiographical and deconstructive. The outcrop itself is presented as resistant to this ordering, resistant to the writing (or revealing) of the ‘truth’ of the event. In the swirl of interpretations, Schlunke clambers to the top of Bluff Rock and finds there no plateau, no clearly defined edge from which the cornered aborigines could have been ‘thrown’ (as in the testimony of the perpetrators). Schlunke is not seeking to deny the atrocities of colonialists and their actions against those already inhabiting the supposed Terra Nullis, but she finds threads that cannot be neatly assimilated into any of the circulating accounts. She concludes that the massacre probably did take place – once amongst many in this locality – but probably not at this landmark, that scenery having been added later, as though the event required geological ‘sexing-up’, bringing in a dramatic staging point, a crescendo for the endemic casual violence of such frontier encounters.

Bluff Rock passes no clue other than its own topography and density of thicket. It is impervious to rapid travel and interrogation alike. A material synonymous with memorials and headstones gives up little testimony of this past. Instead meaning comes from that projected onto this outcrop by its passersby:

“To drive past Bluff Rock is to see nothing but rock. To stop at the viewing place is to acquire a name and some history. To go to the Visitors’ Centre and ask for a leaflet is to be given a story of omnipotent white power.”

Cave Rock

Schlunke notes the instability of the very naming of Bluff Rock (and of the colonial urge-to-name as part of territorial conquest). An early – rain soaked – explorer came upon the outcrop in a wet July  and declared it ‘St Swithin’s Bluff’. That name didn’t stick, but – as for Schlunke – “This combination of rain and rock and the figure of a man’s body open to the elements and the effect of other men, creates a very nuanced image of that first ‘owner’”.

Cave Rock

Likewise Matthew & Michael Makley find something similar in Cave Rock (2010), their account of the disputed use of a Nevada lakeside granite mass, the remnant of a volcano that erupted there three million years ago. To the local native American Washoe tribes this outcrop is “De’ek wadapush” (Rock Standing Grey), to the white explorers who then sought to style a name for this landmark, it was variously “Rocky Point” then “Indian Rock” and then “Cave Rock”.

The Washoe detoured to avoid this place. It was a potent place, to be visited only by shamen and at which secret rituals of re-powering would be performed, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. But then in 1859 the white man’s gold rush saw a plank bridge-road skirt the edge of the mass. Then in 1931 engineers blasted a road tunnel straight through it (with a second tunnel added in 1957). The Washoe were not consulted.

Granite comes in many shapes and textures, but is often notable for its sheerness. As Schlunke puts it: “only straight, downward fissures and the simple immensity of granite”. Cave Rock was of a formation not well suited to traditional crack system based climbing, but the pioneering of bolt enabled sport climbing in the 1980s opened up the possibility of sheer rock faces to climbing. You don’t need cracks, seams and crevasses if you have runs of metal bolts fixed into a face.

In 1987 the first sport climbing route was pioneered at Cave Rock. Sports climbers bolted this vertical landscape and – in their view – improved the place by tidying up the litter and tunnel debris they found there, and paving the cave base. Ultimately 325 anchors marking the 47 distinct high-challenge routes written onto the face of Cave Rock by the scrutiny of the pioneering climbers who attentively read this vertical place and its route-potential, portraying this engagement with the rock in ecstatic, semi-spiritual terms, for example route pioneer Dan Osman:

“When I finished ‘Psycho Monkey’, I looked to the right and saw the line of ‘Phantom Lord’, which was harder [5.13b]. When I finished that, I looked to the right again and saw…the line of ‘Slayer’…I yelled to my belayer to lower me, and ran over to start working on it.” (quoted in Makley & Makley, 2010).

The climbers’ interest in Cave Rock coincided with emergence of a (slightly) greater attentiveness to Native American affairs in US Federal policy, sparking long debate amidst Cave Rock’s custodians, the US Forestry Service, about how the seemingly incompatible uses could be reconciled. The Washoe wanted all non Washoe use of Cave Rock to be banned. In retort the climbers developed a triple pronged argument, first that US constitutional law prohibited the Forestry Service from acting in a way that promoted the interests of a religion. Secondly, that the spiritual integrity of Cave Rock had already been erased by the road tunnels and thirdly, that Cave Rock now held a rich spiritual meaning for climbers too (hinting at an equivalence to that of the Washoe).  Meanwhile – to add to the messy reality and multiple meaning making in play at this site – Cave Rock had been designated as a Federal heritage site due to its historic transportation significance: the road tunnels!

Sadly, the dispute remained one largely polarised between the climbers and the Washoe, the vision of a march upon Cave Rock by an enraged mob of access defending road tunnel enthusiasts never materialised. Ultimately, after some extensive to-ing and fro-ing the Federal Appeal court decided that it was lawful for the US Forestry Service to ban climbing at Cave Rock without falling foul of the US constitution. The rock’s heritage value for the Washoe (and the general population of the area) could be acknowledged , and climbing upon this publically owned land could be prohibited as of deleterious character to the integrity of the rock itself.

Subsequently, the climbers bolts were removed, their holes plugged and the climbers flooring works taken away too. But Cave Rock remains publicly owned land, it has not been repatriated to the Washoe, and traffic still streams through the tunnels.

What the granite thinks of all this is not known.

 

 

References

Laurance, J. (2010) ‘Radon Gas: the silent killer in the countryside’, The Independent, 10 August.

Makley, M.S. & Makley, M.J. (2010) Cave Rock – climbers, courts and a Washoe Indian sacred place, University of Nevada Press: Reno.

Schlunke, K.M. (2005) Bluff Rock – autobiography of a massacre, Curtin University Books: Fremantle.

Image Sources

Haytor, Dartmoor – http://travel.aol.co.uk/2013/07/12/mother-son-die-falling-100ft-dartmoor-devon/

Bluff Rock, New South Wales – http://www.onthehouse.com.au/reports/property_profile/12445298/7417_New_England_Highway_BLUFF_ROCK_NSW_2372/

Cave Rock, Nevada – http://blog.skiheavenly.com/2012/08/01/hiking-to-the-top-of-cave-rock/

On Three Outcrops: Limestone – hide and seek on Rock Walk

Image

So, I decided. Torquay’s limestone deserved some attention.

And the more attention I gave it the more it haunted. Something not noticed, became waiting for me around every corner – indeed, it was every corner: angular slabs amassed in revetments, flanks of wall, ornamentation and dross. Lumps of local limestone all about this place, and all underlying it.

The classic Devonian red dust-rock is bisected by a fault line, the Sticklepath Fault, that summons (or permits) mounds of limestone to rise up across this town.

One such outcrop overlooks the bay. A notice tells me that the steep terraced gardens that I knew here as Rock Walk were opened in 1893, their terracing and sub-tropical planting having been to the design of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, a Major Garrett, as part of comprehensive and confident harbourside land reclamation works (a part of which is now sinking slowly – but assuredly – back into the sea). Seventeen years later the rocks had prime view of the southern fleet, a bay full of imperial Dreadnaughts assembled for a game changing war that they didn’t realise was on its way.

The Rock Walk that I knew was a verdant place of withdrawal. A place for youthful drinking and other experimentation. Under the multi-coloured arcs of the floodlights casting this steep place into spreads of blinding colouration and corresponding patches of ultra-darkness in which these private scenes played out. There were dog-leg terraces to claim for the evening, often with a municipal bench, and irregular stone steps to reach it, rendered all the hardest to navigate courtesy of that strange blinding and darkening effect of these arc lights. Then to tarry a while, the details will remain unstated.

Nearby there was the narrow wooden bridge clinging somehow to the sheer cliff. We called this place ‘Trolls Bridge’. Once, leaning upon the rail of the bridge, staring out across the bay, a swig of drink went the wrong way. Then, spirits suddenly in the nasal cavity. Intense sensation. Too much to be pleasant. And a lesson learnt the hard way. Don’t gargle with Vodka.

So – this outcrop was a special place to me many years ago. The was is important here. Back in 2010 the rockface was stripped of all vegetation, Trolls Bridge and all of the elderly pathways ripped out. The rock laid bare was inspected, bolted, netted and fenced off. For it had become increasingly clear that this surface was a restless one, large grey boulders threatening the road beneath. These works had left a barren rock mass where I had once known darkness and exotic sub-tropical thickets. A new walkway had then been stapled back onto this barren surface. Approaching it today it looked shorn, denuded – Samson after Delilah. The bolts, nets and lashings having the feel of some trapped animal. Caged, cowed but still potent and dangerous to its captors.

I followed my family up the new walkway with truculence. I hated what this place had become, what had been stripped from it. But as we walked, the view was better that I’d remembered. Looking out from this vantage it made sense. An eclectic array ‘informational’ signs laid out along the route took my fancy too. This was a kooky take upon a tourist trail. Whether the burghers of this town realised that this was what they were getting I do not know. But to know that clotted cream may be Phoenician in origin, that the harbour’s granite came from Norway or that in 1940s a B17 bomber crashed with hundreds of tonnes of oranges on board took me by surprise, and made me chuckle in this barren place. It gave it some new – randomised – meaning. An ANT-lite take on the process of looking-out across a bay, ascending a headland and thinking about its materialities.

Thinking back to those youthful nights upon this restless hill I don’t know what these rocks, saw, heard, felt back in those days but it was the bushes and the lights that gave this place those meanings. They have disappeared in the clearance. New memories were laid down upon the same rock today, but amidst a different terrain, tone and purpose.

You can bolt the rock down, but not the events that once passed across them.

On Three Outcrops: Sandstone – on the broken red cliff

Image

The house is perched.

“Ominously precarious” – an expression first encountered aged 13 in a heavily thumbed school exercise book. A phrase so rarely used, but most apt here. The remains of a house hanging, at the top of this recently slumped cliff.

Below, 300 feet of deep rich red Devonian sandstone, slewed upon the beach below, bleeding into the sea.

Until the sudden failure last year, this was the primest of Torquay’s real estate. The safe, solid seats and views of the town’s ruling fathers and daughters. But now worthless in conventional terms, the half-house now attracts illicit visitors, those wishing to add a frisson of peril to their cliff top picnic, scavengers and arsonists: a beacon for those who are drawn to peer over into the abyss.

But what catches my attention most is that red. That unfeasibly rich red of the soil I grew up with in these parts. That red that I saw swirling up from the beaten path as we strode across the field to visit the hilltop spot where I scattered my nan’s grey-white ashes last year. Those eddies caught in the low, strong rays of the last hours of daylight. That red, that sun, that familiar hilltop overlooking the bay, and its sister hills. Comfort, all.

Until I left here aged 18 I thought soil everywhere was this colour. And I thought rocks everywhere were this friable too, destructible by a petulant kick and in a perpetual state of disintegration. Where I grew up this apology-for-stone was everywhere, and looking at a geological map of the town for the first time today I now understand why. As I travel across the town I move between bands of underlying geology. My part of town was a Breccia belt of loosely composed compressed red earth and its conglomerate. All around me the houses and their garden walls were made of this readily to hand stuff. A suburb of red, dessicated blocks, just a few generations away from mud. It all felt very primitive, and approximate. The cliff collapse told me I’d got something right. This stuff is barely rock.

But this is not the only rock in Torquay. Moving across the town – so the map now tells me – the seven hills on which the town sits (or at least the town’s foundational myth rests) are mostly limestone, and now I see with freshly opened eyes: there are plenty of rough hewn grey stones lining gardens, holding back embankments and otherwise adapting local civilisation to the extreme up-down typology of this place. There is rock everywhere co-opted upon this surface. No bricks: just grey ones, red ones, smooth ones, rough ones. Rock, rock, rock. Torquay is born of its rock, its confluence of geological epochs and processes.

Even the name of the town is a nod to its rock – ‘Tor’ means hill. Thus my town:  the quay by the hills, by the bay of the hills.

Yet strictly in Devon-speak, Tor is a reference to the granite outcrops of Dartmoor, 20 miles landward of this red edged coast. Looking west (peering awkwardly between the rays of the dying sun) I can see the silhouette of the moor’s sentinel Tors on the horizon. Perhaps as they sit there surveying the lowland scene beyond, they mock the fake coastal Tors, these imposters made of squashed mud, sand, pebbles and eons of tiny shell-fall.

Before Furnace Park

Occursus 13

“Most human activities produce marks in the physical world.

These marks are vestiges.

They freeze fleeting moments of engagement in practice into monuments,

which persist and disappear in their own time”

Etienne Wenger (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning & Identity, CUP: Cambridge, p. 60

 

The site bounded by Matthew Street and Doncaster Street had many lives before it became Furnace Park. My interest is in how different types of people try to trace back into this layering of past uses and how and why they do it. In my research I study this trace-work as it is undertaken both by professionals (surveyors, engineers, planners, developers) and enthusiasts (amateur archaeologists, urban explorers, psychogeographers, poets and curious passerbys).

Looking at the past

In each case this trace-work involves staring intently – either on site or in an archive – to try and bring to the surface the site’s former use and arrangements, something only now hinted at in the site’s current state.

In each case the attention paid to the ‘lost past’ of the site is directed towards making it better known, more deeply understood. For the professionals that knowledge has very practical aims and benefits. Knowing the site’s past enables costly future problems to be anticipated and managed in any ensuing redevelopment. For the enthusiasts it presents something a little more intangible. Some seek to ‘know’ the site in terms of preserving its histories and its stories, for others is it more poetic – enabling a more open, flowing engagement with this place through tracing the rich colour and diversity of its former lives. For these, showing that a site has been many things over a recorded span of history prompts the viewer pause at the gates of this currently scrubland site and to see quite different things through the railings – the ghosts of former uses, arrangements and activities that once took place there.

The Furnace Park site is particularly rich in its layers – and once you start digging through them (whether physically or in the archive) many versions of use and arrangement tumble forth. Yet there is little currently at this site to suggest that this would be so. The site sits now in an unloved, overlooked corner of the city surrounded by change (industrial units giving way to apartment blocks) but the site itself sits dishevelled and static. It is an ‘L’ shaped plot of made ground, weeds and remnant brick walls.

Digging into the history of the site is not about hoping to find and restore a more noble or more fully engaged era of use of this site. There is no golden age to excavate. In the most cases the former uses were mundane – places of work and play, day-in day-out places that may have been used without any special regard. Also, as we peer back through time each phase of use is alien to each other, and largely self-contained and unconnected to what came before or after it. It is not that all the previous uses ‘knew’ each other and that only us, in the ‘now,’ are strangers to a happy club of former uses. No, what captures the attention most is glimpses of uses that are all quite different to each other, and separate in time, on-site location and nature from each other. This pausing to look and trace back what has now gone gives us scope to think about how other people – other generations – might have gone about their use and arrangement of what would to them perhaps have seemed the only form in which this site could exist.

As part of my contribution to the Furnace Park project I have been working through old maps and Sheffield City Council’s photograph archive, in order to summon some sense of these former incarnations of this now scrub-land site. In what follows I give some glimpses of what I have found, and how it has struck me, in a more enthusiast-than-professional style.

Turning the lights back on

Half of the site – that part nearest to The Ship Inn and the dual carriageway – is now just a bare concrete pad. Weeds thrust up through cracks in this now deteriorating surface. Remnant rich red brick walls flank this pad, the only signal left of the large building once standing here. For this portion of the site was formerly the Council’s Street Lighting Department’s depot. Here’s a view of the building, as far as I can tell it was demolished in the 1990s, the demolition debris then spread across the other portion of the site.

 Lighting Depot

S12575 www.picturesheffield.com Reproduced with permission of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies

What strikes me is the purposefulness of this image. Almost like a child’s impression of a depot. Vans loaded awaiting despatch. A place of municipal action. A place dedicated to keeping the lights on.

 inside lighting depot

S12573 www.picturesheffield.com Reproduced with permission of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies

And archival photographs can also take us inside now-absent buildings. I love this photo. Here is order and purpose in abundance – a floor to ceiling organised system of purpose, everything assigned its place. The contrast to the site today is quite extreme – this depot occupied the site vertically as well as horizontally. There’s lots of empty airspace now, where once these stacked racks sat, reaching up to the rafters of the depot building.

A place to play

The Doncaster Street end of the site started recorded life (in 1860s mapping) as dense court style housing. Much of this was demolished in an early 1920s slum clearance project. The archive gives us – perhaps – a glimpse of the planning of that erasure. Here’s an annotated image of the Doncaster Arms pub, that sat on-site at the corner of Matthew Street and Doncaster Street. The pub appears already to have been shut-up, ready for demolition. The photo comes from the Council’s City Engineers’ Department’s papers, the measurements inscribed onto the image likely part of the compensation calculation for the compulsory purchase of this derelict building in the run up to its demolition.

Doncaster Arms

U00972 www.picturesheffield.com Reproduced with permission of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies

Once the pub (and 97 neighbouring houses) had gone the vacant site was repurposed as a children’s playground, the gift of city benefactor J.C. Graves, as recorded in the jubilant scene recorded in the park’s opening in 1931. Happy faces indeed, but also a glimpse of another era of social relations, a world of rank denoted by which type of hat you wore :

playground opens 1931

S03839 www.picturesheffield.com Reproduced with permission of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies

The playground was in its day a model, a local echo of an early Twentieth century movement to improve the physical and moral health of the working classes through the provision of equipment for recreation, a move towards the structuring of play, bringing it off the streets and into a mechanically and spatially organized play-ground. This ‘arranged-ness’ of this playground is captured well in the ‘outdoor factory’ appearance shown in this image:

 playground

S03994 www.picturesheffield.com Reproduced with permission of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies

And at this place, there is a particular poignancy to the idea of bringing play off the streets and into a space specifically set aside for it. For what is now the HSBC offices site on the opposite side of Doncaster Street to the Furnace Park site used to be the Daniel Doncaster & Sons’ foundry.

Here on Wednesday, 25th August 1886, at around 5pm the 18 feet high wall of Daniel Doncaster’s stockyard gave way, raining hundreds of tons of steel and iron bars, bricks, roofing timbers and slates out into Matthew Street, and onto a group of local children playing in the street.

Police Review 1886

Source: The Illustrated Police Review, 2 September 1886

Eight died: Martha Armitage (aged ten), John Armitage (two), Henry Crisp (six), William Cullingworth (seven), Clifford Anderson (seven), Samuel Oates (five), William Henry Ward (five) Herbert Crookes (five).

I’ve found no suggestion that the playground opened in 1931 was intended as a memorial to these children, or that it reflected particular concern about street-play in this particular inner city location. J.G. Graves set up a number of playgrounds around Sheffield around this time. The post-slum clearance open plot bounded by Matthew Street and Doncaster Street lent itself well to a philanthropist seeking a site for a modern life-enhancing playground.

Also, the 1886 event and the 1931 opening ceremony were 45 years apart. Two generations. Two different phases in the life of what now is set to become Furnace Park.

 

Image Sources: Photo of the concrete pad: Amanda Crawley Jackson. Archival images courtesy of Sheffield Archives and Local Studies, Sheffield City Council. Illustrated Police Review via http://www.chrishobbs.com/deathatdoncasters.htm

Souvenirs – George Haydock’s short film on urban exploration

George made this atmospheric short piece as part of his documentary film making studies at the University of Salford. Amidst the striking ruin atmospherics the voices of a handful of explorers and academics hover, sketching out avenues of deeper analysis and debate. Features Tim Edensor, Richard Brook, Martin Dodge, Amanda Crawley Jackson and, err, me…

George would like to make a full length documentary out of the material he gathered for this project. He can be contacted direct at:

george.haydock@hotmail.co.uk