WORDS & IMAGES: Deeana Violet
This city was burned to the ground in 1942.
Or perhaps that’s hyperbole, as it didn’t quite take the blitz that Coventry did, but it’s certainly the story that’s told.
Steel mills were vital targets for bombing raids. I imagine them coming out of that Peak night, droning fear of engines echoing over those huge spaces, the big skies of Big Moor.
Many bombs missed the steel mills to devastate the city centre, which is half the reason that this city doesn’t have many truly old buildings. The other half concerns council policy from about 1950 onwards.
I grew up with concrete and steel. Towers and offices that looked like castles, fortresses in some reworking of medieval times, with windows shaped like arrow slots. Sheffield lost its castle in the civil war and I think we’re always looking for it, dreaming of what we should have had, but for Cromwell’s forces and a lot of gunpowder.
In a world with very little that’s old, ghosts have to fill in the spaces that are left.
And there were plenty of those…
Terraced housing estates survived, here and there, their passages and entries filling with shapes of things unknown. There’s a story about a red eyed beast that waited in the shadows of the old steel district. It spied on courting couples and threw metal garden forks at them. It ran along rooftops and through attics.
This was not the first time either…
Before the war burned this city, a white caped fiend did exactly the same. There’s also an account of a blue-eyed version – a hairy creature running along the rail lines that carried coal and steel between sleeping houses, late, late at night.
My school was on the site of an old medical waste dump. Black mould; tannoys; tall heating chimneys; floodlights. A grey all-weather sports pitch like the surface of the moon. Encroaching wild woodlands from the city limits. Adisintegrating housing estate that faded out into abandoned farmland.
Two underpasses below the urban motorway that we had to cross, one filled with graffiti and danger, the other peaceful and almost unused.
We filled these spaces with ghosts too. The boy who died here. Devils rattling windows in the English corridor and leaving enigmatic satanic messages. A child in Victorian school uniform, an unlikely revenant given that there was no school within miles of this site until 1963.
We were, like everyone, desperate for the old stories of the dead returning to carry on their conversations, in the darkness around the edges of this city’s sodium glare.
There can be magic and fear anywhere, even in an urban futurescape.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deanna Violet lives in Sheffield and it shows. She grew up listening to stories about the city’s secret past and got obsessed with its mysteries. Her dad once showed her how to turn street lights on, and her mum met a ghost on the stairs. You can read this full version of this post plus more of her work on her website, Crow Violets.