From the corner you could go anywhere, Leveson Street,
Warren Street, under the arches of Norfolk Bridge, over the river…
This is a place in Attercliffe, Sheffield – an intersection, where the narrator of one of my poems in The Footing, and the historical subjects he is tracking, raise their eyes to the possibilities of the urban horizon. It’s a point on a map; it is also a moment: a place reached, a pause in which the narrator’s present (which was mine, sometime in 2010) collides with the present of a gang of men, in the spring of 1925, walking away from a crime – a fatal attack on an Attercliffe man, for which two of them, a few weeks later, were to hang.
The title of my sequence is ‘Flights and Traverses’, chosen because I wanted to indicate how the poems describe movement away from a point (the ‘flight’) and also the phenomenon of that movement (the ‘traverse’ or crossing). But the sequence also has a subheading: 5 Itineraries; and it had an earlier, working title: ‘A Cartography’. Both suggest the original motive: I wanted to follow footsteps – but I was also interested in the imaginative possibilities of mapping and the itinerary.
‘Itinerary’ has its roots in the Latin for ‘travelling’ and is usually understood to mean either a plan or a record of a journey: it can therefore refer to an experience anticipated or recollected. There is also something of the professional: it traditionally refers to a day’s travel especially for the purpose of judging, or preaching, or lecturing. In many senses, it is a ‘setting out’.
When we consider the word ‘itinerant’, however, the intention is less about professing, more about exchange. We think of salesmen or peddlers: tinkers: wanderers: tramps. A story or song from the road for a fag or a sup. There is something, perhaps, about a bargain or a contract. This is implicit in the flights and traverses I’ve chosen to map out. A man pays his way out of his homeland at the toll house on Grindleford Bridge:
Where are you going?
Far as I can.
When will you get there?
Where have you come from?
Over the moor.
Will you return?
He accepts the deal; and intrigued, taken in, I follow. Here is a story: a narrative: a passage from something known to something unknown.
I have a memory of childhood: a halt on a moorland track, my dad ‘getting the map out’, taking bearings, making judgements. We are at the moment between getting lost and finding a way forward – between the original itinerary and a new route, made at that moment and not until then. I find this moment entirely creative, and settling, and inspiring. We might be on a track thousands of years deep, but in passing along it, we are itinerant: we are at a point between the journey recorded and the journey anticipated. And when we stop and take bearings and judge our surroundings, we acknowledge this. I now stop with my family and ‘get the map out’.
There’s a milepost on the old turnpike road over Houndkirk Moor. What you can’t see, obviously, is the other side – which, due to the weather, is a pitted surface, entirely illegible.
On the north face just runes and weather.
My ancestor Richard Marsden, traversing the Moor and at this point, in sight neither of the valley he grew up in, or of the town to which he was headed, is at this point itinerant. He must make a new map.
On midsummer’s day in 1842, an Attercliffe woman walked out of her house, set herself behind the coffin of her son and started the slow walk through Sheffield to the General Cemetery. The cortege passed 50 thousand people, come to observe the procession of the Chartist Samuel Holberry, broken by hard labour in Northallerton Gaol and dead at 27.
When I set out on this journey, the maps I consulted were relics: the Blitz of 1940 and the go-getting 1960s had done for the medieval town. Had I found a record of the route taken – most likely along Norfolk Street, Union Street and South Street, then up Cemetery Road – I would have felt compelled to follow it: The Crucible, Café Rouge, The drills and hoardings on The Moor. Fortunately, I found only the barest details: a connection between two points, and an understanding that the route must have crossed the river at Lady’s Bridge, where there had been a travellers’ chapel,
a plate by the chancel where you’d drop a coin for safe journey,
the water light through the glass
pattering the walls
I had the opportunity, then, to make my own path: to drift: to become itinerant. I could go off-grid, turn corners into quiet, slower route-ways, peer through smashed windows.
They turn into Eyre Lane,
its workshops full of shades.
These were his neighbours;
they have stilled their wheels
and files for him.
I could stop and notice things growing – now in the middle of the city, then at its edge, the sounds of its industry still proximate to the rush of the Porter Brook:
In an alley near South Lane
someone has planted flowers
in drums and pails:
poppies, daisies, nasturtiums;
sweet peas, pink and lilac
against the black brick.
Over the Brook – now, over the Ring Road – I should have climbed the hill to the old gate on Cemetery Road, with its worm and leaf mould all ruin and renewal. But, honouring Holberry, I wanted to make a way to the grander entrance on Cemetery Avenue: to cross the Porter Brook once more, formally this time, paying my dues of passage into the underworld, from where I could look back, take stock:
Now they can see where they came,
the line of people all the way back
to the town. Still they come.
There are other ways of map-making. In 1932, my great-uncle Harold died in the South Yorkshire Asylum – later called the Middlewood Hospital, and now a housing development which, with its tidiness and discreet cameras, aspires to gated status.
I never knew I had a great-uncle Harold. He spent most of his life in institutions – his learning difficulties presumably too much for the wider world to handle – and died in this one aged 27.
This was the first journey I took – a short, harrowing walk from his parents’ house off Hillsborough Corner up to Middlewood. It is the most personal section of ‘Flights and Traverses’: not only because of Harold, but because I recognise these terraced streets:
Now there is the click of a back door,
the chitter of a budgerigar.
Then you are hurrying from one of these houses,
hair brushed, tangled feet booted,
your undone laces tripping behind you.
There is something inevitable, too, about the journey which, though in terms of its topography is a gentle climb, is emotionally and psychologically a descent. I follow Harold towards his end, beyond the tram terminus; and I walk back – and down – through a bit of my own past:
This was once my territory, that hill with the GR
post box at the bottom, school at the top,
the park where I rushed along one day, my mind,
gleeful and vicious, running after me. Middlewood,
childhood cant, that thing in all our cellars,
I shouldn’t have dared. I pay out my breaths
like twine, each step shortening.
I expected ghosts at the Asylum, in the bottle-green shade of the Cemetery, by the milepost on Houndkirk Moor. I got glimpses: stilled vices through workshop windows, arches upturned on the skin of the river, the ghost of myself in the glass of Saville House. Walking through an urban landscape, particularly, enables you to accrue perspective: there is a traversing of time as well as space. You lose yourself, take note, adjust your bearings, set out again. Cutting away from current thoroughfares, you pass into other ways, older, narrower, quieter. You uncover or discover gennels, doorways, rat runs: even when you are tracing itineraries which are irrevocable, you are making new paths, unfurling the twine of a narrative by which to mark your way back.
Where I finish in ‘Flights and Traverses’ is a picture of chaos:
Stained glass exploding into Campo Lane,
corn from a slashed sack.
The map shows where, in December 1940, the bombs fell, which was everywhere, just about; but even this catastrophe can be narrated. The bombers came from a point in space, departed for another; the bombs fell thinly on the leafy places, thickly on the old centre; they fell crashing into the silence of the school
but spared the church,
its praying faithful, its sinners.
When I get off the bus on the Hathersage Road, it is a winter afternoon, the sun near to setting. The shires range southwards, hills, woods, fields. North, across the boundary stream, the road begins its descent into Sheffield. My long shadow stretching out in front of me,
I start down.
Rob Hindle’s Flights and Traverses appears in the Longbarrow Press anthology The Footing. ‘Cartography, Flights and Traverses’ is the text (and accompanying images) of a presentation by Hindle that opened the launch of The Footing at The Shakespeare, Sheffield, 25 November 2013. Click here to visit Rob Hindle’s website.