A bit of Background... Sheffield General Cemetery opened in 1836. Established by nonconformists. The last burials were in 1978. (H. Jordan, 2003.www.english-heritage.org). Despite cemeteries having a particular functional use, they are often considered to be part of the public open space, that also encompasses public parks. Cemetery spaces often have a spiritual quality that parks lack and as such have been popular sites for public events and activities. In some areas over half of public open land is designated as space for cemeteries. Local authorities are often keen to pass cemeteries onto local trusts, this is the case for Sheffield General Cemetery which is now managed and maintained by Sheffield General Cemetery Trust. (CABEspace 2007, Cemeteries, churchyards and burial grounds) Sheffield General Cemetery is just one cemetery of many which have recently been invested in for conservation and restoration. Prior to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the area was left relatively unmanaged and as a result it became an important ecological site. Many of the Victorian built Egyptian style buildings are being restored with the fund money. (www.gencem.org)
My interest in this site... I have never considered a cemetery as a site to visit unless friends or relatives that have passed were buried there. The idea that a cemetery could be an open space for a community to use took my interest and I decided to visit the site. I was also drawn to visiting a landscape different from the Sheffield parks of which I have often visited. When trying to find the site, (as I didn’t look it up on a map before hand), I asked in a few shops and restaurants near the Botanical Gardens if they knew of the cemetery. Younger generations were completely unaware of its existence, which made me think that either the site is a more local space known to those who have resided in the region for some time or that the younger people I asked were new to the area and so had not yet come across this site. Many people live in Sheffield during their University life and only explore the areas close to them which they move through on a daily basis, I have to admit that before this course I wasguilty of this to an extent. I have been living in Sheffield for 3 years and I now realise that Sheffield has more to offer than its’ beautiful parks of which there are many. Open space can come in many other forms such as canal corridors, nature reserves, trails and of course cemeteries.
Photos of my visit to The General Cemetery
1 of the 4 recognised values of cemetery landscapes is education, (Dunk and Rugg 1994). The Sheffield General Cemetery Trusts’ information board allows for visitors to find out about the site and it also notes their website so encouraging visitors to carry out further research on the site.
The entrance is far more open & exposed than further in the Cemetery. As such the beginning of the journey through the site seemed more planned and controlled. It is clear where in the city you are, the natural topography aids this.
A collection of rocks have been placed in a spiral at an opening, however I found that this was only really visible when standing on top of the central stone (I didn’t manage to catch this in my photos). I wonder if this has a circle of life type inspiration to it...
My least favourite feature of the cemetery is perhaps this open lawn space that to me seems a little out of place. However, I recognise that it is of high functional use when events or festivals are held here, therefore the cemetery is fulfilling its use as a site for leisure. T
I find the cemetery to beinformally enclosed internally, the trees provide a cover, however externally the cemetery is enclosed formerly withwalls and fences. There are odd paths that are properly paved but other paths are either unofficially created or simply the natural woodland cover of leaves and dirt.
The planning of the site appears to behighly organised in some spaces, such that the view from certain directions were likely to have been intended to give a perspective of endlessness. However in other areas it isvery much haphazard in appearance,. This contrast works well together, and each style is suited the space which contains it. The vegetation surrounding the gravestones adds an eerie feel as the wind makes it rustle, however there is still an elegant graceful feel to the gravestones.
The General Cemetery has been recognised by its use of topography and setting which gives the site an original, personal character that is unique and interesting. The undulating topography combined with the enclosed woodland and meandering paths act to disorientate, it is difficult to understand yourposition in context to the rest of Sheffield at some times. The paths also often doesn’t show you where you are going, making it easy to follow blindly in mystery.
The trees are by far the most striking natural feature. In fact it appeared that there are few flowering plants, much of the vegetation is weeds and shrubs, which I appear to betypical of a natural wooded area. The seasonal changes will be highly evident in the cemetery due to the dominance of deciduous trees. The light shinning through gaps in the trees often light up individual gravestones, which adds to the mysteriousfeel to the space.
The nature of the paths and surrounding tall trees creatan arc shape in some areas, which to me represent the arcs in church architecture. The photo on the left is the window of a church within The General Cemetery. I wonder if this was an intended characteristic, so the designer envisaged the heights the trees would grow to and the visual effect they would create?
There is some seating within the cemetery and the seating provided fits in with the natural woodland feel. On my visit I saw a few other people. Some of those were wondering around the site like myself, whereas others seemed to be passers-by who knew the site as a part of the route they were taking- these users seemed very familiar with the site and often didn’t look at the surroundings. There were a few dog walkers and there was a person jogging. 1 of the 4 recognised values of cemeteries landscapes is leisure( Dunk and Rugg 1994), the cemetery is clearly used in a leisurely way from what I observed.
A comparison of 2 sites... Robert Marnock was behind the landscaping for the Botanical Gardens and the General Cemetery- it is clear that he had a different vision for the 2 open spaces. Walking through each site brings about a very different feeling from my perspective. I felt far more peaceful and yet somehow cautious all the while in the cemetery. Whereas the Botanical Gardens feel more open and generally there is always another person in sight, so the gardens feel comfortable and safe. The cemetery is characterised by many enclosed spaces, whereas the Botanical Gardens contain far more open spaces and clear paths. The general downward sloping of Botanical Gardens also allows the user to understand their location in Sheffield, whereas topography acts to cause the opposite feeling in the cemetery.
‘Its purpose - to create an uplifting place, which people could visit and contemplate the beauty and tranquillity of their surroundings.’ (www.gencem.org) I feel that The Sheffield General Cemetery Trust has achieved its purpose for the cemetery.