A tale of two castlesJuly 6, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Sheffield | 50 Comments
(Image via zawtowers)
As the next stage in its pursuit of regeneration, Sheffield Council had long planned a demolition job around the maligned, woebegotten Castle Gate. The city’s indoor market would finally meet the wrecking ball, and in its place would be the same soullessly sylish offices, bars and boutiques which have been such a feature of the city’s attempts to remake itself.
What’s made the council’s plans slightly more interesting is the promise to uncover the ruins of the medieval castle near where the market now stands, emphasising an oft-forgotten part of Sheffield’s rich history. Alas, the work of town planning never runs smoothly, and some mischievous bugger has applied for English Heritage to make the market a listed building. The leader of the council is livid:
“The land it stands on holds the key to the regeneration of that part of the city centre and we believe that the remains of Sheffield Castle could become an important tourist attraction in the future.
“English Heritage needs to listen to Sheffielders, who cherish the castle remains and their potential opening up to the public, and not the brutalist and not-fit-for-purpose 1960s market that sits on top of them.”
All of which makes English Heritage the referee in a fight between two castles; one a lost ruin with a history running back to Henry III, and another which has sold fruit & veg since the 1960s.
There’s no doubt that if the decision is made purely on aesthetic or historical grounds, the council would have their demolition day. The abandonment of Sheffield Castle after the Civil War was an act of cultural vandalism; as a home to John ‘The Butcher’ Talbot, a prison to Mary Queen of Scots and a key battleground in the Civil War itself, its historic significance is considerable. In comparison, the market is now a slightly shabby, down-at-heal symbol of a style of post-war architecture which is not well loved.
(Image via das kine)
But when you consider the decision on social grounds, things get somewhat murkier. When showing friends around the city, more than one has asked whether Castle Square was the ‘rough end’ of town. With its heavy traffic, unwelcoming taverns, budget shops and a glaring mishmash of architectural styles, the surrounding area doesn’t easily support the city’s attempt to sell itself as a haven for young middle class professionals. The market itself also has a reliably working class clientele, and though the premises will be relocated to a new, spruced-up site, there’s still a sense that they’re being moved on to aid a gentrification which threatens to price those on modest means out of the city centre altogether.
All of this should really lead to some discussion about what exactly a city centre is meant to be for. Should a bustling, vibrant marketplace belong in the heart of a city or as a mere appendage, to be kept at arms length from the Gaps and the Starbucks and Stradas which are the tidier, more presentable, more affluent artifice of its population? More generally, are there negative social consequences to the yuppification of places like Sheffield, Leeds & Manchester, or should we just accept that the old ways in which we used to shop and socialise no longer suit the times?