Given the hill’s considerable slope, we made good time in reaching the city-center. We cut through a farm, where several pigs rummaged through the first spring shoots, and dashed before oncoming traffic on the only major thoroughfare separating the hill from the historical center. At one point, G. broke off the path which we had set ourselves so as to circle a church set a little off the street. On those hallowed grounds, he drew my attention to the walkway’s flagstones and the more peculiar among their number. Upon closer inspection, I could make out a series of letters and numbers, so many names and dates, and came to the realization that I was standing upon a gravestone.
G. related how the gravestones had long held his imagination, to the point that he had once inquired within as to their current status. It would seem that the pastor had taken pains to reassure my companion that the church had deconsecrated the stones before building them into the new walkways crisscrossing the grounds. So had the remains found a new home in a place unspecified. The contrast with London churchyard policy proved, for me, to be a jarring one.
Although both London and Sheffield had undertaken a campaign to repurpose their burial grounds, they had gone about the task in largely different ways. Where London’s civil authorities had removed most traces of the dead from their newfound greens and relegated what little remained to unseen corners, Sheffield’s men of the cloth had presumably secured themselves a larger say in the matter and had found a manner of integrating the dead into the newly opened church garden. Two days later, I would find similar gravemarkers turned flagstones outside Glasgow’s cathedral.
Despite their increased visibility, the dead had nonetheless been cast out from their resting places, and, perhaps out of a certain sympathy, we decided to press on. My memories of Sheffield’s center have gone to pieces with the passing months, so my impression of the centermost area now amounts to mere fragments held together by historical fancy. Joined to my recollection of the sparsely peopled streets I now find the sounds of a funfair, blaring the radio top one hundred, just as unoccupied 1970’s office blocks run into my vision of the imposing, late 19th century city hall, bristling with carved motifs and miniature spires.
After noting that the cathedral was of relatively little interest, G. led me through the Pakistani neighborhoods, which marked a borderland of sorts between historical center and the network of streams feeding the old ironworks. Though I had not yet taken notice of its presence at the head of one such stream, a black fox awaited our arrival.