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Echoes of Blackburn Meadows
Echoes of Blackburn Meadows
The audio art walk involves memories of Blackburn Meadows' former employees

An Audio Art Walk around a disused power station near Meadowhall has been given a monetary boost to improve the area.

The Echoes of Blackburn Meadows project combines archive material with spoken memories of the former Blackburn Meadows power station at Tinsley in South Yorkshire.

The idea is that people will walk around the site while listening to memories from people who used to live and work there.

A hidden solar powered FM transmitter broadcasts the memories of former employees, hence the name of the project, Echoes of Blackburn Meadows.

Blackburn Meadows power station
Blackburn Meadows power station

Cultural geographer Jennifer Rich came up with the idea for the Audio Art Walk after her university dissertation about the history of Blackburn Meadows power station and how it was involved in the progress and development of Sheffield during the inter-war and post-war periods.

Jennifer worked with sound artist and graphic designer Lewis Heriz who compiled the archive material and memories to create the art and sound walk, and artist Tom Dixon who worked on the visual and technical side of the project, installing the FM transmitters around the walk to enable people to listen to audio histories as they walk around.

Initially the Arts Council granted £8000 to launch a prototype of the audio walk, and then in January 2010 an organisation called GreenPrints which encourages young people to improve green spaces awarded £10,000 so that the Echoes team and BCTV could make the environment around Blackburn Meadows cleaner and safer for people.

Memories of Blackburn Meadows

Jennifer Rich collected the memories from people who lived near or worked in the power station, to be used in the Audio Art Walk:

"It was inspiring to hear first-hand accounts of what it was like to be inside of one of Britain's most technologically advanced power stations during the mid-20th century.

"The old boys who worked there told me tales of Tinsley's infamous purple rain, a result of the air pollution from Blackburn Meadows which used to soil clean washing as it hung out to dry.

"I heard all about the electrical appliance retailers Wigfalls (or Wiggie's as it was better known), which had showrooms on Commercial Street near the tram bridge in Sheffield. People still remember queuing between the lamps at the showrooms to pay their electricity bills," says Jennifer. "They held exhibitions and demonstrations showing people how to cook with electric."

Sheffield Electrcity display at one of the electrical appliance showrooms
Sheffield Electrcity display at one of the electrical appliance showrooms

Gordon Sykes from Jordanthorpe started as an apprentice in 1952 and stayed for 24 years: "It was wonderful but very Victorian in the attitudes. As a lad I was stopped from wearing studs in my boots because the turbine hall floor was washed and polished every day.

"Mr Gill the foreman wouldn't let us call the fitters by their first names, it had to be Mr Smee, Mr Hadfield and so on. You wouldn't dream of speaking to the foreman unless you had something to say. Mr Gill had his armchair carried up to the turbine hall operating floor. He sat in it like a throne with his bowler hat on and his hands in his waistcoat directing operations. He was an amazing man."

Charles Bowser was a 16-year-old joiner's apprentice on the site in 1936: "I was employed by carpenters and joiners CH Gillam & Son. One day I went to the gate office for tea mugs. The fire brigade were there and I was told that a man had fallen off the scaffolding while they were erecting the cooling towers. The fire brigade had come to let him down and unfortunately he slipped through the sling and died."

Get involved

Jennifer Rich (second left) and the Junior Management Team prepare for extensive conservation work at the Echoes of Blackburn Meadows site
Jennifer (second left) and the team prepare for conservation work at the site

For the next stage of the Echoes of Blackburn Meadows project, 50 young volunteers are now needed to work on the site with BTCV between January and March 2010. They will plant hedges, resurface footpaths, install benches and build a small wetland to increase biodiversity on the site.

If you are aged between 16 and 25 and want to volunteer, email BTCV's John Thompson - j.thompson@btcv.org.uk - or phone 0114 2901255. No experience is necessary and BTCV provide all the tools, training, equipment and guidance.

Tinsley Towers

Blackburn Meadows power station was mostly demolished in the 1980s although a pair of cooling towers, the iconic Tinsley Towers, were left on the site.

Approaching Sheffield from the north on the M1, the cooling towers near Meadowhall told many motorists and passengers that they were nearly home in Sheffield.

But the towers were demolished in 2008 amongst much controversy. Now on the site is a small sub-station, pylons and sewage treatment works on the site.

Tinsley Towers were demolished on 24th August 2008
Tinsley Towers were demolished on 24th August 2008




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