Monthly Archives: June 2017

Exploring Tasmania – Cascades Female Factory

Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Tasmania:  Nursery

Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Tasmania: Nursery

The history of European settlement in Australia is founded on the convict experience which began with the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney in 1788.

Three sites in Tasmania, which was founded as a penal colony in 1803, illustrate the rigours and the remoteness of the places to which offenders were transported from Britain until as late as 1853.

Richmond Gaol is sufficiently intact to show the actual cramped conditions of the prisoners’ physical environment.  Port Arthur, though ruined, is extensive and has sufficient remains to illustrate in  breadth and detail how convicts and their guards lived and died.

Only vestiges remain of the Cascades Female Factory in suburban Hobart, yet its imaginative restoration and interpretation, using sculpture and live actors, makes the memories it carries evocative and easy to comprehend.

In the upside-down world of convict settlements down under, segregation created odd distinctions.

Female convicts were customarily sent to “factories”, effectively workhouses, for three reasons:  either they were sheltered because of good behaviour on the voyage from Britain, or they were thought to be capable of reformation if removed from criminal influences, or they were so reprehensible that they needed containment away from the main prison system.

These categories were, at the insistence of the Lieutenant Governor, Sir George Arthur (1784-1854), “on no account to be suffered to communicate with each other”.

The factory at the Cascades was designed by the Colonial Engineer John Lee Archer (1791-1852), and was repeatedly extended.  The first prisoners arrived from the overcrowded Hobart Gaol in December 1828, and further courtyards were added in 1832, 1842, 1850 and 1852.

From 1856 the site was redesignated as a prison, and female prisoners left the site completely in 1877.

Nearly all the buildings were subsequently demolished, apart from some of the substantial boundary walls.  The only remaining historic building is the Matron’s Quarters of 1850.

This emptiness is put to remarkably good use.  The archaeology has been investigated and reburied to conserve it, and the outlines are indicated by gravel paths and paving, walls of stone chippings in metal net cages and structures and sculptures in rust-coloured iron.

This apparently unpromising minimalist approach is surprisingly effective, because it challenges the visitor’s imagination, and those who like their history brought to life can follow actors in character around the site telling the stories of those who lived and worked here nearly two centuries ago.

In a different way to the film-set completeness of Richmond Gaol and the mown and manicured ruins at Port Arthur, this site informs the imagination.  I liked it.

Exploring Tasmania – Port Arthur

Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

I’ve wanted to visit Port Arthur ever since I read Matthew Kneale’s haunting novel English Passengers (2000): https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Passengers-Matthew-Kneale/dp/0140285210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489093076&sr=8-1&keywords=Matthew+Kneale+English+Passengers.

It’s a beautiful, miserable, fascinating place.

Set in a cove near the southern tip of Tasmania, the penal colony was founded in 1833 as a high-security jail for transported prisoners who were too recalcitrant for the main convict settlements of New South Wales.

Port Arthur was practically escape-proof:  the only direct land-access was by a narrow spit at Eaglehawk Neck.  By sea there was nothing to the south but Antarctica, to the east New Zealand, to the west the continent of Africa.

Islands in the cove were given over to the first reformatory for boys in the British Empire, Port Puer, and a cemetery, the Isle of the Dead, where convicts, guards and the guards’ families were buried in strict hierarchical order.

The modern tourist site also contains an area commemorating the thirty-five people who died in the Port Arthur Massacre, when a lone gunman on a killing spree fired on visitors in the café, gift shop and car-park areas on April 28th 1966.

When the penal colony was first founded there was much work to do, and the settlement was intended to be self-sufficient.  The Penitentiary itself was initially built as a water-powered mill.

Though Port Arthur was built by physical convict labour, its design reflected contemporary ideas about using psychological punishment to alter prisoners’ minds.

The dominant building on the whole site is the huge Convict Church, its central position symbolising the place of religion in the process of reforming wrong-doers.

The Separate Prison was built to the specification of Jeremy Bentham’s aborted Panopticon project, which allowed all inmates to be supervised from a central point, without individual prisoners having any personal contact with any other individual prisoner or guard.

The idea was that prisoners would have time to contemplate their predicament and the evil ways that brought them to it.

The outcome was that some of them simply went mad.

Exploring Tasmania – Richmond

Richmond Gaol, Tasmania, Australia

Richmond Gaol, Tasmania, Australia

The town of Richmond (population 880), fifteen miles north of Hobart, is a popular tourist spot with links back to the early history of European settlement in Australia.

In the early years of the nineteenth century settlers established themselves around Hobart and began to supply wheat to the rest of the colony of New South Wales, of which Tasmania formed part until it became a separate colony in 1825.

A ford across the Coal River provided a vital link between Hobart and the east coast of what was then called Van Diemen’s Land, and the British lawyer John Thomas Bigge (1780-1843), sent from London to report on the colony’s administration, recommended replacing the ford with a bridge.

Richmond Bridge, the first stone-arch bridge and the oldest bridge still in use in Australia, was built by convict labour in 1823-5, and the surrounding settlement was designated and named in 1824.

Richmond Gaol, opened in 1825 and enlarged in 1832-33, survives almost intact as a historic site, giving a vivid impression of the misery of convict life.  It remained in use until the mid-1850s.

Richmond grew to be the third biggest town in the colony.  Its Catholic church, St John’s (1836), is the oldest in Australia, designed from a plan provided by the Bath architect Henry Edmund Goodridge (1797-1864).  It was extended, making clumsy use of a plan by A W N Pugin, in 1858.

The Anglican parish church of St Luke, designed by the Colonial Engineer, John Lee Archer and built with convict labour, opened in the same year.

An alternative road, the Sorrell causeway, opened in 1872 and bypassed Richmond, leaving it as a reminder of the Georgian origins of Tasmania.

The Richmond Arms Hotel, formerly the Commercial Hotel of 1888, replaced a predecessor destroyed by fire.  It’s one of a number of attractive places to eat and drink in the village:  http://www.richmondarmshotel.com.au.

Richmond thrives on its tourist trade, an easy drive from Hobart and accessible by bus:  http://www.richmondvillage.com.au/home.html.

Chapel of ease

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

It’s no accident that the main road through Attercliffe, the industrial east end of Sheffield, is called Attercliffe Common.

Until 1811 it was indeed agricultural common land, where the highwayman Spence Broughton was gibbeted in 1792 near to the scene of his crime.  His name and the location are commemorated in nearby Broughton Lane.

After the enclosure the salubrious country homes and villas of the valley were overrun by steelworks and housing, so that only their names survive in the street-plan – Attercliffe Old and New Halls, Woodbourn Hall and Chippingham House, though part of the Jacobean Carbrook Hall, with its original panelling, plaster ceilings and ghost, survived and still survives as a public house.

Of similar age to Carbrook Hall is another unlikely survival, Hill Top Chapel, a simple Gothic-survival building of 1629, built ostensibly because the journey to Sheffield parish church, now the Cathedral, was said to be impossible in winter.

It was built by subscription, with contributions from William Spencer of Attercliffe Hall and Stephen Bright (1583-1642) of Carbrook Hall.  His younger brother Rev John Bright (1594/5-1643) was vicar of Sheffield from 1635 until the year of his death.  Both of them, like most influential people in Sheffield, were Puritans.

Stephen Bright’s son, John (1619-1688), was an important figure supporting Parliament in the Civil Wars, and politically astute enough to be awarded a baronetcy at the Restoration.  He retired to Badsworth, near Wakefield.

The Brights’ puritan influence remained in Attercliffe, where a dissenting academy was founded in 1686.

The steelmaker Benjamin Huntsman was buried in the Hill Top graveyard in 1776.

The Hill Top Chapel remained the only Anglican place of worship between Sheffield and Rotherham until a new parish church, Christ Church, Attercliffe, was consecrated in 1826. 

By the 1840s the chapel served only for funerals in the surrounding graveyard. 

After Attercliffe Cemetery opened in 1859 alongside Christ Church, even that function declined, yet the chapel and the graveyard survived amid the grimy industrial works and densely packed streets of terraced housing.

The structure was reduced and substantially rebuilt by John Dodsley Webster in 1909.

The exterior featured in the music video of ‘Sensoria’, by the Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2vCpT1H7u0 – made in 1984, an interesting moment of change in the landscape of the Lower Don Valley.

In the late 1990s Hill Top Chapel accommodated an offshoot of the Nine o’Clock Service [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nine-oclock-church-relaunches-services-1303804.html], which was witnessed by a bemused mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website:  http://shipoffools.com/mystery/1998/026Mystery.html.

The building is now used, appropriately, by a Presbyterian congregation that proudly recalls the building’s Puritan heritage:  http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/about-us/hill-top-chapel.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

The most haunted pub in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Some historians suggest that the fact that Attercliffe is mentioned first in the Domesday Survey of 1086 – “Ateclive & Escaveld” – is an indication that Attercliffe was more significant than Sheffield before the building of the Norman castle.

Certainly there was a manor house belonging to the Blunt family by 1176 and this house was rebuilt in 1462 and became Carbrook Hall.

It was purchased by Thomas Bright, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, in the late-sixteenth century and the surviving stone-built wing was built c1620 for Stephen Bright (1583-1642), bailiff of the Earl of Arundel’s Hallamshire estates from 1622 and later lord of the manor of Ecclesall.

Stephen Bright’s son, Sir John (1619-1688) helped co-ordinate the siege of Sheffield Castle in 1644 from the Hall.

The Brights’ Carbrook estate passed repeatedly through the female line, and it seems that later generations let the building from early in the eighteenth century.

The house was more extensive than the surviving remnant:  it was surveyed by William Fairbank in 1777, and E Blore’s engraving in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire:  the history and topography of the parish of Sheffield in the county of York (1819) shows an elaborate jettied timber wing and other outbuildings.

There remain two elaborate interiors with fine oak panelling and plasterwork, possibly the work of the same craftsmen who decorated the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle.

The lower room has an oak chimney piece dated 1623 with Corinthian columns and strapwork and a depiction of Wisdom trampling on Ignorance, with scrolls containing mottoes.  A very similar fireplace, originally at Norton House, is now preserved at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The stone fireplace in the upper chamber is stone, and instead of columns features unusual caryatids.  In a nearly circular cartouche is an image of the pelican in her piety.

Carbrook Hall became a public house sometime in the nineteenth century – all surviving photographs show it without the timbered wing – and in that guise it became an unlikely survivor of the days when Attercliffe was rural:  http://www.sheffieldcamra.org.uk/2016/10/heritage-pubs-with-dave-pickersgill-carbrook-hall.

In recent times it has traded on a reputation as “the most haunted pub in Sheffield”, giving rise to investigations and reports that lose nothing in the telling:  http://www.project-reveal.com/carbrook-hall-ghosts/4540202323.

In February 2017 the Carbrook Hall closed as a pub, to the distress of CAMRA and local workers.  The new owner, West Street Leisure, has not yet disclosed future plans for the building, beyond saying that its status as a Grade II* listed building will be respected.  Conservationists are concerned that if it stands empty it will be vulnerable to vandalism: [http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/fight-to-protect-historic-haunted-pub-in-sheffield-passes-first-hurdle-1-8539851].

This rare survival, a fragmentary reminder of the days when Attercliffe Common really was common land and Meadowhall was surrounded by meadows, contains one of the finest historic interiors in the city.

I hope it’ll be open for the public to enjoy again very soon.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.