Once branded by George Orwell as “the ugliest town in the Old World”, Sheffield’s past and its cultural present are founded on one thing: the steel industry. During the 19th century, Sheffield witnessed explosive growth, the city we see today shaped by its industrial prosperity of old. So its leafy suburbs, for example, were purposely built up hill so that domestic residences would sit above the smog-blanketed centre of foundries and furnaces.
The cutlery works of Sheffield’s past have found new purpose in driving forward the city’s creative life; many now house galleries, independent shops and artist studios. Sheffield’s current status as the country’s greenest city is also, in some incongruous way, due to its industrial heritage: open spaces like the Botanical Gardens were designed to offer Victorian residents a much-needed breath of fresh air. While other cities bustle between high rises and shopping precincts, Sheffield is a place to pause and look around, whether inwards from its hillsides, over spires, chimneys and curling valleys, or outwards from the city centre, to the breeze and birdsong of the moorland that continues to inspire so many artists, designers and makers.
Diverse representations of gardens in art – including an early work by Stanley Spencer – come together to form this botanical exhibition at Sheffield’s Graves Gallery.