In the city centre of my home town, Sheffield, there strides an area of greenery called The Peace Gardens. The Peace Gardens has changed quite a bit over the years, but the message remains the same and it’s as important now as it always has been.
The Peace Gardens was designed and shaped in 1938 as part of a wider scheme to bring these areas of greenery into inner cities, and was originally named The St Paul’s Gardens after St Paul’s Church was demolished to make way. But in true Sheffield tradition the locals had other ideas and promptly nicknamed it The Peace Gardens as a nod to The Munch Agreement. Sadly war came to us not long after and following the Second World War the gardens were a simple symbol of the peace everyone hoped for.
As a young teenager who spent a fair amount of time in the gardens, back when they were a mass of wide green space and pretty flowered borders, I heard that the area got its name following the peace convention in the town hall that Picasso attended. Though this isn’t true, Picasso was indeed in town for the World Peace Congress in 1950. While here, Picasso drew a dove on a napkin, The Peace Dove. Of course, Picasso drew a lot of doves and is said to have first drawn a peace dove in Paris. Still, we like to think the great artist being so close to our beloved Peace Gardens could have created a connection.
For me, The Peace Gardens are a place I roamed on Saturdays as a young teenager, mis-spending my youth with cider and free-falling friends. It wasn’t always peaceful, but it was our place. It was a garden in the middle of a stone and concrete city centre.
In 1985 officials finally gave in and renamed the area The Peace Gardens, not that it made any difference, to us that’s what it always was anyway.
The Peace Gardens of my early twenties began to attract a reputation of being a place the homeless, the undesirables, the down at heel, would go and the benches by pretty borders of flowers were often occupied by someone sleeping the afternoon away.
Someone decided things had to change and The Peace Gardens were re-shaped and now feature cascades of water, leaping fountains that children run through in summer, and carefully tended borders of shrubbery and flowers. The area to the back of the gardens where the old town hall used to be (named by locals as ‘the egg box’ due to its shape) is now a complex of restaurants and the entrance to The Winter Gardens, and keeps its name, St Paul’s Square, and even has a hotel named after that old church that once stood where the gardens are now. But the gardens themselves were never called that by the people who live here. They were always The Peace Gardens to us. They stood through a world war, a peace congress, weddings and babies from the registry office. They were always a symbol of the peace we wanted. And that much hasn’t changed.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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