A walk through the Neepsend area of Sheffield doesn’t exactly bring you at one with nature. The area was heavily industrialised in the 19th century and today it’s an urban explorer’s paradise with many old factory buildings standing derelict and frozen in time. You have to look hard to find any hint of greenery here, but in this landscape of chimneys and brick, there are small pockets of nature in the most surprising places.
In Neepsend itself there are only two remaining pubs – The Forest and The Gardner’s Rest. In an area so defined by industry it begs the question, why are the only two pubs here named after nature?
The Forest is the easiest one. Neepsend was once an area of vast forest, which was partly cleared when Scandinavian settlers came in the 10th century. The remaining wood was totally erased in the 18th and 19th century to make way for industry. Pretty impressive that a pub has managed to hold onto the spirt of a forest that’s been gone for so long.
And then there’s The Gardeners Rest. This one is a little more difficult. Why would gardeners need to rest here? It seems the only explanation for this is that the bottom of nearby Parkwood Springs once had an area of allotments and the gardeners would walk up after they’d finished planting and tending for the day to drink in the nearest pub. (on a side note, it seems there was a printers next door in the 70s called Parkin and Bacon, and the owner at the time was called Ernest. This may only interest my family, as our grandfather was called Ernest Parkin!)
I love the fact that in this fairly desolate and bleak part of town, two pubs choose to keep their link to a history of a very different way of life, and not only that, they celebrate it.
The beer garden at The Gardner’s Rest has to be one of the most unusual beer gardens in Sheffield, and yes, it is a garden. A maple springs from the ground before picnic benches and a Fatsia Jasponica, the paperplant, splays its leaves above low tubs and small potted plants. There’s a wood burner roaring out a real fire in the evenings, and stepping into this wonderland of a beer garden is so at odds with the area surrounding the pub, it really does feel like you’ve gone through the wardrobe.
It’s rare to see quite such a juxtaposition, but it seems no matter how we might clear fields and forests to make way for factories and progress, at the same time we need to hold onto it and we continue to feel the need to bring it back, even if only in a small way.
The Gardeners Rest, recently faced with closure, was taken on by a community group who now run it. The beer is good, the company and atmosphere is good, and you can slip through into the back garden and feel the spirit of those gardeners from the allotments who once took a rest here.
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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