A bridge to the past

Berris Conolly
Berris Conolly
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IT has been the lifeblood of Sheffield for centuries, a waterway which has powered industry, aided communications and been the Sunday morning retreat of more than the odd bloke with a line and a box of bait.

But rarely, perhaps, has anyone captured the changing face of the River Don quite like Berris Conolly.

It was on a whim, in 1989, the professional photographer decided to take a picture of the stream from every Sheffield road bridge crossing it. Then, on another whim 20 years later, he decided to do exactly the same thing again.

Now the results – a fascinating depiction of the development (and sometimes lack of it) of the waterfront – are to go on public display for the first time this week.

“I couldn’t tell you why I did it,” shrugs the 64-year-old, of Burngreave. “The first time round I just liked the discipline of having a number of pictures to take but the second time? I don’t know. It seemed an obvious thing to do. I liked that comparison.”

It is a comparison which shows both how much the riverside has changed and, perhaps, just as surprisingly, how much it has stayed the same.

For every Blonk Street or Corporation Street bridge, where factories, bushes and spare land have been gentrified into apartments and offices, there is a Leppings Lane or East Coast Road crossing where the only thing that seems to have changed is the bushes have been trimmed back.

“And even that might be because I took the pictures at different times of year,” notes Berris, who is originally from London but never left Sheffield after arriving here in 1988 to undertake a separate photography commission for the old Untitled Gallery, in Brown Street. “I took the 1989 pictures in June and the 2009 ones in February.

The only other difference is the initial batch were shot in black and white, while the second were colour.

Pictures were taken both upstream and downstream from every road crossing between Oughtibridge Bridge and Tinsley Viaduct

“Well...” says Berris, a grandfather-of-one. “Every road bridge but one. I never did Club Mill Road in 1989 because I didn’t know it was there so I didn’t bother the second time round either. That means there are 17 bridges included.

“I hope people like them. I think it shows the change which can go unnoticed. I don’t know if it’s always been good change but it’s nice to have documented it.”

Six of Berris’s pictures will be on display at DLA Piper, St Paul’s Place, city centre, on Thursday, 6-8.30pm. Tickets available from a.j.jackson@sheffield.ac.uk for free. Berris has also released a book, River Don Seventeen Bridges, containing all 68 images and available from his website www.berrisconolly.com

Highlights on the Don

A walk down the River Don is a walk by some of Sheffield’s finest treasures – and Hillsborough football stadium too.

Attractions include:

Kelham Island Museum, Alma Street: The museum tells the story of Sheffield’s industry through the centuries and is home to England’s largest Bessemer Converter. Which is more impressive than it sounds.

i-Quarter, Blonk Street: A gleaming 17-storey skyscrapper symbolising Sheffield’s bright future or a monstrosity on the skyline? Either way, there’s no denying this apartment block is very blue.

Don Valley Stadium: The scene of the 1991 World Student Games, gigs by Bon Jovi and the Spice Girls, and a 1-0 win for Rotherham against Plymouth last weekend.

Weirs: There are five of them, and they make a right nice walk.