Sheffield, the place I called home for 27 years is a large city with a village feel. Sheffield is somewhat of a forgotten city despite being the 5th largest in the UK. The most people know about Sheffield is that it has 2 universities, Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University and is the home of the World Championship snooker every year at the Crucible Theatre. But what else do people know, well I bet it’s not about the cities unique landscape and history.
Sheffield developed at the point where 5 rivers merged, the Porter, the Don, the Sheaf (which gives the city its name), the Loxley and the Riverlin and is built on 7 hills. The city has in excess of 2 million tress (although the council seems to like removing them!) which makes it one of the most wooded cities in Europe and was once part of the ancient woodland than covered most of the ancient kingdom of Mercia.
There has been a settlement in the area for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until after the Norman Conquest in 1066 that a more permanent settlement developed. Sheffield got its first castle in the early 12th century. It was built by William de Lovetot, but was destroyed in 1266 along with the rest of the town during the Barons War. A new castle was begun in 1270 by Thomas de Furnival (there is a street called Furnival Gate still in the city). Whilst it was in the ownership of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick (a local woman who is a former incumbent of Chatsworth House (her descendent became the Dukes of Devonshire) and a friend of Queen Elizabeth) Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle as well as at the nearby Sheffield Manor for 14 years. The Furnival castle was damaged by an earthquake in 1574 (in my life Sheffield has experience 2 little ones) and was eventually destroyed in 1648 on the orders of Parliament during the Civil War as the castle was held for the King. Today the ruins of the castle are under the former Castle Market, but will be examined over the coming years as the site is developed. The oldest building in the city is the Queens Head Pub possibly built around the 1470’s. It is still a pub today.
Sheffield has suffered many times over the years.
1000’s – Settlement destroyed during the Harrying of the North.
1266 – Town destroyed during the Barons War.
1537 – Beauchief Abbey was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries. The Cannons who lived here did much for the local community, including acting as the local clergy.
1640’s – 1660’s – Impact of the Civil War
1832 – Cholera epidemic hits Sheffield as a result of poor living conditions due to the industrial revolution. 400+ died as a result and are remembered today at the Cholera Monument in Norfolk Park.
1864 – The great Sheffield Flood hit the city when the Dale Dike dam wall fails. 270 people died in the floods which hit the Loxley end of the city, but got as far as the city centre and where the current M1 motorway runs past Meadowhall (which was a highly industrialised area).
1940 – On the nights of the 12th to the 15th of December Sheffield is heavily bombed by the Germans during the Sheffield Blitz. My own family was affected as my Grandparents were bombed out of their lodgings. They were in the Abbeydale cinema across the road at the time. They were unhurt, as was their landlady. They moved in with their landlady’s family and remained there until after the war. The friendship continued and my Mum and her Brother regarded them as surrogate grandparents.
Sheffield is the proud home of steel and is known as the Steel City. It was in the 1740’s that Benjamin Huntsman developed a new process in the production of steel which lead to much more strength than any steel previously made using the crucible method (the containers it was made in). In the 1860’s Sir Henry Bessemer was instrumental in turning Sheffield into the powerhouse of steel manufacture. He built factories using his Bessemer converter method which put oxygen in to the iron to get rid of the impurities, thus the steel was of much better quality. In 1913 Harry Brearley developed the process of stainless steel in the city which revolutionised the way steel could be used.
Stainless steel also revolutionised another important industry that has been prevalent in the city for hundreds of years. Cutlery, razor and blade making. Since the 1600’s Sheffield had been the centre of cutlery manufacture in England. Most of my ancestors from the city and the surrounding environs were involved in the industry. They were sickle and scythe makers for farming and pocket and pen blade forgers and razor grinders for everyday use. By being able to make cutlery out of stainless steel it didn’t tarnish with use and was cheaper than having silver. Today the city still has a Master Cutler and a Cutlers Hall which was built in 1832 and is a grade 2* listed building.
There are many famous people from the city including those already mentioned. Helen Sharman was the first Briton in space and she went to the same secondary school I did (although she left 10 years before I went and the school’s name had changed, but it was the same buildings).
The city has had 2 recipients of the Victory Cross medal, William Barnsley Allen VC, DSO, MC and Arnold Loosemore VC DCM, both for gallantry during WW1.
In the sporting world we have Joe Root the current England Test Cricket Captain was born and raised in the city. Good luck in the Ashes! Also Michael Vaughan the former England Test Cricket Captain (I know he wasn’t born here, but he did live here).
People from the world of music born in the city include, Joe Cocker, Jarvis Cocker and Pulp, Paul Carrick, Def Leppard and the Human League amongst others.
So next time you think of Sheffield, remember the city does exist and I’m proud of the city as its where many of my ancestors were born and bred, as was I.