Sheffield, the road to Women’s rights

The birth of female activism

In the last budget the chancellor announced funding for the key cities involved in the fight for women’s suffrage which is being celebrated this year as it is the centenary of women getting the vote. Sheffield was not on the list.  Enquiries have found that this was because Sheffield Council did not apply. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as the history of women activists in Sheffield is not one that is celebrated. There have been only two plaques put up to women in the city.  One at Kelham Island that recognises Enid Hattersley’s contribution and one to Adela Pankhurst in Malborough Road. Mary Ann Rawson’s grave lies in a forgotten graveyard till recently unkempt and was about to be tarmacked over. Most people till recently would be saying “Mary Ann who?”

You might think that having a woman council leader and a woman mayor might have changed things,  but women are not always the strongest arbiters of their own cause. Queen Victoria strangely saw women who had a political opinion as “un-natural” and women’s rights whether it be the vote, equal pay, or political spokesperson has a long history of being ignored or ridiculed. But the road to women’s activism which shook the world started in Sheffield.

In 1791 women abolitionists took to the newspapers and the streets to persuade people to avoid buying slave produced sugar. Estimates suggest that they persuaded 300’000 people to abandon sugar.  Possibly the first time ethical consumerism was used to make a political point. The size and strength of feeling demonstrated by these popular protests made even pro-slavery politicians consider the consequences of ignoring public opinion. One pro-slavery lobbyist of the time noted that the ‘Press teems with pamphlets upon the subject … The stream of popularity runs against us.’

Women discovered that the newspapers gave them a voice because a letter could be published in the paper anonymously, their speeches reported, their public statements published. In Sheffield the paper that helped enable the ordinary man or woman on the street to be heard was the Sheffield Register. The paper was run by Joseph and Winifred Gales. Winifred was a published novelist and poet. Some people think that she sometimes wrote the editorials. She seems to have supplied poems too. Her main job was running the Newspaper Office and she may have helped as copy editor for some of the less literate contributors. Joseph Gales certainly did. Both masters and workers had a great respect for the Gales. When Joseph had to flee from the country due to charges of insurrection being laid against him, the city moved to protect and Winifred and offered her financial aid to continue.  Despite being pressured by the authorities she carried on running the paper, turning away offers to buy it which she saw as a government plot to close the paper down.

Winifred arranged for the paper to be sold to James Montgomery with Joseph’s sisters having a small share. This arrangement no doubt angered the authorities who had hoped for the paper to be shut down. Winifred then packed her bags and took her children and a young apprentice on a perilous journey to Germany to meet up with her husband. The family settling in America where her husband and sons ran several newspapers. Winifred wrote a second novel. In effect the first American novel.

Hannah Kilham nee Spurr was born in 1774. Her mother died when she was 12 and her father when she was 14 . In 1798 she married Alexander Kilham the founder of the New Connexion Methodists, but became a widow soon after. In 1801 she joined the Society of Friends. She  supported herself and step daughter by teaching and helped set up two schools for the poor in Sheffield.  In 1817 she decided to go to Sierra Leone as a missionary teacher. She produced text books in several African languages and opened a number of schools

Christianity could be brought to Africa, she believed, only by African teachers educated to a high level in their own languages.  Before ever going to Africa she worked among the poor in near-famine conditions in Ireland, where she formulated two important principles: that it was as important to educate the children of poor people to feed them, and that no society could be satisfactory unless its poorest members could be consumers as well as workers.

On 26 October 1823 she set sail for the first time to Africa, heading for Gambia when she opened her first two African schools. Some of children she taught had been rescued from slave ships, and were so emaciated as to be practically walking skeletons but they were keen to learn. Without receiving children direct from a ship she said she would never have understood the full vileness of slavery. She went back to Britain to campaign for the education of freed slaves, maintaining that they could not thrive without education. She set up a large school in the Gambia for children rescued from the slave ships. She died while sailing to Sierra Leone in 1832 so never saw the abolition of the slave trade act enacted.

Mary Anne Rawson nee Reade  (1801-1887) was born to Joseph and Elizabeth Read, wealthy parents who encouraged her involvement with good causes. Her abiding interest from the mid-1820s to the 1850s was to lead the campaign for anti-slavery in the Sheffield area. Rawson was a founding member in 1825 of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, which campaigned for the rights of the slaves in the British Empire The Sheffield society was the first Anti-Slavery Society to campaign not for a gradual and managed end, but an immediate end to slavery.  Following passage of the abolition legislation, the society formally ended in 1833.

In 1837 Rawson became secretary of the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery, which continued the case for enslaved workers across the world. The anti-slavery organisations run by women were sometimes dismissed as of marginal interest, but recent research has revealed that these groups had a national impact.

Both Hannah Kilham and Mary Ann Rawson’s view of slavery stemmed from their deep religious views. Both worked substantially with the local poor as well as campaigning against slavery, but some felt that abolitionists were ignoring the harsh conditions at home.

On your altars petitions were laid for the abolition of slavery, and were numerously signed, even after divine service, on the Sabbath, in many places; let those altars be now consecrated to a not less holy project. Let the cry of the oppression at your own doors excite an interest, at least, as powerful as that which was called forth by the wrongs of strangers; and let us, at least, have one proof that you are not entirely dead to the claims of domestic misery, and the demands of most holy faith (Northern Star 28 May 1842)

The problems that arose from the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars together with new poor laws were felt especially by the women of the city. The Corn law which kept prices high and the boycott of American trade hit the people hard.

In 1812 a riot flared up across Sheffield and resulting in the local Militia’s arms being smashed up. Described as a petty thief Mary Gibbons was charged with theft and sentenced to several months in Wakefield jail.  Closer examination would seem to indicate that Mary Gibbons was working in concert with Leeds Luddites and was in fact the leader of the riot, but local authorities played down the whole riot, possibly because some of the militia had actually joined in. They said it was more about a hungry populace than insurrection. Not much is known about Mary other than she was 48 at the time, lived in Coalpit Lane now Cambridge Street and was wife to a file cutter.

In Manchester in 1819 a peaceful demonstration led by women protesting for electoral reform and against the Corn laws was attacked by cavalry resulting in the 10 deaths including four women and a child. In Sheffield the massacre was loudly condemned. So Sheffield women were not unaware of the risks of protest.

Women were under pressure because of the new poor laws which meant they had to pay to prosecute the father of their child for subsistence and consequently many women ended in the Workhouse. They called it the Bastille.  At the same time as Mary Ann Rawson was appealing to the “Christian women of Sheffield”  to consider the plight of the woman slave, other women were calling for universal suffrage.

In 1839 the Chartist women formed the Radical Female Association in Fig Tree Lane. A rallying speech was published in the paper.

Women of Sheffield-you are met, perhaps the first time in your lives, to consider the propriety of forming an Association to co-operate and assist your husbands and fathers, your sons and your brothers, in causing the People’s Charter to become the law of the land. Without any apology, I proceed to address you upon the importance of the great object you have in view. You are well aware that there are persons that will say that women have no right to interfere with politics; but I ask is it not high time that every individual in Great Britain, to whom God has imparted reason should immediately study the science of political economy, when it is stated in No. 4 of the Corn Law Circular, that there is one manufacturer in Manchester who has discharged no less than one thousand hands from his employment, who can neither pay school wage, rent, or taxes, and when there are shopkeepers and tradesmen becoming bankrupts, who were dependant upon the above- mentioned  unfortunate artisans for their support? Is it not also requisite, I ask, that every woman be conversant with political science, when there are thousands of hard-worked, half-fed, and half-clothed Factory children calling aloud for assistance to break the chains of slavery from their necks? Is it not the duty of every individual in the kingdom to join an Association which has for its object the attainment of the people’s Charter, when there are thousands of wretched and miserable females in this country obliged to commit vice prostitution, and crime of every description, or die in the streets, because their husbands and fathers for want of political power to compel the Legislature of this country to grant free trade, cannot support them as every man ought to be enabled to do out of the proceeds of his own hard labour and industry. Women of Sheffield! To you, then, I appeal. Shall this state of things exist? No! Methinks I hear a host of female voices exclaim, the atrocities of the new Poor Law, and the villainies of the old Corn Law, are of themselves sufficient to call forth the most energetic endeavours to gain the People’s Charter, in order that these and all other grievances may be immediately redressed! Would to God that the magistrates of this land, instead of sitting day by day, and week after week, to pass sentence upon culprit after culprit, would meet in one concentrated spot, and there and then consider the most efficient means of enabling every man in the United Kingdom to support, by his own honest industry, the children would then be a blessing onto him. Having thus given a few reasons out of the many which may be argued to induce you to make the most strenuous of endeavours to assist to obtain our most sacred and inalienable rights, I would impress upon you the necessity of  keeping peace, law and order, and of educating your children, by improving their moral powers, and cultivating their intellect, for I am persuaded the time is not far distant, when intelligence and honesty instead of wealth and property, will be the popular standard of all true greatness!

In conclusion I would remark, that with God to help us, and you to assist us the Bible and Justice on our side, neither Monarchy, Aristocracy, nor all the powers of earth or hell can or shall prevail against us. Remember our motto is, “United we stand-divided we fall.”

In Sheffield the women Chartists could not be called middle class.   Eliza Rooke born in Lincolnshire and married to a York confectioner who moved to Sheffield. Abiah Higginbotham daughter of a miller and whose husband was a Spring Knife Cutler, Eliza  Cavill whose husband was a file cutter and kept the Democratic Temperance Hotel, Kate Ash wife of a spring knife cutler. All their husbands were Chartists too but the women were more often quoted in the press than their husbands.  Across the country a third of all those signing the Charter were women.

Male Chartists were unsure about women getting the vote and they dropped the idea from the Charter feeling that it would only cloud the issue. In Sheffield however, it would seem that the men did still back the women. Perhaps in part this was due to the nature of the manufacturing in Sheffield which had a strong reliance on “little Mester” and the whole family being involved including wives, sisters and daughters.

Mr. Gill next vindicated the claims of the female sex to an equality of rights with the male, and concluded a lengthy and excellent speech by earnestly appealing to his hearers to labour to make it known the glorious principles of Chartism among their kindred and Kind.”  1841

Elsewhere in the country some were suggesting that the female chartist groups were coming to an end and they were glad. Many were worried by the connections with revolutionary France and America. In Sheffield the women shared a letter from French Women imprisoned for their campaigning. A moving letter that in publishing it many male commentators would have called foolish and meddling in international politics that women couldn’t possibly understand. It was not surprising that Flora Tristan, an engraver, and promoter of trade unionism for all would send her letter to Abiah Higginbotham, a spring knife cutler’s wife, secretary of the women’s political association.

The darkness of reaction has obscured the sun of 1848. Why? – because the storm, in overthrowing the throne and the scaffold, in breaking the chains of the black slave, had forgotten to break also the chain of woman-this pariah of humanity; for after, as before the revolution, she is nothing, and she can do nothing for herself; she is not reckoned as a member of society. She is without a name and a country – her name! It is the name of her master, or the father, or the husband. Her country, whether she be born on the banks of the Tagus, Ganges, Thames or the Seine, it is the country of her master; for she ever bears the law imposed by man.” 1851

As for folding up Sheffield women were coming out strongly with speeches like this.

Sisters we live in an age distinguished from all preceding times by the intellectual progress of the working classes; the industrious millions have began to think for themselves and have discovered that the great cause of all the evils that effect them is class legislation; a most important sign of the times is the wide-spread contempt with which the working classes now regard the trade of butchery and blood-spilling heretofore dignified with the title of the profession of arms. This augurs well for the future, and affords us a bright and buoyant hope that the time is not far distant when men will refuse to become the hired murderers of their fellow men and when the reign of violence and tyranny will give place to the empire of peace and justice. Sisters, we appeal to you to  help your brethren in their warfare against the despotism of class legislation, that we have equal rights and equal laws  by the establishment of the People’s Charter as the law of the land. In conclusion, we beg of you never to forget our petition, signed by three millions and a half of the starving people, spurned rejected by the proud aristocrats of England.”   Signed on behalf of the female Chartists of Sheffield.  Ann Harrison Chairwoman  1842


Many women worked as cutlers and file cutters with their husband or father, and many women took over the business when their husband died. An article discussing stopping women working in the file cutting business came to the conclusion that losing the 300 women in the trade would cause serious economic damage. Attitudes to women in Sheffield by authorities was mixed. A woman Mester  in 1847 who complained of being Rattened by a Union  man had her rights as a Mester upheld despite the Union man claiming she could not be a Mester as that was a man’s title.  In the same year an attempt was made to remove women from the File trade.

The File Trade- We regret to learn that this trade still remains in a very unsettled state, owing to the majority of the members to stop the working of women and girls at file cutting. There are now upwards of 200 so employed. Of those 170 are the wives and daughters of members of the trade and the rest are widows or orphans of members of the deceased.”


By 1865 the File trade recorded that over 1’600 women and boys were employed. At that time the File trade had the biggest Union in Sheffield although no women were allowed membership.   

In 1859 five women buffers were prosecuted for a walk out because of their employers violent attacks on Union men who tried to talk to the workers.. They  were described as five Foolish Virgins, despite the fact that they were all married and in their 30s ,and told to go back to work and serve their notice and not to be so foolish. Ironically their employer was the younger brother of Richard Otley a well known Sheffield Chartist.

In 1869 Miners wives from Handsworth were arrested and tried for rioting during a miner’s strike, but it was treated more as just tempers frayed. Women as a political force always had the problems of  being taken seriously.

As Chartist protest faded due to electoral reform and the abolition of the enforced high cost of corn , Chartist women in Sheffield regrouped and created a women’s political association. Its members were approached in that year by Anne Knight, a Quaker activist in the antislavery movement who had been at the same abolitionist conference as Mary Ann Rawson in London in 1840. She and Mary Ann were part of a very small female contingent allowed to be present, and despite being major campaigners were forbidden to speak.  Anne Knight became convinced that women had to have the vote in order to have their voices heard. She contacted a famous Sheffield chartist councillor named Isaac Ironside who put her in touch with Eliza Rook, one of the women who were on the committee of the women’s political association. She was well known to the women through her pamphlets on women’s suffrage.

Anne Knight encouraged  the women to rename it the Women’s Rights Association in 1851 and used her influence and her experience of public relations to help them successfully to petition parliament.

hope deferred maketh the heart sick,” and we have waited too long, cherished that hope too much, until we have found that we must organise independent of our brothers, and fight our own battle; and proud are we to say that our humble appearance on the field, and the few steps we have taken, have proved satisfactory, for the congratulations we continue to receive from various quarters embolden us to go forward in faith until the accomplishment of Universal Suffrage in its full extent is achieved. Although we agree in the Six Points, we feel convinced that the first obtained will open the road to all. As for your proposition of a seventh, I would rather dispense with it, for our humble abilities are but directed in a course which, if carried out, will not only do justice to us, but be  instrumental of much good to society. Abiah Higginbotham February 1851


“To the Honorable the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, the humble petition of the Female inhabitants of the Borough of Sheffield, in the Country of York, in public meeting assembled.

“SHEWETH,-That we the females of Sheffield do approach yourHonourable House will all due respect, to make known our desires and opinions upon a subject which we consider is a right withheld,-but which legitimately belongs to our sex –the enfranchisement of Women. Therefore, we beseech your Honourable House to take into your serious consideration the propriety of enacting an “Electoral Law,” which will include  ADULT FEMALES Within its provisions, and your petitions as in duty bound will ever pray.” Signed on behalf of the meeting,

Mrs Abiah Higginbottom, chairwoman.

In 1852 they appointed Anne Knight as their president and began linking other female political associations together becoming the National Women’s Rights Association. It took till 1918 that some women actually got the vote and another 10 years before all women got the vote.  Full recognition within the Trade Union movement took quite a while longer. In Present times women registering for the vote has dropped. With half the population of the UK being women. Perhaps Sheffield Council and other local politicians that have overlooked  our city’s history, need to realise the debt they owe to Women activists of Sheffield.

“Chartists who abandoned their sisters in their demand for Universal Suffrage and called that universal which was only half- that complete which is incomplete, and not merely a logical inaccuracy, but an injury in a political sense, as they have deserted the interests of the major part of the nation; and in so doing

” Rob us of that which enriches them,

  And makes us poor indeed.”                      Anne Knight 1851








Gales Family Papers 1815-1939 Gales Family Papers #2652-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The Heathen at Home and Overseas: The Middle Class and the Civilising Mission, Sheffield 1790-1843 by Alison A. Twells Submitted for the degree of DPhil, University of York, Department of History

September 1997

Memoir of the Late Hannah Kilham chiefly compiled from her Journal and edited by her daughter in law Sarah Biller of St Petersburg – London Darton and Harvey, Gracechurch Street 1837

Founding of Female Radical Association – The Sheffield  Iris, Tuesday, June 18th, 1839

Ann Harrison’s appeal to Queen Victoria – The Northern Star Saturday June 4th 1842

Women Buffer’s strike – supplement to the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, June 11th 1859

Intimidation woman Scissor Manufacturer – Sheffield and Rotherham Independent January 2 1847

Women in Miners Strike Supplement to Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Saturday September 13th 1879

Women’s Rights Association Petition – The Dundee Courier Wednesday, March 5, 1851

Anne Knight to be appointed president National Women’s Right’s Association -The Northern Star and National Trades Journal. Vol. XV. No. 748. London, Saturday, March 6th, 1852

Anne Knight’s appeal to Male Chartists –  Northern Star and Leeds Advertiser 29th March 1851

Appeal to the Christian Women of Sheffield – The Sheffield Independent Saturday January 20, 1838

Gill vindicates Female Suffrage – The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser Saturday 11 September 1841

French Women’s letter to  Abiah Higginbotham,   Reynolds’s Newspaper June 21st 1851

Newspaper articles accessed through British Newspaper Archives


Happy New Year. Come and Join Us.

This year has been a year of great highs and lows and I suppose also for me a building sense of frustration.

The mood re heritage groups has been buoyant. The workshops in conjunction with the National Trust has created a focus for Joined up Heritage and a direction to be heading. Meetings continue to be well attended. Several I have attended have been packed with more seats having had to be brought in. The two day conference was full of vitality and enthusiasm. As it was Joined Up Heritages 3rd conference and not such an easy time slot that has to be pretty indicative of the growing enthusiasm for networking and collaboration across the city.

On the 6th of May the Green Spaces Forum was officially launched. This organisation born out of the 90 odd friends of Parks organisations aiming to unite  these organisations under a green spaces forum umbrella organisation to allow a much clearer line of communication throughout the sector in Sheffield, also empowering Groups to support each other and to create new partnerships. Their aims are much the same as Joined up Heritage and indeed many members of the Green Spaces Forum are also involved in Joined up Heritage.

The Cultural Consortium was set up in 2010, The Consortium is not a representative body, but aims to provide strategic leadership for the sector. Since January 2014, additional members have been invited to join, to better reflect the range of cultural activity in the city. Through the Festival of the Makers events starting in 2016 links have been formed between Joined Up Heritage and the Cultural Consortium.  From the commercial side of the city links have been made with Joined up Heritage ,  independent traders and the Federation of small Businesses. The Sheffield Civic Trust has taken on the Heritage Open Days over the last few years and won a National award  for it and Sheffield HOD is now held up as an exemplar to other cities.

It is difficult to assess how many people are linked together across the city. It is a sign of several things. Frustration due to previous poor lines of communication. A drive to make dwindling funds go further by prioritising and avoiding duplication, and a push to make voices heard before  any planning decisions are made that could damage Sheffield’s ability to market that which makes the city unique.

Events and visitor numbers to heritage events has exploded in the last 4 years. Partly due to the quality of event now being held, and the better communication online. There is still a way to go but HOD and Museums at Nights and the Big Draw in 2017, are getting events known outside Sheffield.  With the loss of funding for tourism with the closure of the regional enterprise boards it has been an uphill struggle. Two great festivals have had an impact on increasing outside and overseas visitors, Docsfest and Off the Shelf, but as yet advertising in conjunction with big events like this and the major sporting events does not seem to be happening in any consistent way. There is also no real statistics re day visitors.  business visitors, conference visitors  and tourists. Unlike other Northern Cities Sheffield Council does not have a specific committee for tourism and culture.  On the contrary Sheffield Council has announced the closure of the tourism office saying that it was not necessary. I think this is more a reflection of how little Sheffield is seen as a potential tourist destination by the Council, rather than it not being needed.

A lot of interesting partnerships have been formed, some permanent, some temporary. They have brought together funding and volunteers creating great relationships and fantastic events.

Here’s some examples

Heeley Development Trust, Friends of Meersbrook Park, Friends of Meersbrook Hall, Ruskin in Sheffield and the St George’s Guild (John Ruskin’s trust) Walkley Community, Rivelin Valley Conservation Group, Manor Field’s Park, Manor Lodge, and Museum Sheffield.     Together they ran the Great Draw event The Ruskin in Sheffield 2017 programme of events focussed on drawing, which John Ruskin believed helped people to see the world clearly, and care for it.  The Big Draw Festival events in WalkleyManor and Meersbrook included  free drawing, sculpture, walks and other creative activities. The collaboration was part  of  the world’s largest drawing festival, the Big Draw Festival, as well as the John Ruskin Prize in 2017, both of which are supported by the Guild of St George.


Waterfront Festival

The main organisers were the Canal and River Trust and SIMT at Kelham Island. This was a two day event including the River Stewardship Company, CMS, Born and Raised and the Hilton Sheffield Hotel and  Friends of Blue Loop and a host of small heritage groups. It turned out to be the biggest festival of its kind in Sheffield with over 5’000 visitors over the two days.


Wardsend’s 160th anniversary

Wardsend Cemetery has stood on its site by the River Don for the last 160 years. This cemetery is the last resting place of nearly 30,000 Sheffield and district people as well as military personnel from the nearby Sheffield (Hillsborough) Barracks. A collaboration with Blue Loop, Sheffield University, Loxley Brass band, Sheffield College, and many others. saw their first big event, a dramatic increase in visitor numbers, a full and varied programme of activities including themed tours, nature events and the first drama performance in their outdoor theatre in the woods.

The story should be one of positivity. English Heritage has found that heritage is a vital part in an area, economy and tourism and leisure creates jobs and boosts the local economy. The Sheffield Networks are vibrant and enthusiastic. Other cities are looking to Sheffield because Joined Up Heritage is breaking new ground in that no other Heritage promotion organisation has been founded by grassroots organisations not the local Council. There is a new Chief of Planning  in the Council with a knowledge and enthusiasm for industrial heritage and the person in charge of Council properties was formerly working for Historic England.  The National Trust has greeted Joined up Heritage with enthusiasm and has helped by running workshops. Sheffield BID published a beautiful guide to some of the great independent businesses in the city centre, many of which are housed in Sheffield’s historic buildings.  In December a Sheffield Guide book was launched by poet and writer Michael Glover. The guide book by a German publisher is in a series of guides of prestigious cities across the world. David Templeman having wrote the first definitive history of Mary Queen of Scots years in captivity in England has traversed the country far and wide spreading the message of Sheffield’s  key importance in that.  In the Spring the first exploration of the Sheffield castle site for decades is set to begin. Friends of the Old Town Hall have been working on an exciting business plan that could not only bring the historically important building back into use but provide a positive focus for the regeneration of that area of Sheffield.

Sheffield is a city rich in culture too in a variety of ways, folk tales, folk dancing, carol singing, brass bands and incomers who introduced their own cultural contribution that created the uniquely Sheffield mix. Some may mock but Morris, Brass bands are the culture that the miners brought and kept. Though Sheffield has many aspects similar to other Northern cities it is not a carbon copy and should not be thought of as such.

We have a citywide network, many experts in their field. Experts in the normal run of things that would cost £thousands in consultation fees offering their services for free. Organisations that are good at finding funding in areas frankly that the Council is not. Volunteers that already save the Council £thousands in the environmental protection work they do, the social services they supply, and the promotion of the city as a whole. However only the Heritage Champion has attended any joined up Heritage conference or meeting. Promotional videos by the Council miss out the heritage related areas. The enormously successful Victorian Christmas Market at Kelham Island is not mentioned as part of the list of nationally important events. This year the council permitted the demolition of a historic building within the Kelham Island Conservation area. They promoted the idea of a several stories high 5* hotel as part of a grade 2 listed building in a Conservation area full of listed buildings. Other Conservation Areas  have been damaged by the removal of historic trees, and nationally Sheffield’s Hillsborough Park Conservation area is on the Historic England’s at Risk Register. It would also appear that the Council  are planning to lose much of  the historic character in the city centre, despite research indicating that the historic character of a city is a major asset commercially, and that national trends point to a halving of retail space required by the big national retailers. New traffic schemes discourage pedestrian and cyclists in favour of polluting cars. Many community assets especially pubs are being lost as the demand for more student accommodation by overseas investors creates a demand for central areas to build on, and Sheffield Council refuses to list many of these pubs. We now have more student accommodation than we could possibly need, and an acute shortage of housing in all price ranges.   The present Flood protection plan put forward by the Council will destroy archaeology, and may also damage the ecology of the riverside in some areas,  but no discussions have been had with the experts despite many invitations to do so.

A strategy to protect that which is important to the economy and the community seems sadly lacking, and will continue to be so unless real consultation is carried out with local experts in conjunction with research into how similar plans worked elsewhere if at all, so we can avoid making costly errors. As frankly we don’t have the money to waste. Sheffield’s industrial history is famous worldwide and we should be utilizing that. The change in fortunes of Ernest Wrights scissor manufacturing, and the comments made by Boeing and other high tech companies shows that Sheffield’s heritage is something that matters to  investors and tourists.

So my hope for next year would be for Sheffield Council to invite people in to talk. To not allow the demolition of any historic building till an assessment is made of the possible impact of its loss. To protect Community assets wherever possible and work with the community on ways of doing so, before any decision is made to sell or demolish or alter such an asset. To promote Sheffield’s Heritage and look at ways of presenting it to tourists as well as using it for the good of the community. To take the 33 Conservation areas in our city seriously.

My hope is also that Sheffield can get together to create a local list of the buildings and historical assets, and that we can expand on our knowledge of pre-industrial Sheffield as well as collect the stories of the many communities that make up the story of Sheffield, especially the mining communities,  before their stories vanish.  Hopefully we can share with the outside world what makes Sheffield Sheffield and celebrate it, not try to hide,  demolish or ignore it. Hopefully many of you are going to help us do that.

Books you may enjoy.

111 Places in Sheffield that you shouldn’t miss by Michael Glover .. printing and publishing CPI Clausen & Bosse; Leck Printed in Germany 2017

Mary, Queen of Scots, The Captive Queen in England 1568-87 by David Templeman Printed by Short Run Press Limited 25 Bittern Road, Sowton Industrial Estate, Exeter EX2 7LW



Dam Weirs, and Mills



The Floods of 2007 were horrendous. It was a miserable time  no one wants a return to that. I was pretty excited by the news that Sheffield was going to get major funding, but then I started reading the Sheffield Flood consultation, and found a lot of questions arising and no answers to be had. Like the clergyman’s wife in the Simpsons who shouts “What about the Children?” I find myself shouting “What about the heritage?”

I’ve been ploughing through flood reports and strategies and know a lot more now about river ecology, hydro morphology and a whole lot of long words I need the spellchecker for. The conclusion I have reached is that flood defense it is a very complex issue, that the Council hasn’t even tried to explain.

It is no accident that one the oldest artifacts we have is a dugout canoe. How significant Sheffield’s waterways were in those days it is difficult to say as exploration of our early history has been undervalued for centuries and is still so in many quarters.

The Sheaf, Shire Brook and the Meersbrook have been the boundary rivers for centuries if not longer. Sheffield was a border town for a great amount of its history and in Roman times was the northern extent  of the Roman Empire for about 30 years.  In Saxon times the Sheaf  and the Meersbrook became significant as the boundary between Mercia and Northumbria, and latter between Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

With the Norman conquest new technology was introduced and Sheffield’s rivers took on a new significance. The monasteries introduced water mills and new metalworking methods. The first known wheels date from the 12th century. In the 16th century the development of water powered bellows created huge changes in the production of iron and steel. Evidence of this can be found in the wills of the Norton scythemakers who went into mass production soon after its introduction on by the Earl of Shrewsbury on the nearby Sheaf in 1560,  as the new innovation changed production from 20 tons to 200 tons of processed iron per year.

Grinding wheels dominated the rivers Loxley and Rivelin. These two rivers flowed from the north-west of Sheffield and were accessible to the cutlers of Bradfield parish, especially Stannington, and the cutlers of Nether Hallam in the hamlets of Walkley, Crookes and Malin Bridge.  The river Sheaf had the most varied sites, almost equally divided between corn grinding, metalworking (especially lead) and blade grinding.  The river Sheaf had the most varied sites, almost equally divided between corn grinding, metalworking (especially lead) and blade grinding. The Blackburn brook provided power for a number of mills along its course  Industry started on the Shire Brook at Carr Forge in the mid 16th century and by the 19th century there were five wheels operating sharpening scythes and sickles.  The Don is the largest river in Sheffield, collecting the water from the other rivers and flowing from the north before turning northeast at its confluence with the Sheaf near the centre of Sheffield. Like the Sheaf it had more metalworking sites, but unlike the Sheaf they were all concerned with ferrous metals.

Shepherd Wheel

Shepherd Wheel


No one knows exactly how many wheels dams and weirs there were and it is quite difficult to know how many survive. Many dams were built over when the Railways were built. Others later on when they were no longer needed. Some like the Mayfield Dams are silted and grown over. Some have become water features in parks and gardens.  Often when the dams are long gone the weirs still remain as no one saw a reason to remove them. In some cases the weirs have been culveted such as where the Sheaf joins the Don, and rumours speak of at least one dam now underground, though this may be an urban myth.  And some Dams and Weirs were lost under the reservoirs. Possibly around 160-200 mills were working off the water wheels in Sheffield. Many wheels shared the weirs.

So what, you may say. Sheffield is now littered with bits of mills, lots of weirs and dams. Times have changed.  Many naturalists don’t like the weirs and feel they should be all scrapped and moan that a handful are actually listed. Others feel they are an obstruction on the rivers and if scrapped would stop the flooding. Lastly the owners of the weirs can’t be found so all maintenance has to be tax payers money.

Brightside Weir.JPG

Brightside weir

As many weirs are between 200 and 900 years old, if removed the whole riverside would change. The Bio-diversity would change and we have no way of knowing what we could lose due to the changes. Fish ladders have been put into many of the weirs now, but it is unrealistic to think that we can return the rivers to 900 years ago.  The bigger blockages problems are trees growing too close to the riversides, culverts and poorly maintained drains that block easily, bridges that are low but made worse by silted rivers, and stupid people who dump an incredible amount of rubbish into the rivers and riversides. As for the maintenance argument no one argues that Venice should be left to sink or Stonehenge to fall down. The history and heritage of Sheffield’s rivers are unique.

Historic England recommends

In areas where there are groups of strongly connected heritage assets which are considered to cumulatively have a particularly high value, then designation as a Conservation Area should be considered similar to those often formed for canals. A Conservation Area is an area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which is desirable to preserve or enhance (Section 69 of the 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Area) Act). The main attributes that define the special character of an area are its physical appearance and history, i.e. the form and features of buildings and the spaces between them, their former uses and historical development.

There is considered to be a particularly strong case for this in Sheffield, where designation as a Conservation Area where the survival of a high density of weirs and associated infrastructure are illustrative of the internationally important metal trade that developed there. Such designation would also be of assistance in ensuring a consistent approach to design of fish passes and river channel improvements.”

To qualify as a World Heritage Site the Rivers need only meet one of these criteria.

to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.

to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design

to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.

Our dams and weirs have created places of beauty in Sheffield. There is nowhere more beautiful than the Rivelin Valley, or lovelier than the dams and woodlands of the Sheaf and Porter Valleys. But more than that nowhere in the world is there anywhere like Sheffield with the huge number of mills on the rivers and streams. Like much of our heritage in Sheffield it has been ignored and undervalued. So much has been left to rot or survives only because of tenacious groups that refused to let them all turn to rubble. They lost some battles but thankfully some gems last such as Shepherd’s Wheel, Matlock Wheel, Forge Dam, Mousehole Forge, Abbeydale Hamlet, Stanniforth


Sharrow Snuff Mill

Works, Mallin Bridge, Mill houses Mill, and Sharrow Snuff Mill. But so much has never been researched properly. Many have yet to be looked at from an  archaeological point of view. We don’t know how old many of the weirs and dams are. We don’t have a complete list.

Historic England has voiced concerns that the changes made due to flood defences and fish passages have not taken into account the heritage of the waterways, and feels there is a need for better consultation and better training of the department of environment.

Within South Yorkshire the catchment partnerships are hosted by the Don Catchment Rivers Trust and The Environment Agency (Don and Rother), and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (Thorne). The core partners within each partnership include wildlife and environmental organisations, water companies, Local Authorities, Government Agencies, landowners, angling clubs, farming groups, academia and local businesses. Amongst the partners, built heritage interests are poorly represented


South Yorkshire’s Historic Water Management Assets March 2016 by
Historic England


900 years of the Don fishery: Domesday to the dawn of the new millenium‘ by Chris Firth MBE

The Heritage Statement of the Weirs on the River Loxley by The Brigantia Archaeological Service.

Position statement on the Upper Don and Sheaf Catchment Flood Alleviation schemes.  Sheffield Flood Protection

Sheffield Floods

In a few days the public questionnaire and workshops re the new flood protection project will be over. Many groups associated with the waterways and the heritage around them, both man made and natural, have voiced concern at the lack of detail on offer.Sheffield is fortunate in that there are some well supported organisations who care for our waterways. Many prepared to wade out in rivers and pull out rubbish, and tackle the invasive Japanese Knotweed, neither being pleasant work. Groups such as Friends of Porter Valley, Rivelin Valley Conservation Trust and Blue Loop. For the most part these people are volunteers. My thanks to Helen Hornby for talking about what the Riverside Steward Company/Friends of Blue Loop have been doing recently.

               River Stewardship as a means of flood risk management

By Helen Hornby

corporate-team-building-day                                           Some corporate volunteers

Three years down the line and the Lower Don Valley Flood Defence Scheme is making great progress on its objectives.  As part of this large scale project, The River Stewardship Company (RSC), a local social enterprise, delivers the channel maintenance programme which includes invasive species control and minor tree works and also facilitates wider community engagement through the provision of volunteer days along the River Don.


From a practical point of view there are many things that can be done to reduce flood risk as a long term management plan for a major watercourse.  The RSC empowers local people to help look after their river.  Its volunteers are out on the River Don every Tuesday removing large items of litter and debris from the river – items that would block bridges and culverts, creating a dam and potentially causing flooding to nearby properties.  Everything from industrial wheelie bins, to commercial freezers, sofas and warehouse doors have been removed from the water.


Volunteers also help by removing Himalayan balsam whilst trained staff treat Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed with a specific herbicide tailored to use by water.  These plants spread like wildfires, out-competing our native plants and reducing biodiversity but they also contribute to increased flood risk. In winter banks are destabilised due to a lack of native perennials holding the soil in place, and therefore should a flood occur these banks can be eroded away leaving property and other structures at risk.


Larger willow trees and vegetation growing out of flood walls have been removed, and where possible replanted with smaller trees and shrubs that do not easily crack and cause blockages. It is a difficult business balancing the needs of riparian landowners and that of recreational users and the River’s resurgent wildlife but one that can be achieved if all sectors work together.20160830_113447

Historic Floods

By Joyce  Bullivant

The lay of the land in Sheffield  means that there is always a chance of a major flooding incident. Sheffield has several rivers and tributaries that come down the hills to feed the principle rivers of the Rivelin, Loxley, Porter, Don and the Sheaf. Contrary to popular opinion Sheffield does not have only 5 rivers, there are considerably more, some are hidden in the city drainage system but others are easy to find if you know where to look.


Sheffield’s Lost Rivers

The huge flood that happened recently in  2007 was not a common event for Sheffield in that the previous big flood happened in 1973  when 119 mm fell in just one day (and which incidentally led to severe flooding despite much less development on the flood plain. Present improvements in flood protection will give the city a one-in-200 years level of protection, meaning the measures will theoretically defend the city against all floods except the kind of freak floods which have a 0.5 per cent chance of happening in any given year.

That of course doesn’t mean flooding events will only happen once in 200 years. Also with the change in climate the previous measures and assessments may be insufficient, as along with climate change is the increase in severe weather conditions. New flood protection has been suggested which hopefully will mitigate any future extreme weather events that could endanger the city. Organisations such as Blue Loop can help cut down flooding from smaller events, but additional measures are needed for the more extreme events. These extreme events are beyond city drainage, or dredging measures. Previous flood reports, when there were fewer houses and more fields to soak up the water, did not prevent these 200 year floods.

In 1729 such a flood was reported in the Papers.

On Tuesday morning between 5 and 6 it began to Thunder, Lighten,  and Rain at the Town of Sheffield in Yorkshire, and continued with such Violence ’till 2 in the Afternoon , that the River Dun in a most dreadful Manner overflowed its banks, and by the torrents of water vast trees were borne down, bridges broke in pieces, part of the Duke of Norfolk’s hospital destroyed and all its furniture washed away, as was that belonging of the chapel, which was 2 yards deep in water, and the pulpit filled with Mud and sand; Tis computed that the waters must have risen near the Hospital (where the River Sheaf, and Sheffield Brook , empty themselves into the River Dun), 4 yard perpendicular in half an hour’s time; a team and 4 horses were carried down by the stream many people had much ado to escape with their lives, however only one man and one woman were drowned and some children were washed away in their cradles.

Throughout the 19th century many floods were reported especially in the area where the Sheaf joins the Don and in Brightside. The floods caused major disruption to the Railway at Bridgehouse and to the forges and wheels along the Don. The worst flood however would seem to have been in 1875 some 11 years after the infamous flood caused by the breach of the Dale Dyke reservoir. The flood in 1875 covered the whole of Sheffield city.

In the vale of the Porter a great amount of damage was done by the flooding of the low-lying lands. This stream has a large gathering ground on the moors above Ringinglowe, and the incessant rain of 48 hours duration could not do less than cause a great volume of water to descend the stream. The first effect of the inundation were felt at Whiteley Wood, where at an early hour yesterday morning the stream was swollen to a considerable extent, and swept through the dams and over the weirs in an increasing volume. Gathering force as it entered Endcliffe Wood the river now increased to a torrent, and in spite of the use of shuttles filled the dams to the bank edge and overflowed so as to cause them considerable damage  to the earthworks and apprehensions in the minds of those who were in charge of the grinding wheels. The fields on the borders of Endcliffe wood were completely flooded at an early hour yesterday morning and as the water kept rising considerable damage was, especially in the fields where Autumn wheats had been sown. At the grinding wheels the men were prevented from working owing to the accumulation of back waters, and the result was a large loss in the matter of wages alone. At one time it was feared that some of the embankments of  the Endcliffe dams would give way, as the water was overflowing them and it was currently reported  in the district yesterday that such had been the case. On an enquiry at a late hour last night we found that such a casualty  had not taken place  although there were apprehensions of such a disaster of that description owing to vast amount of water that was coming down the river. In the lower portion of Endcliffe Wood the water assumed the proportions of a torrent, and at Hunter’s Bar, where the stream divides itself the roadway was more like a large brook than a thoroughfare. About this particular district there were many cottage gardens and the occupiers must have sustained much damage on account on the weight of the water which was passing. The produce of these gardens intended for winter gatherings was swept away for the most part and last night when our reporter left the stream had in no way diminished, it was rather increasing. The water was diverted by means of shuttles from entering the dam-in an undue quantity belonging to the Hardy Patent Pick and Engineering Company, Limited. but the force of the current was so great that it forced itself through these barriers in more than the usual quantities, and it was feared that the embankment supporting the lower snuff mill would be endangered. Several Homes near Hunters Bar had the cellars flooded to the depth of a yard or more. Last evening the pathway both in Ecclesall Road and that leading from the Cemetery-road to the bar were almost impassable, the water draining down and running across the highway to such a depth to render it almost impassable. Passing from Hunters Bar towards Sheffield Ecclesall Road became a deeper in water and at the bottom of Broomgrove a singular sight presented itself. The water here draws itself from Broomhill and the upper part of Glossop- Road into Ecclesall Road, where it accumulated in a field which we believe had been rented by a butcher. This field is surrounded by a wall, which served the purpose of stemming the water, and made a temporary reservoir. The water poured through these walls and bursting through the interstices in a series of jets, completely covered Ecclesall- Road. At the lower entrance to the Cemetery the waters appeared to have gathered in an extraordinary degree, accumulating throughout the day to a depth of over a foot and a half. From this point, down Ecclesall road, the highway bore more the appearance of a canal than anything else. The ordinary channels which convey the water were completely choked up, and the stream washed down both sides of the street in a current of almost a foot and a half deep.  In the centre

The flood filled many of the rivers and spread throughout the city putting out forges and steam mills, but miraculously no one seems to have been hurt.

As is corroborated by most of the people who have lived for many years past in the the locality, we can have no hesitation to saying that the flood is the most formidable one which has been seen in Sheffield for the last few ten years; and the scene as viewed from one of these cellar windows of the Tower Wheel, with the lamplights from the Blonk Street Bridge and from the Station road, high up above, casting their vague shadows upon the black stream, had in it something of the picturesque.”

Shepherds Wheel 1

Shepherd Wheel

The wheels on the rivers have left Sheffield with a number of Dams on the River, made to control the flow of the water into the wheels. Rivers were harnessed from an early date, possibly introduced by the monks who came with the Normans and brought with them new technologies. Early wheels were used for corn milling and treating woolen cloth. In the 16th century water power was used for powering the furnaces and hammering the iron and steel, as well as powering the grinding wheels. It has been estimated by 1637 there were around fifty water powered industrial sites. By the 18th century there were an estimated to be 130 such sites. Wheels can be seen still in Sheffield, at Abbeydale  Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and Mallin Bridge. Many old mills and remnants exist throughout the city. Some has been left untouched for years and are overgrown and already are cause for concern as potential important archaeology may be lost.


Rivelin Valley

Along with the obvious industrial remnants along the rivers are the ancient woodlands, managed since medieval times to supply charcoal and wood for the metalworking industries and house building. Many have been found to have traces of earlier times and indeed within Ecclesall woods lies stones with neolithic cup and ring markings. Because the woodland was necessary for Sheffield’s industry the city has a large area of ancient woodland though some pieces are quite small and divided by later roads nevertheless Sheffield’s ancient woodlands are unique and of international value.

Many of our rivers pass through our woodlands. This was a great advantage to those who ran smithies and forges as the raw material was to hand. Early steel and iron workers needed charcoal as coal has too much sulphur to produce good steel. Later coal was processed to become coke. Also in woods like Ecclesall woods clay called Gannister was mined to make the crucible pots.  So our woodlands have indications of mining and charcoal making  along with the earlier signs of human activity.

Lastly because of the age of the woods and the now cleaner waterways and visible rock forms from quarrying and the power of the rivers there is within the rivers and river areas many rare plants and wildlife that are rare or unique. Flood control therefore is a complex matter.


Nature Reserves in Sheffield Area

The ideal of flood control is to slow the water coming into the city and speed it leaving the built up areas. It is about controlling the flow of water. The Flood protection scheme has suggested containing flood water in some areas, but it cannot be purely letting certain lands flood. Even though it could be 100 years before the flood protection actually came into use, it could also be next year or even next week. We do also have to live with those measures, and protect the sensitive areas from damage.There will have to be all these factors taken into consideration,  preserving precious ecology and heritage and leisure facilities , but keeping our city safe. There is no simple answer to this.

The Blue Loop

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph October 21st 1875 courtesy of British Newspaper Archives

Newcastle Courant 21st June 1729   courtesy of British Newspaper Archives.

Scheduled monuments.png

Scheduled Monuments in Sheffield Area

All our Yesterdays


William Bullivant born 1814 in Lincolnshire, died 1893 in Sheffield

On the 19th of October Joined up Heritage had a 2nd Smaller conference. In it we looked out how we could make Sheffield’s heritage all inclusive, and relevant.

Many years ago when researching my husband’s family tree , despite his family having been in Sheffield for generations I had to tell him that his family had its origins in Lincolnshire.  His family had hit hard times in rural Lincolnshire and like many others had gravitated to the big cities in the 1850s in search of better paid work. Sheffield like many industrial cities expanded rapidly with the rise in new technologies. One new technology that was developed a century before was crucible steel developed by Benjamin Huntsman son of German immigrant parents.  Henry Bessemer’s father made his fortune working in France and Germany.  Stanley Tools an American company in origin.

Sheffield’s history is like many cities, a story of people coming in and settling, right from the Bronze Age, but it is a story that has many gaps, so how fitting that Joined up Heritage is looking at how to join up the different threads.  It is looking  at the answer to the question that is  “What made Sheffield the Sheffield it is now?” Not just the rivers, the geology, the buildings, the innovations, but the people, whether they come for a short time as a student, have lived here for generations, or just moved here. Or whether they came centuries ago as Roman conquerors.  They all make Sheffield.

I’m not from Sheffield. I have lived in Sheffield for 17 years and I find Sheffield’s history fascinating. It links me to a whole host of fellow history enthusiasts and also links me to the people who have lived in Sheffield all their lives, and others like me who have just come. I don’t know anyone who has my background, born in Lancashire, brought up in Newcastle and Glasgow. Sometimes I feel distant because it’s hard to explain what life as an English child in a Scottish school was like, and the fact that I don’t really understand the Church of England, and had to learn a lot of early English history, because it wasn’t taught in my Scottish school.  It may not be as drastic change as moving from Africa or Pakistan to Sheffield but it is still a story of migration and disassociation.

Inclusivity is not about doing a piece on Pakistani Steel workers and then forgetting it. It’s about collecting the stories about Sheffield, and some of those stories will be about steelworkers who weren’t born here.  It’s looking at the history of the people who made, and are making Sheffield, with no historical apartheid. DNA collected from ancient bones in Cresswell crags has proved migration from outside the British Isles goes back a long way. We know Romans settled in Stannington to farm there, though we don’t as yet know where the particular centurions came from.  In Weston Park museum there are flints that certainly didn’t come from local stone. Where did they come from? How did the local people acquire them in an age before metal working? What did they have to trade?

A Museum curator said that British history tends to be harking back to some so called golden age and misses out some of the hard realities. Maybe that’s why it has been so difficult to get the history of Northern cities told and the archaeology of the area preserved. Commentators described Sheffield time and time again as a city without culture or Art, but the culture was and is there. As for Art you only have to look at the silver smithing and Sheffield plate to see that Sheffield had and has plenty of artists. John Ruskin recognised it and wanted to help them expand their minds even further. Sheffield’s history isn’t grand stately homes and thatched cottages, though there are some grand  homes such as Endcliffe Hall, and pretty little Tudor houses such as Bishops House, it’s about hard work, survival and ingenuity. Its dirty and sometimes ugly but it is real and relevant. Without Sheffield there would be no stainless steel. So many tools invented and refined in Sheffield from scalpels to saws. Sheffield helped make the world and is still doing so, and it  was the Sheffield people that made it happen. All of them.

Sheffield, Yorkshire’s most important city.


Whirlow Farm dig has confirmed what has been known to a wide variety of historians and archaeologists for a long time that the area of Sheffield was historically the most important area in the history of Yorkshire and England. From before Roman times. Much of the concentration on the narrow period of 18th and 19th century has ignored Sheffield’s strategic importance.

It is no accident that the area has hillforts & many signs of Ironage settlement or before that of even earlier settlements. Sheffield was important place even before the discovery of metalworking, but the discovery of metalworking made the land around worth defending and fighting for. Sheffield became the heavily contested border between Roman and Brigantes, Mercia and Northumberland, Derbyshire and Yrokshire. England was born at the treaty made in Dore. William the Conqueror put his righthand man William de Busli in Charge. Time and time again Royalty placed their best men in Sheffield and nearby. Its no accident that a small place in Norton produced two Bishops. One chaplain to Henry V11 and the other defending Henry V111’s  interests in the Welsh Marches. No accident that Mary Queen of Scots was sent to Sheffield or that one of England’s biggest castles was built here. The land was important and only the Royals best loyal supporters had lands here.

Sheffield Castle

Sheffield Castle

Sheffield was never a backwater. The Talbots as earlier had strong connections with the Royal Court. The Fifth Earl was in charge of Henry V111’s household, the sixth in charge of Mary Queen of Scots. Sheffield was always well informed at what was going on in the seats of power. Money from the nearby Lead mining  funded much of the Elisabethan explorations.  IT was only with the shift in the Talbot’s power and influence in the civil war that changed the Royal links.

That does not mean Sheffield lost its importance to English History more that it became the place for innovation both in manufacturing and in radical and religious thought, which to some extent still exists with Sheffield.

So why aren’t we celebrating Sheffield’s long history? Why are we looking at a short time in history where Sheffield developed its mass production of cutlery as if that was the heyday of Sheffield and that is all there is and ever was of Sheffield? Beats Me.


Civil War Sheffield

Napoleanic Wars Sheffield


Muddy Waters

DSCF4199Today I went to a workshop at Sheffield University. The title of the workshop was “What do urban rivers mean in the 21st century. We heard of a rivers in India and Portugal and throughout Europe. We then went on to explore what our urban rivers mean to us.

Quite possibly the most interesting conversations was with River management and local voluntary groups. The complaints may start from a different angle from those who are looking to preserve old buildings or woodlands or parks but the complaints are the same.

There were aspects I hadn’t thought of, I admit. The Don, Porter Brook, and the Rother are DSCF5312

all names for muddy brown waters. Not because of pollution but because of the peaty moorland they come from. One River manager said that the breaking up of weirs and other modern river management had cut down the variety of fish and amphibians that preferred the darker water. For rivers to be clean it doesn’t mean they have to be transparent. It brought into focus that not only had we to look at the uniqueness of our buildings and our Green Spaces how important it is also that we talk with those who know about what is needed to preserve the ecology of our waterways.


If the planners allow high buildings by the river they could cut the light to the water as well as make the area busier and nosier.  Too much activity in some areas will scare away the wildlife. We need areas of calm the River manager said.

What we want, they all said is for a discussion with all interested groups, heritage, developers, ecologists,  communities, and the Council. “Have you spoke to any councillors?” I asked . “We’ve tried.” they said but no one’s prepared to listen.” And there is where we all share the same problem. There is no debate, or discussion with the Council. No consultation.


Whatever decision the Council makes re development matters to the city as a whole. Yet decisions are made without considering all aspects. As the River manager said you can’t just divert a river because its looks better for the houses by the waterside, there will be a knock on effect elsewhere.


Likewise if you build a new shiny shopping centre it is more than likely you will drain the shopping areas nearby as Meadowhall has done in the past. If more people come from Tinsley Stocksbridge Dore Tortley whatever to shop in the city centre that means more traffic and more pollution. If we shift people into housing in the city the pollution will go down as fewer people will need to use cars or busses. We could build new inner city communities who would need shops and would also work locally. We would have a lively vibrant centre that would not shut down at 6pm.


But our Council is determined to sell our city centre to a National developer to make a city centre like every other city ripping out our heritage and throwing it on the rubbish heap, and at the end of it the outside developer will keep all the profits and control our city centre. If any of the backers pull out we will be left with a big hole in the middle of the city that we have no control over and gaps in the nearby Fargate and the Moor as shops either move there or close down. How will that improve our city? We need to talk and yet no one is really listening.

Shepherd Wheel

Shepherd Wheel

Suggested Reading

How can we save our town centres?

The Blue Loop

The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban regeneration. Eleventh report of Session 2003-2004 Volume 1 report. House of Commons ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Region’s Committee.       Heritage Counts 2014

Heritage Lottery Funding – strategic framework 2013-2018 A lasting difference for Heritage and people.

Lose or Reuse. Managing Heritage sustainability.  by Lydia Wilson published 2007 Ulster Architectural Heritage Society 66 Donegal Pass, Belfast B17 1BU

New Ideas need Old Buildings Heritage Lottery Fund. April 2013.