Know Your Place



Meersbrook Hall, Meersbrook Park

‘To be human is to live in a world that is filled with significant places: to be human is to have and know your place.’  (Edward Relph, Place and Placelessness, 1976)

There is a lot of talk about resilient economies by organisations such as ICLEI (Local governments for sustainability). Economies that can weather the storms both literally, such as flooding and storm damage  and financially such as recession and changes in the world economy.  But economies are made of people and in the lower income groups their ability to weather the storm is fast being eroded in ways that limit their ability to function as a member of a community.  Over the years many initiatives have been funded to fight inequalities in our northern cities.  Yet despite efforts the same areas remain areas of high deprivation and often crime. Some have had problems for so many decades many of the earlier residents have died or moved so it has to be something beyond who lives there.  A common factor is of course low wages, and high reliance on benefits.

On the face of it  selling a community asset  seems like an inconsequential act, possibly even a sensible way of conserving resources, but research from a variety of sources suggests any money “saved” by selling it may result in rise in costs elsewhere both tangible and intangible.

My own interest was sparked by a lecture streamed from the RSA given by Eric Klinenberg. Having studied community involvement with  heritage I have come to the conclusion that morale can be helped by the existence of heritage buildings or damaged when historic buildings are lost to a private developer, or worse, demolished. So many of the buildings are built in the centre of communities and are often the heart of the community.

Although some of  these examples are Sheffield related, I don’t think the main focus of the argument is, though some of the financial concerns are specific to the North of England. The argument is not purely about preserving heritage but also, I think,  why we need local authorities to have a holistic view of any decisions they make.

Common Ground

“  Today , societies around the world are becoming more fragmented, divided, and conflicted. The social glue has become undone.” Eric Klinenberg 1

In 1791 the people of Sheffield rioted, releasing people from the debtors prison, attacking the Rev. Wilkinson’s house and setting fire to his haystacks. Wilkinson was a major landowner and a magistrate. The enclosure act that they were protesting about enclosed the common land and left the ordinary people with nowhere they had a right to be. The riot of 1791 was the beginning of unrest in the city and throughout the country for a number of years. 2

Across the country decisions in local councils are having a cumulative impact that could have as lasting a mark on the poor as the Inclosure Act.  For those on lower income public spaces and buildings are the only places they have legal rights to be there.  In the case of historic buildings and sites it also incorporates a history of people like themselves that goes back generations for some, quite possibly the only place their history is preserved.

In June 2018 Locality reported that they had found that more than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces are being sold off every year across England. These are such as parks, libraries, town halls and swimming pools. Many are being lost to private developers. Locality reported that a consistently high number of public buildings and spaces have been sold each year in England from 2012 to 2016.3

Around twenty Anglican Churches close each year, with the figures for non denominational churches considerably higher 4. One in four of South Yorkshire’s working men clubs have closed. In Sheffield in the last two years, five former clubs have closed. Across the country  the number of working men’s clubs have fallen from 4,000 in the 1970s to around 1.500 today.5

The Campaign for Real Ale said that many areas are losing their local pub with 467 closures across the UK in the first six months of 2018. Four out of five people have seen a pub shut down within five miles of their home in the last five years. 6

Carbrook Hall

Carbrook Hall formerly used as community pub now part of Coffee Chain.


Over the years because of changes made many community schools were closed as pupils were moved elsewhere and some were converted to flats or for business use.   Councils have also closed more than 500 children’s centres since 20107. The closure of many youth clubs over the past few years combined with a battery of cuts to youth services have left disadvantaged teenagers idle and isolated as the centres lie derelict or are sold off to private developers 8  Adolescent mental health services and career advice has also been cut throughout England combined with the rise in expulsions from schools 10 it must be hard for many  young people not to feel  abandoned. 

2,000 villages are classified as unsuitable for new housing because of the lack of a local pub or somewhere the community can meet together.11  Cuts to public transport has left many areas both rural and urban without adequate transport. 12

In industrial areas, changes within the steel industry and related trades and closures to coal mines have had a major impact on local communities as large local employers have gone from many areas and previous works have been demolished. Only a few buildings remain as a reminder of the origins of their neighbourhood, and most of these are public buildings or in public ownership.


Birley Spa presently under threat of sale.

Communities are losing their anchorage points and the distinctive character of their area, leaving people feeling angry, frustrated and disorientated. They are losing the familiar and safe community gathering points.  They may not be burning haystacks but there are signs of unrest.

Social Exclusion

In their report of 2018 the Sheffield City Partnership say, “Inclusive growth in a city is dependent on the health and wellbeing of the population since they are the principal  component of the economic  infrastructure.” 13 Health and wellbeing is dependent on not being excluded, but inclusion is not a simple matter of more jobs and better wages.

Power and Wilson (2000)14 describe social exclusion as a tendency to push vulnerable and difficult people into the least popular places. But as shown by the selling off of a pub and the church in a rural village social exclusion can happen in any area. The great divide is between those who are rich enough and fit enough to drive and those too poor to even use public transport if it is available. Social life within the community is based on who has a big enough house to invite others to visit and who they are willing to invite.

Neighbourhoods can break down if the three elements – home, services, and environment  are disrupted to a point where a feeling of security and familiarity in their neighbourhood   disintegrates.  In some areas the disintegration may not be so obvious but still has an impact.  In the old village communities even within the city there may be some that are experiencing mental health problems and chronic loneliness.

The environment you grow up in has an impact. Findings on children growing up in social housing, and children of similar income and social hardships, that children from Social Housing had a distinct disadvantage in future outcomes such as  qualifications , employment, depressive illnesses, and poor self esteem. So exclusion is not purely down to social disadvantage, but where you live. Research mainly from outside the UK would suggest that ways in which young people’s peer groups, social networks and social capital (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society) as well as local norms and expectations and the social practical support available to families, can influence children and their life chances. 15 Research in Canada would also seem to back the idea that where youths  live is a big factor in whether youths turn to knife crime. Social deprivation may be a contributing factor but social environment definitely matters. 16


Abbeyfield House, Abbeyfield Park, Pitsmoor in partial community use.

In 1995 there was a heatwave  in Chicago that caused  739 deaths 17. Researchers comparing death rates in different neighbourhoods, which to all appearances were matched in levels of high deprivation, found some surprising results. It became apparent that there was something more to who died than whether they were wealthy  enough to afford an air conditioning unit. Areas that were identical in levels of high deprivation differed in how many people survived the heat. This set Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist wondering what could account for this marked difference.

It became obvious that the major difference was closer knit communities were used to checking in on each other and had busier street scene. After many of research the years Klinenberg 1 has drawn the conclusion that the layout of an area and the inclusion of a well used community building such as a library had a whole series of advantages for the local population including better health and  it has long been understood that social cohesion develops through repeated human interaction and joint participation in shared projects, not merely from a principled commitment to abstract values and beliefs. The social and physical environment shapes our behaviour, helps make us who we are and determines our lifestyle .  Klinenberg says that although solid infrastructures such as public transport are important, more important to the success of a community is the social infrastructure which  determines whether social capital develops.

He defines as social infrastructure public institutions such as libraries, swimming pools, athletic fields, playgrounds, parks and other green spaces that people can use freely. Community organisations including churches and civic associations act as social infrastructures when they have an established physical space where people can assemble. Commercial establishments can also be an important part of the social infrastructure, particularly when they operate as “third spaces” places  (such as cafes, hairdressers, post offices and bookstores )where people are welcome to congregate and linger regardless of what they’ve purchased.


Walkley Carnegie Library seeking commercial partnership.

When social infrastructure is robust, it  encourages mutual support and collaboration among friends and neighbours. When degraded, it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves. Social infrastructure is vitally important, because local, face to face recurrent interactions are how communities are built.

The components of social infrastructure rarely crash as completely or as visibly as a fallen bridge and their breakdowns don’t result in immediate system failures. But when the social infrastructure gets degraded, the consequences are unmistakable. People reduce the time they spend in public settings and stay in their “safe houses”. Social networks weaken. Crime rises. Older and sick people grow isolated. Younger people get addicted to drugs and become more vulnerable to lethal overdoses. Distrust rises and civic participation wanes. In rural areas this is possibly not so obvious because younger people are forced to move out due to housing shortages in the area or are in too small a number to be seen  as a threat. The main impact may be unseen behind closed doors.

Even in the “nicer areas” communities are under threat  as the cuts continue and people’s income drops and the available social infrastructure is sold off. The places where connections can be made are gone. Green spaces on their own are not enough if the local community feels they cannot control activities that go on there.

People love the greenery but it is a source of problems, such as kids on motorbikes and antisocial behaviour in the woods. “In the past there used to be wardens and kids clubs and there was always someone responsible there. The open space is unsupervised and part of the discussion is how we create sufficient activities to get over the antisocial behaviour.18

Joseph Rowntree Trusts says  that mental health is shaped by a wide range of characteristics including the social economic and physical environments in which people live. They state the impact of the cuts has resulted in a loss of community resources and facilities and the erosion of social capital due to weakened social networks and reduced social interaction. 19

In  2006, Councils were given a statutory responsibility to explore local issues surrounding community cohesion and put together a tangible local delivery plan for delivering and effectively monitoring projects that bring local people together.  20

To create cohesion in the community several things are needed: a shared vision for a neighbourhood, a strong sense of individual’s responsibilities in an area and clear communication of what is expected of people and what they can expect in turn. There must be a strong sense of trust in local institutions  to act fairly in arbitrating between different interests. A strong  recognition of the contribution of both those who are new to an area and those who already have a deep attachment to a particular place with a focus on what they have in common.  A strong and positive relationship between people in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.  But the need for protection of community spaces does not seem to be considered as a necessary  component.

To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of popular commercial establishments, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s. Commercial entities are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, and there’s no doubt that classic “third places,” including cafes, bars, and restaurants, have helped revitalise cities and suburbs. But not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long. Spending time in a market-driven social setting—even a relatively inexpensive fast-food restaurant or pastry shop—requires paying for the privilege  1

Planners looking at urban regeneration are well aware of the need for an asset  place- based approach.  Gorman 21 states that  all neighbourhoods have individual and collective assets that need to be strengthened and enhanced, stressing resident involvement is an important factor. Place based development reflects a growing understanding that local settings present unique factors that can generate positive effects such as creativity and innovation but also negative effects such as feelings of exclusion  leading to loneliness, depression, and even violence.

While it is true that  1.2 million elderly people suffer from chronic loneliness,  there are 9 million people in the UK who are always or often lonely.  Two-fifths (40 per cent) of people aged 16-24 say they feel lonely often or very often, compared to 29 per cent of 65-74-year-olds and 27 per cent of those aged over 75. 22 

Loneliness is not new but we do increasingly recognise it as one of our most pressing public health issues. Feeling lonely often is linked to early deaths – on a par with smoking or obesity. It’s also linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke; depression, cognitive decline and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s estimated that between 5% and 18% of UK adults feel lonely often or always. , And when we feel socially rejected, it triggers a response in our brain similar to one from experiencing physical pain” 23 

American research has found that elderly people with reduced social contact has a 31% higher  risk of death. The LSE calculated that each older lonely person could cost health and social care services up to £6,000 over 10 years. Lonely older people are 1.8 times more likely to visit their GP, 1.6 times more likely to visit A&E and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority-funded residential care.24

NHS figures published June 2018 revealed that almost 400,000 children and young people aged 18 and under are in contact with the health service for mental health problems. According to the figures, the number of “active referrals” by GPs in April was a third higher than the same period two years prior. Those seeking help for conditions such as depression and anxiety showed a sharp increase. 25

The rise in mental health problems26  may be coincidental but indications are that children from lower income families are more likely to be isolated with low self esteem and fewer opportunities to socialise outside school.

Almost 25 per cent of children in Sheffield are living in poverty, compared to the UK average of 20 per cent. This varies considerably across the city, with almost 43% of children in Firth Park living in poverty compared to just three per cent in Ecclesall. 27  

Schools are social infrastructures.  For  pupils, teachers, parents, and entire communities, schools can either foster or inhibit trust, solidarity, and a shared commitment to the common good They can also set boundaries that define who is part of the community and who is excluded. They can integrate or segregate, create opportunities or keep people in their place. 1

Under funding has pushed many schools into taking the carrot offered to become academies.  However, continued under funding has pushed many schools into using untrained teachers to try and  fill the gaps. Official government figures show that the number of unqualified teachers has increased by more than 60% to 24,000 since the government removed the requirement for teachers to gain qualifications.28 Demands to perform to national standards despite the lack of qualified teachers has led to record levels of expulsions and cuts to creative subjects in the curriculum. Children from low income households rely on schools for their social interaction and unlike higher income households often don’t have access to social media.

This and the lack of after school clubs and external activities means many children lack social interaction and access to creative learning. This puts the children at a great disadvantage both re social skills and achievement levels . Mental health problems in the young  are rising. Sheffield has the highest rate of expulsions in the country 29 and it can be surely no accident that a rise in violent crime has risen in areas where there are the highest expulsion levels.

The links to youth violence rests on the youth’s perception on the degree of safety, social stability and social cohesion that exists within the immediate community. The location that a  youth lives in can influence the extent to which they experience both mental health and violent outcomes. In other words the young  need a strong social infrastructure too.16

The attacks have left Haigh and others scrambling for answers. Many of those involved in the violence are believed to be youngsters not previously associated with serious crime. “That’s what is most alarming about it,” said Haigh. “It’s people connected with very low-level criminal activity, or not connected with any criminal activity at all.” Dianne Hurst, a Labour city councillor on the Woodthorpe estate, said some of those involved were “from nice families … they aren’t those that you would expect to see in trouble”.30

Research shows the need for a community that is active and where  people are liable to bump into each other through the day to day activities, such as libraries, child centres, and workplace.  Libraries throughout the UK have closed  or had their services reduced.  In Sheffield although there have not been as many closures as in other authorities,31 sixteen libraries have become volunteer run.  Activities in the volunteer Libraries vary considerably from Library to Library but all are run on restricted opening hours  compared to previously.32  This apart from social interaction is problematic as it also limits access to a computer and the chance to study in a quieter setting after school than home may be.  It is obvious looking at the individual websites that the libraries lack the previous uniformity that happened under a professionally run Library service. With the cuts in Sure Start and other child centres and the neighbourhood school often no longer in the neighbourhood, the working men’s club closed down, the church re-purposed and the local pub boarded up, where is the social interaction going to happen? Even the local post office has gone from many areas.

The Therapeutic Value of Heritage.

Development banks like the World Bank have missions that go beyond profit to include “reducing poverty” and “promoting shared prosperity.” For many communities, wellbeing and prosperity are defined, in part, by an active connection to their cultural and spiritual heritage, often tied to geographic sites. 33

Public buildings that have a long history have an advantage that newer buildings without a history haven’t. It gives older people a chance to talk about their experiences to the young  and makes social interaction easier. Most older public buildings are geographically central to the community. The history and appearance gives the area an identity that is unique to their area.

Grenoside reading room.JPG

Grenoside Reading Room restored from derelict now  at the heart of the community

While  ‘therapeutic’ experiences are being found in the reviews of the heritage funding bodies such as Historic England and Heritage Lottery Fund, till recently they  have largely been absent in health geography literature or more widely within public health promotion literature. The positive experiences have been seen more as educational or in terms of economic regeneration, as an introduction to history, meeting other like-minded people and seeing wider community connections grow. But it became obvious that there were obvious benefits from using a person’s love of history and place, to boost their sense of belonging, cultural identity and security.  34

Heritage conservation is by its very nature about generating a closer relationship with one’s local area. Geographers have long explored the beneficial effects of having a strong sense of place and belonging.  Perceptions of places can be influenced by personal experiences and memories, the length of time spent living in a particular area, as well as awareness of historical significance for example, drawing on research on Wigan Pier, Northern England, demonstrates the active nature of heritage consumption, as visitors draw upon their memories and biographies to validate the interpretation of exhibits. Community-based heritage conservation is also by its very nature driven by the coming together of members of the community who participate in forms of voluntarism.

Sheffield council have the foresight of a myopic mayfly, the self awareness of a pebble and couldn’t plan their way out of a plastic bag. Time and again they have had the opportunity to do something great in this wonderful city, chances to make something of its people, location, history and atmosphere and time and again they have thrown the chances away.”  35 (comment by member of public in paper)

It is obvious from public protests at the loss of historic buildings that heritage matters to ordinary people. In a dispute about protecting the character of the Devonshire Quarter in Sheffield over 11,000 people signed an online petition and demonstrations were held outside the Town Hall.

But the cuts in funding  have made planning committees nervous to take on big developers due to possible high court costs if the developer challenges their decision in the court. In Sheffield there are approximately 120-130 Heritage groups and organisations. There are several hundred events a year which is a clear indicator that people’ heritage and culture matters to them. Many organisations have several hundred members and have been around for over thirty years. But recent pressure from government planning policies and the local authority’s desire to regenerate areas and create new business opportunities means that sometimes important assets are lost.

Urban planners and private sector property developers are increasingly prioritising top-down ‘master planning’ of the community. Top down planning often ignores the existing structures within a community.  Residents within acutely declining areas face an increasingly precarious future. Many developers argue for old buildings to be cleared for regeneration.  But clean sweep solutions are immensely damaging to community ties, costly and therefore impossible to implement in the several thousand acutely declining neighbourhoods in the UK.  There is an anger and a bitterness  within the displaced people that does not seem to shift with time, creating wistful community web pages where former neighbours connect and reminisce. 14

Holding onto people, developing micro-initiatives within neighbourhoods, restoring, beautifying and upgrading  areas is a greener and more realistic alternative than the large-scale disruption of past and often current urban regeneration programmes.

Across the industrial Midlands and the North there is a push to show  modern forward thinking cities and developers are encouraged to build large shiny towers to give that image.  However research has shown that modern companies often prefer an old building as it gives a sense of longevity and security, and people like the character the older buildings give to an area whether in rural or urban districts. Even in rural areas the push for more housing can put ancient areas at risk.  Bad planning decisions are not only economically damaging but also damaging to health and wellbeing of a community.  Heritage is part of the anchorage of a community when the upheavals of factory, pit, quarry  or farm closures have left communities with a feeling of loss.

A review of population-based research on mortality risk over the last 20 years indicates that people who are isolated are at increased mortality risk from a number of causes. More recent studies indicate that social support is particularly related to survival postmyocardial infarction. The pathways that lead from such socioenvironmental exposures to poor health outcomes are likely to be multiple and include behavioural mechanisms and more direct physiologic pathways related to neuroendocrine or immunologic function. For social support to be health promoting, it must provide both a sense of belonging and intimacy and must help people to be more competent and self-efficacious. Acknowledging that health promotion rests on the shoulders not only of individuals but also of their families and communities means that we must commit resources over the next decade to designing, testing, and implementing interventions in this area36

According to research carried out by English Heritage for their annual Heritage Counts 37 report, visiting  heritage sites has a significant and positive impact on life satisfaction and visits to historic  towns and buildings were found to have the greatest impact on wellbeing.  The report also calculates the value of these visits in financial terms and estimates the impact as being worth some £1646 per person per year, meaning visiting heritage is better for your wellbeing and life satisfaction than similar participation in sport. How much is heritage on the doorstep worth to the local community in health and wellbeing? Or to put it another way how much more demand is there on healthcare and other services when local heritage has been sold off?

There would seem to be a disjoint between those who are looking for finance to improve health in the community and cut crime and those who think finance from the sale of community assets especially heritage assets is a good way of bringing in finance for these preventive health schemes without looking at the hidden costs of removing these buildings from use.

One problem is there has been no clear value placed on such heritage assets from a health and crime reduction point of view so it is hard  to compare the monetary value with the community value. Too often community protests against demolition or change of use of a community asset is seen as nimbyism or backward looking by local authorities. There is need for more research in this field.

Cultural Elitism

There must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes: their art, their stories, their being able to progress through the artistic professions as easily as their privileged counterparts. The idea that the working class might have their own cultural identity too often gets dismissed, and that creates a void. And that’s the void that’s currently being filled by the far right across western democracies.” 38

 Article 27 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.39

Despite many acknowledging that the heritage and culture of the North is distinctive yet there seems to be very little effort to preserve that culture either locally or nationally.  Funding for culture and heritage from central government and funding bodies has never been high in comparison to elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  Is this because of the geography or because a lot of northern heritage in need of funding is about works and workers?

Sheffield’s Core Strategy 40states the objective of preserving and enhancing buildings and areas that are attractive, distinctive or of heritage value. But what is of heritage value? Historic England 41talking of listing buildings cites that for a building to be listed it has to be of a specific architectural,  historic interest of national importance. This has meant that much of the industrial areas found themselves battling without national support for their prominent industrial buildings. Industrial archaeology was and still is very much the poor relation, even in Sheffield where modern Industrial archaeology was born in 1918 with the Sheffield Technical Societies 42at Sheffield University. Recently the Government granted £7.6m to Wentworth Woodhouse whereas most grants through the Heritage Lottery fund rarely reach the £1m level in South Yorkshire.43

Volunteering in Heritage Lottery funded  projects44 would appear to be mainly a white elderly middle income activity though there are exceptions.   Is that because many of the applications for funding are made by the same groups or because their application is more likely to succeed?

Sarah Hughes 45drew attention in her paper  to the problems of definition of what culture means in the national press.  They define good arts provision to mean how much choice there is in theatre, cinema, concert halls and museums in the immediate vicinity failing  to look at culture in a local context.  The orchestral tuba player and the brass band tuba player  as musicians even if of equal ability are regarded differently,  but one is regarded as playing in high cultural events, the other as a hobbyist.  Ballet is regarded as culture, whereas Morris dancing is often regarded by many as a joke.

Civil War mix Manor Lodge

Manor Lodge, after decades of struggle now a popular destination.

The ‘official’ model of participation remains a top-down affair, operationalised as a demarcated set of activities and practices, defined largely by what government has traditionally funded, and informed by middle class norms and understandings of what counts as ‘legitimate’ culture.’ He suggests, ‘from this perspective, the ‘nonusers’ of culture can, in turn, be construed as a social problem: a passive, isolated and inadequate group morally adrift from the mainstream and therefore in need of mobilisation.’45

Areas like Castleford have to legitimize their cultural heritage from mining by emphasizing their Roman Heritage and Barnsley adding  stately homes such as Wentworth Castle to legitimate their heritage. This  comes from a mixture of local perception that an industrial heritage is inferior and what national funders will financially back. It has led perhaps to many cash strapped councils discounting any heritage that cannot bring in funding.

National survey data 46 for England shows that even in 2010, before the main impact of austerity, community organisations in the coalfields were more likely to report that they had insufficient overall income to meet their objectives. Cuts in local authority funding in England have hit deprived areas disproportionately hard. Across the country as a whole, the density of voluntary organisations in deprived areas is anyway far lower than in more prosperous areas.

Central Government spending per head on culture in London was nearly fifteen times greater than in the rest of England,  and successive governments and Arts Council England 47 continually  fail to redress the balance between London and the regions. In 2013  51% of ACE’s £322m public funding budget was spent on London, and of the further £450m used by the DCMS to direct-fund 16 major cultural organisations, an estimated 90% went to London.48  As a result, Londoners benefited from £69 of cultural spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England. In addition, ACE committed 45% of its £317m arts lottery funding to London, meaning  arts funding in London was  £17.41 per person in London, but only £3.90 in the rest of England.49 In 2018 it was found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as the capital it would need £691m more in the 2018-22 funding round.

And the same shortfall is within the Heritage Lottery funding50 .   Since the lottery began, the cumulative loss of funding to Britain’s industrial communities has probably been around £3bn, or £200m a year. In the last five years, communities in industrial Britain received only around 60 per cent of the national average per head. This has been made even worse by the HLF’s bias towards North Yorkshire and its rural communities and churches51.  

Sheffield is composed of distinct neighbourhoods with their own cultural identity. This cultural identity has been one of Sheffield’s great strengths helping people to feel part of a community.  With the closure of the pits, many works and  dairy farms, communities are left feeling disenfranchised .

Power to the People

In England  85%  of councils were making cuts to public health budgets in 2018/19. In Sheffield the Council cut its budget by £880,000.52  In  January 2018 Sheffield Council predicted an overspend of £20m in their social care budget.53 All the community properties put together and sold would make only a small dent in the health and social care budgets.

A look at what is happening in present and past publicly owned properties would suggest that community asset transfer could not only save the council money on running costs and repairs but that community involvement would also bring about community cohesion, improved mental health, reduction in loneliness, amongst other things.  It is obvious however that extra funding to repair and restore a building so communities are able to concentrate on making the building pay is not easy to find. Despite the problems community run assets do well. A sample of properties previously or currently owned by the council  show an amazing breadth of activities that add to the local community and that did not happen while under council control.  Here are a few examples.

Friends of Meersbrook Park 54 have calculated that a potential community asset transfer of Meersbrook Hall by the Council, the council would make an annual revenue savings of more than £65m from removing their need to maintain and heat the building, and further savings in staff time, administration and unforeseen costs such as damage repair. After repairs and restoration is carried out the building will also go up significantly in value. Add to that its present use working with local schools, Workers Education classes, and IT classes plus a number of public events it is already doing and a wide range of suggested activities when restored including commercial and community use. In fact they save considerably more money by the transfer than the original projected sale price.

De Hood

At Manor Top, 55 an old school, has been taken over as a community gym and has  in six years gone from a boxing gym to also running a cafe and various keep fit activities such as dancing and football, as well as a recovery drop in centre for addicts and a drugs and rehabilitation centre. The crime rate is down 60%,  arson has halved and has a membership of 500 people of all ages who are now healthier and happier. The savings to emergency services, social services and health services must be quite phenomenal in an area that was previously an area known for criminal and anti-social behaviour. Yet the site is to be sold to create a new shopping centre. There is a suggestion that a new place could be found for them but that would cost money and it is doubtful the sale of the old school will provide the finance for a new club as well as the old school being in the centre of the community that anywhere else would not be. There is also an obvious strong community link that will not be there in a bright shiny building if they do actually get one.

Grenoside Reading Room 56

Built around 1790 as an endowed school the building had fallen into disrepair and in 2006 the ownership of the building passed from the parish council to the residents of Grenoside. It took 6 years to get HLF funding to fully repair and restore the building. It became Grenoside’s first listed building and though small is very much in the heart of the community with a wide range of activities and community events including a rehearsal room for the Grenoside Sword dancers, and a lunchtime cafe once a week.

Heeley Development Trust 57

In 1997, having raised funding, the Trust took ownership of 3.5 hectares of land on a 125-year lease from Sheffield City Council. HDT have been delivering youth, community, environmental and economic development projects in the Heeley area since then including: – Heeley People’s Park,  Sum Studios  (a grade II listed Victorian school) redeveloped as a managed work space with 46 creative business tenants  Recycle Bikes – a social enterprise supporting disengaged young people to gain training, confidence, work experience and jobs.  The Trust is also working in partnership with the Friends of Meersbrook Hall to revitalise the hall and reopen it to the public  and providing within the hall an Online Centre  which offers free drop-in computer and internet access, as well as formal training in ‘Computers for Beginners’, digital imaging, spreadsheets, etc. HDT employs 32 staff across the above projects.

Burton Street Foundation 58

Burton Street Foundation began in 1998 in an historic board  school like Sum Studio but unlike HDT the community was no longer centred there but nevertheless the foundations contribution to the community especially those with disabilities is phenomenal. Around 2500 people use the site every week, for work and for play. They host countless events each year and  employ around 140 people. Their  disability services have around 250 clients. 14 local businesses are based there, and around 35 charities and community groups use their facilities each week. They now  run and maintain 5 buildings across 3 sites as well as a getaway in Wales too. They have a bistro, a cafe, a recording studio, a gym, conference facilities and offices for hire.

Heeley City Farm 59

Heeley City Farm took over land that the council owned after a failed bypass had left them with cleared land and no money to do anything with it. The Farm grew organically over the years from its early days with a shed and £25 in the bank, and soon became a well-loved part of the Heeley landscape providing beautiful green spaces and education, employment and training opportunities.

Heeley City Farm is now a well established community, not- for- profit charity and visitor attraction based on a working farm a mile from Sheffield City centre. Staff and volunteers from Heeley City Farm work with young people, adults with learning disabilities and with local communities across Sheffield to promote regeneration, environmental education, energy efficiency and health and well-being. Horticulture trainees, staff and volunteers also manage several  organic vegetable gardens across the city.  The  last remaining terraced house on the Farm site has been eco –refurbished and now houses South Yorkshire Energy Centre, an interactive visitor and advice centre open to the public.  Their Community Heritage Department has been delivering high quality community heritage, archaeology and history projects across the city since 2008.

Gillfield Wood60

The land is mostly owned by the council but in 2011 a Friends Group took over the maintenance and now has up to 100 volunteers. Besides conservation they have recorded1,600 species. The Friends group hosts a conservation morning once a month coppicing trees, relaying paths and mending dry stone walling. They created a pond, a wildflower meadow and opened up a glade to let sunlight in for butterflies and insects and there are 60 nesting boxes. There are several walks about a mile long and they run events for the community and for families during the year including bird walks, a history walk, one about flowers and fungi in the autumn and a mammal survey.

Within many communities across the UK there are historic buildings that the community wants to keep. Those they get to keep have a head start re community enthusiasm and possibly because they aren’t the local authority running it they come up with a wide range of ideas to keep the buildings running at capacity.

97% of the community organisations Locality 61 surveyed said that the community asset transfer had strengthened their relationship with the local community. 52%also highlighted a strengthened relationship with other public agencies as a key benefit. 58% of community organisations we surveyed reported that their relationship with the local authority had been strengthened by the process of community ownership. 70% of local authorities either agreed or strongly agreed that the process had enhanced partnership working with local voluntary and community sector groups. 75% reported an increase in more effective community engagement.

What is also clear from the examples given that community assets can help create jobs, training opportunities and give support to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of the community. Despite the obvious lack of funding  some have been running for over 20 years.

Many councils now are looking at setting up community anchors or hubs to  tackle the root causes of inequality and to  create a  highly-localised service.  At the same time councils are selling off the community buildings already there and often displacing the community organisations they say they want to work with. It’s hard to tackle loneliness in an area where there is no place to meet. Or set up training for people where it involves expensive buses to get to the training place.

A recent YouGov poll commissioned by Locality found that 71% of people felt they had not much or no control over the important decisions that affected their neighbourhoods and local communities. With more community buildings being sold off that percentage is going to rise.


  1. Klinenberg Eric (2018) Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society, Siddique Haroon (2018) Thousands of public buildings and spaces in England sold off a year, The Guardian
  2. BBC Wales (2017) 110 Anglican churches closed in 10 years.
  3. Burn Chris (2016) One quarter of south Yorkshire’s working men’s clubs lost in last decade Sheffield Star
  4. BBC News (2018) Pubs closing at rate of 18 a week as people stay at home
  5. Crown Publishing Group
  6. Price David (2008)Sheffield Troublemakers, Phillimore & Co. Ltd
  7. Brabin Tracy (2018) More than 500 children’s centres have closed in England since 2010
  8. Presser Lizzie (2016) Disadvantaged teenagers left isolated as clubs and holiday camps are closed
  9. O’Hara Mary (2018) young people’s mental health is a ‘worsening crisis’ Action is needed
  10. BBC (2018) School exclusions: Are more children being expelled? Reality Check Team
  11. Booth Roberts (2018) unsustainable villages risk being frozen in time say landowners
  12. Vesty Helena (2018) Unreliable public transport ‘stops poor families finding work’
  13. Sheffield City Partnership Board (2018) State of Sheffield 2018
  14. Power Ann, Wilson Julius (2000) Social Exclusion and the Future of Cities, CASE paper 35 Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics, Houghton Street London wc2A 2AE
  15. Joseph Rowntree Trust (2007) Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage
  16. McMurtry Roy, Curling Alvin (2008)  The review of the roots of youth violence Vol 1 Ontario Service Ontario Publications 777 Bay Street, Market Level Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C8
  17. Klinenberg Eric (2002) Heat Wave; A Social autopsy of disaster in Chicago, The University of Chicago Press
  18. Ashton Lucy (2018) Latest ideas on developing Sheffield Estate
  19. Elliott, I. (June 2016) Poverty and Mental Health: A review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Strategy. London: Mental Health Foundation
  20. TME (2018) Culture and Community Cohesion Partnership Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council
  21. Gorman, C. (2007) Final Reflections from the Action for Neighbourhood Change Research Project The Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Toronto
  22. Hosie Rachel (2018) Young people feel lonelier than any other age group, largest study into loneliness reveals
  23. HM Government (2018) A connected society, A strategy for tackling loneliness-laying the foundations for change, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 100 Parliament Street London SW1A 2BQ
  24. Morrison Janet (2018) Social Isolation should be a public health priority.
  25. Eyre David (2016) Poor Mental Health, the links between child poverty and mental problems The Childrens Society
  26. Donovan Francesca (2018) The loneliness epidemic among young people need to be tackled by government
  27. Ashton Lucy (2018) Community Cohesion: Sheffielders living in poverty and isolation have a tougher life.
  28. Syal Rajeev (2017) More than 600,000 pupils in England taught by unqualified teachers
  29. Cooper Sam (2018) Staggering number of school exclusions across Sheffield revealed.
  30. Halliday Josh (2018) Police in Sheffield grapple with surge in violent crime.
  31. Cain Sean (2018) Nearly 130 public libraries closed across Britain in the last year
  32. Volunteer Libraries in Sheffield
  33. Luciana Olivia (2017) Preserving People’s Cultural Heritage is a Crucial Part of Development Blog Post CIEL Centre for International Environmental Law
  34. Power A, Smith K (2016) Heritage, health and place: the legacies of local community-based heritage conservation University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
  35. Collier Hatty (2014) Sheffield residents fight plans to bulldoze independent shops.
  36. Fisher Brian, Neve Hilary, Heritage Zoe, (1999)  Community development, user involvement and primary health care BMJ Medical Publishing Company
  37. Historic England (2014) Heritage Counts 2014: The Value and Impact of Heritage
  38. McMillan Andrew (2017) The Working class has its own cultural identity
  39. Silverman Helaine, Fairchild D Ruggles (2007) Cultural Heritage and Human Rights, University of Illinois
  40. Sheffield City Council (2013) Sheffield Plan Consultation, pre submission
  41. Historic Englands (2018) Listed buildings, listing what is designation definition of a listed building
  42. South Yorkshire Industrial History Society (formerly Sheffield Trades Historical Society
  43. Doughty Eleanor (2018) Wentworth Woodhouse reveals its £130m renovation masterplan
  44. HLF (2008) Social Impact of Heritage Lottery Funded Projects, Heritage Lottery Fund
  45. Hughes Sarah (2018) Understanding Cultural Participation in Barnsley, Phd thesis, University of Leicester
  46. Foden Mike, Fothergill Steve, Gore Tony (2014) The state of the coalfield’s economics in the former mining communities of England, Scotland and Wales, Centre for Regional and Social Research Sheffield Hallam University
  1. Marsh Sarah (2017) Arts funding: £700m needed to bridge north-south divide, study finds,
  2. Arts Council (2013) Expenditure data for Arts Council, Arts Council
  3. Romer Marcus (2013) How Arts Funding works on the ground
  4. Industrial Communities Alliance (2011) The Postcode Lottery, How the National Lottery short-changes Britain’s industrial communities, Alliance National Secretariat 9 Regents Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2E
  5. Heritage Lottery Fund (2018) Figures taken from Project Search
  6. Torr George (2018) Social Care in growing ’financial crisis’ as Sheffield Council bosses reveal massive £20m overspend
  7. Yorkshire Post (2018) Leeds hit hardest as council health budgets in Yorkshire and Humber ’cut by £8m’
  8. Friends of Meersbrook Hall
  9. De Hood
  10. Grenoside Reading Room
  11. HDT (2018) Heeley Development Trust Case Study, Power to Change, Business in Community hands. Heritage Lottery Fund
  12. Burton Street Foundation
  13. Heeley City Farm

61. Plummer John (2018) Locality urges councils to transfer assets to communities, not flog them off. Third Sector


So long and thanks for all the fish?

When I started Timewalk project I said I would give it 5 years and that 5 years is up now, so time to take stock. I have enjoyed myself and sometimes ended up way beyond my comfort zone giving interviews and talks and writing reports. There are a lot of amazing people out there, but I knew that when I started as that was my main aim was to champion them. There has been some great achievements and some great things in the pipeline but are the powers that be really aware of the great unique  heritage that is round every corner in this city?


Sheffield Rotherham Canal 200 years old in 2019.


I started looking at ways of promoting heritage after reading a letter sent by the Arts Council that stated Sheffield wasn’t interested in Heritage or Culture. I couldn’t understand how they reached that conclusion,  but looking at the Council’s website gave me a clue, as well as looking at Google maps. According to Google Cannon Hall was in Meersbrook Park, and Bishops House not even in the park and somewhere  along the road. This wasn’t  helped by the fact that the Council website listed Bishops House as being in Derbyshire.  Of the Top 10 places to visit on the Council website 3 were not in Sheffield. The information suggested too that the Peak District National Park started outside Sheffield Boundaries not that part was actually within city boundaries.  Manor Lodge despite its brand new Discovery Centre and craft workshops was not even mentioned.

Manor Lodge Tower

Manor Lodge Banqueting Tower.

I remember asking a Councillor why the Council didn’t promote places like Manor Lodge and was told they were short of money. I asked how much money it took to add an entry to their website.  I didn’t get an answer so maybe that is why the Arts Council felt Sheffield wasn’t interested in Heritage.

Advertising for Heritage events was poor partly due to the fact that many organisations didn’t have an online presence, or if they did it was frequently a website that someone forgot to update. The list of organisations was also problematic as some that were still listed had closed and others had formed but weren’t listed. The only way to get any idea was to go to the Central Library and pick up leaflets and then either scan them in or write out an add. As I found more leaflets it got really time consuming as so much had to be typed in to a calendar of events. It was a great relief when more groups started on Facebook and on Twitter.  As I could just click and forward to my page or retweet.


Art Deco relief on Central Library

When I started not only did people not know of events in the city centre, they didn’t know of events in their neighbourhood.  As we started mapping old buildings across Sheffield and researching them it became obvious that Sheffield history books miss out a lot, and are downright wrong in some places. Even some of the listed buildings are dated wrongly and often older than Historic England says they are. Many pubs that are listed as Victorian are Georgian. Many important historical buildings have gone because there was not enough research into their importance or consideration for the historic character of an area.


Le Grand Depart, Le tour de France Meadowhall

The Grand Depart in 2014 was a game changer for Sheffield’s heritage in a variety of ways. The  Yorkshire Festival which led up to Le Tour meant many organisations got funding and advertising. Organisations such as Friends of Porter Valley, Friends of Wincobank , Sheffield Cathedral and Museums Sheffield.  But what also occurred  to everybody was the lost opportunities to market Sheffield to the world that could have happened if Sheffield had been more coordinated. A chance meeting with a Council officer from marketing led to an offer of a meeting room where several heritage groups could get together. This was the birth of Joined up Heritage, which is now a Consortium .


The Council has a Welcome to Sheffield site which lists some of the Heritage sites and events. It also recently began to list some Heritage venues suitable for conferences. There is more to be done but things have really moved on in 5 years though sometimes when you think of the distance still to go it’s easy to forget the triumphs.

We have the beautiful  restored Samuel Worth Chapel at the general cemetery, Grenoside Reading Room, significant Roman  archaeology at Whirlow Farm, the buying and restoration of Zion cemetery, the restoration of the Wheel at Abbeydale plus new visitors centre, the opening of the WW2 farm at Manor Lodge, Lyceum Theatre upgraded, both Cathedrals, the Fire and Police station now a National Museum with hugely expanded visitor numbers, and the amazing Wadsend Cemetery which from unknown is on every Councillor’s lips.   Events that used to have a couple of people and a dog now have to ticket events because otherwise they are over capacity.

Bluebell Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery in Springtime.

Heritage Open Day,  that previously had one entry if we were lucky, has turned into the biggest HOD event in the country. It has brought together businesses grassroots heritage the Civic Society and the Universities in one great collaborative expression of our heritage. It has also had an impact outside Sheffield in that not only does it bring in visitors it has inspired other places to organise their own HOD. Sheffield’s heritage is very definitely back on the map.

However some of the same problems remain. Arts and Lottery funding is lower for Sheffield than elsewhere. Developers are still being allowed to encroach on Conservation areas with disastrous results. Some ancient buildings have been lost, an old farm cottage in Tinsley, an old barn in Walkley, the old dairy farmyard and cow stalls  at Norton, Loxley Chapel, Travellers at  Wadsley Bridge, to name but a few. Many more are planned  to be cleared, facaded or totally eclipsed by the plans for retailing in the City Centre, even though Major retailers are failing every week or abandoning  their presence in the high street. Community assets are being sold by the Council and others are being left to rot by absentee owners from outside the city.


Old Town Hall

There has to be a plan drawn up to protect and conserve and utilise our unique heritage, and an understanding by Sheffield Council and businesses why it is important to the economic and community health of the city. It isn’t about a group of elderly men grumbling in the corner about how things used to be, or turning every old building into a museum. It’s about a pride in our history and the way our city developed. It’s about walking round the corner and seeing an unusual building and having a great coffee there. It’s about  a tourist or a worker feeling what’s special about the city and being literally in touch with the past. No tourist wants to visit a brand new skyscraper that blots out the view of what’s unique, or go shopping in shops that only have the facade left. They want to feel what it was like to be a shopper there in the past.  Give them a bland shiny interior and it is just the same as they get at home in a thousand other cities.


There has to be a plan on how we present our history to locals and tourists alike, but no point having a plan, if an important landmark  that tells so much of the story is demolished to make way for empty office blocks or empty student flats.  No point in saying that is where it used to be, before they put a shop on it and then knocked that down, and now there is an empty building that no one uses or particularly likes. Let’s think about what the place will look like after it’s gone and realistically whether losing it will help or hinder how we market our city. Let’s not replace that which has lasted for 100s of years with something that will be demolished in 30 after many years of crumbling to bits. Let’s use the old buildings to tell our city’s story past, present and future.  It’s a history to be proud of. Not hidden or swept away. Yes it looks messy and has several different styles of architecture and many buildings have changed use several time over but that is how city’s grow and evolve, keeping the useful older buildings, and adding in new to the mix.


Cambridge Street, Bethel Sunday School

So do I stop now and leave it to others and go back to my research in the various archives? It’s very tempting as my life has been very busy over the last few years. I certainly need to change my website as it has developed a contrary life of its own. As for filling out the events calendar with over 2’000 events a year I am finding it hard to keep up. Photographing historic sites is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge in fact even worse as before I have got to the end places that I photographed at the beginning need updating.  Entries to my blogs are spasmodic  and don’t have as many guest posts as I would have liked. Likewise the photos on my Facebook pages now featuring a proto Timewalk Rotherham site. Recent research into the owners of Meersbrook Hall has proved fascinating and I’d like to do more.

Samuel Shore by Chantry

Samuel Shore Meersbrook Hall

But despite my original promise to myself to give it 5 years and walk away there is so much to be done re promoting Sheffield’s heritage and the communities it is important to. Plus I don’t think the Council and the National funders have got the message yet. I  think that all the heritage lovers in our city still need to have their voices heard so for now I will continue passing on their messages.

Happy New Year

Losing Heritage damages your health.

Birley Spa

Birley Spa Community owned building due for sale in 2019

Losing publicly owned heritage buildings is not only economically damaging but also damaging to the health and well being of a community. Heritage is part of the anchorage of a community when the upheavals of factory, pit, or farm closures have left communities with a feeling of loss. 

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant Sharrow. One of Sheffield’s most prestigious buildings sold by SCC to private developer despite alternative community scheme.


English councils are selling off 400 publicly owned buildings a year. To add to that are closures of churches, working men’s clubs, and local pubs. For those on lower income public spaces and buildings are the only places they can afford to use. In the case of historic buildings and sites it also incorporates a history of ordinary people like themselves that goes back generations.

Civil War mix Manor Lodge

Manor Lodge, after decades of struggle now a popular destination.


Children growing up in social housing are more likely to suffer from depression and poor self esteem than children from families in same income and same hardships who live elsewhere. Research has found that lonely elderly people have a 31% higher  risk of death, and that each older lonely person costs health and social care services up to £6,000 over 10 years. They are 1.8 times more likely to visit their GP, 1.6 times more likely to visit A&E and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority-funded residential care. But it is not just the elderly who suffer from loneliness, 40% of 16-24 years olds say they feel lonely. 400,000 children and young people are in contact with the health service for mental health problems. The number of “active referrals” by GPs is a third higher than two years previously. There is a sharp increase in children seeking help for depression and anxiety.

Herdings Heritage Centre

Herdings Heritage & Community centre. Originally farmhouse


If people have nowhere to meet as a community, people grow more isolated, more anxious. People stay indoors, and areas begin to show neglect and there is a rise in vandalism, racism and violent crime. Sheffield has a lot of great green spaces but in housing estates like Gleadless Valley

Since the removal of wardens and kids clubs the area has become litter strewn and prone to anti-social behaviour. 

Concorde Barn and House

Ancient cruck barn & farmhouse Concorde Park. Age unknown but medieval site. Barn not open to public as used as store

At Manor Top,  DeHood has taken over the old school as a community gym, and cafe, as well as  being a drop in centre for recovering addicts.  The crime rate is down 60%,  arson has halved. The savings to emergency services, social services and health services must be quite substantial  Yet the site is to be sold to create a new shopping centre. There is a suggestion that a new place could be found but part of the success of the club is the building’s strong historic links to the community.

High Hazels Hall

High Hazels hall. Once used as museum now in poor repair & only partially used in High Hazels Park

Public buildings that have a long history have an advantage that newer buildings without a history haven’t. It gives older people a chance to talk about their experiences to the young  and builds up trust. Most older public buildings are geographically as well as emotionally central to the community. The history and appearance gives the area an identity that is unique to their area.  

The loss of historic buildings matters to ordinary people. Over 11’000 people signed a petition about protecting the character of the Devonshire Quarter in Sheffield.  In Sheffield there are approximately 130 Heritage groups and organisations. Many organisations have several hundred members and have been around for over thirty years. Feelings run deep in Sheffield but finding a similar response from National heritage organisations and funders is prone to failure.


Our heritage and culture has the lowest level of funding in the country. It was found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as the capital it would need £691m more in the 2018-22 funding round, and HLF funding is not only lower in Yorkshire than elsewhere it is lower in South Yorkshire than it is in the rural Yorkshire dales. Research would suggest that this is down to a National and local cultural snobbery.  Recently the Government granted £7.6m to Wentworth Woodhouse whereas most grants through the Heritage Lottery fund rarely reach the £1m level in South Yorkshire. It is hard to get funding for “working class” northern heritage. Perhaps that is why the Council had no active plan for protecting and utilising buildings like Birley Spa, or Meersbrook Hall, and the medieval Concorde barn is used as a store, and instead of accepting the community based plan for Mount Pleasant it was sold to a private developer. Most of our prominent heritage buildings are there due to pressure by local groups such as the Lyceum, Abbeydale Hamlet, Kelham Island Museum, Bishops House, Wincobank church, and the General Cemetery to name but a few.    

Abbeydale Dam with crucible stack visible

Abbeydale Hamlet, Gifted by Greaves to the city, after decades left to rot was restored.


Sheffield Council cut its preventative health budget by £880,000 for 2018/19.  In  January 2018 Sheffield Council predicted an overspend of £20m in their social care budget. All the community properties put together, sold  and put into the Council’s coffers would only make a slight dent in one year’s  required income. How many £m would they save over the years by transferring them to the community rent free?  Birley Spa has an asking price of £70’000. How much will it cost the community and health services to see it go, rather than put it back into community use?

Meersbrook Hall HOD

Meersbrook Hall, once home to Internationally famous Ruskin Museum


Friends of Meersbrook Park  have calculated that a community asset transfer of Meersbrook Hall  would save the Council £65m per annum by removing their need to maintain and heat the building, and further savings in staff time, administration and unforeseen costs such as damage repair.


The tenacity of heritage groups in Sheffield is amazing. It took 6 years for the Grenoside community to get HLF funding to fully repair and restore the 18th century reading room, but meanwhile they continued cleaning out the rubbish and landscaping round the building. As Grenoside’s 1st listed building it has brought back a sense of community and gave them space for their community. 

Grenoside reading room

Grenoside Reading Room now community owned and run.

Our communities have to be the primary focus of any Council’s planning decisions, especially if their decisions may result in the loss of our culture and impact on our health and well being.    

Samuel Shore, the quiet reformer (1738-1828)

Samuel Shore by Chantry

believed to be of Samuel Shore by Francis Chantrey

Samuel Shore was one of the 18th century’s influential reformers. Yet it would appear from his obituary that few knew the extent of his involvement.  .

The Shore family appear to have started on their road to being Sheffield’s wealthiest family by being quarry men and stone masons. Three Shore brothers are mentioned in a document as demolishing the stonework of Sheffield Castle. A descendent of one of those brothers appears in documents as  owning the first cementation works in Sheffield in 1700. Samuel’s father married a rich heiress from Liverpool.  By the time Samuel Shore was born in 1738 the Shores were one of the richest family in Sheffield.

DSCF2672The Shore family were founder members of the Upper Chapel built to house  dissenters who split from the established church. At the time of its building in 1700 they called themselves Presbyterians but over the years their beliefs changed to what became known as Unitarian.  Unitarian beliefs were not tolerated and Unitarians along with Catholics were unable to worship.

Education for dissenters was problematic as they were banned from the Universities so Samuel was sent first to a French College in London which taught science, and then to a college in Brunswick in Hannover for three years.  In 1759 Samuel married the heiress Urith Offley and with that marriage gained possession of the Norton Estate.

In 1761 Samuel  became Sheriff of Derbyshire and  a local magistrate. The posts were unusual in that under the law non conformists such as Samuel were refused entry to the Universities, politics and government posts due to what was called the test act. Samuel did not take the test yet became Sheriff.

The Test act excluded from public office (both military and civil) all those who refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and  refused to receive the communion according to the rites of the Church of England. Those who would not conform were also barred from the Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Samuel now had position and status that most manufacturers in the North did not have, or most dissenters either. Samuel Shore knew London well, was multi-lingual, and with a keen interest in science.  As a Unitarian Samuel was forbidden by law the right to worship.   Samuel began a fight to change the law, bring about electoral reform and establish equal rights for all under the law. This was dangerous talk in Britain. It could be construed as treason. But Samuel was gaining respect throughout Yorkshire and beyond.

One good friend was Joseph Priestley. Priestley had tried unsuccessfully  for a job in the Upper Chapel but had been turned down.  A lifetime relationship formed between them with Priestley dedicating one of his religious books to Samuel.  Priestley’s research led to the discovery of oxygen but Joseph Priestley’s radical views would eventually lead him into trouble with the government.

In 1774  Shore backed their mutual friend  the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey to set up a Unitarian Chapel in Essex street London. At the opening ceremony Priestley, Shore, and Benjamin  Franklyn are among the guests. Though Unitarian chapels were illegal at the time Samuel Shore was friends with the Attorney General who turned a blind eye to it. Through the chapel Samuel Shore was to meet William  Smith from Clapham, and in 1779 they formed a committee to fight for the abolition of the Test Act.  At about that time   Benjamin Franklyn having met Thomas Paine, the great radical writer and inventor offered him sanctuary in the USA.  It is not known if Paine and Shore’s paths crossed in London but they shared a number of mutual friends so it seems likely he at least knew of Paine before Paine became famous or infamous for his republican views.

In 1775 Samuel Shore’s sister married Thomas Walker a cotton mill owner from Manchester. Thomas Walker was very much a radical thinker with strong  links to the Lunar Society in Birmingham  Samuel had many links including  Rev Samuel Blythe junior, from Bishops House, who had sold off the Blythe’s lands in Norton to the Shores, and Benjamin Roebuck in 1759  to go to  Birmingham and set up a meeting house. In 1780 Joseph Priestley shared the pastoral responsibility with Blythe who was growing  blind. In the same year Samuel Shore. supported by Major Cartwright, he became chair of the Yorkshire Association.

Cartwright called for annually-elected parliaments, equally-sized constituencies and manhood suffrage. Cartwright recognised  manhood suffrage would involve enfranchising the lower orders, recognising that those without landed property had a right to a vote.  Cartwright also called for the abolition of under-populated rotten boroughs and their replacement as constituencies by more populous parishes. He also believed that  open polling should be replaced by the secret ballot. In order to achieve these democratic reforms, he suggested that a campaign of petitioning be launched so that the force of popular feeling be brought to bear on the corrupt, self-interested ruling order.

William Wilberforce became an Independent MP for Hull and bought a pew in the Essex Chapel and joined the Yorkshire Association. .   In April 1780  Samuels friend Cartwright  also helped establish the Society for Constitutional Information, which Samuel became vice chairman of.   Granville Sharp joined the organisation. Other members included John Horne TookeJohn ThelwallGranville SharpJosiah Wedgwood, and William Smith.    William Smith became MP for Sudbury in Suffolk in 1784 the same year that the Yorkshire Association financially backed  William Wilberforce’s campaign to  become MP for Yorkshire.

Clapham was steadily becoming famous for evangelism and Methodism.  It is not known when Samuel changed his London address to Clapham but gradually his links with Clapham were more evident. The Clapham Sect became known as the heart of the anti slavery campaigns led by Methodist Selina Hastings otherwise known as the Countess of Huntingdon.  In 1773 , Phillis Wheatley 20 years old became famous when her first  book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published, by  Selina Hastings,  In publishing it, Wheatley became the first African American  woman and first U.S. slave to publish a book of poems.  Selina introduced Phillis  to high society where  she proved that the common belief that Africans were somehow inferior and could not be educated was undoubtedly false.

Samuel’s motives for being in so many committees for constitutional change is obvious. As a Unitarian and from a Northern manufacturing family there was very little opportunity for him to obtain high offices. There were no MPs for Sheffield. In 1736 there were around 7’000 inhabitants. By 1801 there were 60’000. Those eligible to vote for a Yorkshire MP were few and also meant a long  journey to vote in York.   But equally strong was the drive to make all men equal under the law with the right to worship how they chose.

As chair at a Midland  dissenters  meeting  Samuel Shore was to say.

It is not the province of the Civil magistrates to direct, or to interfere with the religious opinions or practices of any members of the State, provided their conduct be not injurious to others. 

That all the subjects of the State, conducting themselves in an equally peaceable Manner, are equally entitled not only to Protection in the possession of their civil rights, but also to any civil honours or emoluments, which are accessible to other subjects without any regard to their religion or practices.  

Desiring nothing for ourselves but the same equal and liberal treatment , to which we think all other persons in a similar situation, are equally entitled,  it is our earnest wish that an equal participation in all civil privileges may be obtained for Dissenters of every description, to whom nothing  can be objected, besides their religious opinions or practices , and who can give that security for their Civil allegiance which the state ought to require.

  That the protestant Dissenters of this country,  have always had reason to complain of unjust treatment  ie being disqualified to hold offices of Civil Trust or Power, though their behaviour has ever been peaceable, and loyal, and though they can even boast peculiar merit, as friends to the present government.

That it becomes Dissenters, as Men feeling their own disgraceful situation and the opprobrium which that reflects upon the country, to adopt every constitutional method of procuring the redress of their grievances and thus retrieve the honour of the nation.”

In 1786, Shore was a member of the Application Committee that applied to Parliament for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act and when that motion was defeated, he resigned from his post of High Sheriff in protest

Also in 1786 a young printer called Joseph Gales moved to Sheffield to take over the newspaper. The previous paper had been a local paper and not a very large circulation. Joseph had a vision of a more radical paper, which Samuel was keen to encourage, persuading William Wilberforce to support the paper as that meant the paper was exempt from tax.

In 1787 Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and William Dillwyn formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Influential figures such as John WesleyJosiah WedgwoodJames Ramsay, and William Smith gave their support to the campaign. Despite pressure from members of the Clapham set Wilberforce held back joining till 1789. Suggestions were made that petitions should be raised across the country.

Samuel and his friends and relatives set up branches of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery across the country. Joseph Gales support with the rising popularity of his paper proved invaluable to publicising their cause.

In Samuel’s personal life after seven years as a widow  Samuel married Lydia Flower from Clapham and moved into Meersbrook Hall.


Meersbrook Hall, Meersbrook Park

In 1788 Samuel Shore as chairman of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery together with Rev Willkinson, John and William Shore, Mr Tudor, and Mr Watkinson (master cutler) and a Dr. Sutcliffe set up a committee to organise a petition.  Copies of the petition for people to sign were set up at Tontine Inn, the Cutlers Hall, and John and William Shore’s bank.

In thus endeavouring to rescue thousands of their innocent  and unoffending Fellow-Creatures  (innocent and unoffending at least to the Natives of this Country) from the miseries that are the necessary attendants upon such a commerce, your petitioners are, as men, influenced by the feelings of humanity; as members of a free  community, by the true principles of just and equal liberty; and as Christians, by a desire to act consistently with the Spirit of that most excellent religion, which does not confine good will and benevolent actions to a small part of the globe, or to any particular description , or complexion of men, but extends them to the whole human race.  

Your Petitioners therefore, humbly solicit this honourable house to proceed to a full and thorough investigation of this important subject: and if the most weighty and urgent reasons cannot be opposed to those advanced by your petitioners; and if those who are more immediately concerned in the question, cannot prove the Slave Trade from Africa to be agreeable to the dictates of humanity, conformable to just ideas of Liberty, and consistent with the precepts of religion, that then this honourable house will take such steps as in their wisdom may be deemed necessary, for the abolition of that inhuman and disgraceful traffic“.

The petitions strengthened William Smith and William Wilberforce’s hand to speak against the abolition of slavery.  In Gales Paper and elsewhere the pressure for boycotting sugar from slave plantations gained momentum. Many abolitionists were also campaigning for reform. Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and William Smith had all visited Revolutionary France. Samuel’s Brother in Law had strong links to the new French Government. The ideas of a more equal society were understandably exciting to many in Britain.

The government was getting exceedingly nervous, not helped by the publication of Paine’s Rights of Man, putting forth republican views, and the rise of the Corresponding Societies (more political societies for change) Samuel Shore had helped Joseph Gales set one up at the Free Masons Hall in Paradise Square. The new Corresponding societies were seen as radicalizing the “riff-raff” Many Unitarians including William Smith openly praised the Revolution.  Joseph Priestley said :-

The glorious revolutions in America & France have propagated truths which will never be extinguished for Truth is like a spark of Fire which flyeth up in the face of those who attempt to tread it out.”

However the fire that happened was in Joseph’s house,  meeting house, and all his scientific notes and equipment burning in Birmingham lit by a mob who stormed the homes of dissenters. Samuel called for calm in Sheffield but a celebration of the revolution took a violent turn when many of the towns people attacked the debtors prison letting the inmates out, and smashed the windows and furniture of the Duke of Norfolk’s agents house and then as the army presence swelled up went on the rampage at Broomhall  home of the Vicar Wilkinson, smashing windows and furniture and books and attempting to set fire to the House. Having failed to do so they set fire to six of his hay ricks. But the protest in Sheffield was not really about revolution but attacking those they deemed responsible for enclosing Common land.

The corresponding societies were enthused by Thomas Paines Rights of Man and helped publish special cheaper versions so all could read it. A million copies were sold.  The corresponding societies were not however preaching violence but what they saw was a return to constitutional rights.

 That it is no less the Right than the Duty of every Citizen, to keep a watchful eye on the Government of his Country; that the Laws, by being multiplied, do not degenerate into Oppression; and that those who are entrusted with the Government, do not substitute Private Interest for Public Advantage.

 That the People of Great Britain are not effectually represented in Parliament.

That in Consequence of a partial, unequal, and therefore inadequate Representation, together with the corrupt Method in which Representatives are elected; oppressive Taxes, unjust Laws, restrictions of Liberty, and wasting of the Public Money, have ensued.

That the only Remedy to those Evils is a fair, equal, and impartial Representation of the People in Parliament.

That a fair, equal, and impartial Representation can never take Place, until all partial Privileges are abolished.

That this Society do express their Abhorrence of Tumult and Violence, and that, as they aim at Reform, not Anarchy, Reason, Firmness, and Unanimity are the only Arms they themselves will employ, or persuade their Fellow-Citizens to exert, against Abuse of Power                 

In 1792 Thomas Paine escaped to France having been warned that the government were planning his arrest.   A trial was held in his absence. The government  argued that Paine’s work inflamed the populace and distributed radical ideas to those without the experience to understand them.  Paine was found guilty. The verdict was seen by the government as legitimising their repression of radicalism.

In April 1793 Gales chaired an open meeting in Sheffield on parliamentary reform. At the meeting it was decided to start a petition in support of universal suffrage. Gales eventually presented Parliament with a petition signed by 8,000 people from Sheffield. By May 1794 the Sheffield Register was selling over 2,000 copies a week. Such a large circulation was extremely unusual for a provincial newspaper in the 18th century. Sheffield was now seen as the most radical town in Britain.

The government was also worried about the growth and tactics of the parliamentary reform movement in Sheffield. At a large meeting of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information, chaired by Henry Redhead Yorke, a resolution was passed that abandoned the policy of petitioning Parliament. William Pitt and his government feared that this meant that reformers in Sheffield would now resort to violence.

In 1794  Thomas Walker was prosecuted for treasonable conspiracy. Although the  treason charge against Walker was dropped he was brought to trial on a seditious conspiracy charge in 1794 in Lancaster together with ten defendants but the evidence was proved to be falsified  and they all walked free.

The authorities started arresting members of the Corresponding Societies. Thomas MuirThomas Fyshe PalmerWilliam SkirvingJoseph Gerrald and Maurice Margarot were found guilty of sedition and were sentenced to between seven and fourteen years transportation. Thomas HardyJohn Horne Tooke and John Thelwall were tried with treason but the charges failed to stick and they were released

Joseph Gales wrote articles in the Sheffield Register attacking the arrest of reformers. He also mounted a campaign against the suspension of habeas corpus. Gales was now considered a dangerous man and was charged with conspiracy. Aware that he would not receive a fair trial, Gales decided to flee the country. After publishing the last edition of the Sheffield Register on 27th June, 1794, Gales escaped to Germany. It is not known what Samuel Shore felt about Gales. Many have said that Shore was not a republican which was true, but what we do know that it was Shore money that was paid to Gales wife to allow them to escape to America.

In 1807 the aged Samuel Shore formed a Committee to support Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton who stood for the West Riding as a Whig.  With the Corresponding societies now illegal Samuel formed a new group called the Friends of Reform in 1810 which held a dinner for Samuel’s old friend John Cartwright in 1812.

In 1813 William Smith finally managed to have an act passed that  allowed for toleration of Unitarians worship. William Smith visited Meersbrook a number of times. No doubt as Samuel was now in his 70s the journey to London was becoming too much.  However there are signs that Samuel had not lost his campaigning spirit.

In 1819 Samuel Shore appears as Chairman at a meeting to protest at the Massacre at Peterloo  when the cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Mr Rawson from Wardsend addressed the crowd

“Gentlemen, I have always been accustomed to consider it to be an inalienable  and an indisputable  right of the people to meet for a redress of grievances, and that too without any restriction in point of numbers. There are some who may object  to public meetings, alleging that they counteract, by their very violence, the cause which they are intended to support. This was not the opinion of our ancestors: if it had been so -where should we have been now? – in a state similar to that of Spain or Portugal. When our ancestors felt themselves aggrieved, they petitioned, addressed, fought, bled, and died for their liberties; and, dying, bequeathed us this right of meeting together on all matters as an heir-loom, to be preserved to our latest posterity, uncontaminated and unimpaired.” 

In 1824 Samuel Shore was seen in the news again at a meeting in the Town Hall as President of the Sheffield auxiliary  branch of the Anti-slavery society.

Sadly Samuel never saw the Great Reform Act which gave 2 MPs to Sheffield in 1832 or the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1833 as he died in 1828 at the age of 90 at Meersbrook Hall.

His obituary states

” Activity of body, no less than activity and energy of mind belonged to Mr. Shore. He enjoyed through his long life an enviable state of health and that eveness and elasticity of spirit which belongs peculiarly to those who are in constant action, and who have the hope which religion gives. He sunk very gradually into the tomb. He was truly a green old age.”


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

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.