Where sparrows coughed

Banner's Department Store, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1977)

Banner’s Department Store, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1977)

The South Yorkshire Group of the Victorian Society runs a series of history walks around the city through the summer months [see http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/south-yorkshire].  These excursions are always led by someone who has done detailed research into the locality, often supplemented by others who can add further knowledge.

I particularly enjoyed one of the 2010 walks around Attercliffe, the heart of the steel industry in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley, because that’s where I grew up in the 1950s.  Most of the vibrant post-war life of the valley has long gone, leaving a few isolated standing relics, some of them architectural, others human.

There was a moment, at the height of the Second World War, when a well-placed German bomb dropped on the east end of Sheffield could have dished the only forge in Britain capable of producing Spitfire crankshafts.  Fortunately, the Luftwaffe’s radar beams, positioned directly over the Wellington Inn on Hawke Street, somehow failed to guide the pilots, who in one blitz-attack destroyed much of the city-centre, and in the other hit anywhere but the crucial quarter square mile.

After the war, the valley continued to thrive – grimy, smog-laden and industrial, yet home to some 55,000 workers.  In the 1950s Attercliffe boasted a Woolworth’s, two Burton’s tailors, a Littlewood’s store, four cinemas and a live theatre.

It also had its own family-run department store, Banner’s.  Shoppers from Rotherham, travelling into Sheffield by tram and later by bus, often stopped off at Attercliffe, rather than travel all the way into the city-centre.

Writers such as Keith Farnsworth, Sheffield’s East Enders:  life as it was in the Lower Don Valley (Sheffield City Libraries 1987), and Frank Hartley, Where sparrows coughed (Sheaf 1989) and Dancing on the cobbles (Sheaf 1992), describe how there was plenty of work, and in general wages were sufficient, but there was very little to spend it on in the days of austerity.

And almost everyone lived in a terraced house with an outside lavatory and no bathroom.

By the time I left Sheffield in 1958, the terraced streets were disappearing as “slum clearance”, and the old community ties were quickly broken.  Some of the late-surviving housing made homes for the first generation of immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia, but they too had moved away by the 1980s.

Indeed, a VicSoc history walk round Attercliffe in 1980 would have come across even more interesting buildings than survive today.

Andy Moffatt wrote a detailed account of growing up in Attercliffe just before the community finally disappeared at http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/sheffield/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8172000/8172074.stm and has his own website at http://www.70sheffieldlad.co.uk/index.html.

3 thoughts on “Where sparrows coughed

  1. Pingback: Zion Graveyard 1 | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times

  2. Faith

    Hi Mike-

    I’ve enjoyed reading your musings and learning more about the place you grew up. It’s my hope your memory might help me with a search I’m working on.

    A friend of mine was born in 1960 to parents who lived then at 655 Attercliffe Common. Her mom was of Irish descent, dad was Pakistani descent and was a bus conductor. If you might recall what was there, it’d be appreciated. I’m just trying to find some info about her first home for her. Her mom kind of stole her away from her dad, so she never knew him and has no memory of her first home. If you’d consider emailing me, it’d be deeply appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Mike Higginbottom Post author

      I’m delighted you enjoy my Attercliffe blog-articles.

      655 Attercliffe Common, according to my copy of the 1944 Kelly’s Directory, stood between Weedon Street, which has been widened, and Southern Street which has completely disappeared. In 1944 the address was a grocer’s shop, occupied by Mr Joseph Breeze. The most reliable landmark to identify the location is the South Yorkshire Police Headquarters at Carbrook House on Carbrook Hall Street, which is itself quite new. The only historic building that has survived in the immediate vicinity is Tinsley Tramsheds, which stands where Weedon Street originally ran: https://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=4958. There’s a link in that article to the film ‘Sheffield: the last trams’ which records a run from Millhouses to Weedon Street shortly before the trams finished. If you pause at 16:00 you’re looking at the section of Attercliffe Common which included 655.


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