The name of the huge Meadowhall shopping centre, beside the M1 Tinsley Viaductbetween Sheffield and Rotherham, is historically significant. It commemorates a farm, Meadow Hall, which stood where the northbound entry slip-road of Junction 34 climbs to the carriageway.
The valley of the River Don downstream from Sheffield itself remained rural till surprisingly late.
Even after the Attercliffe Common was enclosed in 1811 and the Sheffield Canal opened in 1819, the flat valley plain was thinly populated apart from the three small villages of Attercliffe, Carbrook and Darnall.
When the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway arrived in 1839, followed by the big steel works founded by such names as Firth, Brown, Vickers, Cammell and Jessop, the workers’ housing first went up on the north side of the valley in Brightside and Grimesthorpe.
The terraced housing in Attercliffe itself dated from the 1860s onwards, which is why there were few back-to-backs. (Sheffield took against back-to-backs because of the lack of ventilation; Leeds and Bradford people liked them because they were cosy.)
In the valley the earlier villas and houses are now commemorated solely in street names – Attercliffe Old Hall, Attercliffe New Hall, Chippingham House, Shirland House, Woodbourn Hall.
Only two buildings remain from the time when the valley was beautiful – Carbrook Hall (c1620) and the Hill Top Chapel (1629-30), but a couple of other very attractive relics of pre-industrial days survived until the 1960s.
One was Carlton House on Kimberley Street fronting on to Attercliffe Road, built to replace an older manor house that burnt down in 1761. A polite Georgian house of five bays and three storeys, it appears on a map dated 1777 and in 1819, when the tenant was Thomas Howard, it was surrounded by extensive pleasure grounds and a pond 1½ acres in area.
In the 1830s it was the home of Samuel Jackson, co-founder of the sawmakers Spear & Jackson and in 1839 it was apparently sold to the Duke of Newcastle. (That title hardly ever figures in Sheffield’s history, and may have crept in as a typo for the ubiquitous Duke of Norfolk.)
For many years it was a doctor’s surgery, and by the Second World War was the premises of Alfred A Markham & Son, undertakers, joiners and shopfitters.
Nearby, at the top of Heppenstall Lane, stood 523/525 Attercliffe Road, a semi-detached pair of houses of very much the same style and period as Carlton House, with a rainwater head carrying the date 1779. I photographed them in 1976 but within a few years they were gone.
Swathes of history can easily disappear, unless they happened to be captured in chance photographs or archive references.
Mike Higginbottom is presenting ‘A Look Round Attercliffe’, illustrating how Attercliffe has changed since the 1970s, in support of the Friends of Zion Graveyard at the Library Lounge, Leeds Road, Sheffield, S9 3TY on Monday March 21st at 7.00pm. Admission is £4.00 on the door, but please pre-book by text or phone-call to 07980-143776.
My curiosity to visit All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, was prompted not only by its unusual provenance as a cemetery railway-station, but because of a local association between my native Sheffield and this antipodean suburb in Australia’s federal capital.
The sanctuary of All Saints’ is dominated by the east window by Charles Kempe & Co. The glass comes from St Clement’s Church, Newhall, Sheffield (1914), paid for by a subscription of parishioners and dedicated in 1919 to the memory of the war dead of the parish.
St Clement’s closed in July 1961, as the congregation had dwindled and the surrounding housing was cleared. The All Saints’ guide-book, A Station of the Cross, relates that the gift was at the instigation of Lady Jacqueline De L’Isle, wife of the Governor-General who served from 1961. Lady De L’Isle liked to worship at All Saints’, and once brought the poet John Betjeman to a service. He advised her where in Britain she could source glass to fill the east window.
It’s apparent that the prophets Joel, Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi are omitted along with the original inscription “Remember ye with thanksgiving and all honour before God and man those who went forth from Newhall to the Great War 1914-19, and returned not again.” Canon William Odom’s description of the window in its original form is quoted at http://www.sheffieldsoldierww1.co.uk/Memorial/St%20Clements.html.
Furthermore, some panels of glass at Ainslie are clearly intended to fit cusped tracery, yet the Sydney designer Phillip Handel has mounted all the glass in a single steel frame. Some of the surplus glass was used in the entrances to the side vestries.
All Saints’ possesses further English glass by Charles Kempe from the parish church of St Margaret, Bagendon, Gloucestershire.
The original bell, which at Rookwood alerted mourners to the departure of the return train to Sydney, had disappeared and was replaced by the bell of an American Shay locomotive that worked at the Wolgan Valley Railway near Lithgow, New South Wales, presented to All Saints’ by the New South Wales Steam Tram & Train Preservation Society in 1958.
In the early months of the lockdown the Friends of Zion Graveyard invited me to write the text for a series of interpretation boards to provide background information and archive photographs for visitors.
When the Friends’ committee was asked to comment on the draft I was justifiably taken to task for giving the impression that the houses in Attercliffe were slums.
I used the formal phrase “slum clearance” that the City Council applied to its clearance schemes from the 1950s onwards.
Indeed, the houses themselves were not slums. They simply lacked facilities we now take for granted.
The insulting arrogance of some of the public servants who drove the policy of slum clearance is highlighted in Marcus Binney’s book, Our Vanishing Heritage (Arlington 1984), p 193, where he quotes the civil engineer and planner Wilfred Burns, who changed the face of Coventry and later did the same in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In his book New Towns for Old: the technique of urban renewal (1963) Burns declares,–
One result of slum clearance is that a considerable movement of people takes place over long distances, with devastating effect on the social grouping built up over the years. But, one might argue, that is a good thing when we are dealing with people who have no initiative or civic pride. The task, surely, is to break up such groupings even though the people seem to be satisfied with their miserable environment and seem to enjoy an extrovert social life in their own locality.
He wouldn’t have lasted long if he’d aired those views in the Dog & Partridge on a Saturday night.
There’s no wonder that my parents’ generation couldn’t wait to get out of Attercliffe in search of better housing. They were sick of managing with an outside lavatory, a single cold tap and heating by coal. Their lives were shortened by the tons of atmospheric pollution that rained down on the valley where steelworks stood surrounded by terraced housing.
In earnest irony, Frank Hartley entitled his memoir of growing up in Attercliffe Where Sparrows Coughed (Sheaf 1989).
The post-war planners’ solution to the dreadful environment was single-use zoning, dividing the city into areas of unified purpose, such as industry, housing or retail.
The nineteenth-century development of the Lower Don Valley had been dictated by the need for steelworkers to walk between home and work.
By the mid-twentieth century it was possible to relocate housing well away from the smokestack industries, and to expect the workers to commute from leafy housing estates to their work by bus.
Nowadays their children write in internet nostalgia forums with sincere regret for the community they lost. It’s easy to sentimentalise our childhood while sitting at a keyboard in a modern dwelling that previous generations would have thought forever beyond their reach.
Remembering the good times and ignoring the bad is a lazy way of looking at the past, and it devalues the determination of the women who spent their days in never-ending labour, striving to make their homes into little palaces, and those of their menfolk who put their wage-packets on the table at the end of every week.
Everyone enjoys wallowing in nostalgia occasionally, but for me the most vivid evocation of Attercliffe in my childhood is Frank Hartley’s book, which has been out of print for far too long.
Until last weekend, I hadn’t set foot in the Zion Graveyard – Attercliffe’s only historic site regularly open to the general public – since September 2019, the last time I was able to run a heritage Bus Ride Round Attercliffe.
A great deal has happened in eighteen months, not least at the Graveyard where, despite the constraints of lockdown and social distancing, the Friends have restored the place so that it once again looks like a graveyard rather than a jungle.
The difference they’ve made to a long-neglected, significant historic site is impressive.
The Friends of Zion Graveyard was formed in 2017 by the group who look after Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel, a couple of miles away. They wanted to locate the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), an energetic anti-slavery campaigner and social reformer, and found it deep in the neglected burial ground of the former Zion Congregational Church, which was burnt down in 1987.
They’re a small, energetic group who’ve achieved a great deal through their enthusiasm and their ability to secure funds from such organisations as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the J G Graves Charitable Trust to supplement the donations of individuals and small businesses associated with the Lower Don Valley.
There’s been much talk about celebrating the historic heritage of Attercliffe and Carbrook. Carbrook Hall has been restored and converted from a pub to a particularly fine Starbucks. The Hill Top Chapel is used for worship by the Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church. And Attercliffe Library has become a promising coffee shop, wine-bar and restaurant.
The Graveyard has remained closed to the public during the pandemic, and its reopening is publicised on their website: Friends of Zion Graveyard – Events (btck.co.uk). It’s a delightful and fascinating place where visitors are made very welcome.
The biggest, most significant industrial archaeology site in Sheffield is hardly known to the public, though it contains two of the three Grade II* listed buildings in the Lower Don Valley, the city’s former industrial heartland.
A visitor with time to spare can track the development of Sheffield’s steel industry through its museums and monuments. The early manufacture of blister steel can be understood at the Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace. Benjamin Huntsman’s pivotal development of crucible steel – and the process of using it to manufacture edge tools – is displayed at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamletand Shepherd Wheel.
The later growth of the heavy steel trades is shown at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, and at the former Templeborough works of Steel, Peech & Tozer in the Borough of Rotherham the Magna Centre provides a convincing simulation of the operating of an electric-arc furnace in “The Big Melt”.
Very few people have ever seen Darnall Works on Worksop Road, near to the Sheffield Canal, dating back at least to 1793, when the Darnall Glass Works stood on the site. The Sanderson Brothers, cutlery and steel manufacturers, took it over in 1835.
They concentrated their operations on the Darnall site by building several new structures, now the oldest above-ground survivals on the site, in 1871-74, and continued to use it through much of the twentieth century.
In 1934 Sandersons combined their operations with their neighbours Kayser Ellison & Company, which had used electric-arc furnaces from 1912, and the two companies merged in 1960 as Sanderson Kayser.
A major modernisation took place in 1967, but towards the end of the century Sanderson Kayser concentrated their business at Newhall Road, and left Darnall Road vacant.
The remains of over two hundred years of activity on the site are a rich archaeological resource waiting to be discovered and preserved.
These begin with the below-ground remains of the glass cone. Above them are the foundations of the cementation furnaces that Sandersons used in the early nineteenth century and many of the crucible furnaces, including some powered by a Siemens gas furnace.
The standing buildings from the 1870s onwards, many of them dilapidated, are capable of rescue.
Though much has been demolished during successive alterations, the ground levels have generally not been lowered, so there is huge scope to interpret the complex history of the site and to display it.
In particular, the sheer extent of the remaining crucible workshops makes the Works a unique survival.
There were well over a hundred crucible furnaces at Darnall Works in the 1870s, with the capacity to produce high-quality large castings by continuous teeming at the time when the industry was moving to Bessemer converters which produced coarser steel very rapidly.
The existing buildings include an intact range of workshops, each with six melting holes, ranged up the slope of Wilfrid Road, and – most spectacular of all – a large casting floor containing forty-eight crucible holes with a central crane. This space, last used during the Second World War, is a unique and precious survival.
Ruth Harman and John Minnis, in the Penguin Architectural Guide, Sheffield (2004), described Darnall Works as “one of the most important steelmaking sites in the country”. There is no question that it’s a historic monument of national, if not international significance. For the time being the most historic parts of the site are safeguarded, but finding a practical, economical way of investigating the archaeology and interpreting its story for public access remains problematic.
I envisage that within the next two decades, Darnall Works will become Sheffield’s premier museum of the steel industry, to which Magna and Kelham Island, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel will be the jewels in the crown.
When I was around six or seven years old, circa 1954, my mother would collect me from Huntsman’s Gardens Schools, in the depths of Sheffield’s industrial east end, and call round at Attercliffe Library for her weekly fix of books to read. Though she had left school at fourteen, she was an omnivorous reader.
I have a clear memory that, while she browsed, I would make a beeline for the bottom shelf of the music section, dig out a score of Handel’s Messiah and stare in wonderment at the multiple staves of the ‘Halleluiah Chorus’, amazed to see how much music could be going on at one instant.
How I reached this I’ve no idea. Somehow I must have known that the ‘Halleluiah Chorus’ was part of Messiah and that it had been written by George Frideric Handel, but the piece is actually buried at the end of Part II and so isn’t easy for a little kid to find.
Attercliffe Library, built in 1894, still exists, an elegant Jacobethan building next door to the older Attercliffe Baths of 1879. It was designed by Charles Wilke, about whom next to nothing is known.
For nearly a hundred years it provided knowledge and entertainment to Attercliffe workers and their families and then, when the houses eventually came down, it closed in 1986.
It’s pointless to argue for the retention of a historic
building, listed or not, without the means to maintain it into the future.
Seventeenth-century Carbrook Hall, for many years a pub in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial east end, closed in 2017, yet another casualty of the inexorable decline of the British public house, and a year later suffered an arson attack that was fortunately arrested before the entire building went up in smoke.
Local historians and CAMRA members hoped it would reopen as
licensed premises, but its new owner, the property developer Sean Fogg, applied
lateral thinking and leased it to the coffee chain, Starbucks.
Mr Fogg spent £700,000, assisted by Starbucks’ contribution
of £400,000, to restore the remaining stone wing of what was a much larger
house, enhancing its surroundings, replacing a nondescript twentieth-century
service block with a tactful 21st-century drive-in facility, and bringing the
three exceptional historic interiors to a high state of preservation.
Walking into the building is a time-warp, because the
coffee-shop counter, located where the pub bar used to be, is an
up-to-the-minute skinny-latte-and-panini experience.
Turn left and enter the Oak Room, though, and despite the
bright lighting and modern furniture, you’re surrounded by high-quality
panelled walls and a crisp plaster ceiling that witnessed the discussions about
besieging Sheffield Castle during the Civil War nearly four centuries ago.
This was the home of the Puritan Bright family, in those days lost in the spacious meadowlands of the Lower Don Valley. It’s possible that their interior decorators were the craftsmen who worked on the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire. It’s the oldest building in the valley and has seen no end of changes.
At the opposite end of the ground floor is an ancient
kitchen with stone stoves and a bread oven.
A second panelled room upstairs is not yet completed, but
will be dedicated to public use when fully restored.
The restoration is meticulous, though the conservationists were disturbed to find that the ancient oak had been peppered by stray darts around the site of the dart board.
The reopening of Carbrook Hall is a boost to public awareness of the area’s historic heritage.
For details of the next public Bus Ride Round Attercliffe, please click here.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2017 ‘Sheffield’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.
On the popular Bus Ride Round Attercliffe trips that I run in conjunction with South Yorkshire Transport Museum, we regularly make a stop at the English Institute of Sport Sheffield, to show that the Lower Don Valley has begun an astonishing transformation since the demise of the heavy steel industry in the early 1980s.
Designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects, the Institute opened in December 2003, funded by Sport England and managed by SIV Ltd, a Health and Well Being Charity. It’s newer than the Arena and the demolished Don Valley Stadium which were built for the 1991 World Student Games. It’s even newer than the nearby IceSheffield, designed by the Building Design Partnership and opened in May 2003.
It has and continues to provide training facilities for an impressive array of champions, including Sheffield-born heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, boxers Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams and the Paralympian table-tennis player Will Bailey, as well as sixty local sports clubs and seventy thousand local school children a year.
The initial cost of the facility was £28 million, and the Institute aims to balance usage at 90% local community to 10% elite athletes.
Our guide, Ryan Ruddiforth, shows Bus Ride passengers, many
of whom grew up in Attercliffe after the Second World War, the facilities for
boxing, wheelchair basketball and – most impressive of all – the huge 200-metre
indoor running track.
I’m looking forward to offering heritage bus-ride experiences to groups from outside Sheffield in 2020, and in the ‘Sheffield’s Industrial Heritage’ tour I plan to take people first of all to Magna, to see the hot, dark, dangerous spaces where workers spent their days in the steel industry and then, for contrast, to EISS to experience the light, clean, air-conditioned spaces in which people exercise and perfect their sport skills in the twenty-first century.
The Valley has come a long way within a lifetime, and I want
to present this in as dramatic a way as possible.
The ‘Sheffield’s Industrial Heritage’ bus tours are arranged on an individual basis, and Magna and EISS may not always be available because of major events taking place. On occasions the Bus Ride may visit other equivalent buildings in the city centre or the Lower Don Valley. For further details please click here.
For details of the next public Bus Ride Round Attercliffe, please click here.
The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.
This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.
Tinsley Tram Sheds is possibly the oldest remaining purpose-built tram depot in the UK.
When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.
Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.
Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings. Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.
At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham.
Little remains of the tram-depot interior: the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone. The whole of the spacious interior is currently occupied by a tile-depot.
Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.
Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.
The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.