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.

For details of the Bus Ride Round Attercliffe on Sunday afternoon, September 25th 2022, please click here.

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