Sheffield and steel. The two go together like fish and chips, Morecambe and Wise and love and marriage. Not surprisingly Sheffield’s hugely successful ice hockey team calls itself the Steelers. The manufacture of cutlery has taken place there since the Middle Ages. The Cutlers’ Company of Hallamshire was founded in 1624 before the Civil War. Crucible steel and Sheffield plate were invented here. Expansion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made Sheffield the world’s foremost steel manufacturing centre based in the lower Don valley. The invention of stainless steel in 1913 was a further boost. In the 1960s and 1970s much steel-based industry was lost as markets and technology changed. Today more steel than ever is produced but by means which are far cleaner and involve employing far fewer people.
The wealth created by the steel industry and its high quality products made the Victorian city one of great elegance. (There was of course extreme poverty for many too and appalling slums). Many great Victorian and Edwardian civic and industrial buildings remain but the Luftwaffe gave Sheffield one hell of a hammering during the Second World War. What was built between the late 1940s and 1970s, as usual, generally leaves a lot to be desired. Attempts are now being made to disguise this post-war brutalism but in truth many of the buildings need to and will come down.
Sheffield is built on hills being on the edge of both the Peak District and the south Pennines. It stands on the Don where it meets the Sheaf. It became a city in 1893 and has since swallowed up many villages. Sheffield people regard theirs as Yorkshire’s first city but in truth Leeds is now Yorkshire’s regional commercial centre.
Between the Town Hall and the Cathedral is Cutlers’ Hall, a magnificent building with a magnificent collection of silver therein. This is the Company of Cutlers' banqueting hall, one hundred feet long with marble walls, a huge dome and fine portraits of Victorian worthies.
Sheffield has two universities – Sheffield, and Hallam, formerly a polytechnic. Sheffield also, of course, has two football clubs – Sheffield Wednesday, so-called because, yes, you’ve guessed, they played on Wednesdays, and Sheffield United. Sheffield United are known as the Blades (steel again) and Wednesday are the Owls. Sheffield claims to have given the world football in Sheffield FC, an amateur club founded in 1857.
John Betjeman liked Broomhill and described it as England’s finest suburb. It became the smart middle-class area of Sheffield in the Victorian period. Like Jesmond in Newcastle and Headingley in Leeds, it has since the Second World War become student dominated and as a result buzzes with activity. There are owner-managed shops selling everything from fresh flowers to second-hand records. There are lively pubs like the Broomhill Tavern in Glossop Road. Opposite it is a deli which I can recommend to anyone. There is a bookshop and a proper ironmongers. I always feel that these make a place so much more interesting than the uniform building societies, estate agents and hairdressers.George Orwell wrote: ‘Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World: its inhabitants, who want it to be pre-eminent in everything, very likely do make that claim for it’. Well, that was then. Today Sheffield is clean and vibrant, its economy re-built and successful, its people confident but not arrogant. Like its geography Sheffield has had its ups and downs but it is now on an up.
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