Sheffield’s forgotten man of history

Henry Tatton. Image: Picture Sheffield

A few weeks ago, I was in a bit of a quagmire. I had pages and pages of research notes and needed something to piece them together. I spent hours cross-checking facts, but a vital link was missing. And then I found a letter in an old newspaper that proved to be my eureka moment.

The letter was written in 1933 by Henry Tatton, who solved my mystery in five short paragraphs. I was ecstatic and thought it only right to thank him on my Facebook page.

Sadly, Henry will not have seen my appreciation because he is long-dead. But I could imagine an elderly gentleman, writing at his kitchen table, not knowing how important his words would prove to be almost ninety years later.

And then, I decided to find out a bit more about him. What I found was quite significant.

Sheffield has had fine historians – Robert Eadon Leader, Rev. William Odom, Edward Vickers, Peter Harvey, the list goes on – and the name of Henry Tatton should also be included. He turned out to be a prolific letter writer, each one providing insight into our history.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph. June 1927. A typical letter from Henry Tatton

Henry was born in Sheffield in 1864, the son of Adam and Mary Tatton, and lived at Sheaf Gardens. He was educated at Brunswick Wesleyan Day School and in 1878 was working as a pattern maker to Thomas Steade, iron founder, in Cemetery Road.

He married Susan in 1889 at Townhead Street Baptist Chapel and lived at Lancing Road, off Shoreham Street. In 1898, they had a shop in Matilda Street and, along with his father, an ironmonger’s stall in the Norfolk Market Hall.

Advertisement from 1929. Henry Tatton, Norfolk Market Hall

It is said that, after moving to 69 Ranby Road in 1919, Henry learnt to draw, and began recording his memories in a series of notebooks. However, I suspect that his talents went back much further when, as a young man,  he appears to have studied drawing at the Sheffield Mechanics’ Institute.

His drawings were copied from old newspapers, but many were originals. The reason he gave for his work was his ‘love of his native Sheffield.’ He retired in 1929 and, despite failing eyesight, completed his third notebook in 1931. Six years later, in 1937,  the three thick foolscap notebooks were presented to Sheffield City Libraries, where they remain.

One of the factors that makes the books even more interesting were the dated notes of the state of each building when he wrote. He paid particular attention to any prospect of demolition, and this was often the reason for choosing a building to sketch.

A sample of Henry Tatton’s work.

In 1939, Henry added to his reminiscences with thirty-six closely-written manuscript pages.

He recalled the time that he saw the last stagecoach come into Sheffield. It was from Chesterfield and stopped at the Travellers’ Rest on The Moor. Shops under the names of Roberts, Atkinsons, and Binns, were just being opened.

After giving close details of shops and other buildings in High Street, Church Street, Fargate, Angel Street – which were then only wide enough to allow the passage of two wagonettes – he told of the suburbs as they were in those days.

The outskirts of town were surrounded by natural beauty, and bounded by Sharrow Lane, Collegiate Crescent, Rock Street, Hyde Park, and Shrewsbury Road.

Ironically, Henry recalls that a fine row of trees was cut down at Highfield, and the resulting public outcry in newspapers against what was considered ‘destruction.’ Yes, history does repeat itself.

He also remembered the days when there was neither ‘telephones nor telegraph’ and ‘hot’ news was collected by hansom cab. Handicap races were run in Hyde Park, and he recalled thrilling races between cabs going to the newspaper offices with the results.

Henry died, almost blind, in 1947, aged eighty-six, and was buried at Norton Cemetery.

There is a rare book, ‘Fine Old Sheffield – An historical walk with Henry Tatton’, edited by Sylvia Anginotti, with meticulous research by Sylvia Jackson, which shaped this article, and the time is right for his notebooks to be reproduced in a book. 

All these years later, it seems strange that this post is cheaply imitating what Henry did best. He saw significant changes, but it might be one he could never have imagined – the internet – that reawakens our interest in one of Sheffield’s forgotten men.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.