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Other Streets

Gritting Sheffield’s roads: Winter is a season of recovery and preparation

Gritter lorries on standby at the Streets Ahead Olive Grove depot. Photograph: Sheffield City Council

Temperatures are set to fall this week, with ice and possibly some snow forecast, and Sheffield’s gritters are ready to treat the roads. One thing is certain, we’ll all have a good moan if they get it wrong.

There are five weather stations across the city providing up-to-the-minute weather forecasts. This helps Streets Ahead contractor Amey to determine when there is a need to grit our roads.

Contrary to belief, over 60% of the city’s highway network is gritted in priority order. That is 610 miles of urban and rural roads and can take up to 8.5 hours to complete a full gritting run. Priority 1 routes include main arterial roads linking Sheffield to other towns and motorways. Priority 2 routes are bus routes, link roads, roads where public service facilities are located, and rural routes. Snow is also cleared from city centre pavements, but pavements across the city are not gritted anymore.

As the temperature drops to near freezing point the gritters will be out, but it isn’t grit they are spreading. It is rock salt. And the salt used comes from mines of ancient underground deposits in Cleveland, County Antrim, and below the Cheshire town of Winsford, and lowers the freezing point of moisture. Pure salt is the most effective pre-treatment, but grit is often added once snow has started to lay and compact.

The pre-treating of the highway network mitigates the formation of ice and snow, although traffic is needed to make it effective. Very often, when an area has slush or rainfall, it washes the salt away and makes the road vulnerable again, necessitating them to be re-gritted a second time before the weather freezes.

Gritter lorries and road rollers at Sheffield Works Department’s Manor Lane site in 1982. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

In 2003, the Highways Act 1980 was amended to place Sheffield City Council (and others) under a legal obligation to keep the roads clear. According to the amendment: “A highway authority are under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.”

It is a far cry from Victorian times when sand was shovelled off the backs of horses and carts, and although the switch to motor vehicles greatly improved operations, it wasn’t until the development of the first spinning salt distribution gritter in 1970 by Ripon-based Econ Engineering that the process was speeded up.

Today, Econ supply 85% of the UK’s rock salt spreaders and even have a dedicated gritting museum with fully restored vintage road maintenance vehicles, gritters, spreaders and snowploughs.

October is the start of the Streets Ahead winter maintenance period and is in operation 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Photograph: Sheffield City Council

Whilst rock salt has been the choice for generations it can have a negative effect on soil and plants, interfering with the nitrogen cycle, and causing roots to absorb salt instead of important minerals. Salt water can also drain into soil affecting insects and can disturb the eco-system in watercourses. In addition, sodium chloride can be harmful to animals. And let’s not forget that it can cause damage to road surfaces.

As you might expect, alternative methods are being sought including urea (used in the production of fertilizer), potassium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium acetate (all incredibly expensive), beet juice, cat litter (yes, you read right), sand, ashes, and stone grits. Other eco-friendly alternatives being explored are cheese brine, garlic salt, potato juice, pickle brine and coffee grounds.

But for now, it seems rock salt will be here for a while because it remains cheap and readily available.

Finally, the truth surrounding gritter lorries in the summer. In very hot weather when tar is at risk of melting the gritters spread salt. This absorbs moisture from the air and cools the tar and creates a non-stick road surface.

Gritter and snowplough seen here in a wintery 1977. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Streets

“And hence, True-Love’s Gutter, it’s old name was given.”

Castle Street, Sheffield. The original Truelove’s Gutter. Photograph: Google

In 2009, singer-songwriter Richard Hawley released a dark album called Truelove’s Gutter, said to refer to an ancient Sheffield street which was allegedly named after 18th century innkeeper Thomas Truelove, who used to charge people to dump rubbish in the gutter in the street that then flowed down into the River Don.

Thomas Truelove may have existed, I can’t find any evidence, but the Truelove family did own houses and land nearby.

The album reawakened interest in a long forgotten street.

In the 15th century no proper drainage existed, so as an aid to cleaning the streets a pool was constructed to make a reservoir for the storage of water supplied by springs on the hills above West Bar. This came to be known as Barker’s Pool and had a pair of sluice gates that could be opened to allow water to escape when required.

All the streets had an open drain or gutter which ran down the middle of the narrow road and into this, all the refuse and filth of the town were thrown.

To cleanse the town, bells would be rung about once a month to warn people and the water would be allowed to escape from the pool to rush down the sloping streets until it joined the River Don at Lady’s Bridge.

The drains also carried rainwater and after very heavy storms they became rushing torrents. Rails or fences were erected at the side of parts of the drain and in places bridges were put across the gap.

It was upon one of these small bridges that a courting couple were seated when they were washed away in 1690.

This inspired James Wills, a local writer, to pen a poem in 1827 called ‘The Contrast: or the Improvements of Sheffield’ and referred to a town about sixty years previous.

“You remember the sinks in the midst of the streets –
And when rain pours down each passenger greets
His fellow with ‘What a wide channel is here!
We all shall be drowned I greatly do fear’;
For lately two lovers sat here on a rail,
On the side of the ditch, fondly telling their tale,
When the flood washed them down in each other’s embrace,
For no longer could they keep their seat in the place;
And hence, True-Love’s Gutter, it’s old name was given,
Because by the flood these two lovers were driven!”

The historian Robert Eadon Leader destroyed this sad and romantic tale, and said the name really derived from the family of Truelove who lived for many generations in the vicinity.

The gutter exists in old deeds and in 1677 True Love’s Gutter Bridge is said to have been repaired by the Burgess. Also, in a Directory of Sheffield (1787), many tradesmen are living in this street – a grocer, baker, victualler, butcher, inkpot maker, linen draper, shoemaker, saddler, and hairdresser – as well as William Staniforth, surgeon, and man midwife.

Truelove’s Gutter, a narrow street, was renamed Castle Street in the early 1800s and widened a century later. It extended into what became Exchange Street and there have been recent suggestions that the name should be revived.

Richard Hawley. Truelove’s Gutter (2009)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Streets

“We have indeed seen Sheffield burn.”

“We have indeed seen Sheffield burn. Many parts of our city have been destroyed; our peacetime occupations have been replaced by a complete conversion to wartime conditions. We must rebuild, reorganise, and reabsorb the men who are now away fighting. What a task! It will not be done by talking. It can only be achieved by enterprise, organisation, and very hard work. Also, we shall need good fortune and that which happens elsewhere will determine in large measure our own opportunities. If this war has taught us one thing, it is that our city is simply a cog in the wheel which is our country, and that our country is a part, and no mean part, of the mechanism of the civilised world.” – Dr W.H. Hatfield, Sheffield, 1943.

Categories
Places

Welcome to Sheffield… Virginia

Sheffield is a neighbourhood in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Continuing our look at places called Sheffield around the world.

In the United States there are fourteen locations named Sheffield. One of the smallest is a neighbourhood of Lynchburg, an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the James River, there doesn’t appear to be any connection with our steel city, but Lynchburg is known as the “City of Seven Hills” or the “Hill City.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the Sheffield district looks incredibly flat.

Lynchburg was named for its founder, John Lynch, who at the age of 17 started a ferry service across the James River in 1757. Tobacco and iron were the chief products of early Lynchburg and extensive use of Lynch’s ferry system on the James River resulted in it becoming one of the largest tobacco markets in the US. In the 1860s, Lynchburg was the only city in Virginia that was not recaptured by the Union before the end of the American Civil War.

Houses, shops, and eating-houses line the roads of modern Sheffield and perhaps its most famous building is Sheffield Elementary School.

Photograph: Sheffield Elementary School, Lynchburg, Virginia
Categories
Buildings

The Cannon: An attractive building with a notorious past

The Cannon. Photograph: Mark Jenkinson & Son

I know somebody who once walked into the Cannon public house on Castle Street and was smashed in the face with a baseball bat. It was a case of mistaken identity, but he never went back.

When the police shut it down in the mid-2000s it said: “The Cannon pub has for many years now attracted shoplifters, people who take drugs and drug dealers. It smells of cannabis as you walk past. In short, it is a den of iniquity.”

Sadly, this was the end of a drinking establishment that could be traced back to 1774, when Castle Street was called Truelove’s Gutter (more about in a future post).

It eventually became Castle Street and the Castle Wine Vaults survived until the early 1900s when Sheffield Corporation decided to widen the narrow street. It purchased ninety-three square yards of freehold land from William Stones, the brewer, and the old drinking house was demolished.

Permission was granted for the building of a new hotel to replace the one which had come down, and construction started in 1902-1903. It was designed by James Ragg Wigfull (1864-1936), once articled to Flockton and Gibbs, who had set up his own architectural practise in 1892.

Built in Tudor Renaissance style, with three big dormers, the windows were flanked by tapered pilasters and topped by segmental pediments. There were also ornate stone panels including one of the brewery’s cannon emblems, and the company initials.

The ‘up-to-date popular professional lounge’ had two bars, one on the ground floor and another upstairs, as well as hotel accommodation above.

The Cannon Hotel did not get off to the best start.

On Christmas Eve, 1903, days before it was due to open, it suffered a gas explosion. A barman, plumber and painter entered a small store room with a light. Gas ignited and there was a flash accompanied by a loud bang. The barman, Ernest Emmerton, received the full force of the flame and severely burnt his face, head, arms, and neck. Fortunately, there was no damage to the building.

The likelihood is that the top-hatted gentleman is Vernon H. Ryde, the first landlord of the Cannon Hotel on Castle Street.

The first landlord was Vernon H. Ryde, a theatrical man, who had managed the Empire Theatre, Oldham, and Empire Palace, Holloway, and had arrived in Sheffield to manage the Theatre Royal in 1899.

In December 1903, Ryde ended his forty year association with the stage and accepted managership at the Cannon Hotel.

From heights of respectability, the Cannon Hotel’s fortunes steadily declined, and despite its proximity to the police station and law courts it was the domain for villains and thieves.

Stones Brewery (William Stones Ltd) was founded in Sheffield in 1868. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

When the closed pub changed hands a ‘restrictive covenant’ was placed on it. The restriction stated that the owner was: “Not to use the property, or any part of the property, as a public house, or bar, or off-licence, or for the manufacture of alcoholic beverages or for the sale of alcoholic beverages.”

It was bought for £245,000 in 2018 by a company called Aestrom Limited (the same developer that bought the Old Town Hall) but it collapsed because of the pandemic.

It has now been converted into luxury flats upstairs with space for two shops on the ground floor. The building, renamed The Cannon, will go to auction next month with a guide price of £575,000.

Photographs: Mark Jenkinson & Son

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings

Autumn at St Mary’s Church

Autumn leaves are beautiful! God’s blessings are breath-taking! In the shadow of Bramall Lane.

It has seen joy, laughter, sadness, and tears. Life and death. And has witnessed murder more than once. There were those who tried to set it on fire, and German bombs virtually blew off its roof.

St Mary’s Church is one of three churches built in Sheffield under the Church Building Act 1818 (the other two being St George’s Church, Portobello and St Philip’s Church, Netherthorpe), and the only one still to be used as a church.

Built between 1826-1830 by Joseph Potter of Lichfield with the foundation stone laid by the Countess of Surrey. The construction was supervised by Robert Potter, his son, who resided in Sheffield during progress, and afterwards practised here as an architect for the rest of his days. It was consecrated on 21 July 1830 by the Archbishop of York.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Books People

Sheffield Books: The Northern Clemency

Philip Hensher. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty

If you want to read a novel about Sheffield, then a good place to start is Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency, an epic chronicle published in 2008.

It charts the relationship between two families, who live on opposite sides of a street in Sheffield in the 1970s – Malcolm and Katherine Glover and their three children; and their neighbours the Sellers family, newly arrived from London.  It ends in the mid-nineties with one of the children running a trendy restaurant.

Philip Hensher (born 1965), is a novelist, critic, journalist and Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Born in South London, he spent most of his childhood in Sheffield and attended Tapton School. Now he’s the author of several novels including The Mulberry Empire, Scenes from an Early Life, and A Small Revolution in Germany.

He says that The Northern Clemency came after years of thinking about school and childhood, and it brought forth details that he put into the book.

“I made a practice of getting up early, and thinking hard about long-lost places – a school, our house then, a favourite shop, a library. All sorts of details would emerge, even phantom smells. Then I started to write. I knew who the characters were, but not at first who they grew into. 

“It took about three years to write. I wrote best when I was away from the novel’s sites. The most productive period was three weeks in Khartoum, Sudan. There was not a great deal to do in that great but strange city. In the mornings I got out one of the 10 school exercise books and one of the 20 blue Biros I had bought from a stationer in the Omdurman market, and wrote solidly, 2,000 or even 3,000 words.”

The novel contains one of the most unusual lines about Sheffield. “Dense Victorian villas dispersed through a verdant forest, breaking out like the frilled edges of amateur maternal pancakes into lavender moorland”

The book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

Categories
People

Joe Cocker: “A bruised but not beaten prize fighter, a lover of the blues, someone who lived hard, but always a decent man.”

Wiping his hands on his faded overalls, Joe loftily informed East Midlands Gas Board that he was tired of being a pipe fitter and would prefer to be a rock star. They handed him his cards with knowing northern smiles which said: ‘All right, lad – but you’ll be back.”

But John Robert ‘Joe’ Cocker, late of Sheffield Central Technical School (plumbing, bricklaying, and carpentry) never came back.

He became the biggest pop sensation in the United States. The Yorkshire lad who once connected gas stoves packed them in coast to coast with his gutsy, gravel voice.

“The force that flows from him so openly, places him as one of the top white blues singers around,” was how one critic put it in 1970.

He shuffled on stage in a scruffy pair of bleached jeans topped by a ragged grey sweatshirt. Hands contorting, eyes rolling, body jerking, he put on a fascinating display of frenzied agony.

By this time, it had been eight years since he had left the gas board and singing in Sheffield pubs. “The audiences were a young crowd, heavy drinkers and good scrappers. We didn’t make much money, but that didn’t matter. We only spent it on beer anyway,” he recalled.

In 1968, when Joe and his newly-formed ‘Grease Band’, were playing in London they were spotted by American promoter Dee Anthony who took them to the States.

A string of concert dates and TV appearances climaxed with his appearance at the Woodstock festival in August 1969, where his extraordinary performance of With a Little Help from My Friends became one of the unforgettable sequences from the ensuing movie of the event. It became number one in the UK and would later be used as the theme song in the US TV series The Wonder Years.

But he was impatient with the trappings of stardom.

“Sometimes I think I would like to go back to things just as they were, like in the old days in the Sheffield pubs with people enjoying themselves.”

Cocker’s musical career lasted more than 50 years with over 21 studio albums as well as a multitude of live ones, and in 1982 released Sheffield Steel, a nod to his home city. His hit singles included You Are So Beautiful, Woman to Woman, Unchain My Heart and the most successful of his career, Up Where We Belong, his duet with Jennifer Warnes  (and the theme song to 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman).

An American resident, Cocker bounced chart-topping success with drug and alcohol abuse. He died in Colorado from lung cancer, aged 70, in 2014.

Categories
Other

What is the furthest point from Sheffield?

Remember the furthest point (i.e. the antipode) is likely to be in the ocean somewhere, so when considering which point is the farthest away, you need to really look at cities.

And so, the furthest city away from Sheffield appears to be Dunedin, the second-largest city in the South Island of New Zealand (after Christchurch), and the principal city of the Otago region, and is 18,994km away.

Known as the Edinburgh of New Zealand, Dunedin wears its Scottish heritage with pride. Surrounded by dramatic hills and at the foot of a long, picturesque harbour, Dunedin is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
People

A Fiennes Romance: From Darnall to Hollywood

Sir Maurice Fiennes. A leader of British industry during the 1960s. His long association with Sheffield ended in 1969 but his family legacy is quite remarkable. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

Sir Maurice Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, (1907-1994), played an important part in Sheffield’s industrial history. He is forgotten, but his grandchildren are most certainly not.

Fiennes was the son of Alberic Arthur Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, and great-grandson of Frederick Benjamin Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 16th Baron Saye and Sele. 

He was born at Brentford, educated at Repton, Derbyshire, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and in 1937 joined the United Steel Companies of Sheffield, taking charge of the forging and gun departments at Steel, Peech and Tozer. After a spell in Loughborough, Fiennes became Managing Director of Davy United Engineering at Darnall in 1945. He became Chairman of Davy-Ashmore, was knighted in 1965, and achieved success as a producer of high quality British steel until 1969.

Davy and United Engineering Company Ltd, Darnall Works, Prince of Wales Road, seen here in 1960. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

Amongst his other roles, Fiennes was a President of the Iron and Steel Institute, Chairman of the Steel Works Plant Association, was on the Committee on Overseas Credit of the Federation of British Industries, and a member of the Engineering Advisory Council of the Board of Trade. Locally, he was President of the Sheffield and District Engineering Trades Employers Association, an Assistant on the Cutlers’ Company, and Chairman of the Committee of the Sheffield Philharmonic Society.

He married Sylvia Finlay in 1932 and had five children – three girls and two boys – the oldest of which was Mark Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (1933-2004), a photographer and illustrator, chiefly known for his architectural photographs, which appeared in Country Life.

Mark Fiennes. “The breadth of his work reflected his alertness to the eccentricities of mankind, his keen eye, his mischievous humour and his deep sensitivity.” – Ralph Fiennes. Photograph: HowOld

Mark Fiennes (third cousin to explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes) married novelist Jennifer Lash in 1962 and had six children: Ralph, Martha, Magnus, Sophie, Jacob, and Joseph. They also fostered the 11-year-old Mike Emery.

Martha and Sophie are both film producers and directors, with Martha winning awards for her film Onegin and Sophie being director of arts documentaries. Magnus is a film and television composer whose work includes his sister’s Onegin and Chromophobia as well as television programmes like Hustle, Murphy’s Law, and Death in Paradise, and has also worked with Shakira, Pulp, Tom Jones and Morcheeba.

The two most famous of Mark and Jennifer’s children are Ralph and Joseph, acclaimed movie actors.

Ralph’s breakout role occurred in Schindler’s List, when he played Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Göth. He’s since been in The Avengers, The English Patient, Red Dragon, and Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.

Joseph is no pale shadow, known best as William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, as well as Elizabeth, Enemy at the Gates, Luther, The Merchant of Venice, and most recently in The Handmaid’s Tale. He also starred as Edward II at the Crucible Theatre in 2001.

Joseph’s twin brother, Jacob, is Director of Conservation at the Holkham estate in Norfolk, and foster brother Michael Emery is an acclaimed archaeologist.

Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes was born at Ipswich in 1962.
Joseph Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes was born at Salisbury in 1970.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved