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Buildings Other

Don’t block the daylight – our right to ancient lights

A person was historically entitled to ‘ancient lights’ if natural light and air had passed freely through their windows for a certain amount of time. Newman Passage, London. These old signs can still be found around the country, although seemingly not in Sheffield. Photograph: Matt Brown.

You might not be aware of an ancient piece of legislation that affected the way many of Sheffield’s old buildings, and new ones for that matter, were built. The Ancient Lights Law was the right of a building or house owner to the light received from and through his windows. Windows used for light by an owner for 20 years or more could not be obstructed by the erection of another building. This rule of law originated in England in 1663, although was superseded by the 1832 Prescription Act.

If a neighbour attempted to infringe upon this by building a structure or planting trees, the owner had the power to sue them for ‘nuisance’.

The law led to the placement of ‘Ancient Light’ signs under windows that were protected by the ordinance, and today some of these signs can still be found on buildings around London, although I’m not aware of any in Sheffield.

In the 1920s, an Ancient Lights expert, Percy Waldram, proposed a method that would, ideally, standardise, the amount of light people could claim. He suggested that ‘ordinary people’ required one-foot candle (a measure of light intensity) for reading and other work.

The London & Midland Bank (now part of Lloyds Bank), on High Street, Sheffield, was built in 1895 taking into account the ‘ancient lights’ of older properties on the other side of York Street. The opposite corner was later redeveloped with the Telegraph Building which had to reciprocate the ‘right to light’ of the bank.
When built, the Telegraph Building had to conform to the control of heights to which buildings were permitted, and the ancient rights of light afforded to properties opposite and adjacent. Hence the broken skyline, the setting back of the upper storeys and the pyramidal form of the building. Even the tower had to be kept with an angle of 45 degrees.

In Sheffield, the design and construction of many of our old buildings was dictated by rights to light. One such, the Telegraph Building, on High Street, had to be built in such a way as not to affect light to properties on the other side of the street.

We’ve also covered the old Mulberry Tavern, on Mulberry Street, which took the owners of the ‘new’ Victoria Hall to court because its construction had affected light inside the pub.

And there have been other cases.

In 1900, Mappin and Webb objected to the building of a property on the other side of Norfolk Street because it would have affected light coming into its ground-floor showroom.

The Sheffield Cathedral extension in the 1930s prompted discourse from occupiers on St. James’ Row, as did the building of Central Library from the Lyceum Theatre and Masonic Hall.

Broadcasting House, the BBC’s London headquarters, owes its peculiar shape to Ancient Lights claims made by residents of since-demolished nearby homes – the slanting of the east side of the building was a concession to those people’s light-rights. Photograph: Shortlist.

The power that property owners have, to demand ample daylight, is still a relevant debate. However, modern planning laws usually prevent disputes afterwards.

Interestingly, the Ancient Lights doctrine never caught on in the United States where it was deemed restrictive of new commercial and residential developments and thus limiting urban growth.  

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other

Like it or not, Sheffield’s seagulls are here to stay

Have you noticed a lot of seagulls recently? Their cries can be heard throughout the city centre, and out into the suburbs. And more than one person has said, “It must be bad weather on the coast because they’ve come inland.”

The closest beach as the crow flies is Cleethorpes Central Beach, in North East Lincolnshire, and is 62 miles from Sheffield. Seagulls have always come inland during winter for the simple reason that it’s warmer in urban areas, but now it seems we may have to get used to them all year long.

As far as we know, it was about 40 years ago, that some gulls decided they preferred Sheffield, and stayed on during the rest of the year. They first started to roost and gather in local parks like Meersbrook Park and Graves Park, back in the ice-cold grip of the winters of 1979 and 1980.

Now they can be seen across the city, with large groups reported in the city centre and around Crystal Peaks.

A disruption in the ready supply of fish, particularly waste, due to changes in the fishing industry, could be a contributing factor in the gulls heading inland.

Adult birds (3 years and over) having once bred in a town or city will generally return to the same colony year after year, often to the same nesting site.

Mating activity will start in February when birds begin to identify nesting sites, courting is in full swing by March, and by April the nest will have been made. Typically, eggs will be laid in late April or May, and the eggs start to hatch in June. Matters get much worse in July and August when the young birds fledge (begin to fly).

It appears to be only the Herring and Lesser black-backed gulls that breed in Sheffield. They prefer flat roofs with a little substrate (gravel etc). They build a very simple nest of moss and other vegetation and if needs be this can be done in a matter of hours. Typically three eggs are laid in each nest. On a modern building, nests will tend to be built behind a parapet wall or where there is protection from the elements.

Gulls like circling round tall buildings: they use the updraughts to gain height, while they socialise or study the neighbourhood for food.

It is thought that the Moorfoot building has provided perfect nesting and roosting points for them, and there is lots of food which is easily available. Even if not fed by people there are always rubbish dumps and litter they can eat, for example, fish and chips dropped on pavements.

Much of the birds’ success in cities is due to their long lives, which allows the birds to build up an extensive memory of where and how to find food. Unlike garden songbirds (which generally live 3-5 years), gulls can live decades and accumulate valuable experience. 

Young gulls have been brought up with no knowledge of anywhere except urban life. None of them know how to catch a fish and have now reached the third or fourth generation.

And so, it appears that our seagulls are here to stay.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other People

Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Sheffield Banker

The August 1948 edition of America’s Cosmopolitan Magazine which featured ‘The Last Adventure of Sherlock Holmes – The Man Who Was Wanted.’ Photograph: WorthPoint.

This might have been called ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’s Last Case,’ except it was one which that great writer left to others to solve and involved a story with Sheffield connections.

Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930 and several documents, unused typescripts, and odd papers, were placed in a deed box by Lady Conan Doyle. Among them were some typewritten pages headed, ‘The Man Who Was Wanted,’ recounting a hitherto unrelated adventure of the great Sherlock Holmes.

Reference was made to it by Hesketh Pearson, a biographer of Conan Doyle, and the revelation caused a literary stir. People clamoured for its publication, American and British editors approached the Conan Doyle family, and tempting prices were mentioned. But the family were unwilling to sell at the time.

Some years later, the American Cosmopolitan magazine acquired the right to print the story in the United States, and in Britain, shortly after Christmas 1948, it was published by the Sunday Dispatch.

It prompted a letter to the Conan Doyle family from Arthur Whitaker, a slim, grey-haired man, who was living in Longridge, near Stroud, and spent his days collecting ornithology reports from bird-watchers in Gloucestershire.

“You know that story called ‘The Man Who Was Wanted,’ which appeared in an American magazine and in the Sunday Dispatch? Well, I wrote it. I don’t want any money or publicity, of course, but I just thought you’d like to know, that’s all.”

It caused upset in the Conan Doyle family and a solicitor began to investigate the claim. He interviewed Whitaker, examined a letter from Arthur Conan Doyle, and saw that he had an exact carbon copy of ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’

“It is quite simple, really,” said Mr Whitaker. “In 1911 I was a young architect, married, and living in Barnsley. I thought I might earn a little more money by writing detective stories, so I wrote five or six. One was called ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’ I sent it to Arthur Conan Doyle, asking him whether he ever collaborated in story-writing, and if he would like to collaborate with me.

“He replied that the story was not bad, but that he did not collaborate; he sometimes paid ten guineas, however, for an idea which he later worked up in his own way. He advised me to change the names in the story and get it published myself. However, I accepted the ten guineas, and he retained the typescript. That’s all there is to it, really.”

Because the typescript was unsolicited, the Conan Doyle family had retained it but held back on publication believing it was not up to the great man’s standards. However, Arthur Conan Doyle’s son, Denis, had eventually allowed publication with a note to that effect, and adding that the family had at last yielded to public pressure and had allowed it to be printed.

Arthur Whitaker, a ‘simple, frank type of man, living in Barnsley, away back in 1911, when there were hansom cabs, and young men wore luxuriant moustaches and straw boaters.’ Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

And the Sheffield Connection? I quote from the pages of ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’

“Holmes picked up a telegram from the table and looked at it thoughtfully. “If only the inquiry this refers to promised to be of anything like the interest of some we have gone into together, nothing would have delighted me more than to have persuaded you to throw your lot in with mine for a time; but really I’m afraid to do so, for it sounds a particularly commonplace affair,” and he crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it over to me.

“I smoothed it out and read: “To Holmes, 221B Baker Street, London, S.W. Please come to Sheffield at once to inquire into case of forgery. Jervis, Manager British Consolidated Bank.”

“It appears that a gentleman named Mr. Jabez Booth, who resides at Broomhill, Sheffield, and has been an employee since January I88I, at the British Consolidated Bank in Sheffield, yesterday succeeded in cashing quite a number of cleverly forged cheques at twelve of the principal banks in the city and absconding with the proceeds.”

The Conan Doyle family returned the money it received from the Sunday Dispatch and the newspaper forwarded it to Arthur Whitaker to help him support his seriously wife.

The story itself eventually appeared in ‘The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.’ It was credited to Arthur Whitaker and retitled ‘The Adventure of the Sheffield Banker.’

Photograph: Goodreads.
Photograph: Goodreads.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other Places

How the Norfolks and the Fitzwilliams took the people’s acres

Once upon a time Sheffield town was surrounded by fields, moorland, and pasture. Much of this land was ‘common’ or ‘waste’ land. Common land was under the control of the Lord of the Manor, with certain rights, such as pasture, held by certain nearby properties. Waste was land without value, unsuitable for farming, and often in awkward locations.

In 1773, during the reign of George III, an Act of Parliament created a law that enabled inclosure (or enclosure) of land, at the same time removing the rights of commoners’ access.

As a result, common land, moorland, and other property of the people, was distributed amongst landowners of the district.  

In the Manor of Ecclesall about 1,000 acres of common land was lost by an Act in 1779.

Three Commissioners – William Hill, of Tadcaster, Samuel Brailsford, of Rowthorne, and John Renshaw, of Bakewell – distributed the land accordingly among landowners.

The Marquis of Rockingham (Fitzwilliam) of Wentworth Woodhouse, as Lord of the Manor, benefited most, while the Earl of Surrey (as Duke of Norfolk) obtained all the tythes and two thirds of the small tythes in Ecclesall that lay on both the north and south side of the Porter Brook.  Andrew Wilkinson, Bethiah Jessop, Philip Gell, John Gell, Mary Catherine Gell and Mary Gell were entitled to the other third part of the tythes for the land lying on the south side of Porter Brook, and James Wilkinson, as Vicar of the Parish Church at Sheffield, was entitled to the remainder of the small tythes on both sides of the Brook.

The commoners were outraged, it caused significant unrest, but they were powerless to stop the loss of land.

In 1909, the old deed was rediscovered in archives at the Ecclesall Board of Guardians, and the full extent of the land division laid bare.

It showed that some of the most fashionable residential quarters of Sheffield had developed from these waste lands, that the most thriving centres of industry had sprung up on old moorland, and that what were once common lands had become villa residences paying fat ground rents.

Land that fell within the Inclosure Act included Little Sheffield Moor, Carter Knowle, Brincliffe, Bent’s Green, Whirlow, Millhouses, Greystones, Sharrow Moor, and Sharrow Head.

The streets in the vicinity of Sheffield Moor were set out by the Commissioners.  For instance, Carver Street, Rockingham Street, Bright Street, Earl Street, Alsop Lane, Jessop Street, Tudor Street, Duke Street (later Matilda Street), Cumberland Street, Hereford Street, Bishop Street, Button Lane, and Porter Lane, were all inclosure roads formed at this time out of what was then called Little Sheffield Moor.

Other new roads indicate the localities where inclosure took place, it being necessary to make new roads to give access to the owners of the new allotments – Fulwood Road, Clarkehouse Road, Manchester Turnpike Road, Whirlow Road, Ecclesall Wood Road, Dead Lane, Button Hill Road, Cherrytree Hill Road, Tapton Hill Road, Broomhill Bridle Road, Whiteley Wood Road, Greystones Road, High Storrs Road, Ranmoor Road, Dobbing Hill Road, Little Common Road, Holt House Road, Brincliffe Road and Machon Bank Road.

The discovery of the buried deed caused quite a stir in Sheffield with the naïve realisation that land had long before been taken from the people and gifted to aristocracy and the well-to-do.

In 1909, there were  a great many people complaining about unfair taxation when it was proposed to take a generous portion of their money.

The irony was not lost on the Sheffield Daily Independent:

“It would be interesting to know what those who were crying so loudly, about the people taking from their landlords, would say about what the landlords had taken from the people.

“There was a large amount of land at Bradfield which was taken from the people, chiefly by the Duke of Norfolk. It was taken from them under the pretext that it was waste land, and if it were inclosed and given to private individuals, they would cultivate it. It was still moorland, however, and if the people dared go off the roadway, and walked on to the moors, they would soon meet somebody who would inform them that they were trespassing.”

And so, Sheffield expanded, swallowing the gifted lands that became the roads and suburbs we know today. Somewhere, concealed in dusty old archives, will be the story of how these lands, taken from the people, delivered a huge fortune for the landowners.

NOTE: Thanks to Sheffield Indexers and the British Newspaper Archive for details of the Ecclesall Inclosure Act.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Other

“Suddenly, there was a deafening roar, a crash of breaking glass and – silence!”

On Tuesday April 4, 1923, about nine o’clock in the evening, London Road, at the corner with Sharrow Lane, was quiet, only a handful of people going about their business.

Suddenly, there was a deafening roar, a crash of breaking glass and – silence!

The loud explosion caused terror in the neighbourhood and within minutes hundreds of people swarmed out of their little houses and surrounded Highfield House at the bottom of Sharrow Lane.

Police officers from Highfield police station, about 100 yards away, rushed to the scene but had difficulty reaching the house through the crowd.

Highfield House was the home of Dr George Scott Davidson and he emerged at the front of the house to speak with the police.

Dr Davidson and his wife had just finished dinner and were traumatised by a loud explosion at the back of the property.

The police tried to move the crowds away from Highfield House and used flashlights to search the garden at the rear.

The house was unscathed, but remains of garden trellis work was strewed across the ground and glass in small garden frames had been destroyed.

“We rushed into the grounds, but could see very little, of course, except the frames were badly smashed,” said Dr Davidson. “I have not the slightest doubt the damage was caused by a bomb, but I cannot imagine any reason for the affair.”

And so, Sheffield newspapers filled their pages with the story of ‘another bomb,’ because a week earlier a similar explosion had occurred 200 yards away, in the back yard of a shop at the junction of Randall Street and London Road.

After the Highfield House episode, people told stories of the event.

“It was a noise like rumbling thunder,” said a woman who lived in a house some considerable distance away, “and the windows shook in their frames.”

A boy named Alec Winston, who was playing cards with a friend at 38 Sharrow lane, the nearest house, was thrown to the floor.

“It was a terrific bang, and I thought someone was showering stones onto the windows of the house.”

Closer inspection revealed that broken glass covered the window-sills and steps to No. 38, pieces of glass had shot over the 10ft walls from Highfield House into yards of several adjoining properties. Worse for others, soot had fallen down chimneys filling rooms and covering furniture.

The following day police began investigating the bomb explosion and worked on the theory that it had been thrown from one of the courts at the rear of Grosvenor Square or Sharrow Street, behind Highfield House, but no suspicious characters had been seen.

The neighbourhood was a small, congested area, a far cry from the days when Highfield stood in large grounds in the countryside. It was now isolated by shops on London Road, a large garden in Sharrow Lane, and the houses in Sharrow Street and Grosvenor Square behind.

It was suggested the bomb had been thrown towards the house but had hit the garden trellis causing it to fall short of its target.

However, further examination by police officers revealed a more menacing scenario.

A portion of time fuse was found in the garden, and furthermore the force of the blast had been downwards, suggesting a certain deliberateness that defeated the suggestion it had been thrown by some irresponsible person.
It seemed the device had been made up from gunpowder or dynamite, possibly a mining or quarrying charge, because no fragments of a bomb were found.

The perpetrator must have entered the grounds to lay and ignite the fuse.

Police made numerous enquiries but could not find a reason for the bomb.

There were suggestions it might have been placed by those with Irish connections and suspicion was directed at the out-of-control gangs from around West Bar and Park.

The leaders of the Communist Party in Sheffield denied any knowledge.

“It is not in our line, and we would not do things this way.”

In the end, police believed the two separate explosions, undoubtedly linked, might have been carried out by a ‘desperate man,’ who might have got possession of an explosive.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph tried to downplay the incident, possibly at the request of puzzled police.

“It seems scarcely conceivable that anybody who deliberately was trying to cause serious damage would place whatever explosive in a cucumber frame many yards from the house, while such a receptacle would certainly add to the effect of any efforts merely to produce a ‘big bang.’

“On the whole there seems no cause for anyone to get very nervous, though the sooner the practical joker, or escaped lunatic, who is responsible, is brought to book the better.”

The mystery was never solved but the bomb scares caused many people to look uneasily at their First World War souvenirs – nose caps, cartridges, ‘dud’ bombs and in many cases live bombs which for the previous five years had occupied an honoured place on the mantelshelf or sideboard. Dozens of people paid hurried visits to the Central Police Station in Water Lane to hand them in.

NOTES: Built about 1788 for John Henfrey, Brightfield House was renamed Highfield House by Dr Charles Nelson Gwynne in 1880. His surgery was later taken over by Dr George Scott Davidson. It remained a doctor’s surgery until the 1970s and later became the Charnwood Hotel. The house has since been converted into apartments known as Wisteria Gardens. In the 1920s, Randall Street ran from Bramall Lane to London Road but only exists today between Bramall Lane and Hill Street.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other

Merry Christmas

I think we can agree that 2020 has been an awful year for us all. But we can be proud that the ‘Spirit’ of Sheffield is as strong as ever, and like other traumatic periods in our history, we will emerge a much stronger city.

The pandemic has played havoc with Sheffielder posts because time and resource had to be invested elsewhere.

However, the support has been unwavering, and I’d like to thank each and every one of you for taking time to read, comment and share the posts.

Things will be different this Christmas, but I would like to take this opportunity to offer my best wishes, and hopes for a better year ahead. Be positive, keep safe, and look after one another.

You are never alone in our fine city.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

David Poole

Categories
Other Streets

Connecting Sheffield

Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.

The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.

Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.

Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street

Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.

The future of our city? Pedestrianisation of Pinstone Street and Charles Street connects with Heart of the City II redevelopment, due for completion in 2021. (Image: Connecting Sheffield)

Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.

Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.

Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.

The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?   

Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.

The prospect of a Town Hall Square, with pedestrian access and cycle routes linking Fargate, Leopold Street, Surrey Street, and the Peace Gardens. (Image: Connecting Sheffield).

The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.

Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?

We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.

Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.  

An overview of the ‘Connecting Sheffield’ proposal, providing a green space around the city centre. (Image: Connecting Sheffield)

Connecting Sheffield

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other

Chicago: a British love affair that started in Sheffield

(Image: Sheffield Theatres)

During the 1920s, the bad lads of gangland Sheffield earned it the reputation as ‘Little Chicago’, and so it was appropriate that in November 1978 the Crucible Theatre staged the British premiere of Chicago, the John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse musical.

First staged on Broadway in 1975, Chicago had been optioned by a London producer for a year, but Peter James, the Crucible’s artistic director, learned that it had lapsed and wrote to Kander and Ebb’s agent asking whether Sheffield could produce it.

“It was a hundred per cent diplomacy and a 10 per cent royalty.”

The approach was successful, and it opened with hardware, costumes, and scenery costing £13,000, and with nineteen boys and girls, the total estimated expenditure was £45,000.

Ben Cross was cast as Billy Flynn, the role gaining him recognition, and landing him the role of British athlete Harold Abrahams in 1981’s Chariots of Fire, before going on to be a stalwart of TV and film.

Antonia Ellis, a West End regular, played Roxie Hart, and went on to appear on Broadway. Following an accident, where she was hit by a car, she sustained leg injuries and abandoned her career.

Perhaps the most interesting story is that of Jenny Logan as Velma Kelly. She continued to work on stage and screen but became famous as the star of the Shake n’ Vac advert between 1980 and 1986 – “Do the Shake n’ Vac and put the freshness back.”

By opening night, nine West-End managements were vying for a transfer and it launched at London’s Cambridge Theatre in April 1979.

The Crucible production was billed as the European premiere, overlooking the fact it had already been staged at the Malmo City Theatre in Sweden in 1977.

However, it was the first chance that the British public got to see Chicago, the musical going on to become an unwavering favourite and subject of the Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere movie in 2002.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Other People

Sheffield Legends

(Image: David Poole)

We walk over them regularly, and might be guilty of not giving them a second glance.

These are the Sheffield Legends, stars that line the pavement outside Sheffield Town Hall.

This is Sheffield’s Walk of Fame, honouring those who have achieved national or international acclaim. As in the Hollywood version, there are plaques with people’s names on them and why they are celebrated.

The idea was first suggested in 2005 when the people of Sheffield were asked who should be honoured after a local resident suggested honouring the footballer Gordon Banks, who grew up in Sheffield.

(Image: David Poole)

Nominations are considered by an independent selection board representing various sectors across the city such as the arts, sport, education, media, and business, and chaired by the Lord Mayor.

To date, the inductees are:

Gordon Banks – England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper
Sean Bean – film and TV actor
Joe Cocker – singer
Sebastian Coe – Olympic medal winner and President of the International Association of Athletics Federation
Derek Dooley – Footballing legend for United and Wednesday
Dame Margaret Drabble – internationally respected novelist and critic
Dame Jessica Ennis – Olympic Champion, double Outdoor and Indoor World Champion athlete
Professor Barry Hancock – OBE, world renowned cancer expert
Brendan Ingle – world famous boxing manager and trainer
Def Leppard – top-selling rock band
Nick Matthew – world squash champion
David Mellor – internationally renowned cutlery designer
Michael Palin – famous film and television personality
Steve Peat – champion downhill mountain biker
Helen Sharman – first British astronaut
Joe Simpson – renowned mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker
Joe Scarborough – one of Sheffield’s finest artists
Michael Vaughan – one of this country’s most successful cricket captains
Clinton Woods – world champion boxer
Grace Clough – Paralympic gold medallist, rowing
Tony Foulds – the man who inspired the spectacular flypast to remember those who died in the Mi Amigo wartime plane crash

(Image: David Poole)
Categories
Other Places

The first television pictures in Sheffield

Radio equipment and T.V. experimentation’ masts and station, Dore Moor, near Newfield Lane, in 1938. The house was built in 1934 and called Newfield. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

I wonder how we might have survived without TV during the lockdown. It makes this story from almost 88 years ago even more remarkable and shows how far technology has advanced in a relatively short space of time.

In 1938, in a secret experimenting room on the remote outskirts of Sheffield, three men had received television programmes from London. One September night, George W. Bagshaw, K. Hopkinson and G. Thompson, all employees of mail order company, J.G. Graves, managed to receive an almost perfect picture and sound.

The television receiver used was the only one in the north of England and had been built by the three amateur radio enthusiasts, led by Bagshaw, the manager of the wireless department at Graves Ltd.

This was thought to be the first time that anybody had received television programmes in Sheffield.

The television pictures were being broadcast by the BBC from Alexandra Palace to the London area. It started broadcasting in 1936, followed by the first outside broadcast in May 1937, the Coronation of King George VI.

The receiver was installed at Dore Moor, near Newfields Lane, the only giveaway being two large latticed wireless masts, which few people knew what they were for.

Bagshaw said that he had been receiving pictures for three weeks, the gap between London and Sheffield being one of the greatest distances that pictures had been transmitted.

“It was thought that television had a visual range as far as the eye could see. That is its true range, but it is possible to receive from greater distances,” Bagshaw told the Daily Independent.

“Working on ultra-short waves, pictures have been received further than was at first thought possible, and I have found that I can receive transmissions from Alexandra Palace.

“In Sheffield, we are 160 miles away from the transmitter, and it cannot be expected that our pictures are as clear as those in the London area.

“However, we have obtained pictures which, although they might not suit the critical onlooker, are very satisfying to the experimenter.”

Mr Bagshaw had been experimenting in television since its inception, and the first station was in the radio department of J.G. Graves, but after a time it was realised that interference from motor-cars and trams were hindering progress.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The site at Dore Moor had been chosen because it was almost ideal for radio work. It was 750 feet above sea level, remote from roads and electrical interference.

In the station was a bewildering collection of radio apparatus. The workshop was only small, but large enough to contain all its necessary equipment. The shed, built in 1936, housed over a thousand pounds worth of apparatus, with five short-wave transmitters and several ultra-short-wave receivers. The two radio masts on the site, nearly eighty feet high, both carried a large aerial.

BBC television schedule for Tuesday August 30 1938. These programmes were received in Sheffield. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Unfortunately, when the Daily Independent visited Dore Moor for a demonstration of television pictures, thundery conditions prevented the signals reaching Sheffield.

Asked for his views on the future of television in Sheffield, Mr Bagshaw pointed out that results were only obtained outside London by using very intricate and expensive apparatus and having special receivers.

Until there was a local transmitter there was little prospect of Sheffield people being able to receive television.

So far as the provinces were concerned, he thought the BBC and the Post Office were waiting for a better response in London before they put up provincial stations.

The first step towards the opening of a provincial station was thought to be the completion of a special cable between London and Birmingham, but as that cable had been completed some time before, and there was no news of a Birmingham transmitter, it was thought in radio circles that either the cable was not satisfactory in a technical sense, or the Post Office thought it much more useful for multi-channel trunk lines.

“The solution to the provincial station is a radio-link, which means using ultra-high-frequency transmitters between towns to convey television, sound and speech.

“All this is a very expensive undertaking, and to cater for the whole country at present would appear to be prohibitive in cost,” he added.

Sadly, despite the sale of 20,000 TV sets in the London area, the service was immediately shut down when World War Two started in September 1939. Transmissions didn’t resume until 1946, with a Midlands transmitter opening in 1949, and one for the North two years later.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield