It’s April Fools’ Day. No pranks here, but an attempt to determine why we stage hoaxes and play practical jokes on 1 April. It appears that nobody knows the exact meaning of the day although several historians have put forward suggestions.
It has been celebrated for centuries by different cultures and by embracing it, the media has ensured the unofficial holiday’s long life.
The earliest concrete records are from France and Holland in the 1500s and, because of this, people believe it must have been a northern European tradition that spread to Britain.
It is known as April Fish Day in some areas of Europe, believed to be because there are a lot of fish in streams and rivers around 1 April, and they are easy to catch – foolish fish!
In France, it is a common trick to attach a paper fish on somebody’s back on April Fools’ Day and give chocolate fish as gifts.
April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century, some arguing that a story told by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century – where a fox plays a prank on a rooster (who is almost eaten because of it) – is the first reference to pranks taking place on this day.
Chaucer doesn’t refer to 1 April though. In the poem, he says 32 “syn March began,” translated as “32 days since March began” which would be today.
On a wider scale, some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one. In the Julian calendar the new year began with the spring equinox on 1 April.
People who were slow to get the news, or failed to recognise that the start of the new year had moved to 1 January, and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through 1 April, became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called April fools. These pranks included having the so-said paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolise a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to festivals such as Hilaria (Latin for joyful), which was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March by followers of the cult of Cybele. It involved people dressing up in disguises and mocking fellow citizens, and even magistrates, and was said to be inspired by the Egyptian legend of Isis, Osiris and Seth.
There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
A certain local businessman was both ridiculed and humbled. He had a lot of friends, all of whom liked him but for a fatal weakness of his. This weakness took the form of patronage.
He was always talking about “his friend, the Earl of Wharncliffe,” and no matter upon which point conversation turned, he would drag in a reference to the Earl.
Tired at last of his lofty talk, and fully confident that he was not even on nodding terms with the aristocrat, his friends decided to play a prank.
The businessman received a letter on the morning of April Fools’ Day, and the contents of it caused his heart to palpitate.
“It has come to the knowledge of the Earl of Wharncliffe that you have been publicly claiming his friendship, and spreading vague rumours about concerning his affairs, and he has instructed me to write to you demanding an instant apology. The Earl will be at home between the hours of ten and one tomorrow and will be ready to listen to an explanation.”
Never doubting the genuineness of the demand, the businessman rushed to Wortley Hall the next day, and with a great deal of difficulty obtained an interview with the bemused Earl.
What took place at that meeting was never divulged, but afterwards the businessman never again mentioned “his friend the Earl.”
Sheffield has never been an aviation city, one of the biggest urban areas in Britain that failed to grasp the importance (or intrusion) of an airport.
However, within a decade of the first flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903, the first aeroplane arrived in Sheffield.
The pioneering aviator was Robert Bertram Slack (1886-1913), a native of Nottingham, who had previously worked in the cycle and motor trade.
He was the 157th person to be granted an aviator’s certificate by the Royal Aero Club in 1911, qualifying at the Bleriot School at Hendon Aerodrome.
In 1912, he competed in the Irish Aero Club’s Dublin-Belfast Race and shortly afterwards was commissioned by the International Correspondence Schools (ICS) to tour around the country giving exhibition flights. The Bleriot monoplane was capable of speeds of 60m.p.h., its pilot’s seat presented to Slack by the aviator Henri Salmet as a mascot, the one in which Salmet sat while making a record high-flight of 9,500ft. Afterwards, the plane was to be bought for £850 by the ICS and presented to the War Office.
This was the reason for Slack’s visit to Sheffield in August 1912, although matters weren’t as simple as might have been expected and tells us that the weather played an important part in early aviation.
Slack started his 1,100 mile tour from Hendon Aerodrome seven weeks before, and had already visited Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, Carlisle, Edinburgh , Newcastle and Harrogate.
It was from Harrogate that Slack was due to fly on Friday 2nd August 1912 eventually arriving at a makeshift aerodrome at the former Redmires Racecourse, the weekend camping ground of the Sheffield Artillery, and generously donated by Colonel Charles Clifford. (More about Redmires Racecourse in a future post).
Due to arrive at seven o’clock in the evening, a small crowd waited for over an hour anxious to see this new and exciting mode of transport. By 8.30pm, the crowd was getting restless and it was only after a telephone call that it was discovered a strong wind had made it impossible to take off from Harrogate.
Instead, Slack took off at 5.20am the following day, running into a succession of fog-banks, and, unable to see his way, was several times in imminent peril. After some exciting adventures amongst factory chimneys, trees, and hill sides in the neighbourhoods of Leeds, he wisely decided to land. Later, he had a touch of air-sickness, and again descended and landed at Norton Priory between Pontefract and Doncaster.
When he was airborne again, Slack flew over Doncaster, before eventually arriving at Redmires about five o’clock. Broad white sheets had been stretched across the grass as a guide to him in his descent.
“The shrill cry of a lynx-eyed small boy announced the approach of the overdue flying man. There was just a little speck in the sky above the range of hills overlooking the Rivelin Valley. It was travelling at terrific speed, and soon became distinguishable from the crows. It was at least three thousand feet up, but gradually descended a thousand feet or so. As he neared the landing-place, Mr Slack took a wide sweep round to face the wind for his descent. Then suddenly the machine seemed to rest a moment in the air, and in a graceful vol-plane came hovering down to earth. The aviator had cut off his petrol at two thousand feet. He alighted on the ground as gently as a bird.”
Slack had been in close touch with his mechanics, who followed a set course in a motor-car, so that at each descent he was able to summon them by telephone.
He had an enthusiastic reception from a large crowd who had gathered on the racecourse and in the roadway and had been awaiting the delayed aviator with remarkable patience for several hours. The crowd came swarming into the ground and loudly cheered the descent, which was admirably neat and precise.
“Mr Slack, a well-set, broad-shouldered man, with a bronzed, good-humoured face, took the plaudits of the enthusiastic crowd who pressed round him with smiling ease, and genially obeyed the behests of the members of the photographic clan. After seeing to the housing of his monoplane, he went by motor-car to the city, being again warmly cheered as he left the ground.”
Slack described his adventurous flight in a chat with a Sheffield Telegraph reporter: –
“It was a beautiful morning when I left Harrogate,” he said, “although somewhat misty. Just after passing Leeds, however, I entered one of the thickest fogs I have ever experienced. I could see nothing; the ground was quite invisible at 300 feet. Hoping it would clear, I went on for five or six miles, steering entirely by compass, for it was impossible to follow my map, as I could not see the landmarks. Instead of clearing, however, the fog got worse, so I was determined to come down to look for landmarks.
“But you do know what you strike in a fog like that, and I had several narrow escapes. It was the fright of my life. I just missed some factory chimneys and some trees, and then right in front of me rose a steep hill. I had to point my machine upwards very smartly in order to get over it. I thought it best to turn around, so I made my way northwards and succeeded in alighting without damage at Seacroft, although I did not find a very good landing place.
“I soon got in touch with my mechanic and stayed at Seacroft till half-past eleven. My mechanic advised me to go more east if I encountered any more fog, and I followed his advice, for I had no sooner got away than I ran into a lot more very thick fog. By turning in an easterly direction, however, I soon got out of it. I was feeling very rocky, however, for my breakfast was not agreeing with me, and the air was bad; there was scarcely a breath of wind, and the machine was doing all sorts of things. The engine, however, was running well.
“I thought it best to come down again and found a very good landing place at Norton Priory, between Doncaster and Pontefract. I left Norton at 4.26, so the run thence to Sheffield took me 21 minutes, a rate of about 70 miles an hour. I travelled from Norton to Sheffield at an altitude of 3,000 feet. It was alright until I got to the hills, when it became very foggy again. However, I got through alright.
“Fog,” added Slack, “is the worst thing the aviator has to meet, although rain is bad enough.”
There was to be no exhibition flying, but people could see the strange flying-machine at a small charge. The aeroplane was overhauled and set to rest in a tent organised by Colonel Clifford, while Slack headed to London to plan for a trip to the south-west.
Back in Sheffield, Slack and his Bleriot was due for an early morning take-off on Wednesday 7th August, but this was prevented due to heavy rain.
He had hoped to take off for Rugby on Thursday at 4am but Slack suffered a bilious attack, missing his opportunity, and a slight mist and strong wind meant he had to wait all day, even indulging in a game of skittles.
A large crowd gathered at Redmires but at about five o’clock when conditions were favourable a message was received that there was a thunderstorm at Rugby.
On Friday, the weather was once again hindered by strong winds, and just when it was thought that the flight would have to be cancelled again, the wind dropped, and Slack quickly jumped into the Bleriot and made a sudden take-off.
He quickly reached an altitude of 600ft and flew due west for half a mile before turning towards Dore and flying onwards to Chesterfield. With this, Slack disappeared into the distance and the crowds quickly dispersed.
The drama didn’t end here though, Slack got lost in a storm near Coventry and his onward flight to Rugby was interrupted when he was forced to land at Nuneaton.
Robert Slack finally ended his tour at Hendon Aerodrome, but he went on to grab victory in an air race with French aviator Eugene Gilbert from Paris to London, as well as being a competitor in an ‘Aerial Derby’ round London in September 1913.
Considering the dangers that Slack faced every time he flew his aeroplane; it was tragic that he met an untimely death in a car accident on Watling Street between St. Albans and London in December 1913.
March 1927, and Sheffield’s first Sun-Ray Centre opened at the Imperial Rooms, on Pinstone Street, used for the treatment of nerve disorders, rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, neuritis, sciatica, lumbago, neurasthenia, insomnia and anaemia.
It might seem strange in this day of sun-bed shops and tanning parlours that such excitement was created by the opening of Dr Mark Turner’s Sun-Ray Centre.
But the difference between sun-ray treatment and modern-day sunbeds is completely different.
Sun-ray treatment was seen as a cure for ailments, with Sir George Newman, Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health, proclaiming it “as one of the five great discoveries in medicine in the last two generations.”
Bodies consumed therapeutic light in one of two ways: outdoors in the natural sunshine, or indoors with artificial, electrical substitutes, known variously as phototherapy, artificial sunlight therapy, ray therapy, or actinotherapy. The latter method commonly used carbon arc, tungsten arc, or mercury vapour lamps, which produced different outputs of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet rays. Most prized among these was the ultraviolet. Referred to as ‘chemical’ or ‘actinic’ rays – notably for their use in photography – the ultraviolet rays were understood to disinfect and heal lesions and wounds by virtue of being bactericidal; to regenerate blood by increasing phosphorus, calcium, and haemoglobin levels; and to stimulate the production of vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’.
Niels Finsen, a Faroese-Danish physician who had grown up in the dim light of the North Atlantic, was fascinated by the link between sun exposure and health. He noticed that ultraviolet light could apparently kill bacteria. In the 1890s he designed the Finsen Light, a powerful electric lamp which proved effective in treating lupus vulgaris, a skin disease caused by tuberculosis bacteria.
Hearing of his work, Queen Alexandra, a fellow Dane, provided “the first Finsen lamp in Great Britain” to a hospital.
In 1903, Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for his work on phototherapy.
Dr Mark Turner arrived in Sheffield after setting up similar establishments at Nottingham, Lincoln and Derby. And with him came plaudits and recommendations from former patients:
“Dear Mr Turner. You will be pleased to know that I walked up and down the dining room without the aid of sticks yesterday, this after only six treatments.”
“I’m much better, so much better after suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, I can’t tell you what I feel like, but just watch me walk.”
“Well, it does one good to see what a wonderful improvement there is in us all; no wonder we look so bright and happy.”
Sheffield newspapers were full of stories from grateful patients, but one suspects the column inches were paid for by Dr Turner.
A month later, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported:
“A sensation awaited those who watched the arrival of Mrs Hannah Lindsay, of Wolseley Road, at the Sun-Ray Centre for Private Patients in Pinstone Street.
“Mrs Lindsay electrified the onlookers by walking from her car to the Treatment Rooms, instead of being carried in the hospital chair as formerly.
“A murmur of applause greeted her arrival, some of the bystanders had had the opportunity of witnessing her former visits and were enthusiastic at what they saw.
For sixteen years she had suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis so severely as to make walking impossible, now she is really walking.”
The promotion of actinotherapy received its greatest boost in December 1928, when it was used on King George V, who was ill with pneumonia: “the ray therapy treatment would be used as a new method of attack in the difficult struggle which the doctors are waging . . . The new treatment may act as a tonic and increase the bacterial power of the blood.”
By 1928, light therapy had reached its zenith in popularity, both among the public and the medical profession. Although almost 200 clinics existed in England at this time, it was unregulated and incredibly expensive.
And, some medical professionals continued to have reservations about the treatments. A 1930 meeting at the British Medical Council discussed experiments by the Medical Research Council which found ultraviolet rays “to be no more effective than a mustard plaster”.
Despite the accolades, Dr Turner’s Sun-Ray Centre appears to have been short-lived and within a couple of years had disappeared.
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, phototherapy or “sun ray” therapy was prescribed by hospitals for children for a wide range of maladies, from chest infections to anaemia. At the same time, concerns mounted over the link between exposure to ultraviolet light and skin cancer.
By the 1960s, antibiotics and alternative treatments rendered sun ray therapy obsolete for most purposes. Targeted ultraviolet light is still used today for some skin disorders, and other types of non-ultraviolet light treatments are used to treat mood and sleep disorders.
In February 1932, the advances made in wireless radio reception was demonstrated, when Stainless Stephen, a well-known Sheffield comedian and broadcast artist, opened at the Imperial Rooms, on Pinstone Street, an exhibition of Marconiphone Magic Radio Stagecraft.
Marconiphone was an English manufacturer of domestic receiving equipment, notably radio receivers and later reel-to-reel tape machines. In 1922, Marconi had set up the Marconiphone department to design, manufacture and sell domestic receiving equipment. It complied with Post Office specifications and tests, and was therefore awarded the BBC authorisation stamp.
The company was sold to the Gramophone Company in 1931, which became Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) and produced domestic radio receivers using the Marconiphone trademark until 1956.
At the event, Stainless Stephen said that in the early days of broadcasting, reception was so poor that it was difficult for listeners to tell the difference between his voice and that of a famous tenor.
A demonstration of effective radio magic followed, and similar performances were given five times daily.
The audience was introduced to the performers – standard Marconiphone models – by a young lady who apparently was able to carry on conversation with the individual models. Indeed, the models sang together the well-known chorus of Uncle Tom Cobley, chiming in with precision and great effect.
Then they combined to present various items in an amusing village concert, and there was an admirable climax introducing a soldier on sentry duty, the ghosts of his former comrades, and a swinging marching song.
Another instance of radio magic was the introduction of the various sections of an orchestra, music being played by the strings, the bass instruments, the drums etc., apparently from different parts of a stage, and precisely when requested by the main receiving set visible to the audience.
I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Sheffield’s biggest ever development project – a £1.5bn plan to develop the area around Sheffield Railway Station, dwarfing the £480m Heart of the City II scheme.
The plan is to maximise the economic potential of the area and make the most of HS2, and will now go out for public consultation.
The idea stems from plans for HS2 trains to stop at Sheffield Station on a loop off the mainline which were recently given the green light by the government.
Sheffield City Council would co-ordinate the project, with funding coming from several organisations including the city council, HS2, SYPTE, Transport for the North, Network Rail, Sheffield City Region and the Department for Transport. The bulk of the costs – up to £1bn – would be from the private sector, which would build offices, restaurants, bars and potentially a hotel.
The project would see the closure of Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street – the dual carriageway that runs in front of the station – would swap places with the tram route that runs behind.
A huge, landscaped pedestrian bridge would link Park Hill with Howard Street and the multi-storey car park on Turner Street would be demolished and moved further away.
It would be replaced by an office block – one of up to 12 planned in the ‘Sheffield Valley’ zone, including four outside the station, employing up to 3,000 people.
Up to 1,000 homes – flats and houses – could also be built.
The new tram route would run from Fitzalan Square, along Pond Street, stop outside the station and continue along Suffolk Road to Granville Square.
The bus station on Pond Street would be reduced in size to make room for the tram tracks and offices on stilts potentially built on top.
Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street would become a park and link into the Grey to Green scheme at Victoria Quays, Castlegate and West Bar.
Under the plans the ‘Q park’ would move to the Wren-DFS site on nearby St Mary’s Road.
There would be a new, sheltered, taxi rank next to the station, but the taxi ‘stacking’ area would be moved ‘slightly further out’ improving access for drop-offs and people with mobility needs.
The area between St Mary’s Road, Queens Road and Sheaf Gardens, currently home to businesses including a Pure Gym, would be a new residential centre for up to 700 homes, with a further 300 spread throughout the area.
There was a time when Sheffield became a trendsetter in public transport.
Back in 1979, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) took delivery of five MAN bendy-buses, to be used on trial. This was a time when it was illegal to operate articulated buses on British roads, and SYPTE manoeuvred around this by carrying passengers around the city centre for free on the City Clipper route.
For younger readers, think of the Sheffield Supertram on wheels, basically two rigid sections of bus, linked by a pivoting joint, enclosed by protective bellows inside and out, allowing a longer length of bus and higher passenger capacity.
In 1980, the MAN bendy-buses were joined by four Leyland-DAB models, manufactured as a British-Danish joint venture.
The success of the bendy-bus trial led to a change in the law, and the introduction of them to other cities, but the Sheffield buses didn’t last much longer.
After being replaced by the Leyland DABS, the five MANs were loaned to the National Bus Company, originally used in Oxford, then to Midland Red at Redditch, and finally to Midland Red North, based at Cannock. Four of these were later sold and exported, used by Martin Coast Tours at Cairns in Queensland, Australia.
By 1983, the Leylands had been withdrawn and sold to McGill of Barrhead, which used them in service on its route to Glasgow. Subsequently, they saw further life with Hampshire Bus in Winchester.
Ironically, SYPTE bought fourteen brand new Leyland DAB bendy-buses in 1985, pressed into service with the newly formed South Yorkshire Transport (later Mainline) on the City Clipper route, and later as the Fastline route to Meadowhall.
The bendy-buses lasted until 1999, not replaced by First Bus which had taken over Mainline in 1998, although it did consider reintroducing them at one stage.
While bendy-buses have seen the light of day across the country (Leeds, Manchester, York, Southampton and Nottingham included) they have never been popular with the public.
A significant number were used in London, blighted by newly delivered Mercedes-Benz Citaros in 2003-2004 that tended to catch fire, and were nicknamed ‘chariots of fire’, later withdrawn in 2011.
It’s remarkable that this 1968 Italian comedy, directed by Mario Monicelli, was partly filmed in Sheffield. The Girl with the Pistol, or La Ragazza Con La Pistola, received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film as well as receiving critical praise.
It starred Monica Viti, Carlo Giuffre, Stanley Baker, Corin Redgrave and Anthony Booth (Tony Blair’s father-in-law).
The wry comedy finds the beautiful Assunta (Monica Vitti) being kidnapped by Vincento (Carlo Giuffre) and taken to his remote home in the country. He plans to “dishonour her” and by doing so, win her hand in marriage.
In a twist of events, she becomes too domineering and Vincenzo flees, but she resolutely travels to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Bath, and London seeking revenge, but finds an Englishman more to her liking.
According to British Women’s Cinema (by Melanie Bell and Melanie Williams), “Assunta continues her journey of revenge to Sheffield. A bus ride, highlighting the English landscape takes her there. On a street, she encounters a young man, John (Anthony Booth) who, she notices ‘has Italian shoes’, and she enlists him in her quest for vengeance.”
Scenes in Sheffield were shot at Granville Street, one scene overlooking Sheaf Street and Ponds Forge Works, Park Hill, Neepsend, Manor Lane, Attercliffe and at Steel, Peach & Tozer’s factory, Templeborough, in Rotherham.
According to one fanzine, “La Ragazza con la Pistola may have been nominated for an Academy Award, but is mainly interesting for Monica Vitti prancing around Edinburgh and Sheffield.”
The film was supported by a slightly psychedelic soundtrack by Peppino de Luca.
This might seem an unusual post, but in March 1939 the people of Sheffield were getting quite excited about a new breakfast cereal.
“Now – a FOOD gives CONSTIPATION victims permanent relief,” announced The Star. “Not a drug, not a medicine, this crisp new breakfast cereal is welcomed by thousands who have tried countless remedies in vain.”
And so, what was this exciting new miracle cereal?
“Doctors today recommend Kellogg’s All-Bran as the one safe way to relieve constipation. They know that this crisp, delicious breakfast food contains just the ‘bulk’ that is necessary to make your bowels move naturally, regularly and normally.”
If truth be known, this cardboard-like cereal was launched in the United States by William Keith Kellogg in 1916, the company’s third product after Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes. It was invented by W.K. Kellogg’s son, John L. Kellogg, who added malt favouring to bran cereal, but who was forced out of the company in 1925.
W.K. Kellogg was a tough operator, and once wrote that “Highly seasoned [meats], stimulating sauces… and dainty titbits in endless variety irritate [the] nerves and… react upon the sexual organs.” He wrote as much about the dangers of sex and masturbation as he did about healthy living. Cereal was the bridge; the dietetic remedy to keep diets from leading them to sin.
All-Bran, along with Corn Flakes, had been imported to the UK, since 1922, prompting the company to appoint the industry’s first dietician in 1923. The Kellogg’s Company of Great Britain opened at Holborn, London, in 1914.
The claim from 1939 that All-Bran was a “new” breakfast cereal probably relates to the fact that Kellogg’s had opened its first British factory at Trafford Park, Manchester, in May 1938, geared up to produce Corn Flakes, All-Bran and Rice Krispies.
It provided a constant supply of breakfast cereals across the UK for the first time, but the start of World War Two, and the introduction of rationing, curtailed its development, with Kellogg’s products only sold in the midlands, north of England and Scotland.
All-Bran peaked in the 1970s, but its market share declined from 1986 onwards, partly due to an increase in supermarket own-brand imitations, but mainly from the increase in sales of Bran Flakes and Fruit ‘n’ Fibre.