Robert Eadon Leader’s long life saw the greatest development in world history and Sheffield shared it to the full

Robert Eadon Leader (1838-1922). “One may be quite sure in reading anything he wrote that if he made a definitive statement he had verified everything before committing to writing.” Photograph: Picture Sheffield

If it had not been for Robert Eadon Leader, we might not know much about Sheffield history. Today, his work provides us with a definitive account of our past. “He was an antiquary to the finger-tips, with an infinite relish for patiently searching among old records, and a comprehensive knowledge which enabled him to distinguish truth from myth, almost at a glance.”

Robert Eadon Leader, journalist, Liberal activist, and historian, was the son of Alderman Robert Leader and was born at Broomhall in 1839. He was the descendant of an old Sheffield family, his ancestors for four generations connected with the firm of Tudor, Leader, and Nicholson, silversmiths.

His grandfather became proprietor of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1830, and his father succeeded to the paper in 1842.

In 1860, Robert and his older brother, John Daniel Leader, were admitted into partnership. Four years later, the father retired in favour of his two sons, though he continued to take an active part in the editorial work until 1875.

The brothers divided work between them. Robert became editor and John became commercial manager, an arrangement that lasted until 1892, when Robert became a Liberal Parliamentary candidate and gave up the editorial chair. The  Leader family sold the paper a few years later.

“Occasionally when some question arose regarding Sheffield history I wrote and asked him about it and invariably received a courteous reply giving me all the information I wanted. It was invariably accompanied by a note that I was at liberty to make what use I liked of it, but not to mention his name.” -Unknown journalist – 1939. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

His expertise in local history was comprehensive, and his most famous volumes were ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield’ and ‘Sheffield in the Eighteenth Century’. He also published two volumes of the ‘History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire’, written at the request of the Company. It was completed when King Edward and Queen Alexandria visited Sheffield for the opening of the University and handsomely bound copies were presented to them.

Robert also wrote ‘Local Notes and Queries’ and ‘Spectator in Hallamshire’ for the Sheffield Independent.

He lived at Moorgate, on Crookesmoor Road, and moved to London in 1893. He died at his home in Whetstone in 1922 and was cremated, his ashes afterwards brought to Sheffield and interred in the family vault at the General Cemetery.

The widespread collection of his papers is held by Sheffield City Archives, and what a treasure trove these will be! And don’t forget that Leader House, the ancient family home, still stands at the end of Surrey Street.

R.E. Leader had the reputation of being able to put more cutting sarcasm into a few words than any man in Sheffield, and wielded a terrible lash with merciless power. But, personally, he was an agreeable man, with a charming manner.” Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

Next year will be the centenary of Robert Eadon Leader’s death and I plan to put together a more comprehensive history then.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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.


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.


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


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Robert Hastie

It’s fifty years since Colin George fought and succeeded in opening the Crucible Theatre, and there have been many ups and downs along the way.

The current Artistic Director, Rob Hastie, had big shoes to fill when Daniel Evans left for the Chichester Festival in 2016, and an unforeseen challenge – the long-enforced closure of the Crucible Theatre during the pandemic.

Hastie’s connection with Sheffield Theatres has been a long one. As a child he travelled from Scarborough to see plays, and in 2005, fresh out of drama school, he appeared in Edward Bond’s Lear – his professional theatre debut.

“My grandfather was born near Sheffield, and my parents were at college here. So the city always meant something to me growing up. When we went to the theatre, one of the places we came to was The Crucible. So Yorkshire is home. More sentimentally for me, it’s where I started my stage career as an actor.”

Much has been made about Hastie’s meteoric rise as a director. His first taste of professional directing came as an associate on Josie Rourke’s West End production of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant. He followed this with acclaimed productions of Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun, Splendour and My Night with Reg, which landed him an Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination. He also became associate director of the Donmar Warehouse in London.

“I was very happy at the Donmar, and I had some great experiences there. But there’s no way I could have refused the possibility of getting to work at the Sheffield Crucible which is, for my money, the most beautiful and welcoming theatre space in the country.”

At the Crucible, Hastie has directed Coriolanus with Tom Bateman and the musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which was created by Richard Hawley and Chris Bush, and which opened in March 2019 to outstanding reviews.

He’s also directed a critically acclaimed revival of The York Realist, co-produced with, and presented at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Other productions have included Guys and Dolls, Julius Caesar, Of Kith and Kin, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Wizard of Oz.

Above all else, it will be Everybody’s Talking About Jamie that Hastie commissioned and premiered at the Crucible in 2017, going on to the West End, possibly Broadway, and now a movie.


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Daniel Evans

There are those that thought Daniel Evans might have ended up at the National Theatre, and he might still do. When he left in 2016, he had led Sheffield Theatres to major award-winning success with nine UK Theatre Awards including Best Musical Production (This Is My Family), Best New Play (Bull) and Best Touring Production (The Full Monty 2013, Translations 2014, Twelfth Night 2015). Sheffield Theatres also won The Stage Regional Theatre of the Year Award for an unprecedented two consecutive years in 2013 and 2014, in recognition for its ambitious and exciting work.

Evans’ tenure was marked by a balance between popular and adventurous programming, including hugely successful musical productions of Me & My Girl, Company, My Fair Lady, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, Anything Goes and Show Boat (which transferred to the West End) and four major writer’s seasons.

He also commissioned two new British musicals – This Is My Family, and Flowers for Mrs Harris, along with countless plays, including Queen Coal, set around the miners’ strike, Kes, a dance adaptation of the classic story and Richard Bean’s The Nap, a comedy-thriller about snooker.

Evans also established Sheffield People’s Theatre – a company of community actors aged from 12 – 90+ who staged several major productions featuring over 100 participants including The Sheffield Mysteries , Camelot: The Shining City and A Dream.

Evans had a successful career as an actor before being announced as something of a surprise choice to take over from Samuel West at Sheffield in 2009.

He was a memorable Peter Pan in the National Theatre’s 1997 production and won two best actor in a musical awards for Sondheim shows – Merrily We Roll Along in 2001 and Sunday in the Park With George in 2006.

Daniel Evans left to join the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2016 saying, “I’ve definitely grown to love Sheffield, I’ll miss it very much. It’s a place where there’s a real independent spirit, they’re so proud that they’re not Leeds or Manchester. There’s a down-to-earthness and generosity here that reminds me of home.”

He is a Fellow of the Guildhall School and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University in 2012 and is a trustee of Act for Change.


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Samuel West

Following Michael Grandage’s departure, the Artistic Director’s role at Sheffield Theatres was one of the most sought after jobs. The role went to Samuel West, son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, and born into the acting business.

At prep school, the boy Samuel made his debut playing Claudius in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It was seeing his dad play Shakespeare’s Claudius to Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet at the Old Vic a few years later that settled his choice of career.

“People clapped loudly,” he said recently, “and I thought ‘I’d like to do this’.”

He read English at Oxford and moved into a career that combined classical theatre with British movies (Howard’s End, Iris, Carrington, Reunion, Jane Eyre, Notting Hill, and Van Helsing), TV and radio. His London stage debut was in 1989 in Les Parents Terrible and was a success in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the National Theatre in 1993. He later spent two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

West made his directorial debut with The Lady’s Not for Burning at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester in 2002 and succeeded Grandage at Sheffield Theatres in 2005, reviving the controversial The Romans In Britain and As You Like It as part of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival.

Several of his acclaimed productions perhaps proved a little too controversial for the people who held the financial purse strings, and there might have been conflict as he battled the dramatic “powers that be.”

When the Crucible closed for its massive refurbishment in 2007, he had hoped that the Crucible might continue with touring productions, but relinquished his role when the theatre fell silent.

“Two years is never long enough to spend at a great theatre like this and my plans being turned down was the only reason I decided to leave.

“When the building is closed, I believed, and still believe, we should make attempts to produce outside the theatre, with co-productions, found spaces, bringing back old shows that had served us well and doing West End seasons – all those sort of things – partly because it’s important to keep audiences alive in a city where you’re the only theatre.”

West said he did not believe board members were against his aims but that their financial plans prevented them from making “promises which they couldn’t later fulfil.”

He rekindled his association with the Crucible in 2017 when he returned to play Brutus in Julius Caesar.

“I’ve missed it. I think Sheffield is a great city and it’s really nice to see some friendly faces who seem quite pleased to see me.”

We know West for his TV roles – Midsomer Murders, Waking the Dead, Poirot, Any Human Heart – and big roles in Mr Selfridge and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

However, his biggest role is playing Siegfried Farnon in the two series of Channel Five’s recent revival of All Creatures Great and Small.


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Michael Grandage

In 2000, as Deborah Paige left, having directed fourteen productions in her five-year tenure, Michael Grandage took up the reigns as Artistic Director. His predecessor had laid the “foundations for the Crucible Theatre’s renaissance” and with the securing of extra funding, he arrived at an opportune moment.

Grandage was no stranger to Sheffield, having worked at the Crucible Theatre several times and joining as Associate Director in 1999.

“My first show was in 1997. In 2000, when Deborah Paige left, Grahame Morris, who was the executive director, asked me to step up.

It was a very bold thing of the board and him to do. Normally you require quite a lot more experience – I convinced them I was 100 per cent dedicated to the city and the productions. We put on two Joe Orton plays and two Shakespeares straightaway. I moved out of London, and I made a commitment to it.”

Yorkshire—born Grandage trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and spent twelve years working as an actor for companies such as the Royal Exchange and Royal Shakespeare Company before turning to directing. His directorial debut was in 1966 with a production of Arthur Miller’s The Last Yankee at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester while his first Shakespeare production was in 1998 in the Crucible’s production of Twelfth Night.

Within a few years of his stay, the Crucible had attracted a succession of stage and screen stars such as Derek Jacobi, Joseph Fiennes, Diana Rigg, Ian McDiarmid, Amanda Donahoe and Kenneth Branagh. Grandage produced over forty plays with predominantly young directors and designers. He is credited with delivering consistently high quality work as well as bringing in new audiences and in 2001, Sheffield Theatres won the Barclays TMA Theatre of the Year.

In 2003, Grandage unveiled a £15m expansion scheme for the Crucible.

“We are generously told by audiences, critics and awards juries that Sheffield is now at the forefront of British Theatre, but we want and need to go further.”

Grandage left in 2005, Sheffield Theatres hailed as ‘the National Theatre of the north,’ and concentrated on his other role as Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse, London, where he’d succeeded Sam Mendes three years earlier.

He left in 2012 and now heads the Michael Grandage Company producing theatre, film, and TV work, and recently returned to the Crucible to direct the world premiere of Ian McDiarmid’s one-man show, The Lemon Table, which was based on two Julian Barnes short stories.


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Deborah Paige

The mid-nineties brought change to Sheffield Theatres. Together with reductions in funding, this was a critical time for Deborah Paige, who succeeded Michael Rudman as Artistic Director in 1995. Critics pointed out that the Lyceum Theatre had fared much better with its touring productions and that the Crucible Theatre was the less commercial venue.

While previous directors like Colin George and Peter James fought to get the Crucible established, the tenure of Deborah Paige was more a battle of survival. However, she managed to turn its fortunes around with several successful shows, including My Fair Lady, The Little Mermaid in 1997, and Brassed Off in 1998.

At the end of the decade the Sheffield Telegraph remarked that it was “a remarkable turnaround in fortunes… at the same time that it (had) been earning critical acclaim.”

Deborah Paige started her directing career at the Bristol Old Vic. She went on to work at Theatre Centre London, the Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, and the Soho Theatre, and was then appointed Artistic Director of Salisbury Playhouse.

She left Sheffield Theatres in 2000 to pursue a freelance directing career in opera, theatre, TV, and radio. For her own company, Paigeworks, she produced and directed the premieres of Afterbirth by Dave Flores and Into the Blue by Beverley Hancock at The Arcola Theatre in London.

Paige’s television work includes EastEnders, Casualty, Judge John Deed and Holby City, and for radio she has directed several productions for BBC R4’s Woman’s Hour.

She regularly works in London drama schools and was Head of Recorded Drama at LAMDA between 2009-2011, and Interim Director of Performance at Mountview in 2012.

At RADA, where she is an Associate Teacher, Paige has taught and directed projects and productions for stage and screen.


The Crucible Theatre at 50: Michael Rudman

In 1990, Stephen Barry was appointed to run the newly-formed Sheffield Theatres, comprising the Crucible and Lyceum Theatres, and Mark Brickman, perhaps best known for his dynamic productions of classical texts, was new in his role of Artistic Director of the Crucible.

However, the early 1990s were marked with “recession, gloomy figures and disappointingly low attendances.” Mark Brickman left in 1991 and was replaced by American-born Michael Rudman, an Artistic Director who had previously directed at the old Sheffield Playhouse, and returned with a wealth of directing experience including the West End and Broadway.

Rudman graduated from Oberlin College in 1960, and four years later received an MA in English Language and Literature at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

His career as a director began at the Nottingham Playhouse, where he was Assistant Director and Associate Producer to John Neville from 1964-1968. He went on to become Director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh from 1970-1973, after which he took up the post of Artistic Director at Hampstead Theatre until 1978. Rudman was invited to join the National Theatre by Sir Peter Hall, and was Director of the Lyttelton Theatre from 1979-82. He continued there as an Associate until 1988, after which he went to the Chichester Festival Theatre before arriving at Sheffield Theatres in 1991.

His stay at the Crucible might have been short, but he masterminded seven out of the eleven shows staged during his reign, credited as having turned around the artistic fortunes of the theatre and increasing audience figures by the time he left in 1994.

“I spent most of my time on the train between London and Sheffield and the train was always late.”

Perhaps he is best-known for his adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Alex Kingston and Anthony Brown in 1992.

Following his departure from Sheffield, Michael spent most of the nineties out of the limelight, occasionally returning to Texas to help run the family business, but has notched up a credible roster of productions in New York and on the West End.

Rudman was married to Felicity Kendal for seven years until their divorce in 1990, and reunited as a couple eight years later.