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