In 1892, a Mr Cunningham captured a scene of haymaking. A farm worker gathers hay by fork and piles it onto the back of a horse-drawn wagon on which a bowler-hatted man stands. Tending the horse is a young boy. In the background, a fire is on the go in an old cottage and smoke rises from the chimney. It is a scene of rural paradise with fields and trees rising-up the hillside behind.
Within fifty years this pastoral scene had disappeared. Sheffield’s growing population needed rehousing, and many were moved from old city centre slums into new housing estates that crept up the hillsides.
This photograph was taken on East Bank Road, and I’m led to believe that the old cottage stood in a glade behind Midhill House, a large country property that became what is now the Earl Marshall pub.
The road itself, then little more than a country lane, climbed the hillside and had once ended at Midhill house before eventually being extended towards the village of Gleadless.
The Arbourthorne estate, at the top of East Bank Road, was under construction by the mid-1930s and the road widened, with council houses built on the opposite side to Midhill House. The first bus service between Sheffield and Gleadless came up here from 1937 (and continues as the No. 51 bus route).
The old cottage disappeared, and farmland became property of Sheffield Corporation, and although housing eventually surrounded this little oasis, the area around Midhill House remained green space. The Norfolk Park estate was built at the top of the hill behind.
Sometimes the subject of a post materialises by chance, and this letter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in June 1926, caught the attention: –
“Sir, – In view of the present favourable conditions for long distance views from the hills about Sheffield, it would be interesting to know if it is possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from any vantage point about the district. Rumours have been current from time to time that Hagg Lane, Intake, is a suitable point, but it is difficult to get concrete evidence of this. On inquiries you are generally put off by ‘Well, I have heard my grandfather say that a cousin of his told him he knew a man, etc.’ Perhaps your readers in the Intake, Gleadless, and Ridgeway areas, might throw some light on the matter. Yours, etc., GREEBA.”
To start with, Hagg Lane is now known as Hurlfield Road, and these days we do not consider it to be part of Intake, more appropriate to say it borders Arbourthorne and Gleadless.
Ridiculous as the letter might appear, as Lincoln Cathedral was about 40 miles away, further curiosity was aroused a few days later in a response to the same newspaper: –
“Sir, – Greeba need not be in any doubt as to the possibility of seeing Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane. It is a matter of considerable difficulty, of course, and needs a good glass, plus an exceptionally clear day, and from my own experience (it was visible from the garden of my house in which I lived for some years) I do not think it can be seen oftener than three or four times a year.
“During the coal strike of 1921, however, I saw it at least four times in one week, and after spotting it with the glass it was possible to see it with the naked eye.
“The normal appearance is that of a tower of immense height, but in 1921 it was possible to get a good idea of the whole building.
“The viewpoint I can recommend is that from the portion of Hagg Lane, between Gleadless Common and the old Handsworth Waterworks, but I should regard the sight of it by a casual visitor as highly improbable.
“I was looking for it on all suitable occasions for about two years before I succeeded in finding it, and I should imagine that visibility is worse now on account of the housing estate on Gleadless Common, the smoke from which will drift across the foreground, with a south-west wind, which normally gave us the clearest weather, – Yours, etc. W.W. WOOD.”
We must appreciate that in the late 1920s this part of Sheffield was still rural, and the new Gleadless Common council housing estate had just been built at the top end (since demolished and replaced with new builds). Hagg Lane, or Hurlfield Road, was slightly higher than nearby Manor Top with views across the surrounding countryside. The spot identified is approximately where Sheffield Springs Academy now stands.
Today, any notion of seeing distant Lincoln Cathedral from here is virtually impossible, the area built-up with further housing, restricting the view.
The question is how reasonable it would have been to see the Lincolnshire landmark about forty miles away?
Dust, water vapour and pollution in the air will rarely let you see more than 12 miles, even on a clear day. Often, the curvature of the earth gets in the way first, it curves about 8 inches per mile and, according to experts, standing on a flat surface, the farthest edge that you can see is about three miles away. Without the earth’s curve and from higher up you might be able to identify objects from dozens, even hundreds, of miles away.
This being the case, it might have been possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane, especially as there was a coal strike at the time of the newspaper letters, making visibility much clearer.
Further evidence emerges more recently, albeit using the zoom lens of a modern camera. A quick search on Flickr, the photograph sharing site, reveals interesting images taken from the western outskirts of Sheffield.
Looking easterly, from Fulwood Lane/Greenhouse Lane, it is possible to see the Humber Bridge (52 miles distant), photographs by Vince Sellars reveal the two towers of the suspension bridge, and other contributors confirm that Lincoln Cathedral can be seen on a clear day from Ringinglow. Looking north from Grenoside, although there is no photographic evidence, it appears that York Minster (about 43 miles away) can also be seen.