“Why should we not try to secure a series of ‘Old Sheffield’ before the town is completely modernised and place these views where they will be treasured by future generations. One of the greatest mistakes we are apt to make is to forget that what is commonplace and familiar to us, may be regarded with great interest by our children and grandchildren. The life of even the oldest of us is but a page, nay, even as a sentence in the book which records the history of out town, and we at may least cherish the hope that Sheffielders of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will be as interested in noting what Sheffield was like in the early days of its corporate life.”
Words from Robert Eadon Leader in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. October 1, 1892.
“We have indeed seen Sheffield burn. Many parts of our city have been destroyed; our peacetime occupations have been replaced by a complete conversion to wartime conditions. We must rebuild, reorganise, and reabsorb the men who are now away fighting. What a task! It will not be done by talking. It can only be achieved by enterprise, organisation, and very hard work. Also, we shall need good fortune and that which happens elsewhere will determine in large measure our own opportunities. If this war has taught us one thing, it is that our city is simply a cog in the wheel which is our country, and that our country is a part, and no mean part, of the mechanism of the civilised world.” – Dr W.H. Hatfield, Sheffield, 1943.
Back in Victorian times, High Street and its approach was compared to a bottle, of which the approach was the body and the street the neck.
From the Churchgates (Sheffield Cathedral) the road tapered away until constricted at what was known as ‘Grundy’s Corner’ – the bulging portion of which had been an eye-sore for years.
Horse-drawn traffic was the problem, and every year the neck became increasingly congested.
Plans to divert traffic away from High Street were considered impossible, and the Town Council had considered an ambitious widening of the street as far back as 1875.
However, it involved demolishing buildings and prompted objections from shopkeepers concerned about compensation and property boundaries, and it wasn’t until the 1890s that work started.
These two illustrations from 1890, both taken from Coles Corner, showed High Street as was, and the proposed widening of the street.
It was completed in 1895-1896 and involved demolition of buildings on the south side (to the right), replacing them with elegant Victorian structures, including the Foster’s Building.
Sadly, the Blitz of World War Two destroyed most of the property and we are left with twentieth century replacements including what was once Walsh’s department store, an old Sheffield name that mutated into Rackhams, House of Fraser, eventually handed over to TJ Hughes.
Only one building survives both sketches and is as familiar today as it was then. Parade Chambers, built for Pawson and Brailsford by Charles Hadfield, and constructed by George Longden & Son between 1883-1885.
In 2000, at the point of the internet boom, somebody at Sheffield City Council’s Archives and Local Studies department had the foresight to start digitalising its vast collections.
Picture Sheffield turned out to be one of the first digital resource libraries in the UK, and as it celebrates its twentieth anniversary, it remains one of the country’s best photographic anthologies.
The service collects and preserves original records and printed material relating to Sheffield and its surrounding area, dating from the 12th century to the present.
In these days of lockdown, Picture Sheffield can provide hours of endless free entertainment and shows us how things used to look, how our ancestors appeared and how the city has evolved.
For historians, it is a valuable point of reference, and on a personal level, I have spent ages examining photographs of buildings and streets to check bygone information.
It is estimated there are well over 60,000 local images available to view, boosted by last year’s acquisition of over 2,000 images from the Tim Hale Photographic Collection, bought with help of public donations (£2,500 bestowed within days) and a £5,000 grant from the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust.
Picture Sheffield is a non-profit making service and income received from picture sales and donations is used to cover the cost of managing and developing the service which includes adding over 100 extra images a month.