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Harris Leon Brown – a Polish refugee who made Sheffield his home

Harris Leon Brown came to England from Poland with an introduction to Alfred Beckett & Sons. He started by travelling around as a watch maker. Image: H.L. Brown

This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.

Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.

He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.

When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.

But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.

Harris Leon Brown (1843-1917), diamond merchant, jeweller and horologist of Poland and Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.

With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.

H.L. Brown, 71 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown

Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).

In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.

In 1896, H.L. Brown moved to 65 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown
In the 1930s, H.L. Brown was modernised. Image: H.L. Brown
While searching for photographs of London’s Regent Street, this image from 1910 appeared and shows H.L. Brown at 90 and 90A. Image: Getty Images

Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.

During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.

He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.

H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices  for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.

The jewelled key presented to King Edward VII at the opening of the University of Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield
Newspaper advertisement from 1907. Image: British Newspaper Archive

In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.

When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917.  He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.

At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”

His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.

He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.

In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.

In 1940, the Sheffield shop was destroyed in the Blitz and business moved to 70 Fargate. Image: H.L. Brown

During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.

Town Hall Square in 1967 looking towards Fargate and Leopold Street, Goodwin Fountain, foreground, and No 70, H.L. Brown and Son Ltd. Image: Picture Sheffield

James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.

In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.

Today,  H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).

H.L. Brown at 2 Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, in 2022. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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People

Johnny Moran – The first voice on Radio Hallam

The death is being reported of Johnny Moran, one of the original BBC Radio One DJs, and the first voice heard on Radio Hallam in October 1974.

His mother was born in Sheffield, and the family emigrated to Australia where he was born.

Johnny Moran began his career on Australian radio before joining Radio Luxembourg in 1964. He worked there for two years until moving to the UK in 1966. At the BBC, he presented Radio One Club, Housewives’ Choice, What’s New, and the pop magazine programme Scene and Heard, which ran for almost six years.

In 1974, while working for British Forces and recording a series of shows syndicated in North America, he met Keith Skues at a party given for singer Barry White, and first heard about the plans for Radio Hallam, the commercial station based at Hartshead in Sheffield.

He came ‘home’ to Sheffield and became a voice of a generation, presenting the breakfast show until the late-1980s.

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Companies People

Tommy Ward – the man who built an empire

T.W. Ward, Albion Works offices, Savile Street, in 1937. The former offices still form an imposing appearance. Image: Picture Sheffield

When Thomas William Ward died in 1926, he had owned during his lifetime enough warships to make up a respectable fleet. He had founded T.W. Ward in 1877 and left what was probably the largest ship-breaking, iron, and machinery business in the world.

Once upon a time, businessmen had looked with suspicion on the scrap iron merchant and second-hand machinery business, but by honesty and square trading, Thomas lifted his business to the pinnacle which commanded the respect of the industrial community.

T. W. Ward, Coal Office, London Road, 1936. Image: Picture Sheffield

He was the son of Thomas William Ward of Wadsley Bridge and was born in Sheffield in 1853. He started his business career with Moss and Gamble, and in 1877, aged 24, launched out with his brothers as a coal, coke, and iron merchant. Within five years, he had cleared off obligations incurred in his father’s business and soon added the sale of machinery to his activities, extending the area of operations to deal with obsolete works and battleships.

Thomas William Ward (1853-1926)

Thomas had had the idea of dismantling old ships and recycling the material for other ‘useful’ purposes.

The business became a limited company in 1914 and such was the remarkable progress that it embraced 32 distinct undertakings in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The company dismantled many famous works, including Abbots Works, Gateshead; Bowling Ironworks; Kelham Rolling Mills, Sheffield; Derwent Rolling Mills, Workington; Dearne and Dove Works; Birchills Furnaces; West Cumberland and Whittington Works.

Many large battleships and merchant vessels were dismantled at Ward’s works, the list extending into several hundreds, including the steamers Luciana, Adriatic, H.M.S. Inflexible, H.M.S. Dreadnought, H.M.S. Magnificent, H.M.S. Prince of Wales, the German battleships Helgoland and Westfalen, and the steamer Canopie.

Lizzie Ward, the famous elephant, working for T. W. Ward in World War One. Image: Picture Sheffield

After World War One the company bought 1,000 tanks, the record purchase of 115 war vessels from the Admiralty, the acquisition of the Palestine pipeline, the Lartigue Railway, and the Marconi Wireless Station, Cliften, all for dismantling purposes.

Thomas Ward never sought public office but served as a J.P. and in 1913 had the unique honour of serving as president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Master Cutler, both at the same time. He also gave advice to several commissions in connection with the Merchandise Marks Act and the National Insurance Act

While conducting business, he travelled a great deal visiting America, South Africa, Australia, Sweden Norway, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

“I have succeeded because I worked very hard at the beginning, and as a young man I studied mechanics and metallurgy.”

His younger brother, Joseph, was involved in the business from the start, becoming chairman and managing director, while another brother, Arthur, and nephew, Ashley, were joint assistant managing directors. Together they erected an imposing headquarters on Savile Street, known as Albion Works, with other extensive premises at Preston and Wednesbury.

T.W. Ward Ltd Shipbreakers Yard, Grays, Essex, Seen from above in 1921. Image: Britain from Above

Thomas was a member of the Wesleyan Church, holding many lay offices, and gave generously to the church. He was an enthusiastic horticulturalist, and his gardens at The Grove, Millhouses, and then Endcliffe Vale, were a source of great pride and pleasure to him.

He died at  Endcliffe Vale House, aged 72, in 1926, and was buried at Crookes Cemetery.

The company was run by the family until the latter part of the 1950s, by which time there were five divisions – raw materials, construction, engineering, motor distribution and industrial supplies. Through acquisitions the Ward Group consisted over 35 companies by the 1960s, but its fortunes dwindled in the following decades.

A display of Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam Ralbot cars at E.H. Pickford and Co, motor dealer and engineer, c1953. The company became part of the T.W. Ward Group. Image: Picture Sheffield

The Group was acquired by Rio Tinto Zinc in 1982 but after significant losses an administration order was granted to the parent company, Ward Group, in 1992 and although the subsidiaries traded normally, most were subsequently sold.

The machinery division was acquired by an MBO in 1983 and is now known as T.W. Ward CNC Machinery, still operating at Albion Works.

In 1937, T.W. Ward were appointed to demolish the remains of fire-damaged Crystal Palace in Sydenham Park, London. The company reclaimed scrap iron and debris.
Albion Works. Seen from Bailey Bridge. Image: DJP/2021

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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People

Barbara Wreaks: Quite forgotten, even in the place of her birth

Barbara Hofland (née Wreaks), 1770 – 1844

Barbara Wreaks was the daughter of Robert Wreaks, a Sheffield manufacturer, brother of the better-known Marmaduke Wreaks, hairdresser, wigmaker, and toy merchant, of High Street.

Barbara was born in 1770, and first achieved local fame in 1795 by a series of contributions to the Sheffield Courant (1793-1797), entitled, ‘Characteristics of Some Leading Inhabitants of Sheffield at the Close of the 18th Century.

In 1796, she married Thomas Hoole, a Sheffield manufacturer, but quickly became a widow, and went to live with her mother-in-law in Attercliffe, where in 1805 she wrote a volume of poems, of which over 2,000 were printed, “By James Montgomery at the Iris office.” The list of subscribers occupied nearly fifty pages of the book, and most of them were Sheffield folk, but whether their large number is testimony to culture in Sheffield in those days, or simply to Barbara’s own assiduous canvassing, it is hard to tell.

With the profits from the book, she opened Grove House boarding school in Harrogate, a forerunner to what is now Harrogate College. Later she married Thomas Christopher Hofland, the landscape painter, and removed to London, where she became well-known as a prolific writer. She published nearly a hundred books, chiefly for young readers. One of her many popular books (as Mrs. Hofland) was The Blind Farmer and His Children (1816). Her most popular children’s book was The Son of a Genius, about an impulsive artist, which may contain autobiographical elements. She died in 1844.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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People

William Henry Babington: an eccentric photographer who captured Sheffield on camera

Occasionally, we stumble upon a Sheffield character who has been air-brushed by time. This can be said for William Henry Babington, a striking figure, who was easily identifiable as he moved about the city with his long grey hair, moustache, and an old-fashioned flowing cape. He was seldom seen out of doors without his camera.

William was a photographer, and it is quite sad that an article about someone who loved his craft cannot be supplied by a photograph of the person himself.

He was born in Leicester in 1856 and ran away to London at the age of 14, arriving penniless and with nowhere to sleep. His final choice of resting place was under a slab at Billingsgate Market, until he was ‘washed out’ the following morning.  Two days of this life in London were enough, and he found his way back home by the same means as before.

Afterwards his father always derived pleasure from recounting how “that mad son of his had ‘done’ London and back on his own.”

It was after experiences in Manchester, Derby, and Normanton, during which time he spent some years on the railway, that he came to Sheffield.

William worked at Pawson and Brailsford as an account collector, and in 1895 joined the Sheffield Telegraph, acting as manager of the Zincographic department and as a staff photographer. (Zincography was a printing process that used zinc plates) As such, he was one of the original members of the Sheffield branch of the National Union of Journalists. He eventually devoted his time taking photographs and left in 1917 to set up as a freelancer.

The ruins of Mary, Queen of Scots, window ‘rescued’ by Samuel Roberts and re-erected in grounds of Queen’s Tower, Norfolk Park. Samuel Roberts who built Queen’s Tower, was an admirer of Mary, Queen of Scots and believed she would have looked through this window. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

He was an ardent collector of old Sheffield prints, and at the time of his death had accumulated a collection of about 300 valuable negatives. Historians often turned to him for old photographs to illustrate their work, and lantern slides from his archive were often used by lecturers.

This charismatic person liked to entertain people with reminiscences and wrote a series of articles for the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star in 1930 with memoirs drawing on more than half a century as a camera man.

“In the early Press days there were but few daily newspapers that either had their own photographer or zincograph staff and plant. It was my good fortune,” he stated, “to obtain a position on the staff of a leading provincial daily paper. The Sheffield Telegraph and the Leeds Mercury being the first newspapers to attach a photographer to their staff.”

As an example of the high speed at which the press photographer worked, William recalled a photograph he took of Mr J.F. Hope when he was standing for Parliament. He took only 25 minutes getting it to the Telegraph office, and within ninety minutes it was published in the paper and on sale.

“At races, photographs of the finish did not worry me. I preferred to hunt about the crowd for well-known personages, who sometimes objected to being photographed, as they were supposed to be at business.

“When only one goal was scored at a football match, the photographer was always at the other end. That was no excuse when I got back to the office. The editor wanted to know why. When a reporter was late for an event it did not matter much, he could always obtain the story, but the press photographer who arrived late was finished. He had no second chance.

“The Sheffield police have done all they can to help me, so long as I did not try to photograph things, they did not want photographing.”

The last Hansom Cab in Sheffield. Photograph from 1912 by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

One of the more interesting of his recollections was an incident which occurred at the conclusion of a visit of a female member of the Royal family.

“I was the only camera man near,” he wrote, “when she was seated in her carriage, and I was offered without words the opportunity of a close snap. I don’t know what most people would have done. All my plates had been exposed but I took the opportunity given me on a plate already exposed. I could never disappoint a lady.” After that, whenever Royalty was in evidence, he always kept one plate unexposed until the departure.

“In my early days I had to rely upon the hire of any vehicle for transit. Eyam, historic for its plague epidemic, was holding a Sunday commemorative service, and a reporter and I were booked to attend. We hired an early edition of a motor-car, and, through some defect, had the pleasure of pushing it up most of the hills and running down to catch it when it descended on the other side.”

Such was William’s unique appearance in Sheffield that on one occasion a popular cartoonist, a friend of Babington, sent him a letter, the envelope of which bore a sketch of ‘Babs’, together with one word. ‘Sheffield.’ The letter was promptly delivered.

Old Sheffield Telegraph Offices, High Street, No 13, Castle Chambers, left, No 21, Roberts Robert, Tailors, right. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

In his spare time, William was fond of the game of chess, and was a member of several old clubs, but as old age approached resorted to watching the game instead.

Today, we should be grateful for his work. Old images survive on Picture Sheffield, and books and magazines still use his black and white photographs. Many of the photographs taken of the Sheffield City Battalion while they trained at Redmires prior to World War One are attributed to him.

Barkers’s Pool, looking up Division Street (long before the City Hall was built). The building being constructed on the right is the Grand Hotel. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

William lived at 59 Thompson Road, near the Botanical Gardens, and died, aged 76, in 1932. He was buried at Sheffield General Cemetery.

Finally, we have a mystery that somebody might be able to solve. Whatever happened to his extensive collection of old Sheffield prints and the vast library of photographs taken by him? Are they stored in an archive somewhere, or were they lost forever?

An elevated view of Pinstone Street, from the top of the Town Hall Tower, St. Paul’s Church (now Peace Gardens), left, Prudential Buildings, centre. Reuben Thompson’s City Mews (soon to be incorporated into the Radisson Blu Hotel), right. St. Mary’s Church can be seen in the background. Photograph from 1912 by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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People Places

From Ballifield, Handsworth, to Ballifield, USA

Trenton is the capital city of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. It briefly served as the capital of the United States in 1784

Mahlon Stayce was born at Dore House on the family’s Ballifield estate, Handsworth, in 1638, and married Rebekah Ely in 1668. Both their families were English Quakers, a new religious movement that was treated with suspicion and hostility under the parliamentary rule of Oliver Cromwell following the English civil war. With the return of the monarchy by Charles II, Quakers were subject to persecution for their refusals to conform to the Church of England. Their refusal to pay mandatory tithes meant they faced crippling fines or imprisonment, and many decided to practice their faith in the American colonies.

Mahlon Stayce, a tanner, acquired, as a creditor, a large chunk of colonial soil in West Jersey, America, and his family sailed from Hull in 1678. He established his home on the south bank of the Assunpink Creek and called it Ballifield after his ancestral home at Handsworth.

Ballifield Hall in the late 1800s, rebuilt by Peter Cadman, and for many years previous was the home of the Stacye Family. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

Stacye was given permission to build a new settlement at the side of the Delaware River where he founded a church. The town was originally called The Falls, and later Stacye’s Mill.

Stacye held a large estate, had several business interests, and held many titles in public life.  He died a wealthy and respected citizen in 1704.

By 1719, the town had adopted the name “Trent-towne”, after William Trent, a Philadelphia merchant, who purchased much of the surrounding land from Stacye’s family

This humble settlement, with its Handsworth origins, grew into a big city – Trenton, New Jersey.

Back in Sheffield, Ballifield Hall has gone, the Ballifield housing estate built on its former parkland.

In 1910, the Trenton Chamber of Commerce put out a contest to create the slogan to be put on the bridge. S. Roy Heath was the winner of the contest, making him the creator of “Trenton Makes, The World Takes.”
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A forgotten son who created visuals for classic mid-century travel posters and architectural landmarks

Time makes us forget, and this applies to the work of Sheffield artist Kenneth Steel. He was a painter and etcher, noted for his watercolours, but since his death in 1970 his work is often overlooked.

Kenneth Steel was born in 1906, the son of George Thomas Steel, an artist and silver engraver. His eldest brother, George Hammond Steel (1900-1960) was a successful landscape painter, and both brothers studied at Sheffield College of Art under Anthony Betts. During the 1920s, Kenneth studied briefly under landscape artist, Stanley Royle, and exhibited his watercolours, oils, and engravings in Sheffield at the Heeley Art Club and Hallamshire Sketch Club.

In 1932 he secured a contract with the print publishers, James Connell and Sons, and annually published line engraving and drypoint prints both before and after the War. In 1935 he exhibited two of these prints at the Royal Academy and then in November 1935 he became the youngest elected member of the Royal Society of British Artists. His work in watercolour was shown at three one man exhibitions in London in 1934 and 1937 and Dublin in 1938. After World War Two he diversified into the fields of perspective drawings and commercial art. This included railway posters and carriage prints.

Among his most famous pieces are Sheffield Castle from 1964, commissioned by the Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society to hang in Castle House, an imaginary view of Sheffield Castle as it might have looked.

Oil Painting of Sheffield Castle by Kenneth Steel R.B.A. S.G.A. Art., commissioned by the Board of Directors for the new Boardroom at Castle House, September 1964. 

From his studio in Crookes, Kenneth found work preparing watercolour washed perspective drawings commissioned by the construction industry. One of these, the Electricity Sub Station on Moore Street, painted in 1965-1966, was a classic piece of Brutal architecture. Other works included Jodrell Bank Observatory, South Kirkby Colliery and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.

Kenneth wrote a number of books on artistic techniques and had his work widely reproduced in such publications as Arts Review, Sphere, Studio and The Artist.

Cadman Lane by Kenneth Steel, looking towards the Town Hall and Norfolk Street. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

But there was tragedy in his life. His mother and pregnant wife were both killed during the Sheffield Blitz, and much of his work destroyed. He remarried in 1953 and the last two decades of his life produced some of his most experimental artistic work.

The proposed Sheffield city centre redevelopment, 1908-1926 showing the Law Courts from a new Chester Street. There were a number of artworks created by Kenneth Steel that are thought to be lost. Devonshire Green now occupies the site of the original Chester Street. The proposal never came to light. Photograph: Artist’s Estate

His work can be found in a book ‘Kenneth Steel. Catalogue Raisonné of Prints and Posters’ with full-colour illustrations of his watercolour and oil paintings, plus his perspective drawings and later palette knife oil paintings of the Balearic Islands and beyond. The appendices include a complete catalogue of his fifty-four line engraving and drypoint prints, plus a full catalogue raisonné of his 48 Railway posters and thirty-five carriage prints.

These now sought-after posters – nostalgic reminders of a vanished world – adorned railway station platforms, carriages, and waiting rooms.

This month you can view Kenneth Steel’s work in a new exhibition at Weston Park Museum. It is curated by Lucy Cooper, exhibitions and display curator at Sheffield Museums, and runs from December 17 until May 2.

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People

Roger Moffat: “Nobody did it like me.”

Roger Moffat at Radio Hallam. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

There I was, looking for something completely different, and I discovered that on this day in 1986 Roger Moffat died (aged 59) at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

It was a hard-drinking, fag-fuelled, career with Radio Luxembourg and BBC Radio, not to mention TV with Pinky and Perky (1957), Here’s Harry (1960) and Like … Music (1962).

Roger Moffat was best-known to us on Radio Hallam (as was) – an eccentric, masterful storyteller, and leader of controversy. As somebody commented, “Who would dare hire somebody like this nowadays?”

‘Our Rog’ might only have been on the airwaves at Radio Hallam for seven years, but it is quite incredible that Sheffield people still talk about him 35 years later.

The photograph above is dated 1980/1981 which meant his days at the station were numbered. He “sally forthed” to Scotland for a holiday, was dropped by Hallam, and only reappeared when his own pre-recorded obituary was broadcast after his death.

Here is a sad story that takes place in 1985, a year before he died.

I was working at a supermarket at Broomhill in Sheffield and asked to deliver provisions to him. Carved ham, cut half an inch thick, and Italian garlic salad dressing. He was bed-ridden in a ground-floor bedsit. Memorabilia was piled high – records, cassettes, newspapers, books, fag packets, and, of course, a radio to listen to.

Roger looked a lonely old man, very charming, and still able to entertain an audience of one. He was a brilliant storyteller. I was so captivated that I forgot to take payment for his shopping and ended up paying for it myself.

Had he still been alive, Roger would have been ninety-four.

Long-gone, not-forgotten, and if only he had completed his autobiography that was to have been called ‘Nobody Did It Like Me.”

Announcer Roger Moffat announces the end of the Light Programme, 1967. Photograph: BBC

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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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.

NOTE
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

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People

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.