A brief history of Sheffield

Built upon seven hills just like the beautiful ancient city of Rome, the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield lays just North of the border from the beautiful scenic County of Derbyshire and is the last Yorkshire city heading South on the M1.

Known mostly for it’s abundance of resources the Cities history stretches as far back as the Roman occupation, a large Roman villa has been excavated at nearby Templeborough.

Sheffield Cathedral has been the site of worship for centuries a Saxon cross was found on the site when the first church was built in 1101 AD, in 1265 the castle and possibly the church were burnt to the ground however the church was quickly rebuilt as in 1280 Ad the Bishop of York, William De Wickwane blessed a church on this site, this church was demolished and yet another one built in 1430 AD the tower is still present and is one of the oldest buildings in Sheffield still in regular use.

In 1777 AD the Shrewsbury chapel was added along with a vestry chapel, the North and South of walls of the Nave were rebuilt between 1790 and 1793 AD, there was major restoration done to the church by Flockton and Gibbs which included new North and South Transepts this was completed in 1880 AD.


Mary queen of Scots spent much of her captivity at Sheffield and the palace known as Sheffield Manor house in the centre of Manor Estate where she was held, it still exists to this day as a crumbling ruin, built in the 1500’s it was one of the grandest buildings in Sheffield, owned by the Earl of Shrewsbury as a hunting lodge.

Once it boasted one of Britain’s largest castles now buried deep beneath the Castle Market shopping centre little is left of this magnificent fortress, A Motte and Bailey was built here during the Norman Conquest of 1066 but was destroyed during the Seocnd Baron’s War.

A second castle was built out of stone in 1270 this was demolished by Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War in 1637, the castle was excavated in 1927 by Leslie Armstrong, he discovered the base of one of the gateway bastion towers and a portion of the gateway, these remains are two rooms below the Castle market one room is accessible to the public by pre-booking the other is walled up and the only access is via a small manhole in the food court the ruins in this room are part of the Eastern gate tower.

Sheffield held a large garrison of men and ammunition at the Hillsborough Garrison in 1854 and was considered one of the finest of it’s time with turrets at each corner of the perimeter wall four feet thick in places.

By the 1870’s batteries of the Royal Artillery were stationed there and in 1887 the barracks ceased to be used for artillery and became the garrison for the cavalry, the 2nd Dragoon guards being the first cavalry regiment to occupy the barracks.

Other buildings confined in the barracks included a hospital, parade and drill grounds, a farriers shop and riding school Were all built by 1854, later in 1859 a married quarters was added , a school in 1867, Gym in 1871 and Rifle range in 1903 were added the building is now a hotel which was completed in 2001 following a vast renovation project to rebuild the degrading barracks.

Sheffield takes it’s name from the River Sheaf and the Olde English word Feld, which means open land without trees, the name Sheaf derives from the old word Sceaf which means boundary making the River a boundary river.

The first mention of cutlery being made in Sheffield comes from a book by Geoffery Chaucer written in the 1300’s, in ‘the Reeves Tale’ he mentions a Sheffield Thwitel, a knife.

During the Middle ages Wool was the main commodity to come out of Sheffield as like many Yorkshire Towns and Cities, the high grassy land making it ideal grazing for sheep.

The 1500’s saw Sheffield become famous for it’s cutlery converting Watermills into grinding tools by 1600 Sheffield, along with London was one of the major towns to provide cutlery across the country.

In the 18th Century Sheffield’s industries were booming, Iron, Steel and Silver Plate were being distributed from the town along with Lead and silk.

Sheffield FC is considered the worlds oldest football club that isn’t associated with an institution such as school, university or hospital, founded 24th October 1857, on Dec 26th 1860 they took part in the worlds first derby against local rivals Hallam FC, this rules derby is considered the oldest still contested derby in any football code in the world the match was played on the oldest football ground in the world, Hallam FC’s pitch at Sandygate Lane in Sheffield.
Many of these traditional industries declined in the 20th Century although surgical instruments are still made in the city.

Sheffield suffered badly during the Second world war, between 12th December and 15th December 1940 the German Luftwaffe dropped their bombs on the city, The Vickers works was one of their targets as it was the only factory in England with a Drop Hammer used for forging crankshafts for the Rolls Royce Merlin engine which powered the Supermarine Spitfire plane and later in the war the Avro Lancaster Bomber.

During the first raid of the Blitz on 12th December 280 aircraft flew over the city dropping their bombs they demolished the West end of the cathedral and at least Three other buildings in the vacinity.

Six Hundred and Sixty people were killed and One Thousand Five Hundred injured during the raid, Forty Thousand were made homeless and Three Thousand homes were demolished with a further Three Thousand damaged beyond repair.

The 1950’s and 1960’s saw the closing of the Sheffield tramway and the building of many new large scale developments along with a new road system, many of the old slums were cleared out and new estates built to replace them

Written by Philip Ross