“If the people of Sheffield could only receive a tenth of what their knives sell for retail in America, Sheffield might pave its streets with silver.”  – William Cobbett

Sheffield is the second largest city in Yorkshire with a population of just over 550,000 people and situated at the confluence of five rivers, including the River Sheaf, of which it takes its name. The city is in South Yorkshire and most famous for its steel production, contribution to British popular music and a proud sporting heritage.

Sheffield’s steel industry dates back to the 14th Century especially in the production of cutlery. Indeed, one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales refers to a Sheffield “thwitel,” or knife. Furthermore the city’s location, which includes several fast-flowing rivers and surrounding hills full of minerals, meant the conditions were perfect for running water wheels in the manufacture of blades, instead of their traditional use for milling corn.

In 1600 Sheffield was the largest producer of cutlery outside London. To oversee this, the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire was formed, a guild of metalworkers with its head known as “The Master Cutler.” Their headquarters were originally built in 1638, and the current one on the same site in 1832. This is known as The Cutler’s Hall and inside this grand building are displays of old Hallamshire knives, some of which date back to Elizabethan times. Nowadays the hall is used for civic ceremonies, including the annual banquet, weddings and conferences.

Two innovations took place to enhance the city’s reputation in steel-making. Firstly in 1740, Benjamin Huntsman of nearby Handsworth invented a new way of making crucible steel, a stronger material to make their products and later in 1912 when Harry Brearly discovered stainless steel, which is still used to this day.

Like many industries in the UK during the 20th Century, steel-making declined in Sheffield, however it has still kept some of its old industry. Sheffield Forgemasters was created in 1983 as the result of a merger between the nationalised British Steel, itself a conglomerate made up of several Sheffield companies and Firth Brown. Its buildings dominate the Brightside area of the city, producing steel castings and ingots, for many different customers, including the military, oil rigs and the nuclear industry.

Despite its nickname, “the steel city”, Sheffield is actually one of the greenest places in the UK with numerous parks, gardens and woodland within its borders. One third of the settlement is situated within the Peak District National Park, which incorporates the Sheffield round-walk, a 14 mile trail, around the city.

The footpath passes through the city’s largest green space, Graves Park which was opened in the 1930s and houses an animal farm, café fishing lakes, nature trails and large areas for outdoor sports such as football, golf putting and bowls.

The winter gardens are a great retreat. Picture credit wikipedia public domain.
The winter gardens are a great retreat. Picture credit wikipedia public domain.

The city-centre enclosed Winter gardens were opened in 2003 inside one of the largest temperate glasshouses in Europe. It features over 2,000 plants from all around the world which are changed five times a year in accordance with the seasons.

In total there are 80 parks in Sheffield, including Endcliffe Park, Hillsborough Park and the Cholera memorial grounds. The latter were created in 1834 on the site of a burial ground for the 400 people who had perished from the disease two years earlier. The land was given to the city by The Duke of Norfolk and a monument was also built. In more recent times the facilities have been added, including repairs to the monument, which were blown over during a storm in 1990, a Bowling Green and access to the adjacent Clay Woods.

Furthermore there are seventeen nature reserves in the city and six sites of special scientific interest. The natural setting of Sheffield, built in a valley means there are a variety of habitats in which wildlife can thrive, from river and marshland at the bottom to moorland on the top.

Sheffield Cathedral is a historic landmark in the centre of the city Picture credit Chris Downer geograph creative commons.
Sheffield Cathedral is a historic landmark in the centre of the city Picture credit Chris Downer geograph creative commons.

Sheffield Cathedral is the oldest building in the city and dates back to around 1430, although two previous churches have stood on the site since Norman times. Originally the building was a parish church under the governance of Worksop Priory, but as the population of Sheffield grew from the late 18th century so did its church, and it was extended in 1777.

However it was not until 1914 that the church was given cathedral status. The building was further extended throughout the 1930s when three new chapels were added and in the 21st century community rooms for hospitality to local businesses and shelter for the homeless were added.

While Sheffield may not be full of ancient tourist attractions, as in other places in the county, it has a very strong, independent culture, which is reflected in its numerous museums and art galleries.

The Millennium Gallery was opened in 2001 with space for two permanent collections and two temporary exhibitions. The permanent galleries feature work from Victorian artist, John Ruskin and a display celebrating Sheffield’s industrial heritage in metalwork. It includes 13,000 items made in the city’s factories, such as spoons, forks, bowls and scissors.

The older Graves Gallery, located above the Central library has been in the city since 1934. It displays work from local and international artists, plus the personal collection of its founder, John George Graves, who contributed 700 exhibits to the gallery.

The Weston park museum charts the history of Sheffield and its people over time. It opened in 1875 and is home to one of the oldest weather stations in the country, active since 1882. It underwent refurbishment in 2006 and re-opened in its current name. One of the main attractions is the treasures gallery, which displays artefacts brought to the city from other parts of the world, such as a crocodile skull from India and a set of Japanese dolls, gifted to local industrialist, Arthur Balfour. The “what on earth” gallery displays South Yorkshire’s natural history and allows visitors to see and listen to animals found on the moors surrounding the city.

The city has two major theatres, the Lyceum and The Crucible. The former has a 1068 capacity auditorium originally opened in 1897 and closed in 1969. During the 70s the building was saved from demolition by local pressure groups and became a bingo hall and rock concert venue. However in 1985 the Lyceum was bought by two local businessmen who, with help from the council restored it to its former glory and re-opened it as a theatre in 1991. It traditionally holds the city’s pantomime as well as a variety of plays, comedy and dance performances throughout the year.

The Crucible, better known for hosting the World Snooker Championships every year, is a more recent incarnation, opening its doors in 1971, at a time when the Lyceum and other similar venues had closed. The 900-seater auditorium is unique in that it has a prominent “thrust” stage, which means a performance area which extends into the audience, so they can view the stage from three sides. The smaller Crucible Studio theatre is a 400-seater venue, which hosts more intimate events, such as comedy shows and classical concerts. Sheffield City Hall, opened in 1932, also has a 2,000 seater ballroom, which hosts tea dances, club nights and parties.

Sheffield arena has been present in the city since 1991 and has an approximate capacity of 13,500 people. It hosts a range of pop concerts, comedy shows, sporting events and dance performances. It has also played host to comedians, such as Russell Brand and Peter Kay, as well as sporting events, such as WWE wrestling, Premier League Darts and World-title boxing bouts in recent years. It is also home to the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey team. The arena has been used for major TV shows, such as The X Factor and Sports Personality of the Year. In recent years music acts, such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga and The Arctic Monkeys have all played here.

Sheffield has made an enormous contribution to UK popular music during the past thirty years. In the early 80s Sheffield was at the forefront of the new synth pop sound, which included bands from the city, such as The Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC, who consistently topped the charts throughout this era. Furthermore the area played a part in the acid house movement at the end of the decade, when Warp records, one of the scene’s most prominent record labels was established in 1989. Rock and Indie music have also thrived in Sheffield with bands such as Def Leppard, Pulp and The Arctic Monkeys leading the way from the 1980s to the present day.

More recently in 2002, Niche nightclub opened playing the then underground genre of bassline, but was closed three years later due to its links with crime and anti-social behaviour in the city. Sheffield was also home to another famous nightclub, Gatecrasher, which opened in 1997 but burned down ten years later after a fire started early in the evening from the DJ box, with only a few staff present, who were all safely evacuated. At the time of writing the company are looking into building a new venue in the city.

Currently clubbing in Sheffield includes places such as Amnesia, The Viper Rooms and The Leadmill plus chain clubs, such as Reflex, as well as numerous bars and pubs throughout the city centre.

Music in the city is celebrated at its “tramlines festival”, which takes place each July. It features a combination of national and local artists, covering various genres from hip hop to folk music. The festival is held at around 70 venues across the city, including its universities.

Sheffield is very well linked to other parts of Yorkshire by two motorways, the M1 and the M18. The former runs north to Barnsley and Leeds, while the latter cuts across the county to link Sheffield to the M62 and places, such as Doncaster, Goole and Hull.

Sheffield brought back their tram system in the 1990s. Picture credit: Rept0n1x wikipedia creative commons.
A Sheffield Supertram. Picture credit: Rept0n1x wikipedia creative commons.

The city has had a long history of trams, with an original network, known as The Sheffield Tramway running from 1873 to 1960. Currently, Sheffield is the only place in Yorkshire to have a fully operational tram system. The new Supertram network was developed and fully opened in 1995. It stretches from the city centre to three park and rides at Meadowhall shopping centre, Middlewood and Halfway. At the time of writing there are currently plans to extend the tram system from Meadowhall to Dore village in the South West. Sheffield train station opened in 1870 and was extended in 1905. It is also a tram stop and one of the busiest stations in Yorkshire. Currently there are services to London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds amongst others. Sheffield is also one of the cities, which will be included in the HS2 rail link to London. At the time of writing there is much debate in the city as to whether the station should be based at Meadowhall or on the site of the disused Victoria Station in the city centre.

A short walk away is the Sheffield Interchange bus station, opened in 1936 and re-developed in the 1990s, complete with its own Castle Square tram stop. It has thirty stands covering destinations around Yorkshire and further afield through the National Express.

The city has two major higher education institutions, Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam. The former was founded in 1897 and received Royal Charter in 1905. It was one of the original redbrick universities in the country and expanded rapidly during the 20th century, although it has never had a campus of its own, rather a series of buildings clustered together. One of these is the Arts Tower, opened in 1966 and currently the highest university structure in the entire country. It contains one of the last few remaining examples of a paternoster lift, which are a chain of two berth compartments that move slowly in a loop. The institution has a long history and credibility in research with major companies, such as Siemens, Rolls Royce and Boots. The student union has won awards for being one of the best for students in terms of facilities and experience. It consists of two watering holes, Bar One and The Raynor Lounge, as well as its own in-house student run cinema.

Sheffield Hallam is one of the largest universities in the UK with over 30,000 students studying on more than 700 courses. It is spread over two campuses, one in the city centre and the other, called the Collegiate Crescent based in the south-west of Sheffield. The university is one of the biggest providers of nurses and teachers in the country. Notable alumni are Dame Kelly Holmes, Nick Park and Sean Bean.

The Sheffield Universities varsity takes place over the course of the academic year between the two institutions, over twenty-six different sports with points awarded for each fixture win. This reflects the proud and competitive nature of sport within the steel city.

Association football is at the heart of the city’s sporting heritage. The first two football clubs were formed here, Sheffield FC and Hallam in 1857 and 1860 respectively who then took part in the first ever football derby. Other clubs started to form around the city, including one called “The Wednesday,” and together developed their own Sheffield rules of the game, which had no offside rule but introduced free-kicks for foul play. Nowadays both clubs play in the non-leagues and live largely in the shadow of two more famous clubs, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.

Wednesday were originally a cricket club which added football to its roster in 1867, becoming Sheffield Wednesday Cricket and football club, named after the day of the week in which they played their matches on. The club enjoyed periods of success in the very early 20th century and again in the 1990s when they won the League Cup and briefly became a real force in English football through this decade before relegation in 1998. At the time of writing they play in the Championship, the second tier of English football and have played their home matches at Hillsborough since 1899.

Their rivals to the south of the city, Sheffield United were formed in 1889, and play at Bramall Lane, which is now the oldest major football ground in the world hosting professional football matches, having been used since 1867. The club currently plays at the time of writing in League 1 and have recently enjoyed good runs in both cup competitions.

Sheffield is also famous for hosting the annual World Snooker Championships at the Crucible theatre, which has been a mainstay at the venue since 1977. Rugby League is also present in the city in the shape of the Sheffield Eagles, formed as recently as 1984 and play their home games at the Owlerton stadium. At the time of writing they are in the Championship, the national second tier of Rugby League. The Sheffield Steelers, formed in 1991 are the city’s ice hockey team, who play in the Elite league and have won the title on three occasions, since its formation in 2003.

Sheffield is also noted for its exploits in the sport of athletics. In 1991 the city hosted the World Student Games in its purpose built Don Valley Stadium. Unfortunately the venue was demolished in 2013, amidst much local opposition due to cost-cutting measures from Sheffield Council. Despite this the city has produced the Olympic heptathlon champion, Jessica Ennis, who was born in the city and other notable sports stars, such as long distance runner and Olympic organiser, Sebastian Coe, boxer, Naseem Hamed, and World Cup winner, Gordon Banks.

Ponds Forge International sports centre was opened in 1991 and currently has one of the country’s nine Olympic size swimming pools. It also has a range of sporting facilities, including one of Europe’s deepest diving pools, Gym, public swimming pool and multi-purpose sports hall. In the 2014 Tour de France Sheffield city centre was the finish for the second leg of the race from York.

sheff meadowhall Paul Harrop
The famous Meadowhall Shopping centre draws customers from across Yorkshire and beyond. Picture credit Paul Harrop wikipedia creative commons geograph

Meadowhall shopping centre was built in 1990 on the site of an old steel works at the edge of the city. It is the ninth biggest shopping centre in the UK and has nearly 300 stores, including many high street names, independent traders and food outlets. There is also an eleven screen multiplex cinema and extensive free car parking. The centre is lit up at night and its familiar domes are visible from the M1 acting as an ideal landmark for those driving past the city. It also has its own tram stop and railway station making it very accessible from all parts of Yorkshire and beyond.

Its main rival, the Crystal Peaks retail park lies to the south east of the city and was constructed in 1988. It hosts a range of fashion outlets, such as Marks & Spencers, New Look and Topshop to name but a few. Both of these major shopping centres contribute to the city’s green policy, with Meadowhall collecting rainwater to operate its toilets in a bore hole dug underneath the centre and four storage tanks, while Crystal Peaks has installed hives in its roof and planted flowers to help the local bee population.

In Sheffield City Centre there are several shopping zones, such as the pedestrianised, Fargate and The Moor market. The Devonshire Quarter and West Street cater for the city’s large student population with a range of shops dedicated to them. At the time of writing there are proposals in place to re-develop The Moor and indoor market areas.

Sheffield, the steel city turned green city has plenty to offer for both residents and visitors alike, with a distinctive culture and heritage evident throughout its borders.

Sheffield parish church before it became a Cathedral picturedl in 1819
Sheffield parish church before it became a Cathedral pictured in 1819. picture credit: Wikipedia public domain.

There has been human activity in the Sheffield area since Prehistoric times, due to the discovery of art and a circle of stones believed to be around 12,800 years old on the moors around the city. Moreover a hill fort, believed to be built by the Brigantes tribe in around 500BC on the banks of the river Don was believed to form a boundary between Brigante land and its rival Midland-based tribe the Corieltauvi. However the first notable settlement was created by the Romans in AD41 on the banks of the River Sheaf and Don. Sheffield derives from a corruption of the word “sheth,” which means to divide and “feld” a common suffix meaning “forest clearing.” The first historic event of note to happen was a truce made between Saxon King Egbert of Wessex and King Eanred of Northumbria at Dore in the year 829, which made Egbert the first king of all England.

Under Norman rule the manor of Hallun (Hallam) is noted in the Doomesday Book as sixteen hamlets, while nearby Sheffield was known as Shafeld. Like most other places a castle was built to maintain order soon after the invasion and a town grew around its walls. Sheffield was given a market charter to be held on a Tuesday by King Edward I in 1296 and the parish church was founded around the same time. The city was a victim to one of the lesser remembered conflicts of the middle Ages; the Second Barons war from 1264-67. During this skirmish the castle and parish church were destroyed by a party of Royalist barons because the landowner of Sheffield at the time, Thomas de Furnival supported the views of the rebel, Simon de Montfort in his protests over the reign of Henry III. These were both rebuilt and added to in subsequent years, with some of the re-built church is part of the cathedral today.  Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle and Manor from 1870-1884, while awaiting trial for treason, but in less than one hundred years’ time the castle would once again be rubble, destroyed by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War in 1648.

However it is only really when the Industrial Revolution begins in the mid-18th century that the history of Sheffield really takes off. Already Sheffield “thwitel” or knife had been mentioned in Chaucer’s 14th Century “Canterbury Tales,” while in 1600 Sheffield was the largest producer of cutlery outside London. In 1740 the discovery of crucible steel by Benjamin Huntsman came at just the right time in order for Sheffield to grow from small market town to major industrial city. Over the next one hundred years the population of Sheffield increased tenfold with workers moving from the countryside to work in the city’s numerous steel factories. The poor conditions in the city at the time caused several cholera outbreaks, the worst in 1832, with 402 casualties, who are commemorated in the Cholera memorial grounds. Moreover in March 1864, the city experienced its worst ever floods when the newly built Dale Dyke Dam collapsed and caused water from its reservoir to surge down the River Don destroying 600 homes and killing 238 people. A new dam was built further up the valley and the disaster caused much change in the way they were designed and engineered. In March 2014 the 150 year anniversary of the disaster was commemorated by a memorial service for the victims and a plaque was unveiled to mark the occasion.

Further discoveries in the production of steel in 1856, by Henry Bessemer, who invented the Bessemer convertor and Harry Brearly’s discovery of stainless steel in 1912 further cemented Sheffield’s reputation in steel making Moreover, two years later its church was upgraded to cathedral status. In both World Wars Sheffield was a target for the German bombers because much of its steel factories produced munitions for the war effort. In December 1940, three nights of heavy bombing, known as The Sheffield Blitz caused more than 660 lives to be lost.

During the latter half of the 20th Century saw much change to Sheffield. Like other Yorkshire cities their industries declined, however due to mergers between some of the larger steel factories some remained in the shape of the current Sheffield Forgemasters in 1983. The 1990s saw rapid change and modernisation of the city. Meadowhall shopping centre was built in 1990, followed on by the Don Valley stadium, arena and Ponds Forge a year later. Ultimately in 1995 the Supertram system opened and cultural projects such as the Winter Gardens and Millennium Galleries followed on in the 21st Century.

Sheffield Forgemasters are one of the last few remaining steel plants in the city. Picture credit Stephen Craven wikipedia creative commons.
Sheffield Forgemasters are one of the last few remaining steel plants in the city. Picture credit Stephen Craven wikipedia creative commons.

Sheffield is now regarded as a thriving Yorkshire city, with large student population, growing industries. In 2011 it was declared an enterprise zone, making it a good place for small businesses. The city also retains some of its past glories but with a modern, green and independent culture.

Sheffield is one of Yorkshire’s most famous cities. Its name comes from the River Sheaf which runs through the city.

There is evidence that the area which Sheffield now occupies has been inhabited for almost 12,000 years.

During The Iron Age are area was part of the territory of The Brigantes. A tribe which constructed several Iron Age forts in and around the Sheffield area.

After The Romans abandoned Britain the Sheffield area became part of The Celtic Kingdom of Elmet.

During The Anglo-Saxon period the Sheffield area was party in the Kingdom of Mercia and party in Northumbria.

By the 14th century Sheffield was known for the production of knives, a fact that is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Sheffield continued to grow and Sheffield Steel became world famous. In fact over half the surgical blades in the world are made in Sheffield.

Sheffield continued to grow and the population soared. There was a big demand for fresh water and several new reservoirs were built. In 1864 the dam of one of these, The Dale Dyke Dam broke. This resulted in The Great Sheffield Flood. 270 people died and overwhelmed large parts of the town.

George Orwell, in 1937 wrote ‘Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World.’

During The Second World War the Sheffield Steel Foundries became a target for German air raids. On the nights of the 12th and 15th of December 1940 there were two very heavy raids that became known as The Sheffield Blitz. Well over 650 people died and many building were destroyed.

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University have a combined student population of 54,000.

In 1857 the world’s first official football team was formed, Sheffield F.C. In modern times the City has two professional teams, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Sheffield Wednesday got its name due to the day of the week they played their games.
Sheffield is the site of The Don Valley International Athletics Stadium which is the largest athletics stadium in the UK.

Sheffield also has a ski village and it’s the largest artificial ski resort in Eurpoe.

There are several very well known bands that come from Sheffield. Heaven 17, The Thompson Twins and The Human League just to name a few. Some of the founding members of Pulp and Def Leppard went to Sheffield Hallam University. The Arctic Monkeys were formed in Sheffield in 2002.

The world famous actor Sean Bean is from Sheffield. He starred in When Saturday Comes, a football film based on Sean’s favourite team Sheffield United.

Several films have been set in Sheffield. The Full Monty, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith among them.

Sheffield is also known for its festivals. The month long, Magners Grin up North –Sheffield Comedy Festival, which takes place in October, is England’s largest comedy festival. The Uk’s leading documentary festival, The Sheffield International Documentary Festival (often known as The Doc/Fest) is held in June and has run since 1994. World music is the focus of Summer Sounds Festival held in July each year.

Sheffield has held The world Snooker Championship since 1977. The venue is The Crucible Theatre. There is another large theatre in Sheffield, The Lyceum. Together with The Studio Theatre they make up the largest theatre complex outside London.

In the film, The Full Monty, it says at the beginning that Sheffield is built on seven hills, the same as Rome. It also says this in George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. However a study has shown that it is in fact built on eight.
As well as the eight hills Sheffield is built on the confluence of five rivers. The Don, The Sheaf, The Rivelin, The Loxley and The Porter.

All sorts of things happen in Sheffield, well Liquorice Allsorts. They have been made in Sheffield for over a hundred years. Henderson’s Relish has been made in Sheffield for even longer, one hundred and twenty years.