All posts by Graeme Beck

Steel City (An Illustrated History of Sheffield’s Industries) — Prof Ian D Rotherham — 12th Aug 2019

Professor Ian Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University’s Department of the Natural and Built Environment, gave us an enter­tain­ing and inform­at­ive talk on the his­tory and devel­op­ment of Sheffield’s indus­tries not restric­ted to cut­lery and steel but also incor­por­at­ing lost his­toric enter­prises such as lead smelt­ing, char­coal man­u­fac­ture, clog making and glass man­u­fac­ture.

Ian was born in Sheffield, and after his first uni­ver­sity degree returned to the city and uni­ver­sity to study for his PhD. He has remained here ever since. Ian is a pro­lific author of not only more than 400 aca­demic papers, but also many books and news­pa­per art­icles, and presents reg­u­larly on Radio Sheffield.

Pro Ian Rotherham. Photo credit Amberley Publishing

Ian star­ted his talk by taking us back to the meso­lithic period from when there is local evid­ence of hunter gather­ers who fash­ioned early tools in and around Deepcar. Later, as time passed, industry developed with Chaucer men­tion­ing tool man­u­fac­ture in the Sheffield area in the period between 1200 and1300. Sheffield how­ever remained a small com­munity of ham­lets until the start of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, when smelt­ing of metals, par­tic­u­larly lead, com­menced, util­ising char­coal from cop­piced wood­land includ­ing Ecclesall Woods where there is a memorial dating back to 1786 to George Yardley who was found burnt to death after, it was sug­ges­ted, a night in the nearby Rising Sun.

During this time Ecclesall Woods were almost totally denuded of trees, the woods we see today having been replanted by Earl Fitzwilliam. Woodlands also provided mater­i­als for the pro­duc­tion of besoms (brooms), used for not only sweep­ing up but also in the steel industry for many years to remove slag from forged and molten steel until the intro­duc­tion of chem­ical products sourced from the USA in the 1960s.

As industry developed, the pop­u­la­tion of Sheffield exploded from a modest 30,000 in the 1800s to more than 300,000 by 1875 or there­abouts, the living accom­mod­a­tion for the major­ity being very basic, lack­ing amen­it­ies in cramped and dirty sur­round­ings with pol­luted rivers and smog. Added to that, poor diet and harsh work­ing con­di­tions led to ill­ness, dis­ease and much restric­ted life spans. Workers often had a life expect­ancy of 20 years in 1843. Employment com­monly star­ted at the age of eight, with appren­tice­ships start­ing at 13 and work­ing hours often being 70 hours a week with 12-hour shifts.

Sheffield at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Photo credit Alamy Stock Photos

The city did not enjoy a good repu­ta­tion in this time, being described by George III as “a damned bad place,” with George Orwell stat­ing that in his opin­ion “even Wigan is beau­ti­ful com­pared to Sheffield“ and “the ugli­est town in the Old World.” Things did not improve much until the latter part of the 20th cen­tury not­with­stand­ing the improve­ments in water supply and drain­age. Despite the first reser­voir in the city being built at Barkers Pool in 1631, the coun­try was swept by chol­era in the mid 1800s.

Ian described the expan­sion of industry being boos­ted by the pres­ence of a good water supply for power, before the steam engine, coal and min­er­als, the city attract­ing many innov­at­ive engin­eers and busi­ness­men such as George Wilson and James Brown who together with many others changed the face of the city across this period and through­out the 20th cen­tury. Ian also made the point that the pop­u­la­tion required sup­port from sur­round­ing farms and vil­lages for local food pro­duc­tion, there being no rail­ways or effi­cient trans­port infra­struc­ture.

A Sheffield Simplex motor car. Photo credit

Ian con­cluded his talk refer­ring to the more modern era includ­ing the Simplex motor car, the AMRC and the work he and his col­leagues are doing to con­tinue research into the city’s indus­trial and agri­cul­tural past. There was little time for ques­tions, given the extent of his talk which was enjoyed by all.

Sixties Britain: Social & Cultural Change. Dr Lucy Brown 3rd June 2019

Dr Brown a Teaching Associate in Modern British History firstly at Sheffield University where she came to study from her home town of Norwich. Having stayed in Sheffield to train she achieved an impress­ive haul of qual­i­fic­a­tions. Lucy explained that this was the first time she had addressed an entirely male audi­ence being more used to the mixed stu­dent body and reflec­ted on the fact that her third year group of 16 stu­dents had only two male mem­bers.

Lucy then com­menced her talk relat­ing to the 60’s by telling us that his­tor­i­ans looked at a wider date range when con­sid­er­ing the decade look­ing back to the mid 1950’s and for­wards to the early 1070’s. Her talk would look at three key themes :

Affluence – Permissiveness – Pluralism


The 60’s where heav­ily influ­enced by the impact of rising real wages, improved employ­ment pro­spects lead­ing to a trans­form­a­tion of living stand­ards, better health and the devel­op­ment of what is now known as con­sumer­ism with increas­ing avail­ab­il­ity of what we now see as every­day items such as wash­ing machines, fridges, even indoor toi­lets and bath­rooms, which were still not pre­val­ent in the years lead­ing up to 1960, this per­haps being per­son­i­fied by  Harold MacMillan’s   state­ment that we had “Never had it so good”

The impact of afflu­ence was not restric­ted entirely to the acquis­i­tion of mater­ial goods but also led to a more home centred life­style this being partly due to the influ­ence on tele­vi­sion making it unne­ces­sary to leave the home for enter­tain­ment. Greater spend­ing power also led to a rise in groom­ing products with the rise in indoor amen­it­ies lead­ing to improved per­sonal fresh­ness.

Affluence improve­ments also led to changes, in par­tic­u­larly, young peoples aspir­a­tions relat­ing to living arrange­ments ie. young mar­ried couples want their own homes rather than start­ing their new lives with one or other of their par­ents. Men became more hands on in the home under­tak­ing DIY and child­care respons­ib­il­it­ies with many more women now going out to work increas­ing house­hold incomes and buying power. Class dis­tinc­tions also became more blurred with a per­ceived move­ment to a broader middle class though there remained many still in poverty and not car­ried along with the wider improve­ment in living stand­ards. This being power­fully brought to the fore by tv pro­duc­tions such as Cathy Come Home.

The 1960’s gave rise the “The Permissive Society” though many who lived through this period may well have not noticed any great change in their life­styles with much of the well pub­li­cised changes in beha­viour being London centred. There can how­ever be no doubt that the lib­er­al­isa­tion of cen­sor­ship, pro­lif­er­a­tion of pornography,introduction of the pill,

the AbortionAct and decrim­in­al­isa­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity had a pro­found effect on gen­eral beha­viour and what became mor­ally accept­able when only a few years before such would have been looked as entirely unac­cept­able. The 1960’s des­pite the rel­at­ive freedoms achieved can how­ever be viewed as the Golden Age of mar­riage with more people than ever before get­ting mar­ried and at younger ages des­pite the rise in cohab­it­ing.

The 1960’s also saw a rise in plur­al­ism with increased mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism rising immig­ra­tion, though some saw this as a threat rather than an oppor­tun­ity such as Enoch Powell who gave his infam­ous speech in 1968.

Feminism also took hold with women gain­ing a more prom­in­ent place in soci­ety as a whole and gain­ing equal oppor­tun­it­ies, though there remains some way to go on this.

Not every­one was happy with many of the impacts of per­missive­ness such as

Mary Whitehouse who waged a long battle against pro­fan­ity and per­ceived por­no­graphy.

So how are the 1960’s inter­preted now? Lucy closed  pro­pos­ing three pos­sib­il­it­ies:

Cultural,Revolution, Happening Somewhere Else or Something in Between.

There fol­lowed  a lively ques­tion ses­sion with some mem­bers relat­ing their memor­ies to close an excel­lent present­a­tion by Dr. Brown.


The Lord – Lieutenant of South Yorkshire Mr Andrew Coombe 1st April 2018

Probus this week enjoyed an enter­tain­ing and inform­at­ive talk by the Lord — Lieutenant of South Yorkshire former soli­citor and account­ant Andrew Coombe. He was born in Sheffield into the Spear and Jackson family went to Wellington School fol­low­ing which he bypassed uni­ver­sity and trained as an account­ant at Cooper Brothers (now PWC ) in Sheffield. After an invit­a­tion joined Keeble Hawsons and retrained as a soli­citor spe­cial­ising in the cor­por­ate law arena.

Following retire­ment in addi­tion to his extens­ive char­it­able works, he stood as  High Sheriff ofSouth Yorkshire in 2011 – 2012. After this pres­ti­gi­ous role, he was look­ing for­ward to having more time for his family and hob­bies. However, in early 2015 he received, from Downing Street, a letter invit­ing him to apply for the post of Lord – Lieutenant  and was induc­ted into role in April 2015 for a term until his retire­ment from the post on the date of his 75th birth­day, at the time of his visit this left 30 months remain­ing.

Whilst the pos­i­tion dates back to the 1500’s he informed us that the role was and remains little under­stood and one of his aspir­a­tions is to get greater under­stand­ing across the whole of the South Yorkshire region. Andrew did not go into the post entirely blind, so to speak, as he had stood as a Deputy for 20 years prior to his induc­tion.

We were told that the Lord – Lieutenant stands as a rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Queen and wider Royal family and is unpaid and non-political. Whilst unpaid there is an ele­ment of repay­ment of expenses, how­ever,  the incum­bent has to provide ele­ments of the pos­i­tions formal attire this being as a Major General incor­por­at­ing a cere­mo­nial sword, hand made in Sheffield, sashes, and medals.

The role requires con­sid­er­able com­mit­ment with the Lieutenant attend­ing 400–500 events in any one year although some but by no means the major­ity being under­taken by the Deputy Lieutenants of which there are some 40 at the present time with some 35% being women and coming from across a wide range of eth­ni­cit­ies.

The Lieutenant is also sup­por­ted by an office in Barnsley where his PA sits with others and runs his diary and assists with the organ­isa­tion of royal visits four of which have already been com­pleted this year. In addi­tion, the post holder has respons­ib­il­ity for award­ing hon­ours and Royal Awards for both Citizenship and Enterprise and hopes to raise the pro­file of  South Yorkshire within the wider busi­ness com­munity.

Mr Coombe is also keen that through­out his tenure com­munity cohe­sion can be improved this being done via meet­ings with local groups across the social spec­trum pro­mot­ing con­tacts and cre­at­ing an envir­on­ment for cross-culture con­tacts and under­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent social mores. He is also involved in visits to schools across the region explain­ing his role and also has an interest in Cadet and Scout groups and the bene­fit the mem­ber­ship can have on indi­vidual mem­bers some of whom have dif­fi­cult social and eco­nomic back­grounds.

Mr Coombe has obvi­ously thrown him­self into what is a demand­ing but reward­ing pos­i­tion with a vigour that I sus­pect not many of us share and is I believe a great ambas­sador for the region and the post of Lord- Lieutenant about which we are all now much better informed.

Another excel­lent and enlight­en­ing talk.