All posts by Andrew Shorthouse

Deadlier than the Male” Chris Dorries OBE 3rd Dec 2018

 Chris Dorries has been Senior Sheffield Coroner since 1991. Sheffield has a high national pro­file with approx­im­ately 3500 cases (40% of all South Yorkshire deaths) repor­ted to the Coroners jur­is­dic­tion annu­ally. Half are referred for con­ven­tional in-house CT autopsy. Sheffield is only one of three UK mor­tu­ar­ies with its own high dose CT scan­ner (a corpse is far more radi­ation tol­er­ant than a patient). Inquests are required in 600 cases on the basis of the autopsy find­ings. A huge reduc­tion in con­ven­tional autopsy fol­lowed the intro­duc­tion of CT. A sur­prise to me was that doc­tors are no longer allowed to be Coroners.

Today’s talk described 4 murder cases illus­trat­ing a recur­ring theme of his­toric cases of women accused of murder and he opened with a verse from a song recor­ded by an obscure Liverpool pop group called Space “The female of the spe­cies is more deadly than the male”, aping a much earlier Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. Each case was fully repor­ted in news­pa­pers of the times because of huge public interest in female mur­der­ers.

Arsenic, a mining by-product and already known to the Egyptians in 1500BC, was used as a rather subtle murder weapon in the 17–1800s although more com­monly for this pur­pose on the con­tin­ent. It was favoured by females as no viol­ence was required to per­pet­rate, and it was feared by the para­noid. It was largely sold as rat poison, but also employed as a tonic in small doses. Ladies also liked it as an early form of wet wipes for skin and hand cleans­ing. Pharmacies had to record details of sales in the event of foul play. Industrially it was used in the pro­duc­tion of green wall paper. There was ready domestic con­tam­in­a­tion from touch­ing damp walls lined with said paper laden with arsenic.

Acute arsenic pois­on­ing induces vomit­ing, abdom­inal pain, brain prob­lems (enceph­alo­pathy) and bloody diarrhoea, but longer expos­ure gives other nasty things such as skin change, heart dis­ease, pain and diarrhoea and even numb­ness and cancer, most fre­quently from drink­ing water con­tam­in­a­tion, but also expos­ure in mining, agri­cul­tural and toxic waste sites, and wait for it, tra­di­tional medi­cines! No wor­ries then; over­dose gives a slow death likened to “rats gnaw­ing at the insides and insuf­fer­able thirst”.

The case of Mary Blandy

This famous case illus­trated the role of the early cor­oner. She was hanged aged 31 in 1752 for the murder of her father. Disfigured from small­pox, suit­ors were few, but her father advert­ised a dowry equi­val­ent to £10000 today. Enter Captain William Cranstoun, a Scottish aris­to­crat, also rendered ugly from small­pox. It tran­spired that he was already mar­ried with a child in Scotland aiming to annul the mar­riage (or so he said). Mary’s father dis­be­lieved him and ten­sions rose between them. What happened next is unclear. Mary claimed that Cranstoun sent her a love potion (in fact arsenic) asking her to add the powders to father’s tea and gruel and gradu­ally he became symp­to­matic, as did the ser­vants who helped them­selves to the leftovers. All was revealed when the gritty remains in the teacup were iden­ti­fied as arsenic. Mary pan­icked and tried to des­troy the evid­ence (arsenic powder and love let­ters) but a house­maid res­cued some of the powder from the fire­place. Blandy, her father, then died, Mary absconded on the day of the coroner’s inquiry, was chased and caught by a mob. She was sent for trial at Oxford Assizes in 1752 and kept in irons. Although this was the first use of detailed med­ical evid­ence in a trial prov­ing arsenic as the cause of death, the trial lasted just a day and she was hanged 6 weeks later from a low slung beam sup­por­ted between two trees out­side Oxford castle prison (nowadays the Malmaison Hotel and very nice too). Her last request was not to hang her high for the sake of decency. Although it was a public exe­cu­tion, she escaped ana­tomic dis­sec­tion by the skin of her teeth after a par­lia­ment­ary decision to change the Julien to the Gregorian cal­en­dar. Thus eleven days were instantly deleted from the cal­en­dar in September 1752 and the Murder Act was brought for­ward, to pre­cede her exe­cu­tion.

The case of Madeleine Hamilton-Smith

She was a beau­ti­ful but wild woman just 20 years old whose father was a famous Edinburgh archi­tect. She was charged with the murder in 1857 of a former boy­friend, Pierre L’Angelier, who came from Jersey. They met cov­ertly as lovers but the ulterior motive was his wish to marry into money. She then met another suitor and tried to break off the rela­tion­ship. He tried to black­mail her with the threat of show­ing her father the con­tents of love let­ters which expli­citly described their sexual exploits, an abso­lute poten­tial dis­aster in the 1850s.

He threatened sui­cide so for a while she “two timed him” before fatally pois­on­ing him with arsenic-laced cocoa. Cocoa very nicely dis­guises the gritty tex­ture of arsenic in the bottom of the cup. Probus mem­bers were advised to be very wary if ever offered cocoa.

The let­ters were dis­covered and massive amounts of arsenic were found in his body

There was a sen­sa­tional trial in the Edinburgh High Court and she was pub­licly executed at the Royal Mile gal­lows in 1857 in front of 50–100000 people.

There were flaws in the prosecution’s case: she was not allowed to give a sworn state­ment her­self, L’Angelier’s first ill­ness may have pre­ceded the time she pur­chased arsenic, she bought green arsenic but it was white in the body, there was less arsenic than could have been in the “fatal” cocoa com­pared with the amount in his stom­ach, L’Angelier never accused her in front of his land­lady after inges­tion, she would have known the let­ters would be revealed after his death, and sui­cide had already been threatened by him. As a psy­cho­path, intent on sui­cide, he might have been fram­ing her. The case was covered widely and inter­na­tion­ally. A ver­dict of “not proven” was returned and she was dis­charged. She even­tu­ally died in New York in 1928.

The case of Mary Ann Ansell

Mary Ann Ansel (22) was a maid in Bloomsbury. She had a men­tally ill sister in an asylum. She was engaged but there was no money for a mar­riage licence. She took out an insur­ance policy on her sister’s life; for 3d a week she’d get £11 on death. She baked a cake laced with phosphorus-based rat poison and sent it by post to the asylum. Her sister and asylum friends became ill but there was a delay in their assess­ment and treat­ment due to a con­cur­rent typhoid out­break at the asylum. Although the friends recovered, her sister inges­ted a lethal dose.

Delays in med­ical treat­ment were no mit­ig­a­tion for Mary Ann when she was con­victed.  The cake, wrap­per and post mark led back to her. She claimed she had bought rat poison but the mis­tress of the house denied there were rats. The insur­ance policy sealed her guilt and she was executed at St Alban’s prison in 1899

The case of Bloody Babs

Barbara Graham was executed in 1955 at California’s San Quentin gaol. She was per­haps wrongly accused of beat­ing and fatally suf­foc­at­ing an eld­erly woman in a house rob­bery

She was strapped into a chair in the gas cham­ber. A guard patted her knee and asked her to

take a deep breath and it won’t bother you”. She retor­ted “How in the hell would you know?”


Chris Dorries is a very enter­tain­ing speaker and reminded us that the right hand rail on the main stairs at the Cutlers Hall was his doing after a diner, worse for wear, fell down the stairs on the way to the lav­at­ory and was fatally injured. At the time there was only a left hand rail and our victim chose the wrong side to come down.

Andrew Shorthouse

3rd December 2018









Picasso and Revenge — Sally Darley — 8th October  2018

Sally was subtly intro­duced by Jacko, who pro­fessed not to know one end of a paint­brush from the other, yet some­how seemed fully aware of Picasso during his “Blazer Period”. No-one else knew this until he rolled up his trouser legs to expose Picasso’s “Sock Period”!

Sally is an art gradu­ate who act­ively avoided and hated Picasso until recently, when her curi­os­ity was aroused by read­ing on the sub­ject.

Sally gave her talk without slides, so your blog­ger had to resort to cun­ning, snap­ping the pages of her Picasso book each time it came round the room to enable him to define exactly what cubism was all about.

Picasso was born in Malaga in 1881, the son of Don José Ruiz Blasco (a rather good artist) and Maria Picasso. He was con­sidered a prodigy at art school, train­ing clas­sic­ally, and exhib­it­ing The First Communion (Fig 1) in Barcelona in1896 aged 15. How things changed for him from then on.

Fig 1 The First Communion 1896

As a young pro­fes­sional artist, his style was rad­ic­ally influ­enced by mod­ern­ist and impres­sion­ist con­tem­por­ar­ies gath­er­ing in the Els Quatre Gats tavern in Barcelona. He moved to Paris with his friend Casagemas whose sui­cide led to Picasso’s “Blue Period” (1901–4). His first solo exhib­i­tion was not a com­mer­cial suc­cess but the crit­ics were enthu­si­astic. A fla­vour of the time can be found in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” which fea­tures Picasso. He settled per­man­ently in Paris in his “Pink Period” in 1904, living a Bohemian life­style, and in the com­pany of many of the French Impressionists. He was par­tic­u­larly attrac­ted to Cezanne’s style. By 1907 he shocked the estab­lish­ment with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a 2-D por­trayal of pros­ti­tutes, and influ­enced by his interest in African art (Fig 2, top right).

Fig 2 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

This paint­ing was the sem­inal fore­run­ner of Cubism and Modern Art. His Pink Period is dom­in­ated by sexual over­tones, circus and theatre. Form was cru­cial; sub­jects were depic­ted geo­met­ric­ally in cones, tubes or cubes, and from chan­ging angles, thereby allow­ing, for instance, a face to be shown sim­ul­tan­eously in pro­file and face-on. Other artists e.g. George Braque, who teamed up with him, fol­lowed suit and Picasso’s repu­ta­tion grew.

He had a good busi­ness brain and was a fast worker, some­times pro­du­cing up to three paint­ings a day, and was more than fin­an­cially stable by the start of WW1. Sally’s view was that his fame allowed him to trade more and more on his sig­na­ture and that, like some other suc­cess­ful latter-day artists, “sold his life to the god of art”.

In WW1, Picasso wasn’t called up to fight as he was Spanish. He designed sets and cos­tumes for Cocteau’s exper­i­mental “Parade” per­formed by the Ballet Russe, com­bin­ing his cubism with vibrant real­ism. Here he met the dancer Olga Kockhelova and mar­ried her in 1918. He painted her more in a clas­sical style, but leav­ing the back­ground unfin­ished.

Fig 3 Olga in an Armchair 1918

Living in high-society Paris, they had a son in 1921. The male line remains intact today. Not abandon­ing cubism com­pletely, he varied his style accord­ing to the sub­ject often drift­ing to more roun­ded but exag­ger­ated pro­por­tions, in a neo-classical style (Fig 4)

Fig 4 Mother and Child 1921

In 1935, Olga and he sep­ar­ated. There were affairs with young beau­ti­ful women and some ille­git­im­ate chil­dren. His sur­real­ist “Monster Period” fol­low­ing the sep­ar­a­tion, was a form of art “express­ing the sub­con­scious, dreams and hidden memor­ies”. Everyday objects and scenes with hidden mean­ing were his trade­mark (we all saw the bit of wood remind­ing us of a cro­codile fig 5)

Fig 5 A random piece of wood found at Fountains Abbey

He painted bulls and bull­fight­ers, and por­trayed humans as dis­tor­ted and viol­ent, pos­sibly reflect­ing his chaotic private life (Fig 6). Imagery from the bull­ring fea­tured in Guernica, which was badly bombed in the Spanish civil war (Fig 7),


Fig 6 Figures at the sea­side 1931

Fig 7 Guernica 1937

The Weeping Woman (1937) was his last Guernica paint­ing of the griev­ing Dora Maar, a close friend, in the cubist style and highly col­oured to rep­res­ent her out­ward per­son­al­ity. The con­trast­ing white areas of tears reflect death and destruc­tion in Guernica (fig 8)

Fig 8 The Weeping Woman 1937

In WW2 he was labelled by the Nazis as a “degen­er­ate Bolshevik” but was oth­er­wise left alone. After the war, he and Françoise Gilot moved to Provence and had two chil­dren. Here he dis­covered ceram­ics and sculp­ture, line draw­ing, pho­to­graphy, litho­graphs, lino cuts and etch­ing, but never stick­ing to any par­tic­u­lar medium, and always exper­i­ment­ing. In 1953 they sep­ar­ated and he mar­ried Jacqueline Roque in 1961. He con­tin­ued to exhibit until 1971 and died in 1973.

Picasso was pro­lific, pro­du­cing over 20000 works of art. He was the father of Modern Art


Andrew Shorthouse

International Data Transfer — Rob Peasegood — 6th August 2018

We had a fant­astic talk about inter­na­tional com­mu­nic­a­tions from the speaker’s own per­spect­ive as a tech­nical pro­gramme man­ager for a major mul­tina­tional com­pany which is respons­ible for large pro­por­tion of global inter­net traffic. Rob heads the company’s data centre inter­na­tion­ally. After Tapton school and a degree from Salford University, he worked for BT Global Services, Bovis (as part of the team devel­op­ing Meadowhall and the Manchester Arena) and, more recently, as IT Director for phar­ma­ceut­ical com­pany Wyeth before moving to California.  A real Sheffield suc­cess story!

The first transat­lantic sub­mar­ine tele­phone cable was laid in 1858 but it was a cen­tury later before a con­nec­tion was estab­lished across the Pacific. The world’s first tele­gram was sent by Queen Victoria to the USA pres­id­ent in 1868. The dif­fer­ence now is a fibre optic cable repla­cing the 19th cen­tury copper core insu­lated by a fat seal­ant, rein­forced and made water­tight at great depth by steel, hes­sian and tar.

The Reliance: tansoceanic cable ship. The web­site gives real-time pos­i­tion­ing of any ship­ping. Try find­ing where Reliance is at this moment.

Submarine cables are pre­ferred to satel­lite for tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions because of far greater trans­mis­sion speeds (100ms latency) and the need for two-way traffic. Sky, on the other hand, needs just one-way traffic for global TV trans­mis­sion, and satel­lite is ideal. The 600ms latency for TV doesn’t matter. Light travels very fast through glass (100ms across the Atlantic through fibre optic cable) and is ten times quicker than by satel­lite, where much greater dis­tances through space are involved. Bandwidth denotes capa­city (think of the impact the number of motor­way lanes has on traffic flow).

Internet traffic is grow­ing by 2 per cent per annum and will have doubled by 2021. At present 4.3 mil­lion YouTube videos, and nearly 4m WhatsApp mes­sages shoot round the globe every minute of the day! Extra capa­city is needed (and being planned) for 50 per cent of the rest of the world not yet con­nec­ted to the inter­net (per­haps wor­ry­ing when you think how ancient cul­tures were changed for ever once “civil­isa­tion” intruded … Tahitians, Sub-Saharan Africans, Aborigines, Indigenous Americans etc, etc).

There are numer­ous con­straints to laying under­wa­ter cables; hos­tile weather, deep salt water up to 9,000 metres, fish­ing, wild­life, moun­tain­ous sea beds, tec­tonic plate shift and shark bites (even attack­ing cables). High tech survey ships gauge the depth, topo­graphy, slope, angles, sea bed type and then cable routes are estab­lished. The need for occa­sional retrieval for repair adds to the level of engin­eer­ing expert­ise required. There are 45 cable-laying ships glob­ally and owned by Tyco (who incid­ent­ally in my time were also man­u­fac­tur­ers of sur­gical stap­ling devices very famil­iar to your blog­ger, and which will have fired mul­tiple staples into at least one or two of our Probus mem­bers’ innards). Some 100 pans of cables are in the hold of the cable ship, taking about a month to load, but suf­fi­cient to allow com­plete laying over a single voyage. At $80,000 a day (mil­len­nium prices) the expense of run­ning cable ships is enorm­ous. Ploughs dragged behind the ship cut trenches into the sea bed into which cables are pro­tec­ted in places where they would be vul­ner­able if left exposed, par­tic­u­larly close to shore.

Ships carry a remote vehicle which can des­cend to 2,500 metres either to repair cable on the sea bed or retrieve the affected seg­ment for repair while elev­ated and sus­pen­ded by a series of buoys. Ships are very man­oeuv­rable so they can cope with pre­ci­sion cable lift­ing and laying, par­tic­u­larly in adverse con­di­tions. Nearby ships are warned to stay a mile clear to avoid col­li­sion with the cables as they are lifted.

Some 10 or 11 cable sta­tions (BMHs) are dotted around the UK coast­line where beaches are gently slop­ing, and under con­stant sur­veil­lance. At 50-metres inter­vals along the cable are amp­li­fi­ers. These are powered with sev­eral thou­sand Kv run­ning through insu­lated copper cables incor­por­ated into the fibre optic assembly. The joints are vul­ner­able to damage. We saw a cross-sectional example of a typ­ical fibre optic cable and watched sev­eral excel­lent videos of its man­u­fac­ture Cable is ‘armoured’ where it is exposed to heavy ship­ping, such as in the Suez Canal. Cable pos­i­tion­ing is intric­ate, par­tic­u­larly near the shore, where the ship needs to anchor while the cable is lowered. Laying speeds are vari­able: 0.2km/hr (expens­ive) for armoured seg­ments when divers are in the water and up to 8km/hr (cheaper) when auto­mated in open water.

A key stake­holder is the fish­ing industry. Mutual co-operation is advant­age­ous to both. Fishing boats are used for sur­veys in their own loc­al­ity, which is luc­rat­ive for the fish­er­men, and cables can be sited away from their fish­ing grounds, thereby lower­ing the risk of snag­ging by aban­doned fish­ing gear and anchors cut free in bad weather or from dredging. Most of the risks are close to shore from fish­ing (75 per cent), dredging, and anchors. Seismic activ­ity accounts for five per cent. A dam­aged cable drift­ing away can be loc­ated by voltage shift and its pos­i­tion is con­stantly sur­veyed. Cables get bitten by sharks, and we had an amaz­ing video demon­stra­tion of this. The latest gen­er­a­tion of cables are privately and often jointly owned, due to enorm­ous cap­ital costs involved. Cables fail after 20 or 25 years due to obsol­es­cence, repairs or the hos­til­ity of the envir­on­ment.

Burma, a Fascinating Journey — David Hague — 11th June 2018

David showed us some nice hol­i­day slides, but they needed con­text and an accom­pa­ny­ing map to show us the loc­a­tion of the places vis­ited. Nor was there any men­tion of the Rohingya troubles. I have there­fore con­sul­ted the excel­lent DK Eyewitness Travel book on Myanmar to fill in some gaps, and par­tic­u­larly to cor­rect some of the spellings and decode some of my barely legible blog notes.


David Hague’s route going anti­clock­wise (just follow the arrows):
Yangon (Rangoon), flight to Helo for Inle Lake and Kalaw Hill Station. Mandalay then north to Mingun, Back to Mandalay then to Bagan via Ayeyarwady River. Manadalay flight to Yangon. Ellipse = Rakhine state (Rohingya troubles)


Myanmar (Burma) bor­ders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. It has tower­ing gilded pago­das, spec­tac­u­lar arche­olo­gical sites, great beaches, stun­ning moun­tains and tra­di­tional cul­ture. It was opened up to tour­ism in 2010 with San Suu Kyi’s suc­cess in the gen­eral elec­tion. My 2016 DK guide adds “the future finally looks bright …after dec­ades of civil war.” Maybe less so now.The Bamars (70 per cent) dom­in­ate a diverse minor­ity ethnic pop­u­la­tion includ­ing the Muslim Rohingya (30 per cent). Other con­stants are Buddhism, and sup­port for the sangha (monk­hood). Half a mil­lion in claret robes work part time in mon­as­ter­ies from the age of seven. There are some 75,000 nuns.

Tourism just about keeps the eco­nomy going.

First stop, Yangon. It’s a mix of (par­tially run­down) colo­nial charm and high rise chic five-star living. The Sule pagoda was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th cen­tur­ies and has a huge octa­gonal stupa (tower), covered in gold leaf with bamboo scaf­fold­ing.

Schwedagon pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred shrine. The British van­dal­ised it (not unique) but it is now restored. The stupa’s ‘banana bud’ is covered by 13,000 solid gold plates. Just gold leaf below but a 76 carat dia­mond at the tip of the spire above (Sein Bu). King Tharrawaddy had an 80,000lb bell cast for it in 1841. The ceil­ing of its pavil­ion is superbly lacquered and inlaid with mosaic glass
Yangon’s traffic is chaotic, and get­ting to the other side of the road is a fairly risky busi­ness.

Next stop was Heho air­port for the Inle Lake. One hun­dred thou­sand Intha people live in stilt houses around the lake. Many of them fish with large con­ical nets, pro­pelling them­selves with one leg on the tail of the canoe using the other as a ful­crum on the oar behind. Some of this may be for the bene­fit of tour­ists and there­fore prof­it­able. Fruit and veg are pro­duced in float­ing gar­dens, anchored by bamboo poles. Fried tree ants and crick­ets are a must. Setting the scene are mul­tiple mon­as­ter­ies, stupas and pago­das (ladies some­times pro­hib­ited), hand-loom fabric and silk pro­duc­tion, cigar rolling, boat-building using simple hand tools, girls on motor­bikes, melons, sacred cows, mopeds and stray dogs (which don’t bite but rabies wasn’t men­tioned). I was puzzled by the lookalike Scots in tartan and the alle­gi­ance to Arsenal. I couldn’t quite work out where David had trav­elled by train apart from being on Nyaungshwe sta­tion where there were health and safety issues with exposed mains cables and a train fare hike for for­eign­ers.

You have to exper­i­ence at least one Burmese rail jour­ney, and the slow train from Shwe Nyaung to Aung Ban (Kalaw) is recom­men­ded. Initially built as a cen­tury hill sta­tion by the British as a summer retreat, it has an agree­able cli­mate and remains full of dilap­id­ated grandeur. Large Edwardian houses are remin­is­cent of S10. On one of the slides, there was a splen­did mock Tudor one that looked very famil­iar Trekking through ter­raced fields, tea plant­a­tions, forest and sub­sist­ence farm­ing com­munit­ies in the sur­round­ing hills is pop­u­lar and David clearly enjoyed this.

Overloaded top-heavy cars, fut-fut tract­ors, horses and carts, a para­sol fact­ory and English les­sons for would-be tour­ist guides were David’s first impres­sions of Mandalay city. The exquis­ite teak-built Schwenandaw Monastery is one of the few sur­viv­ing vestiges of the Konbaung Dynasty which pre­ceded the British inva­sion in 1885
On Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda has a mag­ni­fi­cent golden stupa and con­tains the entire text of the Tipitaka scrip­ture carved on stone tab­lets (as David put it, the world’s largest book). Amapura, on the out­skirts, has more pago­das and the famous U Bein’s teak bridge. It reminded me a bit of the bridge over the River Quai
A cart ride to Inwa saw ancient ruins, brick and gilded stupas, mul­tiple other intact stucco and teak mon­as­ter­ies, all in paddy fields and banana groves. An intact bit of a palace, almost com­pletely des­troyed in an earth­quake in1839, is Myanmar’s own lean­ing tower of Pisa.

The Ayeyarwady River runs south and gets increas­ingly silty (agri­cul­tural lifeblood) for 1,250 miles from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, mil­lions depend­ing on it for their live­li­hood and crop irrig­a­tion. Since ancient times it was a stra­tegic link between China and the Indian Ocean.

A gentle chug up-stream from Mandalay for an hour gets you to Mingun where the unfin­ished giant stupa built by King Bodawpaya is the most strik­ing monu­ment of the whole river.
Bagan is one of Myanmar’s greatest archae­olo­gical sites. There are numer­ous medi­eval city rem­nants from Bagan’s empire days from the 11th to 13th cen­tur­ies, with over 2,000 temples, stupas and mon­as­ter­ies, some of which were seen by David — a superb spec­tacle rising up from the dusty sand flats.

We saw an impress­ive aerial view from a great height in a hot air bal­loon in one of the slides, but shock horror — David con­fessed it was pinched from the inter­net.

Fields to Houses — Early History of Stumperlowe — Anne Marples — 12 March 2018


Ann’s interest is Victorian local his­tory and she was sourced via UC3A. She runs her own edu­ca­tion busi­ness, spe­cial­ising in train­ing mater­i­als design, open learn­ing advice and dis­tance coach­ing and ment­or­ing.

For this talk she needed no IT aids (prob­ably for­tu­nate as the micro­phone packed up). She gave a beau­ti­fully pre­pared talk, delivered clearly from her index card notes. Her sub­ject was the his­tory and devel­op­ment of our own Stumperlowe.

Stumperlowe was rural and unchanged from medi­eval times, and sparsely pop­u­lated, until the start of relo­ca­tion between 1830–60 (“west­ern drift”) of the wealthy mid-Victorian indus­tri­al­ists towards the health­ier west­ern fringes of Sheffield, where pol­lu­tion and san­it­a­tion prob­lems of the city could be avoided due to its upland situ­ation and the pre­vail­ing unpol­luted south west­erly winds. There was clean water run­ning off the moors.

Before then, the area was sparsely pop­u­lated with a field struc­ture that had remained largely unchanged for cen­tur­ies. There was mixed small-scale farm­ing to serve the local sur­round­ing com­munit­ies (milk, beef, animal feed, grain, includ­ing barley for brew­ing, poultry, pigs and bee-keeping). Butter and cheese for local con­sump­tion was big busi­ness.

There were four sig­ni­fic­ant prop­er­ties: Stumperlowe Hall*, at the junc­tion of Stumperlowe Hall Road and Slayleigh Lane, Stumperlowe Grange, Stumperlowe Grange Farm and the smal­ler less import­ant Stumperlowe View Farm nearby. Stumperlowe Grange gen­er­ated income for the Hall. The other build­ings of note were a corn mill, smithy and a pub.

Large houses with rear stables were built in the area. No other trans­port was avail­able other than by horse or walk­ing. Then from the 1860s onwards until 1900 there was a 12 seat chara­banc ser­vice giving ready access “for a day out” from the city to savour the clean air of Crookes, Crosspool and Fulwood. By this time cot­tage gar­dens had become well estab­lished in the area. Fruit, veget­able and jam pro­duc­tion was prof­it­able. Tea and coffee were sold at the Fulwood Coffee House and Inn.

Fulwood School was built in 1836 in School Green Lane but became a private house shortly after­wards in 1840, when a new school was needed for pop­u­la­tion expan­sion in the area.

There was a tunnel at the foot of Stumperlowe Lane for sewage run-off and this can still be seen. Problems arose with rain and then over­flow of sewage. Fresh water wells were sunk and pumps installed as there was no mains water supply. Contamination by sewage over­flow was a real risk.

In 1858 the more eco­nomic steam plough was intro­duced and led to major changes in farm­ing prac­tice. The engine sat in the middle of a field, ropes were attached and the plough pulled from the field edges to the centre by means of a pulley system. The machine was hired out to sur­round­ing farms. Farms expan­ded and the smal­ler ones became uneco­nomic. Threshing and bail­ing machines were intro­duced; fewer labour­ers were needed who then went the city where there was better paid work.

Subsidized American corn imports under­cut local wheat prices lead­ing to pro­gress­ive decim­a­tion of the local farm­ing eco­nomy.

The Corn Laws were enforced between 1815 and 1846. These were tar­iffs and restric­tions placed upon impor­ted food and grain, when the landown­ers, who dom­in­ated Parliament, sought to pro­tect their own profits by impos­ing a duty on impor­ted corn. Grain prices were kept high to favour domestic pro­duc­tion. This was sup­por­ted and per­petu­ated by Members of Parliament, who were the landown­ers them­selves. The urban poor became worse off and the eco­nomy as a whole was depressed. There was a knock on effect in man­u­fac­tur­ing. The Corn Law Rhymer Ebenezer Elliott, poet and fact­ory owner, led the fight to repeal the Corn Laws which were caus­ing great hard­ship.

The intro­duc­tion of steam powered roller mills along the east coast res­ul­ted in more effi­cient pro­duc­tion of better qual­ity flour for white bread from impor­ted grain. Poor trans­port infra­struc­ture had long been a major prob­lem for dis­tri­bu­tion of local pro­duce which was cheap to pro­duce but expens­ive to dis­trib­ute. Expansion of steam power, canals, rail­ways and local coal enabled impor­ted grain and other raw mater­i­als and man­u­fac­tured goods to be dis­trib­uted more cheaply. Local mills fell into decline and unem­ploy­ment rose, the unem­ployed moving to better paid jobs in industry and exacer­bat­ing the prob­lem for exist­ing farms with labour­ers demand­ing higher wages.

In the 1880s the value of land increased and was sold for hous­ing devel­op­ment. Standards of living rose and vac­cin­a­tion was intro­duced, along with better san­it­a­tion. Infant and child mor­tal­ity declined from 50% before the age of 5. Immigration rose with an influx of Russians, Poles, Italians and Germans. This was offset by increased emig­ra­tion, par­tic­u­larly to the USA. The rural way of life col­lapsed.

One entre­pren­eur who cashed in at the right moment on the build­ing boom was Henry Elliot Hoole who owned the Green Lane Works at Kelham island. He man­u­fac­tured cast iron domestic products such as fire grates and kit­chen ranges. Sales increased dra­mat­ic­ally when he offered easy terms. Traditional trades (black­smiths, wheel­wrights) dis­ap­peared due to fall­ing demand. Gas engin­eers prospered. They had high status, as Anne Marples put it, equi­val­ent to that of today’s IT geek!

The pro­fes­sions, aca­dem­ics and intel­lec­tu­als moved to the west­ern fringes of Sheffield for better hous­ing, clean air and san­it­a­tion, and where they con­sidered there was a more exclus­ive life­style.

Housing at the time was mostly rental and that meant the ten­ants had no voting rights. There was there­fore an incent­ive to own prop­erty but there was no mort­gage system in place. Walkley, then Crookes, were the first areas to be developed after the Land Reform Society (LRS) was set up by Robert Eden Leader in the 1870s, a rad­ical non-conformist who bought up large areas of farm­land in a con­sor­tium and split it into lots. Those wish­ing to join the LRS paid a join­ing fee to allow pur­chase of a parcel of land for build­ing. The new owner then split the plot and sub-sold to fund the build­ing work and to obtain a mort­gage as a new landowner. Renting out provided funds for addi­tional plot pur­chases.

Although all the land was sold, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the land was fully developed.

Large scale change in Stumperlowe was mul­ti­factorial. It is now part of the urban sprawl with no defin­able “vil­lage” centre. Farming and hor­ti­cul­ture have gone and skills have been lost. Overdevelopment has sat­ur­ated the area with ongo­ing split­ting of plots to max­im­ise profit. However, cur­rent maps of the area, when com­pared with earlier ones, still show the ori­ginal farm­lands, and some his­toric infra­struc­ture such as wells and sewage chan­nels.

Following Anne’s excel­lent talk, there were numer­ous ques­tions and lots of dis­cus­sion. The intriguing deriv­a­tion of Stumperlowe remains unknown. Perhaps it’s related to the early English word “Low” indic­at­ing a Neolithic burial ground. There is a “stump” struc­ture higher up so per­haps the area means “below the stump”. Earlier OS maps how­ever refer to the area as “Stomperlowe”.

Jacko had the final word: “when I was a kid, this was all fields – now I know why!”