All posts by Stan Hirst

Lead Poisoning in Sheffield 1885–1920 by Mike Collins on 14th January 2019

A lot of Sheffield water ori­gin­ates from Redmires Reservoir, which was built in the 1830’s.  Iron ore pipes were laid in the streets and lead pipes con­nec­ted to houses.  There were also lead-lined cisterns.

Sinclair White, in 1886, drew the author­it­ies’ atten­tion to the fact that lead pois­on­ing was more pre­val­ent from houses sup­plied by Redmires (i.e. those in Broomhill, Broomhall, Sharrow and Heeley) than those sup­plied from Strines, Agden, Dale Dike Reservoirs (Penistone Road, Wicker and Brightside).

M.O.H. Sinclalir White advised people not to drink water that had been stand­ing in lead pipes and cisterns but to flush the water before drink­ing.  Redmires water was very acidic and he advised that it should be brought into con­tact with lime­stone to reduce the acid­ity which was dis­solv­ing the lead from the pipes.

Various enquiry com­mit­tees were set up in 1890, and though the evid­ence that lead from the pipes caused lead pois­on­ing. It was opposed by Edward Eaton, an engin­eer of the Water Board.  The result of the enquiry was that the res­id­ents using Redmires water were liable to pois­on­ing and that cal­cium car­bon­ate, in the form of chalk, be added to the reser­voir water.  There was a delay, due to mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, vested interests and a change of the M.O.H.  This res­ul­ted in a peak of 169 patients with lead pois­on­ing being treated in hos­pital and it was thought that around 2000 people in Sheffield had got lead pois­on­ing.  The birth rate and fer­til­ity in Sheffield was at an all time low and the increase in pois­on­ing cases was due to a number of factors i.e. use of cheaper Spanish lead (more likely to dis­solve) and an explo­sion in house build­ing.

In recent times, 2014/15 a place called Flint, in Michigan, decided to save money by using water from the local River Flint instead of a more expens­ive supply from Detroit.  The Flint River water was very acidic and led to 10,000 cases of lead pois­on­ing and 12 deaths from Legionnaires dis­ease.  Phosphates were added and the supply of water rever­ted to that from Detroit.

The effects of lead pois­on­ing included:  blind­ness, kidney fail­ure, wrist-drop, mis­car­riages, abdom­inal pain and con­stip­a­tion.  The gums took on a blue shade (one third of people sup­plied by Redmires had blue gums.)

Another source of lead pois­on­ing was in cider making, lead being added as a sweetener.  In recent times the lead in paint was a hazard, tod­dlers chewed paint off lead-painted cots, caus­ing ill­ness.

In the early 20th cen­tury, pills con­tain­ing lead were advert­ised to women to pro­duce abor­tions. Lots of adverts in news­pa­pers were used to encour­age the sale of these pills.  Diachylon, a plaster made from plant juices and lead, was used to treat wounds but was com­monly used by women to bring on a mis­car­riage.

Thus lead in water was a primary cause of dis­ease in many cases during the period between 1890 and early 1900’s.

It is still estim­ated that 300,000 people around the world the world die from lead pois­on­ing.

The talk was very well received and many ques­tions put to the speaker who was thanked for his inter­est­ing present­a­tion.




Chesterfield Canal, Past, Present and Future by John Lower 10th Sept 2018

The West Stockwith basin at the River Trent end of the canal.

John atten­ded Sheffield University and became a chartered civil engin­eer.  In 1981 he became involved with the Chesterfield Canal Trust, a registered char­ity with many volun­teers.

The Past:  The canal was built in 1777.  James Brindley being the engin­eer.  It was a mag­ni­fi­cent achieve­ment for its time includ­ing the 2,880 yard Norwood Tunnel.  The prime pur­pose of the canal was to carry Derbyshire coal to new mar­kets on canal barges.  It was a big saving on pre­vi­ous meth­ods whereby ten pack-horses were needed to trans­port one ton of coal.  A barge could hold 24 tons of coal.

Due to the coming of the rail­ways boat traffic declined and in 1907 the col­lapse of part of the Norwood Tunnel isol­ated the Derbyshire sec­tion of the canal.

In 1834 there was a big fire in the Houses of Parliament and stone which was quar­ried at North Anston was taken by barges to West Stockwith and then to London via the Trent, Humber, North Sea and the Thames.

The Present:   In the 1950’s the 26 miles between West Stockwith and Worksop were barely nav­ig­able.  A cam­paign was star­ted by the Retford and Worksop Boat Club to save the canal.  Funding was gran­ted and this sec­tion of the canal was restored.

John showed us many pic­tures depict­ing the canal res­tor­a­tion .  Grassy fields with a slightly sunken path indic­at­ing the pre­vi­ous route of the canal became restored canals due to the efforts of the volun­teers.

The path is the centre line of the canal.

The brick­work and masonry skills of the volun­teers were second to none and would have put many of today’s build­ers to shame.  So many pro­jects of restored canal sec­tions, locks, and towpaths, were shown to us and the before and after shots were amaz­ing.

In 1978 The Telegraph repor­ted that an over keen worker, clear­ing rub­bish from the canal, caught his hook on a chain. He pulled hard and out came “the plug” res­ult­ing in all the water being drained from that sec­tion of the canal.  Nowadays it is no longer pos­sible to drain the canal because of envir­on­mental reas­ons i.e. the poten­tial loss of fish and wild­life etc.

At Staveley, an archae­olo­gical dig was com­menced by stu­dents.  This res­ul­ted in unearth­ing three old ori­ginal cuckoo boats.  These were the ori­ginal type of barges made for the canal.  The find of the cuckoo boats promp­ted the volun­teers to build a rep­lica cuckoo boat by hand using all the old skills of the work­ers.  A “steam box” was used to bend the planks which formed the bow of the boat and sim­ilar mater­i­als and skills were employed.  The boat was launched in 2015, recre­ated with copies of the ori­ginal mast and sails and named “The Dawn Rose”.

Millions of pounds have been needed to restore sec­tions of the canal, many with Government grants plus a size­able sum from fun­drais­ing and public dona­tions.  Sponsored “boat pulls” and other events have con­trib­uted to the res­tor­a­tion funds.

The Future:  The future plans for the HS2 rail­way also impact on the canal.  Many con­sulta­tions have res­ul­ted in part of the HS2 track being rerouted from the present canal route into a hous­ing estate in Mexborough.

The latest con­struc­tion is a £310 mil­lion Chesterfield water­side com­plex.  This is still under­way. The long term aim is to link up sec­tions of dif­fer­ent canals in three adja­cent counties to rival the nav­ig­able water­ways of the Midlands and the North West.

2027 will be the 250th anniversary of the Chesterfield Canal and it is hoped that all work will be com­pleted by then.

There are many delight­ful walks along the canal, boat trips and activ­it­ies organ­ised by the Chesterfield Canal Trust.

Have a day out on the canal and enjoy all that it has to offer!

John’s talk was very well received and he was thanked for his inter­est­ing and beau­ti­fully illus­trated present­a­tion – many of which can be seen, along with a host of inform­a­tion, on their web­site —

A map of the canal can be found here:



25th June 2018 Comedy — cinema’s first genre? Martin Carter

Comedy – Cinema’s first Genre?  By Martin Carter.

Martin briefly covered:

  • The first 30 years of cinema
  • How comedy became a pop­u­lar genre
  • The early actors and stars

In 1895 at the Grand Cafe, Paris, Auguste and Louis Lumiere were the first to set up and show films.  They were billed as “life as it happened” and were only one minute long.  One such film showed work­ers leav­ing a fact­ory.  The fact­ory in ques­tion was owned by the Lumiere Bros. and was obvi­ously staged as the work­ers were all dressed in their Sunday best and the fact­ory doors were closed.  It lasted forty-five seconds!

Another few seconds’ shot showed a train arriv­ing at a sta­tion­and a fur­ther one was of a gardener look­ing down his hose to see why the water wasn’t coming out.  Unbeknown to him, his appren­tice was stand­ing on the hose behind him and he jumped off caus­ing the gardener to get a wet face!

Another clip showed the dif­fi­culties that the ladies hats could cause!

During the early years the French dom­in­ated the cinema – Gaumont and Pathe being their news pro­grammes.

The first ever film star was Max Linder who was a phys­ical comedian.  He was a very dapper man about town, woman­ising guy.  He joined World War 1, was gassed and never recovered.  Charlie Chaplin took him to the U.S.A in 1920.  He sub­sequently returned to France and died in a sui­cide pact with his wife.

During WW1, film stock was in short supply but film was used to “rally the troops” and for good pro­pa­ganda.  As a result of upheaval in Europe, Hollywood became the lead­ing place for film from 1910 onwards.  Hollywood was a good loc­a­tion weather-wise and a thou­sand miles from New York where Edison resided, and held pat­ents that Hollywood ignored.  Up to 1921 Fatty Arbuckle was the most sought-after comic actor and had a one mil­lion dollar con­tract in 1920.  He fea­tured in two-reelers.  In 1921 when pro­hib­i­tion was in force, Arbuckle was involved in wild Hollywood parties during which a young star­let was needed to be rushed to hos­pital and died.  Randolph  Hearst, a news­pa­per mag­nate, rev­elled in the story and pub­lished facts about the low morals of Hollywood stars. Fatty Arbuckle was tried for murder, man­slaughter and rape.  He was cleared but never worked again and died in 1931.

The Golden Age of Film:  Comedy fea­ture films were pro­duced in two to three hour movies.  New cinemas were built and orches­tras accom­pan­ied the film.

Harold Lloyd stared in “Safety Last” where he was filmed hanging on to a clock and did other hair-raising stunts.

Buster Keaton starred in “The General”.  He was a stony-faced comedian and also screen­writer, stunt per­former and, as many other actors of the time were, he was also a film dir­ector.

Charlie Chaplin starred in “The Gold Rush”.  He was a great figure in silent comedy and many of his films were full of pathos.  His pop­ular­ity was global – but change was coming!

Hollywood was the film cap­ital of the world and in 1927 “The Jazz Singer” was the first talkie to be released. Actually, it wasn’t the first all-talking film as, between the singing, there was pro­jec­ted dia­logue and music from the hired pian­ist.  The first truly all-talking film was “Lights of New York” which was made a year later.  The cost of making stu­dios sound proof was very expens­ive also, to reach a world­wide audi­ence, some films were dubbed in Spanish and French.

Charlie Chaplin ini­tially didn’t like sound films.  He starred in “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator” and died aged 88 in 1977.

Of the other early stars, Harold Lloyd became very rich and retired.

Buster Keaton was told not to direct his own films and ended up with Jimmy Durante who over­powered him, Keaton not speak­ing very much at all.

The Marx Brothers arrived on the scene.  Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo were active comics from 1905 t0 1949.  They were suc­cess­ful in word play, slap-stick and musical comedy, their most not­able film being “Duck Soup”,

Mae West was an early film star but was warned about her saucy scenes and use of double entendres.

Laurel and Hardy were very suc­cess­ful.  They first made silent, two-reelers, but adap­ted to sound suc­cess­fully.  Stan, the thin man with a north­ern voice and simple style, con­tras­ted well with Ollie’s over­weight, south­ern pre­ten­tious speech and phrases like “Another fine mess you’ve got me into” which became a uni­ver­sal catch phrase (being a Stanley myself, the phrase is often applied to me).

During the silent age the pian­ists were well paid and added drama to the shots on screen, having to ad-lib as they had often not seen the film before.  They, along with orches­tras, became redund­ant, and the cinema saved much money.

The Cinema  Museum in London houses a unique col­lec­tion of arte­facts and mem­or­ab­ilia which pre­serve the his­tory of early cinema to the present day.

Martin Carter answered many ques­tions from the audi­ence who had enjoyed his present­a­tion immensely.

Stan Hirst.



Admiral Lord Collingwood — Peter Stubbs — 30th April 2018.

Collingwood was born in Newcastle in 1748. He was named Cuthbert after the saint from Holy Island. His father was a Newcastle trader and not a wealthy man.
He began his naval career at the age of twelve on HMS Shannon under the com­mand of his uncle Richard Braithwaite. After five years he became a mid­ship­man and, after passing exams in seaman­ship and nav­ig­a­tion, he became a lieu­ten­ant.
He first met Nelson in 1777 when he was twenty five and Nelson was fif­teen. Whilst he was tall, robust and con­fid­ent, Nelson was smal­ler, frail and sickly. Their friend­ship lasted until Nelson’s death in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar..
Collingwood mar­ried Sarah Blackwell and, though he was at sea for most of the time, he man­aged to father two daugh­ters. Between 1761 and 1810 he only spent five years in England and, on one occa­sion, was not home for seven years.
His com­pan­ion whilst at sea was his Newfoundland dog called Bouncer. The dog went every­where with him, often swim­ming along­side the rowing boat which took him ashore.
In 1783 he was in com­mand of HMS Mediator and posted to the West Indies.Nelson was also there and together they pre­ven­ted American ships from trad­ing with the West Indies.
On the few occa­sions when he was at home, Collingwood walked on the north moors scat­ter­ing acorns to ensure the supply of oaks for ship­build­ing for many years to come.
He was a hard work­ing, con­sid­er­ate man who gained the respect of his crew by instilling dis­cip­line and abandon­ing cor­poral pun­ish­ment. Men, guilty of swear­ing or bul­ly­ing were pun­ished by having to clean out the prim­it­ive “loos” instead of being flogged. The pro­vi­sions on the ship were of great con­cern to him and he made sure that enough meat and food were taken aboard the ship.
His gun­nery crew were trained incess­antly and, in 1795, at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, his ship was cap­able of firing three full broad­sides in three and a half minutes.
In 1793 France declared war on Britain that lasted twenty two years. Now cap­tain of the Barfleur, Collingwood won vic­tory at the “Glorious First of June” battle. Six French ships were cap­tured and Collingwood was wounded. Though he was in the thick of the action, he was not men­tioned in dis­patches and did not receive a gold medal — this grieved him greatly.
During the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the French fleet was in the form of a cres­cent but the English fleet attacked them in two par­al­lel lines. Collingwood, at the head of one of the lines, was the first to engage the enemy and his ship fired broad­sides with such rapid­ity and pre­ci­sion that the Spanish flag ship, the Santa Anna almost sank. Nelson was killed during this battle and Collingwood assumed the title of Commander in Chief.
He was pro­moted to Vice Admiral and became Baron Collingwood. He was awar­ded gold medals for Trafalgar and Cape St. Vincent which he only accep­ted on the con­di­tion that he got one for the First of June Battle also.
In 1805 he was com­mander of the Mediterranean fleet and wished that he could return home. This was denied as the gov­ern­ment still required his ser­vices. His health declined rap­idly and he was forced to request retire­ment which was gran­ted but he died at sea on the 7th March 1810 on his way home. He was laid to rest in St. Paul’s Cathedral along­side Nelson’s tomb.
Peter was thanked for his inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive talk and he prom­ised to visit Probus again in the future when he has fin­ished his research into the Battle of Jutland.

(see his talks in March 2019 for the War at Sea with Germany — PJ )

Sheffield’s date with Hitler by Neil Anderson

Neil worked in the pub­li­city depart­ment of the town hall, and on the 70th anniversary of the Sheffield blitz, decided to write a book filled with recol­lec­tions of the blitz from people who lived through it.

The reason for the blitz was to wipe out the arma­ments factor­ies of the East end but the bombs were dropped on civil­ian areas in the sub­urbs and the town centre. A pos­sible explan­a­tion for this will be given later.

Sheffield people were aware and expect­ing a raid and the steel works had stepped up pro­duc­tion in the late 1930’s. Buildings were requisi­tioned for air raid shel­ters and many Anderson shel­ters were pro­duced for local homes.

There was not very much evac­u­ation of chil­dren at this time and many of the women were work­ing in the steel works.

When war was declared ini­tially theatres and enter­tain­ment centres were closed, but then after having no air attacks and hear­ing sirens scream­ing for many nights without an attack, cit­izens became rather blase.

In autumn 1940, Hitler decided to bomb Britain and London, Liverpool and Bristol were hit. There was still no bomb­ing in Sheffield and early on December 12th people were going out to the cinemas, clubs and pubs as usual. The sirens soun­ded at 7 p.m. and no-one bothered to take shel­ter. Down came the bombs, wave after wave of bombers, until 4 a.m.the next morn­ing when the all-clear was soun­ded.

Devastation had hit the city centre, Atkinson’s, Cockayne’s, Redgates, C & A and Walsh’s were all flattened. Outlying sub­urbs of Gleadless, Nether Edge, Owlerton, Intake etc. were all hit. It was estim­ated that 2,000 people were killed and a tenth of the pop­u­la­tion were made home­less. One of the biggest losses of life was at The Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. It was packed with people, none of whom sur­vived. The heat was so intense that a pile of coins were fused together. Fire crews came from Barnsley and Doncaster to help.The City Hall sur­vived, a bomb dropped nearby landed in a water tank!

Lots of emer­gency centres were set up e.g. at High Storrs School, and advice centres were able to give help to many people. Atkinson’s and other stores opened small out­lets at vari­ous loc­a­tions through­out the city. Although the ledger, stat­ing vari­ous cus­tomer debts, was des­troyed people still turned up to pay off their debts.

There is a dis­play of the Sheffield blitz in the Doncaster Aero Museum, and recently, due to the efforts of Neil Anderson, the Heritage Lottery gave a grant of £90,000 to hold an exhib­i­tion in the old fire sta­tion. Among the exhib­its are the fused coins found in the ruins of The Marples Hotel and videos of people who exper­i­enced the blitz.

Knickebein.….… The Germans developed a system of “beams” — an enhance­ment of the pre­vi­ous “lorenz” system which were meth­ods of “blind land­ing aids” used to help air­craft to approach an air­port at night. The Knickebein system sent two beams from power­ful trans­mit­ters at dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions on main­land Europe. These beams were cal­cu­lated to inter­cept over the bomb­ing zone in England. The English, under Churchill’s dir­ec­tion, devised coun­ter­meas­ures which “bent” the beams away from the target area. This would explain why so many bombs were dropped in civil­ian areas rather than the steel man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in the east end.