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!”