The Mystery of Hallamshire – Howard Smith – 17th October 2016

An alternative title for this fascinating presentation by regular visitor Howard Smith could well be “Where the f*** is Hallamshire?”

I and quite a few other members have the words Hallam or Hallamshire in the names of the roads where we live. We vote in the parliamentary constituency of Sheffield Hallam. I catch a 51 bus at Hallam Head. I pass Hallamshire Golf Club almost every day along with Hallam Football Club (the oldest football ground in the world, but that’s another story). We go to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital when circumstances dictate, and Sheffield Hallam University is a seat of learning (hopefully) for more than 30,000 students.

And yet few of us really know just what constitutes the historic region of Hallamshire, and how and why it came into existence.

Howard, a member of the neighboring Crosspool Probus Club, made a valiant attempt to explain the facts, but himself admitted that much of the history of Hallamshire is guesswork because no written records exist from the earliest days. It is, indeed, a mystery.

“We are surrounded by the names Hallam and Hallamshire,” he said. “And yet I suspect that if you had a visitor from, say, London, who asked what it meant, very few of you would be totally confident of explaining exactly where it is, how big it is, or its history. It would be a case of ‘answers on a postcard please.’

“The truth is,” he continued, “there is no such place as Hallamshire. It does not exist. So why on earth is it such a pervasive name?”

In Anglo Saxon times, Hallamshire formed the south western outpost of the Kingdom of Northumbria, and its border with the Kingdom of Mercia. In fact, one of several suggestions for the origin of the name Hallam is ‘a corner portion of a larger territory,’

That same ancient boundary between Northumbria and Mercia – along Stanage Edge – today still forms the border between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the city of Sheffield and the parish of Hathersage in the Derbyshire Dales and, Howard reminded us, the See of York and the See of Canterbury.

What is generally accepted as the region of Hallamshire covers an area of 112 square miles and takes in the parishes of Sheffield, Bradfield and Ecclesfield. Before Sheffield grew in importance, Ecclesfield was the mother church of Hallamshire, and Bradfield – to the north and west of Sheffield – was and still is one of the largest parishes in England.

As Howard pointed out when listing all the place names, organisations and commercial concerns which include the words Hallam or Hallamshire: “It doesn’t exist legally or geographically, but has become almost a brand.”

Just one example of this is ‘the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire’ – not Sheffield – which has represented the cutlery industry in the city and elected a Master Cutler every year since 1624.

We are honored to have within our membership three past holders of this historic and very prestigious post, and it was former Master Cutler John Harvey who provided me with the possible alternative title to which I referred in the opening paragraph.

During the question and answer session which traditionally follows our talks, John elicited the biggest laugh of the morning when he recalled the time he was attending a white tie livery dinner in London during his term of office. “A very posh lady came up to me and asked: ‘Are you the Master Cutler?’

“’Yes,’ I replied. ‘… of Hallamshire?’ she asked.

“‘Yes,’ I replied again, to which her response was: ‘Where the f*** is Hallamshire?’”