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The Sheffield Book of Days
By Margaret Drinkall
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Margaret Drinkall
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1880: Entitled 'A New Years Eve in Sheffield', an account of the previous night's activities was published in the Sheffield Independent. The report read: 'In consequence of the inclemency of the weather, the streets were less busy last night than is customary. There was in fact almost an entire absence of pedestrians until midnight, when the public and beer houses – which had an hours grace – got rid of their customers. But the streets even then were soon at peace broken only by the "waits" who, with an eye to coppers, sang their ditties in spite of the wind and rain. The old year took its departure amid an appropriate accompaniment of rain for tears. A "watch night" service was celebrated in most of the Wesleyan Chapels'. In contrast to the informal entertainment, the service at the parish church, which started at 11 p.m. held a large congregation. Revd A.J. Tweedie read the parable of the Ten Virgins and at 11.55 p.m., he urged them to have five minutes of silent prayer. He then announced that 'now that the old year of 1879 has passed away we have commenced a new year in the journey of our life'. The service then closed with a hymn. (Sheffield Independent)
1613: One of the earliest surveys ever recorded was undertaken, which indicated the poverty of the people of the town at that time. The survey or early census was undertaken by the Ecclesiastical authorities to assess the numbers of ratepayers able to pay tithes to the Church. It reads: 'Survaie [sic] of the towns of Sheffield by twenty-four of the most sufficient inhabitants in the towne. There are 2,207 people of which 725 are not able to live without the charity of their neighbours being all begging poore [sic]. There are 100 households which relieve others but are poor artificers not one of which can keep a team on his own lande [sic] and not above ten who have grounds of their own on which to keep a cow. 160 householders are not able to relieve others such though they beg not. Many of them are not able to abide the storme [sic] of one fortnight sickness but would be thereby driven to beggary. There are 1,222 children and servants of the said householders the greatest part of which such as live off small wages and are constrained to work to provide them with the necessities.' (Leader, R., Sheffield Local Directory, Sheffield Independent Press, 1830)
1830: The state of public footpaths in Sheffield was criticized in the Sheffield Independent, with the report stating: 'After the required cleansing had been performed, it sometimes happened that a sudden fall of snow or the industry of schoolboys created a nice slide within a foot of one's doorway. A shovelful of "slack" (coal dust) immediately put on such hazardous areas could have saved a sprain or a broken limb. Many of the accidents which occur in Sheffield at the moment could be prevented. On Wednesday, Mr Simmons, a traveller from Birmingham, was getting out of his gig to make a call when he stepped onto the ice and fell, breaking the cap of his knee. On the evening of the same day, a respectable female fell in Coalpit Lane and dislocated her shoulder. On Sunday evening Mr Wood, a dyer of the Wicker, slipped down and fractured a leg. On the same day Mr John Gardner of Pea Croft fell and broke his arm. The vigilance of the Police Inspectors does much to keep such accidents to a minimum, but if more householders would do the same the streets of the city might be in a fitter state for perambulation that they are at present'. (Sheffield Independent)
1879: It was reported today in the Sheffield Post that the Princess of Wales donated £50 towards the relief of the poor in Sheffield. The donation, accompanied by a letter, expressed her regret to which Her Royal Highness has heard of the prevailing industrial distress in the town. It was also reported that the Duke of Norfolk (Lord of the manor of Sheffield) had subscribed £500 to the fund and the Duchess of Norfolk £100. The Home Secretary has written to the Mayor for information as to the extent of the industrial distress and the local means of dealing with it. Among the sums received by the Mayor of Sheffield was one of £25 donated by Florence Nightingale, who attached a letter stating that: 'If I might breathe a hope as earnest as that Sheffield will be tided ever these sad, sad times, it would be that her men might learn from them a lesson of prudence and manly self control and that when good times come again, as pray God they may, they will use their higher wages so as to become capital instead of waste.'
The reporter also noted that: 'In Sheffield at present the distress is increasing and the total cost of subscriptions now amount to over £7,000'. (Sheffield Post)
1864: On this day, the newspapers reported Margaret Godfrey's escape from the women's prison at the Town Hall. A police officer was scrubbing the parade room floor and had cause to go into the women's yard for water. Missing Godfrey, he was told that she was in the water closet. When he returned once more, he called out to her and received no reply. The walls of the prison yard are topped with iron spikes and are 20ft high. It was felt that to escape this way dressed in petticoats would be impossible, but when officers examined the wall they found marks of her escape. On reaching the top of the wall, Godfrey would have thrown herself 16 to 17ft down to the ground as there was nothing in the wall to help her descent. The chief constable, on being told of the escape, ordered some men to go to the Sheffield Infirmary to make enquires. There she was found being treated for injury to her spine. She had arrived there in a cab driven by a man of her acquaintance and it is thought that he had helped her to make her escape. (Sheffield Independent)
1900: Today saw a celebration for Mr Edwin Waters, the master of Sheffield Fir Vale workhouse, who had just celebrated his silver wedding. He had been master of the workhouse for seventeen years, and the guardians took the opportunity to present him with a gift of a cutlery set as a token of their respect for the 'man who had served at his post through the many changes which have been seen in Poor Law administration'. He and his wife also received gifts and presents from the other officers of the workhouse. Mr Waters entertained the members of the board along with friends at his home. Making the presentation, Alderman Wycliffe Wilson told him that 'he had always worked to improve the administration of the house, and that under his direction his discipline was highly beneficial to those placed in his care'. Another guardian, one Mr Hoyland, spoke about the ready cheerfulness of both the master and matron of the workhouse. Mr Waters thanked the guardians for their gifts and their generous comments. He said that 'he was pleased to hear that his work had exercised a good influence at the workhouse'. (Yorkshire Post)
1857: An incident occurred on this day which arguably proves the old saying 'there is no fool like an old fool'. A retired gentleman of the town sauntered into the marketplace, where he was accosted by a stranger dressed in the garb of a horse dealer. This man told him that he had come to buy a pony for his son but had no idea where to find the owner. Strangely, just at that moment, the seller of the pony appeared. The horse dealer made him an offer for the pony, but the owner, affecting to be insulted by some rude observation, refused the deal. The dealer then proposed that the old gentleman buy the pony for him and the old gentleman and the seller then went to an adjoining public house, where negotiations were sealed and the old man was induced to hand over £4 to seal the bargain. He left the public house to inform his 'friend' of the successful negotiations, only to find that he had mysteriously disappeared. He returned back to the public house to find the seller had also decamped with his money. The poor old man returned home wiser for the lesson. (Sheffield Times)
1889: Newspapers today printed an account of a traction engine accident, which had overturned at Carbrook the previous Saturday. The incident took place on Weedon Street close to the Congregational Chapel. An open brook runs down the north side of the street, and, in some places, the bank was broken and as a result the road was extremely narrow and dangerous. The traction engine and two attached wagons were turning out of Carbrook into Weedon Street when the driver's vision was impaired by fog. Inevitably the traction engine turned over into the brook. The flywheel and some of the gearing was broken off and one of the wagons had been dragged in after it. Fortunately, of the three men involved, only slight injuries were sustained. Men were at work all day Sunday digging down the embankment, making a course in which to drag the fallen machine out of the brook. Another traction engine was brought to drag it to an upright position and held it there by the means of a wire rope. Yet another engine was brought in to pull it out of the brook. By Sunday evening the mission was accomplished and the area was cleared. (Sheffield Telegraph)
1831: An inquest was held on the body of a newborn baby who had been found dead in a pit at Ballifield, near Handsworth. The pit was 52 yards deep and the surgeon, Mr Nicholson, estimated that the child had been dead for around a week. He told the jury and coroner Mr Badger that the child, which was full term, had a fractured lower jaw, contusions on the head, and the bone of the head was more than ordinarily separated. He gave his opinion that the contusions and the skull fracture had caused the death of the baby. Although he could not estimate whether or not the child had breathed upon being born, he believed that the baby may have been born dead. George Fowler, a collier who found the body on January 8th at 9.30 a.m., described how the corpse had no covering on it. Another witness, Susannah Wilkinson, gave evidence of another girl who it was suspected had recently given birth under mysterious circumstances. Several other witnesses were questioned about the identification of the suspected mother of the child. Their testimony justified an examination of her person by the surgeon, who reported to the jury that she had not been delivered of a child. (The Standard)
1821: On this day a murder was reported in the Sheffield Independent. Its readers were told that: 'On Thursday night, a woman named Sarah Crowder residing in Red Croft was found dead in her bed. She had been seen by several of her neighbours in the course of the afternoon and had not made any particular complaint of illness. But it is generally supposed that the poor creature had fallen prey to want, as she could not procure even the common necessities of life. Crowder had scarcely a garment left to shelter her from inclemency of the weather. At the inquest the coroner was informed that she had for some time being separated from her husband, who had deserted her and her two children to cohabit with another woman in the town. She had only 4s a week allowed to her from her husband to support herself and the children. In order to eke out this miserable pittance, Crowder had been compelled to part with nearly every article of apparel and even the covering from the bed.' The reporter stated that 'a more heart-rending scene of nakedness and starvation than that which this poor woman and her children exhibited was never witnessed'. (Sheffield Independent)
1873: A serious riot took place in Sheffield. In A History of Sheffield, David Hey stated that 'it has become a matter of common occurrence in the town to hear of street rows. It would appear that in some areas, the roughs are able to carry everything their own way in spite of law, magistrates and police'. At around 11.30 p.m., two police constables who were on duty in the town, noted some 'roughs' jostling passers-by, annoying both them and the tradesmen. They were asked to stop but instead they started to pelt the constables with sticks, refuse and stones. Despite this, the constables managed to capture one of the gang and took him to a house on Hoyle Street for his own protection. A mob of about 100 people grouped together and began smashing the windows of the house and throwing stones at the doors, which left the occupiers terrified. The two constables had no option but to release the prisoner and attempt to get out of the house unharmed. They managed to return to the police station, where reinforcements were quickly sent to the scene and, before any more damage could be inflicted, the crowd was dispersed. (Hey, D., A History of Sheffield, Carnegie Publishing, 1998)
1866: On this day, a woman lay in the Infirmary recovering from the poisonous effects of arsenic she had taken in an attempt to kill herself. The young woman (18) called Ellen Dalton lived with her mother on Steel Bank and had worked for the last three years at Messrs Brookes on Carlisle Street. The previous morning she had left the house to go to work after having words with her mother. At lunch time she began vomiting copiously and almost became insensible. A surgeon, Mr Arden, was called and he asked both her and her friends what she had eaten but did not get a sensible answer from anyone concerned. The girl was sent home and after Mr Arden visited her again this morning she told him what she had done. It seems that nine months ago she was being pestered by a man she did not want and had bought, at different times, four-penny worth of arsenic with which to kill herself. After the row with her mother at about 11.30 a.m., she had taken a teaspoon of arsenic in some water. The surgeon told her that because she had taken so much; her body had ejected the poison, thereby saving her life. (Sheffield Independent)
1873: It was reported that the authorities of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway had received a small box from Retford addressed to a Mr William Town of Sorby Street, Sheffield. When the recipient, a young man, opened the box, he was shocked to find it contained the dead body of a female child. A note was in the box which read: 'Well, William I have sent you this box and I hope you will carefully examine it and put it away respectfully as you have behaved so badly towards me. By the time you get this box I will have left Retford and I hope never to see you again. It died as it was born. You are the cause of all my misery but I hope that God will provide something for me. You will never prosper. I have sent many letters but you won't even answer them. You promised me money.' The note, which was badly written and barely intelligible, had no signature attached. On finding what was in the box, Mr Town alerted the police and the body was taken away to await a coroners' inquest. (Vickers, J.E., The Unseen, the Unsightly and the Amusing, 1997)
1832: At a meeting of the town council this morning, Mr Hurst of Doncaster presented the plans for the proposed extension to the Town Hall. The present building, which holds the session house as well as the prison, is admittedly bad, being inadequate for the public and the safe custody of prisoners. The main extension will be to the present session house, which is estimated to cost between £3,000 and £4,000. It also means that a proportion of an existing yard will have to be built over and the new session house will abut onto the houses on Castle Green. Inevitably this means shutting out all the light and air except for the roof, but it is felt that the extra room would make this acceptable. By this extension it was hoped that the inhabitants would have a place to hold public meetings, the magistrates could carry on their course of justice and the police could safely lodge all disturbers of public peace.
The town trustees were willing to give £1,000 towards the extension and it is estimated that public subscription would raise the rest. (Sheffield Independent)
1774: Today an advertisement for the sale of silk mill, which was later to become the Sheffield workhouse on Kelham Street, was inserted in the local newspaper:
Sale of lease Wm Bower bankrupt at Sheffield:
The large and extensive five storey Building extending over several acres with one of the compleatest [sic] of Silk Mills in this Kingdom. The building includes a good dwelling house, several Offices and a spacious Gardens etc. The Silk Mills are in a very good state of Repair and still employ a great number of Women and Children. The building has been made useful at a vast Expense which must make this Purchase a very desirable one indeed. The owners of the premises having spent within a few Years at least £7,000 to repair and rebuild additional buildings. The sale includes the whole of that curious Machinery known by the Name of KELHAM WHEELS which is used for grinding and glazing the cutlery.
Excerpted from The Sheffield Book of Days by Margaret Drinkall. Copyright © 2012 Margaret Drinkall. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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