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SHEFFIELD IN THE 'SIXTIES
"Even so my varied life
Great are the pleasures of memory, even though dimmed by regrets of things left undone which ought to have been done, and things done which ought not to have been done. Those who, through devious paths, have sought to follow the star of Duty may see clearly the Guiding Hand which led and kept them through many and great perils, and will be constrained to exclaim with the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits".
Sheffield in the 'sixties! How surprisingly different from the Sheffield of to-day. The contrasts, both in centre and suburb, are great indeed. My first sight of the town was in the early 'sixties. At that time the town it had not then attained the dignity of a city was all aglow with excitement and gaiety on the occasion of the marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales, to the Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Decorations, processions, and festivities were the order of the day. Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Brown was the Mayor there was no Lord Mayor then. Coming from a quiet country town, "far from the madding crowd", there was much to interest, with not a little to cause surprise and pain. At almost every corner in the centre of the town were flaring gin palaces, and the large number of drunken men and women in the streets startled me. I am glad to say that many of these places of temptation have gone, and so far as I can judge drunkenness in the streets has greatly diminished.
Until the new home was ready my first few days were at the old hostelry, "The Black Swan", Snig Hill, not far from Bank Street, where ten happy years of business life were to be spent. I well remember gazing on the old-world timbered houses opposite, long since pulled down for the widening of the road. At that time the central streets were very narrow, and the shops small, many with old-fashioned fronts. The books shops were a great attraction, especially the second-hand ones in Watson Walk, West Bar, and Barker Pool, where often I found bargains which suited my slender purse, and so, long before having a house of my own, I was the happy possessor of a well-filled bookcase. Since those days my books, on many subjects, have increased to such an extent that it has become difficult to know where to stow them.
The population of Sheffield was then 185,157, whilst the dwelling-houses numbered 41,764. Fifty years later the population, according to the census of 1911 (exclusive of Tinsley, since added), was 455,817, whilst the number of dwelling-houses had more than doubled, exceeding 108,000, notwithstanding that a large number of old premises, including whole streets, had been demolished to make room for larger buildings and wider thoroughfares. In 1861 the rateable value of property was £446,866, which at the close of 1916 had increased to £2,106,880. Such has been the rapid growth of the city.
During the last fifty years Sheffield has made remarkable strides in the matter of education. With the bare mention of the Firth College, founded by Mr. Mark Firth in 1879, at a cost, with endowment, of nearly £30,000 (now merged in the Sheffield University); the University College (1897) afterwards the University of Sheffield, created by Royal Charter in 1905, when the fine buildings in Western Bank were opened by H.M. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra; I would more especially refer to Elementary Education.
Shortly after the first School Board for Sheffield was formed in 1870, special inquiries showed that with 40,000 children of school age living in the borough there was school accommodation for 28,000, almost wholly provided by Church and Denominational Schools, with only 12,000 children in attendance. Temporary schools were promptly hired, large Board Schools were rapidly built, and attendance enforced.
In March, 1873, there were in the Board Schools thirteen head teachers, four assistants, thirty-five pupil teachers, one sewing mistress, and two monitors. To-day, figures taken from the Report of the Education Committee, 1915-16, present a remarkable contrast.
At the end of July, 1916, there were 63,006 children on the registers of Council Schools, and 20,613 on the registers of Non-Provided Schools, making in all 83,619 children in schools maintained by the Education Committee. The Elementary Council Schools numbered seventy-two, embracing 186 departments. The Non-Provided Schools numbered forty-two, embracing eighty-seven departments; making a total of 114 schools and 273 departments.
There were 1,259 head and assistant teachers in Council Schools, and 426 head and assistant teachers in Non-Provided Schools, and in addition 154 certificated and three uncertificated assistant teachers on war service. Also, six teachers from Training Colleges were unable to commence work in Sheffield owing to military duties, and eight assistants had already laid down their lives whilst on active service. There were 163 pupil teachers in Elementary Schools.
The total expenditure other than out of loans, during the year ended 31st March, 1916, was £422,522. 12s. 1d. The Grant receivable for the year represented 44.31 per cent of the total expenditure, leaving 55.69 per cent to be provided locally, including rates. The income for the year included £18,693. 3s. 4d. from the Imperial Exchequer. The total income from all sources, other than rates, was £208,770. 14s. 7d., leaving £213,751. 17s. 6d. to be provided out of the rates. The City Council paid into the Committee's fund the sum of £213,120 (equivalent to a call upon the rates of 25.69d. in the £), in addition to £660. 9s. 4d. to balance the expenditure in respect of the previous year.
Such is the record of educational progress in less than fifty years. It may be said that of the forty-nine Non-Provided Schools, thirty-nine (including the two Charity Schools) are Church of England, nine Roman Catholic, and one private. To this may be added that in 1916 King Edward VII School, which holds a high position amongst the public schools of England, had on its Roll 510 boys, and the Central Secondary Schools 901 scholars, of whom 426 were boys and 475 girls. The students at the Secondary Evening Schools in 1916 numbered 1,076, whilst in the District Evening Schools no fewer than 11,076 were enrolled.
As we look at these figures, and the many and varied subjects of study provided, and consider the great and peculiar educational advantages of to-day compared with those of half a century ago, our hopes for the coming generation are very high. We can only wish that the words of one of Earth's great teachers may not be forgotten: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".
In 'Reminiscences of Old Sheffield', edited by Mr. R. E. Leader, we are told that about 1810-15 "London letters were brought by horse mail round by Worksop, and the rider fired his pistol at the Market Place to notify his arrival. There was then only one letter-carrier for the whole town, a female who lived in Lee Croft, and she carried the letters in a small hand basket covered with a white napkin".
In 1864, shortly after which I had to call at the old Post Office in the Market Place each morning for letters, the Post Office staff consisted of the Postmistress (Miss Ellen Wreaks) and seventeen clerks, with about twenty letter-carriers. Of these old clerks, one, Mr. George Smith, was resident in Heeley, and an attendant at Heeley Church for more than fifty years, and for some time our excellent churchwarden. To-day, in addition to the sub-postoffices, we have the fine block of buildings in Fitzalan Square, with a total staff in September, 1916, of 1,163, including 316 clerks and 498 postmen. The mean and inconvenient Midland Station was at the foot of the Wicker, whilst the Victoria Station was comparatively small.
A few 'buses passed through the narrow streets to the suburbs, one of the most noticeable being the four-horse 'bus to Broomhill, driven by "Old Neddy", whose picturesque figure and familiar squint are still remembered. To-day the tramcars run over some forty miles of double track, whilst the receipts of cars and motor 'buses during 1916 exceeded a weekly average of £10,200. All this helps to indicate the remarkable changes which Sheffield has witnessed during the last fifty years.
In the 'sixties, apart from the churches and chapels, the only public buildings of note were the Cutlers' Hall, with about half of its present frontage, the Town Hall at the corner of Castle Street and Waingate (now the Police Courts), the old Music Hall and the Free Library in Surrey Street, the Norfolk and Fitzalan Market Halls, with the General Infirmary, Wesley College, and Collegiate School in the suburbs. As a recent writer truly says, Sheffield's civic architecture was inferior to other Northern and Midland towns, and the town itself "was scarcely yet emerged from the status of an overgrown village".
To those of us who are able to recall the past, the Sheffield of to-day shows a remarkable transformation, not only in its widened and well-paved streets, its imposing banks, shops, and other business establishments, but also in its public buildings. To name only a few, we may point to the Town Hall, the Albert, Montgomery, and Victoria Halls, the University buildings, the Firth College, the Education Offices, the General Post Office, the Young Men's Christian Association buildings, the Royal Hospital, the Jessop Hospital for Women, the greatly-enlarged Royal Infirmary, and the many Council Schools scattered throughout the City.
I made early acquaintance with two of the Sheffield papers the Independent, then noted for the fullness and accuracy of its local reports; and the Daily Telegraph, a somewhat feeble production until it came under the able control of Mr. W. C. Leng, who speedily revolutionized the paper, and made it a power politically, commercially, socially, and religiously. What a contrast between the mean-looking office of the Telegraph in High Street in the 'sixties and the palatial block of buildings which to-day proudly dominates the head of the same street.
Those of us who remember what Abbeydale, Heeley, Crookes, Walkley, and the great stretch of green fields between the old Collegiate School and Ecclesall Church (not to name other parts) were like fifty years ago, find it difficult to realize the great changes. Beauty has given way to utility, and it must be confessed in not a few places to depressing ugliness which a little wise forethought might have prevented.
I have a vivid recollection of the terrible Flood caused by the bursting of the Dale Dyke Reservoir of the Water Company at Bradfield on the midnight of Friday, March, 11th, 1864. Going up Sheffield Moor on the Saturday morning, and seeing knots of excited people earnestly talking, I felt sure that something out of the common had happened. On the newspaper posters were the ominous words "Awful Catastrophe!" and it was some time before the extent of the fearful calamity could be realized. The destruction of property was enormous, including tilts, mills, factories, &c., destroyed or flooded, 927; houses destroyed or flooded, 4,697; in addition to which eleven churches, chapels, and schools were flooded, and twenty bridges wholly or partly destroyed. The dead and missing numbered 240, the greater part resident at Malin Bridge, Hillsborough, and Neepsend. In the Don Valley I saw distressing sights: wrecked dwellings, rescue parties at work digging out bodies from the debris, and bearing them away. Compensation claims made upon the Water Company amounted to £455,164, whilst the contributions to the Relief Fund, headed by £200 from Queen Victoria, exceeded £50,000. The sad story is told at length in 'The Great Sheffield Flood', by Samuel Harrison.
I well remember the great excitement in 1867 caused by the Commission of Enquiry in connexion with the terrible trade outrages, which resulted in admissions by members of grinders' societies that they had been guilty of explosive outrages, rattening, and even murder, nearly all the worst cases being planned by one William Broadhead, who kept a public-house in Carver Street. The revelation of crimes committed brought a black cloud over Sheffield, and at the time one felt ashamed of living in the town. The guilty men who had confessed, and their accomplices, were granted freedom from punishment, and their many crimes were, it was manifest, utterly abhorrent to the great body of workers.
My recollections of the Church life of Sheffield at this period must be reserved for the next chapter, but I may here say that in the wayward days of youth I was somewhat of a religious vagrant. At times I found my way with friends to Brunswick Chapel, and occasionally visited the Cemetery Road Baptist Chapel, of which the Rev. Giles Hester was the minister an able preacher, but somewhat bitter against the Church of England. Sometimes I was attracted to the Cemetery Road Congregational Chapel by the fame of the Rev. Brewin Grant, a scholarly man and a skilled debater, who later went over to the Church of England, and became Vicar of St. Paul's, Bethnal Green, London. Occasionally I found myself at the Tabernacle in Oxford Street, then almost in the country.
In due course, having come to years of discretion, my wanderings ceased, and I found a home at St. Matthew's Church, of which the Rev. F. J. Witty was the Vicar, and became a Sunday School teacher in the old Carver Street Schools, now, I regret to say, used as a warehouse. The Day and Sunday Schools were then largely attended. At St. Matthew's I heard Dr. Gatty, the venerable Vicar of Ecclesfield, preach several times, and occasionally we had the Rev. H. D. Jones, my predecessor at Heeley, who, with somewhat monotonous voice, and without animation, would discourse for half-an-hour or more.
In those days Penny Readings with music were popular, and at St. Matthew's most successful, the attendance numbering from 300 to 400. It was here I gained my first experience of public speaking. The reciters and singers of various Churches were accustomed to interchange. One evening I was invited to take part in the Penny Readings at St. Marie's Roman Catholic Schools, St. Mary's Road, when the genial Canon Walshaw presided over a crowded audience. My recitation was Bell's lengthy poem, "Mary, Queen of Scots", which elicited warm commendations from the chairman. In after years we frequently met, when the worthy priest had always a few cheery words. When my Memories of Archdeacon Blakeney was announced, Canon Walshaw was one of the first to send me a kind letter, asking for an early copy of the life of his old friend. This is one of many pleasant recollections.
But I am digressing. After a time, I was attracted to St. Simon's Church, of which the Rev. James Battersby was the Vicar. Here I continued to worship and work to the time of going to college, returning after my college life and ordination as curate of the parish, of which, on the preferment of Mr. Battersby to the Vicarage of St. James, I became vicar. Memories of the twelve happy and, I trust, fruitful years of ministry here still remain with me, of which more in another chapter.
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