Old photographs shed an interesting new light on Sheffield’s history

PUBLISHED: 18:20 09 April 2014 | UPDATED: 01:37 24 October 2015

Fargate and Queen Victorias statue in 1907 shortly after its unveiling

Fargate and Queen Victorias statue in 1907 shortly after its unveiling


Sheffield has come a long way since George Orwell referred to it as ‘the ugliest town in the Old World’.

It is now very much regarded as a green and extremely pleasant land, with its 250 parks, woodlands and gardens (it has the highest ratio of trees to people in Europe) and enviable reputation as a city with a wildly diverse cultural offering.

‘The people are famously friendly and nowadays, with the catalysts of the two universities, Sheffield has grown an enviable tradition and reputation as a tourist centre too,’ said Professor Ian Rotherham, reader in tourism and environmental change at Sheffield Hallam University.

‘Recent city centre projects have transformed the city’s transport network and the European-style cafe culture is rich and welcoming for locals and visitors alike.’

It’s fair to say then that the city has enjoyed a massive turnaround since Orwell wrote in 1937: ‘The stench! If at rare moments you stop smelling sulphur it is because you have begun smelling gas. Once, I halted in the street and counted the factory chimneys I could see; there were 33 of them, but there would have been far more if the air had not been obscured by smoke.’

Obviously not a man to mince his words. But was it really so horrendous? The 280 full-colour images in Professor Rotherham’s new book – Lost Sheffield in Colour (Amberley Publishing, £15.99)– tell a much more varied and dynamic story.

They capture the city’s special dual identity as a place with beautiful landscapes and smog-covered housing; culture as well as industry.

In the same way, the book captures the multiple strands of Sheffield’s heritage with intimately detailed photographs of the city centre and its environs; industry and commerce; the rivers; people, parks and gardens; education, health and the Arts; transport; sport and theatre.

It shows the individuals who populated this idiosyncratic city going about their day-to-day lives oblivious to the parts they are playing in its history.

‘Sheffield has always had a tendency to be parochial and remains so even today,’ said Professor Rotherham. ‘Each valley has its own people, its own societies and even its own dialects. Nowadays, as people move around more the dialects change, but they still have local variants.

‘Often described as a collection of villages morphed into a larger town, Sheffield is distinctly different from its neighbours such as Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester.

‘Indeed, today Sheffield remains proudly different and distinctive.’

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