Colourful view of city’s past glories

Fargate and Queen Victoria's Statue, 1907.
Fargate and Queen Victoria's Statue, 1907.
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It’s old Sheffield as we’ve never seen it before. The city’s long lost and most fondly preserved buildings laid out in full colour, some for the first time.

Many views look familiar, others unrecognisable from the city we see around us today but all captured in old colour photographs, paintings or retouched black and white images and all in a new book by one of Sheffield’s most famous and fastidious environmentalists and conservationists.

Professor Ian Rotherham has put together a 130-page book full of images and information about a Sheffield most of us have never seen from pictures and postcards in his own collection.

“I started collecting postcards, books and pictures of Sheffield while I was working for the ecology service at the city museum in 1985. Part of that job gave us access to old prints of the city.

“Some of them are clearly paintings but a lot, I’m sure, are old photographs though they did used to colour in black and white pictures in those days. I wanted to get them together in a book but that proved to be a big undertaking. The next book will be about the outer edges of Sheffield, the Golden Frame as it’s called.

“In this one there are pictures of parks and old villages lost to history or that have been subsumed into the sprawl of Sheffield as it has spread. It allows you to look at the city’s historical landscape, see the churches in a different setting and see areas like Fulwood, Ranmoor and Woodseats when they were rural landscapes rather than suburbs.

“You can go there now and see the same churches, buildings and trees but they are part of the town now. For me it’s about trying to understand that OLD context and then telling the story a little bit. You see things still there but in a different context and landscape and in other pictures you see parts of old Sheffield that are gone.”

Professor Rotherham has published around 40 academic and 10 popular history and wildlife books and in Lost Sheffield In Colour each of the 280 illustrations has words explaining the context and detail of the image and builds a fascinating picture of the city the way it was and might have been.

Divided into nine chapters with titles like The Town Centre; A City Of Rivers; Education; Health and The Arts; Sports, Theatre And Activities, the pictures look at every aspect of life in Sheffield. There are pictures of buffer girls, street scenes, steel workers, cutlery grinders, markets and posters advertising Sheffield and its attractions - or lack of.

“I think they show all aspects of life in Sheffield and shine a light on to some of the things we have lost. For example there’s a picture of the Bishop’s House at Meersbrook where the house has a cottage next to it,” said 57-year-old Professor Rotherham. I’d never seen a cottage there and of course there’s no sign of it now but it tells us about the past. I remember when I was young they knocked down some old houses in Woodseats and I thought it was wrong to lose all that history, the evidence of people’s lives.

“I’m not saying that everything in the past was good because clearly that’s not true but we need to take a look at these pictures and understand that that’s what things were like in Sheffield in days gone by.

“What we had then and either kept or got rid of is why we have what we have today. It’s why Sheffield is the place that it is now.

“Part of why this is important is a lot of young people have no knowledge of where they came from. Kids growing up in society today don’t know a time when there wasn’t an NHS or National Parks or greenbelt land and clean rivers without sewage and pollutants running through them. They need to be aware of these things and to be aware of the need to keep fighting for them.

“People need to understand the past and to know what things were like when the River Don was a dead river because of the effluent that was pumped into it six days a week.

“That’s very important because if we know how bad things can get we can try to make sure we protect the huge strides we have made.”

Do you have postcards or pictures of old Sheffield?Contact Prof Ian Rotherham at ianonthewildside@ukeconet.co.uk or on 0114 2724227.

Lost Sheffield In Colour is published by Amberley and available at WH Smiths, Waterstones, the Sheffield Shop and other book stores.