SHEFFIELD’S HISTORY: A tale of day to day life in Sheffield

Margaret Drinkall.
Margaret Drinkall.
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IN years to come Sheffield historians will recount that on this day in 2012 a book was published which does exactly what it says on the cover.

Just as the title suggests, The Sheffield Book of Days takes the reader through every day of the year, with each day plucked from a different year.

Pablo Picasso, left with Tommy Jones (right - in glasses)'arrival at Sheffield L.M.S. Station for the "Peace" Congress at the City Hall.  1950

Pablo Picasso, left with Tommy Jones (right - in glasses)'arrival at Sheffield L.M.S. Station for the "Peace" Congress at the City Hall. 1950

Written by Margaret Drinkall, it features hundreds of interesting snippets of information and tales each gleaned from the vaults of the city archives.

Featuring original research and detailing many incidents that have never before been published, it makes an ideal read for those who prefer to dip in and out.

Despite not being a Sheffielder herself, Margaret, a Rotherham lass, delves deeply into events from varying periods in the city’s history.

And the book includes events which have had a major impact on the religious and political development of the city as well as quirky, eccentric, amusing and important incidents and facts.

Some involve matters of national importance, such as the Coronation of George IV, and there are also local incidents including the Sheffield Outrages and accounts of various riots.

There are also amusing incidents picked up by the newspapers of the time.

Articles include one detailing the punishments dished out to young boys who dared to play ‘trip’ during Divine service and an outbreak of people being bitten by ‘mad dogs’.

The book covers events recorded in Sheffield from as far back as the 13th century to 1940.

Margaret said in order to write it, she trawled through old newspapers and council minutes in pursuit of the most interesting and unusual stories.

And she enjoyed the laborious task much more than you might think.

“I was in my element going through the archives,” she confessed.

“I had to stop myself getting sidetracked because I’d be reading one story and then stumble on something else.”

She recalls there was no shortage of unusual material.

For example on April 15, 1899, the dead body of a young whale which had been captured in the River Trent could be seen in the yard of the Green Dragon at Attercliffe.

The whale had been spotted near the mouth of the River Idle close to West Stock a few days previously.

The spectacle drew a large crowd of onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of the monster.

The earliest event chronicled in the book happened on August 10, 1297, when a Charter was granted to the people of Sheffield by Thomas de Furnival.

He obviously held local people in high regard, calling them ‘my free tenants of the town of Sheffield’ and he gave their heirs ‘all the tofts, lands and holdings which they hold of me’ at the fixed annual rent of £3.8.9¼d.

The book records how Sheffield has had its share of famous visitors over the years, like Picasso who came here briefly for the second World Peace Congress in 1950.

Margaret also discovered that on August 2, 1572 the Earl of Shrewsbury wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth complaining about one of his prisoners.

That prisoner, a certain Mary Queen of Scots, was at the time was being held captive in the city.

Margaret also recalls people who, unlike Mary, visited the city of their own accord.

She said: “Charles Blondin came here and did a tight rope walk over New Valley Gardens and the famous circus act Barnumand Bailey came here in 1899.

“The circus came with a freak show that would never be allowed today. It had a giant nearly eight foot tall and a Japanese lady whose act involved doing things with her feet that people normally do with their hands.”

The author also records some of the more tragic episodes from our city’s past.

Stories like the case of George Needham, an 11-year-old boy who died in 1853.

“George had been playing in a workshop with a couple of friends when he climbed up a ladder to get something and his clothes caught on the shaft,” Margaret explains.

“He was whirled around and later died of his injuries.

“At the inquest it emerged that he was meant to be being supervised by the 17-year-old workshop owner’s son and it’s then you realise how young these children were and how hard life must have been for them.”

On December 6, 1848, the Sheffield Times reported a woman’s unfortunate mistake.

The story explains how the chief constable of police was returning from a meeting when he was accosted by a prostitute in the street.

They started heading towards the Town Hall, but she became suspicious and walked into a shop where the owner let slip the chief constable’s identity.

At this point she let off a stream of abuse and fled.

Two constables were sent after her and she was dragged before the courts and sent to prison for 21 days.

Margaret, who has a Masters degree in history, says taken together the events create a unique picture of the city.

“You get a glimpse into the past and an idea of what everyday life was like for people.”

Since retiring Margaret has become a full-time writer.

A keen local historian, her previous books include Rotherham Workhouse, Murder and Crime in Rotherham, Murder and Crime in Sheffield and Sheffield Crimes.

The Sheffield Book of Days, published by The History Press, is out now, priced £9.99.