An A to Z of Sheffield city

Michael Spick
Michael Spick
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IT will begin with an ancient monument, end with a one-legged acrobat and, in between, will take in a railway war, an imprisoned queen and a whole bunch of steel factories, philanthropists and green spaces.

Welcome to Sheffield – as told in A to Z.

An upcoming talk by renowned local historian Michael Spick is set to whizz its audiences through the Steel City’s history in alphabetical order. The illustrated presentation is the very first event announced as part of this year’s celebrated Off The Shelf festival of word

“I’ve done dozens of talks over the years,” says Michael, a retired librarian with Sheffield Local Studies Library. “But the beauty of this is if you’re not interested in what I’m saying it doesn’t matter because we’ll be talking about something else in a minute.”

It starts, obviously enough, with A. That’s for Abbeydale Hamlet, an almost unique pre-industrial industrial site.

And it ends, probably, with Michaelo Zampi, a 19th century one-legged acrobat who performed for King Edward VII and King Alfonso XII of Spain before retiring to Shoreham Street.

Along the way there are bite-sized guides to M for Mary Queen Of Scots who, famously, was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle, O for open spaces, (“we have more than anyone else”), and R for railways.

“Sheffield’s railway history is absolutely fascinating,” explains Michael. “In the 19th century various rival companies were more or less at war with each other trying to build different lines and it led to some interesting clashes.”

There are also plenty of references to the city’s steel heritage, its incredible architecture and its philanthropists.

“I like philanthropists,” says the 59-year-old of Ecclesall. “So a few of them get a good look in.”

Does that mean we can guess what G is for, one wonders. “You can guess,” retorts Michael. “But you wouldn’t be right.”

He doesn’t want to give too much away but he promises the stories will come thick and fast.

“It’s a quirky way of doing a potted history,” he says. “Some of the things I talk about people might already know but I guarantee there will be plenty of things they don’t.

“The main problem with doing it this way can be summed up in one word – or one letter: X. That wasn’t easy to find but we got one. Will I tell you what it is? No, I’ll leave that as a surprise.

“If the talk is popular, though, I think there could be a sequel. For most of the letters there were four or five different things it could have been. I’d like to do a second – as long as we can find something for X that is.”

The talk takes place at the Central United Reformed Church in Norfolk Street on October 20 at 6pm. A full Off The Shelf schedule will be announced next month. Booking details released then.