Guide pulls no punches

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IT is being advertised as a fascinating pocket guide to Sheffield – but before city folk dip into Jonathen Skews’ new book they may want to leave their civic pride at the door.

It pulls no punches.

On page 32, a pair of historical quotes describe the city as ugly, stench-filled and “mean, petty and narrow” – and that last one is just from one-time local MP Anthony Mundella.

“What a beautiful place Sheffield would be,” runs a third passage by 19th century travel writer Walter White, “if Sheffield were not there.”

That comes after Darnall, Grenoside and Halfway have already been described on page 12 as “mainly just houses”, while Highfield’s highlight is said to be “lots of takeaways”.

Further on, it’s pointed out the city has higher than national average crime rates (complete with a statistical breakdown, thank you very much), and the top thing to do here is said to be visiting Magna – across the border in Rotherham.

Among the city’s supposed best buildings, meanwhile, is the long gone Egg Box, and the much-derided Park Hill.

Oh, and just to drive the message home, there’s a section specifically called What People Hate About Sheffield (students and the one-way system, it seems).

Safe to say, for anyone with an ounce of Steel City pride, the book – released by Stroud-based The History Press – doesn’t always make easy reading.

But then Jonathen is originally from Rotherham – what would you expect?

“I love Sheffield,” laughs the 24-year-old marketing graduate of Sharrow. “That’s why I wanted to do the book, and I don’t think it’s negative. It just... has a sense of humour.

“Like with those quotes. What would you prefer to read? Sean Bean saying something bland about what a nice place Sheffield is or George Orwell ranting about the stink of sulphur?

“What made me laugh was how after the MP Anthony Mundella criticised the place really badly, he was re-elected three or four times.”

Not that the book is all negative, really.

There’s plenty of fascinating facts and figures to get your teeth into, and, while there’s no new specific research and much material will be familiar to Star readers – as handy guides go, it’s a lovely little read.

Who’d have thought, for example, that Sheffield’s economy is roughly the same size as Macedonia’s? Or that a 19th century rumour had it that a volcano would explode in Walkley?

Did you know, also, that Charles I’s executioner is said to come from Darnall? Or that a joke led to the road where South Yorkshire Police’s Operations Complex is based being called Letsby Avenue? Or that Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones both could be correctly have said to have recorded in Sheffield? The only problem being it was Sheffield, Alabama.

There’s other page-sized chapters on things including Loxley lad Robin Hood, Sheffield FC, Lizzie Ward and local dialect.

And, to make up for that hate section, there’s a What People Love About Sheffield too. The proximity to the Peak District and the friendly locals score highly.

“I don’t know how well it will sell,” says Jonathen who was asked to compile the book after approaching The History Press with an idea for a 50 greatest Yorkshiremen book. “But I’ve loved researching it. Sheffield’s a great city. I hope other people like it.”

Sheffield: A Pocket Miscellany, priced £5.99, is available from bookshops now.