THE DIARY: The way we were

Picture taken from 1879 Guide to Sheffield
Picture taken from 1879 Guide to Sheffield
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AS visitor books go, it didn’t always sell the region as well as it might have done.

The 1879 Illustrated Guide To Sheffield calls the town “black”, labels the River Don “inky” and reckons the best hotel - the Tontine in Waingate - was knocked down several years previously.

“We do not claim,” the authors admit, “that the manufacturing parts are cleaner or less smoky than other centres of industry”.

So far, so good. If you’re encouraging more people to go to Leeds, that is.

But this 500-page illustrated tome - designed to offer visitors and residents essential information about the city - is a fascinating glimpse into Victorian Sheffield.

It has been republished, 133 years on, after author Neil Anderson stumbled on a copy in the city’s library.

“It’s a masterpiece,” says the 46-year-old, who runs city publishers ACM Retro. “It has sections on everything from hotels and parks to hospitals, schools and even utility providers.

“The funny thing is, while lots has changed, there’s so much still the same. The city has retained its identity.”

Those similarities, then?

Weston Park Museum (complete with its Egyptian mummies) was already here. So too Bramall Lane and the Cutlers’ Hall. There was a tram network (pulled by horses), a new department store called Cole Brothers (“opposite the parish church”) and the chance to spend the night at the Royal Victoria Hotel, near the old Victoria Station.

“When you read about those things, it could be a guide from 2012,” notes Neil.

But the differences are also many.

The Sheffield Club in Norfolk Street (“supported by the elite of the town”) has disappeared. So too the Albert Hall, in Barker’s Pool, and Theatre Royale in Arundel Street.

Several public buildings which do survive are now used for other purposes. The Water Company, in Division Street, is a boozer, while Firth College, in Leopold Street, is a hotel.

The then brand new Corn Exchange, near Park Square, has gone completely, while readers may be surprised to find Union Street was once home to Turkish baths.

“There are some eye-openers,” says Neil, who has written some dozen local history books. “Personally, I think the city would be better with Turkish baths still.”

The newly published tome is an abridged version of the original, with some 150 adverts taken out.

“It’s been a real pleasure doing,” notes Neil. “This was published when Sheffield was still a town of 200,000 people but it was on the cusp of becoming the city we know today. This book captures that era.”

Available in The Star shop from December 18.