Retro: Brownies and bridges

Picture Palace, Ecclesfield
Picture Palace, Ecclesfield
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The northern suburb of Ecclesfield is the next stop on our Retro A to Z wander around Sheffield and its environs.

A memorial window in St Mary’s Church is dedicated to civil engineer Henry Fowler, who died of dysentery in India in 1854. It was paid for by his brothers including Sir John Fowler. He was a prominent Victorian railway engineer who co-designed and built the Forth Railway Bridge.

Ecclesfield handbell ringers record breaking team

Ecclesfield handbell ringers record breaking team

Another famous Victorian resident was writer Juliana Horatia-Ewing (nee Gatty), one of 10 children of Vicar of Ecclesfield Rev Dr Alfred Gatty and wife Margaret. Margaret was the daughter of Alexander John Scott, who was chaplain to Lord Nelson and was with Nelson when he died on the Victory.

Scott died while visiting his daughter in 1840 and is buried in the churchyard.

Juliana was a celebrated writer of children’s stories, encouraged by her mother, a popular writer and botanist.

Her 1865 story The Brownies inspired the name of the younger sister organisation to the Girl Guides.

According to local history writers Joan and Mel Jones, the name Ecclesfield is of Anglo-Saxon origin and means the Christian church (eccles from the Celtic eglwys) sitting in a treeless area (feld).

Ecclesfield was the ecclesiastical centre for Hallamshire in Anglo Saxon times. It was once the most southerly shire in Northumbria, covering most of Sheffield.

Before it was swallowed by Sheffield, Ecclesfield was a stone village. The priory near the church was founded in the 13th century as a cell of the Benedictine priory of St Wandrille in Normandy.

The area has long been exploited for its natural resources. It was extensively farmed and water mills were associated with the production of flour, paper, cotton and agricultural tools.

Scythe making at Whitley Hall dates back to 1487.

Nail-making was an early domestic-based industry that farmers carried on to supplement their incomes. The small workshops moved on to file cutting before factories took over the trade.

Ecclesfield Conservation Group produced two excellent leaflets called Discover Ecclesfield’s Working Past.

Steel is part of the Ecclesfield story they recorded. Hall & Pickles built their Hydra Works on Nether Lane in 1931. The Hydra Business Park took over the site.

Another lure for industrialists was coal. Newton Chambers built their Smithy Wood Coking Works between Ecclesfield and Chapeltown in 1929, turning coal into coke for the company’s blast furnaces.