Vin Malone takes a look back at the history of Sheffield.
St Peter’s Close & nearby
Before I start another amble round old Sheffield, I must thank Calvin72 from the Sheffield History Forum for pointing out this little gem.
The clue picture gives us a window back to the 1850s, walked upon for over 164 years and probably never noticed.
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I would imagine it covers a water valve for turning on and off water supplies in the area of St Peter’s Close where you will find it, just off Hartshead.
Take note of the wonderful gas lamp now sadly neglected.
This peek into the past must mention Barker’s Pool.
One of the earliest known references to Barker’s Pool comes from the records of the Burgery of Sheffield for 1570.
The name Barker’s Pool may derive from a “Barker of Balme” mentioned in a deed dating from 1434.
At this time the area was known as Balm Green and was on the edge of the town.
This small reservoir was reconstructed and extended by Robert Rollinson before 1631 and was demolished in 1793 when three new reservoirs were constructed at Redmires in nearby Lodge Moor.
In addition to supplying drinking water, the location of Barker’s Pool at the highest point in the town allowed water released from the reservoir to be guided through channels that ran along the centre of the town’s streets.
All the channels were then in the middle of the streets, which were generally in a very disorderly state, manure heaps often lying in them for a week together.
About once every quarter the water was let out of Barker Pool, to run into all those streets into which it could be turned, for the purpose of cleansing them.
The bellman gave notice of the exact time, and the favoured streets were all bustle, with a row of men, women, and children on each side of the channel, anxiously and joyfully awaiting, with mops, brooms, and pails, the arrival of the cleansing flood, whose first appearance was announced by a long, continuous shout.
All below was anxious expectation; all above, a most amusing scene of bustling animation.
Some people were throwing the water up against their houses and windows; some raking the garbage into the kennel; some washing their pigs; some sweeping the pavement; youngsters throwing water on their companions, or pushing them into the wide-spread torrent.
Meanwhile a constant, Babel-like uproar, mixed with the barking of dogs and the grunting of pigs, was heard both above and below, till the waters, after about half an hour, had become exhausted.
This event was eagerly waited for by Mr Dawson and Sorsby as it meant “Bath Time” again.
During the 1740s, a form of the crucible steel process was discovered that allowed the manufacture of a better quality of steel than had previously been possible.
In about the same period, a technique was developed for fusing a thin sheet of silver onto a copper ingot to produce silver plating, which became widely known as Sheffield plate.
These innovations spurred Sheffield’s growth as an industrial town but the loss of some important export markets led to a recession in the late 18th and early 19th century.
The resulting poor conditions culminated in a cholera epidemic that killed 402 people in 1832.
The population of the town grew rapidly throughout the 19th century, increasing from 60,095 in 1801 to 451,195 by 1901.
The town was incorporated as a borough in 1842 and was granted a city charter in 1893.
The influx of people also led to demand for better water supplies, and a number of new reservoirs were constructed on the outskirts of the town.
The council took over the water supply in 1887.
In the 1870s the council built sewers and drains. At first raw sewage was pumped into rivers but in 1886 a sewage treatment plant was built.
Life in Victorian Sheffield gradually improved.
I covered the Sheffield flood so I will skip that catastrophe this week but it’s truly amazing the amount of people who have no idea about the biggest loss of life that occurred in England in a single event.
St Peter’s Close is named after the parish church of St Peter & Paul, now the Cathedral.
This small area of Sheffield was a warren of lanes, alleyways and crofts, all of which were heavily populated by the poor of the town.
The old photos that accompany this story do give an insight to the area. Although I love what was ‘Old Sheffield’, I wouldn’t like to have lived in those times, visit yes, just to experience for myself the hardships the poor had to endure each and every day of their lives with death being the final option to escape the terrible life they could not escape from.
The only other option was the workhouse.
Life was meant to be much tougher inside the workhouse than outside, and the buildings themselves were deliberately grim and intimidating – they were designed to look like prisons.
They were full of illness and disease brought about by over-crowding and the starvation diet.
When you were admitted to the workhouse, you were stripped, searched, washed and had your hair cropped. You were made to wear a prison-style uniform.
Women were at all times kept separate from the men, including their husbands.
Children were kept separately from adults – even from their own parents.
The work inmates were made to do was deliberately tedious. After rising at 5am in summer, an inmate worked 7-12pm and 1-6pm, which is a 10 hour working day.
Bones were crushed by hand to make fertiliser.
Sometimes the inmates were so hungry that they would pick scraps of flesh off the bones and eat it. The bones were not all animal bones either!
Bone crushing was banned after 1845.