Peace of mind and happiness on Sheffield’s Manor

Malcolm Mercer
Malcolm Mercer
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It’s one of the biggest council estates in Europe, it’s been made into a TV series, it’s been mentioned in films and it’s on the eve of its 90th birthday. Star reporter Rachael Clegg looks at the history of one of Sheffield’s biggest council estates, the Manor.

THIS time 90 years ago, Sheffield Council was planning one of its most ambitious housing projects of the time.

The beginnings of the Manor estate.

The beginnings of the Manor estate.

The Manor estate - the first housing relief project of its scale in Sheffield - was on the eve of construction.

It wouldn’t take long to complete - the first brick was laid in 1923 and, within months, 107 houses had been built.

By 1927 there were 3,200 houses and 3,600 by 1932, making the Manor one of the largest council estates in the country.

Its houses, with their gardens and indoor bathrooms were, as Manor-born resident Malcolm Mercer’s mother would say, ‘Shangri-las’ - positively palatial compared to what most people had endured in the slums of Sheffield.

Nellie Lineker on the Manor

Nellie Lineker on the Manor

Malcolm was born on the Manor in 1923.

“I remember my mother always said that our house was a ‘Shangri-la’ compared to where she lived before,” he said.

Their house was a semi-detached at the City Road end of the Manor. “That was the posh end,” says Malcolm, now 87, and still living near City Road today. “We had a front and a back garden, which was a big deal - people weren’t used to having a garden at all.”

Malcolm’s father worked as an engineer.

“Everybody worked that I knew. There were very few people who didn’t have a job back then.

“There was little help from social services, but your neighbours helped as best they could. If you couldn’t pay, you just had to move to somewhere you could afford.”

Most people rented their houses from the council, but there were conditions.

“There was a man who came round and checked you were maintaining your garden properly and if you hadn’t then the council would take some sort of action.”

According to Malcolm, the Manor was an idyllic place to live.

“It was very safe, parents didn’t worry about where their kids were - you could wander off anywhere. It wasn’t like it is today.”

Malcolm has written a book, Portrait of the Manor, in which he writes, ‘It may be difficult to appreciate the sheer joy and excitement of being offered the keys for a new house on the Manor in the 1920s and 30s.

‘For many it was their very first home and for children coming from the 19th-century alleys, courts and yards of the inner city, Darnall and Lowfields, having never seen a garden, it was magic.’

It was also a relatively healthy place to live, so much so that many tuberculosis sufferers were directed to the Manor as a remedy.

Compared with the sulphurous Don Valley, the Manor was a lifesaver.

And while today the Manor estate is entrenched in urban city sprawl, in the 1930s it was surrounded by farmland, as Nellie Lilleker, 81 - who was born and bred on the Manor - remembers.

“There was lots of farmland and we’d walk right across the fields to Manor Castle. There was this old whitewashed cottage up there, where these two spinsters lived.

“They would open it up as a shop on a Sunday and our mums would give us a penny to go up and get stuff for them, like a packet of tea or whatever it was they were short of,” says Nellie, who still lives on the Manor.

“There was a fantastic community spirit. People were very poor and we didn’t have much money but we were very happy.”

So poor were Nellie’s family that they couldn’t afford to have extra keys cut.

“We used to have a key on a string on the inside of the door, and whoever needed to get in would pull at the string and open the door that way - it was just long enough to stretch up to the lock.”

Security was much less of a concern then.

“We didn’t have burglars, we didn’t have anything to rob - the burglars would have had to have brought it with them,” laughs Nellie.

“But, even though we had no money, my dad was a clever man. He was a Somme survivor and he could forage for food and make a meal out of anything.”

The building of the Manor was in response to a huge rise in the city’s population, which had trebled to 409,070 in 1901 from 135,310 in 1851.

And it was during World War One - when thousands of munitions workers migrated to the city to help with the war effort - that the council started discussing how to house the rapidly expanding population.

At the time, central government had introduced subsidies to assist with local authority housing, and in 1919 the city council purchased land from the Duke of Norfolk for a housing scheme.

The total cost - including legal fees - came to £50,464, or 470 acres at £100 per acre.

By 1921 the architect submitted the final proof of the Manor estate layout, which featured geometric layouts and tree-lined avenues.

The first instalment of 107 houses started in 1923. The construction company who won the tender for 1,000 houses - all for the sum of £461,970 - was Henry Boot and Sons, who are still operating in Sheffield today.

Yet almost all of the original housing has since been demolished and replaced with more modern accommodation.

“It’s certainly a different estate to what it was when I was growing up,” said Malcolm. “There was a tremendous amount of community help.”

Nellie puts it more emotionally.

“I was at a church group the other day and they were asking what we would change if we could relive our lives and I said, ‘Nothing. I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted - happiness and peace of mind’.”

And all on the Manor.

Compare the Manor of yesteryear with the Manor of today - see The Star tomorrow for another feature on the modern-day estate as it is now.

GLANCE

Sheffield became a city in 1893, just as its population was exploding.

By 1917 the population of Sheffield was rising by a staggering 5,000 a year. It was for that reason the council started discussions about building the Manor, as relief for the thousands of people living in near-squalor.

By 1927 as many as 3,200 houses had been built on the Manor.

The names of the streets were suggested by T Walter Hall, a local historian, who named the streets after the names of lords of Eckington Manor and places in the region. Wulfric Road takes its name from Wulfric Spott, the last Saxon Lord, and Fitzhubert Road is named after Lord Fitzhubert, the first Norman to hold the title. Noehill Road is named after a cottage in Mosborough.

The average three-bedroom house on the Manor when it was first built was 837 square feet - palatial compared with the two-up-two-down dwellings of Darnall and Attercliffe.