Sheffield’s Cecil is a real glass act on his 100th birthday!

Cecil Higgins 100 years old  celebrating with a party at Gleadless Methodist Church
Cecil Higgins 100 years old celebrating with a party at Gleadless Methodist Church
Have your say

IN 100 years Cecil Higgins has moved less than half a mile.

But while the Gleadless pensioner rang in his 100th birthday on Friday just minutes’ walk away from his childhood home, he was celebrating a century of life that has been anything but unchanging.

Cecil has served as a stained-glass window designer, artilleryman, book illustrator, Methodist preacher and draughtsman – and even pieced back together from memory the damaged windows of Sheffield Cathedral after the Second World War.

He has also seen his home town evolve almost beyond recognition.

“Gleadless wasn’t even part of Sheffield when I was young - it was just a village,” said Cecil, who was born on Kirkby Road but has lived on Seagrave Crescent since marrying his late wife Winifred in 1937.

“I used to know everybody in Gleadless but I’ve outlived them all.”

He added: “Everything in Sheffield has changed. I remember when the whole of the centre of Sheffield was a meat and fish market. High Street and Fargate used to be very exclusive places.”

And Cecil himself had a role in a key chapter of Sheffield’s history. The centenarian was tasked with removing the stained-glass windows of cathedrals and churches across Yorkshire to protect them from bombing during the war.

His four-man team spent a year removing windows from buildings across the Sheffield Diocese, including Sheffield Cathedral and St Marie’s Cathedral on Norfolk Street, before storing the glass at Nunnery Colliery in Handsworth.

But after six years’ service for the West Yorkshire Regiment’s heavy artillery, Cecil returned to Sheffield in 1946 to discover that disaster has struck.

He said: “The colliery had been flooded for most of the war, the crates had rotted and the stained glass had fallen into the mud and come apart. I thought ‘I wish I’d stayed in the army!’

“We had to construct it all again from memory. I spent four years going up and down the Diocese putting all the glass windows back together.”

Cecil, one of five children, attended Gleadless County School and later Manor Lane School, where he met Winifred, who died in 2003. As an 11-year-old he won a scholarship at the Sheffield College of Art, where he began designing stained-glass windows.

Some of his work remains in place at Gleadless Methodist Church, Castleton Methodist Church and St Mary’s in Bolsterstone.

After the war Cecil worked as a draughtsman and designer, first for Robertson and Russell on Calver Street and later for Woollen and Co sign manufacturers on Love Street.

“I decided to retire because they were getting computers in the drawing office and at my age and with my experience I wasn’t interested in computers,” he said.

Retirement hasn’t stopped him working, however - Cecil has since found time to illustrate three books on the diverse subjects of biology, Oliver Cromwell and poetry as well as serving as a lay preacher for the Methodist Church.

He said: “I’ve had a busy and interesting life and I have met some very interesting people. There are so many memories.”

Cecil had two children with Winifred - David, who died aged 67 in 2006, and Margaret Toplis, 69. And his family were by his side as he celebrated his century with a party at Gleadless Methodist Church.

Rodney Toplis, Cecil’s son-in-law, from Litton in Derbyshire, said: “Cecil has had such an interesting life. He’s quite a raconteur.

“He is very much still with it and still gets around, so there is plenty of life in the old dog yet!”