The picturesque Sheffield valley that's home to Robin Hood, mysterious castle and a notorious murder

A Sheffield history writer got the chance during lockdown to explore a Sheffield valley that has always interested him and write a fascinating book telling its story.
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Peter Machan, author of Loxley: Wanderings in a Curious Valley, said: “I’ve had a long association with the Loxley Valley. I went to Myers Grove School there and later on I was headteacher at Malin Bridge Junior School.

“I got very, very interested in the history of the valley and I wrote a book about the Great Sheffield Flood (1864) and the collapse of Dale Dyke Dam.

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“We even had a number of children at the school who had the same names as children who drowned, so it’s still very much a community like that.

A view up the Loxley Valley over DungworthA view up the Loxley Valley over Dungworth
A view up the Loxley Valley over Dungworth

“My daughter also lives at Dungworth with my grandchildren. I wandered round during lockdown and found it absolutely fascinating. There are unique stories and traditions and I find the varied landscape absolutely beautiful.

Peter said how he would introduce visitors to the area. “They might well have heard that Robin of Loxley, Robin Hood, was born there. That was documented way back in Tudor times but whether there’s any substance to the story or not, we don’t really know. It goes back a long way and it’s an interesting connection.

"The first thing I’d do is walk them up the river. There are so many remains of water-powered sites – ponds, weirs and shuttles. The biggest water wheel in Sheffield is busy decaying at Little Matlock.

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"Then we’d go up by Agden Reservoir or up on Dale Dyke, where the landscape is absolutely stunning. If there’s sunshine on Agden and the hills beyond, it looks just like the Lake District. To go with that, you’ve got the high moorland just behind it with the grouse moors.

The Viking cross in High BradfieldThe Viking cross in High Bradfield
The Viking cross in High Bradfield

"Way, way beyond everything else you’re looking at Sheffield in the distance.”

Peter is fascinated by what he refers to as Bradfield Castle at Bailey Hill, near St Nicholas’s Church at High Bradfield. “There’s no written record whatsoever of a castle there. There are the remains of this extraordinary 60-foot high hill.

"It’s thought it must be Norman motte-and-bailey. Then there in the church is a wonderful Viking cross, the only one we’ve got in the whole area. In Medieval to Tudor times there were hunting chases for the lords of the manor of Hallam and Sheffield.”

St Nicholas Church at High BradfieldSt Nicholas Church at High Bradfield
St Nicholas Church at High Bradfield
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The valley also has a dark side: “Sadly there are more stories of death, misadventure, suicide than you could possibly mention. Hundreds died in the flood but there are an extraordinary number of murders.”

One brutal murder and robbery of watchmaker Nathan Andrews by Francis Fearn in 1782 ended with Fearn being gibbeted on Loxley Common – the murderer’s body was displayed in a cage, where it remained for 15 years until it finally fell.

Peter thinks the area owes its unique character to its isolation: “There’s still no main road through the Loxley Valley. It feels very different to the rest of the city, much bigger, more agricultural and rural.

"It doesn’t feel like part of the city at all.”

Author Peter MachanAuthor Peter Machan
Author Peter Machan

Loxley: Wanderings in a Curious Valley by Peter Machan, published by Clink Street, is £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an e-book. It is available from online retailers and can be ordered from bookstores.

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