Andy Cook pushed back the recording studio door; the schoolkids from High Green were back, their guitars in hand.
They were only young, 14 or so, and one of their mums usually brought them when they came; nice kids.
Andy led them into the room, which wasn’t at all fancy, with a black sofa, table, and ripped cork on the walls to offer a bit of soundproofing. A bicycle was hanging off the wall halfway up, and there was a portrait of Elvis a little higher still, looking down like some rock deity. Ratty maroon carpeting and whitewashed brick walls finished off the cavernous room whose main feature was a hefty Marshall amp.
The kids came regularly, most days after school, a really dedicated bunch, Andy thought. He and his wife had taken a shine to them, listened to their songs, fed them, his wife even taught the lead singer, a kid named Alex, how to sing. Good times.
Today, 15 years on, the room, at Yellow Arch Studios, is largely unchanged. Except now, everyone who comes here wants to see it, the room where those working class kids from High Green wrote and recorded their debut album. There’s even a photo of them hung on the wall.
“We call it The Arctic Monkeys Room,” says Andy with a smile.
“Those kids were really good – just four ordinary kids with a consuming passion for guitar thrashing.”
The Arctic Monkeys Room is one of 111 Sheffield sites that have been identified and celebrated in a new book by author Michael Glover – 111 Places in Sheffield That You Shouldn’t Miss. This unique city guide, which is due to be released on December 6, highlights all that is quirky and magnificent in the Steel City; drawing out those places hidden in plain view, that even the residents themselves may not realise are there.
“The 111 Places guidebooks are incredibly successful, and have been written about some of the biggest cities in the world,” explains Michael, who was born in Fir Vale and lived in the city until he left for Cambridge University, aged 19.
“I love Sheffield, many family members still live there and I knew it would make an exceptional addition – and luckily the series’ publisher, Emons Verlag in Germany, agreed with me.”
Michael, who now lives in London, began writing the guide nearly two years ago, taking regular trips back to his hometown and quizzing friends and family about their favourite spots in the city, until he had a list of 111.
“I had a huge list of places by the time I was done, and visited every one in order to cut them down to 111. I had to go and get a feeling about them,” says Michael, aged 68.
“What’s wonderful is what it stirred up and inspired in everyone I asked, who insisted on picking me up and driving me around in their cars to show me these places. The fact is Sheffield is magnificent. George Orwell once described it as the ugliest town in the world, after spending just three days there, but the truth is quite otherwise. Sheffield is a place of unanticipated delights which have as much to do with the rural as the urban – a significant proportion of greater Sheffield is contained within some of the most dramatic countryside in England, and the drama of its landscape is one of Sheffield’s glories.
“It’s also a restive place, independent of spirit, cussed in character, a place which has always had singular opinions.
“I knew Sheffield to a good degree when I started writing the book, from my memories of growing up there, but I found I was rediscovering it as a slightly different place, appreciating it anew. By focusing on the interesting, the unusual, the underappreciated, I discovered so many curiosities, delights and local treasures that will now have the opportunity to be given their due in front of a much larger audience.”
One of Michael’s personal favourites is the motte and bailey castle at High Bradfield, which features at number 77, and which is believed to date from the 12th century.
“It’s extraordinary, just hidden away in the graveyard of St Nicholas at High Bradfield, a wonderful village which hangs high above Loxley Valley,” says Michael.
“You wouldn’t see the motte and bailey castle from the village, and I love the location, and what it tells us about Sheffield. People don’t truly appreciate the drama of that valley.”
“Proceed beyond the cemetery, and then throw a right towards what has already been signposted as Bailey Hill.
“After a very short uphill walk, you’ll come upon an extraordinary scene, half hidden by trees: an enormous, towering earth mound, once created by human hands, which doughty beeches and smaller oaks are aspiring to climb and to subjugate, encircled by a ditch and a partially dilapidated drystone wall.
“Scrabbling up its side to the summit is tough going, but there’s a snaky, slippery route for those wearing good, grippy boots. This is the great remnant of one of Yorkshire’s finest motte-and-bailey forts, set down here to keep out the marauders from the northerly kingdom of Northumbria.”
Another location came to Michael via a woman he started a conversation with in Tudor Square one day, while out walking around, who instructed him to go and check out Spider Bridge near the disused Sheffield Victoria railway station.
“I knew nothing about it, but it was on the Five Weirs Walk, and so I went and found this most marvellous suspension bridge – also known as Cobweb Bridge – under the massive Wicker Arches viaduct, linking one bank of the River Don to the other,” says Michael, who is also a poet, and an art critic for The Independent, and has been a writer for nearly 40 years.
“It’s all held together with an ingenious Sheffield invention called a Gripple, which is a specific method of knotting wire. Incredible.
“But that’s what this guide threw up for me, and hopefully for those who read it – terrific little places with incredible interesting stories.
“All the photographs featured in the book were taken by my nephew, who lives in Sheffield, Richard Anderson.
“I was keen that the photos really make people see the locations in a different way, focusing on the perspectives that would be so easy to miss whilst they’re walking past them in a hurry on their way to work. There’s this great photograph in the book of Sheffield City Hall, that really focuses on the magnificent ceiling, right as you pass through into the auditorium, that I bet many people simply miss.”
Other locations honoured by the guide include the green ‘bobby’s box’ on Surrey Street – which dates from the 1930s and is the only surviving bobby’s lock-up of around 120 that would have existed in the city at that time – a balletic arrangement of chairs on the third floor of TH Goode’s junk shop on Abbeydale Road, and The Curzon Cinema, where you can visit the bank vaults, which date from 1873. The old vaults are located in a forbiddingly atmospheric basement, complete with steely-grey floors, cell-like rooms barred off in the style of any county sheriff s lock-up, and massively reinforced iron doors inches thick. Very cool.
The 111 Places in Sheffield That You Shouldn’t Miss guide is released on December 6 and will be available in all major bookstores.
Michael adds: “I hope this guide will inspire people to visit this wonderful city in the north. And for those who live there, I hope it will help the residents of Sheffield, for whom the city has become quite ordinary over time, to see it as the extraordinary place it truly is.”