‘Welcome to Sheffield - the undersung city once described by George Orwell as the ugliest town in the world. He had spent just three days here. The truth is quite otherwise.’
So begins Michael Glover’s new book, 111 Places In Sheffield That You Shouldn’t Miss, a guidebook penned by a city native that details scores of places and things that help to make the area, as he puts it, rich in ‘unanticipated delights’.
It is claimed that Glover’s work is the first of its kind about Sheffield for many years, and it’s certainly a handsome book, commissioned by Emons Verlag, a publisher in Cologne, Germany, as part of an illustrated series that offers a personal, imaginatively-written perspective on cities, regions and whole countries.
“As a native Sheffielder, this book is my attempt to give back to the city of my birth all that it has given to me in so many different ways – to characterise it, to bring it alive, to show off its partially hidden virtues and splendours, from its marvellous industrial achievements to its buildings, from its dramatic hilliness to its music, from its local ale houses to the countryside which engulfs it,” says Michael, who was born in Fir Vale, went to Firshill Primary and Firth Park then departed Sheffield aged 19 to study at Queen’s College, Cambridge.
Michael, now 68 and living in London as an established poet and art critic, approached Emons with the idea for the Sheffield guide, and spent almost two years writing it, visiting every one of the many favourite spots suggested by friends and family until he arrived at a list of 111.
Sheffield is a ‘restive place, independent of spirit and cussed of character’, always with ‘singular opinions’, he writes, and suggests this bullish spiritedness could come from the city’s historic cutlery trade.
After all, the highly-skilled, assertive and literate knifemaking ‘little mesters’, who worked alone or in small groups, contributed to Sheffield’s radical leanings.
The local steel industry may have faded, but Sheffield thrives again, Michael says, as a hive of ‘varied and innovative creation’ - of music, beer and specialist technology.
The 111 places are arranged in alphabetical order, from Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet to Wyming Brook, stopping off at Yellow Arch Studios - listed, pragmatically, for its ‘Arctic Monkeys room’ where the High Green band rehearsed as teenagers - Cutlers’ Hall, vertiginous Jenkin Road, Sandygate and Redmires along the way, to name but a few.
Shops and businesses get generous endorsements - Birdhouse Tea Company, Blue Moon Café, Jameson’s Tea Rooms, the Laundry hair salon, Marmadukes Café Deli and Record Collector are all recommended by the author.
The entire book is dedicated to the memory of Stanley Cook, the Sheffield poet who taught Michael at Firth Park Grammar and died in 1991. His old house on Barnsley Road has its own entry, praising him as Sheffield’s greatest post-war writer of verse.
Michael remembers that in his study at the front of the house he hung a painting behind his desk called ‘The World In The Classroom Window’.
“Stanley Cook’s poetry was like that. His preoccupation as a poet was with the locals who passed by. He looked hard and steadily at the world.”
And maybe Glover has managed to distil his home city into well-chosen words, too - he’s certainly tried.
“This book is my essence of Sheffield,” he says.
n 111 Places In Sheffield That You Shouldn’t Miss is out now, published by Emons Verlag, priced £11.99 in paperback.