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Nothing common about scenic Sheffield suburb undergoing a 'renaissance'

Revellers at the hastily arranged 'Star Party' outside Wadsley Church Hall
Revellers at the hastily arranged 'Star Party' outside Wadsley Church Hall
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There aren't many places where you can call up a stranger and they'll throw you a welcome party with less than a day's notice.

But that's my experience of Wadsley, and it's typical of the warm greeting I receive in a neighbourhood repeatedly described by locals as one of Sheffield's best-kept secrets.

Sally Massam, pictured here with her daughter Isobel, says there's a 'really nice little community' in Wadsley

Sally Massam, pictured here with her daughter Isobel, says there's a 'really nice little community' in Wadsley

Admittedly most of the youngsters making up the welcoming committee at Wadsley Church Hall are just there for the fun and games, with no idea who I am, but they have gone to the trouble of making paper stars in our honour for the hastily-arranged Star Party.

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Rebekah Ridge, who runs the annual Wadsley Festival with her husband Nic, explains how folk round these parts will use any excuse to throw a celebration.

"We usually do something like this every few weeks and you can always find a reason for a party, whether it's the royal wedding, this or something else," says the mum-of-two, who is a church administrator and runs her own party business.

Sarah Harper says Wadsley is an 'amazing' place in which to live

Sarah Harper says Wadsley is an 'amazing' place in which to live

"Wadsley's such a lovely place with so much going on, especially at the church hall, where there's lots happening every day, from lunch clubs to the hula hoop classes which I take part in."

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This historic cutlers' village, today subsumed within Sheffield's suburban sprawl, might at first glance seem like a sleepy little backwater but scratch below the very picturesque surface and there's a real buzz to the place.

Good schools, great views and affordable housing have made it popular with young families in recent years, I'm told, particularly those finding themselves priced out of Crookes and Walkley.

Dawn Short, who runs the Wiggle Tots dance sessions at Wadsley Church Hall, with her daughter Lola, aged 10

Dawn Short, who runs the Wiggle Tots dance sessions at Wadsley Church Hall, with her daughter Lola, aged 10

It's well endowed with pubs too, like the Wadsley Jack, where in a nice example of the past butting up against the present a sign for the karaoke night rests next to the Grade II-listed stocks outside - the punishment perhaps for murdering a classic tune.

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One of the biggest attractions is having Wadsley and Loxley Common, a tranquil, heather-speckled nature haven drawing ramblers from across the city and beyond, on your doorstep.

It's hard to believe this beauty spot was once an industrial heartland, which was intensively, mined, quarried and farmed - reputedly providing the stone for Sheffield's famous Wicker Arches - before eventually being left to the people.

The 'sword in the stone' rock on Wadsley and Loxley Common (pic: David Bocking)

The 'sword in the stone' rock on Wadsley and Loxley Common (pic: David Bocking)

That's down in large part to the Wadsley and Loxley Commoners, a dedicated band of volunteers who have kept it flourishing since 1993.

John Robinson, the group's founding chairman, tells me how the common is designated as lowland heathland - a habitat rarer than equatorial rainforest - and is home to nearly 300 species of wildflower, trees and fungi, plus over 160 species of birds, moths and butterflies.

My whirlwind tour is frequently punctuated by John stopping to point out one of his feathered friends, from the green woodpeckers to the brightly coloured yellowhammers.

He describes the latter as the 'jewel in the crown' of the common, telling me to listen out for their distinctive song resembling the phrase 'a little bit of bread and no cheese'.

The common has a grisly past, with cock-fighting and bear-baiting once commonplace and Frank Fearn's body having hung from a gibbet there for 14 years as a warning to others after he robbed and murdered a local jeweller in 1782.

Thankfully, Commoners Alan Bailey and his wife Anne tell me the only frights today are likely to come as part of the hugely popular Halloween walk.

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners John Robinson and Anne and Alan Bailey

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners John Robinson and Anne and Alan Bailey

The common holds its fair share of mysteries yet to be unravelled, from a 'stone circle' to the 'sword in the stone' carved on a mossy rock, for which explanations range from it marking Robin Hood's final resting place to the more prosaic possibility it was the work of a quarryman idling away his lunch hour.

An even less likely sounding but probably true rumour is how English footballing great Stanley Matthews weaved his magic there in the 1960s when opening a long-since-abandoned football pitch.

The common's future appears bright thanks to its volunteers, especially should it benefit as hoped from a slice of the £2.8 million Lottery grant being sought to preserve and improve the city's scenic 'Sheffield Lakeland' region - as the cluster of reservoirs to which it serves as a gateway has been romantically dubbed.

Wadsley was once best known as being home to the South Yorkshire Asylum, which later became Middlewood Hospital, leading in more benighted times to people being warned they would be 'sent to Wadsley' should they start playing up.

The graveyard at Wadsley Parish Church contains the remains of more than 2,500 patients from the old psychiatric hospital who were buried between 1872 and 1948 in unmarked plots on what is today a play area known as the paupers' field.

The churchyard offers a fascinating insight into Sheffield's past, as Tony Jordan, who maintains it with fellow volunteer John Adamson, explains.

Tony, who painstakingly uncovered the headstones which were hidden for years beneath a thick tangle of brambles, today runs popular annual tours illuminating visitors about the lives of those buried there.

Among them are 29 victims of the Great Sheffield Flood in 1864, including a whole family swept away when the Dale Dyke Dam at Bradfield burst, more than 50 war graves and a memorial to 23 soldiers who died at Wharncliffe War Hospital - which is how Middlewood Hospital was known when thousands of casualties were nursed there during the First World War.

Each grave tells a story but two of the most compelling are those of Dr Tristram Allan Taylor, whose resting place is adorned with three blades attesting to how he developed the alloys for the first jet engine created by Frank Whittle, and the so-called 'cricketer's grave'.

In the latter lies Benjamin Keeton, a landlord and batsman for Hallam Cricket Club who wanted his love of the game commemorated in pictorial form on his headstone following his death in 1871.

When his family honoured that wish, they unleashed a storm of controversy garnering national attention about whether the image of stumps and a ball was fitting for a graveyard.

The headstone was toppled in protest before eventually being allowed to remain following a heated public meeting at the old school hall.

Wadsley's vicar Dan Jones is a relative newcomer to the area and being a Sheffield United fan with the Blades emblem embroidered on his robes he is grateful for the warm welcome he has received in what is very much Owls territory.

He knew little of the area before moving there two-and-a-half years ago but says this 'hidden gem' is becoming better known - despite outsiders still often mistakenly referring to it as Wadsley Bridge.

"It's undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, with lots of young families moving here, and I think it's a bit more on the map than it was a few years ago," he adds.

"It's such a friendly place and what's lovely is how everyone knows each other and they all work together."

The church is at the heart of much that happens in the community, and its latest venture involves becoming an alternative education provider to ensure a better future for young people who have been excluded from school.

The local 150th Scout group is flourishing, though Mr Jones jokes it is a 'bit bitter' at recently being knocked off its perch as the largest in Yorkshire, and he explains there is also a thriving branch of the Women's Institute.

Whether it's the great walks, intriguing history or lively social calendar which brings you to Wadsley, you can rest assured a friendly reception awaits - and if you do choose to set down roots here it seems you will be quickly welcomed into the fold.

The view from Wadsley and Loxley Common

The view from Wadsley and Loxley Common

Tony Jordan in the graveyard of Wadsley Parish Church

Tony Jordan in the graveyard of Wadsley Parish Church

Benjamin Keeton's headstone in the graveyard of Wadsley Parish Church

Benjamin Keeton's headstone in the graveyard of Wadsley Parish Church

More than 2,500 former patients of the South Yorkshire Asylum are buried beneath the paupers' field in Wadsley

More than 2,500 former patients of the South Yorkshire Asylum are buried beneath the paupers' field in Wadsley

The grave of Dr Tristram Allan Taylor in Wadsley tells how he developed the alloys for the first jet engine created by Frank Whittle

The grave of Dr Tristram Allan Taylor in Wadsley tells how he developed the alloys for the first jet engine created by Frank Whittle