Postcards highlight our lost heritage

Sheffield from above the Midland Station in 1909,  A. Holland.
Sheffield from above the Midland Station in 1909, A. Holland.
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Sheffield’s colourful past has a million memories and thousands of buildings that could and should have been saved.

None more so than a row that used to stand at the foot of Snig Hill in the city centre.

That’s the row of cottages that Professor Ian Rotherham author of new book Lost Sheffield In Colour, would bring back if he could.

When you think of all the buildings we have lost that’s quite a compliment.

So why those (pictured, top right) over the others?

“I just love those cottages,” said Professor Rotherham.

“They tell the history of the city and at a time when we are trying to regenerate that area and the city centre generally that would be an incredible set of buildings to have and a great gateway into the city.

“All the pictures in the book tell their own story but that one speaks more. There’s an earlier painting of the row when the shops are bustling and prosperous and I think that in the Sheffield of today they would be quite an attraction and of an age and type we have very little of.”

The 130-page book looks at all aspects of Sheffield life through pictures, paintings and postcards – most of them from Professor Rotherham’s collection begun when he worked for the city council’s ecology service from 1985 to 1994.

“It’s a matter of trying to catch up with lost ways of living,” said Professor Rotherham on his interest in the city’s past.

“George Orwell came to Sheffield and tried to count the factory chimneys and couldn’t because the smoke was so thick. We need to remember and tell our children that it was once like that.

“I am very proud of the city now and the way we have transformed it. It’s a brilliant place. That’s why I get so upset when people do things that I think damage the city.

“I am proud of Sheffield and I like that. I just think that sometimes we have not done ourselves justice.”

Professor Rotherham writes a weekly wildlife column in The Star and has published around 40 academic and 10 popular history and wildlife books, and in Lost Sheffield In Colour each of the 280 illustrations has words explaining the context and detail of the image. It builds a fascinating picture of the city the way it was and might have been.

Divided into nine chapters with titles like The Town Centre; A City Of Rivers; Education; Health and The Arts; Sports, Theatre And Activities, the pictures look at every aspect of life in Sheffield. There are pictures of buffer girls, street scenes, steel workers, cutlery grinders, markets and posters advertising Sheffield and its attractions - or lack of.

There are particular periods in the history of Sheffield - and the rest of Britain - when we have done most damage to our heritage.

But even in those times many mistakes are made with the best of intentions.

“The late 19th and early 20th century and the post second world war periods were both times of huge change. Times when the old was seen to be a problem, when new was good and change was vital and pressing.

“Housing at the turn of the twentieth century was shockingly bad in most cities and needed radical upgrading which it got, but at a price. The poorer housing areas were seen as places of disease. Life expectancy in some areas of Sheffield was 24 years.

“There was a mission to remove the old and create something new which included parks and greens – like Norfolk Park and the Botanical Gardens.

“There was a lot of slum clearance in those periods but many were replaced by new slums. They did not have the technology or the desire to keep things that might be saved today.

“They wanted new buildings with proper sanitation and you can’t blame people for that.

“When I was growing up we had the rivers in Sheffield full of sewage, you could hear the roar of the blast furnaces in the Don Valley and there was smoke everywhere – it was my vision of hell.

“The rivers are clear now and most of the muck from industry has gone.

“But I look back and think it’s a shame that all that has gone in a way because we lose a reminder of how bad things were.

“There are generations of people who don’t know about our industrial past and how people had to live.

“Look at the picture of the weir at Niagara Falls at Hillsborough. That was probably in the early 1900s and the river was probably clean then.

“By 1970 it was dead. No fish or life and full of chemicals and foam. Now it’s teeming with life.

“We have a city to be proud of but we need to remember the past and these pictures help us to do that.”

Do you have post-cards or pictures of old Sheffield? Contact Prof Ian Rotherham at or on 0114 2724227.

Lost Sheffield In Colour is published by Amberley at £15.99 and is available at WH Smiths, Waterstones, the Sheffield Shop and other book stores.