If Sheffield’s buildings could talk, enthuses Sue Gribbon, just imagine the stories they would tell.
The 63-year-old receptionist, of Greenhill, has traced her ancestors back centuries since being bitten by the genealogy bug some 30 years ago, and the many hours spent researching her family tree have fuelled a wider interest in the history of her home city.
Sue is passionate about preserving Sheffield’s links with the past, and she believes a ‘heritage lottery’ could help save and promote the best surviving landmarks for future generations.
The concept, she says, would be similar to that of the successful Health Lottery, only in this case proceeds would go not to the health service but towards restoring historic structures at risk of being lost forever.
Sheffield’s crumbling Old Town Hall, she suggests, is one example of a building which might benefit from a cash injection to preserve it for the public in the same way that Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet was rescued and transformed into a thriving visitor attraction.
“I went to the Sheffield Heritage Fair recently at the Millennium Gallery and there were enough groups and visitors there to convince me there's the appetite for such a lottery,” said the Sheffield United season ticket holder.
“There are a lot of buildings which could benefit, and as well as saving them from destruction this might help raise awareness of the history we have in this city.
“If people would only look up, they would realise there’s some amazing architecture in this city and some fantastic old buildings of which we should all be really proud.”
Sue is ‘not against progress’, she adds, but believes too often it is the city's existing gems which are bulldozed to make way for new developments – as, she argues, was the case when the ‘Cheese-grater’ car park replaced the old Yorkshire Grey pub.
She has traced her family back to the mid-18th century on her father Herbert Ward’s side and turned up some fascinating discoveries in the process.
She learned, for example, that her grandfather, who her dad thought had only two sisters and a brother, was in fact one of 10 children – a fact she says left her father ‘heartbroken’ to learn he had aunts, uncles and cousins he never knew existed.
One of her favourite tales, albeit a rather grisly one, relates to a distant relative on her mother’s side.
“The story goes that he was a regular at a pub called The Bull in Sheffield city centre back in the late 1800s and ran up a tab he couldn’t pay, so he offered the landlord his 16-year-old daughter,” she said.
“Apparently the landlord took her up to Scotland to marry her but she ran back to Sheffield to wed her true love, only for him to be killed by hot tarmac while employed as a road worker.”
It’s not just her own family she’s learned about but how the city’s different neighbourhoods have changed through the years.
In less enlightened times, she explains, Paradise Square, just a short hop from Sheffield Cathedral, was the scene of a bustling market where among other ‘goods’ changing hands were people’s wives.
She believes schoolchildren should be taught more about the history on their doorstep, rather than just ‘1066 and all that’.
“When I was young, Manor was a bit of a no-go area but if children there had known more about Manor Lodge and its amazing history it might have given them a bit more pride in their community," said the mother-of-two, who has eight grandchildren.
“All areas have their own stories which the people living there would benefit from knowing.”
While Sue would love to pop back in time to see the Sheffield of yesteryear, the ‘utter poverty’ and the number of lives lost to diseases ranging from diphtheria and TB to the bubonic plague mean she would not want to stay.
“It’s easy to become hooked on genealogy to the point of obsession but when I started researching my family tree, my dad told me you don’t know what you might find,” she said.
“To me, though, it doesn’t matter whether they were princes or paupers, or had a slightly shady past, because they’re the people who made us who we are today.”