800 years of history lies buried under Sheffield Castle — are we going to miss our last opportunity to discover it?
Plus, read all about it at the Off the Shelf festival of words
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
Sheffield city centre is developing at a rapid pace. New buildings are springing up all over the place and the town many Sheffielders used to know is disappearing before their very eyes. We all know we need new homes, shops and offices — but where does the city’s valuable heritage fit into this brave new world? Today, we look at the former Sheffield Castle site and what could be lost as the historic area is developed over the next few years.
As well as that we have a moving piece about the phenomenal power of the beautiful game, a gorgeous new apartment in the Heart of the City development, and details of Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival, which begins this week.
Catch up and coming up
Our playful weekend read by Daniel Timms was all about what Sheffield can do to make our city more enjoyable for children. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 800 paying members. The first, by Joshi Herrmann, was a fascinating interview with a professor of Russian and Slavonic studies at the University of Sheffield about the impact of the invasion of Ukraine on his subject. And the second was a piece by me about the anti-abortion protests at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital by US-based organisation 40 Days for Life. An extract from that first piece is below.
Getting to understand the Sheffield dialect has been a long-term challenge, and one that has been particularly enjoyable for a professional linguist. “There were times that people spoke to me and I didn't know what they were saying,” he recalls, before explaining to me why the dialect is so unusual. “It's one of the only places with an informal second person pronoun,” he says. “Like French” (while only grammar experts would know what an informal second person pronoun was, some born and bred Sheffielders use “thee” and “thou” to this day).
Next week we’ll send out two more, including one about how Housing First, a scheme for homeless people that treats a home as a basic human right, is working in Sheffield, and another about the fantastic restaurants of Spital Hill. To get both of those and help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on serving readers rather than advertisers, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay upfront for a year.
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The big picture: Little fluffy clouds 🌅
Thanks to Meera Kulkarni for letting us use her fantastic photo of a stunning Sheffield sunrise from Crookesmoor from last week. Autumn sunrises and sunsets are often more spectacular due to cooler temperatures, the more oblique angle the sun’s rays reach the earth and the high cirrus and altocumulus clouds common at this time of year.
This week’s weather ⛅️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say high pressure will hang on for a few days before low pressure to the northwest increases the shower threat.
Monday 🌤️ Soon becoming sunny though with a chilly northwesterly breeze. Fine and dry with overnight rain having cleared. Highs of 14°C.
Tuesday ⛅ High pressure still just about in charge with further bright or sunny spells and light to moderate southwesterly breezes. Highs of 14°C with another chilly night.
Wednesday 🌥️ Low pressure will be a growing influence to the northwest, but I'm hopeful of a dry day. More cloud is likely though. Highs of 14°C.
Thursday 🌦️ An increased risk of showers as weather fronts move south and east across the UK. Becoming windier too with highs of around 15°C.
Friday 🌦️💨 A blustery day is expected with low pressure centred to the north in control. Further spells of rain or showers in between some sunshine. Highs of 14°C.
Outlook: Low pressure will still be the main player with an autumnal mix of sunshine and blustery showers expected for the weekend.
The big story: 800 years of history lies buried under Sheffield Castle — are we going to miss our last opportunity to discover it?
Top line: Heritage experts have expressed concern that in the rush to develop the former Castle Market site, Sheffield could lose its last chance to explore and understand the city’s mediaeval past.
Background: Last year, Sheffield City Council was granted £15m in Levelling Up money to develop the former Castle Market site in Sheffield. But this money is strictly time-limited — if it doesn’t get spent by March 2024, the government could claw it back.
800 years of history: Sheffield Castle was once one of the most powerful castles in mediaeval England. Built at the exact place where the Rivers Don and Sheaf meet, it was the place from which the settlement of Sheffield began to grow in the High Middle Ages.
A Norman “motte and bailey” castle was erected there in the 12th century before a more substantial stone castle was built in its place in the 13th.
This second castle stood until the 17th century when the Royalist stronghold was demolished by an Act of Parliament during the English Civil War.
Digging up the past: Beginning in 1927, several previous digs have taken place at the site, but most of these have gone largely unpublished and unstudied. In 2018, a major two-month long excavation by Wessex Archaeology and the University of Sheffield dug 11 trenches, finding evidence of both the 12th century structure and the second castle’s moat and courtyard.
Council proposals: We will learn more about what the council is proposing in a consultation on the future of the site due to begin in a few weeks time. But a “concept plan” from May 2021 gives an idea of what they have in mind. As well as widely-supported proposals to deculvert the River Sheaf, the proposals only include a relatively small amount of green space and public realm in amongst a large number of multi-storey buildings.
A missed opportunity: However, heritage experts in the city worry that lots of valuable archaeology will be lost if major development takes place. Martin Gorman from the Friends of Sheffield Castle told The Tribune there had been very little consultation with local groups and that they felt like they had “been told” what was happening at the castle site, rather than being involved in discussions. He said:
We hope to still be able to influence decisions ahead of the public consultation, but I suspect that the opportunity for a full archaeological investigation on the site has now gone. If so, that will be a colossal disappointment for Sheffielders and a huge missed opportunity for the city.
Bottom line: Levelling Up funding is time-limited, but if major development takes place on the castle site, any hope of understanding its secrets could be lost forever. Why Sheffield has found itself in this situation at all given that the site has been vacant since the Castle Market was demolished in 2015 is anyone’s guess. But surely it makes sense to get all we can from the remains before work begins?
Home of the week 🏡
This stunning three-bedroomed apartment in the Heart of the City development has floor to ceiling windows offering panoramic views across the city. It is on the market for £310,000.
Our media picks 🎧
Tim’s Sleep Out Blog ⛺ For the last week, Archer Project CEO Tim Renshaw has been sleeping rough in Sheffield to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness. Sleeping in a different churchyard every night while trying to keep on top of his day-to-day work has been a huge challenge so far, and he still has another seven nights to go. You can follow Tim’s progress on his daily blog, which also contains a link to a fundraiser for the Archer Project.
Steven Fletcher and a last embrace ⚽ When Sheffield Wednesday beat Charlton with a goal in injury time in February 2020, both 18-year-old Dan Knight and his 69-year-old dad Howard knew it was the last goal they would see together — Howard sadly died two weeks later after a long battle with cancer. The Star’s Wednesday writer Alex Miller speaks to Dan for a piece which beautifully explains how football can be far more than just a game.
The swords that accompanied the Queen on her final journey 🗡 A fascinating piece in the Yorkshire Post about the Sheffield cutler which played a major role in the Queen’s funeral. The soldiers who walked with the coffin through the streets of London were all armed with swords crafted at a workshop on Scotland Street. The steel weapons were manufactured by Peter Hopkinson, a swordsmith from J Adams Ltd, a city firm dating back to the 18th century.
Read all about it 📚
Off the Shelf, Sheffield’s annual celebration of books, words and ideas, begins this week. Now in its 31st year, OTS is one of the biggest literary festivals in the UK, with this year’s event taking place over 17 days from Friday, 14 to Saturday, 30 October.
More than 80 online and in-person events are planned this year, with highlights of the first weekend including author Irvine Welsh in conversion with journalist Nick Ahad, Johny Pitts and Roger Robinson talking about their photography and poetry collaboration Home is Not a Place, and an illustrated talk about the ancient suburbs of Sheffield with local historian David Templeman.
Also appearing later in the month are Human League founder Martyn Ware, poet Ian McMillan, author Robert Edric, journalist Marina Hyde and broadcaster the Reverend Richard Coles. For the full line-up and to buy tickets, visit the website.
Things to do 📆
Comedy 😂 “Britain’s oldest surviving alternative comedian” Mark Thomas comes back to Sheffield City Hall tonight (Monday, 10 October) with his new show Black and White. Expect creative fun, taking down politicians and mucking about in a show which, after lockdowns and self-isolation, Thomas says is about the “simple act of being in a room together and toppling international capitalism”. Tickets are priced £10 and £17.50. Doors open at 7pm.
Talk 🧹 While their occupations were never recorded in the census, many women in the Victorian England worked, including middle-class as well as working-class women. In this free talk at Kelham Island Museum on Tuesday, 11 October (1.00pm-1.45pm), historian Anne Marples brings Victorian women’s lives to life with photographs and the tools and equipment they used — some of which have parallels with informal work done today.
Event 🗣 The fourth Sheffield Forum Live event takes place at the Mowbray in Kelham Island on Wednesday, 12 October, featuring three amazing speakers, one hilarious compère, and a lovely night of socialising. This month’s event features disabled athlete and comedian Jack Hunter-Spivey, artist Tom Newell and Living in Sheffield founder Livia Barreira. Tickets are £10 (including a beer, glass of fizz or soft drink) and doors open at 6.30pm.
‘Freedom for Iran’ 🇮🇷
Protesters gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall on Sunday in solidarity with the women of Iran. Ever since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was beaten to death by Iranian police for wearing an “improper hijab” last month, demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest against the authoritarian government. 185 people have since died in the subsequent protests, including 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, whose mother says she was murdered by the authorities.
Speaking at the demonstration was Sheffield councillor Abtisam Mohamed, who told the crowd women should be able to choose what they wear wherever they live. “My sisters, in Iran we stand with you,” she said. “We are on the same side, the side that demands freedom.”
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