Star Interview: ‘Sheffield is a great city - so bring back our Navy ship,’ says Lord Mayor

Lord Mayor Coun Anne Murphy.
Lord Mayor Coun Anne Murphy.

The ceremonial chain worn by Sheffield’s Lord Mayor hides an illicit secret.

Made from 18 carat gold, with 27 links and weighing 1kg, attached to the back is a small, decorative anvil forged from the city’s steel - a mischievous touch when the chain was designed in 1856.

“It was illegal at the time to mix metal,” says Coun Anne Murphy, the present Lord Mayor, who’s four months into her year as Sheffield’s first citizen.

It’s been an enlightening time in many ways so far, it seems.

“Wherever I go in Sheffield I come away feeling proud of it,” Anne remarks.

“As Lord Mayor you see aspects of the city you didn’t even know existed.”

In its early days the role had significant political powers. When the first mayor, William Jeffcock, was appointed in 1843, the incumbent was expected to chair council meetings and the bench of magistrates.

The style ‘Lord Mayor’ came later, in 1897, and today the post is a ceremonial one, albeit with a packed schedule running to four or five events each day.

Anne is the 121st person to hold the title, and was picked just four years after being elected as a Labour councillor for Crookes and Crosspool.

“I try and share ideas that I think would be nice to complement the city,” she says.

A chief example is the campaign Anne is leading to name one of the Royal Navy’s next generation of eight Type 26 frigates HMS Sheffield, reviving the name - commonly swapped for the nickname ‘the Shiny Sheff’ - for the first time in 15 years.

The last HMS Sheffield was decommissioned and sold to Chile in 2002, while its predecessor was sunk in the Falklands war 35 years ago, killing 20. The Ministry of Defence wants to name the frigates after UK cities - the first new warship is to be called HMS Glasgow, and will enter service in the mid-2020s.

“I think it’s really important Sheffield is recognised by not just its citizens, but by other people, as a great city,” says Anne, who has written a letter to Admiral Sir Philip Jones, Britain’s senior sailor, urging him to consider her idea, which has the backing of Andrew Coombe, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for South Yorkshire.

“It should get things like a ship named after it. We are probably the most landlocked city in the country but that doesn’t mean we don’t have pride in our sea cadets and people that join the navy here. We take immense pride in our Army, as well, and our veterans.”

Anne also wants to see The Plough, her local pub near her home in Crosspool, saved for the community, not least because of its role as the place where football’s rules were drawn up opposite Hallam FC’s ground at Sandygate.

“Sheffield has got some great firsts that we don’t celebrate enough. It’s a little bit like a hidden gem. If any other city was the home of football they’d be screaming and shouting about it.”

She looks to the wall of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour where, beyond the cabinets of silverware, the comfortable sofa and grand fireplace, hangs a portrait of Anne Eliza Layton, who became the first Lord Mayor in Yorkshire in 1937.

“I was hoping she was the first in the whole country but we were beaten by one year by Liverpool.”

Anne, 53, was born and brought up in Crookes, on Western Road, as the eighth of 11 children. At the top of her ‘big Catholic family’ was her father, Thomas, who used to manage Samuel Fox’s steelworks in Stocksbridge, and her mother, Brenda, a nurse for people with learning disabilities.

“We weren’t the poorest people that I knew but we weren’t wealthy by any means,” she says.

“Now, it’s fantastic. We’re all grown up, a lot of my brothers and sisters have got their own families, who are all very close.”

Anne went to Notre Dame High School, and then Ruskin College in Oxford, becoming a social worker in 1990. She worked for 30 years as an addiction specialist with children and families, until getting elected as a councillor in 2013.

She married her husband, Gavin, aged 52 and a manager at JE James cycles on Bramall Lane, in 2005 - they don’t have children, but act as respite foster carers, and there are plenty of nephews and nieces to ‘spoil rotten’, Anne laughs.

Her family’s experiences in the steel industry, and her own working life, must have had an influence on her politics, she agrees.

“My dad was a big trade unionist. There was always politics in the house. My brothers were engineers and fitters in the steelworks and I would be on the picket line with them at 14.

“To me, life is politics. But it’s very different reading about the situation in the papers to going out and seeing it first-hand - sitting with people who are in desperate straits and talking about the situations they find themselves in.”

Anne has faced challenges with her health in recent years, too. She lives with Type 1 diabetes and began suffering with renal problems in her 40s, undergoing a kidney and pancreas transplant in 2005.

Although the surgery went well, there were complications. She spent several weeks with undiagnosed pancreatitis, until her condition happened to be pinpointed by an on-call consultant one weekend.

“I was incredibly ill. You don’t fully comprehend the complications that might go with that type of surgery.”

Her kidney failed in 2015, but her brother John turned out to be a perfect match for a further transplant - ‘like we were twins’ - which went ahead in January, just a few months before she started as Lord Mayor in May.

Consequently, the charities she has personally chosen to support in 2017/18 are causes close to her heart, including the Northern General Hospital’s kidney unit and the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind. Anne’s diabetes has affected her eyesight; she ‘can’t see anything’ in her left eye, but copes very well, preparing items she needs to read in large, bold type on yellow paper.

“I feel great. Even with diabetes at work, I had a better sickness record than most people, I would just get up and go regardless.”

Gavin is supporting the charities by organising a 24-hour sponsored walk around the whole of Sheffield on September 16, starting and finishing in Tinsley.
“I don’t know what we’ll do when the year’s over,” says Anne.

“I’ll have to go back to work!”

The Lord Mayor’s Letter to Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff

Dear Sir,

On behalf of the City of Sheffield I am writing to ask if you would please consider naming one of the next generation of T26 Frigates after one of the country’s greatest cities - Sheffield, to continue and build on the city’s strong tradition with the Royal Navy.

You will no doubt be aware of the close links between our city and the previous Royal Navy ships which have borne its name, and which have earned the affectionate name within the city of the ‘Shiny Sheff’.

Although we are, perhaps, one of Britain’s most inland cities, the people of Sheffield have taken the ships, their crew and their exploits to their hearts. There was enormous pride in our city, during what were some of the darkest days of World War II, when it became known that the first HMS Sheffield had played an important part in the battle to sink the Bismarck. Her stainless steel ship’s bell, which was made by Hadfield’s of Sheffield, was preserved and proudly hangs in Sheffield Cathedral along with her battle ensign.

There was widespread sorrow at the loss of its successor ship in the Falklands campaign 35 years ago, and great joy to see a new HMS Sheffield emerge shortly afterwards which was subsequently decommissioned in 2002.

The name of Sheffield is associated with quality, strength and integrity across the world and we humbly request that our name should once again be shared with a ship of the Royal Navy.

I look forward to your favourable response.

Councillor Anne Murphy, 
Lord Mayor of Sheffield