Matthew Bell is a mechanical engineer at Sheffield technology company Magnomatics, and a part-time author with a keen interest in local history and sport. He writes a weekly column on Sheffield United in The Star. His latest book ‘Long Shadows Over Sheffield: Forgotten Voices of the Great War’, published by ACM Retro, is the third co-written with local historian Chris Hobbs. The book rediscovers the stories of some of the men - and a boy - who willingly gave up their everyday lives to serve their country in the First World War, often dying for it. Matthew Bell in Heeley.
The world’s biggest village
I like how you can be walking through the city centre during the day or evening and almost without fail bump into someone you know. I remember not long ago on The Moor seeing three of my friends (all Blades) standing and talking. I went to join them, thinking they must have arranged to meet. But no, it was just by chance that we four men who all knew each other happened to be in the same place at the same time. I’m sure other people can relate similar tales.
I love the wide variety of friendly establishments Sheffield has to offer to suit all tastes, both in the suburbs and the city centre. It is not the real ale capital of Britain for nothing. My ‘second home’ is the Sheaf View at Heeley, which, as well as being the finest amongst many fine pubs in Sheffield, is also the former residence of First World War Victoria Cross holder John Raynes, whose life story is told in ‘Long Shadows Over Sheffield’.
I bet everybody says this. To be able to experience such peace and quiet (depending where you go!) and wonderful scenery so close to a largish city is a privilege. Even now, after so many visits over so many years, I’m still finding new areas to explore.
Beautiful downtown Bramall Lane
The oldest professional sports stadium in the world. I first went longer ago than I care to remember and love its proximity to the city centre, which clearly makes United the true city club. The football hasn’t always been thrilling, but the history and tradition of the place make up for that. An aspect of the club that has always intrigued me is how they won the FA Cup in 1915 while the country was fighting the First World War. One of the players from that squad, Jimmy Revill, who was later killed in action, is featured in ‘Long Shadows Over Sheffield’.
They say Sheffield and Rome are both built on seven hills. Perhaps so, but I’ve been to Rome and theirs are mere mounds. We have proper hills, which surround the city and give it a real feel of embracing warmth and, sometimes, welcome isolation. In which other city would two major roads ultimately lead to nowhere, as those to Fulwood and Lodge Moor do? However, after walking up Myrtle Road yet again I often wish Sheffield was flat.
Being of an analytical mind, the construction of the building is as impressive as its tropical contents. Laminated strips of larch wood form flexible arches that expand and contract with the change of weather, and the way the arches are supported on steel rollers is ingenious.
Some of the hills give great views of the city centre, such as from Skye Edge, Shirecliffe and Arbourthorne. I also like to go to the top deck of the various multi-storey car parks to photograph the ever-changing Sheffield skyline. It’s remarkable what has gone up, and come down, over the last decade.
Local Studies Library
The internet is supposed to be the font of all world knowledge, but I assure you it’s not. Whatever you want to know about local history, you will find it not on Google but on Surrey Street.
The once-neglected area of the city is undergoing something of a revival. Walk down narrow streets such as Snow Hill, Smithfield and the wonderfully-named Blue Boy Street and you can picture what a thriving district this once was. It could also be violent – several of the murders and accidents described in ‘Sheffield’s Shocking Past’ occurred here. Eight children were crushed to death under a wall on Matthew Street in 1886. They are commemorated in Furnace Park, a former brownfield site on Doncaster Street now a community space.