It’s time to highlight city’s glorious past

Joy Bullivant and Penny Rae from the TimeWalk project:
Joy Bullivant and Penny Rae from the TimeWalk project:

JUST over a month ago, Sheffield’s home grown time team began their work to shout out about their city’s overlooked history.

Shouting via computer blogs, Facebook entries and pressing their ‘like’ buttons, that is. It seems to be working: last week the TimeWalk Facebook site received 7,000 visitors.

“Sheffield fascinates me,” said London-born Penny Rea, a Time Walker and member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill. “But perhaps that’s because I’ve come in from outside. If I’d grown up here perhaps I’d still be walking past it all. But that suggests that that there’d be interest here for tourists too.”

The Sheffield TimeWalk project is currently overseen by a small team of less than a dozen local heritage enthusiasts, but the potential is huge, says project coordinator Joy Bullivant.

“I’d been carrying out some genealogical research for a distant relative in Australia and found these houses on the Wicker and West Street from the 1800s that still existed, which made me realise there’s a lot more of Sheffield than you think. Everything hasn’t been knocked down. So I said wouldn’t it be nice to map everything that’s still there? ”

After meetings with the Sheffield Community Heritage Forum and Manor Lodge Discovery Centre, Joy volunteered to gather together information on Sheffield heritage sites and trails and was overwhelmed. She and teacher husband Chris were sent 100 different walks and trails from 70 different city heritage and history groups. They launched a ‘guest blog’ and a Facebook site and contributions are building fast. The plan is to look at an interactive map to link to trails, sites and local groups interested in documenting and preserving their own areas of the city.

“It’s about helping people getting to know what’s in their city and that it hasn’t all gone,” says Joy.

People often don’t even know what there is a few miles away: Bishops House and Wincobank Hill are often unknown to people living with walking distance.

She’d like anyone with an interest in their local area to contribute 200 word articles, ideally with a few photos, on lesser known buildings, places or walks within the city boundary. And events linked to local heritage, or local groups, will be found on the Time Walk Facebook site.

Local forums are helping to raise interest in city heritage, along with wider internet use, television programmes and worries about local building demolition – the Jessop Hospital demolition decision has brought many heritage enthusiasts together, who are now concerned about other listed buildings such as the old town hall on Waingate.

Penny Rea said that listed buildings are in danger unless some kind of monetary heritage value can be placed on them. “Leeds takes twice as much money for tourism as we do, but we have more heritage sites,” says Joy. “Even Nottingham takes more money.”

Penny adds: “We have so many sites but unless we can get a coherent feel like Bath or other cities to develop our heritage into something that is seen to benefit the city rather than something that’s just quite nice, then it’s all in danger.”

It’s often said by local historians that city authorities have been more interested in shopping and sport than the city’s heritage, and Joy notes the perhaps apocryphal story of a party of VIP visitors being herded by councillors into a coach for a city tour only to find that no-one knew where to take them.

“But people are already visiting the city to look at its history because their ancestors lived here. For example, 7,000 Mormons left Sheffield to go to Utah, and now their descendants want to come back.” It’s hoped that development of the Sheffield Castle site will change attitudes, and the Time Walkers hope thorough excavations will help Sheffield take more pride in its long history.

“Sheffield castle was much bigger than previously thought, there was no other castle in Yorkshire of that size and importance,” says Joy. “There could be a lot of interesting things there, it could be one of biggest medieval digs for some time.” She’s been told already that the early investigators will be making an intriguing announcement in a few weeks.

The Time Walk heritage walks will be road tested by Joy and other members. Joy, who has ME and relies on a mobility scooter to get about, is keen to note access issues so visitors can work out whether they can follow a trail or not: she and Chris have often found trails that start well suddenly becoming unusable by Joy as they narrow or go up steps, for example. Over the last month, Joy listed her finds coming in from other enthusiasts around Sheffield.

“There’s the stone circle in Wadsley Common, the medieval cross at Stannington, the house where football started just off Bramall Lane, the ancient British well at Midhopestones, the still existing Little Mesters workshops, and the magnificent Edwardian taproom at the railway station. There’s so much to see.

“Given that the Tour de France is coming to Sheffield I think it’s important that all those historic monuments in York don’t totally eclipse Sheffield leaving people with an image of closed steel works. Isn’t it time Sheffield ditched the Full Monty image for good?”

More information:

some of joy’s suggested first places to visit

Cathedral area/ Paradise Square - magnificent Georgian and Victorian Buildings, the first women’s hospital and the Chartist rooms in Fig Tree Lane, in addition to the square where the Chartists and others held their rallies.

Wincobank Hill - ancient hill fort and possibly pre Roman ridge, said (by visiting government officials) to be one of the most significant earthworks in Britain. Believed by some to be the location of the meeting of the famous Brigante queen Cartimandua and the rebel Caratacus.

Alfred Denny Museum – quirky natural history museum of skeletons, models and preserved wildlife which only became open to the public recently.