Celebrating rich heritage of Sheffield's social achievement

Runner Alfred '˜Squint' Milner may never achieve the fame of Jessica Ennis-Hill, but in Olympics month, staff from Museums Sheffield are keen that visitors to Weston Park Museum can learn about the exploits of Squint and other unsung Sheffield athletes over our long sporting history.

Thursday, 4th August 2016, 09:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2016, 18:14 pm
Sheffield Museums social history displays: Vimto dispenser from the Heeley Drinks Shop

“We’d say to people who run, or cycle, or play cricket or football now, that their interests and experiences have been shared by local people for well over 200 years,” said curator of social history Clara Morgan.

The Sheffield Life and Times section at Weston Park Museum will reopen this month with new displays celebrating sport, shopping and protest posters of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, along with general social history artefacts.

The posters, donated from a former volunteer at the 1980s Leopold Street Peace Shop, will show visitors planning to make their feelings known to our new Prime Minister how an earlier generation protested against the politics of her infamous predecessor.

“Protest posters against the government are very much part of Sheffield’s nonconformist tradition, which continues to this day,” said Clara.

Another ‘nowt new under the sun’ revelation comes from the museum’s token collection: among the milk tokens (used to thwart generations of urchins planning to steal small change left out for the early morning milk delivery) there’s a selection of Sheffield-specific currency mirroring the contemporary idea for a ‘Sheffield pound’ to promote local retailers.

In the late 1700s, a shortage of Royal Mint coins led thriving cities like Sheffield to issue their own currency usable in local shops. Some depicted local worthies, while others included stirring slogans inspired by the French revolution.

Equipment from the Heeley Drinks Shop shows how modern juice bars were preceded by supporters of the Temperance movement 80 years ago, whose drinks tended towards meat broth, lime juice or sarsaparilla rather than kale smoothies.

A trophy commemorating 19th century athlete Alfred Milner also features among the new exhibits. ‘Squint’ Milner was a race runner who received his nickname, it’s said, after a boyhood playmate threw a stone at his eye near his home at Barker’s Pool.

Milner toured the country in endurance races, where he ran or walked for prize money (and to allow fellow citizens to bet on the results).

‘Pedestrianism’ (as walking or running endurance events were then called) was a popular spectator sport in the 1800s, and Sheffield pedestrians were world famous. In 1888 George Littlewood (aka The Sheffield Flyer) ran 623 miles in six days watched by crowds of over 170,000 people in New York. His 1882 six day walking record, claimed at the Norfolk Barracks Drill Hall on Edmund Road, still stands at 531 miles.

“One of the most impressive things is the crowds you’d get at sporting events,” said Clara. “Thousands of people at a cricket match, for example.” Yorkshire Cricket Club was founded in Sheffield, she noted, with matches played at Darnall and Hyde Park cricket grounds in the 1820s long before Headingley saw its first overs in 1890.

She added that horse racing also has heritage here, with a course on Crookes Moor staging sometimes riotous race weeks up until its final event in 1781.

“The 1930s saw an explosion of sport,” said Clara. “Women’s hockey became really popular, with teams from works and local areas, and we also know that there were women’s football teams in the World War One munitions factories.

“We can also see the rise of cycling clubs. Cycling was originally for the wealthy but as wages improved, cycling became a good way for working people to leave the city and head into the Peak District.”

The sports displays aim to show how ordinary people took part over the years, without a focus on ‘the big stars’, said Clara. Modern clubs will have the chance to promote their sport in future - an initial display showcases the costume of the Sheffield Steel Rollergirls.

Clara hopes the exhibition will celebrate the sporting heritage built on in modern times by Seb Coe, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Steve Peat, among others.

“Maybe there is something about Sheffield’s landscape and the challenges it presents,” she said. “If you can run and cycle up Sheffield’s hills, that’s different to training in Cambridge.”