Discovering the divine and quirky parts of Sheffield

Pictured is the Rev Martyn Snow,outside Holy Cross Church,Spotswood Mount,Gleadless Valley
Pictured is the Rev Martyn Snow,outside Holy Cross Church,Spotswood Mount,Gleadless Valley

Martyn Snow became Archdeacon of Sheffield and Rotherham in April last year. He first came to Sheffield as a student and has worked in churches in Brinsworth, Rotherham and more recently Pitsmoor, Sheffield. His current role involves supporting around 100 churches across the area. He is married to Lynn and they have three young children and live in Hunters Bar.

Pye Bank

When I first moved to Pitsmoor (or Burngreave as it is sometimes now known), the council were just in the process of demolishing the flats on Pye Bank.

Like the area itself, the flats had attracted a bad reputation and few people wanted to live there. However, it was a sad sight to see them go.

They were part of the city skyline and commanded magnificent views over the city centre and beyond to the moors. Now there is just a grass bank. But as vicar of Pitsmoor I would regular walk to the top of the bank and soak in the view.

In my line of work you get to see all sorts. Some of it is emotionally draining – time spent with people whose lives have been messed up by drugs, debt or family problems. That’s why you need places to go where you can lift your eyes beyond the troubles and remember that this world, both the natural and the human construction, is full of beauty.

Spital Hill

This was another favourite haunt when I lived in Pitsmoor. The little green was a great place for sitting and watching the world go by – and it really is the world – people of all backgrounds. Sitting and talking with them is such an eye-opener.

My wife helped to start a charity shop on Spital Hill called Rainbow’s End. It not only sells some wonderful items donated by people across the city, but it also has sofas where people can sit and chat.

A shop volunteer told me not long ago that he saw a former British soldier who had served in Iraq sat with an Iraqi refugee chatting about their different experiences of the conflict. There can’t be many places in Sheffield where such meaningful conversations take place.

Wardsend Cemetery

The boundary of Pitsmoor parish is rather odd. It extends from Spital Hill at one end to the edge of Hillsborough at the other.

Not long after arriving there, I wandered through the industrial works of Neepsend towards Hillsborough, only to stumble, completely unexpectedly on Wardsend Cemetery.

Long since closed, it is now a wood but interspersed among the trees are hundreds of graves, some with very ornate memorial stones.

Many of the graves have a military connection, the site being so near the old Hillsborough Barracks. But many of the victims of the Sheffield floods of 1864 are also buried there.

Some might find the place a little eerie (definitely not somewhere to go in the dark) but I think it is a hidden gem.

Holy Cross, Gleadless Valley

My work now takes me to churches of all sizes and ages.

And although I have a very deep affection for my former church in Pitsmoor, if you really want a striking symbol of the church’s commitment to the economically poorest areas of the city, then its worth looking at Holy Cross church in Gleadless Valley. Its conical shape makes it look almost like an American teepee tent but it has a huge white cross which dominates the valley below.

Some might see it as a strident statement of Anglican imperialism but you only have to step inside the church to see that this tent is home to a group of people dedicated to serving those in need.

St Nicholas, Bradfield

At the other end of the spectrum of churches in Sheffield is this 15th-century (parts are 11th century) masterpiece. In ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’, Simon Jenkins writes that, from the church, ‘the view is glorious, enjoyed by the weather-beaten gargoyles peering from under toppling pinnacles’.

And beautiful though the building is, I have to confess that on the occasions when I have taken services there, I have probably been a little too eager to finish quickly and walk out the door to drink in the spectacular views.

There aren’t many churches in our diocese where sheep graze in the churchyard.

Forge Dam

Now I live in Hunters Bar and much as I enjoy the vibrancy and quirkiness of Ecclesall Road, my real pleasure is walking the other way out of the city. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from my house, through Endcliffe Park and out to Forge Dam.

The cafe is a classic example of simple Sheffield hospitality and the playground is a favourite with my children. The walk takes in something of Sheffield’s past (the metal trade in Porter Valley) and Sheffield’s attempt to reinvent itself (the university and the leisure and commercial trade of Ecclesall Road).

Somehow this sums up my sense of Sheffield – we’re clear about our past and rightly proud of it, but not quite sure if we’re ready to let go of it to build a new future.