Sheffield chronicles

David Hay .,Prof. David Hay   at Beauchief Abbey his favourite place
David Hay .,Prof. David Hay at Beauchief Abbey his favourite place
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I was born in Jessop Hospital, so I can claim to be a Sheffielder even though I was brought up in the Penistone district and now live at Dronfield Woodhouse with my wife, Pat. I am a retired Professor of Local and Family History at Sheffield University, so naturally my favourite places are historical ones, preferably those that are set in the surrounding countryside, for rambling is my chief recreation and I have just completed a three-year stint as Area President of the Ramblers’ Association.

View from Bradfield church

Is there any church in England that provides such a wonderful view as you leave the south porch? The human landscape seems timeless and the moors stretch away to the horizon. And just round the corner to the west is the tremendous earthwork of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle perched on top of a steep cliff and half hidden by trees, a secret delight just waiting to be explored.

Beauchief Abbey

On the Round Walk, you can still see why the abbey acquired its Norman French name, meaning the ‘beautiful headland’. A visitor in 1789 described it as ‘a most happy situation for beauty and retirement’. Much of the present landscape was created by the canons in the Middle Ages.

In the 1660s the ruins below the tower were converted into the present church, which belongs to a small, select band that were never altered by the Victorians.

Guide Stoops

In 1709 the Derbyshire JPs ordered the erection of stones to guide travellers over the moors. They indicate the ancient pattern of routes before the creation of turnpike roads and they amuse us with their phonetic spellings.

My favourite is a tall stoop in Longshaw Park, which is marked, ‘To Shafild 1709, To Tidswel, To Chasterfild, To Hatharsich and so to Chapil in Lee Frith’.


Longshaw has long been a popular starting point for a moorland walk. Yet until 1927 the 747 acres of the park around the lodge and thousands of acres of adjoining grouse moorland belonged to the Duke of Rutland, who was determined to keep ramblers out.

When heavy death duties forced the sale of the estate it was bought by voluntary contributions and in 1933 it was handed over to The National Trust. The organisation that eventually became known as The Ramblers’ Association was founded here.

Ward’s Piece

On the north side of the summit of Lose Hill, high above Ladybower Reservoir, is a metal plaque with an inscription commemorating the achievements of GHB (Bert) Ward, the founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers in 1900 and the man who led the campaign for public access to the forbidden moors. Ward and his fellow members did far more for the access campaign than the Mass Trespassers of 1932, who now get an undue share of the credit. Ward’s Piece was purchased by the Sheffield Ramblers’ Federation in 1945 and presented to Ward, who then gave it to the National Trust.

Abbey Clough

I first went on the moorland walk via Cut Gate to the Derwent Reservoir and back up Abbey Clough to Bar Dyke in 1958, the year after it was opened to the public, in a party led by Eric Beardsall of Penistone, cousin and walking companion of the great Alfred Wainwright. It remains one of the loneliest, most exhilarating walks in the Peak District.

The Dragon’s Den on Wharncliffe Crags

Hard to find amongst the boulders and silver birch north of Wharncliffe Lodge, this natural cleft in the rocky escarpment was the setting for a satirical ballad that caricatured Sir Richard Wortley, the grasping landlord of Wortley Hall, as The Dragon of Wantley. The ballad was turned into a comic opera in the 18th century, so the story became well known.

Holmesfield Park Wood

A mile away from my home and so a regular walk, the wood takes its name from the 13th-century deer park of the lords of the manor. The medieval ditch and bank that surround it survive in remarkably good condition. In Elizabethan times most of it became a coppice wood devoted to producing white coal for the lead smelters, whose characteristic circular pits or kilns can still be found.

In the 19th century beech and conifers were planted for timber in well-defined sections of the wood but the underwood trade continued until the First World War. A public footpath runs through the middle of it.

Hawley Tool Collection

In Kelham Island Industrial Museum, this is a collection of international importance that is by far the largest and best of its kind in Britain. Some years ago, I accompanied Ken to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, where we spoke about Sheffield’s industrial history to more than 300 delegates at a conference. Ken’s collection was known to everybody. Visit the museum on any weekday except Thursday and you are likely to meet the great man himself, more than ready to explain how these tools were used.

Local Studies Department

This excellent resource in Sheffield Central Library is valuable to amateur and professional historians alike. A quirky feature that I like is that, even in this digital age, you order books from the basement stack by filling in slips that are exactly the same as the ones that I used when I first started to go there over 50 years ago.