So much to learn about our city

From: John Kirkwood

By e-mail

“Know your city” was the response my grandfather gave my mother, as a young girl, when she protested that she was bored. I was reminded of this recently when I read the article about Sheffield’s old canal basin in the Telegraph (September 15,). As Malcolm Fielding, secretary of the South Yorkshire and Dukeries Waterways Association, comments: “It’s a surprise to me that so many people who are born and bred in Sheffield don’t know about the canal basin.”

When I retired in February I decided to find out more about my city.

Well, it’s not actually ‘my city’, as I was born and brought up in Liverpool. However, since I moved here 37 years ago I’ve never had the desire to move anywhere else. Liverpool has some outstanding architecture, citizens with a quick wit and at least one decent football team but, these days, I consider myself a naturalised Sheffielder.

I’ve even got used to saying “breadcake” for bread roll, although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use “while” instead of “until”.

In order to find out more about Sheffield, I recently organised and undertook a city centre walk with four ex-colleagues from Sheffield Hallam University. Normally we go walking in Derbyshire, and each time a different member of the group takes responsibility for organising the walk and driving everyone to the start. When it was my turn I suggested an urban walk, as I prefer cities to the countryside.

For some reason this really seems to bug some people. I have to explain to them that it’s not that I dislike the countryside but there is so much to discover in a city, both what is there presently, and the history behind it all.

I didn’t realise when I started planning this event, however, how little I knew about many of Sheffield’s prominent features, and the difficulty of picking a route that included sufficient interest, without having to walk long stretches through the more dismal aspects of the urban landscape.

I was aided in my task by the excellent Pevsner Architectural Guide to Sheffield (Harman, R. & Minnis, J) and by extensive use of Wikipedia (but don’t tell my former students). I also discovered some amusing insights in Owen Hatherley’s ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’ in which he states that Sheffield “just doesn’t seem to know how good it actually is.” Amen to that!

In essence, the final walk involved a quick sashay through the Arundel Street area, down to and across the Midland station, up through the new amphitheatre built into the hillside, and on to the Cholera Monument. After a detour passed the Shrewsbury Alms Houses, we

headed down alongside Park Hill, pausing for a discussion about the Urban Splash refurbishment, and on to the Canal Basin, where we stopped for refreshments, having walked for an hour. Slow, I hear you say.

We’re retired, and we can linger longer than workers, to take it all in! From there we headed for Kelham Island, via two riverside walks and the Wicker.

Our final destination was the Kelham Island Tavern, where we had an excellent, if slow-to-arrive, pub lunch. Along the way we passed many interesting features and buildings.

For instance, how many of the following do you know about or have visited: the Heavy Plant (sculpture), Clay Woods, the Cobweb Bridge, the Upper Don Walk and the Milestone restaurant?

And which prominent Sheffield building was originally created for a veterinary surgeon, and contained accommodation for sick horses on multiple levels via ramps?

I now feel that I know my adopted city better but I also realise how much more there is to discover. At least I’ll never be bored.