Two Faces of Sheffield

Posted on Sep 2, 2018 by






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On the one hand, Sheffield Council is hell bent on selling the family silver viz; its heritage, on the other hand incensed locals are equally hell bent on preserving it.

Take, for example, the art gallery in a lovely art deco library, the library the Council wanted to lease to a Chinese company for yet another soul less hotel. Shame on them. Luckily, a son of the city, Michael Palin, helped save it. He put his money where his mouth is. He said:

Sheffield Central Library embodies the very best aspects of civic pride. It’s a fine building, built to give education and literacy a prominent place at the very heart of the city. That a building, seeking to improve the lot of all Sheffielders, should end up as a hotel for the rich and privileged is a sad reflection on how little the city cares for its public service legacy.

Grayson Perry’s tapestry (sic) is the biggest item in the Gallery. He used Adobe Photoshop to design it then sent digital files to The Netherlands where it was woven on a computer controlled loom. It could be replicated tomorrow.

What should take pride of place – on show like the Mona Lisa – in its own room – is not something the Women’s Institute would make a better fist of, it’s a small portrait of Diane de Poitiers the most infamous of all the mistresses in the French Court. The label says ‘School Of’, but she was so important to the King, it was probably painted by Francois Clouet, his Court Painter. Perry will produce many more tapestries, Clouet will never paint Diane again.

Next door is The Millennium Centre. Nicely done, especially the Winter Gardens. But. What made Sheffield great? Steel. Yet The Centre has just one small room showing just a few examples.

As early as the 1300s Sheffield was famous for making knives, by 1600 it was second in Britain for cutlery. It became even more famous in the 1700s when Sheffield plate was invented. EEC rules passed in 1970 resulted in many steelworks closing down. How, one wonders, did Sheffield vote in the EU Referendum?

Another example. Besides steel, Sheffield is famous for The Crucible which launched Victoria Wood’s career. This is of course where The World Snooker Championship is held. At the moment, don’t hold your breath, China is prepared to do anything to get it. It has built a mirror image replica in Beijing and is playing a waiting game.

Sheffield also has The Lyceum Theatre where in 1897, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry acted in ‘The Merchant of Venice‘; where Sir Thomas Beecham’s Opera Company and Sarah Bernhardt performed; the theatre has hosted icons such as Frankie Howerd, Harry Secombe and Morecambe and Wise.

Our hotel was next to the football ground. The Stadium had a huge Banner advertising Hualing, a Chinese corporation. There are bi-lingual street signs in Chinese. A city within a city, a Chinese City, is being built nearby. Can you imagine France allowing a Chinese City within one of its cities? Couldn’t happen.

The Council shelled out tens of thousands on trips to China begging for investment, that’s what that’s all about. Sheffield has no money. China has a surfeit. Who would have thought that communism would triumph over capitalism.

Sheffield has  the world’s oldest – not a misprint – the world’s oldest association football club (1857). Sheffield United FC is half owned by Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (he wants to be sole owner). According to Wiki he’s also the Chairman. Why does he want Sheffield’s heritage? Does his country have none?

If you don’t believe we are witnessing the fag end of Western culture visit Sheffield.

As for the environment, T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland springs to mind with its themes of disillusionment and despair. When the Council felled four thousand trees, four thousand, Nature, recognising defeat, up-sticked and left. Four thousand. Criminal. Murder most foul. Islington Council in London slapped a Preservation Order on every single tree in the borough forty years ago.

Sheffielders, we would understand if you threw yourselves into what is left of the old river Sheaf after which your once wonderful city was named but if you do, watch out for shopping trolleys. Has the Council not heard of Broken Windows Syndrome? Anti-social behaviour encourages more anti-social behaviour. Decline starts with a shopping trolley in a river no-one can bother to fish out or punish the savage who threw it in.

It’s truly shocking that those in power are so cavalier with its heritage but Sheffield folk are hanging on in there.

Take The Rude Shipyard, a delightful Book Shop Café which patronises local independent businesses buying their meat, coffee, tea and freshly baked bread. One shelf is reserved for local self-published writers. The young couple who own and run it are to be congratulated for their good cooking, good taste, good service, creativity, imagination and entrepreneurship. Assaulted as we are daily with low or no standards, surrounded by mediocrity, they go a long way in restoring faith in human nature. As for it strange name, it is, apparently, a nod to David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas.

Then there’s quirky, BoHo, Abbeydale Road with restaurants serving food from literally every corner of the globe. Awesome. No need to waste silly money on Gourmet Tours, it’s all here.

The Street’s crowning glory is the 1920s Abbeydale Picture House, mercifully rescued from the wrecking ball. Wonderful. Marvellous. The lady behind the bar is justly proud of her family’s successful efforts to breathe new life into the old building and a nice chap greeted us on the street inviting us to a free do, the live France v Croatia match. If only. What better way to watch the World Cup on a cinema screen in an ancient picture house, whatever your footballing loyalties. Astonishingly much of the original cinema has survived thanks to Friends of Abbeydale Picture House. Well done them. Take a bow. Fan-tas-tic.

As for The Antiques Quarter. Jaw dropping. Eight Centres and sixty independents sourcing and selling everything and anything ancient, vintage or retro. What a treat.

La piece de la resistance has surely got to be The White Lion pub. A pub has been there since 1781. How cool is that? Like stepping back in time. It brings to mind George Orwell’s favourite pub The Moon Under Water. Outside it’s all hanging baskets and original stained glass windows, inside it’s all original green glazed tiles, a committed landlord and his landlady who found their vocation. Before they took over the pub, neither had so much as pulled a pint. Thanks to them, it has it all. Friendly atmosphere. Real ales on tap (Sheffield is the Real Ale capital of the world) Niche beers (wish they did Take Out) and free live music by local bands. The Grits were performing the night we were there. Classic Soul, Punk Rock. Flawless. Respect. More than the feel good factor, enough to make the hardest of hard hearts burst with joie de vivre.

There is a north south divide. Northerners have time to talk. They are interested in what you have to say.

As for China, perhaps it’s a feather in Sheffield’s cap they want to buy it.

As for Sheffielders, Chairman Mao said the working class is the bulwark of the struggle against the exploiting classes and state structures.

You can fight City Hall.

We enjoyed our visit to Sheffield, a very interesting city with a very interesting history. Nice people. Nice vibes. Would we go back? Yes, we would.

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