Materializing Sheffield: Steel City – An Archaeology of Sheffield’s Industrial Past – by James Symonds

On a summer’s day in 1800, King George III was taking the sea airs on the south coast near Brighton. When one of his party announced that they would soon be leaving for Sheffield the King’s face fell and he is reputed to have bellowed:

“Sheffield? Damn’d bad place, Sheffield!”

We will of course never know whether this forcefully expressed opinion was a symptom of the King’s celebrated madness, or was uttered in a moment of lucidity.

The perception that Sheffield is a rather grim northern industrial city, however, persists to this day, at least in the minds of those living further south. Why should this be?

According to Sheffield City Council, Sheffield is England’s greenest city, containing more than 150 woodlands and public parks. One third of the city is within the Peak National Park, and half of the city’s population live within 15 minutes drive of open country.

It may be that Sheffield’s land-locked location has contributed to this hostile perception by outsiders. Prior to the opening of the M1 motorway in the 1960s, Sheffield was a difficult place to get to and from. The city was effectively contained by hills, creating an enforced sense of isolation that at times encouraged an unhealthy degree of introspection and conservatism among its citizens.

The city is still overshadowed in economic and cultural terms by its two major rivals, Leeds, to the north, and Manchester, to the west. And then there is pristine medieval York – the regional seat of ecclesiastical power, just one hour by train or car to the north.

Since the decline of the traditional metals trades in the 1980s Sheffield, (as part of South Yorkshire) has been recognised as a European Union ‘less-favoured-region’ (LFR). Inward investment is flowing into the city, and in terms of new development, Sheffield is the fastest growing British city outside London.

Sheffield’s ‘urban renaissance’ has been hailed as an opportunity for the city to re-invent itself as a city of European significance. In place of the traditional manufacturing base a new economy of service and creative industries is being developed.

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