Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Boots, Fresh Air and Ginger Beer

Throughout this year a series of events is taking place celebrating 'Ruskin in Sheffield'. The Ruskin in question being John Ruskin the celebrated Victorian art critic and philanthropist. Over the last weekend there have been three performance walks around Totley where, in 1877, Ruskin bought St George's Farm which was to be worked communally by a group of working men and their families from the heavily industrialized city of Sheffield. The performance, which was written by my friend Sally Goldsmith, also included other well known local characters who were connected with Totley and the surrounding area between 1877 and the early 1950s. I went on the final walk on a rather wet and dismal Sunday afternoon. The photo above is St George's Farm as it is today, we were privileged to see it as it isn't visible from the road and the current owners value their privacy. The earliest record that Alan, the current owner, has found is for 1802 but it is older than that I think. He also told me that originally there were three dwellings here, the main farmhouse and two labourer's cottages. I should say here that the experiment with farming was not a howling success and the experiment came to an end in 1885. This is just a record of the walk and one or two of the characters we met on the way round but if anyone is interested there is an article on Totley History Group's website which will tell you more about both Ruskin and the experiment with farming.

Off we go - about twenty of us were in the group.I should say here that none of the 'characters' were in costume. When I mention a name it is that of the 'character' not the person playing him/her.

Here we have Harry Brearley the inventor of stainless steel. He was born into a poor working class family in Sheffield and started working as a labourer in a steel mill when he was 12 years old.He was a very bright boy and gradually worked his way up the ladder finally becoming a director of Brown Bayley one of Sheffield's major steel companies. He married in 1895 and he and his wife came to live in a little cottage on Brook Terrace a little lower down and on the opposite side of road to St George's Farm. Sadly Brook Terrace is now long gone. Again if you are interested there is an article on the history group website written by one of our members whose aunt was Harry Brearley's secretary

These allotments are new and very popular, I think every one of them is being worked and it all looks well cared for.

Joseph Sharp and Mrs Malloy who are two of the people who were involved in the St George's Farm experiment. Joseph Sharp was a musician,originally from Nottinghamshire,who earned his living by playing the harp in pubs and at social functions.

On the left is Edward Carpenter who is a very interesting man and by all accounts a very likeable one too. He was born in Sussex into a wealthy family and was a Cambridge graduate. He became a socialist poet and philosopher and was also an early gay rights activist. He lived for a while in Totley before moving to nearby Millthorpe where he had a small market garden. On the right is William Harrison Riley who was another of those involved with St George's Farm. He later went to live in America and became a friend of the poet Walt Whitman.

This is part of the old holloway which goes back to medieval times and very probably earlier than that. It was once part of an important route from the South into Sheffield. This is what it looks like after a couple of days of rain. You can imagine what it was like during the winter - I've walked it on winter days and it's not a particularly wonderful experience:)

In some places along the route you can still see the old cobbled track though here the track has been widened in more recent times.

Even on a wet, misty day the scenery is still rather beautiful.

This is Woodthorpe Hall where we stopped for a drink and another little performance. I absolutely love this house and would move in tomorrow given chance. I've been lucky enough to see inside and it's just as lovely and atmospheric as it is outside. The same family have lived here since the 1920s .

It looks more like autumn than midsummer with the mist over the moors in the distance.

The last two characters - Bert Ward and Ethel Haythornthwaite. G.H.B.Ward founded the Clarion Ramblers Club in 1900 and they were the chief organization campaigning for public access to the moorland areas of the Dark Peak. The Clarion Ramblers were the first working class ramblers club in the country.Bert was a real activist for walker's rights and also wrote the Clarion Rambler's annual handbook all of which are full of interesting local history as well as giving the routes of their weekly Sunday walks most of which covered about 18 miles! The walks had to be on Sundays of course as the working week in those days included Saturdays. The Clarion Ramblers handbooks are very collectable now and the early ones can cost over £30 which is a lot for a tiny book measuring about 4x3 inches:) Though born in Sheffield, in the later part of his life Bert Ward lived locally on Moorwood Lane.
Ethel Haythornthwaite founded the Sheffield Association for the Protection of Local Scenery in 1924 which in 1927 became the Sheffield and Peak District Committee of CPRE. She and her husband saved areas such as Edale, Mam Tor and Blackamoor from development and were instrumental in establishing the Peak District as the UK's first National Park in 1951.
In spite of the weather the whole walk was great fun and I now know the route down from Woodthorpe Hall to Gillfield Wood - I knew it existed but I've never found the entrance off the lane before and always had to walk further up to Fanshawegate Hall and down through the fields from there. Oh and the title - boots for Bert Ward and the Clarion Ramblers, Fresh Air for all the outdoor activities and Ginger Beer - well I don't know quite why Sally chose that but it's a jolly good drink to take on a picnic:)


Bovey Belle said...

What a fascinating post. I've been interested in Ruskin since Tam went to Sheffield and I found out more about him. I think he and his friends weren't the only ones to have "failed" at farming! Other groups at that time seemed to go the same way. Tam used to volunteer at Sheffield CPRE.

The History Anorak said...

One of the few things I knew about Totley was that it has (had?) the longest train tunnel in the country. I remember being surprised when I visited the botanical garden in Sheffield (the indoor one - the Winter Garden?) to find out the connection with Ruskin. Nice to learn more.

Barb @ Bella Vista said...


What an interesting and informative post. I do love your pictures and all the beautiful green speaks to my very soul.

I loved seeing the charming and I enjoyed viewing the allotment. I first heard about these with the old British series The Good Life....they had an allotment.

Thanks for your kind comment about blogging. I do agree that our blogs are more used for journaling our lives and what we do. Guess I am always intrigued at how others view things.

Have a wonderful day.


Mac n' Janet said...

Interesting post, I know very little about Ruskin. City folk often fail at farming, the Pilgrims, who were mainly city folk, would have failed without the Native Americans.

Rosie said...

Woodthorpe Hall looks wonderful, I bet it is lovely inside too. What a fascinating thing to do and the characters all sound interesting - looks like a great event with a good number of people enjoying it:)

Jenny Woolf said...

Ah! I now reconise Harry Brearley! thank you for your comment on my blog.

Ruskin's ideas for workers and women were well intended but I think he was really a bit too far out to be able to make them work.

What a fascinating walk. One of the things I love about England is that there is so much meaning in even ordinary lanes and landscapes.

Woodthorpe Hall looks absolutely fantastic. I gather from what you say that it is not open to the public.

Must get up to Yorkshire again!

Lowcarb team member said...

How lovely to read this Rowan and the picture of "part of the old holloway which goes back to medieval times and very probably earlier than that." fascinating to see.

Many thanks.

All the best Jan

Marianne said...

So much I never knew about my home city! I grew up in Sheffield but all this passed me by at the time. I love to go back though from time to time, particularly to visit the Derbyshire countryside. It is a very different place now.

Louise said...

What an interesting walk! Great post, I enjoyed the info and photos. I already knew of Gerald and Ethel Haythornthwaite as I'm a member of Friends of the Peak District, which they founded but I didn't any of the rest!