The Highways and Byways
Delivered before The Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society,
February 9, 1906
R. E. LEADER
(revised, and published by request)
Most of us, I doubt not, have at times longed for command of Slaves of the Lamp or the Ring, who, at our bidding, would conjure up visions of our town when, small, haphazard, nestling among its hills and encircled by its woods, it was bathed by the waters of pellucid streams. Something very near to a realisation of this was placed within reach of all fortunate enough to stand, last night, on the surrounding heights. Clothed in a mantle of virgin snow, and bathed in radiant moonlight, the rolling contours of the hills, veiled from disfigurement, shone in the clear frosty air with a definiteness accentuated by the mellowed shadows of the valleys, and revealed a picture whose ethereal charm and grace of outline abundantly justified Sheffield's pride in the beauty of her situation. It was well calculated to enhance, rather than to diminish, the desire entertained by many of us to realise the condition of the town as described by our fathers, or as handed down to them by the traditions of their grandsires. Nay, so rapid have been modern changes that men of the elder generation might even feel inclined to be content could we but see before us, in definite demonstration, the Sheffield of our youth.
Middle of the 18th century
Consider what these three epochs mean. The earliest takes us back to the beginning of a great change. The Park, whose noble trees and stretches of green sward, watered by the Sheaf, had for centuries been the glory of the place, was beginning to be broken up into farms and to be disfigured by the waste heaps of coal-winners. But it retained, nevertheless, much of its primæval beauty. Clay Wood, enshrouding the steep hillside, still swept down "in amphitheatrical pride" to listen to the murmuring of the stream and to afford refuge for all living things within the very sound of the cutlers' hammers. While surrendering the more open glades to the claims of husbandry, the Lord of the Manor had reserved to himself full liberty of "hunting, hawking, fishing, and fowling". The tenants of the new farms were strictly forbidden to take game; and the schedule of prohibitions is most informing. It included swans, wild geese, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, doves, plover, moorcocks, hawks, bucks, does, harts, stags, fawns, hares, coneys, and all manner of fish.
End of the 18th century
In our second period this had not greatly changed. For then was fulminated a ducal decree threatening with dire pains and penalties any who should venture to hunt, shoot, or destroy game in Sheffield Park. On other sides of the town we find similar conditions. Within the lives of our grandfathers the Park of the Bamforths, at High House, still boasted its herd of deer. In 1786 there was reserved to the tenants of the Lady's Bridge Tilt the right of fishing in the adjoining dam, subject to the obligation of "rendering to the Duke once a year a dish of such fish as may be taken thereout". And near the same date there was imposed on certain lessees of land at Brightside the maintenance of a weir and "Salmon heck", and the duty of delivering to the Duke's agent every salmon or other fish there caught. Corn was still grown on the slope now represented by Paradise Square, just as when, in the older days, a farmer there stipulated for the right to cart his hay through a croft behind the Workhouse in Westbar Green. Howard Street Chapel was built on land known as "The Coach and Six", and in 1770 the Vicarage stood in "a small field amidst gardens".
Early 19th century
Many of us have talked with those who had strolled to Attercliffe by pleasant paths beside the river; who had played among the oak trees of Broomhall Spring; who had cultivated flowers and fruit within a stone's throw of the Parish Church. These thought us very young because we could not remember Bamforth Wood extending from Hillfoot to Owlerton, and the Old Park Wood linked in one unbroken chain with Wharncliffe. They could speak of the manner of which, in 1804, corn land gave place to Carver Street Chapel; and other parts of the "Back Fields", extending to Fitzwilliam Street, were used for farming to a much later date.
Advertisements in the newspapers afford other illustrations of the manner in which, up to almost recent times, country hemmed in the little town. In 1821 there were to be let "an excellent house, with garden, in Sycamore street", and a country residence "near the intended new church (St. George's) pleasantly situate near the top of Broad Lane". Another, with similar attractions, in Portobello, was described as "near this town". Sheaf House, late the residence of Mr. Daniel Brammall (whence Brammall Lane), figures as "a much-admired mansion in a very beautiful country".
Thus we approach what is within living memory, and I suppose the accounts we are able to give to our children, and children's children, of the state of the town, and of rural delights where woods and field-paths have succumbed to wildernesses of houses and mean streets, seem not less strange than the stories we were accustomed to hear from our predecessors.
It is futile, of course, to inveigh against inevitable expansion; but it is permissible to protest against the sordid vulgarity which has made this a fell swoop. We see on all hands a ruthless disregard for mitigating amenities. There is no glimmering of any feeling for sweetness and light. A constantly widening flood has submerged the choicest bits of suburban scenery under a desolating wave of greed for ground rents. Patriotic loyalty has been as conspicuously absent as wise communal control. The irremediable evil inflicted on Sheffield through lack of imitation of Mr. George Wostenholm's enlightened treatment of his Kenwood estate is a dire public misfortune.
Leaving, however, impotent laments, and dreamings of the magic powers sighed for in my opening sentences, let us attempt, with material not too abundant, to realise, in plain prose, the condition of Sheffield in bygone days, if haply we may refresh our affection for a town which, often abused and scorned by alien Ephraimites, is very dear not only to the native sons of Hallamshire, but also to many who, privileged to join the ranks of the faithful by claims other than of birth, have so drunk in the subtle influence of the place as to be numbered among its loyal votaries.
Although I propose to avoid speculations, often indulged in, as to the origin of Sheffield, and any discussion of its state before history gives sure guidance, it is necessary to refer to certain teachings derivable from its earliest roads. Perhaps I should rather say road, for in this out-of-the-way corner, remote from the lines of main traffic, inter-communication was, with one exception, wholly local. The tide of life, whether warlike or peaceful, rolled-by some miles away, with little inducement to turn aside into a cul-de-sac a valley blocked by the thickets of wooded hills, behind whose forests lay stretches of austere and barren moorland. In the remote ages of intertribal unrest, the absence of roads was the surest protection; and it is probable that the Romans, when they came, would have troubled themselves little to win a way into the Peak, had it not been for the lead mines of Derbyshire, and the hot springs of Buxton.
The primal road
To these we owe the primal road that, coming from Templeborough, passed through, or near to Sheffield, and thence over the "Long Causey" by Redmires and Stanage to Brough. We do not know, with certainty, that Sheffield had any existence then. No traces of a Roman station here have been revealed. In the discovery of hoards of Imperial coins, and in the convenience of avoiding two crossings of the Don, the late Mr. John Daniel Leader found reasons for believing that, from Templeborough, the Roman route like that of the Parliamentary Army when, ages after, it marched to besiege Sheffield Castle was on the south side of the Don.*
[* Footnote Guest's Rotherham, 605, and Records of the Burgery, ix.]
That means entering the town over the Sheaf; whence the road would rise past the site of our Parish Church, and by Western Bank to Lydgate Lane and Sandygate. Without venturing to dispute this theory, I must point out that while the inlets to and outlets from Templeborough have not, in any direction, been conclusively elucidated, there do exist proofs of a contiguous eastern and western route, of great antiquity. And this, moreover, is endowed with the inestimable advantage of avoiding the marshes of the low-lying ground by the river.
Coming from the direction of Mexborough, two well-defined ridgeways, the one passing through Kimberworth and the other over Gilberthorpe Hill, converge above Meadow Hall, and, unitedly crossing the Blackburn Valley, thence ascend to Wincobank. The different names by which these are known at various parts of their course Danes' Bank, Scotland Balk, Barber Balk, Roman Rig, or, as on the Ordnance Map, "supposed Roman Ridge", indicate what we might deduce from other considerations, successive use by all the dominant races in turn Britons, Romans, Romanised Britons, Saxons, Danes, Dano-Saxons.*
[* Footnote See Sketch plan and description in Addy's Hall of Waltheof, pp. 254-258; and Guest's Rotherham, p. 614 et seq. References in this Lecture to the Ordnance Maps are to the old one-inch issue. The New Survey (for this neighbourhood at least), by omitting many names given in its predecessor, has seriously diminished its usefulness for topographical purposes.]
And the proximity to Templeborough of the combined track where it strikes across the Blackburn brook, makes obvious its connection with that camp by means of a ford across the Don. From Wincobank it leads to Grimesthorpe, and thence (though there is an element of conjecture here) by Wood Hill and Tom Cross Lane to Bridgehouses. I cannot help seeing, in the facility for fording the Don at this last point, strong probability in the suggestion that the line thence would be the straight one to Lydgate by Westbar Green, Broad Lane, and Western Bank. And if, as is conceivable, no camp or settlement existed where the Don and the Sheaf meet, there was no reason why cohorts or travellers should unnecessarily make a detour by the angle on which Sheffield Castle afterwards stood.
The Saxon impress
But whatever was the case with the Romans, it may be suggested with even stronger probability that the Saxons, avoiding the valley from Rotherham to Sheffield, favoured the upland path. The fact that the great trunk roads of the country made by the Romans have been handed down to us under, and still bear, Saxon names, sufficiently shows that, in respect to them, the Teutonic conquerors were wise enough to continue the use of what they found ready to hand. It must be always so. The convenience to new comers of inheriting the labours of their predecessors is obvious; and in this case there was the additional inducement of taking to roads better than they could themselves make. But two distinguishing Saxon characteristics are none the less noticeable. While almost compelled to adhere to the dominating lines of main traffic Watling Street, Ermine Street, and the rest and sometimes, by necessity, having to occupy Roman towns, their rule was to found new habitations, and to place these not on, but a mile or two away from, the great roads.*
[* Footnote Baldwin Brown's Arts in Early England, vol. I, 53, 59, 64, 84.]
And as to the paths between these settlements, and cross country or local roads generally, the Teutons followed their own national instincts. Instead of defying, as the Romans did, physical features, and going direct to their mark despite all obstacles, they so adapted their course to the lie of the country that these subsidiary ways, designated "natural roads", can be recognised as bearing a distinct Saxon impress. The well-known "Pilgrims' Way", from Winchester to Canterbury, is an instructive illustration.*
[* Footnote Belloc, The Old Road.]
Clinging to the hill sides, elastically shaping itself wherever firm ground is to be found, above all sedulously shunning the swamps of the valleys, this track, looking so uncertain and hesitating on the map, is found, on close examination, to have a distinct, business-like purpose of its own.
The Ridgeway I have described from Mexborough to Sheffield so closely conforms to this type that, however strong may be the temptation to trace Roman handiwork in its more artificial parts, we can hardly suppose that the name of Danes' Bank, if not more accurately representing its origin than the alternative of Roman Rig, at least indicates its predominance in the period of Teutonic rule. Further, the obliteration of Templeborough and Brough, together with the utter absence of any traces of a Roman camp at Sheffield, accords with what has been said as to the Saxon habit of shunning Roman camps and towns. At Templeborough, it is true, there have been found indications of Post-Roman occupation; but there seems to be no reason why these, being alien from Saxon methods, may not be more plausibly assigned to the period intervening between the departure of the legions and the Teutonic invasion.
The Hall of Waltheof
And this Saxon characteristic has, incidentally, an interesting bearing on the much discussed question of the site of that Hall of Earl Waltheof, which has "melted into air, thin air, and like an unsubstantial pageant faded", has left not a rack behind. Without intruding upon the controversy of learned antiquaries as to whether Waltheof's Aula was the precursor or Sheffield Castle, or was not rather situated on the slope between Stannington and Rivelin,* it may be remarked that the latter position is far more consonant than the former with all we know of Saxon usages, as well as with the importance of Hallam, and the insignificance of Sheffield, in Domesday.*
[* Footnote Gatty's Hunter's Hallamshire, p. 27; Addy's Hall of Waltheof, 194, 283; Leader's Burgery Records, ix, xx, xxi.]
But whatever the origin of the upland road on the northern slopes of the Don, its permanence is as noteworthy as its antiquity. A conspicuous proof of this, additionally instructive as showing how long centuries rolled by without bringing any material improvement in the means of access to Sheffield may be cited.
The road South to North, 1698
In the reign of Charles II, John Ogilby, Esq., Cosmographer to his Majesty, received a Royal command to survey the principal roads of the kingdom. An ichnographic atlas, published in 1674, gave the results of his labours. Even in a revised and corrected edition of this book, issued in 1698, there is but one slight and casual indication of the existence of any such place as Sheffield. A main road is depicted running from London to the Yorkshire Richmond. Passing through Rutlandshire to Nottingham, it proceeds by way of Mansfield, Clown, Barlbro', Killamarsh, Aughton, Packman's Bridge (a significant name), and Whiston, to Rotherham, entering that town by Moorgate. There it crosses the bridge over the Don, and continues northward, through Greasbro'; and Wombwell, to Barnsley. If, as seems clear, this represents the Saxon Ricknild Street, it affords an interesting illustration of the Teutonic avoidance of Roman stations. For it so sedulously ignores Templeborough as to show that, when utilising the Roman northern road, the Saxons abandoned the section from Chesterfield or Mansfield, and substituted a new one of their own, severely ignoring both the camp of their predecessors and the means of reaching it. And so effectually was this obliteration carried out that the approach has defied discovery to this day.*
[* Footnote J. D. Leader in Guest's Rotherham, 604; Codrington's Roman Roads, 280.]
Now, although Ogilby is scrupulously careful to mark all topographical features, and especially converging or intersecting roads, he gives no sign of any way from Rotherham either to Templeborough or to Sheffield. It is not until he comes to a hamlet which he calls "Brafield" (not now identifiable) between Nether Haugh and Wombwell, that he indicates a narrow path as leading "to Sheffield"*. And this is precisely where the highway he is traversing intersects the more northerly of the Ridgeways which, coming from Mexborough, converge above Meadow Hall. Thus a wayfarer, following Ogilby's direction, would find himself brought by Rockingham Wood and Dog Kennel Pond, in Wentworth Park (where the line can still be clearly traced), to Gilberthorpe Hill, across the Blackburn brook, and over Wincobank, as already described, to Sheffield.
[* Footnote Map 48.]
It is difficult to resist the suspicion that, in showing no road from Rotherham to Sheffield, the accuracy of the King's Cosmographer was, for once, at fault. If he be right, it means that, even at so late a date as 1698, the swampy ground where the Rother flows into the Don, near Iccles, was still impassable, and that travellers coming from Rotherham to Sheffield must perforce start up Kimberworth Hill.*
[* Footnote Rotherham Road: The Chantry Commissioners, temp. Henry VIII, reported that Tinsley Chapel had been built because the inhabitants found it impossible, in winter, to get to their parish church of Rotherham apparently by a bridge over the Rother. Yorkshire Charity Surveys, Surtees Society, I. 209. But this does not necessarily imply a highway. It may have been a mere track.]
The road to and from Attercliffe
But we may at least conclude that the further rise over Wincobank was no longer imperative. For on this side of Attercliffe, long before Ogilby's time, Washford Bridge had been substituted for the ford indicated by the name, and this may have been reached from the Blackburn valley. Washford Bridge, of timber, was old enough to have fallen into such complete disrepair that, in 1607, it was condemned as so unsafe that his Majesty's subjects "could not well passe over it without the danger of their lives".* Its importance, as "beinge the common passage betweene Sheffield and Rotheram, and soe betweene Yorkshire and Derbyshire in those partes", will appear hereafter.
[* Footnote Gatty's Hunter's Hallamshire, 405.]
Its entrance to Sheffield
But by whatever means it was reached from Rotherham, whether by the Don valley direct, or from Meadow Hall by Brightside Lane, the river side had, almost immediately, to be again avoided. There was, indeed, a footpath along its margin, but the ground was too marshy for wheeled traffic. Accordingly, near Burton Weir, the road veered to the right in search of a higher level. This was found by crossing what is now the Midland Railway. Proceeding in the direction of the Carlisle Street of the present and the Hall Car of the past, the road came down Spital Hill into the Wicker.
This is marked as the "Road to Rotherham" on Gosling's map of 1736, and it continued to be the route to the end of the century. When the Don was made navigable, the fatal mistake which has dogged Sheffield throughout her history was committed. The waterway was robbed of half its utility by being allowed to stop short at Tinsley, and the bridging of this gap was thereafter a source of constant trouble. Year after year the Navigation tinkered at the road I have been describing. Thus, in 1774, we find tenders invited for pitching it "from Lady's Bridge to Mr. Handley's fold gates at Hall Car", and from Burton Weir to the north-east end of Carbrook Lane, as to whose dangerous narrowness there were loud complaints. Later, there was much talk about a subsidiary canal from Tinsley to Sheffield, or a resort to the newly devised systems of rail or tram ways. But nothing came of these until a generation later. Fairbank's map of the parish, published in 1795, shows the old route unaltered, and it was only in 1806 that the more direct road from the Wicker along Savile Street, as we know it, was opened.*
[* Footnote Harrison's Survey, 1637, speaks of "Hall Carre" as "lying next unto a highway leading from Sheffield to Rotherham". In 1782 the position of the Sheffield end of Savile Street, from the Wicker, is marked as "footway to Attercliffe".]
You may remember how Isaac of York, escaping from Cedric's mansion of Rotherwood, was conducted by the disguised Ivanhoe to Sheffield. They are described as traversing forest paths until, pausing on the top of "a gently rising bank", they saw the town lying beneath them, half an hour's ride away.* This has been cited by a local writer as proving that Sir Walter Scott was "imperfectly acquainted" with this neighbourhood, for had he, it is remarked, possessed the "more intimate knowledge" vouchsafed to residents, he would have been aware that "in the direct road from Rotherham to Sheffield no hill intervenes".** I have spoken to very little purpose if it is not manifest that Sir Walter's topographical instinct, and quick, observant eye, had detected the ancient conditions, and had led him to a conclusion far sounder than that of an inaccurate critic, who assumed that because there was a direct road in 1826, the same must have existed in early Norman times.
* Ivanhoe, Chapter VI, Library edition, 87.
** Ebenezer Rhodes's Yorkshire Scenery, 44. Mr. Hunter South Yorkshire, Vol. II, 31) placed Rotherwood "not far distant from Brinsworth and Tinsley", his idea being that Scott had Tinsley Park Wood in mind, as the forest through which the travellers were supposed to thread their way. In that case we must imagine the view of Sheffield seen by the wayfarers to have been obtained from the hill near Darnall, not from the north side of the Don.]
From Rotherham in 1677-80
It was, doubtless, by the devious ways already explained that, in 1677 and again in 1680, Sir John Reresby came from Thrybergh to the Cutlers' Feast. On the latter occasion he was accompanied by his wife, family, and neighbours, bringing with him "the number of some thirty horse". "The Master and Wardens", he says, "attended by an infinite crowd, met me at the entrance into the town, with music and haut-boys. I alighted from my coach, and went afoot with the Master to the Hall, where we had an extraordinary dinner, but (he shrewdly adds) it was at the charge of the Corporation of Cutlers". They dined early in those days, and thus time was afforded for supplementary conviviality: "In the afternoon," Sir John goes on to say, "the burgesses of the town invited me and my company to a treat of wine at a tavern where we were well entertained. So that all things seemed indifferently well over at this time".*
[* Footnote Reresby's Memoirs, ed. Cartwright, 188.]
Lord Oxford's visit, 1725
The second Lord Oxford (Edward Harley) came, too, by this road in 1725, in the course of a tour through the Northern Counties. As, besides a travelling companion and a chaplain, his lordship was attended by ten servants, with six coach horses, and eleven hacks or "pads" which could be mounted when sitting in the coach became wearisome, there need be little surprise that the cavalcade created a great sensation in places where such magnificence was rarely seen. From the careful journal kept by the chaplain, Mr. Thomas, we get a lucid account of the route pursued, the state of the roads, and the rate of progress.* From Leeds to Wakefield, says the indefatigable diarist, "is about six miles, and according to the rate of two miles an hour which, considering all circumstances of the road, the measure" (he seems to have thought the Yorkshire miles inordinately long), "and the weather, is no mean progress we came thither to the White Bear in three hours". From Wakefield to Barnsley, eight miles, occupied four hours twenty minutes; and although this was an important highway, the chaplain records that they came "through the worst road that can possibly be passed by any coach". Then, proceeding through Rotherham, "after crossing the Don twice more (the first over Washford and the second over Lady's Bridge) we get into the town of Sheffield, which, according to the generous way of computation we met with in this country, is accounted no more than fourteen miles; and, with the best expedition we could make, took us seven hours and a quarter". This being the rate of travelling for a noble with unlimited resources, we need not wonder that ordinary people had to make their peregrinations on horseback, with their women-folk on pillions, and their luggage, or merchandise, on sumpter mules.
[* Footnote Portland Manuscripts (Historical Manuscripts Commission), vol. VI, 142, et seq.]
The resumption of Lord Oxford's journey on the following day helps us to a realisation of the outlet from Sheffield southwards. Before accompanying him, however, I must trouble you with a short retrospective glance.
The Southern road in 1692 . . .
Up to within a few years of that time the drives through Sheffield Park, which extended nearly to Handsworth and Gleadless, had afforded the best, and most direct, exit easterly and southerly. But these were private, and could be used only on sufferance. For travellers lacking permission, or unwilling to pay tribute to the gatekeepers, the alternative was "an ancient high road" by Little Sheffield, Heeley, and Newfield Green, to Gleadless Moor. This route was so roundabout and bad, "beinge worne very deep", that, additionally stimulated by increased exclusion from the Park, the people of the countryside affected were, in 1692, driven to claim a right of way through the ducal domain to Sheffield market. They failed; but the evidence of old inhabitants called before Commissioners appointed to adjudicate throws a strong light on the deplorable and almost impassable state of Newfield Green. As this testimony is given in Hunter's Hallamshire, I need not repeat the details now.* It is enough to know that the deepness of the ruts and the severity of the hills made this road a thing to be dreaded by carriers and pack-horses, and by all who were compelled to pass that way.
[* Footnote Hallamshire, 333-4.]
. . . and in 1725
Shortly before Lord Oxford's visit the sub-division of the Park into farms, and the opening of collieries, previously alluded to, had broken down the old restrictions, and had given the public access, over the Park Hill, to the trunk roads to London and the South. Accordingly it was by this that Lord Oxford left, after spending at the Rose and Crown, in the Market Place, a night, utilised by the industrious Mr. Thomas in the acquisition of much interesting information as to the town, its inhabitants, and its industries. We find his Lordship's cavalcade starting down Dixon Lane, crossing the Sheaf Bridge, at its foot, passing the old Shrewsbury Hospital on its left, and striking up the Park Hill on a line now represented by South Street.* That led to the Arbourthorne lane for the Intake road was, of course, of much later date. The Manor, whose splendid position and melancholy abandonment was remarked by the travellers, was seen at some distance on the left. The wide expanse of Birley Hollings (Hollins End) covered by stunted holly trees, used for the wintering of sheep,** struck Mr. Thomas as admirably adapted for a park to supply the Duke of Norfolk with deer, in place of that which he had "converted to better advantage" near the town. As to the rest of the journey, it is only necessary to say that, after finding the roads between Clown and Worksop Manor so impassable as to necessitate deviations through enclosed fields, Welbeck House was reached. Seven and a half hours having been consumed in traversing 16 computed miles, "we arrived," says the excellent Thomas, "with great safety at Welbeck House, which, considering the many casualties we must have been naturally subject to from the length of the journey ... the uncouthness and the danger we were exposed to by the badness of the roads, together with the unseasonable cold and rain and storm, must be esteemed a singular mercy of Almighty God".
* Or, possibly, rather in the direction of Broad Street, to near St. John's Church, and then by what is now called Park Hill Lane a line shown on an old plan in the Norfolk Estate Office.
** Compare Chapter XXI, Hall of Waltheof, 168.]
The Western road
Having tried to make clear the line of communication from the North, and to South by East, let us now revert to the only other the Western road. We have seen how this, coming from the North, reached, or skirted Sheffield; and we take up its course as it passes hence to Hallam, Redmires, Stanage, and the parts beyond. We are gathered to-night beside this ancient route.* To reach this building you have come along, or have crossed, a track that can, without questioning, be affirmed to have been trodden by the feet of every race inhabiting in succession this district. Far from becoming deserted and neglected when the Roman legionaries no longer tramped its course, it acquired even greater consequence when, running through the very heart of Waltheof's Manor, it was the connecting link between his Aula and the outer world. Doubtless, too, if there be any truth in the story how the Norman Conqueror punished Waltheof's tardy outburst of resentment against the foreign yoke, past here his myrmidons marched to fulfil their fell mission with devastating fire and remorseless sword.**
* The lecture was delivered in the Firth Hall of the Sheffield University, Western Bank.
** Hallamshire, 30, 34]
Thereafter, in happy freedom from war's alarms, the rolling centuries saw it little used, save when strings of pack-horses, bound for the Derbyshire moors, trailed, with tinkling bells, along its course. Much in the state left by them it descended to modern times. Broad Lane ascended through a deep cutting to Hallam Gate, as this Western Bank was called, with its generous but irregular amplitude of unfenced margin, indicative of passing over no-man's land. Close above us here, now Weston Park, stood a windmill, and near that an enterprising individual, seeking to appropriate so much of the "waste" as could be covered by a hut, run up in a night, originated the name "Mushroom Hall". The highest point was, as late as 1787, known as Gibbet Hill, perhaps because felons were hung in chains there unless, indeed, as is quite possible, the tradition of such events was manufactured to fit the name. This elevation looked upon grinding wheels worked by the stream running down the Crookesmoor valley, across the upper part of which Lydgate Lane was probably approached. For "Race Course Nook", as the south-west corner of Northumberland and Whitham Roads was called, and Stand House on Fulwood Road indicate that the line of the present thoroughfare was then "waste" deserted except when, once a year, race meetings were held from 1711 to 1781.
To the Peak by Stanage
It is difficult to conceive of wheeled vehicles, on springs, passing Stanage. Yet how else could they pass to the Peak district? In 1680, Sir John Reresby coming to Sheffield from Buxton, sent Lady Reresby by "the direct way", himself making a detour to pay a visit at Chatsworth. Sir John gives no indication of their routes. We may fairly assume that he, at least, came by Chesterfield;* but what was "the direct way" taken by Lady Reresby?
[* Footnote Not, however, by the present road from Baslow to Chesterfield, which has supplanted one older and steeper. The latter, diverging at Robin Hood, a mile or two out of Baslow, climbed to the north of the present road, over desolate moors, to Bleak House, and through Old Brampton. At Bleak House there is a cross road, the old turnpike from Chesterfield to Tideswell. This crosses the moors near the Eagle Stone, and then drops down by Curbar to the Derwent Valley, at Calver. Near Bleak House there is an old direction stone, used as a gate post. It has evidently stood at the adjacent four cross roads, as its sides indicate the ways to Bakewell, Chesterfield, Dronfield, and (Stony) Middleton. It bears the date 1743, and is a manifest token that an Act passed in 1739 for improving the road from Chesterfield to Bakewell had been carried into effect. In 1703 Sir Godfrey Copley "lay at Chesterfield and went over the moors to Chatsworth". Firth's Highways and Byways of Derbyshire, 292, 407-8 a book I had not seen when this lecture was written, but to which I have to acknowledge my indebtedness for elucidations appearing in this and subsequent notes.]
Among the MSS. of the Rev. Samuel Smith, at one time Nonconformist minister at Stannington, is the itinerary of a visit he paid to Sheffield and Norton, about 1707. Coming from Disley, in Cheshire, just over the Derbyshire border, he passed through Chapel-en-le-Frith, Castleton, and Hope; thence over Stanage to Sheffield. But his evidence does not help us much because he rode on horseback.
Buxton to Sheffield in 1745
More valuable is the testimony supplied some years later by our old friend the chaplain of the Harleys. In 1745 he came to Sheffield a second time; on this occasion in attendance on the widowed Countess of Oxford a daughter of John Holles, third Duke of Newcastle, and mother of that Duchess of Portland through whom the Bentincks derive their title and estates. As Lady of the Peak, she concluded a tour, similar to her late husband's, by visiting Buxton, and thence came through Sheffield on her return to Welbeck. Mr. Thomas, as before, was the chronicler of the expedition.
By what route?
He records that the journey was one of "thirty-six miles over the moors". Having seen, at Castleton, Peak's Hole, "a most stupendous cavern", they proceeded through Hope, "a small market town", "over Milstone Edge, a prodigious high hill", and so "by a bad road" to Sheffield.* The important thing to notice here is the omission of all mention of Hathersage. Familiar with Mr. Thomas's conscientious precision, we cannot suppose that had they passed through Hathersage, he would have failed to note it. And if they did not, we must seek "the prodigious high hill" up which the Countess's coach-and-six toiled, somewhere between Mytham Bridge and Hathersage.
[* Footnote Portland Papers, vol. VI, 191. "Millstone Edge" is vaguely used by old writers, for any part of the rocky ridge from Stanage to above Burbage.]
Although great allowance must be made for the rapid deterioration of obsolete roads, and their speedy contraction or obliteration when, fallen into neglect and disregard, they become easy prey to encroachments and enclosures, we must, I think, rule out the possibility of the Countess having travelled by the old pack-horse route, still remaining and paved in parts, from Mytham Bridge to Stanage. But there is another line, which, though uninviting to wheels, presents fewer difficulties. Just short of Hathersage, between the 11th and 10th milestones, a bend has, in modern times, been substituted for a straighter but steep stretch of road, still to be seen. From the latter an ancient lane ascends between the hill whereon Mr. Howell's house, "The Tower", stands and Brookfield. This, marked on the Ordnance Map "Ridgeway", passed "the Gate House" (a highly suggestive name) and by "Outlane" and Greenhouses, until it unites with pack-horse ways from Mytham Bridge and Bamford, and unitedly proceeds to Stanage.
I am compelled to believe that here was the "prodigious high hill" by which the Countess of Oxford travelled. For I can find no proof that there then existed, as an alternative, the moorland road which, going up Hathersage village between the brooklet and the church, winds round the gorge in a great loop, on its way to Upper Burbage Bridge and Ringinglowe. There is reason to believe that, as I shall presently show, the latter road was not made, or at least developed for carriage traffic, until 1758.
Turnpike system slow to affect Sheffield
Before entering upon that, however, it is necessary to say a few words on the rise of the turnpike system to which the Hathersage route owes its origin. For we have now come to the threshold of the era which revolutionised transit and largely redeemed England's roads from their low estate. The new movement was slow to reach this neighbourhood, and, when it did come, the gradients adopted were pitiless, and the surfaces provided crude. The best engineering skill of the day seems, at first, to have regarded road-making as beneath its dignity, and the work was largely left to amateurish surveyors. The results, except when some man of inborn genius, like the celebrated Blind Jack of Knaresbro', found his opportunity, were necessarily bad; and notwithstanding drastic Parliamentary edicts as to the breadth of wheels, the weight of loads, and the number of horses, intercommunication continued to labour under severe disabilities. It is significant that when, in the earlier years of the eighteenth century the country generally was largely availing itself of the new powers to establish trusts, and maintain roads by levying tolls on their users, the first local note is one of disfavour. In 1739 the Cutlers' Company and the Town Trustees, relieving, as was their wont, the strain of business with drinks, spent 4s. 6d. apiece "at the Cock, about opposing" a Chesterfield Turnpike Bill. And further items show payments made in contesting a project one would have expected them to welcome. Chesterfield, accordingly, got the benefit of improved access to Bakewell on the one hand, and to the great north road, near Mansfield, on the other.* But Sheffield excluded through traffic from her sacred borders.
[* Footnote See note in the section To the Peak by Stanage, and Appendix.]
To the Peak in 1758
There was a scheme afoot, in 1741, for a turnpike to Manchester, but not until 1758 did it take definite shape. Consideration of this project brings us back to the investigation of Sheffield's link with the Peak. For it was then that Parliament sanctioned the formation of a trust for carrying out a double-barrelled scheme. Power was given, first, to "repair and widen the roads from Little Sheffield through the towns of Hathersage, Hope, and Castleton, to Sparrow Pit Gate" (a point west of Chapel-en-le-Frith, where it would join an existing turnpike to Manchester); second, to deal similarly with the roads "from the Guide Post near Barber's Field Cupola, through Grindleford Bridge, Great Hucklow, Tideswell, Hardgate Wall, and Fairfield, to Buxton".
Let me emphasise the dates. Lady Oxford's visit was in 1745. Not until 1758 was the road by Hathersage, Burbage, and Ringinglowe authorised. The conclusion that she came over Stanage, and by Redmires and the Long Causey, is irresistible. The Redmires route is, indeed, marked on a map, made in 1750 by J. Dickenson for the Marquis of Rockingham, as "Buxton and Castleton road".
Sheffield to Ringinglowe
The bearing of the Sparrow Pit and Grindleford Bridge Turnpike Act on the point we have been discussing access to the Peak will, perhaps, be clearer if, reversing our point of view, we place ourselves in the position of travellers leaving Sheffield. We will not condemn ourselves to following the miseries of the slow-going stage-wagon, compared with which the old Derbyshire market omnibuses you all remember were speedy and luxurious vehicles. Let us rather accompany a coach which, rattling up Fargate and descending Coalpit Lane much steeper then than in its modern form of Cambridge Street would find itself on the "waste", and crossing Sheffield Moor. Despite tentative filchings, under the name of enclosures, noted as early as 1725,* this was still open, gorse-clad common, bounded by Button Lane on the one side, and reaching far down towards the Porter, as it flowed to the Ponds, on the other.
[* Footnote Portland Papers, vol. vi, 144.]
Where this stream now dives from the bottom of Ecclesall Road to Brunswick Chapel, was a ford, approached through swampy ground by a crude road, deep below the footpaths, scored with ruts, abounding in holes, rough with stones. It was not pleasant to traverse this in the day time; according to many well-authenticated stories the perils besetting travellers, overtaken by nightfall before, with floundering wheels, they had crossed this moor, were enough to tax the courage of the boldest and to try the endurance of the hardiest. Beyond the ford there was a sharp ascent past the remote group of houses known as Little Sheffield, to Highfield. Here, leaving the Chesterfield road which continued down Goose Green to Heeley, the Manchester coach would wheel up Sharrow Lane. Noting the intersecting bridle sty, or pack-horse road, to Beauchief, and the scattered houses of sundry substantial yeomen, the travellers would reach their first toll-bar at Sharrow Head. Psalter Lane, which crossed Ecclesall Common, looked down the slope called Sharrow Moor (now Sharrow Vale) with the ancient grinding wheels on the Porter in the near distance, and beyond, a further extent of common, covering the opposite hill slopes to Lidgate.*
[* Footnote The Award (1788) under the Ecclesall Inclosure Act of 1779, shows how extensive and far reaching was Ecclesall Common. The road just described may be said, in general terms, to have run across it all the way from the Moor Head to Ringinglowe. On Sheffield Moor the common extended from the Porter at the Ponds to Button Lane; and the higher reaches of the stream, from the lower gates of the Cemetery, intersected it. Psalter Lane from Sharrow Head to Banner Cross had it on both sides. It reached to near Millhouses on the South, and on the North, or North-west, along the slope extending from Frog Walk to Ecclesall Chapel. It thus embraced Hunter's Bar, Greystones and Dobbin Hill. Then, crossing the Porter, bounded on the East by Brocco Bank, and Newbould Lane to Witham Road and on the West by Oakbrook or Ranmoor it reached to Cross Pool, or Sandygate. From Bents' Green to Ringinglowe the common stretched on the one hand, beyond Broad Oak to Ecclesall Wood, and on the other by Whiteley Wood Green, to the Porter at Whiteley Wood. Even in 1788 it had become largely disjointed, but there was enough left to show that originally it had extended from the Ponds to Ringinglowe in one direction, and from near Abbeydale to the Redmires road on the other. Crookes Moor was part of it.]
The climb over Brincliffe Edge was but a foretaste of the precipitous lane from Banner Cross, beside Ecclesall Chapel, to Bent's Green. Without heeding the longing looks turned by his horses to Bents' Green Lodge, then an inn called "The Rising Sun", the coachman must needs urge them forward to Ringinglowe. And there, the first stage ended, with drooping heads and smoking flanks they were released to seek the stables of the inn beside the quaint octagonal toll house which still stands.
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