MossValley: Chap 1, Fifty Years of Sheffield Church Life 1866-1916, by Rev William Odom
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Fifty Years of Sheffield Church Life

[ see List of Contents for chapter descriptions and illustrations ]

The Rev. W. Odom

[ photo ]
Hon. Canon of Sheffield

Author of Memories of Archdeacon Blakeney; Prayer and Praise for Eventide; &c.

London: "Home Words" Office, 11 Ludgate Square, E.C.
Sheffield: J. W. Northend

This volume of memories of Sheffield Church Life is by his Lordship's kind permission
dedicated to the Right Reverend Leonard Hedley Burrows, D.D.,
first Bishop of the Diocese of Sheffield,
with the loyal and respectful gratitude of the author.

"Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee." - Deut., viii, 2.


[ Start of Chapter 1  |  Full Chapter List with descriptions  |  Illustrations ]

"A small boat must not have a heavy cargo." So runs a Chinese proverb. I much hope the cargo which this book carries may not be deemed too heavy.

The cluster of Recollections – Autobiographical, Biographical, Ecclesiastical, Historical, Parochial, and Topographical – has been gathered primarily for those amongst whom I have been privileged to minister for so many years, but it will, I trust, not be without interest to many other friends in Sheffield and elsewhere. I can hardly expect to escape the charge of egotism; regret it as I may, the frequent use of the capital "I" is, from the nature of the subject, unavoidable.

As the shades of evening gather, memories of days that are past, and of loyal hearts and true "lost awhile", present themselves more vividly.

"The memory brightens e'er the past,
As when the sun concealed
Behind some cloud that near us hangs
Shines on a distant field."

But dear as is the Past, with its memories of blessing and mercies new every morning, the Future, with its promises and hopes, is far dearer – "I press toward the mark". Whilst it is a great relief to lay aside the burden of parochial work in a large parish, it is a constant joy to be permitted still to share in the Church life of Diocese and City. To adopt the words of John Wesley, "I propose to be busy as long as I live, if my health is so long indulged to me."

For considerably more than half a century Sheffield has been to me a kind of foster-parent, for which, I trust, I have not been unmindful. Memories of friends, not a few, crowd upon me as I write, and feelings of gratitude prompt me to do all I can for Church and City whilst opportunity and strength remain.

In the preparation of the following pages I am much indebted to those who have responded to my inquiries on certain points; also to my kinsman, the Rev. Vaniah Odom, B.A., for his kind help in reading through the proof-sheets; to Mr. J. W. Northend, for the great care he has bestowed in the production of the work; and not least to my devoted niece, Miss Kathleen Beetham, for the valuable assistance she has given to me throughout. Nor must I omit to express my warm thanks to the large number of kind friends, whose names will be found at the end of the book, who have encouraged me by subscribing for copies.

Lindum Lodge, Psalter Lane, Sheffield
May, 1917.

Full Contents


THIS PAGE: Sheffield in the 'Sixties
Go to the start of this chapter below.


The Church in Sheffield, 1866-1916
Brief history of the church in Sheffield and its development, timetable of subjects and tutors from an Educational Institute Class List of 1866, clergy names, benefactors, details of churches/parishes, etc — this chapter has been split into two pages, the link taking you to the first of these.


Memories of St. Simon's, 1877-1888
Details of this parish in one of the most densely-populated areas of Sheffield, anecdotes, names, etc.


Christ Church, Heeley, 1888-1916
History, descriptions and anecdotes of Heeley before it became developed, names of residents, and a comprehensive account of the author's incumbency, including details of the church extensions, building of the Sunday Schools, fundraising, collections and expenditure, a little about Nonconformists, names of curates/scripture readers/deaconesses/churchwardens etc, and the author's eventual retirement — this chapter has been split into two pages, the link taking you to the first of these.


Heeley and the War
Names of congregation members fallen in the Great War, including one VC (Sgt-Maj J C Raynes, Royal Artillery, with citation given), together with extracts from letters written by servicemen giving accounts of conditions at the front (France, Belgium, Egypt), their experiences in battle, and thoughts of home; also an account from a survivor of the sinking of the hospital ship 'Anglia' in the Channel.


Recollections – Men and Things
Many names and anecdotes of clergy, laymen and others known and befriended during the author's ministry — this chapter has been split into two pages, the link taking you to the first of these.


Books and Travel
Author's favourite reading, details and a bibliography of other published work, and travel.


In Memoriam – Mary Odom
A very personal tribute from the author to his wife, Mary, who died in 1913.


"God and Cæsar." A Sermon preached before the Mayor and Corporation.
Text of a sermon preached at Sheffield Parish Church in 1887.


"Public Worship – its Methods." A Paper read at the Islington Clerical Meeting, London, 1903.
Text includes the author's observations on the principles established at the time of the Reformation, the dangers of a return to 'mediaevalism', and public worship as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer.

Names of Subscribers
(the names of over 250 subscribers listed alphabetically by surname, of interest to those who may be "ancestor hunting" (in many cases only initials are given, not christian names).
Please note these are only the names of pre-publication subscribers as printed in the book, but many more individuals are mentioned in the text whose names have not been indexed. Throughout this transcript most names have been highlighted in bold at least once (not necessarily if they are repeated). If searching for specific surnames, place names or any other information through the various chapters, make use of the Find or Search facility in your browser while on each page.

Illustrations from the book — click thumbnails for enlargement in a new window
(for chapters and contents, see list above)

Interior of Sheffield Cathedral - click for enlargement

Interior of Sheffield Cathedral Church
(St Peter & St Paul)

Leonard Hedley Burrows, Bishop of Sheffield - click for enlargement

The Bishop of Sheffield, Leonard Hedley Burrows, D.D.,
to whom the book is dedicated

St Simon's Church, Sheffield - click for enlargement

St. Simon's Church, Sheffield (covered in Chapter III)

Exterior of Christ Church, Heeley - click for enlargement

Christ Church, Heeley: exterior
(the author's time at Heeley is covered in Chapter IV)

Interior of Heeley Church - click for enlargement

Heeley Church: Interior

Floor plan of Heeley Church - click for enlargement

Floor plan of Heeley Church,
dating the various extensions

Whit-Monday at Heeley - click for enlargement

Whit-Monday at Heeley
(no date given, but possibly ca. 1916/1917)

Heeley Vicarage - click for enlargement

Heeley Vicarage
The individuals are not named, but could well be Rev and Mrs Odom

Rev. Canon William Odom - click for enlargement

The author,
Rev. Canon William Odom

Memorial Cross, Heeley Churchyard - click for enlargement

Memorial Cross for Mary Odom,
Heeley Churchyard (see Chapter VIII)

Memorial Window, Heeley Church - click for enlargement

Memorial and Commemoration Window, Heeley Church

Dedication - click for enlargement

This copy of the book includes a handwritten dedication
from the author to the Bishop of Sheffield, 1917

Chapter I


"Even so my varied life
Drifts by me; I am young, old, happy, sad,
Hoping, desponding, acting, taking rest,
And all at once: that is, those post conditions
Float back at once on me."

Great are the pleasures of memory, even though dimmed by regrets of things left undone which ought to have been done, and things done which ought not to have been done. Those who, through devious paths, have sought to follow the star of Duty may see clearly the Guiding Hand which led and kept them through many and great perils, and will be constrained to exclaim with the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits".

Sheffield in the 'sixties! How surprisingly different from the Sheffield of to-day. The contrasts, both in centre and suburb, are great indeed. My first sight of the town was in the early 'sixties. At that time the town – it had not then attained the dignity of a city – was all aglow with excitement and gaiety on the occasion of the marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales, to the Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Decorations, processions, and festivities were the order of the day. Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Brown was the Mayor – there was no Lord Mayor then. Coming from a quiet country town, "far from the madding crowd", there was much to interest, with not a little to cause surprise and pain. At almost every corner in the centre of the town were flaring gin palaces, and the large number of drunken men and women in the streets startled me. I am glad to say that many of these places of temptation have gone, and so far as I can judge drunkenness in the streets has greatly diminished.

Until the new home was ready my first few days were at the old hostelry, "The Black Swan", Snig Hill, not far from Bank Street, where ten happy years of business life were to be spent. I well remember gazing on the old-world timbered houses opposite, long since pulled down for the widening of the road. At that time the central streets were very narrow, and the shops small, many with old-fashioned fronts. The books shops were a great attraction, especially the second-hand ones in Watson Walk, West Bar, and Barker Pool, where often I found bargains which suited my slender purse, and so, long before having a house of my own, I was the happy possessor of a well-filled bookcase. Since those days my books, on many subjects, have increased to such an extent that it has become difficult to know where to stow them.

The population of Sheffield was then 185,157, whilst the dwelling-houses numbered 41,764. Fifty years later the population, according to the census of 1911 (exclusive of Tinsley, since added), was 455,817, whilst the number of dwelling-houses had more than doubled, exceeding 108,000, notwithstanding that a large number of old premises, including whole streets, had been demolished to make room for larger buildings and wider thoroughfares. In 1861 the rateable value of property was £446,866, which at the close of 1916 had increased to £2,106,880. Such has been the rapid growth of the city.

During the last fifty years Sheffield has made remarkable strides in the matter of education. With the bare mention of the Firth College, founded by Mr. Mark Firth in 1879, at a cost, with endowment, of nearly £30,000 (now merged in the Sheffield University); the University College (1897) afterwards the University of Sheffield, created by Royal Charter in 1905, when the fine buildings in Western Bank were opened by H.M. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra; I would more especially refer to Elementary Education.

Shortly after the first School Board for Sheffield was formed in 1870, special inquiries showed that with 40,000 children of school age living in the borough there was school accommodation for 28,000, almost wholly provided by Church and Denominational Schools, with only 12,000 children in attendance. Temporary schools were promptly hired, large Board Schools were rapidly built, and attendance enforced.

In March, 1873, there were in the Board Schools thirteen head teachers, four assistants, thirty-five pupil teachers, one sewing mistress, and two monitors. To-day, figures taken from the Report of the Education Committee, 1915-16, present a remarkable contrast.

At the end of July, 1916, there were 63,006 children on the registers of Council Schools, and 20,613 on the registers of Non-Provided Schools, making in all 83,619 children in schools maintained by the Education Committee. The Elementary Council Schools numbered seventy-two, embracing 186 departments. The Non-Provided Schools numbered forty-two, embracing eighty-seven departments; making a total of 114 schools and 273 departments.

There were 1,259 head and assistant teachers in Council Schools, and 426 head and assistant teachers in Non-Provided Schools, and in addition 154 certificated and three uncertificated assistant teachers on war service. Also, six teachers from Training Colleges were unable to commence work in Sheffield owing to military duties, and eight assistants had already laid down their lives whilst on active service. There were 163 pupil teachers in Elementary Schools.

The total expenditure other than out of loans, during the year ended 31st March, 1916, was £422,522. 12s. 1d. The Grant receivable for the year represented 44.31 per cent of the total expenditure, leaving 55.69 per cent to be provided locally, including rates. The income for the year included £18,693. 3s. 4d. from the Imperial Exchequer. The total income from all sources, other than rates, was £208,770. 14s. 7d., leaving £213,751. 17s. 6d. to be provided out of the rates. The City Council paid into the Committee's fund the sum of £213,120 (equivalent to a call upon the rates of 25.69d. in the £), in addition to £660. 9s. 4d. to balance the expenditure in respect of the previous year.

Such is the record of educational progress in less than fifty years. It may be said that of the forty-nine Non-Provided Schools, thirty-nine (including the two Charity Schools) are Church of England, nine Roman Catholic, and one private. To this may be added that in 1916 King Edward VII School, which holds a high position amongst the public schools of England, had on its Roll 510 boys, and the Central Secondary Schools 901 scholars, of whom 426 were boys and 475 girls. The students at the Secondary Evening Schools in 1916 numbered 1,076, whilst in the District Evening Schools no fewer than 11,076 were enrolled.

As we look at these figures, and the many and varied subjects of study provided, and consider the great and peculiar educational advantages of to-day compared with those of half a century ago, our hopes for the coming generation are very high. We can only wish that the words of one of Earth's great teachers may not be forgotten: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom".

In 'Reminiscences of Old Sheffield', edited by Mr. R. E. Leader, we are told that about 1810-15 "London letters were brought by horse mail round by Worksop, and the rider fired his pistol at the Market Place to notify his arrival. There was then only one letter-carrier for the whole town, a female who lived in Lee Croft, and she carried the letters in a small hand basket covered with a white napkin".

In 1864, shortly after which I had to call at the old Post Office in the Market Place each morning for letters, the Post Office staff consisted of the Postmistress (Miss Ellen Wreaks) and seventeen clerks, with about twenty letter-carriers. Of these old clerks, one, Mr. George Smith, was resident in Heeley, and an attendant at Heeley Church for more than fifty years, and for some time our excellent churchwarden. To-day, in addition to the sub-postoffices, we have the fine block of buildings in Fitzalan Square, with a total staff in September, 1916, of 1,163, including 316 clerks and 498 postmen. The mean and inconvenient Midland Station was at the foot of the Wicker, whilst the Victoria Station was comparatively small.
[More about the Sheffield railway, including illustrations of Victoria Station and the Wicker Arches, is contained in our transcript of The First Railway between Manchester and Sheffield, and in particular Chapter 4. The page also contains links to more information.]

A few 'buses passed through the narrow streets to the suburbs, one of the most noticeable being the four-horse 'bus to Broomhill, driven by "Old Neddy", whose picturesque figure and familiar squint are still remembered. To-day the tramcars run over some forty miles of double track, whilst the receipts of cars and motor 'buses during 1916 exceeded a weekly average of £10,200. All this helps to indicate the remarkable changes which Sheffield has witnessed during the last fifty years.

In the 'sixties, apart from the churches and chapels, the only public buildings of note were the Cutlers' Hall, with about half of its present frontage, the Town Hall at the corner of Castle Street and Waingate (now the Police Courts), the old Music Hall and the Free Library in Surrey Street, the Norfolk and Fitzalan Market Halls, with the General Infirmary, Wesley College, and Collegiate School in the suburbs. As a recent writer truly says, Sheffield's civic architecture was inferior to other Northern and Midland towns, and the town itself "was scarcely yet emerged from the status of an overgrown village".

To those of us who are able to recall the past, the Sheffield of to-day shows a remarkable transformation, not only in its widened and well-paved streets, its imposing banks, shops, and other business establishments, but also in its public buildings. To name only a few, we may point to the Town Hall, the Albert, Montgomery, and Victoria Halls, the University buildings, the Firth College, the Education Offices, the General Post Office, the Young Men's Christian Association buildings, the Royal Hospital, the Jessop Hospital for Women, the greatly-enlarged Royal Infirmary, and the many Council Schools scattered throughout the City.

I made early acquaintance with two of the Sheffield papers – the Independent, then noted for the fullness and accuracy of its local reports; and the Daily Telegraph, a somewhat feeble production until it came under the able control of Mr. W. C. Leng, who speedily revolutionized the paper, and made it a power politically, commercially, socially, and religiously. What a contrast between the mean-looking office of the Telegraph in High Street in the 'sixties and the palatial block of buildings which to-day proudly dominates the head of the same street.

Those of us who remember what Abbeydale, Heeley, Crookes, Walkley, and the great stretch of green fields between the old Collegiate School and Ecclesall Church (not to name other parts) were like fifty years ago, find it difficult to realize the great changes.  Beauty has given way to utility, and it must be confessed in not a few places to depressing ugliness which a little wise forethought might have prevented.

I have a vivid recollection of the terrible Flood caused by the bursting of the Dale Dyke Reservoir of the Water Company at Bradfield on the midnight of Friday, March, 11th, 1864. Going up Sheffield Moor on the Saturday morning, and seeing knots of excited people earnestly talking, I felt sure that something out of the common had happened. On the newspaper posters were the ominous words "Awful Catastrophe!" and it was some time before the extent of the fearful calamity could be realized. The destruction of property was enormous, including tilts, mills, factories, &c., destroyed or flooded, 927; houses destroyed or flooded, 4,697; in addition to which eleven churches, chapels, and schools were flooded, and twenty bridges wholly or partly destroyed. The dead and missing numbered 240, the greater part resident at Malin Bridge, Hillsborough, and Neepsend. In the Don Valley I saw distressing sights: wrecked dwellings, rescue parties at work digging out bodies from the debris, and bearing them away. Compensation claims made upon the Water Company amounted to £455,164, whilst the contributions to the Relief Fund, headed by £200 from Queen Victoria, exceeded £50,000. The sad story is told at length in 'The Great Sheffield Flood', by Samuel Harrison.
[An account of the Great Sheffield Flood from the Illustrated London News is transcribed here. Links to more information also on the page.]

I well remember the great excitement in 1867 caused by the Commission of Enquiry in connexion with the terrible trade outrages, which resulted in admissions by members of grinders' societies that they had been guilty of explosive outrages, rattening, and even murder, nearly all the worst cases being planned by one William Broadhead, who kept a public-house in Carver Street. The revelation of crimes committed brought a black cloud over Sheffield, and at the time one felt ashamed of living in the town. The guilty men who had confessed, and their accomplices, were granted freedom from punishment, and their many crimes were, it was manifest, utterly abhorrent to the great body of workers.

My recollections of the Church life of Sheffield at this period must be reserved for the next chapter, but I may here say that in the wayward days of youth I was somewhat of a religious vagrant. At times I found my way with friends to Brunswick Chapel, and occasionally visited the Cemetery Road Baptist Chapel, of which the Rev. Giles Hester was the minister – an able preacher, but somewhat bitter against the Church of England. Sometimes I was attracted to the Cemetery Road Congregational Chapel by the fame of the Rev. Brewin Grant, a scholarly man and a skilled debater, who later went over to the Church of England, and became Vicar of St. Paul's, Bethnal Green, London. Occasionally I found myself at the Tabernacle in Oxford Street, then almost in the country.

In due course, having come to years of discretion, my wanderings ceased, and I found a home at St. Matthew's Church, of which the Rev. F. J. Witty was the Vicar, and became a Sunday School teacher in the old Carver Street Schools, now, I regret to say, used as a warehouse. The Day and Sunday Schools were then largely attended. At St. Matthew's I heard Dr. Gatty, the venerable Vicar of Ecclesfield, preach several times, and occasionally we had the Rev. H. D. Jones, my predecessor at Heeley, who, with somewhat monotonous voice, and without animation, would discourse for half-an-hour or more.

In those days Penny Readings with music were popular, and at St. Matthew's most successful, the attendance numbering from 300 to 400. It was here I gained my first experience of public speaking. The reciters and singers of various Churches were accustomed to interchange. One evening I was invited to take part in the Penny Readings at St. Marie's Roman Catholic Schools, St. Mary's Road, when the genial Canon Walshaw presided over a crowded audience. My recitation was Bell's lengthy poem, "Mary, Queen of Scots", which elicited warm commendations from the chairman. In after years we frequently met, when the worthy priest had always a few cheery words. When my Memories of Archdeacon Blakeney was announced, Canon Walshaw was one of the first to send me a kind letter, asking for an early copy of the life of his old friend. This is one of many pleasant recollections.

But I am digressing. After a time, I was attracted to St. Simon's Church, of which the Rev. James Battersby was the Vicar. Here I continued to worship and work to the time of going to college, returning after my college life and ordination as curate of the parish, of which, on the preferment of Mr. Battersby to the Vicarage of St. James, I became vicar. Memories of the twelve happy and, I trust, fruitful years of ministry here still remain with me, of which more in another chapter.

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II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  IX  |  X  or  Alphabetical list of subscribers

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