With a worldwide reputation for producing steel products, Sheffield is a popular South Yorkshire town located at the foothills of the Peak District National Park.
A visit to any town isn’t complete without seeing at least one museum and this trip was no different. I learned about the towns’ industrial heritage, of this former coal mining town and accompanying steel works dating back to the late 1700’s.
I remember as a kid my grandmother owning Sheffield steel knives, with handles made from elephant ivory, which of course is now banned since elephants are now protected. My father and grandfather used chisels and sheep shears that came from Sheffield. Before modern machinery, all these implements were made by hand, often in cramped, polluted and damp workshops dotted around the town. Many of the workers in these factories were children, some as young as eleven, working twelve hours a day, six days a week. The youngest steelworker is said to have been just seven years old but in the 1870’s, a rule was brought in that all children under the age of 10 were required to attend school. At the peak of manufacture, fifty-five thousand implements were made by each worker each year. That’s over a thousand a week!
In the picture above, you can see how steel implements were made by hand, using big stone rollers, initially made from sandstone. This was dangerous work as they didn’t have first aid back then and protective clothing was unheard of resulting in many eye injuries from flying sparks of fine metal called coits hitting the workers during the manufacturing process. The average lifespan of a steel worker was just twenty-six.
At the height of the industrial revolution, tokens such as this one were used to pay workers. The Royal Mint produced copper currency but often couldn’t distribute them quick enough, so local companies took it upon themselves to produce small tokens which workers could save up to purchase the supplies they needed. Shopkeepers accepted them as payment and would then take them back to the issuer and swap for real currency. Sheffield was one of the last towns ever to distribute these tokens, being subsequently banned by an Act of Parliament in the 1870’s as they were too prone to forgery and counterfeiting.
I stayed at a cheap, rustic, inner city pub called The Harley, having caught a direct train from Stockport in just over half an hour.
While only a single room, at £44 for the night, it was basic but quite comfortable and mostly quiet despite being located in the centre of town…and a live band playing downstairs in the bar until late. A basic cooked breakfast and coffee was included in the price. If you’re looking for a comfortable and affordable place to lay your head, this hotel is one of the best and cheapest options I’ve come across in my travels thus far.