Sheffield – A Reverie

Part of my job here at the sunny University of Nottingham, is to organise workshops, conferences, that sort of thing.  I am in the process of setting one up for November and it will be held in Sheffield.

I grew up in Sheffield. Lived in Hillsborough for a while, and went to infant school there.  My family moved when I went up to Junior school, so I went to Parson’s Cross, and then onto Chaucer Comprehensive.

I have never really felt any romantic need to reminisce about Sheffield before, in fact, when I moved away at 16, I actually felt it was a good thing.  It seemed to me at the time, what with the increased unemployment and the general degeneration of the city centre, that it was a dying city. Sure, I would have liked to have stayed a little longer – I wanted to go to college with my friends (family dictated that I move to Skegness with them after my step-father was made redundant).  Even if I had stayed for college, I knew that I would not have made a career or home there. Compared to other cities at the time (circa 1986/7) I felt Sheffield was dirty, and run down, which thinking about it now, with the eyes of an adult, it probably was.

I haven’t really been back to Sheffield since about 1989.  I understand in that 20 years, there has been many changes. I have heard over the last few years that the local authorities have made an effort to revamp Sheffield and improve its appearance and reputation.  It now has a tram system, and a couple of Universities (they were only polytechnics when I was there).

I don’t remember a whole lot about my time there, as I had literally just finished high school when we moved, but there are a few lasting memories.

The Sheffield Show – most large cities and towns have an annual fete or show at some point during the summer.  I remember going there as a kid, and wandering past all the stands and being give free stuff! Admittedly, a lot of this stuff was publicity and promotional items such as a pen, or hat or key ring sporting the logo of some local firm.  They used to have fair ground rides and a there was a display area that had the local dance/karate/scouts club or whatever doing some demo. There was a stage too, run by the local station Radio Hallam.  I remember one year being quite impressed they had Showaddywaddy on.  Okay – I was only about 8 at the time!

Peace Gardens – Never really knew why they were called that.  It was a great place to have a seat and some lunch in between all the busy hanging out and chatting with pals.

Rebels / The Wappentake – During my high school years – I discovered ROCK!!!  I fell in love with rock music, particularly of the heavy metal/punk/Goth variety.  Two of the coolest places to hang out if you like rock or alternative music was the Wappentake (or just the Wap to its friends) and then onto the Rebels nightclub.  Now, I was never really old enough to go into the Wappentake.  I tried to once, with some friend – all of whom were younger than me – and I was the one that got kicked out. The gift of looking younger than my true age that I treasure now, I hated back then.

Rebels however, were not nearly as scrupulous about the whole age thing, and so in the last year of highschool I was a fairly regular visitor to said establishment.  It was a dark and dingy club with one bar and a sticky floor.  The seating round the edge of the room was interspersed with the occasional speaker which meant that the whole thing vibrated.  You had to climb several flights of stairs to get in, then bought your ticket (for a whole £1 if I remember rightly) then immediately turned to your left and handed it to the guy on the door who threaded it onto a string.  There was also a tv high in a corner that showed videos of Power Hour – a late night rock show.  When I went, it was the height of NWOBHM and bands like Def Leppard were kings, so a sea of denim and leather greeted you as you walked in.  There was also the cock rock queens – fans of Bon Jovi et al, and your thrashers in their Bermuda shorts a la Anthrax.  The strange and exotic goth girls with their crimped hair and lacy collars – what I desperately wanted to be – but I usually went in jeans and a t-shirt as I had told my mom that I was just spending the night at a friends.

The Hole In The Road – or as it it officially known – Castle Square.  This was, to a young child, a strange and magical labyrinth.  It was built as a means of pedestrians being able to navigate from one busy shopping street to another, avoiding the dangers of the traffic above.  You would descend an escalator and then walk through the hole, the top of which was open to the sky, and ascend up to your desired destination.  I don’t know how many times I attempted this but never seemed to get the right set of stairs the first time.  There was a few department stores above that had display windows round the edge, but the thing I remember most is the fish tank.  There was a large fish tank embedded into the wall on one side and was always a great meeting point for friends or lovers.

In the later 80s it fell into disrepair, with damaged lighting, graffiti, and general refuse – it became a muggers paradise.  Sadly, in the mid 90s, they filled it in.  I do think that this was a big mistake and that the council could have found another way to have the tram navigate the city centre, and instead spent some cash renovating it, repairing the paving stones and creaky escalators.  It was a unique feature of Sheffield and the city and its residents are the poorer without it.

Anyway, come November, I will hopefully get a chance to have a quick nosey around and will report back.

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