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The Early Men who held the Moorlands


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This book is written to tell how Sheffield, one of the great cities of the world, with half a million people in it, known by its name and work in every civilised land, came to be what it is.

People who have only passed by the city in the trains that run through its central valleys - the valleys of the Sheaf and the Don - think of it as a crowded, ugly place, drearily blackened by smoke during the day, and lighted at night by the wavering glare of many furnace fires; and they sometimes say to each other: "How can people pass their lives in a town like this?"

They do not know that it is one of the most beautifully-situated inland cities of the world; that its story recalls much of the history of our land; that the work done in it is like a romance, if we find out how each branch of industry began; that the products which now come from the skill of Sheffield men are helping, more than those of almost any other city, to perform the miracles of modern progress; and that, in short, it is one of the places that lead the world, though its appearance at a glance is not attractive.

To understand a great and old city we must look back as well as around, for the roots of its life are sure to strike deeply into history. It is so with Sheffield. If we would read its story aright - from the beginning - we must go outside the city, and notice how it is placed in the midst of hills and streams, and the remains of what once were woodlands; and we must use our imagination to picture the country around as it was in the distant past, for Sheffield is the centre of a district which belongs to it both through its history and its work. That district bears the old name of Hallamshire.

How far did Hallamshire extend? The earliest accounts we have of it, after laws began to be made and written down, say that Hallamshire consisted of the Manor of Sheffield and 6 miles around it in every direction. Now the Manor of Sheffield, according to the first map of it, made nearly 300 years ago, was 18 miles long; and 6 miles further would include all the country we can reach in a long day's walk in any direction, not only in Yorkshire but also far into Derbyshire.

It would extend beyond Penistone and Langsett; include the upper valley of the Derwent and its tributaries; Eyam, Stoney Middleton, the Cordwell Valley to Whittington, and as far as the old-time woods and marshes of the Rother Valley. We cannot fix the boundaries - perhaps they never were very clearly defined - but we know that at least throughout the district just mentioned, the people for several hundred years have looked towards Sheffield as their capital and the place that had power over their trade through the Cutlers' Company of Sheffield and Hallamshire. About that we shall hear later; but now the thought we are following is that all the country round, into which Sheffield overflows at holiday times, or whenever its people take long walks across the hills, whether in Yorkshire or Derbyshire, is really a part of ancient Hallamshire, and is bound up with Sheffield more closely than the districts around most great towns are identified with them. The lofty, heathery moorlands that circle Sheffield on the North and West, as may be seen from the Walkley Bole Hills, are truly outlands of the city, and have been for many generations, so they must be included in our survey.

Let us look now how the city stands amidst these hills and the rivers that flow from them; for the story of every great city depends largely on its situation.

Sheffield is built where the mountain backbone of Northern England, the Pennine Chain, is sinking down into the level Midlands. Just below the city the River Don, passing between Sky Edge and Wincobank Hill, reaches meadow lands. Above the city its course has been through deeply-cleft hills. The Don itself drains the eastern flank of the central range northward of Derbyshire, but really it receives the waters of moorlands which on their southern and western sides are a part of the Peak country. So also do its first six tributaries. Shortly before reaching Sheffield, the Don has gathered to itself the Little Don and the Ewden. Within the city it receives the Loxley, which has just received the Rivelin, and the Sheaf, which has just received the Porter. The valleys of the Don, the Loxley, the Rivelin, the Porter, and the Sheaf all converge into the city itself in the shape of a fan. Looking up these valleys from Sheffield they are seen to be backed by the lonely moorlands of Totley Moss, Ringinglow Moor, Stanagc Moor, the Bradfield Moors, and the wooded Wharncliffe Chase. From the Tower at Lydgate, the convergence of all these hill-born streams can be seen, and, below the city, their outlet by the Don to the plain.

If we pass up any of these valleys, except that of the Don itself, and cross the hills at their heads, we look down upon the Hallamshire part of the Peak country of Derbyshire, drained by the beautiful river Derwent and its tributaries, the Ashop and Noe. This region is now the city's outlying playground, and almost one of its suburbs, for Sheffield extends to the crest of the hills 7 miles from the Town Hall.

Far beyond the time when history was first written, even in the shortest jottings, the district where Sheffield lies, and to which its skyline reaches, must have been important, though in ways very different from its present importance. We must remember that this stretch of country is in the centre of England and far remote from invasion; that, even now in its highest parts, it is a lonely land, and in the earliest times would be almost inaccessible; and that besides being remote and wild it was surrounded by great forests. We know that, as late as the sixteenth century, Wharncliffe Chase, through which the Don runs, was a famous hunting ground; that later still the Rivelin valley was noted for its fine timber; that in his splendid forest story Ivanhoe, Scott has placed the hall of Cedric the Saxon in the valley of the Rother, the first large tributary of the Don below Sheffield; that beyond the Derwent were the Glossop woodlands and the great Peak Forest, while further off were Holmfirth - the forest of the River Holmefirth - in the north, and Sherwood Forest on the east.

The way to the lonely, rock-crowned hills around the sources of the Don and the Derwent must have been long and dangerous in the days when there were no roads, but only tracks, and when the valleys were undrained and marshy; so these central wilds naturally formed a place of refuge for a succession of the first races of mankind that lived in our land. The less vigorous tribes would shrink from before their stronger enemies, till they withdrew into these solitary fastnesses, which would become a last home of lost causes. Little groups of primitive folk would remain here, probably, long after invaders had conquered the coast-lands and the richer parts of Britain.

Of course, no history of these far-off times remains. Only by reading the signs which time has not destroyed can we surmise what happened when men with stone or horn tools built their defensive earthworks and barricades on the Hallamshire hills. Such signs are scattered plentifully over the moors around Sheffield, and enrich them, for people who have imagination, with a sense of romance.

Who were the first races that lived in these homeless wilds, and have vanished, leaving us only the dumb memorials of their forts and graves? To that question no very confident answer can be given; but from the bones which have been dug out of the barrows, or grave-mounds, here and in many other places throughout Great Britain, it seems that the earliest inhabitants of whom traces remain were a short, dark, long-headed race, who had only stone and horn tools and weapons, and who, having burned their dead, buried the skeletons in long mounds, with rude pottery in which they had placed food to serve the spirits of the dead in a life after death.

Later came a taller and superior race, probably of lighter complexion, with rounder heads, who conquered, but did not wholly destroy, the smaller long-headed race. The conquering bands of invaders used bronze weapons. They, too, burned their dead friends, and then buried the skeletons, often in rude stone or baked coffins, with vessels of pottery and broken weapons placed near, and they covered over the grave with a round mound of earth. Sometimes they seem to have placed a circle of upright stones about the burying-place, perhaps with the idea of keeping the spirits in, so that they might not trouble the living.

These round barrows, once plentiful throughout the district, can still be found on the moors. Many of them have been opened and the skulls, weapons, urns, and vases have been taken away, and a fine collection of them, gathered by Mr. Bateman, and catalogued by Mr. Howarth, may be seen in the Weston Park Museum.

Long periods of time passed when men only had stone tools and weapons; and, later, a period when they had discovered the making and use of bronze; and both these ages, in the slow progress of mankind, before iron and steel were known, are revealed to us through the buried signs of past life found from time to time on the moorlands around Sheffield. Such burying-places were scattered over the lower parts of the country, too, but there they have been levelled long ago by the cultivators of the soil, while on the thinly-peopled moors they have often been undisturbed.

Besides, these faintly-known men of the earliest days seemed to prefer high ground for their burying-places. If you go out on the moors where you can look far around, almost every hill-top has had its "barrow." The word "low" is a sign of it. Ringinglow once had a great grave-mound; and there are, or were, others on Froggatt Edge, on Eyam Moor, Offerton Moor, Moscar Moor, Burbage Moor, Lord's Seat, Mam Tor, Pike Low on Langsett Moor, and, indeed, on all the great, breezy heights with gritstone "edges," which send down their waters to the Don or Derwent, and should be known to every lover of wild and beautiful country who lives in Sheffield.

Here, in the upland world of stone and heather, where the winds gather their bracing cold, and the creeping mists make all shapes loom large and strange, is the graveyard of a far-off past which, by comparison, causes the busy modern life of populous Sheffield to appear only like a few hours in the history of our dear old England. We all ought to open our eyes and our hearts to the earlier story of mankind, and doing so we shall be the more anxious to pass along a nobler tale to the endless generations that will follow us, as God works out His great purpose in the world.


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Pictures for The Early Men who held the Moorlands

Sheffield area, map
Sheffield area, map >>>>

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