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The Writers of Sheffield History


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Hallamshire has been fortunate in the writers of its history. Few parts of the country have been watched more patiently throughout the centuries, till almost everything that is ever likely to be known is known. This is due chiefly to the researches of two historians - Joseph Hunter and Robert Eadon Leader; but also in some degree to Dr. Gatty and Mr. Sidney O. Addy. About Mr. Leader and Dr. Gatty something will be said later; here, before passing to the life and indispensable studies of the Rev. Joseph Hunter, mention must be made of Mr. Addy, and of John Wilson of Broomhead Hall. mr. addy's ingenious inquiries into the past have turned largely on language. Words are the keys with which he tries to open doors of old knowledge that is new to us. He is fruitful in suggestions, which he throws down before his readers, leaving them to judge whether they are likely to contain facts. His Hall of Waltheof discusses a wide variety of interesting antiquarian points.

john wilson was not a writer, but a collector of the materials for local history. A descendant of an honourable ancestry of country gentry, and living in the ancient mansion of Broomhead Hall, just below the point where the River Ewden passes from wild moorland to the cultivated part of its course, he made the collection of memorials of his native district a hobby for more than forty years. Much of the material John Wilson gathered was valuable, and much of it trivial, for he had not the knack of selection and condensation, but his great assortment of facts, surmises, suggestions, and traditions, when placed at the disposal of Joseph Hunter, were very useful, and have served to stimulate that local curiosity and pride without which the story of any district is liable to be forgotten.

Joseph Hunter, who dug down to the foundations of Hallamshire history, was born in Sheffield on February 6, 1783, the son of Michael Hunter, a manufacturer. The family still retains its place in the manufacturing life of the city. Joseph Hunter was interested from boyhood in studying the remains of the past. He received, early, some classical education, and became able to read the languages used in old records; but his guardian apprenticed him, at the age of fourteen, to the cutlery trade for seven years, paying with him the sum of 100 to his master, William Hatfield, maker of knives. The studious lad served his whole seven years to the trade, and on September 24, 1804, was admitted to the freedom of the Cutlers' Company. His indenture and freedom now hang framed in the Board Room of the Cutlers' Hall.

Joseph Hunter, having thus "served his time" as an apprentice, at once turned his back on cutlery, which so far, according to his indentures, had provided him "good, wholesome and sufficient meat, drink and lodging, and sixteen pence a year wages." His alternative to the business was to enter the Unitarian College at York and become a minister. It may be mentioned, by the way, that Hunter's family remained in the cutlery and steel trades, and, since his day, three, in successive generations, have filled the office of Master Cutler.

On leaving college Joseph Hunter became pastor of the Unitarian Church at Bath; but all his life he was fascinated by historical research, and was collecting and arranging materials for painstaking local and personal studies. His invaluable History of Hallamshire appeared in 1819. The History of the Deanery of Doncaster was completed twelve years later. These and other works drew attention to him as a remarkably expert student of old records, and in 1833 he was appointed to a post in the Public Records Office, and spent the rest of his life - twenty-eight more years - in editing public papers that have been preserved from the distant past, and in making literary and genealogical investigations. At his death he left a mass of private manuscripts recording his patient and careful researches, and the British Museum purchased all his papers for the use of later students.

The interest of Joseph Hunter's own family in Sheffield did not cease with his death in 1861, for one of his sons, Dr. Julian Hunter, of Bath, was through his will a generous supporter of Sheffield University. He it was, too, who gave his father's apprenticeship papers to the Cutlers' Company.

Later writers have found singularly little that needed correction in Joseph Hunter's History of Hallamshire, so thorough was he in his studies and so moderate in his judgments. The book, with its extracts from ancient records, its copious family pedigrees, and its well-balanced discussion of all doubtful points, remains a model for writers of original local history.

What Joseph Hunter did for the early history of Hallamshire, mr. Robert Eadon Leader has done for the later history of Sheffield, beginning with the time when the records of the Sheffield Burgery and of the Cutlers' Company become available, and continuing almost to the present day.

Mr. Leader comes of a Sheffield family of sound middle-class repute, long identified with the Sheffield Independent newspaper. His grandfather, Robert Leader, placed that journal on a firm footing as a weekly early in the nineteenth century. His father, Robert Leader, wielded much influence both through his newspaper and by his activity in public life. His elder brother, John Daniel Leader, wrote the standard book on Mary, Queen of Scots, in Captivity, dealing with her life in Sheffield and the neighbourhood.

Mr. Robert Eadon Leader's own work in awakening interest in the city's past, and providing materials for study, is divided between two types of writing-first, the editing of records such as the Accounts and Minutes of the Town Trustees, with the necessary explanations and comments, a task of great labour skilfully accomplished; and, secondly, the writing of chatty reminiscences respecting the people of Sheffield, the growth of the city, and the development of its institutions during periods that are just within or beyond the personal or hearsay memories of the generation that is now passing away. By the valuable historical records he has preserved - as in his exhaustive History of the Cutlers' Company - and by his popular preservation of Sheffield life, character, and topography, Mr. Leader deserves a place of honour beside Joseph Hunter.

Dr. Alfred Gatty is claimed for Hallamshire because he lived there as vicar of the fine Parish Church of Ecclesfield for nearly sixty-four years, and wrote about the history of the district with care, diligence, and delight. He was born in London in 1813, educated at Eton and Oxford, and came to Ecclesfield in 1839. It could be said of him at last that, like Goldsmith's village preacher, he "ne'er had changed nor wished to change his-place."

Dr. Gatty was engaged in quietly writing books during the greater part of a very long life. One volume was on Sundials; another on Bells. His chief labours, however, were on local history. In 1869 he republished Hunter's monumental History of Hallamshire. That book is the quarry of local history to which all writers on Hallamshire go for the materials with which they build. Hunter's work appeared first in 1819. Dr. Gatty brought it up to date, and added to it from the new store of historical knowledge that had accumulated since Hunter wrote. A few years later Gatty published a smaller history of a popular character, under the title Sheffield Past and Present.

The restoration of the ancient church at.Ecclesfield, where Hunter the historian is buried, was carried out under Dr. Gatty's directions in 1861. Dr. Gatty himself died at Ecclesfield, on January 20, 1903, in his ninetieth year. Among those who have undertaken original research into the history of Hallamshire, he will always hold an honourable place. One of his daughters, Mrs. Ewing, was a writer of most charming tales for children; her mother, too, wrote for the young, the best known of her books being Parables from Nature.

Besides the names that have been woven into the story of Sheffield industry and of the progress of religion and education in the city, there are a number of notable men of the locality who should be known to every son and daughter of Hallamshire. One whose capacity was never thoroughly appreciated by the citizens of Sheffield in his lifetime was Samuel Bailey.

His father was a manufacturer and merchant of Sheffield wares, who lived at Burn-greave House, then a country residence. On his mother's side Samuel was the grandson of Mr. Eadon, the master of the free writing-school kept in the district which is now called "The Crofts." When he joined in the family business, Samuel showed such energy that he went to America to extend the sale' of Sheffield goods; but he early withdrew from business, and settled down to a retired life as a. writer and arm-chair politician.

He was born in 1791. When he was ten years old his father was Master Cutler. At the age of thirty the son published Essays on the Formation and Publication of Public Opinions, a book that went through three editions in ten years. James Mill, one of the most thoughtful writers of those days, ranked it with Adam Smith's great book of lasting fame, The Wealth of Nations, as the two modern books between which he would have to choose if he were selecting the book he would have been most proud to have written.

During the next forty-five years Samuel Bailey published other books from time to time, on the philosophy of politics, political economy, the action of the human mind; with one volume of poems, and some literary criticisms. These writings caused Ebenezer Elliott, the corn-law rhymer, to describe Bailey as the "Hallamshire Bentham," after Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the way of thinking that is known as "philosophical radicalism," and has been most nearly represented in a later generation by John Morley.

Bailey was a very reserved, silent, self-contained man, but took a considerable part in public life. When he was thirty-seven he was elected a Town Trustee. Three years later he was one of the founders of the Sheffield Banking Company, and for many years was its chairman. He also was, from time to time, chairman of the Literary and Philosophical Society.

After the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, he contested Sheffield as one of its first representatives in Parliament, but was the bottom candidate of four who fought for two seats. In 1834 he was again one of three parliamentary candidates for the two seats, and was again defeated, though he polled a much larger vote. He made no further attempt to enter Parliament.

When Samuel Bailey died, suddenly, in January, 1870, at a good old age, after a methodical bachelor-life brightened by few friendships, it was found that he had left more than 80,000 to the Town Trust for public purposes, thus doubling the income of that highly useful body, and, in addition, he had left considerable legacies to local public institutions.

A reserved man, who lived most of his life within himself, Samuel Bailey just missed several distinctions. He missed that clearness as a writer which holds men's attention. He missed the glowing heart of the reformer who combines feeling with thought. He missed the sustaining power of a cordial trust between man and man. With these helps he would have been one of Sheffield's greatest men. But he crowned his whole career at last by a wise generosity.


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Pictures for The Writers of Sheffield History

JOSEPH HUNTER
JOSEPH HUNTER >>>>
CHAPEL OF EASE
CHAPEL OF EASE >>>>
Ecclesfield Church
Ecclesfield Church >>>>
SAMUEL BAILEY
SAMUEL BAILEY >>>>

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