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The use of the Roads - Past and Present


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One of the drawbacks from which Sheffield suffered till quite recent times was that, to a remarkable extent, it was cut off from the busiest parts of the country by want of good roads. None of the great highways touched it, and it was shut in on the north and west by homeless hills that were only crossed by narrow foot tracks. The wonder is how the wares which the Hallamshire men made and sold were distributed throughout the kingdom. There were no wheeled vehicles for passengers, for there were no roads on which wheeled vehicles could run. The products of the Sheffield smithies and grinding sheds were bought largely by chapmen, or travelling traders, who brought strings of pack-horses into the town, loaded up their purchases, and set out across the winding moorland tracks in much the same manner that a caravan of camels goes in procession across an African desert. Mr. R. E. Leader, in one of his books, describes how as many as fifty loaded horses would be waiting in the street to follow one another out of the town in the morning, and people who were journeying in the direction the pack-horse procession was taking would go with them. Some of the smaller manufacturers would have their own horses, and would load them up with the knives and sickles they had made, and travel into goods as Lancashire or elsewhere to sell their travelling packmen used to sell cloth.

To this day we can see many of the pack-horse tracks across the moors, sunk deep by the passage of horses and men, and winding right and left past swampy places. Where these tracks and the "bridle roads" for riding topped the hills, upright stones were placed as guides on the sky-line - a very necessary precaution, especially in snowy weather. All visitors to Sheffield, before the eighteenth century, rode along these narrow tracks through the wilds.

In the eighteenth century some roads began to be made, but they were not the roads we now know. Not one of the existing main highways out of Sheffield was made before the nineteenth century. In summer we bowl along gaily in a coach, or a motor conveyance, by Owler Bar to Baslow, or by Dore Moor and the "Surprise" to Hathersage, or by the Rivelin Valley, Hollow Meadows, and Moscar to Ashopton; but if we think these well-graded roads, that horses can trot up or trot down, were known long ago, we are mistaken. The Owler Bar road was not made till 1812. The Ashopton road was not made till 1821.

The ways out of the town, even after wheeled vehicles came into use and roads were widened, were different from those we now use. For instance, the way to Barnsley was not by Burngreave Road, but you crossed Lady Bridge - a narrow bridge which has been widened again and again - went by Nursery Street to Bridgehouses, and then tackled the steep ascent up Pyebank to Pitsmoor.

If you were going to London, you went from Barker Pool down Coalpit Lane, now Cambridge Street, and across Sheffield Moor, a gorse-clad waste, in a deep lane between high banks, and so reached the ford over the Porter Brook, alongside a pond near where Brunswick Chapel now is. Horses splashed through the brook, and foot passengers crossed at the side over a little wooden bridge. Then you went up a lane to Highfield, and by Goose Green to Heeley, where the road by Newfield Green wound up a narrow lane towards Aston.

If you were bound for Buxton, you followed this same road as far as Highfield, and then branched off up Sharrow Lane and Psalter Lane to Banner Cross, and thence up the High Lane to Ringinglow. At Ringinglow you turned away to the left for Buxton by what is now a wide, grass-covered road, and so reached Fox House and Grindleford, whence the road tackled the Sir William Hill by a heartbreaking ascent, and so away to Hucklow and Tideswell.

This wide road to Ringinglow and across the moor to Fox House was a grand coaching road - the road of the district, made when by law such roads had to be 200 feet wide, to prevent lurking robbers from springing suddenly on the traveller. And, besides, when the road became impassable in one place there was room to make a firmer track elsewhere.

If you were going to Manchester you could keep forward over the moor from Ringinglow to Burbage Bridge, and then descend to Hathersage by a sweep to the right past Overstones. The way to the left into the road below the "Surprise" was made much later. From Hathersage you went to Castleton, and through the Winnats gorge to Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Or you could make your way to Broomhill by Broad Lane, and by the Roman Causeway over Stanage, and so down either to Hathersage or Sickleholme on the way to Castleton. There was also a road in the Don Valley by Wortley to Peni-stone. These were the old roads out of Sheffield, and they were so bad that Horace Walpole, when visiting the Wortleys at Wharncliffe, described them as "insufferable."

With its few and bad roads, then, Sheffield was isolated in the midst of its woods and moors and plentiful streams. Its chief outlet was by way of Rotherham to Tickhill and Bawtry, where it reached the Great North Road, and came into touch with Hull by way of the River Idle and the Trent. In 1739, the navigation of the Don was improved to Tinsley, but it was not till 1819 that the Sheffield Canal was opened from Tinsley, and coal could be brought in to compete with that raised in the town and the park.

With London there was no regular communication till 1710, when a stage-waggon for trading purposes began to run. The London stage-coach was not established till 1760, and by 1787 coaches were running on five roads.

When the railway era began, Sheffield was again left out in the cold. George Stephenson was emphatic in taking the Midland original main line down the valley of the Rother from Chesterfield to Masborough, thus leaving Sheffield aside, and only giving it a connection by a branch line to Masborough. The first direct railway connection that the town secured with a main line was with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire route, now the Great Central, which opened up a fresh way to the coast at Grimsby, and gave access to the north and the south at Retford, through the Great Northern line.

It was not till 1871 that the Pond Street Midland Station was opened, and not till 1893 that there was any railway access to the west except by the Great Central line round the north of the Peak hills, or southward by the Midland to Ambergate. In 1893 the opening of the Dore and Chinley line gave the town its only railway outlet through the moorland part of Hallamshire. Though little fault can be found now with the railway accommodation, it has been with extreme slowness that the city, which more than any other has served railways with materials for their engineering, has been itself provided with suitable railway facilities for carrying on the trades upon which its prosperity depends.

One effect of the comparative isolation of Sheffield until quite recent times has been that the moorlands to the west and north have been left to a large extent in their natural state, and have served as a kind of wild playground for the workers in the city - a moral compensation for a certain amount of business slowness, if not neglect.

While communications between Sheffield and the outside world were, on the whole, decidedly defective until quite recent years, considering the size and commercial importance of the city, the state of its internal avenues of activity could not be said to be much better; but for that there were strong natural reasons, which, however, have been overcome in a most creditable way, until at the present time the city ranks high for its arrangements for passenger and business traffic.

Thirty years ago, Sheffield streets were in such a state as to give the place a bad name with strangers who entered it for business purposes. They were inconvenient and congested, and movement from the centre to the suburbs was slow, expensive, and comfortless. All that has been changed, and now the business part of the city is commodious, the main thoroughfares have been widened and made comparatively dignified, and the means of internal transit have attained an excellence unsurpassed anywhere, if quickness, comfort, and cheapness are the tests. The opening out and paving of the streets have been managed in an enlightened way, and the tramway service is one of the best in the world. Here it should be said that, so far as internal business movement is concerned, the conditions are exceptionally difficult, owing to the configuration of the ground on which the city is built. The railways necessarily run almost along the lowest levels of the central valleys of the Sheaf and the Don; and neither railway can possibly climb to a position that is quite central. The great industrial works must to a large extent occupy the valleys alongside the railways. The business and shopping centre lies a quarter of a mile up the steep slope of the ridge which intervenes between the two railway valleys, and from it all the main streets to the suburbs diverge like the spokes of a wheel, some following the valleys, others climbing the various ridges lying between. The framework of the city is indeed made of valley roads and hill roads diverging wider as they near the circumference. With such a lie of the land, it is quite impossible to plan streets in concentric circles round the city connecting the various suburbs. In Sheffield, encircling boulevards are for ever impossible, for they would be enormous switch-backs, up hill and down dale. It is much more convenient in passing from almost any suburb to almost any other suburb, except perhaps the nearest, to go into the middle of the city and then out again.

When a few joinings of what are now the termini of two or three lines have been made, the tramway system will be complete, both by valley and hill routes. Altogether there are more than 40 miles of tramways in the city. Two routes (Owlerton and Hillsborough) follow down the upper part of the Don valley to the middle of the city, and three routes (Attercliffe, Brightside, and Petre Street) continue down the valley from the middle of the city, the Attercliffe line passing on to Rotherham and branching away to Darnall and Handsworth, and the Petre Street line lying above the valley half way up the Pitsmoor Hill. The Firth Park line rises right over the summit of Pitsmoor on one side of the Don, while Crookcsmoor on the other side is served at different levels by the Walkley and Crookes lines.

The Broomhill line passes up the central ridge of the city, sending off the Walkley and Crookes branches, and continuing over into the upper part of the Porter Valley at Nether Green, where it meets a branch that has followed up the valley of the Porter, and has sent off a branch to Banner Cross on the ridge between the Porter and the Sheaf.

The Sheaf valley is followed by three lines, one up the stream to Millhouses, another high along the side of the valley to Nether Edge, while the third climbs through Heeley to Norton Woodseats and looks across the valley from its steepest side. Another hill-line climbs through the old Sheffield Park right over Sky Edge to Intake. Indeed, hill and valley are alike reached by the forty miles of Sheffield tramways, and where the trams do not run, motor-bus services have been established.

Sheffield is proud, and may well be proud, of the fine electric service which, after ten years' development between 1899 and 1909, covered the entire city with its steel network. During the entire period in which this great system was brought into being and perfected, the Tramways Committee was under the same Chairman - Sir William Clegg.

Some of the principal facts respecting the magnificently successful Tramway enterprise should be known by every citizen. The total expenditure of capital is now approaching a million and a half sterling. The trams will soon be serving the convenience of half a million people. The takings every year are between 350,000 and 400,000. The working expenses are more than 200,000. The profit to the rates is in round figures 30,000 a year. The passengers carried will soon number a hundred millions a year, or considerably more than twice as many as the whole of the people in the British Isles. On the average, every man, woman, and child in Sheffield rides in a tramcar 200 times in a year, those who ride many more times making up the average for those who do not ride at all. There are nearly 1,800 persons employed by the Tramways Committee, and their wages amount to nearly 3,000 per week. Such is the gigantic business which enables the people of the city, by penny and halfpenny fares, to circulate through it from side to side every day, and live out in the fresh air on the healthy uplands in innumerable cases, instead of on the lower smoke-stained levels where the work is done.

A secondary good effect of the tramway development has been an improvement in the state of the highways. Thus nearly five miles of tramway track are paved in the middle with wood. There are in Sheffield now nearly 420 miles of streets, about half of which are paved and half are of dry macadam. Apart from the wood-paving on the tramway lines, more than twelve miles of streets are wholly paved with wood. About sixty-five miles, where the traffic is very heavy, are paved with granite; seventy-two miles with freestone, where the gradient is steep and a good foothold is needed by horses; and thirty-six miles are paved with tar macadam, where the traffic is not heavy, and the gradient is not steep. The Corporation mends its own roads, and regularly employs between 1,800 and 2,000 men for the work.

The great amount of the street-paving done has also been accompanied by the laying of new sewers, so that the health of the city has been very greatly improved; and many of the older parts of the city are now far better paved than the newer parts, which wait for the completion of the houses before the surface of the street is put into final good order at considerable expense.

One of the proofs of the exceptional difficulty of laying out streets in a hilly city like Sheffield may be seen in the Rivelin Valley road. Not until the year 1907 was a continuous highway made up the lower part of this beautiful valley. Lanes and paths dipped down into the valley here and there on either side, but there was no road up the valley connecting the Hillsborough end of Sheffield with the highway from Sheffield to Glossop, which was opened in the year 1821 and leads out into some of the most striking Derbyshire scenery. Any one wishing to drive from Hillsborough into Derbyshire had to make a lengthy round through the heart of Sheffield, and ascend to and descend from a height of fully 800 feet, although a valley outside the city led almost straight from point to point on the journey, and avoided the hill except the gradual natural rise of the valley. A time of serious unemployment suggested the making of this road, and now it is one of the most popular outlets from the city. But the fact that the road was not made for a thousand years, though it is one of the most natural lines for a road, tells us of the ruggedness of the valley.

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Pictures for The use of the Roads - Past and Present

PACK-HORSE CONVOY
PACK-HORSE CONVOY >>>>
THE TOADSTONE, HATHERSAGE
THE TOADSTONE, HATHERSAGE >>>>
ROMAN ROAD, REDMIKES
ROMAN ROAD, REDMIKES >>>>
The Rivelin Valley
The Rivelin Valley >>>>

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