Sheffield - the best city in Yorkshire?
Over the last few years I've got to know Sheffield quite well, and I have to say
that the more I've got to know it the more I've liked it. And to be honest, if I
had to choose any Yorkshire city to live in it would be Sheff. So what's so good
about it - read on to discover just a few of the highlights.
Built on 7 hills, near the confluence on five rivers at the very bottom end of the
old West Riding, I think we all know Sheffield as being the capital of the steel
industry in the UK, indeed the world. And we all probably have enduring images of
the city from The Full Monty - you know the sort of thing, unemployed steelworkers,
derelict steel mills, despair and poverty. The 80's and early 90's were very tough
times for the city, as they were for any city founded on traditional heavy industry.
But the good news is that the city's made massive strides since that time, and though
the steel industry has continued to decline, the city itself has leapt forward.
It's not exactly digital city yet, but it's got so much going for it, not least
the magnificent location on the edge of the Peak District, that I don't see why
it shouldn't really prosper in the 21st century.
Transport always being a priority under David Blunkett's Socialist Republic, Sheffield
ended up with the Supertram system. For anyone who hasn't been on one, they're clean,
fast and quiet. And they even have conductors, which makes it faster, safer and
less open to fare dodging. Perfect urban transport really, except for the rails
being slippy and causing cars and bikes to skid. When I used to have to go to meetings
at City Hall, I used to come off the M1 at Meadowhall, park at the railway station
there and take the tram in. How about that for a civilised urban transport scheme.
If only we had such joined-up thinking in our other major cities.
Apart from trams there's plenty of buses and a train station just outside the town
centre. But not being on the East Coast or West Coast main lines means trains aren't
as good as they could be.
The most amazing feature of Sheffield is that everwhere you go there's trees. Trees
and parks. I don't know why that should be, except the place is so damn hilly that
there's lots of it you can't build on, but it's great.
To name just a few, the Botanical Gardens (recently refurbished, that's a picture
on the left), Graves Park with its little petting zoo and what must be the most
lopsided football pitches in the world, Endcliffe Park where you can start among
formal gardens and walk right out into Derbyshire, Norfolk Park near the city centre,
Ford valley with its aces of woodland, Rother valley County Park (in Rotherham but
just a few minutes drive from Sheff) and Shire Brook Nature Reserve.
Plus loads more, and green spaces everywhere. I remenber Leeds once trying to promote
itself as the "City in the Forest", but Sheffield really is.
The pub scene in Sheffield is amazing. In other major cities the pubs all seem to
have been turned into poncy wine bars or fake Irish pubs. Well there's quite a few
of those here, but a goodly number of traditional real ale pubs have survived.
It's not fair to single out just one pub, but it's impossible not to. The
Kelham Island Tavern has won just about every award going, and rightly so.
It always has a great selection of cask ales, a lovely garden, friendly staff, and
the Pale Rider is just exquisite. Trouble is, it's so good it shades all the other
great pubs - so here's a roll call of just a few:
The Fat Cat, The Gardeners Rest
(saved and open once more),
The Sheaf View, The Devonshire Cat,
The Rising Sun and the list goes
on and on.
There's a top eating-out scene in Sheffield, centred around West Street, Division
Street and Ecclesall Road. There's plenty of really upmarket places of course, but
with so many eateries competing for business in such a compact area, prices stay
very competitive and standards have to be high. And there seem to be new ones joining
all the time. But if city centre dining doesn't appeal, a short drive takes you
out into beautiful countryside and there's a wealth of pubs doing great food as
Suits me far better than the fine dining school of cookery which seems to be all
the rage at the moment.
With its unique industrial heritage, you'd expect Sheffield to have a pretty good
selection of industrial museums and architecture, and it doesn't disappoint.
Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is as good as anything to be found elsewhere
in the country, Magna(just outside Sheffield)
is amazing, and Kelham Island Museum is well
worth a visit.
Lots of other museums
too, but for me the industrial ones are always the best.
Overall, Sheffield probably has the best sports facilities in the UK, a legacy of
the 1991 World Student Games. This was a straw grasped at by the city leaders, as
a way of kick-starting regeneration of the city after the devastation of the traditional
heavy industries during the Thatcher years. As part of it, Sheffield Arena, Don
Valley Stadium and Ponds Forge were all built. And what a legacy they are. But the
cost was horrendous - the games were "won" by Sheffield when nobody else wanted
to stage them and after financial disasters on an epic scale the bill was £147m
for the facilities and £21m for staging the games. And just about all of this fell
on the taxpayer as the government paid virtually nothing and sponsors didn't want
to know. While the games were a great event for the city, lack of TV exposure meant
the rest of the country were virtually unaware they were happening, and the upshot
of it is mammoth debt that will take about 25 years to pay off.
Great legacy or financial disaster, make your own mind up.
Not something to shout about, council tax in Sheffield has always been horrendous.
Remember, it was known as "The People's Republic of South Yorkshire" under the Labour
administration of the 80's. This year (2009), it's a whopping £1452 for a
band "D" property, compared to £1274 for Leeds. Quite a difference, but it doesn't
even start to account for the difference in services between say Leeds and Sheffield.
And that's because the government have dumped on Leeds for many years now. Sheffield
gets £522 per head from government support grants, while Leeds gets a mere £397
- though that's still low compared to places like Liverpool and Manchester.
Stinks of gerrymandering - but all the years of investment have paid off, with a
far better infrastructure than any other city in Yorkshire.
Adjacent to the M1 is the nightmare that is Meadowhall. Thousands of square feet
of identikit high street chains, selling the same identikit stuff you can buy anywhere.
In the middle is the food court, with identikit restaurants selling identikit plastic
food. Of course, some people like that kind of thing, but to me it's retail hell.
Far more interesting is the city centre with quite a few smaller shops having managed
to hang on in there. But as is common with all big cities, smaller traders are being
driven out in the name of redevelopment. More glossy "mixed developments" with more
identikit shops and more designer crap.
Still, there are good places left. London Road is crammed with interesting shops,
including a good selection of antique and bric-a-brac shops. Well worth a mooch,
and Ecclesall Road is a gem, with a great selection of boutiques, cafe bars, restaurants
and all kinds of really individual shops. Exactly what a shopping street should
be about. Quite an interesting area, because it's partially a very well-off area
mixed in with a studenty bit. And just off the road are The Botanical Gardens, Sheffield
General Cemetery, Endcliffe Park and the Traditional Heritage Museum. Just a note
on the Heritage Museum - it only opens
on the last Saturday of each month, but is quirky, amateur (in the nicest sense
of the word) and well worth a visit.
There's two great theatres in Sheffield,
The Lyceum and The Crucible. They face each other across a square in the middle
of town, and even have a multi-storey car park right next door. The Lyceum is a
beautifully refurbished Victorian Theatre, while The Crucible is 1970's modernist,
and probably most famous for hosting THE SNOOKER. And best of all, they don't get
self-indulgent too often with the kind of depressing avant-garde stuff so often featured at
West Yorkshire Playhouse.
There is another theatre called "The Studio", but I've never been so can't really
comment on it.
In no particular order - Joe Cocker, Baby Bird, ABC, Arctic Monkeys
favourite band my arse!), Paul Carrack, Jarvis Cocker, Def Leppard, Richard Hawley, The Human
league, Heaven 17, Pulp and Jilted John (Shuttleworth). And they're just the ones
an old git like me can remember, goodness only knows who's emerged in the past decade
I can't believe there's another city that can boast an array of talent like that,
so it goes without saying that there's a great local music scene. The top venue
is Sheffield Arena, which the good burghers of Leeds are hell-bent on destroying
by creating their own state funded arena. Shameful! And even more outrageous is
that they're trying to do it with funding from Yorkshire Forward which was intended
to promote the regional economy as a whole. I could rant on at great length here
about the current level of national debt and the economic neverland we're living
in, but suffice it to say that I hope Leeds and Yorkshire Backward get totally stuffed
on this one.
That's All Folks
And that sums it all up. No airs and graces, still true to its roots and the home of
some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. It pleases me immensely.
I've only touched on what Sheff has to offer, but if you want to explore it further I'd recommend
Activ Sheffield as a great guide to the city. It calls itself
"the most comprehensive guide to Sheffield on the internet" - and I think it is.