Victorian tour guide rediscovered in Sheffield shows how little has changed
A visitor’s guide recently unearthed from Sheffield in Victorian times revealed how little the city’s taste for the good life has changed.
The Guide to Sheffield may be 140 years old and covers a period interrupted by the ravages of two world wars and countless recessions as well as boom times, but it shows that several of the city’s classics have endured.
In today’s world of retail therapy, the city’s Cole Brothers – who adopted the now-familiar John Lewis nickname less than 20 years ago – are viewed with more than enough affection by many Sheffield residents.
In 1879 the store may have been located at Coles Corner rather than Barkers Pool, but it was clearly just as important a landmark as it still is today.
The Royal Victoria Hotel, with its imposing façade, is said to have been one of the city’s first tourist spots for those exiting the trains from the old Victoria Station and in the 21st century it still offers a grandiose venue for visitors, business meetings and other events.
In the 1870s, Cutler’s Hall was named as the venue for a fancy meal. Few business leaders who attend prestigious events in what is now considered the spiritual home of the steel industry would dispute this assessment.
The fascinating guide was discovered by historian Neil Anderson, and spent hours ‘locking in’ to create a digitized version – opening up a glimpse of the story to a wider audience.
He said the city has had varying fortunes in the tourism world, even the success of The Full Monty causing an “identity crisis” as some viewed the film as portraying the city in a bad light.
The book he rediscovered, however, harkens back to a more self-confident time: “The guide promotes commerce therapy at Cole Bros., a lavish dinner at Cutlers’ Hall and a night out. relaxing sleep at the Royal Victoria hotel – all you can still do today.
“Parts of it have all the hallmarks of a 21st century Sheffield marketing brochure, but with a distinctly Victorian touch !.
“It was published at an exciting time which saw the first light rail lines open to Attercliffe, Hillsborough and Nether Edge.
“The Working Men’s Clubs, which began to develop in 1871, were booming all over the city and the celebrity cult was alive and well, there is actually a chapter called ‘Sheffield Celebrities’. Most notable was the poet James Montgomery.
Neil – who actually bought an original copy of the ultra-rare book on ebay – used the lock to scan it and republish an abbreviated physical version.
However, one of 1879’s most popular attractions is sure to fall short of Sheffield’s Top Tips in 2020.
It was a trip to the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum in Wadsley Park. It offers “vast lawns, flower gardens and shrubs” with all the general maintenance “done by the fools”.
The “1879 Illustrated Guide to Sheffield – Short” is now available on Amazon in digital and physical versions.