The area known
as Sheffield got its name from the River Shef,
one of the four tributaries of the River Don. However
it was the area’s location amidst these rivers and
seven hills, that was the key to its success.
Although it is difficult to know exactly when people first
settled in the area, evidence found in the north of the
city suggests that people could have been living in the
area since around 8,000BC. However it is believed that
the area was certainly inhabited during the Bronze
In around 1AD the northwest of Sheffield was home to an Ancient British Celtic fortress near Wincobank.
This later became part of a Celtic kingdom known as Elmet,
an area left virtually untouched by the Romans, who built
a road to the north of the area.
It was not until Anglo Saxon times that Sheffield really
started to develop. The fields around the River Sheaf
(hence the name Sheffield) became a settlement for
the Saxons as well as several other areas nearby,
which were cleared of forest to make way for people, signified
by the areas whose names end in ‘ley’.
This area remained part of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria
until the Normans invaded in 1066. The town then began
to grow significantly around the wooden castle built by William de Lovetot and the parish church, which
formed the foundations of Sheffield Cathedral.
The cathedral and the tower at Beauchief Abbey founded in 1175 are the only medieval buildings in the
area that have survived.
From as early as the 14th century, the town's smiths and
cutlers were using iron ore and metal smelting, this was
the origins of Sheffield’s steel industry. Chaucer
even mentions Sheffield steel in Canterbury Tales as
the Miller carries a Sheffield knife.
The location offered everything the industry needed to
flourish, the hills were used for the iron ore, the woods
were used for the charcoal, the local rivers were used
as a source of power, and the nearby gritstone provided
grinding wheels. So when Thomas Boulsover invented
Sheffield Plate (silver plated copper) in the early 18th
century and new techniques for making steel were invented;
the Crucible technique by Benjamin Huntsman and later
using the blast furnace, Sheffield was well placed to
take full advantage. In fact during the industrial revolution
Sheffield became the biggest producer of steel in the
world with 97% of the culters in the UK working in
However while steel brought prosperity to
the area, resulting in some beautiful Georgian architecture,
it also had a detrimental effect on the people, who
had to work long hours in dangerous conditions. By the
19th century people were living in squalid back-to-back
George Orwell in his book The Road to Wigan Pier wrote
"'[It] could justly claim to be called the
ugliest town in the Old World: its inhabitants, who
want it to be pre-eminent in everything, very likely
make that claim for it … And the stench! If at
rare moments you stop smelling sulphur it is because
you have begun smelling gas.'
However the steel industry continued to boom.
The 20th century brought other interests to Sheffield, Sheffield University in 1905, the city’s
first cinema in 1910 and Graves Art Gallery in
World War II however took its toll on Sheffield,
with German bombers destroying nearly 3,000 homes causing the deaths of around 600 people. It took a while
for the city to recover but new houses were built, immigrants
from Asia and the West Indies arrived, shopping centres
and museums were created and the Supertram began operatation
Today Sheffield is a centre for sport, a mecca for climbers,
and as England's fourth largest city, is still an important
force in industry. However while it celebrates its past,
this city also has plenty to look forward to.