Sheffield 2: more student memories – and a murder enquiry

43 Bates Street

In my last post about our recent visit to Sheffield I confined myself to the university campus and the memories it invoked. This time I’ll be looking at the places I lived: stop reading now if you’re not prepared for a bit of a rant!

In my first year as an undergraduate (1975-6) I lodged in an area called Woodseats, sharing a room with another History student, Hazel. Our landlady was Mrs Fisher and we were her last “girls”. I don’t think we were so bad that we finished her off, but she must have been in her 70s by then and probably finding lodgers too much to deal with. Although I liked both Hazel and Mrs F, this arrangement was quite isolating: I had applied to a Hall of Residence nearer campus but didn’t get a place. Woodseats was two bus-rides from the university which made going out at night tricky: I used the late night buses and occasionally walked home which, in the light of what I am going to write about later in this post, is quite hair-raising to look back on.

Woodseats was too far out to visit, but I did go to see the house I shared with two other students, Janice and Hilary, in my second and third years. 43 Bates Street, a typical two-up two-down terrace seen at the top of the post, was much nearer campus. It was also absolutely freezing with one gas-fire in the living room being the only heating. Upstairs was particularly cold because our rooms extended over the entrance to the back yard and thus had no downstairs to insulate them. After we moved out the owners decided not to rent to students any more and sold the house – hang on, is there a pattern here?

Victoria Street

After graduating in 1978, I left Sheffield for a year to work for Hampshire Libraries (subject of last year’s nostalgic visits: Winchester and me and Southampton and me). When I returned in 1979 I moved into a university flat in Victoria House. I shared with Janet (who featured in March’s Gallivanting post) and four other young women, and John lived in the flat above us (How we met). That block has been demolished (see – it’s a pattern!) and replaced by the modern building just beyond the terrace of houses, pictured above, which terminates in the Bath Hotel.

Bath Hotel, Victoria Street

Both terrace and pub look far more salubrious than they did in our day when they were at the edge of the red-light district. At the time, that impacted on John more than on me, but later it made my blood run cold. John recalls being asked if he was “doing business” by women standing at their front doors and, because he sometimes parked a hired mini-bus in the area (he went caving with the university’s Speleological Society), he was interviewed by police in connection with the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. I have a lot to get off my chest about this, so here comes the rant.

UK readers will no doubt be familiar with the case of Peter Sutcliffe who killed 13 women between 1975 and 1980 (neatly spanning my time in Sheffield) and who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. I’ve always known the enquiry into the murders was badly botched (Sutcliffe was interviewed 9 times and dismissed before he was finally charged) but a recent documentary showed it was even worse than I had thought. I can forgive an inability to cross-reference thousands of pieces of paper in a pre-computer age. I can’t forgive antediluvian views on women, but can see they were part of the times: the police formed a theory that the killer was “just” targeting prostitutes and women of “loose morals”. You know, the kind who went out to pubs and enjoyed themselves. (Utterly, utterly unforgivable was the retired detective who had learned nothing in 40 years and still appeared to hold similar views.) At the beginning of the killing spree “ordinary” women victims were regarded as mistakes and the evidence of women who had been attacked by what appeared to be the same man, because of his methods, was discounted if they were not prostitutes. Some of these women gave remarkably accurate descriptions of Peter Sutcliffe.

The police were later taken in by a hoax tape and letters from a man calling himself Jack the Ripper. One retired detective said in the documentary that there was nothing in these which had not been in the press, so there was no proof that they came from the killer – when he pointed this out he, as a junior officer, was over-ruled. “Jack” had a Sunderland accent, and the letters were postmarked from there, so anyone interviewed from then on was judged by those criteria. (John was asked when he last visited Sunderland. He didn’t even know where it was.) Many lives could have been saved if the evidence of women survivors who said their attacker had a local accent had been taken seriously, but as it wasn’t the enquiry failed completely. The conscientious policeman who finally caught Sutcliffe in January 1981 was not part of it, yet afterwards the enquiry’s leaders were filmed smiling and congratulating themselves at a press conference. They should have been ashamed to show their faces.

I expect many people who lived in Yorkshire at the time have their stories about how the Ripper touched their lives. As I have said, John was interviewed. A friend of a friend was in the same Bradford pub as student Barbara Leach the night she died in September 1979. Even closer, the final victim, Jacqueline Hill, was an English Literature student at Leeds in the same year-group as my sister. However, Sutcliffe had never killed in Sheffield, which was maybe why I wasn’t worried about going home alone to my lodgings at night. But where was he caught? Here:

Melbourne Avenue, Sheffield

In my postgraduate year, I volunteered as a tutor to a woman from the Bangladeshi community who had little English. To train for this, I attended a few evening classes in a Teachers’ Centre on Melbourne Avenue which starts right where I was standing to take the photograph above. I had no idea it was a place prostitutes took their clients, but this is where Sutcliffe was caught with a young woman who had a very lucky escape. No wonder my blood ran cold when I heard about it. It makes me shiver even now.

When I planned this post, I meant to write about my student homes and then look at the wider city, but anger ran away with me. Normal service will resume next time. For now, I want to end by remembering the following women whose lives were cut short in the most brutal fashion:

Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, Jacqueline Hill.

67 thoughts on “Sheffield 2: more student memories – and a murder enquiry

  1. Birgit May 3, 2019 / 20:36

    Hello! I missed a few but now back on board. This is scary as i remember this well since it was in all the news. How infuriating with the police and their judgemental way of thinking. I wish i could say it is better and maybe it is…somewhat but I doubt it. It is scary when you realize you were so close to the scene. It reminds me of the time I was coming home from volunteering and this van was following me all the way to my home (apartments). It stopped and then sped away only to come back a minute later waiting for me to get out of my car. I had a feeling not to get out and was ready to honk my horn(the entrance was blocked by the van) when my ex came down to see why I didn`t come up (it was 3am). This was the summer when the serial killer Paul Bernaderdo and his wife took at least 2 girls (plus his wife`s sister at her urging)and killed them and he was known as the Scarborough rapist. They did have a van….my heart sank!

    Like

    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter May 4, 2019 / 07:33

      That sounds terrifying! I have never felt unsafe like that myself, but looking back I did put myself in potentially unsafe situations, but then i’d never have gone anywhere otherwise. As for the police, totally agree.

      Like

  2. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) May 1, 2019 / 12:02

    I didn’t realise you lived in Yorkshire at the same time the Yorkshire Ripper was active. It must have been a frightening time, though I know sometimes when we’re young, we can be quite blase about these things.I was still living in Cleveland at the time of the Ariel Castro kidnappings, and was roughly the same age as Amanda Berry, yet I don’t remember hearing anything about her or the other missing women in the news at the time, even though my mother says it was everywhere, and she was worried about my safety. And I agree that the handling of the Yorkshire Ripper case was completely botched, and certainly don’t blame you for being angry. It is infuriating.

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  3. hilarymb May 1, 2019 / 07:34

    Hi Anabel – sadly, it was the way of the world … and still is in some countries. We need to get people to think … and evaluate … I’m glad you’re safe – but feel for those young women, as too their families. A chilling thought provoking post for us all to read. A rant is fine and I’m glad you’ve written it … Hilary

    Like

  4. Ann Coleman May 1, 2019 / 00:49

    You’re entitled to rant! It is horrible that the police didn’t take this more seriously because they thought the victims were “just” prostitutes. Especially since earlier action could have saved lives. I can’t imagine how much more personal it feels since you were actually living in the area at the time! So sad, but also infuriating…

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter May 1, 2019 / 07:32

      It was appalling. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time till the recent documentary: it was very good in that it concentrated on the victims and their families rather than on Sutcliffe which some others have done.

      Like

    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter April 30, 2019 / 22:19

      We don’t have the death penalty here, not since the 1960s, so he’s in prison and will never get out. I think he has also spent time in Broadmoor (secure psychiatric hospital).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. the eternal traveller April 30, 2019 / 12:35

    I’ve heard of this case of course, but I didn’t know the story behind it all. Talk about a botched job. Hopefully they learned something from it. Scary to think how close it all was.

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter April 30, 2019 / 12:58

      You have to hope something was learned but sometimes I have my doubts how much! It was scarily close, but, as someone commented earlier – when you are young you think you are invincible. I don’t remember being too worried at the time, we just got on with life.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. bob April 30, 2019 / 11:45

    Interesting stuff. I’ve not got an in depth knowledge of individual cases but just looking at the news over the last 40 years Yorkshire pops up frequently for sex crimes, murders, etc , often with criticism over police mishandling or somehow turning a blind eye. Been quite a few documentary/tv series about several investigations in the past that happened in Yorkshire, re-examining the evidence.

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    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter April 30, 2019 / 12:48

      To be fair, there are several Yorkshire forces (though I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse!) This would be West Yorkshire. I can think of Hillsborough and the Rotherham grooming cases which would be South Yorkshire.

      Like

  7. Eilene Lyon April 30, 2019 / 02:46

    Excellent post, Anabel. Rant well deserved. Not only do people in law enforcement still have these attitudes about women, they seem to fall into many incorrect generalizations. As in mass murderers are always loners and loners are all sickos.

    Like you, I did move around a lot, but quite settled since I landed in Durango. What’s amazing is all the names and details you can pull out from those years! How do you do it? And what was it about you and your roomies that made people want to get out of the landlord business, eh?

    Like

    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter April 30, 2019 / 08:08

      I suppose we all have our biases but I think the police should have better training in seeing through theirs and being more objective. You’re right, it still happens. I suppose even though I haven’t been back for a long time, because we were both in Sheffield for some of my student days we still talk about it and that maybe keeps the details fresh in my mind. As for the landlords – I’m sure we were model tenants, how could we have been at fault? All coincidence I’m sure!

      Liked by 1 person

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