I spent four happy years as a student at the University of Sheffield. I met John there. Why then, I ask myself, is it 25 years since I last visited the city? I have no answer. However, in February John had a Friday meeting at the University so I tagged along and we made a long weekend of it, staying four nights in Halifax Hall. In my day, Halifax was a student residence – now it’s a very comfortable hotel (with great breakfasts), although it still belongs to the university and alumni get a good discount. From here we sallied forth to re-explore the city. I warn you that the next few posts are going to be jam-packed with nostalgic reminiscing!
A redbrick university
Sheffield is one of a group of “redbrick” universities established in the large, industrial cities of England in the early 20th century. The appearance of Firth Court (1905) might give a clue as to where this name comes from! This is the university’s main administration building which also contains Firth Hall used, amongst other things, for postgraduate ceremonies. John and I have both graduated here.
On my first morning, while John was at his meeting, I met an old friend, Jacky, in Firth Court’s café. Jacky is one of only two people whom I knew during both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: we studied History (1975-8) and Librarianship (1979-80) together. I left Sheffield, but Jacky stayed on working in the University Library through which I was able to contact her. Despite not having met since the early 1980s, the years rolled away and we spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee, catching up and sharing memories.
The Arts Tower
Many new buildings have appeared round campus since I was a student, but in my opinion the 78 metre tall Arts Tower (1966) is still the university’s greatest icon. Despite the name, all the Arts departments have long since outgrown it and moved out, but in my first two years History occupied Floor 9. Here’s the Tower by night and day.
The university is surrounded by parkland. Here’s the Tower again from Weston Park and Crookes Valley Park. One of the first things John and I ever did together was take a rowing boat out on Crookes Valley pond.
As well as stairs and two ordinary lifts, the Arts Tower has a paternoster lift – a chain of open compartments that move in a continuous loop up and down the building. Here’s John descending and looking a bit wary – he’s never used it before. Being an engineer, he had no reason to visit the Arts Tower.
If you’re only going a few floors the paternoster can be quicker than waiting for the standard lift. I used it a lot and, although I never consciously felt nervous, I must have had some underlying anxiety because I occasionally dreamt about it. Either the lift would speed up so that it was going too fast to jump out, or the gap between lift and floor would suddenly increase so that it was too wide to jump across. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened!
In my final year, History moved out of the Arts Tower to a building now occupied by Nursing and Midwifery (left, below). The School of Librarianship was in a house on a street called Claremont Crescent. Although Librarianship is no longer there, several houses in the street are still owned by the University. I couldn’t identify the right one for sure: it could have been this one – or maybe not!
Next to the Arts Tower, and joined to it by a bridge between their mezzanine floors, is the Western Bank Library (1959) in which I spent many hours studying. These days, it houses the university’s research collections and undergraduate material has moved to the Information Commons (2007).
Western Bank’s Reading Room windows look out onto Weston Park, and I confess that some of that studying time might well have been spent watching the ducks on the pond.
The Students’ Union
Most students spend a lot of time in the Union with its range of cheap bars and cafés and space for gigs and the occasional ball. The red brick building, Graves, is the oldest part of Sheffield’s Union dating from the 1930s. In my first year, I lived in lodgings on the edge of the city so often ate in Graves Restaurant, or one of the refectories in the more modern part of the Union, before going home in the evening. The menu consisted mainly of pie and chips, sausage roll and chips, and – you get the picture. I put on quite a lot of weight that year, although I was still almost skeletal compared to my current size. The rest of the Union dates from the 1960s – a fancy new tower at the front and some coloured lighting can’t disguise the old place from me!
Other sights / sites around campus
In the gallery above:
- Two street signs at the edge of the campus. How could I ever forget those names?
- The University Drama Studio now, as then, housed in the former Glossop Road Baptist Church. I went to many a performance during both my degrees, and only one was so bad that we left in the interval.
- A mural on the side of the old Henderson’s Relish factory (also shown). Henderson’s Relish is a spicy Yorkshire sauce.
- Allen the Peregrine by Jason Heppenstall. Allen was originally made to celebrate the opening of IKEA Sheffield and is made entirely of – allen keys. Now he perches outside The Diamond, the university’s new engineering building. I met John there after his meeting and we spent the rest of the day with two other old friends, John and Jill.
So many memories, and more to come – next time, I’ll move off campus to look round the city.