Storying Sheffield


Ian, one of the non-undergraduate participants, wrote an evocative piece about his life as a boy in 70s Sheffield entitled My Move Then:

My Move (Then)

This was the second time in my life I had moved house, but this time was going to be a major event in my life. Till now I had lived an ordinary life in a suburb of Sheffield called Walkley. In a semi-detached two bedroom and a box room house. I went to Myers Grove comprehensive school located across the Rivelin valley from where I lived. At just over fourteen years old I was settled. I worked seven days a week doing paper rounds, and in a butcher shop on Saturdays. I had been chosen to go on a two-year day release to Stannington College and things were pretty nice going. That was all about to change as my new home would be a pub in the centre of the city.

My Mum and Dad told me three months before we were due to move that on the day I would go to school as normal, but would return from school to my new home. I shot up the social ladder very rapidly at school during those few months before moving.

Fact is, I was leaving a lot behind me. I’d be apart from friends, my Woodcraft, the Hillsbourgh boys club (it was near closing), and of course the place itself. I had spent all my life in Walkley. The first seven years in Walkley Street. Outside toilet, zinc bath job.

It was strange moving out of that house, where I had lived for half of my life. I did not know what lay ahead and I had no idea how much it would change my life when I returned to my new home after school. All my friends thought it was so cool, I thought so as well. It was the most amazing three years of my life.

I gave both my jobs up, for a job that had better pay and conditions. Bottling up, glass washing, and cellar work. Other benefits just came naturally. I’ll tell you more later.

My new home was called the Manchester Hotel, on Nursery Street. Although it wasn’t a hotel, just your run-of-the-mill four storey pub, with two massive cellars. One was capable of holding seven ‘Hogs Heads’ of beer, and three kegs of larger (on tap). The other contained gas bottles and enough room for seventy to eighty crates of beer and soft drinks.

When I first let myself in (yep fourteen years old and the keys to a pub), I just stood there in silence for a moment and looked around in awe.

The place was still smoky from the dinner-time session which had been at twelve to three, and the only noise was the whir of the Expel Air fans. It must have taken me over two hours just to give the place a brief look over.

I did not go into the pub that night. I was far too busy picking my room out. The next day, Saturday, I gave The Manchester a real look over. I finally sorted out my room, which compared to a boxed room in a semi was gigantic, and if memory serves me right, twenty four foot by eighteen, and fourteen foot high. I had plans for my room and would let my imagination run wild during my time there. I was on the top floor looking over the river Don and straight into the rolling mills. I was in heaven. I was studying Metal Fabrication, Welding, and Health & Safety at Stannington College. That would give me a ‘City and Guilds’ qualification at sixteen years old. Two years ahead of other students. But that was the last thing on my mind.

After a couple of months my father began to teach me the intricate workings of looking after a cellar. I think it took him a month or so to get used to it himself. Wards bitter was a ‘live breathing beer’ and had to be treated very differently from beers today, which are contained in large tanks where the beer is sterilised so not working. One of the most important jobs was a process called ‘Tap and venting’. When barrels arrived from the brewery they were corked in two places: One where the tap went, located at the end of the barrel, where the beer would be piped up to the bar. And the other, a vent on the side of the barrel, which allowed the beer to breath.

We had ‘Hogs Heads’ which held fifty-four gallons, whereas a barrel only held thirty-six gallons. With Wards bitter being a live beer it usually ran at 4.1% volume, good stuff for a draught beer. Stones and Whitbread was around 3.2%, quite a difference. Wards Bitter had a unique hoppy taste, which you either loved or hated.

I started doing jobs on a regular basis, bottling up, glass collecting, changing barrels, and serving now and again. More often, when I turned sixteen and had left school and wandered into my first job, I would start going into the pub at night, specially at the weekends. My favourite room was the pool room, where I would spend most of the night playing pool. The Manchester had two other rooms: A lounge, which was for posh couples really, and a tap room where people played darts, dominos, and cards. Although I had all these things to distract me I soon became bored. So in ‘76 I decided to join the Territorial Army. My mother wouldn’t let me join the regular until I was eighteen, so I joined the medical core. I had a good time.

The highlight was two weeks covering the naval display in Portsmouth. Although I was continuing further education whilst at work (one day a week), things there did not seem to be right there. I spent most of my time painting completed jobs or fettling. Things back at The Manchester however couldn’t have been better. I started turning my attention to the girls that came into the pub. I was full of confidence but not cocky. I had money, dressed well and of course I was the Landlord’s son. The girls and women simply swooned over me.

I did not know at the time that the Ward’s Sheaf Brewery was been bought by a Northeastern brewery called Vaux. Not that it made any difference when it happened. The name of Wards and the brewery stayed the same. The lager changed from Norsman to a Canadian lager called Labbatt’s. I only spent three years there, but learnt a lot very quickly. We moved to a new pub, the Norfolk Arms at Grenoside. By this time I had joined the Post Office and there lies another story. Looking back I suppose these were my halcyon days.

Audio: click here.