In search of the Sheffield carols

A festive tradition that’s right on our doorstep

I love a local tradition, and the Sheffield carols is one of our best. It’s still going strong since it started in the late eighteenth century, when singers and musicians would gather in north west Sheffield pubs during November and December to sing Christmas carols.

The carols aren’t just the obvious ones that you hear everywhere at this time of year. Many of them mix church and secular material and are composed by local musicians, with variations of words, melody and tempo depending on which pub you are in. What’s brilliant is that some are still referred to by their local names, such as Bradfield, Stannington and Malin Bridge.

Although the basic etiquette for these ‘sings’ in pubs may seem a little daunting, tracking down when and where they are happening is easy thanks to the listings on www.localcarols.org.uk.

The first pub we tried was The Sportsman in Crosspool, on a weeknight in the run up to Christmas. Here we found the Loxley Silver North Band playing a mixture of local carols and a few of the obvious ones – someone even requested Jingle Bells.

The band sounded great, although with just a small gathering of people singing in one area of the pub, it didn’t quite feel like the full local carols experience. So it was time to try one of the village pubs further north.

The Royal Hotel in Dungworth is famous for its local carols. We headed over on boxing day and weren’t disappointed. The pub was rammed, with people gathered round an organ, singing their hearts out. This was exactly how we hoped it might be.

We were made to feel welcome, despite not really knowing the carols. We soon discover that many of the words and tunes are quite familiar. This is the end of Sweet Chiming Bells, one of the many variations of While Shepherds Watched (excuse the shaky filming on my phone):

The enthusiasm of people singing is infectious. Looking around, it seems like generations of families are in the pub, with nearly everyone drinking the tasty Bradfield Brewery beer, which is brewed just up the road.

Singing like this in a pub may seem a bit strange to some people, but when you think that this local carol, called ‘Stannington’, has been sung for hundreds of years in Sheffield public houses, it is hard not to be drawn in:

In fact, spending time with people who are part of a tradition like this is quite special. It’s heartwarming to be part of something that has been taking place for so long but hasn’t really changed.

I bought a Loxley selection songbook from The Sportsman (just £1) and now I know that many of the carols are quite easy to pick up, I would feel much more confident about joining in. What’s more, it seems silly not to make more of such a cherished tradition that takes place right on our doorstep, so I’ll definitely be back next year.

There’s more about the history of carols in this BBC documentary by Howard Goodall. The Blue Ball pub in Worrall is featured from 52 minutes, 18 seconds:

Sheffield Christmas market: your opinions wanted

Where is there room for improvement?

Were you one of the 250,000 people that visited the Peace gardens over the festive season for Sheffield Christmas market?

I’ve been asked to gather some opinions of the Christmas market on behalf of the people behind it. What did you think? I’ve put a few thoughts here – feel free to add your own by commenting below.

Last year’s Christmas market felt a bit underwhelming but this year’s was a definite improvement. There were better quality stalls and the ice rink made it feel more like a destination as opposed to just another market.

When passing, the ice rink never looked that busy and felt a bit expensive for Sheffield at £8 for an adult. The price was slashed to £6 for the final few days so perhaps this is a more realistic price to aim for.

It would be great if there were more Christmassy stalls. This would help further differentiate it from some of the other markets we have in Sheffield through the year.

It would also benefit from more local suppliers selling more local products. Sheffield people love buying Sheffield stuff, so to get some of our local food, arts, crafts on sale would be great. It would also make it more uniquely Sheffield instead of a generic Christmas market that you could find a bigger and currently better version of elsewhere, for example in Manchester and Leeds.

One problem with these events in Sheffield is that we don’t seem to have a perfect location for them. The Peace gardens is very prominent, but it does seem a bit cramped in there. The same goes for Fargate – probably our busiest shopping street, but gets horrible bottlenecks when the continental market is on.

One thought would be to host it in the big area they have just flattened where the fire station was. This may a better use of space than another car park until Sevenstone arrives.

There’s no doubt that the current market can be improved. A great Christmas market for Sheffield will take time to establish; we obviously aren’t going to go from nothing to one rivalling others in a couple of years.

What do you think? Has it been a success? Is it the sort of place you would take visitors? And what is it missing? Comment below and your thoughts will be fed back to the organisers.

Made in Sheffield shop

Another idea for empty retail spaces in town

Many people are rightly proud of what a creative city Sheffield is. It is certainly home to plenty of creative people: 7.2% of the workforce is employed in the creative and digital industries* and an uncited claim on Wikipedia says that outside of London, Sheffield has the largest population of amateur, working and professional visual artists in the UK.

Could we do more help promote our creative excellence? The bigger manufacturers pay to use the Made in Sheffield mark to help sell and authenticate their products, but this is less useful for smaller artists trying to sell their wares.

As the recession has hit, shops have gone bust and retail units in towns up and down the country have been left empty. Sheffield city centre hasn’t escaped this, with the delay of Sevenstone resulting in many of our retail spaces being caught in a black hole between compulsory purchase orders and postponed building work.

We’ve already seen some other ideas for ways to make use of these spaces in Sheffield and some bars and shops are even reopening in the empty units.

At least three other cities have now come up with another use for them which is helping local artists and creative people. In the last few months, ‘Made in…’ or ‘Created in…’ shops have opened in Newcastle and Birmingham. It looks like Nottingham is also home to a similar type of  shop.

The concept is simple, although it has varied from city to city. Broadly, they are pop-up shops occupying empty retail units that showcase and sell locally-made products. They can also incorporate meeting places, small workshop spaces and exhibition areas. A group of volunteers run the shops, sometimes with a committee or main organiser heading things up.

Could this work in Sheffield? We already have a pool of creative artists, plenty of empty units in town and and regular craft fairs run by the Sheffield craft mafia.

Running the shops is hard work, as the Created in Birmingham people discovered, so it isn’t something to take on lightly. And I think some thought would need to be given as to how such a project would work alongside existing rent-paying outlets like the Famous Sheffield Shop and Sheffield Scene, and also existing art-selling galleries.

On the whole, it sounds like these pop-up shops have been very well received. After a successful three-month trial, the Birmingham shop closed due to their prestigious unit in the Bullring shopping centre being let to paying tenants, but it is expected to return for Christmas.

Has this idea had been considered for Sheffield? If not, is anyone interested in seeing whether there is an appetite to get a Made in Sheffield shop up and running in time for the Christmas shopping season?

*I’ve no idea how an occupation is classed as creative or otherwise

New Made in Newcastle shop front by championmonkeyface

New Made in Newcastle shop front by championmonkeyface, used with permission

Sheffield and Meadowhall Christmas TV ads

Selling shopping

The council and Meadowhall have made adverts for the Christmas season.

Brace yourselves for the coach-loads of Londoners descending on the Moor to finish their Christmas shopping.

Top ten Sheffield Christmas presents

Sheffield-themed festive gifts

Stuck for a Christmas gift ideas? This list collects together some of the most popular Sheffield-themed merchandise from the last few months.

  • Pub maps

Explore the drinking dens of the city with this pub stops of Sheffield map by John Coates. It is designed in the style of the famous Henry Beck London underground tube map, which like a circuit diagram, focuses on the order of the locations instead of their exact geographic proximity. Available in mouse mat and poster versions, the designated coloured routes make for all sorts of interesting pub crawl variations. Or if you fancy an alternative pub crawl compass, then you could also try the heritage pub crawl map that you may have seen displayed in various local pubs.

Buy: Sheffield scene shop on Surrey street | zazzle.co.uk (for just the tube map)

Pub stops of Sheffield mouse mat and poster

Pub stops of Sheffield mouse mat and poster

Sheffield heritage pub crawl

Sheffield heritage pub crawl

  • Something Hendo’s-inspired

Is there a better way to impress people when they come over for tea this Christmas than with some Hendo’s-themed memorabilia? There are plenty of options available to help celebrate the city’s favourite condiment: one litre bottles of relish, aprons, illustration prints from Jim Connolly and Kid Acne and if you really want to splash out, a limited-edition set of silver accessories. The final option is a very long-lasting Hendo’s-themed gift that a bride bought her groom as a wedding present…

Buy: Various locations | madeinsheffield.com | archipelago-art.co.uk | kateyfelton.com

Katey Felton's limited edition Henderson's relish silver accessories

Katey Felton's limited edition Henderson's relish silver accessories

  • Sheffield illustrations

As well as the Hendo’s prints mentioned above, there are plenty of other local-themed illustrations available. Obviously Pete McKee is one of the most well known (don’t forget his Children’s hospital 2009 Christmas card) and Jim Connolly’s Sheffield superheros screen prints are also popular. The treasured Rare & racy shop on Devonshire street has various other prints, including Jonathan Wilkinson’s excellent We live here series of defining but less-celebrated Sheffield landmarks including the wedding cake, Park hill, the Roxy and the egg box.

Buy: Rare & racy | therealmckee.co.uk | archipelago-art.co.uk | welivehere.co.uk

  • Charity voucher book

I’ve already written a post about this charity voucher book, but the premise is simple: spend £50 on a book of local vouchers that includes £1,000-worth of savings. And £15 from every one sold goes to charity. You won’t get round to using them all but after using three within the first month I had made my money back and of course have got a whole load more bargains to look forward to. Be quick though, as most of the vouchers expire in August 2010 so the longer you leave it the harder it will be to cram them in.

Buy: Shop on corner of Pinstone street and Cambridge street | charityunleashed.co.uk

Charity unleashed Sheffield voucher book

Charity unleashed Sheffield voucher book shop

  • Victorian map of Sheffield

People from Sheffield love old Sheffield stuff and this map shows the city in 1849 as ‘a pleasant and organised town…relatively spared the ravages of the early unplanned industrialisation’. One for the toilet door?

Buy: Cheapest from Sheffield scene shop on Surrey street | victoriantownmaps.co.uk

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  • Cooling towers memorabilia

The Cooling towers shop may have been and gone but the Tinsley towers still hold a dear place in the heart for many people and befittingly there are still plenty of souvenirs available by which to remember them. Why not start with this matt photo print from RPG Photo and also these mugs from artist/designer Alice Skelton?

Buy: rpgphoto.co.uk | Mugs available from aliceskelton.com and the Bessimer gallery in the Winter garden

Cooling towers print from RPG Photography

Cooling towers print from RPG Photography

  • Pop books and shop books

There are a couple of Sheffield-related books with a nostalgic tinge that have been published in time for Christmas. Neil Anderson’s Take it to the Limit explores the late 70s and early 80s music scene through the eyes of the Limit nightclub, or Sheffield’s Hacienda as it was know by some. More pop music nostalgia can be found in artist Martin Bedford’s Up against the wall, a book collecting together some of his famous Leadmill posters that he produced to promote visiting bands in the 1980s and 1990s. And starkly contrasting with the city centre that we know today, the Shopaholics guide to 1970s Sheffield looks back to a time when town was the major shopping destination of the north.

Buy: Local bookshops | amazon.co.uk

Sheffield pop and shopping books

Sheffield pop and shopping books

  • I love Sheffield eco bag

Julia Gash bought this local variation of the I love New York design to Sheffield a couple of years ago. She was previously involved with the (now closed) Gash shop on Devonshire street but has since set up a business selling eco bags and the I love Sheffield one has been a huge hit, as you can guess from the frequency that you see them around town. They continue to be particularly popular with students and it looks like some variations on the original design are now available, too.

Buy: Various locations including the Sheffield university students’ union studio shop

I love Sheffield drawstring eco bag

  • A piece of history

The crucible is due to reopen imminently and the theatre’s new carpet is apparently inspired by the distinctive 1970s design of the original. The theatre has been selling off pieces of the old carpet to raise money and at the last count a few of them were still available.

Buy: Sheffield theatres

The Crucible carpet: old (left) and new (right)

  • Food discount card

The city may still be up-and-coming in the culinary stakes but progress is slowly being made and there are now some good places to eat out. Chef Richard Smith is the man behind many of the area’s more impressive restaurants and his relax, eat and drink privilage card could be just the gift for a foodie friend or loved one. You get £50-worth of restaurant vouchers, a £25 bottle of champagne, a free meal on your birthday, money off every other meal, free tea and coffees and more. At £100 it isn’t cheap, but when you remember that his restaurants include Artisan, the Cricket inn, the excellent-value Canteen and the imminent Spice market cafe on Ecclesall road, it won’t even take a meal out at each before you earn your money back.

Buy: relaxeatanddrink.com

Has anyone got any more present recommendations?

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