Friday, May 22, 2020

In a Dark Wood: Images of Middlewood Hospital Across a Century

A few years ago, we collaborated with Archive Sheffield and Professor Brendan Stone on a project called In a Dark Wood: Words and Images of Mental Distress Across a Century for Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind. 

The collaboration explored changing perceptions of mental distress/illness by drawing both on contemporary accounts and on the photographic archive of South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum (later Middlewood Hospital) in Sheffield.  A collection of large-plate glass negatives, kept at Sheffield City Archives, and almost certainly unseen in the last hundred years, offer a powerful window into a different era of medical care.
The history of photography in mental hospitals is a long one, dating back to the work of Hugh Diamond in the mid-19th century. Diamond was a doctor, photographer, and the Superintendent of Surrey County Asylum. The practice soon became widespread, and was based on the idea that the photographic image could provide an accurate and scientific insight into ‘insanity’. In Diamond’s influential 1856 paper ‘On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity’ he claimed that the use of photography negated the need “to use the vague terms which denote a difference in the degree of mental suffering”, and that photographic images indicated “the exact point which has been reached in the scale of unhappiness”.
The photographing of patients was predicated on a desire to ameliorate suffering. Nevertheless, what may strike us now is the inadequacy of an approach which focused on surface appearance. As we look at these almost 100 year-old images from the old Middlewood Hospital, we might reflect on the stories and voices of those we witness, and wonder how many were untold, unheard. There is no identifying information included with the images, nor any explanation as to why they were taken.
These anonymised images were presented at Bank Street Arts alongside contemporary audio reflections on the nature of illness/distress and care from people currently living with mental health problems. The combination of images and sound represented a kind of dialogue across time which provoked thought about differing perceptions of mental health, as well as drawing out resonances.
The original glass plate negatives have been carefully cleaned and packaged by the Conservation team at Sheffield Archives and digital copies added to Picture Sheffield:
Audio recordings from the project can be heard on the Storying Sheffield website:

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Spotlight 20. Yorkshire

Books set in Yorkshire

From the moors to the dales, major cities to stunning coastline, Yorkshire has a lot to offer authors looking for inspirational settings.  Check out this list of children's books set in the county, and this list of books for adults.  Including some old classics and contemporary fiction.

Pride, Politics and Plums:  The History of the Yorkshire Pudding

Check out this article and and take an in-depth look at the history of Yorkshire's iconic Sunday staple, as revealed by a Belgian...

Read the article

And for the biggest and best Yorkshire Puddings (sorry Gran...), take a look at Yorkshire chef James Martin's recipe on the BBC Good Food website.

Kes: in search of the locations from Ken Loach’s classic

In 1969, Ken Loach made British film history with his classic tale of a boy and his kestrel. Half a century later, tracking down the Kes locations needs eyes like a hawk…

In this article, the British Film Institute take a look.

Steve Round (

Alan Bennett - Reads from Keeping On, Keeping On

Yorkshire born playwright, diarist, screenwriter, essayist and short-story author, Alan Bennett has beguiled audiences for more than 50 years since he first became an unlikely comedy star in Beyond the Fringe. His latest volume of diaries, Keeping On Keeping On, covers 10 years from 2005-2015 – a decade in which he premiered four shows at the National Theatre, published a bestselling novella and released film adaptations of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van.

Listen to the podcast

Exploring Yorkshire Dialect

Established in 1897, the Yorkshire Dialect Society is the oldest surviving of its kind in the world.  Take a look at the website and listen to recordings, discover the origins of place names and test your knowledge.

Visit the Yorkshire Dialect Society website

Creativity during Corona - Yorkshire

Today Claire is celebrating one of her favourite Yorkshire poets, Ted Hughes, sharing an evocative poem with stunning language that explores the forces of nature.

Read the poem

Visit our Facebook page to discover more.

Love Sheffield, Luv - Writing Competition

Open until the 31st of July and with three age categories and great prizes, why not take part yourself and write about the things you really love about our home city.

Discover more 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Spotlight 19. Kindness

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is the power and potential of kindness in these challenging times.

Watch the video below and discover more at the Mental Health Foundation website.

Books Inspired by Kindness - Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder  is an international bestseller and smah hit.  It's all about the power of kindness.  Listen to this podcast with the author, or check out this Guardian article by Palacio exploring the theme in more detail.  You could even download the Daily Wonder App.

Delve into the eLibrary 

Reading is proving more important than ever as the nation continues to adjust to life in lockdown.  Check out the Sheffield eLibrary for titles inspired by acts of kindness.  We have thousands of eBooks, eAudio, eMagazines, and eComics, waiting to be downloaded for free by Sheffield Library members.

Search the eLibrary

Not a member?  Join the library online

Be kind to yourself and explore the benefits of Mindfulness

The Sheffield Centre for Mindful Life Enhancement is offering twice weekly free online sessions. 

Discover more on their website

Make friends in lockdown with #MyDearNewFriend

We love this.  The National Literacy Trust is encouraging children to write letters to people living in care homes. You can download our introductory letter to get started and discover more on their website.

Discover more and help your children get started

Creativity during Corona

Visit our Facebook page where everyday, Claire from Central Library is linking to a poem and posting prompts to spark your creativity during lockdown.  Today, she is linking to the poem, The Kindness of Trees.

Visit our Facebook page

Monday, May 18, 2020

Spotlight 18. Fairies and Fairy Tales

Fairies in Literature and Art - Podcast

Always unashamedly scholarly.  In this archive episode of In Our TimeMelvyn Bragg discusses the literary and visual depiction of fairies. Supernatural creatures inhabiting a half-way world between this one and the next, fairies are ubiquitous in human culture.

Listen to the podcast

Fairies re-fashioned in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare's enduring influence can be seen all around us; from many of the words we speak today, to our popular understanding of large tracts of British history.  Thanks to A Midsummer Night's Dream, the same is perhaps also true of how we picture fairies.  

Discover more in this article from the British Library website 

The Meaning behind Fairy Tales and Folktales 

Fairy Tales and Folktales are so much more than entertainment. They reflect our history and culture, our fears and our dreams. When did we start to write them down and how have they changed over time?  Check out this great section of the British Library's Discovering Children's Books website, and learn more.

Visit the British Library website

Feminist Fairytales with authors Jessie Burton and Kiran Millwood Hargrave 

In this Guardian Books podcast, author Jessie Burton discusses her book, The Restless Girls; a feminist retelling of the Brothers Grimm story The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s third book, The Way Past Winter, is not a retelling of a particular fairytale, but is inspired by Scandinavian and Slavic folklore.  Hargrave tells the story of three sisters who go searching for their missing brother in a magical and dangerous land. 

Listen to the podcast

Creativity during Corona

Visit our Facebook page where everyday, Claire from Central Library is linking to a poem and posting prompts to spark your creativity during lockdown.  Today, the theme is fairies.

Visit our Facebook page

Once Upon a Time... and other fairy tale language

In this interesting article we discover that every culture has its own version of ‘once upon a time’ – and perhaps many, are more interesting than the English.

This article delves a bit deeper into the language of fairy tales and asks why they continue to affect what we read today.

Recommended retellings of classic fairytales for 5-8 year olds

A list compiled by the Book Trust.  These clever and often humorous books will engage children with their witty takes on old tales. 

Read the list and watch the video of former Children's Laureate, Chris Riddell reading from his beautifully illustrated book, Once Upon a Wild Wood.  A richly imagined story packed full of familiar fairy tale characters as you've never seen them before. 

Watch the video

Twisted Fairy Tales

Check out this list of some of the Book Trust's favourite twisted fairy tales for kids - fun and anarchic new takes on traditional stories.

View the list

How to Draw a Unicorn

In this video, Sheffield based children's author and illustrator, Lydia Monks shows us ow to draw a Unicorn like the one from her book, Sugarlump and the Unicorn.

Watch the video

Friday, May 15, 2020

Spotlight 17. Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts

In this TED Talk, Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, argues that introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Wathch the TED Talk

In Praise of a Quiet Life

For many, lockdown has forced them to slow down and reflect on how they want to live. 

Do we need or want to go back to the high speed, high pressure, reality that had somehow become our daily experience.  In fact it is reported that a majority don't want to return to the old 'normal'.  If you've been reflecting on this, you might enjoy reading this chapter from the Book of Life.

Read more from the Book of Life

The Glories of being Quiet

Philosopher and adventurer Erling Kagge – the first person to reach the ‘three poles’ of North, South and the summit of Everest – explores the power of silence in the book Silence. He asks why we need it, how we lost it and where we might go to find it again.

Read more about his thinking on this Radio Four article

Creativity during Corona - Quiet

During lockdown, we've been posting daily prompts to spark your creativity.  Claire from Central Library writes,

I recently attended an online event with the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke about finding the silence within yourself. Elizabeth does this through meditating, and I think that often reading poetry can do this. If you agree, why not bring a poem to share at this morning’s poetry Zoom

I found this poem “Listening” by Amy Lowell.  I like how the poem compares someone’s melody and songs to nature, the ocean and seasons using strong images.

You could simply read the poem then close…or take a look at the prompts on our Facebook page and send us your own thoughts, notes, journal piece, poem, short story,  drawing, paintings, photographs, knitting, sewing, or  songs….  Enjoy.

Books at Bedtime

Are you a parent craving the quiet that comes after putting your children to bed, or the luxury of a full nights sleep?  The Book Trust might be able to help.  Check out their tips and articles related to settling your little ones down at bedtime.

Discover more with Book Trust

Thursday, May 14, 2020

850 Years of History: An Introduction to Sheffield's City Archives

Miss Meredith collecting archives for Sheffield in the 1960s.
Our doors may be temporarily shut but there's no better time to explore your archive.  Many people have taken advantage of the lock-down period to do their family trees, learn about the history of their house and local area, press on with academic research or simply take a trip down memory lane by browsing Picture Sheffield (and many new photographs have been donated recently - the result of people having time to sort out their attics!) The archivists have been busy each day answering a wide variety of enquiries, some from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.  Given the level of interest in our local history, we thought we'd take the opportunity to showcase some of the amazing documents that have survived throughout the centuries in Sheffield.

A record of the foundation of St
Leonard's Hospital [Spital Hill],
The collections at Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library go back around 850 years.  The earliest item preserved in the City Archives is a small parchment document which records the foundation of St Leonard's Hospital [at Spital Hill] near an existing bridge over the River Don, c.1150-1180. The land was gifted by William de Lovetot to the sick of Sheffield.  Little is known about the hospital other than it was in decay by the 1580s.  The City’s documentary archive spans many miles of shelving and each unique and irreplaceable document tells the story of Sheffield’s development from the 12th century to the present day.  Many of the collections are of such great historical significance, that scholars travel from across the globe to study first-hand the manuscripts held by the City Archives.  It would be impossible even to scratch the surface of this archival treasure trove, but what follows is a brief exploration of some of the City’s hidden gems…

Mad about maps?  Sheffield has been comprehensively plotted and mapped in great detail since the 1770s. In fact the map collection at the City Archives is second only to London when it comes to quality and detail. This is thanks to the Fairbank family of Sheffield - three generations of surveyors - who preserved all of their work starting with the first William Fairbank in 1739.  The collection contains an astonishing 4,500 plans providing an excellent source for many types of research: local history, topography, transport, history of surveying and family history; the archives reveal the appearance of Sheffield as it was nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, and show the changes which wiped out, one by one, the ancient landmarks of Hallamshire during a century of rapid growth.

An incredibly detailed plan of Wain Gate by the Fairbanks, 1770s
The wax seal on Sheffield's Market Charter, 1296
Establishing the market.  In 1296 a charter to hold markets and fairs in Sheffield was granted by Edward I to Thomas de Furnival, Lord of the Manor of Sheffield.  Over the next 600 years, the markets were owned, operated and developed by the lords of the manor.  In 1899 Sheffield Corporation purchased the markets and rights from the Duke of Norfolk, and since that time the markets have remained the property of Sheffield City Council.  The charter survives some 700 years on in pristine condition. Pictured is the wax seal attached to the document depicting King Edward I.

Sheffield Blitz reported in St Louis Globe, 1940
Read all about it!  Old newspapers are a valuable and fascinating source because they are effectively the personal diary of any town or city; they reflect popular opinion and offer great (and sometimes scandalous) detail on day-to-day life as it unfolded.  Not everyone was a fan of the newspaper: Thomas Jefferson famously stated in 1807: ‘Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle’!  However, if like us, you love a good read, a comprehensive list of local titles can be found at the Local Studies Library dating back to the 1700s.  The newspaper pictured is a copy of the St Louis Globe which reported on the Sheffield Blitz in 1940 all the way from Missouri, USA.

Unidentified Middlewood patient, 1923

In a dark wood.  The records of South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum (later Middlewood Hospital) are a source of endless interest for psychiatric specialists, family historians and curious observers. The Asylum received its first patients in 1872; the name of each inmate was meticulously documented along with their ‘cause of insanity’.  Extensive records were kept which survive at Sheffield City Archives.   In the words of F.T. Thorpe’s centenary book: ‘the history of Middlewood Hospital chronicles the passage of prejudice, enlightened by the advances of discovery and the acceptance of more humane treatment of patients.  The gradual lifting of the veil of ignorance shows how concern for the patient has replaced the stigmas of mental illness.’

Police ticket of leave book, Sheffield, 1864
Criminals and convicts.  With the advent of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, came the possibility of creating a true likeness of people.  This was especially useful when it came to criminals in order for them to be recognised.  The ‘Ticket of Leave’ book at Sheffield City Archives dates from 1864 and records in great detail the character, physical description and misdemeanours of a number of shifty individuals.  Under the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869, criminals could be let out early on a 'ticket of leave' - a permit allowing them to leave prison under specific restrictions. However, it could (and frequently was) withdrawn for misconduct.  The volume includes two entries for the notorious Charles Peace (both as aliases).

The curious teapot.  Unsurprisingly, business records form a core part of the City collections.  The records of James Dixon and Sons Limited, Silversmiths of Cornish Place, are particularly interesting.  In the later years of the nineteenth century it produced holloware to the designs of the celebrated Dr Christopher Dresser - 'sleek objects of great practicality, which anticipated the functional lines of the twentieth century'.  Dresser worked for Dixon's from c.1870 to 1883; his designs including tea and coffee services.  His work for Dixon's is of interest not only for its highly original artistic quality but also because Dresser was one of the earliest true industrial designers.  Photograph albums and cost books show Dresser’s work in great detail and these records have been called upon to verify the authenticity of rare Dresser pieces that have come to auction.  An incredibly rare and priceless teapot, the design of which is detailed in the archives, is on show at the V&A Museum in London - one of only a handful ever made.

This is a very brief introduction to Sheffield's vast archives.  The City Archives and Local Studies Library look forward to re-opening in due course.  Until then, please feel free to keep directing your enquiries to us at: 

We're now on Twitter too - follow us at: @SheffArchives

We're also collecting Covid-19 documents.  Read more about our appeal here: 

Spotlight 16. Music

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at Home

The show must go on and Music in the Round is presenting their first ever free online festival of music this weekend, including Concerteenies for your young families!

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival at Home (#SCMFhome) will feature more than a dozen specially curated performances, talks and family events, all launching on the Music in the Round YouTube channel over two days on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 May. 

Discover more 

The Shape of Music:  Maurice Sendak’s Insightful Meditation on the Key to Great Storytelling

Check out this article that argues the importance of music in storytelling and offers in insight into the creative process of legendary children's author Maurice Sendak.

Read the article

Music and Book Pairings

Can listening to music really enhance the experience of reading a book?  Hmm, maybe...  Well these guys certainly think so and have made some suggestions for pairings that might we worth a try.  Why not give it go.

Read more

Time to Rhyme

Visit the brilliant Book Trust website and use their playlists and downloads to create your own rhymetime fun for little ones. Sing along to favourites like Old MacDonald and get to know some brilliant new rhymes, too.

Visit the Book Trust Website

And if you need a bit more inspiration for songs and actions, visit our Sheffield Libraries Facebook page every Friday, where the fabulous Laura from Firth Park Library will be leading an online Rhyme Time session.

Visit our Facebook page

Authors and their Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is always worth a listen, and you'll have your own laminated list worked out just in case you get the call, right?...

Anyway, why not dip into these archive recordings with authorsMaya AngelouZadie Smith, and Hanif Kureishi.

Creativity during Corona - Lyrics

During lockdown, we've been posting daily prompts to spark your creativity.  Claire from Central Library writes,

Do you think that song lyrics are poetry? Remember in 2016 when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature causing much controversy, including the singer’s reaction to receiving the award. I only have to listen to Kate Tempest, Leonard Cohen or the Arctic Monkeys to believe that poetry and music are one, but I’m sure many wouldn’t agree.

While you ponder that, here’s Songs for the People by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

You could simply read the poem then close…or take a look at the prompts on our Facebook page and send us your own thoughts, notes, journal piece, poem, short story,  drawing, paintings, photographs, knitting, sewing, or  songs….  Enjoy.