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Sheffield Peace Gardens

This is our brief guide to Sheffield. For the Sheffield Tour de France route, maps, spectator information, race timings, road closures, accommodation, and events, see our Tour de France in Sheffield page.

Sheffield is a city of 551,800 people (2011 census), the sixth biggest in England. It became a city in 1893.

Sheffield is associated with steel production, an industry which was important from the 1800s. Innovations developed in Sheffield include stainless steel and the crucible steel process. In the 1970s and 1980s, international competition caused the decline of the local iron and steel industry, coinciding with the collapse in coal mining. Since the late 1990s, the city has redeveloped and grown.

It is traditionally a Labour city, and in the 1980s under David Blunkett, it was sometimes referred to as the 'Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire.' More recently, it has been controlled by Liberal Democrats, and it has had Green Party councillors.

Sheffield has an estimated two million trees - the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe. It has two universities, the University of Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam University, with 61,000 students altogether.

See this map of Sheffield.

Name and history of Sheffield

Sheffield City Hall

In the Iron Age, the area was occupied by the Brigantes tribe. After the Romans, it may have been part of the British Celtic kingdom of Elmet. The settlements that grew into Sheffield, though, were of Anglo-Saxon and Danish origin. The forerunner of Sheffield was probably situated by the river Sheaf, and begun between the 500s and the 800s.

The name Sheffield derives from the Sheaf. 'Sheaf' is probably a corruption of the Old English shed or sheth, meaning divide or separate, and 'field' comes from the Old English feld, meaning a forest clearing. 

Sheffield suburbs ending in ley (a forest clearing) or ton (a farmstead) were probably established by Anglo-Saxons. Examples include Tinsley and Owlerton. After the Norse invasions of the 800s, new hamlets were created, and their names often end in thorpe, a Viking word for a farmstead. This includes Grimesthorpe, and Netherthorpe.

Sheffield Castle was built after the Norman Conquest, to control the local population, and by 1296, a market had been established at Castle Square. Sheffield was a small market town at this time.

In the 1300s, Sheffield was already known for knives - we know this from Chaucer. By the early 1600s, it was the main centre of cutlery production in England. 

Sheffield expanded during the Industrial Revolution, and back-to-back terraced houses were built. In 1937, George Orwell wrote, 'Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World.' By 1959, apparently the situation had not improved, as Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that Sheffield was 'architecturally a miserable disappointment.'

During World War Two, Sheffield made weapons and munitions. This made it a bombing target, and there were raids, especially on 12th & 15th December 1940 - known as the Sheffield Blitz.

There has been considerable redevelopment following industrial decline, with the building of Meadowhall shopping centre, and venues for the 1991 World Student Games, including the Don Valley stadium, Sheffield Arena, and Ponds Forge. Only one steelworks remains (Forgemasters), and the economy now depends on offices and call centres, as well as public sector employers such as local government, the universities (Sheffield and Hallam), and the hospital.

Sheffield: geography

Sheffield Winter Gardens

Sheffield is in a natural amphitheatre, created by the hills around the city, and is at the confluence of the rivers Don, Sheaf, Rivelin, Loxley, and Porter. It is made up of several former villages, which perhaps accounts for the large areas of the city which are green space. 

Sheffield: shopping

Shopping areas in Sheffield include The Moor, Fargate, Orchard Square, and the Devonshire Quarter. 

Sheffield: transport

Sheffield's super tram   

Perhaps the best-known means of transport in Sheffield is the Supertram. It's a light rail tram system operated by Stagecoach, which has been running since 1994. Cycling in Sheffield is encouraged by CycleSheffield. A Committee of the council held a Cycling Inquiry, and produced a Sheffield cycling report in April 2014.

Sheffield: sport

Sheffield Wenesday ground, Hillsborough

Sheffield has two professional football clubs - Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. There's a rugby league team, Sheffield Eagles, who won the Challenge Cup in 1998, and an ice hockey team, Sheffield Steelers, who play in the Sheffield Arena.

Some of the city's sports venues were built for the World Student Games in 1991, including the Sheffield Arena, Pond's Forge swimming and diving centre, and the Don Valley Athletics stadium (which has now been closed as part of cost-saving measures by the council, and will be demolished by June 2014). Athletics in Sheffield will now take place at the smaller Woodburn Road Athletics Stadium.

Also closed is the Sheffield Ski Village, since the main building was destroyed by fire on 29th April 2012. This is particularly disappointing, because James Woods, a British Olympic competitor at the Sochi 2014 Games, learned to ski there, as did James Machon and Katie Summerhayes - see this BBC report.

Sheffield Crucible has a long association with snooker, hosting the World Snooker Championships.

Sheffield Crucible

There are several cycling clubs in and around Sheffield, including Sheffrec, Sharrow Cycling Club, and Rutland.