My Brown family Sheffield ancestors lived on or near Scotland street their entire lives. I stumbled upon this article in the newspaper this morning that certainly paints quite a picture of the neighbourhood. I can almost smell the smells and hear the noise as the author takes me on a tour up and down the street.
Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday, 22 March 1873
By the Impartial Observer
Miss Betsy Trotwood asked in relation to Blunderstone Rookery “Why Rookery?” but I do not remember that it is recorded that she received any reply, satisfactory or otherwise, to her query and I fancy that were the question asked “Why ‘Scotland’-street?” it would be found almost as difficult to answer. Scotland-street, however, the anything but aristocratic lane I have in my mind’s eye, has been named by somebody, and Scotland-street it must remain. It is not a nice street as such. In the first place it is humped in the middle of the back, like a dromedary; and, in the second, it possesses hardly a decent building from one end to the other. It has, too, a slatternly down-at-the-heels look at the best of times, and an all-pervading griminess which may to the natives be suggestive of money, but can only be so from the proverbial association of that indispensable commodity with its usual concomitant in this neighbourhood at least-“muck.”
I am rather at a loss to decide what may be termed the staple retail trade of Scotland-street. There are certainly butchers’ shops by the score, and one might be inclined to say “butchering” at once as answer to the question, were it not that public houses seem to prefer an equal claim, while both are hard pressed by the numberless shops which, although differing in detail, and having each an individuality of its own, yet approximate so nearly in general characteristics as to come under the heading of “greengrocers.” This, perhaps the most elastic of trade denominations, must, in this instance, be taken to include shops which, besides the staples of “’taters” and onions, deal also more or less in sweets, pipe-clay, oranges, polony, shuttlecocks, birch rods, trip, cowheel, tobacco, cakes and fried fish. There are two or three establishments devoted to the last named dainty, and a perceptible flavour of fried fish is one of the odours which a man with a keen nose for analysing smells could detect in most of the perfumes which at various hours of the day pervade the neighbourhood. Apropos of smells, those of Scotland-street are peculiar if not delicate. There is always the indescribable smoky flavour which seems almost universal in Sheffield, but often too there comes out from some of the bye streets as gust of air bearing with it the fragrance of warm oil (used, I believe, in the hardening of steel), and at intervals too the aborigines revel in the fumes from the premises of a tallow chandler somewhere in the vicinity – add to these a dash of second-hand shoes, and faint smell of decaying vegetable matter and “the Scotland-street bouquet” may be considered complete. Such as it is, however, and with all its blushing honours thick upon it, if I were asked to show a stranger a street fuller of Sheffield life than another I think I should choose Scotland-street, and fix the time for noon. At that hour the numerous manufactories, large and small, which hide themselves away from the public notice up the various narrow winding dirty streets which branch off from the main thoroughfare pour out their crowds of swarthy artisans, and from each lane, “jennel,” and archway a rivulet of toil-stained humanity is added to the great current which fills the narrow street so closely as to make locomotion a matter of considerable difficulty. Surging, swaying, pushing, shouting, the motley crowd of men, boys, girls, and women come clattering out for “the dinner hour,” the wooden clogs worn by the greater portion of the juniors making a frightful din on the ringing pavement. Almost every class and type of Sheffield workman may be picked out from the crowd. The burly grinder, yellow with wheelswarf, the proverbial “greasy cutler,” the pale electroplater, the file cutter, stooped forward as he walks, the forger or flyer, his face and clothing black with oil, and the muscles of his brawny arms standing up in bosses; the razor grinder, the engineer, the mechanic, and scores of others, each and all striding along with the air of men who have business in hand far too serious to be trifled with. The lumbering hobbledehoys, who form a considerable section of the busy crowd, are hardly as wholesome and pleasant to look upon as their elders. Truth to say, I cannot confess to any great admiration for young Sheffield. He appears by a happy process of natural selection to have appropriated to himself a good share of the vices of his seniors, and to have at the same time discarded a many of the good qualities which redeemed them. If the old workmen are and were independent and rough of bearing, young Sheffield has improved in the lesson by being insolent and brutal. If many of the men are and were coarse of tongue and energetic in diction, young Sheffield has, I fancy, beaten them hollow in that respect. In fact, some of the mere children now clattering along the street spice, as a sailor would say “shot,” their conversation – if conversation it can be termed – with oaths and imprecations of a description absolutely hideous. As workmen, too, I am informed that the rising generation are not by any means the equal of their fathers, but this I should be inclined to attribute as much to the introduction of machinery and the great subdivision of labour as to any other cause. Of course, I do not mean these observations to apply to all; but I am pretty certain that they at all events apply to a portion, and not a small portion either of the youths of our working classes. Even while we look, however, the crowd begins to slacken perceptibly, and ere ten minutes are past the street resumes its wonted air of dulness [sic], only to awake again to life when the dinner-hour expires. The workmen begin once more to pour back, pipe in mouth, and in little groups of twos and threes, disappear once more into the grimy factories. There is one other period in the week in which Scotland-street in common with the rest of the town shakes off its customary lethargy, and comes out lively, if not gorgeous, and that is on the Saturday night. Then the street is alive from end to end; the butchers’ flaring gas lights throw a lurid glare over gory groves of beef and mutton; their shop-boards are filled to the very edge with cuts and bits suited to the wants of the locality. Hearts there are by the score, sheep’s heads dangle in ropes like onions over the foot way, juicy steak and tempting sirloin are proudly displayed, and the stentorian cry of the tradesmen echoes far and wide. The pawnbrokers (on guards each end of Scotland-street) drive a roaring trade, the “greengrocers,” who have got in their weekly stock come out bravely with the confidence of capitalists, huge piles of smoking fish disappear with the quickness of light, the public-houses are filled to overflowing, a crowd of eager-eyed women gather round the milliners’ shops, discussing with all the earnestness of their more aristocratic sisters the bonnets, feathers, and flowers therein displayed, and for an hour or two naught is heard but the sounds of bargaining, chaffering, selling, and buying. The customers drive keen bargains in Scotland-street and drive them far on the night too. Ever after the public houses have closed, and the temporary glut in the street caused by the influx of the half-inebriated customers is past, groups of shabbily-dressed women may be seen chaffering with the butchers for odds and ends, which are carefully deposited in their baskets for tomorrows dinner. Or some burly workman may be discovered in back premises of the fried fish sellers, devouring hissing-hot morsels – his fingers serving for fork. But as midnight approaches the shops close one by one, the last straggler saunters homeward, and the lately noisy street responds only to the shouts of some belated reveller, or echoes to the steady tramp of the policeman as he goes his weary rounds.