L-R: Dennis Green, 83, Rita Peacock, 80, Joan Lee, 90, Sheila Christopher, 78, Joe Ashton, 80, Walt Goodison (club secretary), 77, Frank Brice, 84
Joe talks to the Attercliffe Survivors
Attercliffe has certainly had its dramatic moments. Sunday the 15th December was the 73rd anniversary of the Blitz on Attercliffe in World War Two, when thousands of steelworkers’ homes burned. 750 people in Sheffield lost their lives. The city of Sheffield was still reeling from the bombs that had dropped on the city centre on Thursday 12th December 1940, when the second wave of bombing happened, in the industrial heart of Attercliffe.
Joe Ashton, who was the Labour MP for Bassetlaw for over 30 years, was born and bred in Attercliffe. As a seven year old boy in the Blitz, he fled home from the Adelphi cinema with his dad, as the bombs dropped and the glass exploded out of the windows in the shops. But that night, his house in Birch Road was firebombed. Joe vividly remembers the drunken scenes in the nearby Moulders club as the landlord gave the beer away and people desperately drank and kissed each other, believing that they were not going to survive. But many of them did, crammed together in the remaining houses, scavenging for firewood in the ruins in Britain’s coldest winter on record.
The Attercliffe Liberal Club is the only working men’s club left in the area, a thriving haven for the generation that still remember the Blitz. Now proudly run by Steward Dave Ball and Stewardess Debbie Maw, it has a long and dignified history. It was established in 188, and formally opened by Liberal MP AJ Mundella on the 21st October 1882. This was at a time when political parties were starting to compete for the votes of working men. There was also a rival Conservative Club in Carbrook (which is still there, opposite Sheffield Arena). In addition, there was Attercliffe Radical Club and the Non-Political Club, known as the “Non Pots”. However, the members of the Attercliffe Liberal Club are more likely to be lifelong Labour supporters.
In the 1880s, the ground floor of the Liberal Club had a reading room and there were rooms for lectures and meetings. I’ve always been inspired by the passion for self-improvement and education that Victorian pioneers had, and the determination of the Chartists to bring real democracy to Britain. But now, Sunday nights at the Attercliffe Liberal Club are dedicated to old friends meeting up, a few games of dominos, a turn knocking out the hits of yesteryear, and “eyes down” for the bingo.
On Sunday 14th December 2013, Joe organised a reunion of “Attercliffe Survivors” at the club, commemorating Sheffield’s “forgotten” Blitz, and the pivotal role that Attercliffe played in World War Two, producing the crankshafts for Spitfires and the bouncing bombs that helped to with the war.
The other survivors also have dramatic tales to tell. Rita Peacock sheltered with her family in the cellar head. After a particularly close explosion, the shelf fell down and hit her auntie on the head. Dennis was in a cellar too, and remembered that the cellars of terraced houses were knocked through so that people could escape in case of a direct hit to the house above. Frank remembers seeing a landmine float down on a parachute in Parson’s Cross. His dad had been drinking in the Marples pub, and was walking home down the Wicker when the building was destroyed by a direct hit, killing many people. Joan Lee was seventeen. Her future husband’s parents ran the Norfolk pub on Saville Street. The couple walked together to reach it through the burning, bombed streets. Sheila was five years old, and remembers walking all the way to Handsworth with her family to stay with her aunty, as her house had been badly damaged in the Blitz. Club Secretary, Walt, remembers being woken in the middle of the night and being taken to the shelter in the garden.
It was a great opportunity to celebrate Attercliffe’s unique legacy, and the spirit of the generation who lived through World War Two – and survived!
And Joe and the Attercliffe Liberal Club are fighting for the survival of Attercliffe. After the slum clearance of the 60s and 70s, the bomb-damaged Victorian terraces were never replaced, and the formerly thriving area – a town in its own right, with its own cinemas, theatres and Banners’ Department Store, became a ghost-town, notorious for seedy sex-shops and dodgy establishments. And the venue once heralded as the future of entertainment and sport – the Don Valley Stadium – is being demolished due to council cuts. It’s a sad time – the end of a place where I’ve seen The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and U2 perform, and seen the pride of the Sheffield people as Jessica Ennis triumphed at the Olympics in 2012.
But maybe it’s not too late for Attercliffe to rise again. Perhaps new houses, and new jobs could revive its fortunes?