Ruskin and Sheffield
Ruskin once suggested that the name Sheffield came from the words 'Sheaf-field' (Works, 28, p. 448).

A correspondent later set him right, indicating that 'The town, in all probability, took its name from the river "Sheaf," which flows into the Don'.

Although Ruskin never lived in Sheffield, he took a personal interest in its culture and geography. This is reflected in the range of his local involvements, which extended far beyond the limits of his experiment at Walkley.

St George's Farm, Totley

The Guild of St George purchased a farm in the Totley area not far from Sheffield. Cook and Wedderburn explain the background to this purchase of 'Thirteen acres of garden and field, with farmhouse and buildings':

'The land was bought by Ruskin in response, as he relates in Fors, to a request from some of the working men of Sheffield for allotments. Some of the men, it seems, were shoemakers, and Ruskin looked forward to the experiment with hopeful interest. He was not able, however, to give personal direction at the start, and the shoemakers seem to have had ideas of "vote of the majority" which gave him uneasiness. The proposed allotments had a short and, I believe, somewhat stormy career, and Ruskin fell back upon the favourite resource on occasions of this kind; that is to say, he called his old gardener, David Downs, to the rescue. Already in the Report for 1879 a new purpose for the Totley estate is announced: it was to be put "under cultivation, with the object of showing the best methods of managing fruit-trees in the climate of northern England; with attached green-houses and botanic garden for the orderly display of all interesting European plans" (p. 20). But "the climate of northern England" had views of its own, antagonistic to Ruskin's schemes. The rare plants and the fruit-trees remained only a beautiful vision; but the land was "brought into heart" to supply strawberries, currants, and gooseberries to the Sheffield markets "at a price both moderate and fixed" (p. 49).' (Works, 30, p. xxvii)

The farming experiment at Totley was the subject of a radio programme called 'Making History'

Exterior view of St George's Farm, Totley, n.d., Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield
St George's Farm in 2011 (in private ownership)
, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 25 November 2008.

Visits to Walkley

Ruskin used to stay at 'a little grocer's shop' when visiting the Museum.

He would rise at sunrise, to begin writing and sketching. One of these drawings depicted the cottage and trees visible from the window of his bedroom. It was meant to provide 'illustration of the laws of perspective' (Works, 30, pp. xliv-xlv).

Other References

  • Cook and Wedderburn allude to an occasion in 1871 when Ruskin met a refugee from Sheffield's industrial trades: '"At the very time when he was working in the Ruskin School [in Oxford] he had settled in lodgings across the road an apprentice-lad from Sheffield, far gone in consumption, and then almost dying. The poor fellow would pour out his tale of the woes of Sheffield grinders, and was too weak to know when to stop."' (Works, 20, p. xl).

  • In 1875, Ruskin embarked on 'posting tours to Derbyshire and Yorkshire' which involved visits to Sheffield. Cook and Wedderburn quote from a letter that tells the story of the journey:

    'The Professor said to us, "I will take you in a carriage and with horses, and we will ride the whole way from London to the north of England." He further said, "I will not only do it, but I will do the best in my power to get a postilion to ride, and we will go in the old-fashioned way, stopping at Sheffield for a few days." [...] The Professor took a portable chessboard, and over some long, and, to him, rather wearisome Yorkshire moors we used to play games of chess" And so they rode to Sheffield. His plans for a "St. George's Museum" at Sheffield were now beginning to take shape, and he spent some days there in meeting many local people and discussing the matter with them' (Works, 24, p. xxviii).

  • Ruskin added a note to the 1880 edition of The Seven Lamps of Architecture which referred to 'the hollow cut out by the sweep of a stream' (Works, 8, p. 270). In it he explains that this is 'Just the place where they put milldams or chimneys on the streams above Sheffield, for grinding knives or bayonets'. Physical evidence of this industry can still be seen in the managed waterscape of the Rivelin Valley, which runs below site of the museum.

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