Sheffield Steel

Beef paste and changes…

Image: South Street Kitchen

“If things don’t change, they’ll stop as they are” is a traditional North Yorkshire saying for stating the bleeding obvious. But change is irresistible and inevitable, especially when it involves cityscapes or modes of transportation.

The picture above is of the South Street Kitchen, a particularly attractive section of the Park Hill Flats complex. A little background: originally built between 1957 and 1961 as a brave new concept in urban living, Park Hill’s concrete superstructure was constructed on former cholera-ridden slums. Initially heralded as an architectural triumph, the buildings suffered vandalism and neglect for many years before finally blossoming into a colourful Sheffield living space after a major redevelopment. 

My home town(1) has witnessed many changes since Park Hill was built. The estate is situated just yards from the town’s main railway station and is but a hop from a once-vast open parking area. Where the cars in the black-and-white photo below are parked now sits an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool. The bridge to the right has been replaced by one much larger, to accommodate Sheffield’s Supertram. As to the buildings, Sheffield suffered some wartime damage, but the Luftwaffe had less to answer for than the local council by the early 1970s.

Now… Image: the author

To the cars then: the photo below is believed to have been taken in the mid-1970s, but the number plates prove impossible to ascertain. Luckily for us, the stark outlines of some of these jalopies are as plain as day, one of the most obvious being a VW Transporter pick-up right in the centre of the image. As there was a large fruit and vegetable market nearby, was this a trader’s vehicle temporarily at rest? To the right of the Transporter appears to be a Morris Marina saloon and a white Ford Cortina Mk3, the latter possibly a GT, with its black-painted panel between the rear lights.

…and then: Sheffield, mid-1970s Image: the author

In the lower right, we see an oddly positioned Ford Escort Mk1, sitting perpendicular to the roadway. Is the driver of Dagenham’s finest manoeuvring, broken down or just plain belligerent? Resting at the furthermost parking meter is a large white Datsun 260C Cedric, a perfectly charming name, albeit one guaranteed to elicit sniggers from local schoolboys.  As an early Land of the Rising Sun adopter, its owner could at least confidently start the thing up and drive off in a four-star powered fug. From the early 1970s, both Japanese cars and those intimidating grey sentinels lining the pavements and demanding to be fed would be a feature of the streetscape for years to come, not necessarily for the better in the case of the sentinels.

Just behind the Datsun sits a darkly-shaded Escort Mk2 with vinyl roof, bright wheel trims and bodyside rubbing strip, signifiers of true luxury in those austere times. Next, a Mini Clubman estate with decorative wood trim appliqué back and sides, behind which sits an unburnished original Mini, presented as Issigonis intended. Last in the line-up is an original C1-generation Audi 100, noteworthy not only for its elegance and rarity, but also for its owner’s rather casual interpretation of kerbside parking.

Returning to the white fenced, allegedly hardcore surfaced area (Sheffield Council has never been the motorists’ friend) and for me the highlight is the white Renault 16 in the foreground, a somewhat avant-garde choice for this most English of places. This was a town where, as can be seen in the photos, the lion’s share of parked cars were home-grown, having travelled no further than from Luton, Dagenham, Oxford or the West Midlands. Dealers were plentiful, as would soon be rust, starting problems and other mechanical maladies, derisory part-exchange values and, on this particular surface, punctures. Happy memories!

To the left of the 16 is a saloon of unknown origin, then a BMC Farina, dark-coloured, but with a contrasting white boot and bonnet. Did  the owner actually choose this duo-tone combination, rather than the alternative (and more likely) explanation, a cheap and expedient scrapyard-sourced repair job after an accident (or two) maybe? At least the owner should have no difficulty locating his bolide should the car park fill to capacity. Moving further along, we have a Morris Marina saloon with a vinyl roof and a recently-minted Vauxhall Chevette.

Like bashful teenagers in a dancehall, most of the cars cling to the perimeter of the car park but, deposited rather randomly in the centre, we have another Chevette, a Ford Anglia and, possibly, a Mazda saloon, either a conventionally-powered 818 or its more  exotic sibling, the rotary-powered RX-3. Behind the Mazda sits a Ford Capri Mk1. One wonders if the Capri has survived and, if so, whether its value now equates to the deposit typically required for a decent house in the nicer suburbs?

One obvious problem with a monochromatic image being that lack of colour(2), though white seems more popular than my memory recollects from those times. One certainly remembers advice from the automotive press to avoid those albescent hues like the plague, as they would readily show the dirt and, in no time at all, the insidious oxide. Perhaps they were cheap? Darker hues predominate here, a practical choice for practical people.

Hopefully, dear reader, you will recognise here a car that your family or friends once had, one you remember fondly. Everything here appears fairly contemporary: there’s nary a running board nor large circular headlamps in sight, a distinct lack of the more mature motor, the ones we would now label vintage. But, with the gift of x-ray vision…

Behind Barclays Bank (the grey monolith in the background, now long gone) once resided a store named Marples, which obviously resembled a steel works to the Heinkels of 1940. Obliterated, rebuilt then bombed again, the resultant edifice, like much of post-war Sheffield, became a fearsome concrete brute. Luckily, just beyond and remaining perfectly intact was a more traditional building whose occupier for many years used vehicles that even in the early 1970s were classed as pensionable.

Image: Binghams Foods

Founded in 1914, Binghams of Sheffield has produced its range of potted beef paste for over a century. Initially yeast traders, the company pedalled its wares by bicycle before the arrival of the motor. Henceforth, vans were used to transport the pots of beef paste. Binghams’ fleet of Ford 5cwt vans lasted for many years(3), although your author cannot specifically remember them.

Sheffield’s climate can be regarded as bracing even in the best of weathers. Picture the secured ceramic pots of beef paste being hauled around in the back of the vans: with the mercury low, all was safe and secure. With rising temperatures, or on longer delivery trips, those pots soon began to resemble gravy pails, with the now liquidised content sloshing around freely. One has it on good authority that, whilst the vans’ load areas were often aromatic, (pre-jet wash days, remember) their rear chassis and suspension remained squeak and rust-free for years. Did Bingham miss a trick here? Protect your car from corrosion with Binghams Bovinoyl, ideal for hardy northern climes…

Trusty, not rusty: Binghams’ Ford 5cwt vans.  Image: the author

Inevitably, the charming Ford 5cwt vans were supplanted by the ubiquitous Transit, just as Sheffield traded some of its character and individuality in the cause of progress, efficiency and homogeneity(4). This has brought a brave, if uncertain, future of shiny glass edifices and greener transport solutions. Yet something has still been lost. The future is irresistible, but it’s nice every now and again to reminisce. 

Has that Escort moved yet?


(1) Yes, I know Sheffield is a city, but we Yorkshiremen are a modest lot, not given to getting ideas above our station and derisive of those who do.

(2) Another statement of the bleeding obvious, in recognition of my proud heritage!

(3) Yorkshiremen have also long had a reputation for thrifty ways.

(4) After more than a century of independence, Binghams was taken over by a larger food manufacturer in 2021

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

23 thoughts on “Sheffield Steel”

  1. Ah, Sheffield of not so blessed memory…! That strange interim period during which the wrecker’s ball prepared the ground for the Soviet Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire – you evoke it well, Mr Miles. But I’m surprised you didn’t recognise a visiting taxi from neighbouring Chesterfield, where the local council licensing authority insisted that all taxis should be black but with white bonnet & boot lids, a practice not uncommon elsewhere in the country. So yes, the owner did indeed choose it. As for the anonymous car next to it, I’m working on it…

    1. … guess, based on the B-pillar, is Rover 2000. I really must get out more….

  2. Good morning Andrew. Your affectionate paean to Sheffield put me in mind of the Dublin of my childhood. Although inadvertently bombed by the Luftwaffe on one occasion (mistaking it for Liverpool, IIRC), the remained largely intact until the 1960s. However the wrecker’s ball laid waste to much of its derelict Georgian splendour along Parnell Street, creating the makeshift car parks you describe. I well remember accompanying my late father into town, parking up on those lots and passing a few coins to a dishevelled attendant in a rotting wooden kiosk before we continued on foot. It’s all completely unrecognisable now, of course, bright, shiny and new, but somehow anonymous.

  3. Hi Andrew, the topic of concrete town planning (in many senses) reminds me of Utrecht, where the entire neighbourhood surrounding the train station was demolished for a concrete megastructure, dubbed Hoog Catharijne:

    This is the situation in 1980. The whole thing is now on its second redevelopment, while the neighbourhood that was demolished lasted for about a century, including an important exponent of the Jugendstil (the next images are from the website “the Utrechtian Internet Courant”):

    This has also produced the strange situation that many of the streetnames are based on the old, decidedly medieval sounding streetnames with the adjective “boven” (above) added to them, since the conrete structure is largely some 5 meters above ground level. “Boven Clarenburg” sounds quite romantic but is just a concrete walkway with shops.

    Anyhow, this provides an opportunity to post some images of the pre-concrete situation which just happen to feature contemporary cars 😁:

    (the new development is in the background here, 1973)

    (this is the old train station, also in 1973)

    The cars aren’t too challenging to identify and feature your typical Continental mix of Volkswagen (group), Fiat and Ford Cologne products, although the yellow Lotus (I reckon?) is rather special.

    Re: the picture in the article: somehow it’s comforting to know that Audi drivers’ driving standards haven’t changed much…

    1. In your second-from-bottom picture, what’s the yellow car in the centre?

      In the Sixties these multi storey buildings seemed to make LeCorbusier’s misanthropic dreams come true just everywhere. They turned into social nightmares in no time with ninety percent of their population living on benefit and off the scale criminality rates.

      That’s even better – ‘Allee der Kosmonauten’ (Berlin)

    2. It’s easy to forget that in many cases, these housing project provided affordable and clean housing to people who previously lived in what can generously be described as hovels. In that sense they were an improvement, it just didn’t last very long for a variety of reasons. I thought the yellow car was a Lotus of some description but I’m not sure.

    3. I wonder if it’s the same 2-door Mk II Cortina in both photos.

    4. That would be quite a coincidence, I think the Cortina was a popular car back then.

    5. In the roundabout I see a Renault R8 (pre-facelift bumper so not a 10), a DAF 33, a red car which looks like a Taunus bred with an Allegro, a curious yellow car (not a Costin), and a 1968 or 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle.

      The white car entering the roundabout looks like it might be a circa 1970 Fiat 125, and behind that I think I see two more GM USA products (the blue car parked in the distance has suspiciously large wheel blisters, body vs. track width, and rear overhang), while the blue car behind the sans interdit sign appears to be wearing a cowboy hat.

    6. Thanks a lot Tom for the pictures of old Utrecht, (also?) my home town. We still have to live with a train station that does not really have its own facade as it is wrapped into a shopping mall. Which is a bit of a pity if you see the old station.
      These ran-down provincial cities were an easy target for “utopian” “visionaries” at the time indeed. And because Utrecht was far from cosmopolitan, my guess for the yellow sports car is rather that it is a VW Beetle-based kit car of some sorts, although its stance indeed somehow reminds of Lotus Europa. Beetle-kits were quite popular back then.

    7. I was born in a Utrecht hospital and grew up near there, but I don’t live there anymore. In my youth, I spent quite some time in Hoog Catharijne, though. The contrast between the shopping arcade and the really quite charming town outside is staggering. How anyone could think it would make a good entrance to the town is beyond me. Different times I guess.

      It’s not just provincial towns: Amsterdam’s had its fair (?) share of developments, too. But Amsterdam’s so important those developments have been re-developed again, sometimes quite successfully. The Hague has levelled a complete quarter (Schilderswijk, I used to live near there) of similarly old houses. But apparently those were badly built, so knocking them down wasn’t that great of a loss.

      The source doesn’t specify the cars, but I’m with Dave for the first picture. Except maybe the white car entering the roundabout, which might very well be an Opel (possibly a Kadett B?). They were incredibly popular in The Netherlands. I thought the yellow cat was a Lotus, but I couldn’t find any that matched, so probably Joost’s notion is correct. The picture of the station seems to feature a Fiat 127, no fewer than two Audis, a VW Transporter (idea from the Dutch VW importer, Pon, if I remember correctly), a half hidden (again white) Opel Kadett A, a Ford Cortina and the inevitable Beetle. The rest is too obscured for me to recognise.

    8. That red Taunus with Allegro mixture is a German Taunus P7a that was in production for less than a year

    9. Neat! As I understand it, the P7a was a sales disappointment and rapidly facelifted into the somewhat tighter P7b:

      Now all we need is to identify an obscure sports car from the ‘Seventies and we’ve got the lot.

    10. Thanks Dave (and Tom). Eleven months for a major facelift must be some sort of Rekord.

  4. I visited Sheffield several times in the early 70s, often with a wagon big enough to collect steel bars (HSS) from a specialist steel-maker. I remember the shock I felt when I realised that Manchester wasn’t a quick motorway blast away but instead an adventure over Snake Pass.
    I was in Sheffield again in the mid-80s and couldn’t believe the change – the hustle and bustle had gone, as had so much of the industry…

    1. Still no all weather road from Sheffield to Manchester unless you detour via the M62 or A50, both of which at least double the mileage.
      My brother says I used to drive the Woodhead Pass in my 2CV without using the brakes as it was a waste of momentum. It was probably that sort of driving that got me upside down in a field at Doctors Gate on the Snake Pass.

      We moved to Doncaster down the hill in 1960 just as the bypass was being completed. Try explaining to Grandad from the backseat of the Skoda that he couldn’t turn off, but had to wait for one of the 2 junctions.
      I remember the roads being built, the M1 with the double level Tinsley viaduct that wasn’t built properly, immediately closed and not properly open for another 30 years or so. The M18 that linked the M1 to the A1[M] and then they ran out of money and went to 2 lanes past Doncaster. The Catcliffe link which took you from the M1 to the scene of the photo, and a massive roundabout known to me only as ‘suicide island’, fabulous in mum’s Mini 850 as a newly qualified 17 year old.
      I seem to remember a special trip to Sheffield to walk through the ‘hole in the road’ a subway with shops in it which eased the slog up the hill. Now I believe filled in and the area completely pedestrianised to put anyone off visiting at all, if you’re going to struggle up a hill in the rain do it down the road in Derbyshire where there is scenery.
      But as the factories, steel mills and mines closed they made it more difficult to get to and park in Sheffield. Yes it was 5p on the bus, but you were stuck at the bottom of the hill in Sheffield, the dmu trains were as smelly and noisy as the bus.
      Someone funded widening the locks on the Don navigation though so the non existent barges could take the steel straight to the North Sea.
      Now I’m living on the other side near Manchester where the 1970s redevelopments have mostly been knocked down again.
      Even without covid and with the interenet to research the journeys I don’t go into city centres any more, too difficult to work out the car parks, public transport and how to pay for it.

  5. Funny, Sheffield makes me think of Heaven 17, not architecture or cars. Trapped in cliché thinking…

  6. If I remember correctly, didn’t the Park Hill flats feature in a tv documentary about their refurbishment? Isn’t it an English Heritage site now too? Great article Andrew.

  7. An excellent article Andrew and thanks also for bringing Binghams Spread to my attention. I must try and find some when I visit Waitrose next!
    As I have an interest in photography I recently purchased a book entitled ” Brutal Sheffield” by Martin Dust. This features ParkHill before and after refurbishment among numerous other areas of so called ” Brutalist Architecture”.

  8. Good evening, this is the outsider’s question. Why on films and photos the brick buldings appear so dark? This has something to do with the bricks or the sensitivity of the emulsion of the films? I have never been there.

    1. Good evening gpant. It’s soot, a legacy of two centuries of coal fires used to heat our towns and cities. When it was eventually phased out, the vast majority of surviving older buildings were cleaned and restored to their original splendour.

      Here’s a typical example of the appearance before and after cleaning:

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