Centre of the Universe

by Jacqueline A. Gibbons

April 2015

Totley, centre of the world? A place where careers were shaped and where men and women developed remarkable lives within striking distance of the shadow of Sheffield? That's what I discovered when I started to look for what shaped my father's life.    


Let's start from the beginning. I was never interested in family history: after all I thought I might discover that I was descended from wayward highwaymen, or perhaps an executioner (or two) of a previous era? Certainly the genealogy for Richard II is used up, so, I thought, best let demons lie on misty moors and that murky waters not be stirred.


However, this was not to be. I recently become interested in 'What made my father tick?' So, armed with a precious bit of time, I started  reading some documents that outlined his life, another life, long before I  was born. Since he was in the Navy, I started with a Royal Navy public archive document which gave the dates he enlisted and his service  record.... of the First World War. At the top of the application form, 1916, in father's writing, was his address: Inglewood, Totley Brook Road, Totley Rise, Derbyshire. In geographic ignorance I looked it up to discover the village that is now included in the official parish that is Sheffield. However, as we know, during that period, it was an autonomous leafy enclave where you could escape from the smoggy grey and smokestacks of industrial England that was up the road, an hour or so away. I needed to get the feel of the place, to sense my father's beginnings, so I did two things which I could not have done before the Internet: first I found reference to the Totley History Group and saw pictures and photographs of their Great War Exhibition. This viewing was rather special, even exotic, since I was sitting in Toronto, Canada.


With help of the Totley History Group's genealogist, it seemed there weren't highwaymen, robbers or known executioners in my family, after all, though there were some marital unions where any feminist today would roll her eyes at the insensitivity of certain of those husbands towards their wives and indeed their children.


So the next thing to do was to visit. I flew to London, then came by  train to Sheffield. I met one of Totley's historical experts at the Cross Scythes (now there's a spot which might have known a few highwaymen). There we exchanged notes, and chatted. We were joined by Nicholas, a cousin from Nottinghamshire, who was also curious about the grandfather from Totley, who we shared in common.    

Totley Brook Road in 1914; Inglewood is the right hand gable below the handwriting (The Thompson Postcard Collection, photograph by R. Snaith of Totley)

We all then drove to the old family home, (a semi-detached, circa 1897) to get a sense of its dimensions and spaces (with permission of its owners, who were also interested in its history). I was informed that the garage had space where a carriage would have been housed, and adjacent, there was a door where a small stall for a horse, could have been accommodated. How these physical features take us instantly back to the past! Actually, I think Grandfather would have had a very modern motor car,  since he would have loved new gadgets and new mechanical challenges.... but more on that later.


More personally, I felt that I was walking on the earth where my father had set out for war, 99 years ago: definitely strange and a bit other-worldly... Similarly, when we were sitting in the pub, I thought how father would have come home to Totley for occasional, often unscheduled or brief periods of leave during the First World War. Certainly, he would have stopped by the Cross Scythes for a pint, to catch up with local news, learn who they had lost, who'd been wounded or was missing?

The Gibbons family, William.G. standing, John H is the eldest son, standing to the right of his father in a 3 piece suit The Gibbons family, William.G. standing, John H is the eldest son, standing to the right of his father in a three piece suit

In the exploring of this story, I had to ask "Who was Grandfather Gibbons?" William G. Gibbons was listed in the Marine Engineers' archives. He was known in the family as inventive: we learn that he had sought at least one patent, and that he was involved in breakthrough creative work that addressed ships' automatic steering, water tight doors and a new design for lifeboat derricks, the latter inspired after the tragic Titanic sinking.


We learned too, that grandfather worked with John Brown, which developed as Firth Brown, well-known throughout the North: this huge shipping and engineering company who made absolutely everything from steel precision implements and instruments; tools, engines, varied machinery and guns (ship, automobile, airplane, railway), in the early century; then many more guns, and all forms of armaments during the Great War.  


Totley then, was, a bedroom community for the economic heartland that was the City of Sheffield. The region was a driving force of industry in the early nineteen hundreds. In fact, in 1912, their industrial products were being exported to Vancouver, New York, Boston, Montreal, Vienna, and Hamilton, Ontario; in 1918 the Company's financial accounts name exports to New York, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Freemantle, Melbourne, Sydney, Johannesburg, Calcutta, Rangoon, Madras, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Shaghai, Vienna and Charleroi. We are also talking about most of the manufacturing needs to make a shop floor, a shipyard, or an aerodrome, a railway yard and all that can be associated with these. Utterly remarkable.


Totley's contribution to industrial revolution and progress around the  world at the cusp of the 20th century cannot be underestimated. Those who commuted would have enriched local life and village infrastructure, i.e. local shops, repair stores, the building supplies of a rising community. Families would have enjoyed the emotional and aesthetic luxury of a gentler, kinder, country air environment that offered beautiful walks, and a change of pace from the long, polluted and grungy hours spent in the city.


We know that my grandfather used to enjoy walking in the countryside, and I imagine him concocting some of his creative inventions as he strolled through the local fields chatting with his sons, especially the eldest, John (also called Jack,) who was my father.  


I cannot finish without noting some characteristics of my father, which would have developed in the those early years of the twentieth century: as  a teen, himself, my father apprenticed in the tool and die trade. There, he would have known the immediacy of the shop floor both technically and interpersonally. (It then took my father another 25 years before he opened up his own engineering company close to London, where he used this knowledge along with his communications skills; talents he would have fine-tuned in his Totley years and brought to his maturity after the Second World War.)


This son of Totley, so to speak, was also an innovator and a risk taker (qualities perhaps shaped and developed from the grandfather). Father joined the Royal Naval Flying Service, in early 1918. He flew the early seaplanes, which were very experimental throughout that war. The technical background developed and learned by father, from those formative days would have been a godsend. The ocean environment for tiny seaplanes was not conducive to safety and reliability.      


How proud and deeply thankful they all must have been on board his ship (Gibraltar,) on November 11th, 1918, when father wrote in the Ship's Log: Cessation of Hostilities with red crayon underlining! How formal,  minimalist yet poignant!

Page from the ship's log of HMS Engadine. (c) copyright Fleet Air Arm Museum Archives


And lastly, this same Totley lad, continued his Naval Service after coming home for Christmas, after the Peace of 1918. Their ship went in Spring 1919, to join the Eastern Mediterranean fleet, sailing to Malta, Mudros, Crete, Constantinople and the Crimea: the latter where there was Bolshovik unrest and revolution. In fact this was where members of this fleet, and father's ship, took on board fleeing Tsarist Russians.    

Aerial view of Constantinople, 1919 Aerial view of Constantinople, 1919

In conclusion, Totley's recognized heritage is the quiet, leafy and peaceful enclave, that we know. However, there is also the key early twentieth century component shared above: this centre of universe was a small region where there was state-of-the-art innovation and enormous economic influence, on the nation and across the globe. 

White Russian evacuees: Novorossiysk, on board H.M.S. Engadine, 1919 White Russian evacuees: Novorossiysk, on board H.M.S. Engadine, 1919

And, for her sons,  who survived..... adventure: swashbuckling abduction of beautiful and elegant White Russians during the summer of 1919. What tales that must have been shared, across the bar, of the Cross Scythes during the Christmas season of 1919!


Jacqueline A. Gibbons is a Professor Emeritus and Sociologist, living in 
Toronto, Canada.*  


*I am grateful to the archival knowledge and huge support of the Totley History Group. Also we are indebted to the archives of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, for kind permission to reproduce a portion of the page from the Ship's Log of H.M.S. Engadine, dating the end of War. Other photographs, here, are from the family archive.


Finally, I thank my father, John H. Gibbons for sharing his qualities of creativity, curiosity and professional inspiration of this life. His talents, and those of my grandfather, were clearly shaped by Totley's unique rural space, and her vibrant (though inevitably grey and grimy) urbanscape, next door.


(c) Jacqueline A. Gibbons 2015

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

Latest News

Our first meeting in the new year will be on Wednesday 24th January when we welcome back Chris Corker whose talk is called The Shell, Armaments and Munitions Production Crisis, 1915-1916. The wartime demand for armaments lead to the Shell Crisis of May 1915. Chris examines the effect that the formation of the Ministry of Munitions, under the guidance of David Lloyd-George, had on Sheffield's armament companies and its industry as a whole. Because of refurbishments to Totley Library, there has been a change to the advertised venue. The meeting will now be in Totley Rise Methodist Church starting at 7.30 p.m.

On Wednesday 28th February we will be holding another in our popular series of Open Meetings. Everyone is welcome to share photographs, memorabilia and recollections of our local Sports, Social and Community Groups and activities. The meeting is in Totley Library, beginning as usual at 7.30 p.m.

On Wednesday 28th March there will be an illustrated talk by Stephen Gay called Off The Track in Derbyshire when we shall find out what hides out of sight alongside the Dore and Chinley railway line. The meeting begins at 7.30 p.m. in Totley Library.

A recently discovered box of WWII correspondence reveals the story of how a small group of ladies from Dore and Totley recruited knitters from the west of Sheffield and how their efforts made them the country's greatest provider of Comforts for the Minesweeping crews of the Royal Navy. The story is told in Knit For Victory, a new book from Totley History Group. Written by Pauline Burnett, it has 82 pages and many illustrations. It is on sale in Totley Rise Post Office and local shops. Also available in Dore at the Village Store or direct via our website.

Since 1875 when there was only a Rolling Mill and Chemical Yard alongside the river a mile from Totley, the area has changed beyond anyone's imagination  This book by Pauline Burnett tells the story of how it was named and grew into the community we know today. The Rise of Totley Rise has 94 pages including a useful index and is profusely illustrated throughout with many previously unpublished photographs from private collections. 

The story is told in Totley War Memorial WW1 of the ten men from our village who gave their lives in the Great War. Written by Pauline Burnett, Jim Martin and Dorothy Prosser, a chapter is devoted to each of the soldiers with a family tree followed by as much information as could be discovered about the men and their families. There is also information about their military careers and the actions in which they lost their lives. The book has 64 pages and is illustrated throughout with photographs of the men, their families and the houses where they lived.

The Tyzack family are well known in our area for owning iron and steel trades at Walk Mill, Abbeydale Works, Totley Rolling Mill and Totley Forge. This article covers the history of the family from the late 18th century when William Tyzack the founder of the company was born until the early 20th century when Joshua Tyzack farmed at Avenue Farm, Dore.  

Walter Waller Marrison moved to Totley around 1897 with his wife and their two young sons. He was a house builder who constructed properties around Totley Brook and Greenoak before ill health forced him to take up less physically demanding work. In 1904 he took over the tenancy of the grocers and off licence at number 71 Baslow Road. After his death in 1908, his widow Kate and later their eldest son Jack continued to run the business until it was sold in 1934.   

Ron Wijk of Nieuw-Vennep in the Netherlands has sent us two scanned images of drawings of old cottages made by the celebrated Dutch painter, Anton Pieck (1895-1987) simply annotated "Totley", and wondered whether we could identify their locations.

We would like to thank Christopher Rodgers for bringing to our attention this fascinating log of the 85th Sheffield (St. John's and Totley Orphanage) Wolf Cub Pack for 1927-45. The log is published jointly by Sheffield Scout Archives and Totley History Group as a free PDF download. It is illustrated by no fewer than 92 photographs and is supported by a comprehensive index and biographies of some of the main participants.

Following our Open Meeting event on School Days, Roger Hart, Howard Adams and John Timperley have each written to us with their memories of Norwood School, which was located in the rooms attached to the Dore & Totley United Reformed Church on Totley Brook Road. 

On 22nd July 1909 the children of Dore and Totley Schools celebrated by a pageant the union of England under King Ecgbert which took place at Dore in AD 827. The pageant was devised and written by Mrs Sarah Milner and her daughter Marjorie and performed in a field close to Avenue Farm in front of a large audience. Photographs of the event survive together with a fragment of the script.

John Edward Greenwood Pinder had lived all 46 years of his life in Totley but on census night, Sunday 2 April 1911, he was not at home; he was in Derby Gaol serving a sentence of three months hard labour. From the age of 20, John had been in and out of local courts for a series of minor offences including drunkenness, assault, wilful damage and night poaching. Finally he was sent to gaol for cutting down and stealing 86 small trees which he sold in Sheffield market for Christmas.

We have already transcribed the census returns for Totley, Totley Rise and Dore. Now we have transcribed Census Strays. These are people who were born in Totley but are missing from our earlier transcriptions. They may have been living, working or studying elsewhere or just away from home on the night the census was taken. Two people were in prison. Others were in Union Workhouses, hospitals and asylums. Fully indexed strays from the 1851, 1861, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses are available now. 

We wish to thank Gillian Walker for allowing us to digitize an archive of material about the 1st Totley Scout Group. Most of the material was collected by Arthur Percival Birley in the period 1949-51 and there are many interesting documents pertaining to the building of the scout hut on Totley Hall Lane. In addition four Newsletters survive, two from the 1940s and two from 1971.

We are grateful to Angela Waite and All Saints' Parish Church for giving us access to baptismal and kindergarten birthday rolls dating from 1926 to 1941. We have transcribed the names, addresses, birthdates and baptismal dates and created an alphabetical index of entries for you to search. 

Edmund Sanderson, a Sheffield estate agent, aquired the land on either side of the old drive to Totley Grove in 1874 and divided it into plots for development. He called it the Totley Brook Estate. But before many houses were built, the estate road was severed in two by the building of the Dore & Chinley Railway line. The eastern end of the road became the cul-de-sac we now call Grove Road

John Roberts was born in Sheffield in 1798. He became a partner in one of the leading silversmiths firms in the city before moving to Abbeydale Park in 1851 and extending the house in Victorian gothic style. He paid for the building of St. John's Church and was believed to dispense more in charity than any other person in the neighbourhood including his protege Ebenezer Hall.

The Coke Family owned the Totley Hall Estate from 1791 to 1881. With the aid of a family tree to guide us, Josie Dunsmore takes us through the story of their tenure. 

When the Rev. D'Ewes Coke inherited the Totley Hall Estate in 1791 it had two farms. Josie Dunsmore tells the story of how the two farms were combined under the tenancy of Peter Flint with the aid of field maps drawn by Flint himself and later by the Fairbanks family.

Do you think you recognize this face? More than sixty photographs of the girls and teachers at Hurlfield Grammar School for Girls in the 1940s were given to Totley History Group by Avril Critchley, who was herself a student at the school. The collection includes fifteen form photographs from June 1949. There would have been a number of girls from the Totley area attending the school in those days.

Christine Weaving tells the story of her 2 x great uncle George Edward Hukin, a Totley razor-grinder, and his life-long friendship with the academic, poet, writer, and free-thinker Edward Carpenter.

Eric Renshaw (pictured here on the right with Bob Carr) grew up and lived in Totley from 1932 to 1960. Many of his memories are of a sporting nature.

We are very grateful to Gordon Grayson for giving us this splendid sale document for the Norton Hall Estates, following the death in 1850 of Samuel Shore. The estates included a large part of Totley and the document has maps and illustrations, plus schedules of land and property with the names of tenants. We have also added a transcription of the entries for Totley and Dore. 

Watch this Youtube video of the talk given by Dr. Mark Frost and Sally Goldsmith on Ruskin, Totley and St. George's Farm. The talk was hosted by Totley History Group on 20th May 2015 as part of the Ruskin in Sheffield programme. Also enjoy a video of the outdoor performance Boots, Fresh Air & Ginger Beer written by Sally.

When Jacqueline A. Gibbons became interested in what made her father tick, it began a journey through WW1 archive records and led to her flying from Toronto to visit the house and village where he lived and the countryside that he so much enjoyed. Jacqueline reminds us that in the early 20th century Sheffield was a driving force of industry and that Totley was the place where many of its remarkable people lived and where they formulated their ideas.

Edgar Wood was the designer of The Dingle, 172 Prospect Road, built in 1904 for Rev. William Blackshaw, the founder of the Croft House Settlement. The house, together with its western terrace and boundary walls, has now been awarded Grade II listed building status. 

What was probably "the most perfect little garden railway in existence" in 1910 was to be found in the grounds of Brook House, Grove Road, the home of its designer and constructor, Guy Mitchell. Look at some wonderful photographs and read reports in newspapers and a full appreciation in Model Railways magazine. 

We have now completed our transcription of Totley School's Admission Records for the period from 1877 to 1914. There is also a useful index to the names of the scholars and to their parents or guardians. We are very grateful to Sheffield Archives and Local Studies Library for allowing us to transcribe and publish these records and for permission to reproduce the photograph of a specimen page of the register.

On 8, 9 and 11 November 2014 Totley History Group held an exhibition at Dore & Totley United Reformed Church to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Below are additional links to some of the photographs we were lent and stories we researched especially for the exhibition.


Oscar Creswick was a local farmer who served with the Army Service Corps in Salonika and who after the war returned to Totley to become the innkeeper of the Cricket Inn and a member of the village's successful tug of war team.


Walter Evans was a market gardener who also ran a small grocery shop on Hillfoot Road when war broke out. He fought with the Machine Gun Corps at the fourth battle of Ypres. After the war, Walter ran a grocers shop at the top of Main Avenue.


Fred Cartwright was another Totley soldier who survived the Great War. He fought in France and Belgium and although he wasn't wounded he was gassed and was home on sick leave when his daughter was delivered by Nurse Jessop during a snowstorm in January 1917.


Maurice Johnson joined the Yorkshire Dragoons, a territorial unit, on 1 Jan 1914 and so was called up at the very start of the war. He fought throughout the war on the Somme, at Ypres and at Cambrai. After demobilization in 1919 Maurice returned to his old occupation in the steel industry.


Bill Glossop lent us a letter written by his father, William Walton Glossop to his wife describing life in the army during training in the north east of England and asking her to keep him in mind with the children.


The photo above provides a link to an album of photographs taken of WW1 Hospitals at St. John's, Abbeydale and the Longshaw Estate.


Nora Green, of Chapel Lane, was only 14 when war broke out. In 1914 she was ill with diphtheria and was sent to the isolation hospital at Holmley Lane, Dronfield. Nora recovered and wrote a letter of thanks to one of the hospital staff and the reply she received survives. 


We have collected together on this page the names of local men who appear on various War Memorials and Rolls of Honour in Totley, Dore, Abbeydale, Norton, Holmesfield and Dronfield.


Unfortunately we were unable to identify all the photographs we were lent of Totley Soldiers. Please take a look at this album to see if you recognize any of the missing names.

This walk visits locations that have strong associations with Totley during the First World War. It includes the homes of the ten soldiers from the village who lost their lives, the auxiliary hospitals, war memorials, and even the rifle range on which the soldiers trained. Take a look at the first draft of a new walk by the authors of "Totley War Memorial WW1 1914-1918"

As we have nowhere to exhibit memorabilia and artifacts, we have decided to create a Virtual Museum instead, starting with old bottles that were found under the floor of the Old Infant School. Please contact us by email if you would like to see the real thing or have things that you own and would like to see added to the virtual museum.

We wish to thank the Trustees of Cherrytree for giving us permission to publish transcriptions of the Cherrytree Orphanage Admissions Book entries for the years 1866-1929. There is also an alphabetical index for you to look at.

With more people having access to faster broadband and mobile networks, we have uploaded seven full and unedited oral history recordings and also added more short excerpts for you to listen to.

Our transcriptions of local trade directories have been expanded to cover the 95 years from 1837-1932 and have also been indexed. From the days when there were a handful of farmers, stone masons, saw handle makers & scythe grinders to the wonders of the Totley Bridge Garage Company, Betty's Boudoir and The Heatherfield Shopping Centre.

We continue to add to our Totley Newspaper Archive. Recent entries have included several about John Roberts and the building of St. John's Church. There are several about the history of Brinkburn Grange and its first occupier, John Unwin Wing, an accountant who later lived at Totley Hall before being convicted of forgery and fraud and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in Pentonville gaol. There are more than 50 articles from the 1880s and 1890s about Joseph Mountain and the Victoria Gardens, and twenty on the construction of the Totley Tunnel and the Dore and Chinley Railway.

Totley Church of England Parish Magazines for the years 1922-1939 and 1948-1967 with notices of births, marriages and deaths and accounts of spiritual, educational, charitable and social matters in the village. 

Around 90 photographs taken by Stuart Greenhoff for his thesis A Geographical Study of Dore and Totley including several of Totley Moor Brickworks. Superb!  

Chronologically ordered snippets of information recorded by Brian Edwards during his many years of research into our local history.

Read the inscriptions on more than 600 gravestones in  the churchyard.


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