Totley Tunnel Observatory

We asked for your help in answering a query from Stella McGuire who is archaeologist working on the Eastern Moors. If you read down to the end of the article, you will see that Stella has written again with some more information. Here's her original enquiry:


I am trying to find out more about the brick 'observatories' built as survey points to set out the line of the Totley Tunnel. I have a copy of Brian Edwards' book, 'Totley and the Tunnel', and I also have a copy of the article by Percy Rickard in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers.


I understand that the ruined brick structure just east of the ventilation shaft on Totley Moor is thought to be the remains of the 'summit ' observatory. I wondered whether the History Group had any photographs or drawings of this structure before it became so ruinous – or any information on the other survey points (built at Bradway and on Sir William Hill etc.).


Many thanks for any help.



Here is some background to the subject. In his book Totley and the Tunnel, first published in 1985, Brian Edwards wrote:


To survey the line, brick observatories were built on three high points: at Bradway above and beyond Dore Station, on the Sir William Hill at Grindleford and the main one on Totley Moss. Sightings were taken from the later using a 6 inch theodolite. This procedure established the line on which to build the railway. Percy Rickard, in his report to the Institute of Civil Engineers, describes in detail the interesting surveying techniques used with distances of over 3 miles in each direction from the instrument to the two terminal stations.


These techniques were reproduced by John Whitelaw, Junior in his book Surveying as Practised by Civil Engineers and Surveyors, published in 1902. Here is an extract referring to the location and physical construction of the observatories.


The profile was favourable to this work, distinct changes in the surface taking place at convenient distances, and high ground beyond each extremity of the tunnel accommodated terminal stations which could be seen from the summit observatory; there was no need to reverse the transit instrument except at that point. The line having been fixed with as much accuracy as could be obtained with a 6 in. theodolite, brick observatories were built at the extreme stations (Bradway and Sir William), and at each end of the changes of the ground surface over the tunnel. In addition to these, an observatory (No. 3 west) was also built beyond the entrance at Padley, at a level to command the heading on the 1 in 1,000 gradient; and a station was fixed at the foot of the hill beyond (No. 4 west), to enable these two points to be seen from within the heading whenever necessary. The observatories were built hollow of brickwork in cement and capped with stone. A large flat cast-iron plate, having a hole 6 in. wide in the centre, was let into the cap and run with cement. Upon this the transit instrument rested. 


Brian Edwards implied that the main observatory was still visible in 1985 when he ended his book with these words:


No. 5 [airshaft] high up on the moors continues as it was, rising like a conning tower od some submarine near the Owler Bar to Fox House Road. Up there, little has changed for thousands of years, the shaft is in remarkably good condition considering the extremes of climate; nearby lies a tip of discarded bricks.  In another hundred years that will become uneven bumps under the tough grass and bracken as will the remains of the brick observatory from which sightings were taken for the original survey. That's where the work began.


At the time of the 100th anniversary of the tunnel's opening, short accounts of the surveying methods appeared in Dore to Door and Bradway Bugle but apart from refering to the Bradway observatory as Bradway Summit gave no further indication of their location. A search of Totley Independent has revealed nothing.

Airshaft number 5, Totley Moor


Stella believes that the ruins of the Totley Moor observatory lie close to Airshaft Number 5, which was constructed for ventilation after the tunnel was built. But in his book Walks Around Totley, published in 1995, John Campion Barrows (aka Campy) had this to say in Walk 4:


Turn right along a well-defined track towards the Stony Ridge Road (note the gaunt ruins of a plate-layers hut used by the railway workers in the last century and just beyond [i.e. to the west] is the air shaft from the Totley tunnel).


Campy said much the same in Walk 20:


Note the air shaft that dominates the skyline. Over to the right and the gaunt ruins of a railway maintenance hut.


There is a reference to the Bradway Summit observatory in Fiona Wainwright's book Greenhill: A History of Greenhill and the Surrounding Area:


The Observation Tower

This was an observation point for taking readings connected to the Totley tunnel. It was a brick tower that stood until the 1930s. It was approximately where the back gardens at the end of Elwood Road now are.


Fiona's book is full of old photographs but, sadly, none of the observatory. 



Latest Update

Brick ruin near airshaft number 5, Totley Moor (photo: Stella McGuire)

Stella is now pretty convinced that the ruined brick structure on the moor (see above) is not in fact the summit observatory as she first thought but a small brick structure of unknown purpose about 50 metres to its NNE. Both are shown on a 1922 map with the observatory being on the line of the tunnel.


That said she would still like to see any old photographs of the structure when it was in a better state of repair and would like to know what function it served. It would seem that it was connected to the construction of the tunnel.


Stella also found map evidence for the sites of the western (Sir William Hill) and eastern (Bradway) survey points. On the 1923 map there is an 'old observatory' marked at approximately SK23057830, just west of Newfoundland Nursery, and precisely in line with the tunnel.  At the eastern end of the sightline, on the 1922 map there is an 'old observatory' marked just south of the Beauchief golf course at approx SK33258075, again in line with the tunnel, and now under the end of Elwood Road, thus confirming Fiona Wainwright's location above.


We are still undertaking searches of Brian's research papers (which are only partly catalogued) but if you have any further information and any photographs, no matter what their age or condition, please write to us at

Further Update

Stella McGuire has updated us on the work that she and colleagues have been doing in connection with the Totley Tunnel observatories. The probable footings of four of the towers have now been located: one on Sir William Hill, one in Padley Woods, one close to the summit ventilation shaft (No. 5), one on Wimble Holme Hill. One or two locations still remain to be checked. Photographs of a surviving sighting tower or towers in North Yorkshire have been found, which look to be of similar design to the one shown by Percy Rickard, the resident engineer at Totley, in his account of building the tunnel. One of Stella's colleagues has also produced an initial measured plan of the brick ruins close to No. 5 airshaft, which appear to be the remains of a narrow, arched building, probably an explosives house, although this needs to be proved. Stella and her colleagues have been asked to produce a short article on the sighting towers for the January 2015 edition of ACID (Archaeology and Conservation in Derbyshire) which we look forward to seeing. 

The Search for the Totley Towers

Carlesmoor sighting tower, (c) John Kelly Carlesmoor sighting tower, (c) John Kelly

In Issue 12 of ACID (Archaeology and Conservation in Derbyshire), Stella McGuire and Stuart Nunn, of the Eastern Moors Partnership, describe their search for the missing sighting towers built in the late 1880s to enable Percy Rickard and his team of surveyors to set out the line of the Totley Tunnel.

In his paper The Tunnels of the Dore and Chinley Railway, published posthumously by the The Institute of Civil Engineers in January 1894. Rickard described the towers as being of varying heights, built of brickwork and capped with stone with a flat cast-iron plate let into the cap to secure the survey instruments. 


There were three sighting points to the west of the Summit Observatory, high on Totley Moor, and four to the east. Approximate locations were described by Rickard and the authors first tried to find an observatory on Wimble Holme Hill. They referred to old Ordnance Survey maps, the archives of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers and a database established by ArcHeritage in their survey of the Eastern Moors. Having been allowed to conduct a small scale excavation, the authors now suggest that the remains of  a brick structure, in line with the tunnel, and which had hitherto been thought to be a possible chimney base, is in fact the footings of Observatory No. 1 East. 


Stella and Stuart then noticed that at some of the sighting points on Rickard's plan, no tower symbol is shown and surmised that at these points there was no need to raise the survey instruments to any great height. They investigated three such points: No 4 West on the western edge of the Grindleford to Hathersage Road; No 1. West just north of the Wooden Pole and No. 2 East, on the eastern edge of Bole Hill; and found no trace of bases for survey equipment. Presumably the structures were smaller and less durable.


The search for the rest of the sighting towers met with mixed success, the authors finding some physical and some map evidence. The Sir William Hill Observatory (No. 2 West) appears to have been marked as an "old observatory" on the 1898 OS map. No brickwork was found but there is a mound of loose stone, some dressed, which might imply the sighting tower was built from local material rather than from brick. The 1898 map also marks an unnamed structure at the eastern edge of Yarncliff Wood, at the approximate site of No. 2 West observation point, where there is some broken brick and dressed stone among the dense brambles. This may be the remains of a sighting tower. 


The 1923 OS map shows the eastern terminal as an "old observatory" in Lower Bradway, at a spot which now lies in a back garden in Elwood Road. In her history of Greenhill, Fiona Wainwright stated that this was a brick tunnel observation tower which stood until the 1930s. Other possible locations have been thus far either inaccessible being on private land or devoid of any remains.


No photographs of the Totley towers have been so far been located but Stella and Stuart have published a spectacular photograph of a surviving sighting tower at Carlesmoor in North Yorkshire, which looks to be of a similar design to the one drawn by Percy Rickard. That photograph is copyrighted by ACID; the ones at the top of this article are reproduced with the kind permission of the photographer, John Kelly, at

Latest News

In lieu of our monthly library meeting in December, Totley History Group will be supporting the popular annual Spitewinter Concert at Ecclesall Parish Church. The Sheffield Folk Chorale will perform winter songs from across the centuries. With special guests Sarentino Strings. All profits to local charities. The concert will be on Wednesday 13th December beginning at 7.30 p.m. Tickets are priced at £8.25 and are expected to be in great demand. Anyone wishing to go to the concert should contact Pauline Burnett a.s.a.p at:


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.

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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