Totley History Group
Totley History Group

John Ruskin and The Totley Colony

John Ruskin in the 1850s

Just over 100 years ago, Totley, through the thoughts and works of John Ruskin and the Guild of St. George was the centre of an experiment in communal living and early innovative attempts at Communism, that became the focus of attention throughout Victorian Britain. Comments and visits were also attracted from notable radicals, thinkers and personalities.

Today, it is difficult to imagine that anyone, (in this case, John Ruskin), would support a project, in Totley, to create, "A Garden of Eden", founded on utopian ideals. But in the late 1800s the world was a different place and for a decade the experiment continued.

The Totley Colony was only a part of Ruskin's influence and activities on behalf of the working classes of Sheffield. Solet us examine the man, his thoughts and writings, his museum and collection and of importance to us locally, St. George's Farm, - The Totley Colony - "The Garden of Eden".


Who was John Ruskin? What sort of man was this Victorian who like Sheffield so much that he assembled a Museum and Art Collection specially for the benefit of local people. John Ruskin was, to say the least, a complex and highly talented man. He was artist, traveller and writer, and perhaps the most powerful critic that Britain has known. As well as being a great theorist, he was greatly outspoken in his opinions of Victorian painting, architecture and society. A man of means, he still felt a great affection towards the working classes. He appreciated skills and craftsmanship, particularly in Sheffield (which he called, 'Steelolop s'), and looked upon the city as the 'Florence of the North'. It was in his writings 'Letters to Workmen and Labourers (entitled "FORS CLAVIGERA) that he put forward his most ambitious constructive scheme - The Guild of St. George. He set out a code of conduct Christian Belief to which the Companions of the Guild were to pledge themselves. They were then to give a tenth of what they have and of what they earn, towards the creation of a Ruskinian utopia.

John Ruskin was one of the most extraordinary characters of the Victorian age. As a socialist and social reformer, artist and art critic, essayist and author, lecturer and educator, he has an enormous influence on the whole nation, which is still felt today. Tolstoy, Gandhi and Bernard Shaw are among those who regarded his as one of the greatest reformers of his time.

The following are highlights from his life:


1819 Born in London in the same year as Queen Victoria. Only child of a prosperous and cultured wine merchant and his deeply religions wife.
1837 Aged 18, went to Oxford University. Wrote first book, The Poetry of Architecture.
1854 Aged 35, became art tutor at the newly founded Working Men's College in London and later wrote two books, Elements of Drawing and Elements of Perspective, which are both still in demand. 

1860 Aged 41, wrote important series of articles on social ethics, arguing that the art of growing rich (much admired in Victorian times) was really the art of keeping others poor. He also called on employers to treat workers as is they were members of their own families. These writings, later published as a book, Unto This Last, were condemned as subversive and dangerously heretical but had an enormous impact. Many of the first members of Parliamentary Labour Party declared that Ruskin was the predominant political influence on their lives.
1870 Aged 51, became first Professor of Fine Art at Oxford. Two years later he established the Ruskin Drawing School in the City. Believing in the value of physical work, he persuaded a group of undergraduates to repair a country road, under the supervision of his gardener. The diggers included Arnold Toynbee and Oscar Wilde. Campaigning for the reform of England, Ruskin established the Guild of St. George, "to set the example of socialist capital as opposed to a national debt and of socialist labour as opposed to competitive struggle to life". The Guild still exists and is the owner of the museum collection which Ruskin assembled specially for the people of Sheffield and is described in detail later.


At his peak, Ruskin wrote up to 20 letters daily, besides travelling, writing articles and books, lecturing sketching, collecting minerals, rowing, chopping wood. But in the 1880's he suffered a series of mental breakdowns from which he never fully recovered. Ruskin died in 1900 and was buried in Coniston churchyard in the Lake District he loved so much.


The Ruskin Building, 97-101 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, formerly Hay's Wine Rooms, built circa 1875, restored in 1985


In May 1985 the collection of the Guild of St. George was returned to Sheffield to be housed in the new Ruskin Gallery in Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Ruskin tried to educate widely through his letters, lectures and pamphlets, many of which were aimed at working men, and which generated an enormous following. His ideas contributed to the increase of Mechanics Institutes, to the demand for free public libraries, for working class access to university education, (leading to the creation of the WEA and several university extramural departments). Perhaps most obviously the naming after him of the first residential working-class college (founded in Oxford earlier this century) pays lasting tribute to Ruskin's influence.


Sheffield was important to Ruskin because he was impressed by th utility of its iron and steel manufacture, the excellence of its cutlery and the town's proximity to beautiful scenery which provided such a contrast with the 'dolorous city of the dirty Don'.

Ruskin was familiar with Sheffield. He had visited in 1875 and in his Fors Clavigera letter 56, published in August of that year he wrote, "I have become responsible, as the Master of the Company, for rent or purchase of a room in Sheffield, in which I propose to place some books and minerals, as the germ of a museum arranged first for workers in iron and extended into illustration of the natural history of the neighbourhood of Sheffield and more especially of the geology and flora of Derbyshire.

In February 1876, Ruskin informed his readers that out of the annual income of the Guild, which was 240 pounds a year, one of his old pupils at the Working Men's College, Henry Swan, had been appointed as curator at a salary of 40 pounds a year. The site of the original small cottage at Walkley, situated between Bell Hagg Road and Bole Hill Road is commemorated today by Ruskin House, a private flats complex. The purchase price of the original five roomed, stone built cottage in 1875 was 300 pounds.

When Henry Swan moved into the cottage with his family he took up most of the house, leaving just one small room to accommodate Ruskin's growing collection. And this was a constant source of complaint by Ruskin.


Henry Swan was an interesting man in his own right. He had been trained as an engraver and worked with Isaac Pitman, the inventor of shorthand, before becoming a photographer in London.


In the 1870s he moved to Sheffield to find work as an engraver and helped Ruskin to find suitable premises for the museum. Swan was considered something of an eccentric having been of the first people to ride a bicycle in Sheffield and had attempted, and failed, to popularise the sport of throwinq boomerangs. Sheffield was one of the centres of industry in Victorian England, and the skill and craftsmanship in ironwork was held to be of the finest quality in the world. There was little chance to study the history of art in Sheffield at that time. It was in 1875 that Sheffield got it's first public museum and not until 1887 that the Mappin Art Gallery was opened.


The Walkley Museum became one of Ruskin's most successful ventures. It soon outgrew the Walkley cottage and Ruskin began negotiating with the Sheffield Council to persuade them to provide suitable accommodation for the museum. When they failed to, he built a wooden extension in 1884 to ease the problem of space but by 1894 the Council offered Ruskin the use of the recently-acquired Meersbrook Hall, situated in Meersbrook Park.


The newly housed collection was opened by the Earl of Carlisle on April 15th, 1890. In the spacious premises, situated in parkland, the popularity of the museum grew year by year. Up until 1953, the collection remained on view to the public but interest in Ruskin's work had, by this time, declined and when structural problems with the building arose the museum finally closed.


The collection remained in store in Sheffield, until 1964 when it was removed by the Guild of St. George to Reading University. In 1979, Sheffield City Art Galleries began a campaign to persuade the Guild to return the collection to its original home and in 1981, it returned to Sheffield. In May, 1985 the new Ruskin Gallery was opened with its new premises on Norfolk Street, in the city centre, in the old Hays Wine Lodge building, an appropriate place as Ruskin's father founded the family fortune in the wine trade.


"We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful". 

St George's Farm (photo: Harry Camm)


 Ruskin's most persistent attempt on his utopian line was at Totley, now a South Western suburb of Sheffield, some 6 miles from it s centre. This was a 13-acre farm and was variously referred to as Abbeydale, Abbeyfield,  the Mickley Estate, or simply as Totley. It stayed under the direct control of the Guild of St. George from the time of its purchase in 1876 until 1885, after which it was leased to a tenant farmer and the name was changed to St. George's Farm. Whilst it never achieved success during the 9 years it was under the control of the Ruskinian colonists as a model orchard and botanical garden, it has since 1885, up to the present day flourished as a commercial nursery and has been farmed continuously by the Pearson family.

It was pointed out to Ruskin that the tone of his, Letters to Workmen and Labourers, were not best suited to his intended audience. Often in the letters and his Oxford lectures of the 1870's he could have addressing a group of small girls in his most patronising manner. Some of the content of the letters is destructive, denouncing modern science, or machinery or the ideal of liberty, or the economics of competition. But is was also through this medium that Ruskin put forward his most ambitious constructive scheme, the Guild of St. George. He set out a code of conduct and Christian belief to which the Companions of the Guild were to pledge themselves; they were then to give a tenth of what they have and of what they earn, towards the creation of a Ruskinian utopia.

"We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam engines upon it and no railroads. We will have no untended or unthought of creatures on it; none wretched but the sick, none idle but the dead. We will have no liberty upon it; but instant obedience to known law and appointed persons; no equality upon it; but recognition of every bitterness that we can find and reprobation of every worseness. When we want to anywhere, we will go there quietly and safely, not at 40 miles per hour..." (in the 1890's as a contemporary conservationists Ruskin opposed the proposed Dore-Chinley Railway line, through Totley, loudly protesting against, 'the invasion of Virgin country').

Some companions of the Guild would devote their full time to developing this society and others would support it while pursuing their own professions. Ruskin led the way with his own 7,000 pounds but very few others followed his lead. Having announced the scheme in 1871, he repeated his appeal the year after in greater detail but by the end of 1873 there where only seven annual subscribers. Eleven years later, the Trustees' Report showed that 56 individuals had joined the Guild. There were one or two legacies, but Ruskin's own contribution remained much the largest element of the Guild's resources, which were used to buy a little farm land and some cottages and to promote certain traditional crafts. The only tangible result of any permanence was the Guild Museum, founded in Walkley, Sheffield in 1875.

In April, 1876, Ruskin made a tour of the North of England, visiting Sheffield on the way. For this journey he built a special carriage, as he had no great love for the railway and on the 27th of the month he met a few friends of the museum - Secularists, Unitarians and Quakers, mostly gathered by Henry Swan, tile curator of the museum. The Sheffield Telegraph of 28th April, 1876 gave the following report: "The proceedings were chiefly of a conversational nature and no set speech on anyone of these several subjects dealt with was given. Primarily, the subject of comununism came up and its most extreme principles were freely and enthusiastically advocated by one or two of those present".

Ruskin subscribed his belief in the broad principles of Communism and pointed to his sustained advocacy of it. He also attacked machinery - from sewing machines, which would not be used by members of the Guild, to the gigantic steam devices of his day. Indeed he argued that steam should only be used for cutting icebergs in the frigid zones and for blasting rocks to provide more land on which people could live.

One of his audience at this meeting suggested that a community should be established in Sheffield where members could live together in furnished apartments and establish some system of co-operative manufacture - like making boots. Having a government of their own they would inspire similar communities gradually to grow up stronger and more powerful that the government of the country. In the same month, Ruskin wrote, "A few of the Sheffield working men who admit the possibility of St. George's notions being just, have asked me to let them rent some ground from the Company whereupon to spend what spare hours they have, or morning or evening, in useful labour.

I have accordingly authorised the sale of 2,200 pounds worth of our stock, to be re-invested on a little estate, near Sheffield, of thirteen acres, with good water supply. The workmen undertake to St. George for his three per cent and if they get tired of the bargain, they land will always be worth our stock. I have no knowledge yet of the men's plans in detail nor shall I much interfere with them, until i see how they develop themselves. But here is at last a little piece of England given into the English workman's hand, and heavens". So St. George's Farm came into existence.


But there was dissent from both the Guild's trustees, who resigned when Ruskin (working in Venice at the time and showing more appreciation of its broader ideals than of it's practical details), insisted that the purchase should go ahead. Nor was Ruskin vindicated by his action and he was soon to incur further criticism for his poor choice of land and his inability to ascertain the suitability of the colonists for the task in hand. As with his other land ventures, the Totley community never approached Ruskin's loftier ideals. 


He had hoped that shoemakers who mainly made up the community would used the opportunity to raise their standard of craftmanship as well as experiment with a suitable form of self government. Ruskin christened them, 'Life Guards of a New Life'. He went on, 'You are called into a Christianship of war, not hiring a corsair's hull, to go forth and rob on the high seas. And you will find the engagements you have made only tenable by a continual reference to the cause for which you are contending, not to the advantage you hope to reap'. It was to be 'the first essay of St. George's work'. He also stated that the lane had been given to them so, 'that they may do the best you can for all men and that they were a fellowship more in the spirit of a body of monks gathered for missionary service'.

However, this was matched by disappointing results on the ground. He had told them, 'You must get your simple and orderly tyrant, or Cyrus, to begin with. Cyrus, first suppose, only over green-grocers - - - in these gardens of yours'. As to their shoemaking enterprise he commanded: 'You are to make shoes with extremist care to please your customers in all matters and which they ought to ask; by fineness of fit, excellence of work, and exactitude of compliance of special orders, but you are not to please them in things which they ought not to ask. It is your business to know how to protect and adorn the human foot. When a customer wishes you really to protect his or her own foot, you are to do it with finest care. But if a customer wishes you to injure their foot, or disfigure it, you are to refuse their pleasure in these particulars and bid them, if they insist on such dis-service, to go elsewhere".


Their accounts were to be opened to the public so that their profits might be known. The tenants were not chosen immediately. Perhaps the reason was that he was experiencing difficulty in transferring the property at once to the society as a body, for as it stood, it was in his own name. He realised he ought to be in Abbeydale (as he called the property) but he was wholey occupied and completing some notes on St. George's Chapel in Venice. He declared that the 'Dalesmen' must take care of themselves.

Early attempts to grow fruit and vegetables for the Sheffield market foundered and Ruskin himself was soon to complain of constant outlay of capital and low yields. Admittettedly the land itself was reputedly poor, described at the time of purchase as being wasteland that had been exhausted and then neglected by previous owners. Averting criticism of his own selection and of the inexpertise of the colonists, Ruskin also blamed a hostile climate for the crop failures.

The Community engaged one man to work for them and then another. Visitors flocked to see them to such an extent that a profitable side industry grew up to supply them with tea. Fruit, eggs and vegetables in small nunbers were taken by the members to be sold in Sheffield. Many became hopeful that it would become a fully residential community. 


The cobblers wished to accelerate this movement but the committee and management did not wish to become further indebted to Ruskin. They refused permission to one cobbler who wished to lease his cobblers shop and take up permanent residence in the Totley community. This cobbler then appealed to William Harrison Riley. It was probably inevitable that with the absence of Ruskin from the project there would be disagreement between the colonists as to how the project should be organised. At first they tried to get on by vote of simple majority but Ruskin became aware that they had entirely convinced themselves of the impossibility of getting by in that particular manner. Things were to get worse with the arrival of William Harrison Riley, who proclaimed himself as Master of the project, arousing bitter resentment among the others.

Riley was a person of unusual calibre. For a long time his association or his background had not been appreciated in connection with the Totley enterprise. He does not figure in any biography of Ruskin or any biographical dictionary. Riley was the son of a Manchester local preacher, who learned the art of engraving and later emigrated to America where he worked for three years. Returning to England, he became a commercial traveller for his father, who was connected with a cloth printing factory and in doing so, became interested in the thoughts of socialism. In 1866 he was in America again, this time in the jewellery trade and journalism. He met Walt Whitman, the poet and by 1870 decided to return to England.


Riley setteled  for a time in London where he published his Yankee letters to British Workmen and joined the International Working Men's Association, the title being changed to The Republican Herald and in April 1874 The Herald and Helpmate.


In April 1875 he moved to Bristol where the last copy of the paper appeared. At the same time Riley and his wife were managing a Mutual Help Club, the object being co-operative distribution and educational work. Riley objected to the sale of intoxicants on the premises, so he moved and formed a wholly temperance society in December 1875, called the Social Improvement Institute. However, due to financial problems this folded after eighteen months and he moved from Bristol to Sheffield.


In Sheffield, Riley edited and published The Socialist, a monthly which ran from July to December 1877. He proclaimed himself a Christian Socialist. His vigorous opinions brought him to the attention of John Ruskin and Edward Carpenter - who was then settling at Millthorpe in Derbyshire, only a short distance from Totley and he became the unacknowledged leader of the social reformers in Sheffield.


Riley's own brand of utopianism was laid down in his twenty two clause "Draft of a British Constitution", printed in the final copy of The Socialist in December, 1877.


As Riley confessed. to himself : "I am glad to know that I am, to some extent, a visionary - a seer. I know that the blind - the non-seers - will grin and chuckle at this thankful confession and will continue to lead other blind men into every orthodox ditch. I will continue to respect the faculty of sight - insight and foresight - and will continue with other and greater seers to enlarge and improve the sight of mankind and to oppose the champions of darkness - the revilers and destroyers of sight". The arrival of Riley as custodian; or Master of the Totley communitarian experiment was in accordance with the principles of the St. George's Guild. The colonists, however, had other ideas. They had existed as a group since 1874, originally meeting as members of a Mutual Improvement Society that met at the Hall of Science in Rockingham Street, Sheffield. It had been previously noted that their contact with Ruskin had been through Henry Swan, the agreement being that they would repay Ruskin back within 7 years, the money that had been used to buy the Totley Farm.


Many were hopeful of settling in Totley permanently, in a community, rather than daily travellers to it; Communitarians rather than Commuters. The cobbler who had been refused permission to lease his shop and who turned to Riley upon his arrival in Totley, had been anxious to accelerate the movement as a whole and in July 1875, had succeeded in obtaining a cheque for one hundred pounds from Ruskin which he cashed and brought the money to the Committee of Management. The Committee, however, passed a vote of censure on him and returned the money to Ruskin. Ruskin did not reply. The cobbler's disappointment led him to Riley who immediately communicated with Ruskin.


The conclusion to this complicated and deteriorating situation was startling. In the words of one of the original committee, "Riley went to the farm and took absolute possession of everything, telling our manager that he was Master. The poor man came to our meeting looking not too delighted at the change and gave us the information. Now, considering that the society had agreed to pay Ruskin back on his own terms this thing seemed impossible and a chosen number of the committee went to the farm to seek an explanation. Riley coolly informed them that he was Master there and they had no power. He met their remonstrances with sneers and in one case with threats of personal violence. Two letters were written to Ruskin seeking his explanation but no answer was returned. Then the committee wrote again declining all further responsibility or connection with the farm. The story is finished as far as we were practically concerned".

By this time, Riley seems to have exhausted his own and Ruskin's patience, so he emigrated with his wife and child to the United States of America. Ruskin's disappointment with him was heartfelt. "Mr. Riley was no friend of mine. I tried him as an exponent of modern liberalism and was as pleased with the results as your members were". So the Guild of St. George turned Totley to another purpose.


This new purpose was announced in the Report of the St. George's Guild for 1879. It was to be cultivated 'with the object of showing the best methods of managing fruit trees in the climate of Northern England; with attached greenhouses and botanical garden for the orderly display of all interesting European plants'. It was to be 'connective with the work of the museum of Sheffield', and be placed under the superintendence of David Downs, Ruskin's own head gardener on whose zeal and honesty Ruskin said he could rely. David Downs would work for Ruskin without expense to the Guild.

Ruskin hoped that the gardens would soon become important enough to require the establishment of a curatorship in connection with them. On 29th August 1878, he wrote to a friend, 'I have just given orders that Abbeydale shall be made a vegetable and botanic garden, giving employment to any workmen or workmen's children who like to come so far - for any hour's exercise and furnishing model types of vegetable produce to the Sheffield markets, while I am going to build good greenhouses for keeping out frost but not unhealthy hothouses, needing watching all night'.

David Downs was quite a character and well worthy of mention. He had been in the employ of John Ruskin's father and hence referred to Ruskin as 'the young master'. Ruskin referred to him, affectionately as 'Downsie'.


David Downs would not have been too keen on coming to Totley after having worked for Ruskin in the South, in the Lake District and also having travelled abroad with John Ruskin. However, he was a good man and always willing to work for the master, he loved so well. We had previously been in charge of seven gardeners and no doubt found that Sheffield community which was made up not only of cobblers and bootmakers but also iron workers and opticians, along with their squabbling wives, a different environment.

Downs was a simple man and the work he was sent to do in Totley growing cabbages and grubbing up the roots of trees was very different to the Azaleas and sunshine he was used to. In appearance, he was regular John Bull looking man, with a good natured red face, bushy eyebrows which worked up and down and a squeaky voice. His eyebrows helped him look very wise at times, though his innocence and simplicity made him very comical and kept him in a constant state of surprise.

There is an amusing story of him sitting in Venice, reading an Italian newspaper upside down, with a group of wandering beggars around him to whom he would now and then dole out the smallest possible coin, telling them to go away and not make beasts of themselves.

It appears that even the presence of David Downs and his gardening expertise could not make the revitalised plan for Totley work. Unlike the success of the Ruskin Museum, on the other hand, St. George's Farm languished and in spite of the efforts to produce strawberries, currants and gooseberries on it, Ruskin was writing to Downs on 24th April, 1881; 'Suppose we sell all that good-for-nothing land at Totley and take somebody else in, for once - if we can - instead of always being taken in ourselves, for a change'. 


Three years later he spoke of it in his Report for 1884 as, 'Thirteen acres of very poor land'. Luckily in 1885, a tenant was found for it, through the agency of Edward Carpenter, a friend of Riley's and pioneer of Socialism in Sheffield.


Carpenter introduced one of his young friends, George Pearson to Ruskin and as a result Pearson leased it from the Guild until 1925, when he bought it outright. The Totley experiment was not without significance. One of those who were, as we have seen, much stimulated by it, was young Edward Carpenter, then a young university extension lecturer, who stated, 'The year 1879 was in many ways the dim dawn or beginning of a new life for me', and began to 'knit up alliances more satisfactory to me than I had known before' .

He visited Bradway and Totley, he actually lived in Totley for a few months in 1880. After a lecture, a scythe maker, Albert Fearnehough, became a close friend and in this way began the association with working people. In May 1880 he settled in a small cottage near Bradway, close to the Fearnehoughs, before going to Millthorpe. He was a friend of the Rileys whom he visited in 1884 whilst on a visit to America.


Carpenter's own enthusiasm for sandal making, stemming as it did from his Indian friends, was undoubtedly encouraged by the very cobbling Communitarians who had originally enthused over the St. George's project. It was also through Edward Carpenter that William Morris, later famed for his textiles and wallpaper, became an observer of the Totley project. Carpenter left a history of the project, which had been overlooked by the editors and biographers of Ruskin. It can be found in the newspaper published by William Morris in The Commonweal for 9th March, 1889. In an article entitled A Minstrel Communist, Carpenter wrote an obituary of Joseph Sharp, one of the original dozen of the group, for whom Ruskin bought the land in Totley. Further correspondence on the Totley project was published in The Commonweal and asked for 'more light on these experiments at Totley, as perhaps the nucleus of contemporary tendencies in the evolution of Socialism'. As a result part of Carpenters reply was, 'I think one reason why all these little communal schemes fail is their narrowness - and it is a good thing they do fail though it is also a good thing that they are started and succeed for a short time... ..personally I would not like to belong to a comununity of under a million people. I think with that number one might feel safe, but with less there would be a great danger of being watched... ...all honour to those who have fought to establish these little communities. They have kept the sacred fire alight through a long and dark night.

Edward Carpenter was well acquainted with practical schemes in the Sheffield district and the wider current of radical ideas at the time. He obviously looked back, with some scepticism at the 'would-be Garden of Eden'. 


Towards the end of his life Ruskin was not able to resume his writings for although he lived on until 1900, the smallest literary task even the composition of a brief informal letter, was soon utterly beyond his strength. He had retired into a private universe of reveries and dreams.

He believed that his lifework had failed and from some points of view, a critic is bound to agree that his pessimism was not ill-founded. None of his schemes of reform had resulted in much practical benefit, some, indeed like the Guild of St. George had dwindled and decayed many years before his death. He had impressed his contemporaries but had not influencd them.


Mike Williamson

February 1995

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Future Meetings




Unless stated otherwise our meetings are held in Totley Library on the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7.30pm.

Pauline Burnett's book The Rise of Totley Rise has been revised and updated. It tells the story of this small piece of land from 1875 when there was only a rolling mill and chemical yard alongside the river a mile from Totley, through Victorian and Edwardian times, two world wars and up to the present day. It has 94 pages including a useful index and many illustrations from private collections. The book is available now from Totley Rise Post Office priced at £5, or through our website when an additional charge will be made to cover packing and postage.

A few copies are still available of Sally Goldsmith's book Thirteen Acres: John Ruskin and the Totley Communists. Totley was the site of a utopian scheme funded by art critic and social reformer John Ruskin. In 1877 he bought 13-acre St. George’s Farm so that nine Sheffield working men and their families could work the land and, to keep themselves busy, make boots and shoes. Sally tells an engaging story from our history with a quirky cast of characters including Ruskin himself, the poet and gay rights activist Edward Carpenter and Henry Swan, a cycling, vegetarian artist and Quaker. The book is available to order online from the The Guild of St. George by following this link.

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 local shops and via our website.  Further information about the correspondence is in this inside page of our website: Dore & Totley Minesweeping Trawlers Comforts Fund

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.

Totley All Saints' Church Parish Magazines for the years 1985-2006 with notices of baptisms, marriages and funerals and accounts of spiritual, educational, charitable and social matters in the village. Scanned in full, including advertisements from local traders.

In 1893 during the building of the Totley Tunnel there was an outbreak of smallpox amongst the navvies which spread to some of the local population. 17 people were buried in communal graves in Dore Churchyard, 6 from "Green Oak" (Lemont Road). The severity of the outbreak was principally caused by overcrowding and insanitary conditions in lodging houses .

Kathleen Grayson was a 39 year old housewife when WW2 broke out. She volunteered for the ARP and became an ambulance driver. During an air raid on Sheffield in July 1941, and despite her own injuries, she managed to get a seriously injured casualty to hospital. For this she was awarded a commendation from King George VI. Together with her friend Hilda Duffy, Kathleen also assembled a team of knitters to provide essential warm clothing for the men serving on the minesweepers patrolling the North Sea.

We have recently bought at auction the WW2 memorabilia of Douglas Platts whose family home was at Hillside, 98 Queen Victoria Road. After the war Douglas returned to his civilian occupation working in the family scissors manufacturing business. He lived in our area for the rest of his life.

We are very grateful to Mrs Valerie Taylor of Dore for lending us the title deeds to Lower Bents Farmhouse which is reputed to be the oldest surviving building in the area with a proven history back to 1621. We have now scanned and transcribed the deeds which could be particularly interesting to anyone with a connection to the local Fisher, Dalton and Marshall Families. 

Until 1844, when Dore Christ Church parish was created, Totley township was part of Dronfield parish. We have now transcribed the burial records for former Totley residents at St. John the Baptist, Dronfield for the period 1678-1870 and at St. Swithin, Holmesfield for the period 1766-1901.

Whilst researching the history of the Dalton Family we found it useful to transcribe a number of early Wills and Inventories. These and those of many other Totley, Dore and Holmesfield people dating from between 1594 and 1856 have now been added to our website.

St. Swithin's Church, Holmesfield pre-dates Dore Christ Church and was the place where many of the people from Totley worshipped and were baptised, married and buried. Read the inscriptions on more than 750 gravestones in the churchyard including those of Mr. and Mrs. William Aldam Milner of Totley Hall, Jessie Matilda Tyzack (nee Fisher) of Avenue Farm, and Rev. J. A. Kerfoot of St. John's, Abbeydale.

Thomas Youdan was a music hall proprietor and benefactor who was living at Grove House, Totley in 1867 when he sponsored the first football knockout competition in the world for The Youdan Cup.

The words Millhouses Cricket Club can be seen in the background of team photos which are likely to date from between 1905 and the early 1920s, very probably pre-war. They were lent to us by Garth Inman who can identify his great uncle, Cecil Inman, in some of the photos and would like to know when they were taken and, if possible, the names of others present. Please take a look to see whether you can put names to any of the faces. 

Josiah Hibberd was seriously injured whilst working on the construction of the Totley Tunnel in 1892. He died on 9 May 1897 at the age of 38 having apparently spent most of previous five years in hospital.

Bradway House was built around 1832 by Henry Greaves, a farmer, together with two adjacent cottages. We have traced most of the occupants of the property from these early days up to the start of World War Two.

We have transcribed the baptisms records at St. John the Evangelist, Abbeydale from when the church was consecrated in 1876 until just after the start of World War 1. The records are arranged in alphabetical order based upon the child's name and show the date of baptism, the names of the parents, their home location and occupation.

Nick Kuhn bought an original 1920s poster which had this owners' blind stamp in one corner. The stamp almost certainly refers to a house named Wigmore that was built in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The first occupiers that we can trace are John Howarth Caine, a district mineral agent for the LNER, his wife Florence Jane (nee Prince) and daughter Doris Mary. The Caine family lived at Wigmore until 1936 by which time the house would have been known simply as 12 The Quandrant.

George Griffiths died on 13 December 1888 following an explosion during the sinking of number 3 airshaft at Totley Bents. His widow Florence died shortly afterwards and his two daughters Maud and Annie were adopted separately. Whilst Annie lived the rest of her life in Yorkshire, Maud emigrated to Australia in 1923 with her husband, John Burrows, daughter Margaret and son Jack, pictured above.

George Wainwright was said to have been born in Bamford, Derbyshire in 1714. He learned the trade of linen weaving and moved to Totley after his marriage on 1744. He became an ardent follower of John Wesley who paid many visits to Sheffield and who would have passed through or close to Totley. Preaching was at first conducted out of doors and when Wesley's preachers became harassed by a mob of Totley ruffians in 1760, George offered them safety of his own home. He remained a Methodist for all of his long life, dying in Dore in 1821 at the reputed age of 107.

Oakwood School was started by Mrs Phoebe Holroyd in 1925 initially as the Firth Park Kindergarten and, by 1927, as the Firth Park Preparatory School. Phoebe was still working at the school almost fifty years later when she was well into her seventies. We would like to hear from anyone with memories of the school. 

James Curtis was born at sea aboard HMS Chichester in 1790. He enlisted as a Private in the 1st Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards in Sheffield in 1812 and served in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War. He later fought in France and Belgium taking part in the Battle of Waterloo. In later life James lived at the Cricket Inn where his son-in-law William Anthony was the licensed victualler. He died in Heeley in 1882 aged about 91. 

Charles Paul lived in Totley in later life. He was a local historian and archaeologist who was an authority on the history of Sheffield, especially the two areas he knew best: Attercliffe and Ecclesall. His books and letters to local newspapers were published under the Latin form of his name Carolus Paulus.

Towards the end of the 19th century Totley Hall gardens became a well known beauty spot that attracted many hundreds of visitors from Sheffield on open days and the rock gardens became one of its most popular features. Mrs Annie Charlesworth sent us six glass transparencies of the rock gardens taken, we believe, in the early years following the Great War.

Anton Rodgers send us photographs of three water-colours that had been bought by his grandfather at a sale of the contents of Abbeydale Hall in 1919. One was of a scene said to be in York by A. Wilson. A second was of a seated child with a dog believed to be pianted by Juliana Russell (1841-1898). The third was of Lake Como, by Ainslie Hodson Bean (1851-1918) who lived for much of his life on the Riviera and in North Italy.

A Canadian correspondent sent us photographs of a set of silver spoons that were bought in a small town in British Columbia. The case contained a note signed by Ebenezer Hall indicating that they were a wedding gift to Maurice and Fanny Housley. We think we may have traced how they got to Canada and where they might have been since.

Green Oak Park was opened on 23 March 1929 on land that had been bought by Norton District Council from John Thomas Carr, a farmer and smallholder of Mona Villas. In later years, the buildings were used by the Bowling Club (the green having been built in 1956) and by the park keeper. However, the buildings appear to have been constructed in several phases, the oldest of which predates the park to the time when the land was used for pasture.

We believe the old Totley Police Station at 331 Baslow Road was built around 1882. Two lock-up cells were excavated just below floor level in the summer of 1890. We have traced the Derbyshire Constabulary police officers who lived there from John Burford in 1886 to George Thomas Wood who was there when Totley was absorbed into Sheffield in 1934.

David Stanley lived in Totley Rise in the later years of his life. Born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, he joined the 17th Lancers when he was 19 and rode in the Charge of The Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava where he was seriously wounded. For the first reunion of veterans in 1875, he told his story to a reporter from the Buxton Herald.

This picture postcard was addressed to Miss Abell, Holly Dene, Totley Brook Road and posted in Rotherham on 10 December 1907. Edith Annie Abell was born on 4 February 1887 in Sheffield and her family came to live in our area in the 1900s, staying for the rest of their lives.

Charles Herbert Nunn enlisted in the British Army on 23 August 1915 and was sent to France on 18 December 1915 to served with the British Expeditionary Force. In March 1916 it was discovered that he was underage and he was returned home. Shortly after his 18th birthday he re-enlisted and was again posted abroad where, in addition to this trio of medals, he was awarded the Military Medal. 

This certificate was awarded jointly by the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance to Isaac Henry Williams, of Lemont Road, for his services during WW1 as a stretcher bearer. We are seeking anyone who can help us pass it on to a living relative.

In 1832 Samuel Dean pleaded guilty to stealing a quantity of lead from the Totley Rolling Mill and was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. He sailed on the Mangles and upon arrival in New South Wales he was sent to work for William Cox, the famous English explorer and pioneer. After receiving his Certificate of Freedom in 1840, Samuel became a farmer and went on to have a very large family. Samuel was born in Whitechapel around 1811 to parents Samuel Dean Snr. and Susannah Duck. His descendant Sarah Dean would like help in tracing his ancestry.

Ellen Topham was born in 1889 in Nottingham. Her parents had been living together since 1862 but had never married so it was most unusual that, after their deaths, Ellen was accepted into Cherrytree Orphanage. Even more so since her father, Snowden Topham, had been acquitted somewhat unexpectedly in a widely reported manslaughter trial. Ellen remained at Cherrytree until her death from pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 15.

Mabel Wilkes was a resident in Cherrytree Orphanage between 1897 and 1905. Her granddaughter Sally Knights sent us these images of a book presented to Mabel as a prize for her writing. Sally also sent us some personal memories of her grandmother and a photograph of a locket which contains portraits of Mabel and her husband Septimus Gale.

John Henry Manby Keighley was living at Avenue Farm when he enlisted in 1916. He fought in France with the Cheshire Regiment but after home leave in early 1918 he went missing. The Army were unable to determine whether he had deserted or returned to the front and been either killed or captured by the enemy. In August 1919 he was formally presumed killed in action but it appears he did not die but returned home to his family.

Horace Ford was admitted to Cherrytree Orphanage on 26 October 1888 at the age of six. He left at the age of 14 to become an apprentice blacksmith and farrier. Soon after his 18th birthday Horace enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry to serve his country in the war in South Africa. His letter home to his Orphanage mentor tells of the lucky escape he had in battle.

Pat Skidmore (née Sampy) lived on Totley Brook Road from 1932 to 1948 before her family moved to Main Avenue. In this short article she remembers her time at Totley All Saints School where she was a contemporary of Eric Renshaw and Bob Carr.

As we have nowhere to exhibit memorabilia and artifacts, we have created a Virtual Museum instead. The latest addition to our collection is this double-sided Totley Rise Post Office oval illuminated sign which was on the wall of 67 Baslow Road before the Post Office business transferred to number 71. Please contact us by email if you have things that you own and would like to see added to the virtual museum.

Conway Plumbe was a man of many talents who came to live in Totley Rise around 1912. As a young man he had poems published by Punch magazine and is remembered in modern collections of WW1 poetry. A number of his paintings were accepted by the Royal Academy. An engineering graduate of London University, he joined the Civil Service where he rose to a high level as a factory inspector, publishing two books on the subject and giving a series of talks on workplace health and safety on BBC radio during WW2. In retirement he wrote a philosophical-spiritual work called Release From Time.

Inside Totley Rise Methodist Church there is a Roll of Honour commemorating the soldiers from its congregation who served their king and country during the Great War. For all but one of the 28 names the soldier's regiment is recorded in the next column. The exception is David Cockshott for whom 'killed in action' is written alongside yet he appears on no war memorial in our area and no record of a mortally wounded soldier of that name is to be found. We think we have solved the mystery.

Mrs. Kate Plumbe moved from Mansfield to Totley Rise with a number of her family in 1913 and became closely involved with the Totley Union Church. Her daughter Winifred became a missionary and headmistress in Calcutta for over 38 years following which she returned home to live with her sister Hilda on Furniss Avenue. Hilda had also been a teacher, missionary and, like her mother, a volunteer at St. John's VAD during WW1.

Thomas Glossop was a cutler and razor manufacturer who was well known amongst cricketing and gardening circles. Despite going blind, he was able to continue his hobbies with remarkable success

The Totley Union Cycling Society Prize Giving and Fete was held on the fields near Abbeydale Hall on 18 July 1914. Anne Rafferty and Gordon Wainwright have named some of the people in two wonderful photographs of the event. Can you identify any more for us? 

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"

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 The Plumbe Family, Thomas Glossop and accidents during the construction of Totley Tunnel.

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 700 gravestones in  the churchyard.


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