The Don Valley
A brief history of the Don Valley area of Sheffield, associated with the Sheffield Eagles for over 30 years.
The Don Valley area, to the east of Sheffield, has been associated with the Sheffield Eagles since they started playing at the Don Valley Stadium in 1990. Following the demolition to the Stadium in 2013 the Club, had a nine year period playing at a variety of grounds - both in and outside Sheffield. The Club returned to the City in May 2022 with the opening of the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park Community Stadium - a 25 year programme of regeneration of the area. What is the history of the Don Valley area and in particular Attercliffe? It's an area long associated with sport and recreation.
Close to the River Don, which runs though Attercliffe, Don Valley was at the heart of the steel industry in Sheffield.Located there was Brown Bayley steel works which played an important role in both World War 1 and World War 2.Many ‘women of steel’ worked there during World War 2, employed to keep the steel works running by filling the roles of men who had been sent away to fight.Sadly the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s saw Brown Bayleys close and fall into degeneration before being demolished in 1985.
The area found new life with the building of Don Valley Stadium in 1990 and Sheffield gained a new identity as the ‘city of sport’.
Following the closure and demolition of Don Valley in 2013 the area was again brought back to life with the building of the Olympic Legacy Park, an ongoing development which now has one of the highest concentrates of sporting facilities in the UK.Here, amongst other things, can be found the English Institute of Sport, Ice Sheffield and the home of the Sheffield Eagles.It is also a centre of education, having Sheffield Hallam University’s Well Being Centre, the Oasis Academy and the University Technical College OLP.
Attercliffe was first mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086.Attercliffe was so called because it was ‘at the cliff’, a banking resembling a cliff which overhung the River Don.A Chapel was built here during the 17th century which was replaced by Christ Church, a grand place of worship which opened in 1826.Christ Church was badly damaged in the blitz of 1940 and had to be demolished.In 1953 the site of the old Church and graveyard was turned into a garden which is situated on Attercliffe Road opposite the Don Valley Hotel.
The role of Attercliffe and Don Valley in the industrial revolution was largely due to the waterpower from the nearby River Don and the opening of the Sheffield Canal.
The parish of Attercliffe-cum-Darnall was created in 1844 to extend to, and join up with neighbouring Darnall.
In the 17th century the area was recognised as an education centre. Attercliffe Academy, located where the Oasis Academy now stands, was in Attercliffe Old Hall, a Jacobean mansionIt produced some impressive pupils and was highly regarding within the academic world at the time.
Sport & Recreation
At the beginning of the 19th century Attercliffe/Don Valley was mainly a rural area noted for the quality of fish in the River Don.Before industry dominated the area had fine houses with grounds.One of these grand houses was New Hall, which was later converted into a recreational area with a cricket ground, race course, bowling green, a maze and a lake.Also at New Hall there was a cinder running track where the annual ‘Sheffield Handicap’ race was held.
Victorian industrial workers in the area needed leisure activities and New Hall was where the sport of pedestrianism became popular.Developing it has since evolved into racewalking or starwalking, following the heel to toe rule.Men would race around fixed distances, being similar to an early example of track and field athletics.Professional racers would train at local centres, usually based in local public houses.
Cricket was also a popular sport in the local area. A cricket ground was first opened in Darnall in 1822.Following the collapse of a stand the ground moved in 1824 to Darnall New Ground which was a more appointed ground large enough for 8000 people to attend.Early matches attracted large crowds, often in excess of official capacity and it was for a time regarded as ‘the finest ground in the Kingdom’. However, due to the opening of a new ground at Hyde Park, which was closer to the city centre, crowds started to decline and the ground was put up for sale.Minor games were played there until 1859 when the land became Darnall cemetery and sadly all traces are now gone.
The industrial revolution brought large scale steel production to Sheffield in the 19th century.Brown Bayleys at Don Valley was established as Brown Bayley & Dixon in 1871.It manufactured Bessemer steel and railway tracks and was a vast firm employing a great number of workers, many of them local and living in the area.
By the 20th century Attercliffe had become a residential area and had shops including the John Banners department store and Burtons Taylors. It also had recreational facilities such as the Adelphi Cinema and the Palace Theatre.
Post the Second World War the area began to decline, housing was cleared and not rebuilt and it became a mainly industrial area once again up until the closure of the steel works.
Don Valley Stadium
Following the closure and demolition of Brown Bayleys new hope was given to the area in the form of the Don Valley Stadium.Work was completed in September 1990 and in 1991 it hosted the World Student Games, which attracted competitors from all over the world to compete in the new purpose built facility.Don Valley was the largest athletics stadium in the UK outside of London at the time of its closure and in addition to athletic meetings had held a number of well attended concerts for top music acts of the time, including U2, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones.
It is now the turn of the Olympic Legacy Park to stand on this historic site.
This fascinating area can be seen in many ways to have come full circle, being first recognised as an area of education and home of sport before the industrial revolution took hold and put Sheffield firmly on the world map, it is now returning to its roots - as an area of education and home of sport.
Long may its fascinating journey continue!
Share your memories
Do you have any memories of the Don Valley area and Don Valley Stadium? You can share them with the Heritage Project here.