From Chapeltown, Michael heads to Wharncliffe Crags, where he follows in the terrifying footholds of the Victorian daredevil who made rock climbing a sport.
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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.
At a time when railways were new,
Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.
I'm using a Bradshaw's Guide
to understand how trains transformed Britain.
Its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.
As I crisscross the country 150 years later,
it helps me to discover the Britain of today.
My rail journey from Blackpool to Harwich
progresses through Yorkshire.
I hope to get out into the country to appreciate the wildness of nature
which so appealed to the romanticism of Victorians.
Back in the cities, entrepreneurs who'd made a fortune,
like steel manufacturers in Sheffield,
saw the importance of investing in better education
if Britain was to stay ahead,
and I'm hoping to get a leg up myself.
My route is taking me across England to the southern edge of East Anglia.
I started in Blackpool
and moved through the industrial cities of northern England.
From Manchester, I'll cross the Peak District,
following the route of the North Country Continental rail service
and I'll traverse the Fens to end at Essex's gateway to Europe.
Today, my journey begins by scaling the heights near Chapeltown
before heading south to Sheffield.
From there, I travel north-east to Conisbrough and finish in
the great railway town of Doncaster.
On this journey...
-That's the one.
..I climb beyond my comfort zone...
-Put your other foot on the next hold.
-All the way over there?
Yeah, you'll be fine, I've got you nice and safe.
..uncover a museum of curiosities...
If a predator tries to grab them,
they'll ooze out all this slime and the predator will
literally kind of spit the hagfish out in disgust.
..and embrace a new language with open arms.
-This is have to.
-Oh. That's have to.
-That's good, yes.
My first stop will be Chapeltown.
Bradshaw's mentions Wharncliffe Crags,
and the Dragon's Den,
from all of which may be obtained the most beautiful views.
For some Victorians,
it wasn't enough to observe the lofty crags from a distance.
They had to be tackled, tamed, conquered,
or perish in the attempt.
The Victorians would have alighted at Deepcar,
but that station closed in 1959 and the nearest stop today
is Chapeltown, north of Sheffield.
From there it's a six-mile journey to the foot of Wharncliffe Crags.
In Bradshaw's time, Victorians would take their constitutionals
atop the crags to admire the views.
But that was too genteel for the flintier adventurer,
who invented a vertical challenge, rock climbing.
I've come to meet writer and climber Graham Hoey
to get a foothold on the story.
-Good morning, Michael.
-What a perfect morning.
-Absolutely wonderful, isn't it?
-How far to Wharncliffe Crags?
-About ten minutes or so, I think.
-Best foot forward?
The crags were the habitat of the legendary Dragon of Wantley.
A cave at the southern end of the cliffs is named Dragon's Den
and featured in Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe.
These intimidating, giant broken rock structures would easily suggest
Here we are approaching the crags.
When did rock climbing get going?
Well, it wasn't until the late 19th century, really.
Until then, it was just a small part
of what was seen to be the far grander sport of mountaineering,
a pastime that took place in the Alps
in the summer and winter seasons.
And what was the distinction between mountaineering and rock climbing?
Well, in mountaineering, the whole aim really was to get to the summit,
not necessarily by the most difficult route,
often the easiest route.
That often involved scrambling,
some snow and ice work, and sometimes some rock climbing.
But the rock climbing wasn't
the aim of it and often the rock climbing wasn't that difficult.
And how did that change here?
Well, in 1885, Jimmy Puttrell came out and started
climbing alone on these rocks.
He was just coming to enjoy himself. There was no summit to be attained.
He just got pleasure from climbing
the rocks and inventing ways up and ways down.
He turned it into an outdoor gymnasium, really.
Puttrell climbed without ropes or safety devices.
He popularised what is now known as gritstone climbing.
By 1900, there were about 35 recorded routes
on Wharncliffe Crags.
He died in 1939 at the age of 70,
after living to see his sport taken up across the world.
How has the sport moved on?
Well, Jimmy Puttrell would not
recognise the standard of rock climbing nowadays.
Climbers have got much fitter,
much stronger and rock climbers are able to really pull up on
just the very end of one finger. On and overhanging wall,
the feet would leave the rock
and they would go through to a similar hold.
It's just absolutely phenomenal.
Well, it sounds completely terrifying.
Today, the Peak District
is celebrated as the UK's climbing capital -
a fitting tribute to Jimmy Puttrell.
OK, Michael, this is the climb we're going to do.
It's called Alpha Crack and was climbed by Jimmy Puttrell
some time around 1885.
-That's the one.
And what will stop me falling off?
A rope which will take about 640 kilos.
That should just about cover it, I think.
OK. Tie me on.
OK, right. I'm now going to climb to the top of the route and I'm going
to secure myself on the ledge.
I'm then going to take the rope in and it will come tight on you.
When it comes tight on you, I want you to say, "That's me."
-And I will say, "Climb when you're ready."
And you will tell me when you're climbing by saying, "Climbing."
Wait till I say OK and then you set off.
Thankfully, safety precautions have developed since Puttrell's day,
but I find it's still a major challenge.
-Climb when you're ready, Michael.
This is the insanest thing I ever did.
I just signed up to travel by train.
Trust your balance.
-Go left now.
You're a natural, Michael.
-OK, that's lovely, that.
-Keep going across.
Put your other foot on the next hold.
-All the way over there?
-Yeah, you'll be fine, I've got you nice and safe.
-With my right foot?
-Yes, that's lovely that.
That's it, keep moving across.
There's a nice... That's it.
-Where do I hold on?
And there's the top just here.
That's it. Lovely. That's it.
-That's the one. Press with your right foot.
-Fantastic. That's the one.
-Now where does the foot go?
-And up again.
-That it, you're there.
You're doing fine, big pull.
-Of course, we've still got a bit to do yet.
-Graham, I've made it.
-Well done. That's you firm.
The most terrifying thing I've ever done.
I will never do it again.
-Thank you, Graham.
Without encountering a single fire-breathing dragon,
today has been very scary.
Returning to Chapeltown, I'm taking a short seven-mile journey south.
My next stop will be Sheffield,
which my guidebook describes as the great seat of the cutlery trade.
It's also a great city of learning, partly because some of those
whose bread and butter was knives and forks
helped others to learn their ABC and pi R squared.
Sheffield is known as Steel City and steel is still produced here,
but the traditional heavy steel industry
has been in decline for 40 years.
The city's changed into a modern business hub
with award-winning public spaces and thriving cultural institutions.
Sheffield's population increased tenfold
during the Industrial Revolution.
As the city grew, so did its need for education.
Local steel magnate and philanthropist Mark Firth
paid for the opening of Firth College in 1879
to teach arts and science.
The college became part of today's University of Sheffield.
During the 1880s,
one of the college's founding professors was inspired
by the new theories of evolution to found a pioneering
natural history collection which still exists.
I'm meeting Dr Nicola Hemmings, a research fellow in
the university's department of animal and plant sciences.
What an extraordinary collection of skeletons and other specimens.
How does it come to be here?
So this collection was established by Alfred Denny, who was the first
professor of biology at the University of Sheffield.
Legend has it that he arrived with a single dog skull
and from then on he amassed this amazing collection
of different skeletons and taxidermy specimens.
Did Alfred Denny go out and make the collection himself
or did he acquire it?
We actually don't know a lot of the history of many of our specimens
because records were lost in the World War II bombings,
but we do know that there was at least one private zoo
in Sheffield in the late 1800s which, when animals died,
they would be given or bought by the university.
And Alfred Denny would have
prepared many of these specimens himself, as well.
So what sort of contribution was Denny able to make to the college,
to the university, with the aid of his collection?
This kind of collection is absolutely crucial
for teaching students the evolutionary relationships
between different species.
Denny's collection brought far-flung species to Sheffield.
For over a century, the collection remained obscure,
open only to staff and for student research.
It finally opened its doors to the public in 2012.
So what you can see here is a very typical collection
of what we call wet specimens, preserved in some kind of fixative,
suspended in these lovely glass jars.
I kind of think of this as as much of a historic collection
as it is a zoological collection.
These bell jars could be Victorian
and the liquid wouldn't have changed?
No. I mean, it will have probably been topped up since then
but certainly these are as they were,
collected and preserved over 100 years ago.
What on earth are these things?
This one here is a hagfish.
I know they look a little bit disgusting,
but they are absolutely amazing.
They produce loads of slime and so if a predator tries to grab them,
they'll ooze out all this slime and the predator will literally kind of
spit the hagfish out in disgust.
And poor fish to be called hag.
Well, it's not particularly pretty, is it?
Denny was a compelling and charismatic communicator,
popular with students and public alike.
In 1859, Charles Darwin revolutionised biology
with his publication of On The Origin Of Species,
outlining his theory of evolution.
Now this fellow, I think I recognise.
Yep, well you should do. This is what you look like inside.
Obviously this is a human skeleton, and then we have the gorilla,
the chimpanzee, and then the gibbon at the end there.
Having specimens set out like this allows us to see how close
our evolutionary relationships are to other great apes.
This kind of study really became popular after Darwin and he really
brought about a huge change in thinking at the time.
Was there any connection between Darwin and Denny?
Well, there wasn't a direct connection between Alfred Denny
and Darwin but Alfred Denny's father, Henry Denny,
who was an entomologist and he was curator at Leeds Museum,
he actually corresponded with Darwin,
so we actually have those letters in our collection.
Did Alfred Denny take up the subject of evolution?
Yes, and it wasn't just his teaching.
He gave public lectures, which were really popular, on evolution
and adaptation in the animal world
and he drew crowds of hundreds of people,
so he was really kind of key in teaching some of these ideas.
-A sort of Darwinian evangelist.
Still exhausted from my mountain exertions,
it's time for a well-earned rest.
Continuing on the route of the North Country Continental,
I am re-joining the railway at Sheffield,
and travelling 16 miles north-east to Conisbrough.
As I know from many a railway station,
the Victorians like their architecture Gothic.
They like their novels that way too,
tales of knights errant and chivalry,
and the very symbol of Romanticism was the ancient ruin.
Bradshaw's tells me that at Conisbrough,
I'll find a castle belonging to the Duke of Leeds
built at the time of the conquest, with a keep 78-feet high.
I believe I've found my Grail.
Conisbrough Castle is one of
the best-preserved medieval fortifications in England,
dating from the 1170s.
This is the sort of castle keep that I was asked to draw at school
as a child and, even now, to me, it means a damsel in distress
or the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
I suppose that there is a bit of 19th-century Romanticism
that is forever in the British DNA.
At the spectacular Conisbrough,
my interest is as much literary as historical.
I'm meeting Kevin Booth, senior curator for English Heritage.
Very good to see you,
and what a splendid view of the castle from here.
Now Bradshaw's, which is not always right,
tells me that the castle is from the Norman conquest.
-Right or wrong?
-Right, and wrong, I suppose.
Yes, there is a castle here, a defence here,
from the conquest period,
but what we see in front of us is about a century later.
The castle was the seat of the de Warenne family,
and Hamelin Plantagenet,
the illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II,
acquired the property by marrying Isabel de Warenne.
Hamelin transformed Conisbrough into the imposing fortress seen today.
It's about authority of the de Warennes.
They're making a statement to both Conisbrough town
and the wider estate that they have control. They are, after all,
the great Norman family coming over with the Conqueror.
And did this magnificent structure ever see battle?
In the early 14th century,
Thomas of Lancaster turns up with his men. The Earl of de Warenne
has kidnapped his wife, so he lays siege.
There were six people in the castle, including the town miller.
It's almost sort of Python-esque in its progression.
How did it fall into ruin?
I think Conisbrough is one of those classic English castles, really.
It ceases to have a great function, it's no longer a military defence,
it's no longer really a family home,
and, literally in the case of Conisbrough,
it simply slides away from history.
In 1537, the castle was surveyed for Henry VIII.
It was found abandoned and dilapidated
with its gate collapsed into a ditch.
But it was unexpectedly to enjoy a new literary lease of life
in the 19th century, when it became the inspiration
for Conisbrough Castle in the 1820 novel
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
The fact that it's mentioned in my Bradshaw's makes me think that
the castle was popular in Victorian times.
It became exceedingly popular as the century went on,
and I think a lot of that is based on Ivanhoe.
And Ivanhoe, how would you summarise its themes?
Well, it's an interesting historical account, certainly.
We have Anglo-Saxons and Normans, we have Richard the Lionheart,
we have Robin Hood, we have the oppressed, we have tyranny.
Yeah, it's a fair mix
of all the sort of great Romantic themes, I think.
In as much as Walter Scott dealt with the history of the castle,
-does he get it right?
I mean, the idea that this is a great tower
of a royal Anglo-Saxon lord,
the irony really is that it's built by the Norman oppressors
precisely to stamp their authority on the land.
But there are elements of what he says
which are actually quite accurate.
Do you have a sense of why Victorians are so drawn to castles,
ruins and Romanticism?
I think there is the idea that the Victorians are looking back to some
kind of preindustrial age, and Conisbrough itself, by the 1850s,
is really developing as an industrial hub,
so works like Ivanhoe potentially
are creating that sort of aspiration,
that nostalgia, for medieval Britain.
Conisbrough station opened in 1849,
allowing curious Victorians to visit.
As the century progressed, their numbers swelled.
On Good Friday in 1882, holiday special trains,
laid on by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway,
brought up to 10,000 to visit the castle and its grounds.
You get a wonderful view from the tower.
What are the highlights of what we can see?
The heart of Conisbrough is early eighth century,
but really everything else is 19th, 20th century, urban.
So, you have the pits, you have glassworks, brickworks,
you have the monumental viaduct across the River Don.
Really, Conisbrough, in the late 19th and early 20th century,
is a vibrant, powerful economic hub.
And if you didn't like the grime and the dust and the smoke,
you could escape to the keep.
Or immerse yourself in Ivanhoe.
From the ruined splendour of Conisbrough,
I'm re-joining the train,
and travelling six miles north-east to Doncaster.
The novels of Charles Dickens indicate that Victorians
became increasingly concerned with the plight of vulnerable children.
Bradshaw's tells me that among the principal buildings of Doncaster
are the New Mansion House, and the Yorkshire Deaf and Dumb School,
founded in 1829.
So, pre-Victorian, ahead of its time.
In the late 18th and 19th centuries,
Doncaster was dominated by engineering,
and the Great Northern Railway
moved its engine-building works to the town in 1853.
The building to the left is iconic.
It's where the Flying Scotsman was designed.
19th century industrialists were often generous philanthropists,
and the churches were also active in promoting
new ideas to help those less fortunate.
-Michael, lovely to meet you.
Alan W Robinson is the head teacher
of what is now known as the Doncaster School for the Deaf.
Well, Michael, this is the Reverend Carr Fenton,
he's the founder of our institution in 1829.
What you will notice here is
that there is a painting of a building here,
which is known as Eastfield House,
the first building that was used to house our school for the deaf.
What kind of a man was William Carr Fenton?
Well, he is a Church of England minister in South Yorkshire,
and it was while he was out in the parish, he overheard a labourer,
who said he had
five members of his family who were profoundly deaf,
and he felt, at that point,
challenged to think about their education.
From where could you gain inspiration in those days?
Well, one of the fundamental things he did was travel
to the school for the deaf in Paris, and at that institution,
he decided that he would come back to his parish in Yorkshire,
and create an institution for the deaf and dumb.
Without the education facilities on offer today,
deaf people at the time were largely cut off
from their surrounding world.
Although there were five deaf schools in Britain by 1828,
none existed in Yorkshire.
To remedy that, Carr Fenton held a public meeting
at Doncaster's Mansion House,
which raised £70, a decent sum, for what was then called
the Yorkshire Institution for the Deaf and Dumb Poor.
This is the minutes of our institution from 1829,
and you can see here it was determined that a school
should be formed.
And here we have the minute of the first 11 boys
that were entered into the school.
By the time Carr Fenton had spent almost 40 years
as the chairman of the school, the school had grown to over 100 pupils.
Now, the subject of the education of deaf people has been,
and I think is, controversial.
What were the movements that were present during the 19th century?
There was a split.
There was the oralist movement
and there was the sign-language-teaching movement.
And they often clashed as to which was the best way forward.
The oralists believed in teaching lip-reading and speech,
arguing that sign language would impede students' progress
in integrating with the hearing world.
The natural language of a pre-lingually deaf,
profoundly deaf individual was to use sign language and gesture.
But in fact in the early days,
pupils were often expected to sit on their hands
and not use their natural language.
Today, sign language is seen as a mother language of deaf people.
Things have clearly moved hugely
since the days of William Carr Fenton,
but is there still a residual affection and respect
-for what he did?
This is a jewel in the crown of the British education system
from its inception to its present day.
Today, there are 32 pupils at the Doncaster School for the Deaf.
Simon Tacey is a former student.
Excuse me. I'm Michael. Good to see you.
-Laura. Hi, how do you do?
-Nice to meet you?
Simon, you were a pupil at this school and college.
How did the school help you?
-The school helped me a lot.
The teachers all used BSL and could sign so that was useful for me to
understand the education.
You're now employed at the college.
What is the work that you do?
So I work in employment support,
so that is finding work for people who are disabled and deaf.
And your native language is British Sign Language.
Yes, that's right.
I started learning BSL when I was around 18 months old
and I've used it all my life, so I'm used to it now.
I use it everyday.
I wonder if you could help me with a little sign language?
Sure, no problem.
I'm always having to rush for a train.
Could you help me to say, "I have a train to catch"?
So, point to yourself for I.
-This is "have to".
-Oh, that's "have to".
Then you'd say "catch".
And this is "train".
-That's correct, yes.
We may scoff at the Victorian taste for romantic medievalism,
but men like William Carr Fenton were in earnest
about educating deaf children,
and Alfred Denny about spreading knowledge of the natural world.
Their ambition was for a better society to move onward and up,
which is rather how I felt when suspended from a craggy rock.
Next time, I have my reaction times tested by a mechanical marvel...
This would drive you mad if you did this all day.
..get carried away by the cadences of conflict...
"Half a league, half a league, half a league onward,
"into the valley of death rode the 600."
..and see how today's railway is regenerating its past.
We recycled around 46,000 tonnes of steel last year,
which is actually the equivalent of six Eiffel Towers.
From Chapeltown, Michael heads to Wharncliffe Crags, where he plucks up courage to follow in the terrifying footholds of the Victorian daredevil who made rock climbing a sport. The relative calm of academia beckons at Sheffield University but, face to face with a hagfish, Michael's visit to the Alfred Denny Collection proves an eye-opener.
At Conisbrough, Michael learns how Victorians flocked to visit the castle which inspired Sir Walter Scott's immensely popular novel, Ivanhoe. This leg of his journey, following what was once known as the North Country Continental service, finishes in the engineering centre of Doncaster, where Bradshaw's leads him to investigate an enlightened Victorian's school for deaf children.