Sheffield FridayNightRide

we have nothing to lose but our chains

2010/06/18 Ruskin in Sheffield

Brief ride report:
Meet, swirl into 26 folks with 3 new nightriders and one fabulous tandem. Sunny, hazy evening set off into maelstrom of buzzing angry traffic all trying to get to their chosen destination to watch the match. Some shouting at us but when challenged to come here and say that decided to stay in the protection of 2 ton car rather than discuss the situation with 28 cyclists, (2 more joined us at Lydgate Lane). Through Crookes and pick up four more on the way to Ruskin House at Rivelin Rd. Stop, gaze at house, drink pink fizzy and nibble at amaretti to celebrate 2nd birthday of the Sheffield FNR – 26 rides in two years and this was the 27th ride and the first of the third year. Those who got lost as they knew better where to go caught up, had a laugh, chatted about Ruskin and then realised that we had a long way to go so back on the bikes. Follow route through the leafy avenues of Broomhall, Sharrow and Frog Walk, Kenwood Estate, and cycle path round the side of Abbeydale Rd to Millhouses and Waggon and Horses. Beer and chips then on to Dore and Totley to climb up Mickley Lane. Gaze at trees where St George’s Farm is concealed and meet Sally, Judith’s mate, who gave us a short, interesting talk about the Totley colony at the farm funded by Ruskin. Most welcome and very kind. As it was the longest Friday of the year the sun was just setting by about 9.30 in an aquamarine sky with blush-pink clouds (nimbus, stratus – we didn’t know and couldn’t decide) .Les momentes crepusculaires continuent whilst we carried on up the hill and turned sharp left to Bradway and it was getting dark as we paraded past the ancient handpump and stone cottages of the ‘hidden’ village of Greenhill. Gathering at Meadowhead Mick said this was the time to be reckless and leaped on his bike to whizz at 30 mph down Chesterfield Rd through Woodseats and Meersbrook into Heeley and the Sheaf View. Mick’s speed is an estimate as amonsgt the others who beat him to the Sheaf View Dave said his bike computer gave a max of 32 mph, Naughty Dave, you broke the speed limit. A joyous way to spend the longest Friday of the year – may the good -ish weather continue.

Sheffield FridayNightRide
Friday June 18 2010 – 2nd birthday of the Sheffield FNR
Ruskin in Sheffield
Start 6.30 pm Tudor Square

Our route will visit the sites of the Ruskin Museum in Sheffield and the site of the St George’s Farm (off Mickley Lane, Totley)from 1875 to the present (Millennium Galleries post 2000, Norfolk St (1985 – 1998), Bole Hill Rd (1875 – 1896) and the site of the St George’s Farm (off Mickley Lane, Totley) that Ruskin bought in 1876 to establish a workers’ coop on the farm and Meersbrook Park where the museum was from 1896 – 1950. !

Town centre -> University-> Crookes -> Walkley -> Broomhall -> Sharrow -> Nether Edge -> Abbeydale ->Millhouses ->Totley -> Bradfield -> Greenhill -> Meadowhead -> Woodseats -> Meersbrook -> Heeley

Route and map at,-1.509719&spn=0.01809,0.055575&z=15
and a route with elevation profile is at

Heads up! This route is mainly on roads with a couple of roughish bridleways but alternative road routes are available and will be used if it has been very wet. Should suit most bikes. Some ascents but after Sheffield FNR Bridges II anybody could do this

Bit about Ruskin –apologies to true historians
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was rich and famous globally as an art critic, artist, art academic, art teacher, social commentator, utopian, and generally a significant member of British Victorian culterati. His life span coincided almost identically with Queen Victoria. He was and still remains a controversial figure – for his views on art, political economy and social organisation, and for his sexuality and personal conduct. (look it up, URLs at the end)

His connection to Sheffield started in 1875 when Ruskin was in his mid-50s. By this time he had become a significant social commentator and was influenced by socialism, the arts and crafts movement and a general concern about the health and welfare of all society. (Upper and middle class Victorians abhorred ‘the mob’). Later in life he gave most of his money away to trusts and the suchlike to support what he saw as progressive causes.

He experimented with his social visions by creating the Guild of St George which was an attempt to create a society where each person could achieve their potential and contentment by living and working in a co-operative, collaborative wholistic and aesthetic manner that was cultured and ordered. He detested division of labour and was essentially a utopian who still saw social order as ensured by a multi-layered hierarchy.

Ruskin was drawn to Sheffield because of the quality of what he saw as quintessentially English craftsmanship and its tradition of independent little mesters, and the quality of its metalwork both in design and decoration. Also its location next to a quasi-Alpine and a Romantic epitome of ‘mountainous’, rough and wild landscapes would be a source of inspiration – if only people could be persuaded to look at it!

One of his first acts was to endow Sheffield with a collection of drawings, prints, papers, sculptures etc and the house (museum/gallery) to put it in for the education and edification of its artisans. He bought a house in Walkley (at which he later paid for an extension so more could be displayed) and chose this location for various reasons. Walkley was a centre for collectives of artisans who were buying large freehold plots to split amongst themselves for housing and land so they could become freeholders (cf Freedom Rd and the Freedom House pub on South St). Walkley also meant that most artisans would have to ascend out of the smog, fog and gloom of the city centre up into the clearer heights of Walkley (metaphorically climbing up to the heavens) and the situation of the museum gave a stunning view over the Rivelin Valley and out to the Loxley Valley so the landscape and location would be inspiring too. This museum was nationally famous and visitors, famous, William Morris, and infamous, Oscar Wilde, and anonymous, people like us, came from all over the country to see the collection and its setting.

Its popularity became so great that by the end of the nineteenth century it was moved to Meersbrook House in Meersbrook Park. Interest dwindled in the twentieth century in it and finally closed in 1950, the collection went into storage and was finally restored in Sheffield in 1985 and displayed at Ruskin House in Norfolk St until it was moved to the Millennium Galleries. This gallery is now due for another refit

In 1876 Ruskin spent £4k buying a farm for what even he called his ‘Sheffield communists’ and it was renamed St George’s Farm. Needless to say it all ended with recriminations and disagreements about who was supposed to do what, with whom and on whose authority and the farm was taken back by some of Ruskin and his staff to manage it as a business and was eventually sold by the beginning of the nineteenth century. My guess is that all the descendents either ended up in Sheffield Council as politicians or staff!

Louise Pullen the present curator of the Ruskin Collection has been in touch. She can’t join us for the ride but has sent me loads of info to share with nightriders which I will do on the ride.

URLsBest site on Ruskin in Sheffield, the Ruskin Museums and the purpose and effect of the collection

Home page of Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield, UK

Good site on indicating Ruskin’s work on social change – plenty on Sheffield but also details his other social experiments

Ruskin’s writings had tremendous influence overseas (Ghandi always claimed him as an influence) and in the still developing US many towns and communities called Ruskin established themselves in order to live the utopian, communal life – this website is interesting to follow a story of one such community – if you want.

A quick chronology of his life is here

A biography but mainly concentrating on his art criticism and influence

Again a biography mainly concentrating on his art criticism and theory but there is some recognition of his attempts to influence work and social life, and a mention of his Guild of St George and Sheffield

The Guild of St George still exists and does have a minimalist website and concentrates on art education, mainly drawing. It has nothing to do with politics or Politics any more.