Local History - Articles and letters about Bradway's past

Spring 2004

Ladies’ Spring Wood - Post Box - Mi AMIGO, 60 years on

Ladies’ Spring Wood

An ancient wood: Ladies’ Spring Wood is a very special wood - what woodland historians call an ancient wood. This means that it has existed since at least AD 1600. It was only after that date that landowners in this country planted trees in order to form woods.

Three characteristics of Ladies’ Spring Wood strongly suggest that it is an ancient wood.

  1. Its name: the word ‘spring’ is the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) name for a coppice wood, suggesting it is of pre-1600 origin.
  2. Its shape: which is uneven with sinuous bends and zig-zags, suggesting that it is the result of clearance of the surrounding land over a long period of time.
  3. Its location: its western boundary is the River Sheaf, in part the ancient parish boundary between Sheffield and Norton (and incidentally the ancient boundary between Yorkshire and Derbyshire and between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia). Surviving ancient woods are very often on parish boundaries.

Ancient woods are either primary woods or ancient secondary woods. A primary wood is a much altered descendant of the primaeval woodlands that were formed from about 11,000 BC after the end of the last Ice Age and have never been cleared of trees in the intervening period. An ancient secondary wood is a wooded site that was cleared of trees before 1600 and used for farming or settlement for a period of time. Woodland then grew back, again before 1600, when the settlement or farmland was abandoned.

It is much more likely that Ladies’ Spring Wood is an ancient primary woodland than an ancient secondary woodland as it is on a very steeply sloping site and contains no signs of early settlement or field boundaries.

Ownership and management history: Between the late 12th century and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century the wood belonged to Beauchief Abbey, founded in c.1175, by Robert FitzRanulph, lord of the manors of Alfreton and Norton. Ladies’ Spring is a corruption of the earlier Lady’s Spring, probably an allusion to the fact that the abbey was dedicated to "Our Lady" and St Thomas à Becket. On the dissolution of the abbey in 1537 the Beauchief lands became the property of Sir Nicholas Strelley, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, from whom they descended to the Strelley-Pegge, Pegge and Burnell families. Sheffield City Council acquired the wood in 1931. It was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by the Nature Conservancy Council in 1954.

Coppice-with-standards management of woodland: This is known to have been practised in the adjacent Hutcliff Wood as early as 1496 and was almost certainly the way in which Ladies’ Spring was managed in the past. In this type of wood most of the trees were periodically cut down to ground level to what is called a stool and from the stool grew multiple stems – the coppice or underwood. Some of the trees were not coppiced but were allowed to grow on to become single-stemmed trees and these were the standards that provided timber for building projects. Most of the standards in local woods were oak trees and Ladies’ Spring was no exception.

The most important use of coppice poles was for fuel. They were cut into four foot lengths called cordwood and used for making charcoal for iron smelting and whitecoal for lead smelting. In Ladies Spring Wood there are at least 10 charcoal platforms (levelled areas where the charcoal stack was placed) and about 12 whitecoal kilns (depressions with a lip at the narrow end where cordwood was heated over a fire to drive out the moisture – also known as Q-pits). The charcoal platforms could have been constructed in the medieval period and then used over and over again. The whitecoal kilns were used in the period 1575-1750.

Coppicing had ceased by the end of the 19th century and Ladies’ Spring gradually became a canopy wood in which most of the trees are single stemmed. Planting of trees not native to the site (beech, sweet chestnut, larch and Scots pine) took place in the wood after the cessation of coppicing.

The wood today: The wood is predominantly of sessile oak accompanied by birch and rowan on the upper slopes, with ash and alder on the lower slopes and on the river terrace. Sycamore, beech, sweet chestnut, larch and Scots pine also occur. There is a scattered understorey of holly, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and hazel. Hazel was much more widespread in the wood in the past, as a handbill of 1809 shows, but has declined as light intensities have been reduced following the demise of coppice management.

Wildlife: The wood also contains a number of flowering plants rarely found outside ancient woods. Among the more unusual of these ancient woodland indicators are greater woodrush and common cow-wheat. Others include bluebell, wood sorrel, dog’s mercury, yellow archangel, ramsons (wild garlic) and yellow pimpernel.

The wood has a rich bird life, particularly of hole-nesting birds including nuthatch and all three resident woodpeckers: great spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker and green woodpecker. Dipper can also be seen occasionally on the River Sheaf at the foot of the wood.

This text was provided by the Beauchief Environment Group

Post Box

Dear Sir,

Re Sir Harold Jackson School

My mother was given a copy of the Autumn 2003 edition of the ‘Bradway Bugle’. She found it very interesting particularly the article on the ‘Sir Harold Jackson School’. She was however quite upset that you had missed out her late husband, my father, off the list of caretakers of the school.

He was Mr Jack Heath who was caretaker of the school from 1968-1975. Mr Bardsley then succeeded him as caretaker.

She has very happy memories of the school and remembers a Mrs Nugent, Deputy Head, and a Mr M.Bennett, a teacher in addition to your list.

Mrs Jackie Downs (Daughter)

Dear Sir,

Lost footpaths?

Walking beyond Twentywell Rise, up the road to the Abbeydale Golf Club, and taking the footpath across the course heading roughly north-north-east, one comes to a corner at the start of a cobbled path. North-north-west from that corner, across the field which forms part of the grounds of Beauchief Hall, there is a causeway separating two areas of mediaeval strip farming. The parallel undulations are not strikingly obvious, but can be seen clearly if one looks, especially in early morning light.

It was possible for many years to roam freely across that field; in particular, one could walk along the causeway, perhaps throwing a stick for the dog, and enter Ladies’ Spring Wood at several points. I think that in those days that the Hall was owned by De La Salle.

Then came that memorable year when the Berlin Wall fell, and one by one the East European boundaries were opened up. In that same year, the fences went up around Beauchief, and the field was denied to the public. A footpath was created around the south-western side of the field, and the playing field in the northern corner of the field was fenced and hedged off. I have always understood all this to have been masterminded by the ruinous Stephen Hinchliffe.

I am not an expert on these things, but I have always thought that the raised strip that I have described as a causeway will have been a right of way in ancient times, giving access to the cultivation strips, and that it should still be one today.

Some other quibbles can be made about recent treatment of the field: the digging of bunkers for a practice golf course some years ago; the fencing off of the playing field and the inclusion of part of the causeway in the fenced area; and, most recently, the planting of trees in places where the old strips are clearly defined.

I am amused to see that the new nature sign in Ladies’ Spring Wood labels the field as "golf course".

John Kilpatrick

Ed. An examination of old maps provides no clues as to this causeway, which does not appear to be a logical route to anywhere and remains a puzzle. According to Fairbank’s map of 1760 this area is known as ‘Near Quarry Field’. The quarry is believed to have been be where the wartime observation post and bunker was built.

Mi AMIGO, 60 years on

Countless stories and recollections have been told and written, about Mi Amigo over the years, but there will be many younger people and those who are new to the Sheffield area who have heard little, if anything, of Sheffield’s B17 Flying Fortress, Mi Amigo, and the events which unfolded at around 5pm on, that cold gloomy evening of February the 22nd 1944.

I and my fellow workmates were preparing to finish work for the day in the cellar workshop of Fred Nichols electrical shop near to the bottom of Hunterhouse Road at Hunters Bar. At a couple of minutes to 5 o.clock we heard a huge roar, echoing across the valley that lasted only three or four seconds and ended abruptly. No sooner had we emerged from the workshop into the shop above, than someone came into the shop to say that an aircraft had crashed in the Endcliffe park.

Within 30 seconds, Tony, a workmate and I, were dashing across Hunters Bar and into the park, as a couple of kids would. The sight that greeted us on reaching the area just before the cafe and the stepping stones that cross the river, was something that resembled a present day major film set, a sight that a couple of fourteen year old youngsters would never forget.

This huge silver bomber lay amongst the broken trees, near to the bottom of the bank, and across the river. It’s nose pointed down towards the river and to the right of the back of the cafe some 50 metres in front of the aircraft, which appeared to have cleared the top of the bank with the pilot intending to land in the park but having dropped too soon. What the pilots thoughts were in those last few seconds, we will never know. Could it just be that he saw people in the park, a nice thought, sadly, one that will never be answered.

There appeared to be little damage to the aircraft, which was in one piece except for the tail and rear end of the fuselage which appeared, from where we were stood to have parted from the main fuselage and was left further up the bank. Contrary to a report that the wings had folded and the B17 had burst into an inferno, this I fear was an exaggeration. The wings, engines, fuselage and cockpit, were all relatively intact. The only fire that was visible, at that time, was a small flame and a little smoke from the left hand wing facing us.

There was a small group of perhaps 20 people where we stood, silently looking on, and a similar number further along the path to the left side of the cafe. The atmosphere was almost eerie, the only sound that could be heard was the crackle of an unseen fire somewhere in the plane and the unmistakable sound of ammunition exploding every few seconds. I am sure that none of the onlookers had given a thought that there may have been bombs on board, thankfully the bomb load had been jettisoned earlier over the North Sea, after the mission had been aborted and the aircraft had sustained heavy damage by enemy fighters. he constabulary and other services arrived a few minutes later to usher us out of the park. Army personnel arrived later to cordon off the crash site. Tony and I left the park and caught a tram home to tell our parents what we had seen. Next days local newspaper told of the tragedy and that all ten crew members had perished. The Star also printed a picture of the burnt out wreck taken that morning, which was unrecognisable as the giant, gleaming silver B17 Fortress that we had seen the night before. Many stories of the crash were heard in Sheffield in the years following, some confirmed but sadly, many I fear were distorted and dramatised.

Shortly after the recovery team had cleared what remained of the B17 the park was reopened. Tony and I visited the crash site to look for any souvenirs....that we may find, which now appears rather disgusting, but collecting souvenirs is what kids did during the war. I doubt at the time, that we would have given any thought of the crew who had died on that bank only three days earlier, but we were soon to realise that they had and the memory of our finds will I am sure, remain with us for ever.

There were many bits and pieces left at the site which was by then wet clay with a little snow that had almost melted. Meters, gauges, bits of aluminium with webbing attached, could have been seats, and many other bits of unrecognisable metal. Unfortunately some personal and human remains had been left by the recovery team. I picked up a piece of leather flying helmet, which was approximately six inches by three inches, the leather was hard and scorched round the edges. I turned it over in my hand and stared at it for a few seconds before realising that I was not just holding a piece of flying helmet in my hand, in shock or perhaps shame, I quickly dropped it on the ground and with my shoe, covered it with clay, where I would like to think, the remains still lay buried undisturbed to this day.

I also picked up a wrist watch, the strap was missing and the glass broken, after cleaning it and removing the glass, the fingers showed that the watch had stopped at two minutes past five. The watch was an Elgin steel screwed hexagon back with numbers or letters on the back, and could have been a U.S. Service watch. Tony found a gold signet ring which was out of shape and the stone was missing, his mother had the ring reshaped for him and a new stone fitted. I wonder if the person who now owns it knows of its history. A local man, wrote in the Totley news, a couple of years ago, that he still has in his possession a pair of flying goggles which he found in the river, below the crash site.

A memorial service will be held on the 22nd of February in St Augustines Church, Brocco Bank to give thanks to and in memory of ten young men, who came from all walks of life and places across America, to help Britain in time of need, and to die together in our park.

60 years on, we can still say with pride and sorrow that Mi Amigo is Sheffield’s B17 Flying Fortress.

The Crew: John G. Kriegahauser; Lyle J. Curtis; John W. Humphrey; Melchor Hernandez; Robert E. Mayfield; Harry W. Estabrooks; Charles H. Tuttle; Maurice O. Robbins; Vito R. Ambrosio. George M. Williams.

Adios Amigos Jeff Hawkins

Copies of David Harvey’s book, entitled, Mi Amigo, The story of Sheffield’s Flying Fortress, are still available. Printed and Published by ALD Design and Print. 279 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, Sll 8ZF

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