17 December 2015


John Betjeman statue at St Pancras Station, London
The late John Betjeman, Great Britain's poet laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984, was familiar with Sheffield. He lived in the city intermittently,  fanned the flames of  an affair here with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of the tenth Duke of Devonshire and in old age spent time as a stroke patient in The Royal Hallamshire Hospital. He was very fond of Sheffield, especially the well-heeled suburb of Broomhill - just a mile from this keyboard. He said it was "the prettiest suburb in England" which is a bold claim I think - probably fuelled by fond  memories of Lady Elizabeth.

In 1966, he wrote a poem about the city when he was no doubt lazing about  in a Broomhill villa. The Ebenezer he refers to is Ebenezer Elliott, The Corn Law Rhymer who I previously blogged about here. It is an interesting poem but not the kind of poetry that moves mountains. It is rather suburban and twee. For me the best features are (a) the reflection upon the lives of steel workers seeking weekend leisure and (b) the last two lines which describe Sheffield as "this hill-shadowed city/Of razors and knives." I like that for it reminds readers both of the city's geography and our proud steel heritage.

An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield 

High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
The driveways of gravel;
Stone houses from ledges
Look down on ravines.
The vision can travel
From gable to gable,
Italianate mansion
And turretted stable,
A sylvan expansion
So varied and jolly
Where laurel and holly
Commingle their greens.

Serene on a Sunday
The sun glitters hotly
O'er mills that on Monday
With engines will hum.
By tramway excursion
To Dore and to Totley
In search of diversion
The millworkers come;
But in our arboreta
The sounds are discreeter
Of shoes upon stone -
The worshippers wending
To welcoming chapel,
Companioned or lone;
And over a pew there
See loveliness lean,
As Eve shows her apple
Through rich bombazine;
What love is born new there
In blushing eighteen!

Your prospects will please her,
The iron-king's daughter,
Up here on Broomhill;
Strange Hallamshire, County
Of dearth and of bounty,
Of brown tumbling water
And furnace and mill.
Your own Ebenezer
Looks down from his height
On back street and alley
And chemical valley
Laid out in the light;
On ugly and pretty
Where industry thrives
In this hill-shadowed city
Of razors and knives.

By John Betjeman (1966)


  1. Not a poet I enjoy. This does bring back visions of the old Clarion Hut. I don't know why.

    1. I am not sure what you mean by "Clarion Hut" Adrian. Do you mean - http://www.clarionhouse.org.uk/

  2. I had never heard of John Betjeman until I moved here. Which probably says more about me than him.

    1. No. I don't think so Steve. Betjeman is a very English poet and rarely does his poetry get under the skin of emotion and intellect. It's comfortable and bourgeois.

  3. I lived in Broomhill as a student, alas when I bought a house, I had to move to Walkley

    1. As I recall, I think I signed the petition. Sebastian Coe signed it too. That little squirt lived on "exclusive" Marlborough Road.

  4. I'm ashamed to admit I've not heard of this poet until just now from reading your post, Yorkie...thanks for enlightening me. I think I need a lot of enlightening sometimes! :)

    1. An easy way to get enlightened is to put your fingertips into the holes of an electric socket!

    2. I do that at this time every year, Yorkie...it saves on having to put up a Christmas tree.

  5. I've always had a soft spot for the old buffer since 'doing' him for O level....

    1. You "did" him for O level! I bet he was exhausted Wanda!

  6. Well, thanks to you, Mr. Pudding, I wasted another hour of my life. First I had to look up Mr. Betjeman and Lady Elizabeth. I found out she was a lady in waiting to royalty. That led me to Princess Margaret and all her lovers. Then her husband and their children and on and on and on......

    My next search is to find out why Venezuela is a part of OPEC and when that happened.

    Why in that statue is he looking up at the sky?

    1. He is not looking up at the sky. He is looking up at the roof of St Pancras Station. Sorry that I set you so much homework MT but you have been a very lazy girl recently - even sending poor old Big Bear to the supermarket!

  7. I'm glad to see that he mentioned Totley and Dore. I was puzzled for a minute or two about your reference to steel workers. It shows how one is conditioned by one's environment. I always think of millworkers as working in cotton mills not steel mills.

    1. Cotton mill work was for softies Graham.

    2. You've seen those mill conditions even for cotton workers. I'll bet just as many were killed in the cotton mills. Softies? Would you be able to stand a 15 hour day in one of them? I wouldn't.

    3. No problem Graham. Fifteen hours? That's nowt lad. Over here in Yorkshire steelworkers and coal miners worked twenty two hour shifts and they were men - not women and children as in Lancashire cotton mills.

  8. My sister wrote to him once and he wrote back...a kind letter too.

    1. That's nice. I bet she looked like Lady Elizabeth.


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