Q HOW old is the city of Sheffield? A friend says it only came into existence in the 19th century. - Jeff Wilkinson, Stanley.

A SHEFFIELD traces its origins to ancient times. Celtic forts exist at Wincobank, now a Sheffield suburb, at Carl Wark and Scholes Wood. Sheffield was on the southern border of a Celtic tribe called the Brigantes and, in Anglo-Saxon times, lay close to the southern borders of the Kingdom of Northumbria.

The Anglo-Saxons gave Sheffield its name meaning 'land near the River Sheaf'. In medieval times, Sheffield lay near the southern border of Yorkshire, as it does today. For most of its history it was in the West Riding.

Apart from the cathedral, little survives from the medieval period. William de Lovelot had built a Norman castle in Sheffield but it was destroyed during the Civil War. For many centuries the castle was the home to the Earls of Shrewsbury and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there for 14 years by Queen Elizabeth I.

Sheffield has been famous for steel making since the 14th century. The proximity of iron ore, streams for power and suitable grinding stones helped its growth. Sheffield specialised in making cutlery and a company of Cutlers was established in 1624.

In the 1740s a Sheffield man called Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), improved the steel making techniques using a crucible. The Sheffield Cutlers rejected huntsman's steel, claiming it was too hard to work. Huntsman exported his steel to France and from there French knives made from Huntsman's steel were exported back to England and outsold the work of the Sheffield cutlers. The cutlers tried to stop Huntsman from exporting but, by 1750, his secret manufacturing methods were discovered and copied by other Sheffield cutlers.

Steel-making improvements continued in Victorian times with the development of the Bessemer process in the 1850s and Henry Bessemer (1813-98) set up a steelworks at Sheffield. Stainless steel was pioneered at Sheffield in 1903 and the city was a major centre for the manufacture of armaments during both world wars.

Sheffield grew rapidly in the 19th century, with a population of 5,500 in 1700 rising to 68,000 by 1841.The major Victorian building of the city is the town hall designed by EW Mountford and appropriately crowned by a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of metal and fire. It was built in 1890.

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