Review: The Stirrings in Sheffield on Saturday Night

The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night.
The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night.

Trade unions nowadays are clawless pussycats compared to the ferocious tigers of nearly 200 years ago.

A shocking chapter in which more than 40 people were injured because of non-union labour in Sheffield’s grinding industry is played out in the city this week.

Shootings and gunpowder attacks held families in the grip of fear and even non-union workers in Dronfield didn’t escape the retribution in the mid-1800s.

The Stirrings in Sheffield on Saturday Night is a riveting look back at this time of unrest and is being presented by the Denys Edwards Players at the Library Theatre, half a century on from its first performance.

Charles Ibberson heads the cast in the role of William Broadhead, smartly-dressed leader of the Saw Grinders Union who was as sharp as a tack, loved Shakespeare and was all things to all people. A very clever man, he sowed the seeds of violent reprisals in the minds of his cohorts but never owned up.

While no-one could condone the violence, the final speech which Charles delivers convinces the audience that Broadhead did everything within his power to protect his union members and that his only crime was loving them.

Gary Jarvis gives a nice portrayal as Samuel Crooks, the architect of the outrages, aided and abetted by Kevin Burridge as James Hallam whose statement to an enquiry probing the outrages points the finger firmly at Broadhead.

Light relief comes in the form of workmen from opposing unions digging a hole for Sheffield’s gas pipes at a time when the energy was twice the price which it was in London. John Atkinson adds to the fun as busybody pensioner and lifelong Sheffielder, Josiah Taylor.

John Castell gives a polished performance in a number of roles including philanthropist councillor and chairman of the enquiry.

Ballads, folk numbers and music hall songs are well performed, with sensitive accompaniment from an on-stage trio led by musical director Karen Cooke.

This stirring production is directed by Sue McCormick and runs until Saturday, August 6, at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.