Sadly, outside a small circle, the name of Mary Walton is now largely forgotten in the city to whose past she devoted so much time and scholarship. I never met the lady and only know her from a photograph and an obituary from the Hunter Society plus an affectionate piece by Stephen McClarence from the days when Sheffield Newspapers employed journalists and writers who knew something about the city.
The photograph shows her and her well brought up younger ‘gels’ complete with tin hats and stirrup pumps on the roof of the Central Library where they worked, as part of the fire watch team during the dark days of 1940. Ms Walton is bespectacled and obviously the head girl, as a member of the duo who wrote the book ‘Raiders Over Sheffield’ she was well versed on the subject – the so called ‘Forgotten Blitz’ on Sheffield and the efforts of the city to get back to normal after the event.
Mary’s literary achievements were numerous – her ‘Sheffield Its Story And Its Achievements’ and the pamphlet’ The Prisons Of Mary Queen Of Scots In Sheffield In South Yorkshire And North Derbyshire’ spring to mind as being essential primers on the subject.
She wasn’t afraid to make judgements, often unflattering but honest ones on the historic figures she featured in her narrative whether that included the early Norman Baron’s, George Talbot, Vicar and Justice Of The Peace James Wilkinson , ‘the scoundrel’ Broadhead of the Saw Grinders Union. Her assessments were fair, objective and balanced.
Of Sir William Savile she supports ‘Hunter’s eulogy’ of him as ‘showing much of the high toned and heroic spirit which animated the supporters of the royal cause’ but also reflects on Savile’s letter to his successor as governor of Sheffield Castle’, Major Thomas Beaumont, in which he recommends a rather drastic course of action
‘And bee sure you want not any money nether for yourself nor your friends, so long as any Roundhead hath either fingers or toas left, within tenn myles of the castle’
Well there’s a difference between saying and doing of course.
Mary was also involved with the Hunter Archaelogical Society and that treasure trove of theirs – the legacy of their transactions, which is still my first port of call regarding Sheffield Castle. In her ‘Sheffield History’ she leaves a memorable quote which illustrates the progress of time.
‘The daily business of the busy market goes on above the buried bastion which alone remains and there is nothing to remind the crowds in Waingate that Sheffield was once a unit in the medieval system of defence’
Well that remains to be seen -the site has hoarded its secrets for many a long year- soon it will be hoarded up and what better display to have on part of that hoarding than the image of a medieval castle that covered the horrible old killing ‘Shambles’ when Royalty came to Sheffield in the 19th century, produced by that remarkable Sheffield family, institution and civic developers of the city the Hadfields?
And cricket? Mary was devoted to that too-like Sheffield journalists they probably don’t make ‘em like her anymore. These days she’d be regarded as a polymath. I wish I had met her.