Sheffield in 1926 and the origins of vas

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OUTLINE OF TALK BY DAVID PRICE – to be illustrated by power point slides.


Important 90th anniversary in 2016 of the incorporation of Sheffield Council for Social Services, the predecessor body of VAS.


    • Seven years after the war. Sheffield had been a great munitions centre. Very difficult adjustment after war plus wider post-war slump. Unemployment soared.

    • Women had played a big part in the war effort but had now lost this wider role. Women even lost professional jobs like being a teacher on getting married. Women over 30 now had the vote.

    • Sheffield had hit national headlines for its Gang Wars – with rival gangs fighting for control of gambling on Skye Edge and the murder of a Scot called Plommer in Attercliffe. By 1926, the police had just about got this under control through strong arm tactics.

    • Politically, the two parties that had run Sheffield before the war, the Conservatives and Liberals, led by Alderman Clegg for the Liberals and Cattell for the Conservatives, had joined together as the Citizen’s Party to keep out Labour,.

    • Industry: Engineers had had no pay increase since 1920 and many lived near the poverty line; in May 1926 the dispute over miners’ pay came to a head and the TUC called the General Strike: there were 10,000 miners in Sheffield and the Sheffield Labour Movement gave them complete support; the Citizens supported the Government; Sheffield labour upset when TUC called off the strike after 9 days;

    • In November, municipal elections produced for the first time a Labour majority and Labour took control – the first major city in the UK to be run by Labour; partly due to effective leadership of Ernest Rowlinson, partly due to negative austerity policies of Citizens Party eg their failure to provide enough school places on the new Manor estate. Ten women councillors.


  • Widespread and diverse;

  • Connections with the Great and the Good;

  • Important church connections; many clergy involved in SCSS; Salvation Army, Church Army, Methodists etc.

  • Settlements eg Rutland Hall led by Helen Wilson, a remarkable figure – first woman doctor and first woman magistrate in Sheffield; Croft House; Shipton Street led by another remarkable figure - Arnold Freeman;

  • Many scouts and guides, boys’ clubs and girls clubs;

  • Many highly specialised charities eg deaf and dumb association, Royal Institution for the Blind etc.


  • A body with this name had existed since 1921; it was part of a national movement of Councils of Social Service led by a national Council; well before 1921, there had been a co-ordinating body of this kind in Sheffield for some years; I have been unable to establish its history and title (NB I will ask Professor Clyde Binfield);

  • It was in part a co-ordinating body but was also very hands-on eg it ran a coffee stall at the Royal Infirmary; Captain Guyatt was employed by the Council to lead a visiting programme for those faced with destitution and needing assistance – in 1928 they had 1741 cases of whom 5 were ‘not deserving’ and 98 ‘not necessary’;

  • There was a council of 80, but the work was really steered by a large number of committees – eg executive, finance, personal services, juvenile and so on.

  • They struggled with how to react to the General Strike, but eventually came out on the side of relieving distress;

  • Some notable personalities eg CC Chisholm JP, CM Doncaster, Miss Tozer;

  • Incorporation may have been designed to give SCSS more prestige and a permanent existence like historic bodies in Sheffield such as Town Trust, Cutlers Company and Church Burgesses; the aim of SCSS was ‘To promote, assist, co-ordinate, encourage and undertake social service and efforts for educational, physical, moral, mental and all kinds of improvement of the public or any class or members thereof in the City of Sheffield and the neighbourhood and to emphasise the inter-relation of all such effort’.


  • Since 1926, the organisation has been through various transformations; it changed its name twice – in 1976 to Sheffield Council for Voluntary Service and in 1989 to Voluntary Action Sheffield; its ethos has changed –eg it is less moralistic and more ‘democratic’ - and its functions have changed (no coffee stall at the hospital now) but the underlying core idea of inspiring volunteers to work for improving life in Sheffield has remained the same;

  • End by quoting one of Sheffield’s most famous ladies Enid Hattersley, Lord Mayor in 1980:’I am pleased to be associated with the work of the Sheffield Council for Voluntary Service whose long record of service to the City goes back to the early years of this century. SCVS has always demonstrated its belief in the value of ideas and has never flinched from its duty to provide for the most vulnerable members of the community even in times of great difficulty and financial shortage.’

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