Sunday it was suggested we leave the car and catch the bus into the city. There was, inevitably, a church we wanted to check out and with the idea that no car meant I would be able to have a drink with lunch. It really was very hot and the walk to St George’s was uphill. To be fair, most walks are in Sheffield which was built, like Rome, on seven hills, but with five rivers, so I had been told.
St George’s is a gracious building from late in the reign of William IV and we had been meaning to check the place out for some time. A pair of peregrine falcons nest on the roof of the church and that, of course, would always draw us. Unfortunately on arrival we found it had become a lecture theatre for Sheffield University, so although we were able to get inside, most of the features that would have interested us we no longer visible, even the stained glass of the east window being largely hidden by a projector screen. There was however, a fine marble font inscribed with a hexagram, a symbol we found, on a whole set of buildings close by, inset into the walls.
We set off on foot again, passing through the streets where fine Victorian stonework goes hand in hand with some superb graffiti and modern artwork. One of the Irish pubs was close to hand, so we headed off there and spent a pleasant hour on the flower filled terrace delving deeper into our newly acquired Book, coming to a deeper understanding of our subject and discussing our own plans for the newest book.
A walk across town was next, towards a place my companion said he wanted to show me. He didn’t say what it was and I could barely believe my eyes when I saw it. Certainly not something I had expected in the centre of industrial Sheffield! The Old Queens Head is the oldest domestic building in the city, dating from 1475 when Henry VII ruled England. It is thought it was built as a hunting lodge originally, only later becoming an inn.
It is a lovely old building with that odd mixture of styles that shows its evolution over the centuries. The timbered frame and curving lines of the rooftop show its age and against the background of modern glass and concrete it seems incongruous… magical, in a way… as if you are stepping into a pool outside of time.
We had the dining room to ourselves, sitting next to the big stone fireplace which, according to the stories, is a favourite standing place of a ghost. Apparently the ladies washroom is also haunted and there are tales of moving furniture edging up to people, pint glasses of strange drinks that appear and a good many other stories that have the Queen’s Head rated as the second most haunted pub in England.
The bright, cosy atmosphere of the dining room with its ancient wood and the sunlight streaming in did not, however, feel in the least bit sinister though I imagine the old place could tell a tale or two, given the history that has surrounded it. We wandered out to sit in the sunshine and admire the carvings on the front of the building. One is, of course, a queen’s head… perhaps Mary, Queen of Scots who was, for 14 years, a prisoner in Sheffield Castle which stood close by. The other carving is less easy to place. Some say it is a depiction of a character similar to Spring-Heeled Jack, a ghostly figure said to haunt the tunnels beneath the city. But we knew little of this at the time and simply talked, laughed and read from the ‘dread Book of Assassinations’.
We eventually sauntered back through the city, once again passing by the modern square with its fountains thronged with people seeking the cooling water and pavements filled with café tables and hopeful pigeons. We had planned to do little, but had, it seemed, accomplished much in our leisurely weekend once again. Get the feeling most things are more efficiently done that way.