Big Ron Clayton – Made In Sheffield
Big Ron Clayton, in his own words, is a ‘Professional Sheffielder’ and the driving force behind the Sheffield History Tours. With wit aplenty, a penchant for speaking his mind and 59 years of Sheffield life running through him like the name in a stick of seaside rock, he’s currently leading the campaign for the opening up of the Sheffield Castle remains when Castle Market is demolished.
What is it about Sheffield that you love so much?
The people, first and foremost. Sheffield has great people. It has an amazingly green landscape, it’s like working in an allotment or a garden, there’s plenty of open land. There’s the football teams as well, which I think really reflect what Sheffield is. It’s just as well we’re not in the Premiership because everyone would just complain about the price of tickets! And of course there’s the meat and potato pies with Henderson’s Relish. I was weaned on Henderson’s Relish.
Did you leave the Civil Service with the intention of becoming a professional Sheffielder?
No – but after 37 years there I was feeling like a square peg in a round hole. When I first started there was a great deal of camaraderie about it but, in the end, I was just getting more and more unhappy – and so becoming a professional Sheffielder came about. It’s all about defending the city and its institutions. Some people do say I’m a grumpy old man, but a lot of people say I’m good company, which is quite overwhelming .
How is the campaign for the re-opening of Sheffield Castle going?
It’s an imaginative proposal which I’ve been fascinated by ever since my degree. It fathoms me how the city has neglected the castle. It’s a medieval settlement which embodies the image of Sheffield so it’s a tragedy really that it’s not been paid any attention until now. I’ll have my ashes scattered there.
In your opinion what can it bring to the area?
Realistically, it is only remains, the majority of it was destroyed in the Civil War – but it’s still definitely worth opening up as a feature. Even if it’s just a few foundations, brilliant, open it up; let’s see it for future generations.
Do you have any favourite topics to talk about on your tours?
The castle is definitely one of them, and Charlie Peace is another (notorious Sheffield born murderer and burglar). I mean, someone who complains about the quality of the bacon he’s given on the day he’s getting executed is a proper Sheffielder!
Your tours often end in a pub. What’s your favourite Sheffield pub?
I think it’s unfair to single out just one pub because there are so many great ones in Sheffield. Maybe that’s something about the city that should be promoted more. I like The Hillsborough, lovely people behind the bar and in front of the bar… The Fat Cat, The Grapes, The Blake, the list goes on. The drinking classes will know which ones they are. You know what makes a good pub.
Sheffield is a huge student city; do you do tours for the students too?
I do actually, and I’m always pleased to do it as well. One of the great things about Sheffield is its students. Sometimes they get a bad press but in my experience they’re a great bunch of kids with a great view on things. And the international students as well, I’m chuffed they came to my city. I took a student from Beijing on a tour and she was gobsmacked by the British tradition of conkers. In a few years’ time we’ll see conkers at the Olympics.
Any last words on what it means to be a proper Sheffielder?
Well, I’m Made In Sheffield – that’s what it says on the t-shirt I do the tours in. I’ve got mates whose parents were grinders up at Portland Works , somewhere I called the grimy bottom of Sheffield. But its people like that who are the true essence of Sheffield – proud, independent hard workers. To lose sight of that would be a huge mistake.
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