Heritage Sheffield: A Hoppy History

“Pint of Fearn, please, and a Gunson.”

As I make my way back to the corner table beside the cast iron fireplace inside The Raven Inn, Walkley, I ponder the origin of the names of my beer. I have often found that the best place to unearth the history of an area is to head to the local church, or have a pint in the neighbourhood pub, and Loxley Brewery’s range certainly upholds that notion with regards to the latter.

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Gunson – A Hoppy, Citra IPA (4.8%)
Mr. Gunson was resident engineer for the Dale Dyke reservoir, built for the Sheffield Waterworks Company in 1859. The manmade lake was constructed primarily to store up to 691 million gallons of water for use in the mills alongside the River Loxley, with the surplus used by the township of Sheffield. However, one particularly stormy evening on Friday 11th March 1864, the same water was to come cascading down the valley, wiping out most of the aforementioned mills and claiming many lives in the process.


After a week of rain, the dam was at capacity and, on hearing of violent storms, Mr. Gunson made his way to the reservoir that Friday afternoon. He examined the scene and left satisfied after an hour, making his way down the valley to his Sheffield home. At 5.30pm, a Sheffield Waterworks Co. employee William Horsefield made his way across the embankment to his home. He examined a crack, only wide enough to insert a penknife blade, but stretching 50 feet.

He alerted a fellow worker and within an hour maybe a dozen workers were huddled in the wind and rain assessing the fracture. Mr. Fountain, a contractor, sent his son at haste to fetch Mr. Gunson who arrived on the scene by horseback at 10pm. By now the crack was wide enough to fit one’s hand but still, no immediate danger seemed plausible to Mr. Gunson. Mr. Fountain advised Gunson of the need to relieve pressure as water had started running over the dam wall and into the fissure.

Dynamite was to be used to blow up a weir for relief, but this never came to fruition – possibly due to waterlogged explosives. Gunson then made his way to the valve house to examine the water levels but, on the advice of a fellow engineer, he was rushed out just as a 30ft crack appeared at the top of the dam.

The wall was breached and a torrent of water thundered from darkness. Panic followed as workers and curious residents scrambled off the path and up the hillside. Just a moment later, the embankment slipped and a tsunami of water rolled down the Loxley valley as Mr. Gunson, who’d been spared within an inch of his life, watched on in horror. The disaster claimed hundreds of lives in Sheffield, predominantly in the Loxley valley area.

Just a moment later, the embankment slipped and a tsunami of water rolled down the Loxley valley as Mr. Gunson, who’d been spared within an inch of his life, watched on in horror.

Fearn – A Pacific Session Pale (3.8%)
Frank Fearn was a local filesmith on the edge of the valley who’d fallen on hard times. A rough fellow, he invited Nathan Andrews, who had a shop on High Street, to a meeting of watchmakers in Bradfield on 18th March 1782.


They set off in the afternoon with Fearn leading the way. He led Andrews along Kirk Edge Road high above the valley and, in a very secluded spot, pulled out a pistol before shooting his fellow traveller in the back. The assailant then pulled out a knife, stabbing Andrews several times, before smashing his head with a fence post. He then stole his collection of watches and fled to his house. Unfortunately for Fearn, his gruesome ploy was soon scuppered as a local man who found the body later that afternoon had recognised Andrews from his travels earlier that day with the culprit. No doubt his distinctive white stockings, waistcoat and hat were the giveaway.

Fearn was arrested the following day and a stash of expensive pocket watches were found. He was tried in York and condemned to death. The judge ordered Fearn’s body to be returned to Sheffield and displayed above Kirk Edge in a gibbet. The day of the hoisting of the body was akin to a fete, with people travelling from all over the valley and Sheffield to watch the spectacle. His decaying, ghastly remains would sway in the winds for 15 years, finally falling from their cage on Christmas Day in 1797. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kirk Edge was avoided at night by a whole generation for fear of seeing Fearn’s ghost!

Kirk Edge Road

Halliday – A Yorkshire Bitter (4.0%)
Thomas Halliday was the Unitarian minister of Norton, then part of Derbyshire, and together with his wealthy wife Martha Patrick they chose the Loxley Valley to undertake their building dreams. In 1795, the reverend bought 50 acres on the edge of Loxley Common and undertook the construction of Loxley House, an impressive Georgian mansion that was subsequently rebuilt by its second owner, Thomas Payne, in 1826. Halliday’s vision for the valley didn’t stop there. From his home he overlooked the south side on the valley and compared it to picturesque Matlock.


He set out to build what was dubbed ‘Little Matlock’, carving out paths into the hillside and bridges across the river. He built a refreshment house at the top called the Rock Inn, which was subsequently named the Robin Hood in recognition of the fabled outlaw from the valley. Sadly, Halliday’s ambitions were cut short due to financial issues and he and his family were forced to move away.

Who knew there could be so much history in a pint, eh? Browse the full range and find out where you can sup ‘em at loxleybrewery.co.uk.

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