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TALES FROM THE RIVERBANK

by Mike Wilson

RENISHAW - the name evokes a wide range of memories from diggers who visited this famous site alongside the River Rother outside Sheffield.

"You used to be able to go on and be able to pick up sackfuls of cream pots and codds and things " - "I would not go there again. That lot hide and try and catch you. They threw one bloke in the river." - "Its too modern for me, all you get are loads of Virols, cow pots (Richardsons creams!) and beers."

This large tip, dating from 1890 - 1924 was screened by various companies over the years, and has now virtually disappeared under landfill. In digging terms it had a very chequered history of access, from the "dark days" when a notorious firm screened the ash between stake-outs to catch diggers, through periods when all that disturbed you was the odd fox or heron, and then to a final screening of the original railway bank by a very obliging firm.

As a beginner, I listened agog to tales of this mythical sounding place, where you could apparently just walk on and pick up transfered stoneware, the only problem being that the men working there could sometimes be less than pleasant ! Always game for a little adventure, I duly chanced my luck and was rewarded with what for a beginner, were exciting finds. No hassle ! A couple of days later I went down again after work with my girlfriend. She didn't like it - "too quiet". Impatient to find a Bannisters cream, I walked towards the screen. Next minute pandemonium. Four blokes jumped out from behind the machinery, one wielding a shovel and another swinging a chain! "Run for it !" Female intuition, speed and direction was not all it might be and I looked back and saw Monica being cut off near the river. So with some trepidation I turned around to face the music. To cut the story short we were "let off" because "we didn't know that you weren't allowed". We were left in no doubt as to what might happen if we returned.

I managed all of six weeks without going again. A few early mornings and the odd night helped me start a collection of the commoner Sheffield items. About six o'clock one morning I forked out my first good find, a Birch blue top ginger beer. One evening shortly afterwards I was walking over the main access bridge and one of the men jumped out from behind a bush. "I just want a word with you". I assumed he did not want to talk about the weather , so I dropped my bag of bulk but kept my fork, and took a rapid stroll towards the railway line. He whistled and one of his cronies started to run along the railway line to cut me off. My quick stroll increased to Olympic hurdling as I leapt both railway fences and sprinted across the fields.

The frequency of my visits declined after that until the family running the screening/chasing operation sold up. Then followed several years of trouble free digging, except when people went on the railway banking. At this time I witnessed several good finds including an unrecorded Uttoxeter cylinder cream an arms length away and on the same day a hoard of Sheffield Chemists codds, all broken except one. I was digging one day, when I heard some screams. I jumped out of my hole and ran over to where "Jammy John" was digging, thinking he must be buried up to his neck or something and there he was jumping up and down like a demented thing, clutching a green top Bannisters cream. ! Shortly afterwards, one cold foggy morning I was forking ash under the water and out floated my own version of this rare pot. Other good finds I made about this time included one memorable hole which yielded a broken saltglaze boot flask, a Handysides Blood Purifier and a two pint Three Cities Warner's Safe Cure.

Other stories from Renishaw include the very lucky digger who survived a cave-in of the compact ash that had been under the screen. He broke some ribs and was trapped up to the chest but was fortunate someone was there to dig him out. Another day, I was walking towards "Jammy John" on fresh tracks made by a machine, and we each saw a coin lying between us that looked like a 1 coin. He bent down a second before me to pick up an Australian gold half-sovereign. I suppose everybody knows a "Jammy John". As the middle of the tip was gradually dug out, we worked our way along the river banks.A lot of people did not bother with the tip at all and the circa 1918-1920 perimeter attracted even less attention. Although it yielded few lids or good cream pots it made up for it in good poisons including the Sheffield Corporation poisons in green and blue (I also dug a light blue one with some damage) plus cobalt Derby All British inks. One miserable wet day, I was digging along the riverbank without much success, when one of the local characters wandered up with his dog and gun. "Des" was the self appointed gamekeeper. "You shouldn't be digging here, its private land - now clear off ! "I've been coming here for years, all I am doing is digging on this old tip for bottles. I'm not doing any harm to anyone or anything" I replied. "You're not allowed, its Sitwell Estates land, and I've got to tell people to leave" Des continued. "I rang the land agent and he doesn't mind, and I don't think its anything to do with you" I retorted. "You're greedy you lot, all you think of is money, money. Some of those bottles are worth hundreds of pounds" moaned Des. "Two quid and you can have what I have found today" I said. The conversation carried on in this vein with Des swearing and telling me to leave. "I'm not going" I told him. "Fing H..l, I'm getting p wet through, I'm off home, you'd better go" Des muttered as he stormed off. A few minutes later the rain was coming down like stair rods and I saw him on the opposite bank of the river. He stopped ,and watched me for a minute, then shouted across - "Thar daft thee, if someone paid you to do it you wouldn't!"

Part of the tip was screened again by another firm and access became difficult again but eventually another firm took over and they were much friendlier. Not only did this group allow access but they also had permission to take out the railway bank, part of which seemed to be one of the earliest parts of the site. When he had time, Dennis would also take out the odd hole for you ! What a contrast to the previous incumbents and the greedy attitude that often prevails on other sites. From this area came quite a lot more Bannisters, Jersey creams lids etc. Friend Des now decided he was a bottle collector and decided to join in with the proceedings when pickings were easy. One day he appeared sporting a nasty looking bump on his head. Apparently he'd been hit by Dennis's bucket ! Shortly afterwards he was undercutting a ten foot wall exposed by the machines. He didn't know that it had also been hand dug on the other side. The wall collapsed on him, knocking him backwards into the lagoon that had been created and he was totally immersed. We did not see much of Des after that !

Soon afterwards the site became a landfill. Persistent diggers would try to dig down through the silt in the hope of finding a seam. Occasionally they would find something. However, this once good site is now finally finished. It was very prolific in terms of finds, especially for creams in particular and bulk in general. It will however probably be best remembered for the tales people tell about the place, some of which I have shared with you in this article.

NB I do not condone illegal digging that damages people's livelihoods or property. In this case I did ask permission from the landowner. He had no objection (and even offered me some bottles he had found in his cellar!). He did say that I had to ask the firm who leased the site. They did not give permission and actively discouraged diggers. Presumable this was something to do with money.

Classic Sheffield items discovered at Renishaw

Creams - Green top Bannisters (most medium size but at least one large size found, Brown top Bannisters with handle in all three sizes, Sheffield Model Dairy, Sandygate in three sizes, Davies cream with handle in two sizes, Brightside & Carbrook, one size only

Ginger Beers - Wiley's "sun" pictorial, Lighton Bros, lion pictorial, Wards Wheatsheaf (rubber stamp two tone version which is very rare)

Potlids - Walsh's shop pictorial, Rowland Dixon, square lid, Hirts's Dandriff Pomade

Coloured Glass - Sheffield Chemists amber codds both 6 an d10oz, Sheffield Corporation poisons in cobalt, green, light blue and rumoured amber, Sheffield Health Department cobalt flask (spitoon or chloroform flask ?) and the very rare cobalt "Magic Pain Relief" or "Pain Killer".