Memories : Hunter’s Bar, Sheffield, January 1979

Hunters Bar - Sheffield

It’s 12 January 1979, and we’re standing on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield heading away from the Hunter’s Bar roundabout on the main road in from the Peak District to the city. It’s an unwelcome cold snap following some severe snow the previous November, and ushers in several weeks of snow, ice and general misery.

To be fair, much of the lack of New Year’s cheer isn’t down to what was falling from the skies, but what’s happening in the news and all around. Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government is facing immense difficulties as it loses the fight to contain inflation by attempting to control union-agreed wage rises. As union after union calls its workers out, and public services breakdown in the midst of what’s subsequently recorded as the third coldest winter of the 20th century, it feels like the bitterest of New Years.

Inflation had been a constant battle for the Government since it was elected in 1974 and, for a brief period in the autumn of 1978, it looked like ‘Sunny Jim’s’ Labour Government had managed to turn things round. His personal popularity was high, the economy was growing and inflation was beginning to fall following the UK’s humiliating bailout at the hands of the International Monetary Fund and as the North Sea oil supplies started coming on stream.

Labour Isn't Working
The famous Labour Isn’t Working poster by Saatchi and Saatchi actually appeared the previous summer, and only at a limited number of sites. The press picked up on it and did the rest…

But the veneer of prosperity was tissue thin, and workers were increasingly struggling in the world of 10% inflation and a policy that limited pay rises to 5%. First to break ranks was Ford of Britain, which agreed to give a 17% pay rise to its workers following a particularly damaging strike. Vauxhall followed with 8.5%, as did numerous other companies and soon the Government, which had no working majority in the House of Commons, struggled to sanction those who broke the 5% pay cap.

The house of cards fell as this point, with the main unions led by the TGWU, calling for for up to 40% for its members. With the worst of the winter weather closing in, the Road Hauliers were called out, with the inevitable effects on diminishing stocks of food across the country. Petrol, which had already been rising in price thanks to the Second Energy Crisis, became difficult to get hold of amidst panic buying. With the weather becoming increasingly Arctic, it began to feel like the wheels were coming off the UK.

As we look towards the former toll bar to the south of Sheffield, the Winter of Discontent is really beginning to make itself felt. We’re in the eye of the storm, with the number of people on strike rising daily, and the debilitating effects are starting to bite. Callaghan has only just returned to the UK following a summit of European leaders in the Caribbean, and denied to the waiting press that the country was falling into chaos. And today’s 72-point Sun headline says it all – ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ it screams.

Days later, he’s considering declaring a State of Emergency…

Crisis What Crisis

So, tell us about the cars

We all know what happened next. Public workers went out on strike across the country, many bullied into action by their union leaders. Hospitals and schools were blockaded by ancilliary workers, the actions of whom ended up turning the embattled public against the unions’ cause. And this ultimately brought down the Labour Government following a vote of no confidence in March 1979. As one seasoned political journalist said of the unions’ actions, ‘it’s a case of turkeys voting to bring forward Christmas’. Indeed…

It’s hard to believe how unhappy a place the UK was when looking at the winter wonderland above. Driving towards the city is a Mini Mk2, with its owner braving the cold by leaving the rear windows cracked open to stop it misting up no doubt. Ahead we have a lovely Volkswagen Golf Mk1 and Fiat 500 with a Datsun Cherry ahead of that. The Mini Pickup conversion looks fascinating while a gas-guzzling Volvo 245DL is parked up on the other side.

All looks calm, although we’re sad to report that the branches of Boots and Yorkshire Bank, those bastions of UK High Street life back then, are are no longer there. Maybe that’s as a distant consequence of those troubles we lived through between November 1978 and February 1979, and ‘Sunny Jim’s’ well intentioned, but ultimately futile attempt to appease the unions into seeing sense.

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below.

Volkswagen Golf

Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. Small correction from a Sheffielder, the Mini with its back to the camera is heading along Ecclesall (no ‘h’) Rd. away from the city centre. Also, if there’s a Mk3 ‘Tina in Sahara Beige on that roundabout, it’s probably my dad!

  2. Also another native Sheffielder here. Doesn’t look too different now, except there’s far more cars (especially during rush hour, which takes circa 20-30 mins to get through Ecclesall Road), and the bus lanes. I believe the building where the Yorkshire Bank was is now a chip shop and a couple of other shops. A positive is that there are more trees on the side of the road. Most shops have been replaced by bars. I love the colour of that Golf. Reminds me of the Tara Green colour of the Allegro LE c.1979.

  3. I must have passed this way most weeks from my home in Knowle Lane off Ecclesall Road South (dunno why we called it that as there was no Ecclesall Rd North) en route to ‘town’ a journey on the 92 bus or in the back of my Dad’s Rover P4 and always a pleasure especially when it culminated in a stop at Redgates (then on t’Moor) for a new Corgi Toy. My favourite feature of this photo though is the shop Gallery 3, a wonderfully brave stab at bringing style to us lot still firmly stuck in the 50s thanks to our austerity-minded parents.
    Also, the snow! So regular that my Dad had a show shovel hanging in our scullery and was used at least three times every winter. Unlikely now.

  4. Sheffielders mustn’t have thought much of British cars in 1979, as the majority of cars in the photo are imports, with only two Minis batting for the home side. Also Ecclesall Rd being in a middle class part of Sheffield, it doesn’t surprise me to see a Volvo 244, which was replacing the Rover as a favourite car for the upper middle class. ( Perhaps the owner had owned a P6, heard the horror stories about rhe SD1, and traded in his Rover for the Volvo).

  5. Sheffield before the Tories destroyed British industry in the 80’s and ran the city into the ground. It took decades to recover.

    • I’m not sure it ever really has even though there’s plenty of potential. It was a disgusting way to treat a city – and region – responsible for so much of the country’s wealth and influence during the industrial revolution and war effort decades later. Even if industries such as the masses of coal mining nearby become unviable the areas hosting those industries should be a priority for new activity. It’s an investment in the country – the blinkered short-termism of letting the areas rot is in no-one’s interest.

  6. Thanks Keith. A fascinating photo and write-up. I was a student at Sheffield from 1984-87 and travelled this road out into Derbyshire many times. One of my lecturers lived in Ecclesall and indeed owned a Volvo 245DL! Anyone notice the elderly woman above Woods Market looking down on the scene? It certainly was a simpler world back then, despite all the political and economic woes.

  7. Sheffield, apart from steel, cutlery and engineering, was known as a brewing city. About 2 miles from Hunters Bar, at the other end of Ecclesall Rd, was Wards Brewery, and Stones, one of the most popular beers in the eighties, had a brewery in the city. Both gone now and probably replaced by the ubiquitous and mediocre John Smiths, that seems to appear as a bitter in nearly every pub now.

    • I remember my Dad explaining why he didn’t drink John Smiths, which he simply explained that the yeast is killed off at the end of the brewing & it doesn’t taste as nice as a cask conditioned beer where the yeast stays alive.

    • Depends what you mean by ‘replaced’? There’s numerous smaller breweries producing beers that seem to be popular in the city (not sure to what extent they’re exported beyond the city boundaries!). Just nothing the scale of Wards any longer.

      • That is true though we lost Kelham Island last year, which was a shame as Easy and Pale Rider were a good pint

          • Good news. Kelham Island is brewing again, so you can still drink Pale Rider.

            Seems odd not to see a double decker there, but there are a lot more cars there now.

          • FAB! I hadn’t seen the news they had been saved. Covid and the fuel crisis has seen so many good micro brewers go. Hopefully with Thornbridge involved and their sales links more people can try Kelhams excellent beer.

          • Phew! Amusing that I’ve learned about the demise and revival of Kelham Island on AROnline. I wonder if CAMRA have any publications about the Austin Allegro LOL

      • I was referring to mass produced beer rather than micro breweries. Wards and Stones were massive in the eighties, with hundreds of pubs across Yorkshire, but have since gone. Anyway at £ 4 or more a pint and the two pubs nearest to me catering to football fans I never go out and drink at home.

    • Looking at the 1976 Volvo brochure,reminds me of a later 240DL estate car with oblong headlights that my company had in 1988. Great solid car – perfect for the rigours of our job. I remember those seats and dashboard design well

  8. The wierd “high roof” MINI could possibly have been a ‘gown car’ – in times-past a friend’s rather upper-class tailoring/dressmaking business had an Austin A55/A60 van fitted with a high-roof extension which contained rails in the top from which ballgowns/wedding-dresses/tuxedos were hung so they could be transported to their customers without creasing.

    But would there have been much of a market for ballgowns/tuxes in Sheffield back then?

    • Interesting. Could it be transporting robes and gowns for graduation ceremonies? Postgraduate ceremonies are actually held in January (when the photo was taken). There are two universities in Sheffield so there is plenty of demand for garment hire.

  9. Sheffield only had one University at the time of this picture, the University of Sheffield. Sheffield Hallam had only just become a poly in 1969 after the merger of the School of Design merged with the School of Technology, and didn’t become a Uni until 1992. Though it is just off the Ecclesall Road, I am not sure which was in this picky as I have never been to the steel city.

    • @ daveh, Sheffield City Polytechnic also took over Totley Thornbridge College in 1976, whose ten storey hall of residence overlooked the suburb of Totley. I know this as I was a student there for two years in the eighties. Also their main site was a brutalist concrete paradise in Pond St, with smaller sites on Collegiate Crescent and Psalter Lane( not far from Hunter’s Bar).

    • My brother went to Sheffield Hallam but after it had been given university status.

      He had robes for his graduation.

      • The polytechnic became a university in 1992, when it became Sheffield Hallam. My old site at Totley was demolished in 2000 and is now housing.

  10. Weren’t “normal” cars small in those days! The Volvo stands out for its length, but even that is far narrower than modern cars, and lower than all the modern crossovers and SUVs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.