When I was a child, my mother and father would often take me to Sheffield on a Saturday afternoon to go shopping. Even though this was over twenty years ago, I can vividly recall looking forward to this with great relish and feeling genuinely excited waking up on a Saturday morning. Much of this excitement probably stemmed from the fact that my parents would sometimes treat me to McDonalds whilst we were there – in the north of England in the 1980s this was still something of a novelty. However, I also loved Sheffield because it was a busy and bustling shopping center that really made me think I was taking a trip to the big city.
The major focus of my family’s trips to Sheffield was the Moor. This was the main shopping street that runs through the heart of the city. It was split into two distinct sections. The first section, the Upper Moor, was a street with traffic and featured several major shops. The second section, the Lower Moor, was pedestrianised and featured a combination of major shops and also a thriving street market. And, just for the record, McDonalds was the junction of the two parts of the Moor.
Back in the 1980s and even into the early 1990s, the Moor was bustling and full of life. Even into the early 1990s, it remained Sheffield’s commercial hub. Unfortunately, the late 80s and early 90s saw two major events in Sheffield that sounded the death-knell for the Moor’s prosperity. The first was the closure of several of the city’s major steelworks. Up until the 1980s, Sheffield had been the world’s premier steel producing city. However, as plants began to close, unemployment began to rise and the local economy began to suffer as spending power declined. This was a tough enough scenario in itself. Then, when the Meadowhall shopping center – at the time the largest in Europe – opened just outside the city, things became almost impossible.
When I returned to the north of England for a vacation recently, I decided would take a trip to Sheffield to relive some fond memories. It proved to be a massive shock to the system. Mired in the current economic downturn that the UK is suffering and never really having escaped the shadow of the 1990s, the Moor was a pale imitation of its previous incarnation. On the upper half, several of the major stores remained. However, there were a few conspicuous holes in the shopping façade with many units closed and others closing down.
The upper half of the Moor had taken a turn for the worse, but the starkest change could be seen on the lower half. Almost all of the major stores had gone and had been replaced by a plethora of discount stores. By far the most crowded store in the area was the huge branch of Poundland (a shop in which every item is priced just one GBP). The street market too felt decidedly threadbare with few stalls attracting much attention. Possibly the strongest indication of just how far the Moor has fallen was the fact that even McDonalds had closed.
Perhaps I am guilty of looking through rose-tinted spectacles and some of my childhood memories are not 100% accurate. However, the difference between the Moor in the past and the Moor today is so stark that it is saddening. Whilst the Upper Moor remains a decent shopping area, the Lower Moor is only worth a visit for those on the tightest of budgets.