Modern Britain: Full Monty - a tale of two cities

Sheffield - Resplendent in tiger-striped trousers, interior designer Helen Chapman reflects on her clients. "Sometimes I deal with people spending up to £40,000 on one room. Complete refurbishments. I did someone a quote for curtains last week: £4,000. You're looking at real money, people who buy houses for £400,000 and can pay in cash."

Sheffield - Resplendent in tiger-striped trousers, interior designer Helen Chapman reflects on her clients. "Sometimes I deal with people spending up to £40,000 on one room. Complete refurbishments. I did someone a quote for curtains last week: £4,000. You're looking at real money, people who buy houses for £400,000 and can pay in cash."

This is not a widespread perception of life in Sheffield. Like much of the rest of the north of England, it is weighed down by an image of grim post-industrial decline. In the popular stereotype of the North-South divide, the South prospers and the North, overrun by ferrets in flat caps, lurches in Lowryesque gloom from one misery to the next.

Its problems are generally illustrated by gritty black-and-white photographs. Colour stops north of Nottingham. Hunger marchers still trudge round every sleet-soaked corner. The road still goes to Wigan Pier.

Sheffield has become a fund of bad news stories over the past few months - struggling schools, teenaged mothers, troubles at the National Centre for Popular Music. More long-term, the city is trying to put behind it the full horror of The Full Monty, the Blair-endorsed film about triumph in adversity and redundant steelworkers in jockstraps that used Sheffield's most derelict areas as a backdrop. Post-industrial Sheffield is trying to reinvent itself through sport and leisure. Cutlery works have been turned into designer apartments; steelworks have been replaced by business parks whose staff fax in their lunch orders to local pubs.

Sheffield offers a tale of two-cities-in-one - Manor Park poverty and Totley affluence. Its lone non-Labour parliamentary seat, Hallam, has the highest concentration of professional qualifications of any constituency. It is effectively Britain's most middle-class area. Traditionally Tory but since 1997 Liberal Democrat, it is a world of golf clubs, townswomen's guilds and violin tuition. It comes alive every schoolday afternoon when mothers join the Range Rover run to pick up their children from school to ferry them home to their £275,000 stone-built homes. Hallam is the home of the University of Sheffield, where politics professor Patrick Seyd casts a wry eye over stereotypes. "To clarify the North as poor, unqualified and unemployed is to miss the point," he says.

The North-South divide is a crude distinction. There are obvious differences in terms of property prices, job availability, ownership of PCs in households and so on. But there are huge differences within an area.

The Yorkshire Tourist Board is anxious to tap this alternative North in its rebranding of the county as a place of conspicuous sophistication. It is targeting its latest advertising campaign at "affluent achievers aged 25 to 45 in London and the South-east" - by turning the usual Yorkshire stereotypes on their heads.

A photograph captioned "Yorkshire Pudding" shows two elegant women sharing a summer pudding at a swish restaurant in Harrogate. "People have a misconception that Yorkshire offers no more than whippets and flat caps," says David Andrews, the tourist board's chief executive. "There's more to a break in Yorkshire than ingrained prejudice might imply."

But has this rebranding come too late? Patrick Seyd sees Northern stereotypes as a fortress of identity. "In a sense Northerners have themselves to blame for the stereotypes. They've wanted to maintain the caricature of themselves out of a sense of rivalry with the South. It has suited them as a way of asserting their uniqueness and difference. If we'd had meaningful regional government, it would have been easier to get rid of the caricatures."

Half-a-mile down the hill from Prof Seyd's office, through Broomhill, which John Betjeman described as "the prettiest suburb in England", is Ecclesall Road, an upmarket parade of shops, restaurants and cafe bars. A car showroom displays Rovers costing £31,000, which will buy two three- bedroomed terraced houses across the city in Pitsmoor. The Aga Shop, dedicated to the icon of comfortable middle classness, shares premises with Christians, the furniture designers. Owner Grenville Rogers pulls out recently commissioned designs for an exclusive bedroom. "80K," he says crisply. "It's very, very bespoke furniture. We do kitchens at 40K. There's a hell of a lot of money about."

As Gloria Taylor, sales assistant at the Aga Shop, says: "The image of cloth caps - well, it's old hat, isn't it?"

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

    £50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

    Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

    Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

    Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat