Posted by: mike on Apr 2, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun PalacesLatest

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield (2013):  balcony

Since Phil Robins took ownership of the former Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield, he’s tidied up the interior so that at last it’s possible to see the entire auditorium from the back of the stalls or the back of the balcony.  The stage remains a forest of scaffolding until the stage-tower roof is made weather-tight.

When the Sheffield Antiques Quarter Christmas Market took place at the Abbeydale I was asked to show people the auditorium, a privilege that gave me opportunity to learn more about the building.

Insurance restrictions meant that visitors were not allowed on the stage or in the circle, so I provided a PowerPoint sequence showing the angles that weren’t accessible.

Talking to people who visited the cinema regularly from the 1950s to the 1970s suggested that there were at least four colour schemes over the years:

* pale and deep cream and gold from the opening in 1920
* pale green and gold sometime up to the early 1950s when Cinemascope was introduced
* white or cream until at least the end of the 1960s
* the current blue, claret and cream by the beginning of the 1970s

There may have been other colour schemes that only a paint analysis will reveal:  planning documents indicate, for instance, that a major refurbishment took place in 1928 and Clifford Shaw, in Sheffield Cinemas (Sheffield Cinema Society/Tempus 2001) p 101, shows a monochrome image of a decorative scheme that dates from August 1949.

I’m told I was introduced on the PA system as the Abbeydale’s “resident historian”, which led a friend to enquire if I had a flat in the projection room.

He’d no reason to know that in the late 1970s there was a flat in the projection suite after A & F Drake Ltd took it over as an office-equipment showroom.  Later in the day I met a lady who had lived in the flat for a couple of years.

She said that her dad and his mate had spent a night in the auditorium seeking ghostly presences.  The only presence that appeared was her cat.

Oddly, even later in the afternoon a lady asked me about the psychic history of the Abbeydale.  I had to say I didn’t know there was one, but I was able to point her towards the only accredited haunted cinema, the Don on West Bar, which still exists:  [see and].

People were reassured to know that Phil’s plan to use the Abbeydale as a climbing centre won’t damage the listed interior:  all the climbing installations will be free-standing.  Indeed, one climber, a regular visitor to Phil’s existing centre, The Edge [], said he was looking forward to sitting in the circle with a cup of coffee watching other climbers.

The next opportunity to see the interior of the Abbeydale Picture House will be at the Sheffield Antiques Quarter Spring Fair on Sunday April 27th 2014, between 12.00 noon and 3.00 pm.

Posted by: mike on Mar 28, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

No sooner had I posted a blog-article complaining that St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield had stood a roofless ruin for six months than the demolition team moved in.

Within a week, March 10th-14th 2014, the building was flattened – an eyesore that need never have been an eyesore.

The earliest reference I’ve so far found to the possibility of closure is in 1993.  As late as 2004, Ruth Harman and John Minnis clearly thought it merited an illustration in their Pevsner Architectural Guide Sheffield (2004), p 188.

By the time I became aware it was threatened and my neighbours started a campaign to save it at the end of 2011 it was far too late to have any effect.

This is what I’ve learned from following the fate of St Hilda’s Church:

  • the Church of England’s procedure for disposing of redundant churches is ponderous, glacially slow and largely ignores the possibility that the secular community might resolve the problems of disposal
  • local politicians, hammered for a generation by central governments’ stripping away of their autonomy, think in terms of solving problems rather than exploring possibilities
  • the network of amenity organisations, particularly English Heritage and the national amenity societies, prioritises its concerns in terms of national perspectives, with a bias against twentieth-century architecture and buildings of purely local significance
  • just as the churches declined because people think they’re going to be there for ever and never set foot across the threshold, so local people will sign petitions but aren’t inclined to participate actively in seeking uses for derelict local buildings

It was always on the cards that St Hilda’s would go.

One less twentieth-century suburban church makes the others that remain marginally more valuable.

Posted by: mike on Mar 10, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield – nave & baptistery

After I’d taken part in the Church Commissioners’ meeting to discuss the redundancy and proposed demolition of St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I spent some time talking to people in the Parson Cross community about the building’s practical possibilities.

Apparently, there aren’t any.

Local community workers told me that there’s already full provision of community facilities on the Parson Cross and neighbouring Foxhill estates:  a further facility, if it could be financed, would threaten the viability of those already existing.

Public finance is, of course, an impossibility.

One City Councillor told me with understandable passion of the difficulties of maintaining social provision in the face of draconian financial cuts.  One particular priority at present, justifiably, is somehow to maintain a branch library within reach of local residents.

Yet the emotional pull of St Cecilia’s still remains.  A clergyman spoke movingly of how the building holds the prayers of seventy years of congregational worship, and is a monument to the revered Kelham Fathers who built up the parish from nothing.

The one positive insight I heard came from someone with enterprise experience:  “The only hope for that building,” he said, “is serendipity.”

That, after all, is what happened at Gorton Monastery in Manchester, the Abbeydale Cinema on the south side of Sheffield, and the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, which is now Greentop Circus.

The Gorton Monastery project was co-founded by Elaine Griffiths, MBE;  the Abbeydale Cinema turned a corner when Phil Robins spotted its possibilities as a climbing centre;  the founders of Greentop Circus had the wit to challenge Anneka Rice.

In other words, the only possibility of finding a use for the building is if someone comes along with a practical idea that no-one else has thought of.

The only way of saving St Cecilia’s is for someone who needs an attractive space on the north side of Sheffield to come up with a business plan that relieves the Church Commissioners of the need to spend nearly £200,000 knocking the place down brick by brick to the great inconvenience of the neighbours.

Posted by: mike on Mar 6, 2014

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (September 27th 2013)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (September 27th 2013)

Last August the scaffolding went up around St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield, and it was apparent that it would be demolished.

I was told that the schedule was to have the site cleared by the end of September 2013.

A cheerful crew duly turned up and over a matter of two or three weeks removed the entire roof.

Then they went away, and nothing further has happened.

The place continues to stand a roofless ruin.

My diocesan source tells me that the delay results from “discussion between the Sheffield City Council Planning Department, Church Commissioners, Diocese and the Contractor”.

The Church authorities don’t seem to have much luck either with keeping redundant buildings standing or knocking them down.

St Hilda’s is now neither one thing nor the other.

It’s perhaps mischievous to point out that roofless churches have been preserved against all the odds, such as the Welsh Presbyterian Church, Toxteth, Liverpool [] and the Welsh Baptist Chapel, Upper Brook Street, Manchester  [].

Both these examples are listed, and are of undeniable historical and architectural merit.

But sometimes even the most unassuming derelict buildings gain a purpose that keeps them standing and restored to good order:

Update – March 11th 2014:  The interrupted demolition of St Hilda's has resumed, and it should be gone within a matter of days.

Posted by: mike on Mar 2, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Thomas' Church, Brightside, Sheffield

Because of the discussions about the future of the redundant St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I’m looking at examples of successful conversions of redundant religious buildings which have preserved the architecture while enabling the building to earn its keep.

I’ve already written about the former St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Seel Street, Liverpool (now a restaurant) and the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield (now a Muslim community centre) and the spectacular revival of the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton.

One of the best examples I’ve come across is the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, Sheffield, a modest Victorian parish church of 1854 by the local architects Flockton & Son, built to serve the first growth of artisan housing as the steelworks crept across the Lower Don Valley after the arrival of the railway in 1839.

It’s a more modest building than Flockton & Son’s contemporaneous work in Sheffield – the General Cemetery Church and Christ Church, Pitsmoor (both 1850), and St Matthew’s, Carver Street (1855) – but it is, as the cliché goes, small and perfectly formed, with a nave and chancel, a south aisle but no north aisle, a bell-tower and spire.  The architects’ plans are online at  and

It was listed Grade II in 1973 and made redundant in 1979.  At first it was converted as a gymnasium for the Sheffield School of Gymnastics but then fell into neglect.

It was rescued by Anneka Rice’s TV programme, Challenge Anneka, broadcast on August 27th 1995 [ and] as a circus school for Greentop Circus [].

Apart from a shortage of storage-space, the interior is ideal for its present purpose.  The trapeze rig sits comfortably on the load-bearing walls of the nave;  there is ample height and floor-area and cramped but well-organised office-space in the west gallery, accessible by an intriguing spiral staircase in the tower.

Greentop is an arts education charity which provides, alongside training facilities for professional performers, school workshops and team-building for adults as part of its mission “to use contemporary circus skills to enhance people’s lives and inspire positive change”.

When I met a committee of the Church Commissioners to discuss the proposal to demolish St Cecilia’s, I was asked if there weren’t already enough community facilities on the Parson Cross estate.  I replied that if the existing six buildings were sufficient, the area would not figure so high on indices of deprivation.

Greentop’s value to the local Firvale community is incalculable.  Some of the young people who have become involved are from the local Roma community, who have had a famously bad press recently:

And without Greentop, the consecrated churchyard of St Thomas would contain only graves and a wreck or an empty space.

Posted by: mike on Nov 25, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun PalacesLatest

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield (2013)

I reported in July 2012 that the Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield had been bought by Phil Robins, the owner of The Edge [], an indoor climbing centre near to Bramall Lane football ground.

Phil showed me round the Abbeydale last month and allowed me to photograph the improvements he’s so far made while making the building secure and weather-tight.

The two major changes he’s made are to lower the iron safety-curtain to its proper level, so that it can be seen in its entirety for the first time for many years, and to remove the partition that divided the balcony from the rest of the auditorium when the Abbeydale was used as an office-equipment showroom.

At present, therefore, it’s possible to see the entire auditorium space as it existed in the mid-1950s.  The only feature that is not original is the false proscenium that was inserted when Cinemascope was installed.  The sides of the narrower original 1920 classical-detailed proscenium are visible, but not the top which, according to the opening-night description in the Sheffield Independent, displayed “a chaste panel of Grecian figures on a background of pale blue”.

The original decorative scheme was pale and deep cream with gold;  the 1920s proscenium is now a faded pale green trimmed with gold, and the rest of the auditorium is a strident concoction of blue, claret and cream.  (The lighter colours now visible may, of course, be tempered with nicotine.)

Phil intends to restore the interior space as far as possible to its original state, and to install free-standing climbing equipment which will not affect the listed decorative features.

The Sheffield Antiques Quarter is running a Christmas Vintage Market in the Abbeydale Cinema car-park on Sunday December 8th between 11.00 am and 5.00 pm.

There will be an opportunity to see the interior of the Abbeydale Cinema from the stalls, though the rest of the building is inaccessible because of insurance restrictions.

Posted by: mike on Oct 29, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013) – nave

I remarked in an earlier blog-article that I couldn’t understand how the Gloucestershire architect Kenneth B Mackenzie got the commission to build St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield in the late 1930s.

He certainly had no previous experience of designing churches, though he was apparently a sensitive restorer of existing church buildings in the Diocese of Gloucester.

St Cecilia’s is a fine essay in twentieth-century Gothic revival design.  Its stone exterior sits comfortably in its tight little close of council houses, now protected by trees that have matured over three-quarters of a century.  Its stubby little tower is in scale with its domestic surroundings, so that Chaucer Close has the feeling of a village green in the midst of the vast Parson Cross municipal housing estate.

Within, its concrete rendered walls, lit by the plain glass of the rectangular traceried windows, enclose a calm, expansive space, entered through a narthex into an aisled nave, with a sanctuary dominated not by an east window but by a reredos that was added in 1971.  Above the narthex is a west gallery filled with the magnificent case of the 1986 Cousans organ.

Kenneth Mackenzie was clearly fluent in the aesthetic language that the Anglo-Catholic congregation required, and left plenty of scope for additions and embellishments.

He was, like many architects of his generation, less adept at making his building easy to maintain.  He probably, in the late 1930s, assumed that future generations would give priority to preserving the building, in particular giving regular attention to the slate and asphalt roofs.

He couldn’t know that the electrical wiring installed in 1938 would still be in place seventy-five years later.

And he took it for granted that the stream that runs beneath the building would behave itself, which it hasn’t.  The presbytery, always known as the Priory, regularly flooded before it was demolished in 1994, and now that the church is disused the undercroft floor is heaving.

As a source close to the Church Commissioners remarked, the current difficulties with the building arise from defects of maintenance, not from its structural integrity.

It’s certainly untrue that St Cecilia’s Church has necessarily reached the end of its life.

But the unintended consequences of Kenneth Mackenzie’s decisions about structure and design have left a heavy legacy for anyone who contemplates bringing it back to any kind of use.

It seems that Kenneth Mackenzie was the nephew of Mr A R Heathcote, the then anonymous benefactor who paid for the building.

Posted by: mike on Oct 27, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013) – sanctuary

Campaigning to save the church of St Hilda, Shiregreen, Sheffield (Leslie T Moore, 1938) was a frustrating experience because of the opacity of the Church Commissioners’ processes for the closure and disposal of redundant churches.

Earlier blog-articles record my interest in the subsequent closure of the nearby church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939).  Because I formally objected to the proposed demolition I’ve been given far more information about the building than ever we saw about St Hilda’s, and I was invited to make direct representations to the Commissioners’ Pastoral and Church Buildings (Uses & Disposals) Committees.

The condition and location of St Cecilia’s Church presents an intractable dilemma for the parish and the Commissioners.

It’s practically unusable because of the state of the roof and the wiring, yet the parishioners are saddled with the considerable monthly expense of securing and insuring it while trying to maintain the more compact daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux, in which they now worship, at the other end of the parish in Southey Green.

The diocesan authorities fear the expense and disruption of demolishing a building hemmed in by inhabited houses with restricted road access.

Sheffield City Council has made it clear that the only acceptable change of use would be residential, yet the existing building would not adapt well and a replacement apartment block would be uneconomic in an area where substantial three-bedroomed houses sell for £80,000.

For the moment, the Commissioners have referred back the Diocese’s proposals in an attempt to find an alternative use that avoids the punitive cost and disruption of demolition.

Meanwhile, the small combined congregation of St Cecilia’s and St Bernard’s pay an inordinate price because St Cecilia’s is not yet formally redundant – though almost everyone agrees it should be – and St Bernard’s is not yet consecrated as the parish church of the future.

I continue to argue that the secular community around St Cecilia’s has been given insufficient opportunity to work towards an alternative secular practical use for the building, yet the take-up at the two public meetings that were called was disappointing – fifteen people in 2011 and twenty in August this year.

The Church of England hasn’t been able to find a way to dispose of St Cecilia’s Church from within its own resources and procedures.

The building needs a use that takes advantage of its quiet setting and its light, airy interior space, and that can somehow be supported financially.

Posted by: mike on Oct 9, 2013

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Butcher Works, Sheffield

In October last year the South Yorkshire Art Fund provided me with an opportunity to see Butcher Works, an unusually austere example of Sheffield’s surviving cutlery factories, dating back to 1819-20 but mostly built c1855-60, led by Oliver Jessop, the archaeologist who investigated the site before and during its redevelopment.

Here, edge-tools, cutlery and files were made by the independent workmen who were known in Sheffield as the “Little Mesters”, contracting and sub-contracting their specialised trades and, often, hiring workshop facilities from factory-owners such as William and Samuel Butcher.

Up to the end of the eighteenth-century Sheffield’s cutlers worked in small water-powered forges.  Their workshops were often referred to as “wheels”, as in the preserved Shepherd Wheel in the Porter Valley.

The name persisted when steam-power arrived, and even though the Butcher brothers’ four-storey courtyard factory stands in the middle of town on Arundel Street, where the 9th Duke of Norfolk had unsuccessfully sought to develop a select residential development, it was always known as Butcher’s Wheel.

These bleak, grimy workshops, which produced some of the finest cutlery and silverware in the world, have become rarities, and there are some moribund examples still, such as Leah’s Yard within the footprint of the stalled Sevenstone shopping development.

The last working tenants left Butcher’s Wheel in 2004, and it’s now been redeveloped as apartments above the workshops of the Academy of Makers [], a gallery, the Fusion Café [] and the Ruskin Organic Bakery

The works is also home to Freeman College [], which caters for marginalised students and those with special educational needs, especially those on the autistic spectrum.

The activities of the other occupiers, the craftspeople and the café provide the students with work-experience as part of the process of equipping them for independent living.

All this modern activity pays for its restoration, yet buried within are unexpected remains of its industrial past, a grinding shop (called a “hull” in Sheffield), an intact hand-forge and a magnificent Bramah pan-closet relocated from its original site next to the directors’ board room.

The informative historical information panels about Butcher Works are accessible at and there’s an aerial view of the site before renovation in Nicola Wray, Bob Hawkins & Colum Giles, ‘One Great Workshop’:  the buildings of the Sheffield metal trades (English Heritage 2001), p 50.

Posted by: mike on Sep 5, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (August 2013)

After the public meeting about the demolition of St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield Paul Beckett, the Assistant Diocesan Secretary (Property) of the Diocese of Sheffield, invited me to see the interior of the church to gain a better idea of its condition.

It would indeed need serious money to deal with the water ingress, the fallen plaster, the undulating floor in the undercroft and the shot-to-pieces wiring.

If someone could contrive a practical way of recouping an investment of up to a million pounds to save the Church Commissioners spending perhaps £200,000 demolishing the place, they’d have a very beautiful building for their money.

Kenneth McKenzie’s church looks much bigger inside than you’d expect.  It’s a broad, light, elegant space, picking up the elements of traditional churches in the stripped-back manner of inter-war architecture.

As it stands, it has a melancholy time-warp feel:  although disused for the past couple of years, the hymn-books are still on the shelf and the vestments hang in the vestry.

Because the parish was always at the high end of Anglo-Catholicism, it retains statues of saints, a Pietà and a highly ornate reredos of 1923 which is in fact a refugee from the demolished church of Holy Trinity, Preston via another demolished church, St Margaret’s, Burnley.  Presumably it will once more go on its travels.

St Cecilia’s also has an impressive-looking organ, built in 1986 by Cousans of Lincoln from the previous organ by Vincent’s of Durham (1972) with additional parts from two other organs by the Sheffield firm of Brindley & Foster.

Checking the organ in the National Pipe Organ Register [] alerted me to a revealing chronology:

1972:  new organ
1986:  another new organ
1999-2003:  renovation of undercroft (nearly £400,000 funded largely by the Single Regeneration Budget and the National Lottery)
2010:  roof, heating and electrical wiring beyond economic repair
2011:  church closed

It’s clear, with the luxury of hindsight, that it would have been better to prioritise maintaining the outer envelope of the building rather than embellishing the interior.

As it is, the cost of doing anything with it – knocking it down or reviving it – will be onerous.

I mentioned again the stern requirement in the Pastoral Scheme for St Cecilia’s that the church shall be demolished, and Paul assured me that if anyone were to come up with a practical scheme to save the building the process towards demolition could be stalled.

It’s a big ask to fill an empty envelope.

The empty envelope

Posted by: mike on Sep 3, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (August 31st 2013)

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (August 31st 2013)

At the belated start of the belated campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield I knew a good deal less about the byzantine workings of the Church Commissioners than I now do.

As the scaffolding goes up to begin destroying St Hilda’s, I’ve learned that to develop the land on which an Anglican church has stood requires unusual tenacity.

The conditions of sale demand that a prospective purchaser has a practical business plan and planning permission for the proposed development.

Planning permission involves a significant amount of expensive professional support.

Then, I’ve discovered, the prospective purchaser has to demolish the church building before they can purchase it.

Clearly, this requires nerves of steel and a great deal of faith, because it can cost close on a six-figure sum even to create an empty site.

I hope whatever goes up in place of St Hilda’s looks at least as good.

Posted by: mike on Aug 22, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield

The huge Parson Cross municipal housing-estate on the north side of Sheffield dates only from the 1930s, though the place-name – written as “Parson’s Crosse Lane” – goes back at least to 1637.

There are, inevitably, lots of jokes about grumpy clergy.

Because the adjacent Shiregreen community missed out on opportunities to intervene in the plan to demolish the redundant church of St Hilda, I’ve since kept an eye on the disused church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross.

Not far off £400,000 was apparently spent on upgrading St Cecilia’s undercroft as a youth club as recently as the Millennium.  Yet demolition has been on the cards since at least 2010.

Early in August I responded to the Church Commissioners’ pianissimo advertisement of a drop-in meeting to discuss the proposed scheme to demolish.

The local residents who turned up vehemently opposed the destruction of St Cecilia’s, though none of them were members of the final congregation of ten that moved out in 2011.

People care deeply about their local parish church even if they don’t darken its doors from one year’s end to the next.  The place where their families were baptised, married and taken for their funerals means a great deal.

It’s strange that clergy and active church members have such difficulty attracting new members.

The process of disposing of redundant church buildings is convoluted.  The building is vested in the incumbent, and is the responsibility of the parishioners.  When the parish can no longer maintain the building, a divided responsibility between the diocese and the Church Commissioners triggers a byzantine legal process with little scope for the secular community to intervene.

It all looks underhand, and it makes local people impotently angry.

A diocesan document of 2010 which I’ve quoted in a previous blog-article about St Cecilia’s declared, “The Church building has reached the end of its life.”

Conversely, the Church of England Church Buildings Council in 2011 advised, “The problems are superficial, although investment would be required to rectify them.”

The Statutory Advisory Committee of the Church Buildings Council concluded a few months later that demolition was ill-advised because of the “low cost of essential repair and [the] potential for the cost of long-term repairs to be (part) absorbed into the cost of conversion”.

Yet a Scheme, as it’s called, for demolition is under way.

I wanted to know why demolition was presented as the only option, and I was told that demolition has to be written into Pastoral Schemes in case it may become necessary, but an acceptable scheme to retain the building, backed by planning permission and a credible business plan, would be preferred.

I’d love to see the people of Parson Cross put together a credible proposal for re-use, but to give them a fair chance, they should have been alerted at least three years ago.

Objections to the Scheme for demolition can be submitted, in writing or by e-mail, up to September 2nd 2013 to –

Ms Katie Lowe
The Church of England Church Commissioners
Church House
Great Smith Street

Posted by: mike on May 18, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Jessop Hospital for Women, Edwardian Wing, Sheffield

Jessop Hospital for Women, Edwardian Wing, (May 5th 2013)

Thomas Jessop (1804-1887) was a Sheffield steelmaker whose wealth took him from his birthplace on Blast Lane by the canal to the opulent Endcliffe Grange to the west of the town.  He served as both Mayor and Master Cutler, the two leading roles in the borough, in 1863.

His greatest benefaction to Sheffield was the Jessop Hospital for Women, a 57-bed facility, designed by the local architect John Dodsley Webster, which cost £26,000 when it opened in 1878.

An Edwardian extension, also by J D Webster, trebled the capacity in 1902, and an unremarkable new wing was added in 1939-40.

The whole hospital was replaced by a women’s wing in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 2001:

Sheffield University took over the site in 2007, demolished most of the peripheral buildings [] and carefully restored Webster’s original wing as a base for the Department of Music, which opened in 2009:

The University then proposed to demolish the Grade-II listed Edwardian wing to replace it with an arrogantly modern £81-million New Engineering Building, and caused uproar.

The Director of Estates & Facilities Management, Mr Keith Lilley, told the Sheffield Telegraph (April 22nd 2013), “Having a new building across the whole site would allow us to provide around five per cent more space and cost 10% less per square metre.  A totally new building would create 19,600 square metres of space whereas incorporating the hospital wing would provide 17,300 square metres.”

Sheffield City Council chose to support demolition, ignoring the recommendations of their own planning team:  “The proposals have
serious implications and constitute poor design and should therefore be refused
in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Specifically, the principal planning officer supported the 1902 block for its “positive townscape value”, and described the New Engineering Building as an “ungainly big box with an overly-complex external envelope that has no relationship with its setting”.

In bean-counting terms the argument has weight, but RMJM Architects’ showy cube cannot compare with Webster’s elegant building.

Moreover, there is a vital legal issue at stake.  Conservationists are deeply angry that listed-building legislation is being disregarded.

The Ancient Monuments Society, the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Victorian Society [] each condemned the decision, and the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society declared this was simply “the easy way out” and “a dangerous precedent”.

Private Eye (March 22nd-April 4th 2013) described the University’s plans as “gratuitously destructive and wasteful”.

A request to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to review the planning application was turned down.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is mounting a legal challenge, believing that the City Council “relies on an unsatisfactory interpretation” the new National Planning Policy Framework [] and the social media are buzzing:

It’s only one building, but the need to preserve it is hugely significant.  Why should a university, of all things, dump on the city a jazzed-up vanity building to gain 5% extra space in place of a polite, well-built, valuable piece of townscape?

Whose campus is it, anyway?

Posted by: mike on May 16, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Main Post Office

Sheffield Head Post Office (1993)

Sheffield was a town that thought it was a village, until 1893, when it became a city that thought it was a town.

Indeed, the first impressive piece of civic planning in the centre of Sheffield was Fitzalan Square, which grew from street clearance in the 1880s and is dominated by the baroque bulk of the former Post Office, built in 1910 to the designs of the Office of Works architect, Walter Pott.

This imposing place in which to buy a stamp closed in 1999, and three successive developers have failed to find a way of financing a new use:

Meanwhile, the urban explorers have kept an eye on the place, and their posts show that while most of the interiors are functional, the public spaces and the main staircase deserve to be kept: and

The latest word is that this fine but mouldering building is to become a college for overseas students with 18-storey residential tower on the vacant plot behind:

If another high-rise building in the city-centre is the price of keeping Pott’s Edwardian splendour I think it’s worth paying.

Meanwhile, within a couple of minutes’ walk of Fitzalan Square, the Old Town Hall and the United Gas Light Company Offices, both listed, stand idle and neglected, and two fine post-war department stores, the former Walsh’s and the Co-op’s Castle House are in an uneasy state of transition.

And the City Planning Committee and the Secretary of State have waved through the demolition of the Edwardian wing of Jessop’s Hospital – which is another story…

Posted by: mike on Mar 17, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Plaza Cinema, Handsworth, Sheffield

Plaza Cinema, Handsworth, Sheffield (1984)

Former cinemas are selling like hotcakes in Sheffield at the moment.  Recent articles have featured the Adelphi, Attercliffe and the Abbeydale.

The Plaza Cinema, Handsworth, which has for years now been Rileys ten-pin bowling and snooker hall, is up for auction with a guide-price of £95,000+:,%201%20Richmond%20Road,%20Handsworth,%20Sheffield%20-%7C-967#lot.

Designed by a local architect, Bernard Powell of Woodhouse, who was until 1921 the Handsworth Urban District Council surveyor, the Plaza shared characteristics with the recently demolished Ritz, Parson Cross – an unspectacular exterior hiding a thoroughly modern Art Deco interior.  Bernard Powell provided a squat tower which originally carried the name ‘Plaza’ in neon, visible across the neighbourhood.

The only time I’ve visited the Plaza, when it was a bingo club in the 1980s, the foyer was virtually intact, an imitation Odeon-style essay in fins and wavy plasterwork.

The auditorium had been divided at balcony level, and was difficult to visualise.  The Cinema Treasures website [] describes a colour-scheme that could have been awful but might have been elegant – orange merging to light buff with a royal-blue dado.

The Plaza isn’t listed, so it’s under the radar of conservation groups.  It’s likely that if the modern interior fittings were stripped back the original space would be revealed.  Whether that’s an asset for redevelopment depends on the vision and the intentions of the new owner.

It would be no surprise if the place was bulldozed.  But it might yet turn out to be a building worth keeping.

Posted by: mike on Jan 4, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Cecilia's Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield

As a result of last winter’s campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, I became intrigued by the history of inter-war churches in north Sheffield, built at the instigation of the first Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Leonard Hedley Burrows (1857-1940;  bishop 1914-1939), in order to serve the housing-estates that mushroomed on what had previously been open countryside.

It seems that Bishop Burrows enlisted the Society of the Sacred Mission, the “Kelham Fathers”, to staff up to six churches as they were built.  The Kelham Fathers made a point of recruiting non-graduates to the ministry, and their practice was highly Anglo-Catholic.  The bishop and the director of the SSM must have thought this the most suitable approach for ministry to aspirant Sheffield working people transplanted from the slums to the splendid new council estates.

One of these new parishes was served by St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, built in 1939 to the designs of a little-known architect, Kenneth B Mackenzie (1891-1977) of Bibury, Gloucestershire.  How he came by the commission is a mystery:  he built hardly any major buildings and no other churches:

Yet St Cecilia’s is an interestingly rectilinear take on the form of the traditional gothic parish church, built of stone and set in a tight close of council houses.  It has a tower, and at the east end no window but a blank wall.

The congregation moved out of the church in 2011 because of “numerous issues with the building – failure of heating system, life-expired roofs and electrical installation to name but a few”, and the parishioners now worship in the practical but unlovely little mission church of St Bernard of Clairvaux, Southey Hill

This move follows the direction indicated by a 2010 diocesan document, ‘Task & Tools:  Bishop’s commission to review ministry and mission in the North Sheffield estates’, which wrote off St Cecilia’s in a stark paragraph:

We believe that the decision on redundancy is right and should stand.  The Church building has reached the end of its life.  We also believe that demolition is the right course of action.  And we also believe that this should proceed swiftly – with the Church’s procedures for demolition being made to deliver that outcome.  Delay neither serves the mission of the Church nor heals the hearts of the congregation and its priest.

So that’s that, then.  Or is it?  The building may have reached the end of its life as a church, but it appears to be physically secure, and could stand for years not doing anything, not earning its keep.

I wonder about this determined ditching of substantial buildings.  All the mainstream Christian denominations are lumbered with expensive structures, many of which they cannot use.  Yet in such churches as St Cecilia’s there is financial capital, quality material, environmental energy and community potential that once discarded can never be recovered.

Posted by: mike on Jan 2, 2013

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

It’s a year now since one of my neighbours started up a campaign – seven years too late – to raise awareness of the intended demolition of St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen after I’d raised an alert following a news item in the Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter.

Approximately 350 people signed the campaign petition, few of whom had probably set foot in the building for years, if ever, but all of whom didn’t want to see it go, whether they valued it as a landmark, a piece of the local heritage, or somewhere with which they had associations through baptism, marriage or other family connections.

The campaign generated more heat than light, because the Diocese and the Church Commissioners declared that they had followed all the necessary protocols to consult the local community, which appeared to amount to sticking an A4-size notice on the church door for six weeks, and were on the point of selling the building to a developer.

Months later, the identity of the developer remains a mystery and the building still stands.

It’s easy to sympathise with the church position:  Archdeacon Martyn Snow has pointed out that “…within a two mile radius of St Hilda’s we have six other church buildings all of which I would regard as ‘at risk’ ie the current congregations are struggling to pay for the upkeep of the buildings and if nothing changes in the next 5-10 years they may all face closure”.

Yet if the St Hilda’s building had been properly secured in the first place it would now be in better condition, and more likely to recoup the capital invested in it.

One very good way to send an unwanted building into decline is to leave half the windows unprotected so that the local ne’er-do-wells lob bricks at the glass and let the birds and the weather in.

And, ironically, if the fabric had been protected the members of the community who didn’t attend church and weren’t aware it was declared redundant in 2007 might have found a way to take it off the Church’s hands.

As matters stand, the building stands.  In the present economic situation it’s probably not worth demolishing.  It might yet be turned to use.

Posted by: mike on Nov 2, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Victoria Station (1976)

Sheffield Victoria Station and the Royal Victoria Hotel (1976)

The Holiday Inn Royal Victoria Sheffield, is a splendid Victorian hotel, dating from 1862, but it stands in splendid isolation, high above the River Don, cut off from the city by the Inner Ring Road, and – as its website plaintively declares – half a mile from the railway station:

This is ironic, because the hotel was built to serve Sheffield Victoria Station on the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.  When Victoria Station opened in 1851, it provided the first direct service from Sheffield to London.

The rival Midland Railway had a station nearby, Sheffield Wicker, opened in 1838 on the site that's now occupied by Tesco Extra, but that line took passengers north to Rotherham where they had to change to a London train.

Only after the Midland Railway opened their new station in 1870 did Sheffield have a choice of direct trains to London and (from 1876) to Scotland.

Victoria continued to provide the quickest service to Manchester and served the east-coast resorts that were popular among Sheffield folk – Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness.

In 1954 the Manchester-Sheffield service was electrified, cutting the journey-time between the two cities to 56 minutes.

The 1960s Beeching rationalisation caused the transfer of almost all the passenger services from Victoria into the erstwhile Midland Station, and after some controversy the Sheffield-Manchester service was diverted to the Hope Valley route, which served more local communities and carried the cement traffic from Hope.

Until 1983, rail passengers between Sheffield and Huddersfield via Penistone had the weird experience of trundling through what remained of Sheffield Victoria and reversing to gain access to the former Sheffield Midland.

Eventually, that route was adjusted to run via Barnsley to reach Penistone, and all that now remains of Sheffield Victoria is a single track to carry trains to the steelworks at Stocksbridge.

There is a proposal to reinstate passenger services over the existing track to Stocksbridge:

Meanwhile, fast trains between Sheffield and Manchester via the Hope Valley complete their journeys in under an hour via Stockport.

The authoritative account of Sheffield Victoria Station is at

Posted by: mike on Oct 31, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Midland Station

When I book a taxi and absentmindedly ask for Sheffield’s “Midland Station” the switchboard operators generally haven’t a clue what I’m talking about.  There’s been no reason to call it that ever since Sheffield’s other station, Victoria, closed in 1970.  Yet when I listen to black-cab driver’s radios, they often refer to it as “LMS”, though it ceased to belong to the London, Midland & Scottish Railway on the last day of 1947.

Similarly, Sheffield's trams – and possibly buses – still showed 'LMS Station' as a destination until the end of the 1950s [see Going nowhere anytime soon].

For practical purposes, it’s now simply Sheffield Station.

It’s not a particularly spectacular building, though it was handsomely refurbished in 2002.  Indeed, the most impressive structure is out of sight – the culvert that takes the River Sheaf (after which Sheffield is supposedly named) underneath the platforms:

The present frontage dates from 1905, designed by Charles Trubshaw who also rebuilt the Midland Railway’s stations in Nottingham and Leicester and designed the Midland Hotel in Manchester.  Trubshaw’s first-class waiting room and the adjacent dining room are now occupied by one of Sheffield’s fine real-ale pubs, the Brewery Tap [].

The location of the station was controversial when it was built in the late 1860s as part of the “New Road” extension from Grimesthorpe to Chesterfield [see Round house on the Old Road].  The local landowner, the Duke of Norfolk, insisted on the southern approach being hidden in a tunnel (later removed) so that it was invisible from his residence, The Farm.

At the same time Sheffield Corporation, concerned that the streets to the east where Park Hill Flats now stand would be cut off from the town centre, demanded a right of way across the station footbridge.

That’s an argument that’s still running 140 years later.  The operator, East Midlands Trains, seeks to close the footbridge with ticket-barriers:

Alan Williams, in an article about Sheffield Station in Modern Railways (June 2012), suggested that the railway obsession with ticket barriers may be less connected with fare-dodging (which according to the four train operators serving Sheffield is no worse on their lines than the national average) and more with national security, because the specification for installing the barriers includes enhanced CCTV with individual personal recognition:  “What better way of ensuring that we all dutifully line up to have our picture taken than in a secure station and gating scheme?”

Posted by: mike on Sep 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Carlisle Street Schools, Sheffield (1985)

Former Carlisle Street Schools, Sheffield (1985)

I have the publisher’s word that I was the very first person to hand over money for the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group’s excellent new publication Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 – even before the Lord Mayor received his presentation copy.

When I browsed through it at the book launch, over tea and fruit-cake, I saw that one of the very few Sheffield Board Schools for which there appeared to be no satisfactory image was the Carlisle Street Schools (1891), in the heart of the east-end steelworks.

I had to confess to Valerie Bayliss, the Group Chairman, that I had a couple of images that I’d taken when the steelworks were being cleared in the mid-1980s.  I’ve now passed them on to be in good time for the second edition.

Indeed, the panorama that is included on page 48 of the book demonstrates vividly why this long-forgotten school needed a capacity, after an extension in 1894, of 1,121 pupils.

Very few people have lived in the Lower Don Valley now for decades, but when the School Board handed over its responsibility to Sheffield Corporation in 1902, it had provided places for over 12,000 pupils in the heart of the steelmaking east end of the city.

Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 is obtainable from

Posted by: mike on Jul 3, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

 Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield (1984)

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield (1984)

The Sheffield Star reported in June 2012 that the Abbeydale Cinema, which has been run as a not-for-profit community venue, was threatened with closure:

I drew attention to the Abbeydale in a blog-article some time ago [Iron curtain at the Abbeydale] because of its rare surviving iron safety-curtain, complete with 1950s advertisements for local businesses.

At that time, a Friends group were restoring it as a venue for amateur drama and other community uses:

There are some fine interior views at

A further article in the Star at the end of October reported that the building had been sold for £150,000.  The then unnamed buyer dismissed the possibility of running as a theatre as "not financially viable", but said, "It's a lovely facility.  The intention is to bring it back into public use."

The new owner is in fact Phil Robins, who runs The Edge, an indoor climbing centre near Bramall Lane football ground.  He announced in January 2013 his intention to seek planning permission to adapt the building for climbing, bouldering and a multi-gym.  His scheme restores the interior space to its 1975 condition, and will be known as The Picture House.

Sheffield has only two listed cinemas:  the other one is the Adelphi, Attercliffe, which has been mothballed for years.

It'll be interesting to see what happens next at the Abbeydale.

Posted by: mike on Jul 1, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Ritz Cinema, Parson Cross, Sheffield (1988)

Ritz Cinema, Parson Cross, Sheffield (1988)

Sitting innocuously in the midst of Parson Cross, Sheffield’s largest housing estate, the former Ritz Cinema, an Art Deco masterpiece stood unknown, neglected and without a purpose until it was demolished at the end of January 2013.

It was built in 1937 on the site of Toad Hole Farm to serve a brand-new community.  The Parson Cross council estate covered the green fields with well-appointed houses for fortunate working-class families who had previously struggled with inadequate housing in the Victorian inner city.

The Ritz was designed by the well-reputed Sheffield architectural practice Hadfield & Cawkwell, with a restrained brick exterior and a sensational art deco auditorium which looks for all the world like the inside of a typewriter.

In its early days the Ritz was almost the only entertainment facility, apart from pubs and working-men’s clubs, on the estate.  There is a wartime photograph of the manager, Bernard Dore, sitting with his front-of-house staff in front of a “House Full” sign looking thoroughly satisfied with the state of business.

Between 1962 and 1966 the Ritz gradually went over to bingo, and was for many years run as an independent operation by Mr David Chapman.  He once told me that his business rested on being the only place in Parson Cross that ladies could go for entertainment without their husbands.

When I ran a Sheffield Cinema Society visit to the Ritz Bingo Club in 1988 the operating box (or projection room, to those of us who don’t belong to the industry) was intact.  Apparently the deeds of the building included a covenant requiring it to remain capable of reverting to cinema use.

Bingo finally ended at the Ritz sometime soon after 2001, since when it has stood empty and become vandalised.

The last record of its condition that I can find is an urban explorer’s report from 2009 at  The projectors were still in place, but trashed.  "Speed" declares in his or her report an intention to return and put them right.

The Ritz deserved a much better fate.  It was a victim, not only of economic forces, but of the ungenerous and uninformed process of listing twentieth-century buildings in Sheffield.

Sometimes it seems as if listing is a process of creating rarities rather than protecting the historic-buildings stock for future evaluation and resuscitation.

To see something of the sorry catalogue of missed opportunities among the buildings of Sheffield, see Huntsman’s Gardens, Picture palace bites the dust, Rue Britannia Praised with faint damns, and – still a cause to fight – No use for St Cecilia's.

Posted by: mike on Jun 28, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (1985)

Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (1985)

When my mate Richard and I have our regular weekday evening putting the world to rights in whichever local pub is not having karaoke or a quiz night, towards the end of the night we phone our ETA to Lee or James, fish-friers of distinction, and go to the Norwood Fish Bar, 411 Herries Road (0114-242-4127) for our supper, freshly cooked and timed to perfection.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lee or James on duty:  the food is invariably top quality.

The Norwood Fish Bar is a shop-unit in an utterly unremarkable block that has been a Tesco supermarket since the early 1970s.  Before that, the site was the Forum Cinema, Southey, one of a series of huge 1930s cinemas built on Sheffield’s then new northern council estates.

(Someone on the council was clearly a literature lover.  There are roads named after Chaucer, Wordsworth, Keats and so on.  Sheffield folk, as is their habit, choose to pronounce “Southey” to rhyme with “mouthy”, just as when a pub or street is named “Arundel” – after the home of the city’s ground-landlord, the Duke of Norfolk,– it's always accented on the second, not the first syllable.)

The Forum was built by and for the Sheffield construction company M J Gleeson Ltd, who constructed the surrounding houses and appear to have had some kind of deal to build the adjacent shops as well as the cinema.

The architect was George Coles (1884-1963), a specialist cinema designer best known in London and the south-east for the Gaumont State, Kilburn, and a series of Odeons including the Odeon, Muswell Hill.

The Forum opened on September 17th 1938 and was closed on May 31st 1969.  It’s illustrated at

A couple of miles away, its sister cinema, originally the Capitol, Sheffield Lane Top, also by George Coles and built for M J Gleeson, survives as a carpet showroom.

The Capitol was due to open the week the Second World War broke out, so it stayed closed under the national ban on gatherings for entertainment until September 18th 1939, when it opened with Angels with Dirty Faces, starring James Cagney.

The opening-day description in the Sheffield Star refers to the cream faience dressing highlighting the brick exterior and the tubes of red and green neon on the canopy and the tower fin which inevitably remained switched off until 1945.

The Capitol subsequently became the Essoldo in 1950 and ultimately the Vogue in 1972, by which time it was one of only three remaining suburban cinemas in Sheffield.  It closed on October 4th 1975.

Its interior was always very plain, understated, faintly neo-classical in style, with alcoves and statues long concealed behind timber facing.  It’s not an outstanding building:  neither it nor the Forum would ever have been seriously considered for listing.

Nevertheless, the Capitol appears still to earn its keep and to lend a little distinction to an ordinary streetscape.

Even though the tower fin has been reduced in height, presumably for structural reasons, it’s a more attractive structure than the architecturally illiterate 21st-century block of flats that has been built alongside.

Posted by: mike on May 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield

I’ve known Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield, all my life, because my maternal grandfather and a bevy of Salvation Army aunties and uncles lie there.  When you visit a cemetery for a funeral, or even simply to tend a grave, as my mother and grandmother did when I was little, you don’t take notice of the surroundings.

The cemetery was built by the Attercliffe Burial Board to supplement their earlier cemetery adjoining the burial ground of Christ Church parish church, a Commissioners’ church built in 1826 and demolished after it was ruined in the 1940 Blitz.

In recent years, when I’ve found my way to Tinsley Park Cemetery, I’ve been intrigued by the quality of the architecture of the funeral chapels, a typical pair – one for the Church of England, the other for the Nonconformists – with an archway, a timber loggia, a clock in the gable and twin bell-turrets.  Each of the arches of the carriageway is decorated with angel headstops carrying Biblical mottoes.

The superintendent’s house incorporated a boardroom for meetings.  It opened in 1882.

The cemetery was designed by a local practice, Holmes & Johnson.  Samuel Furness Holmes (1821-1882) was essentially a civil engineer:  he had been a highway surveyor and was Borough Surveyor from 1864 to 1873.

It’s likely therefore that the architectural work was done by his partner, C H Johnson, about whose career and work I’ve so far been able to trace nothing of any substance.

The Burial Board was taken over by the city in 1900, and Tinsley Park Cemetery remains under the care of what is now called Sheffield Bereavement Services:  The Anglican chapel is still available for funeral services, while the Nonconformist chapel is a store.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield:  Anglican Chapel

The great company cemeteries of the early Victorian period attract a great deal of attention [see Catafalque burial, Equestrian genii, Four-legged mutes, Lapidary description, Steel barons' ValhallaVictorian values and Wool barons’ Valhalla], but the major push to bring decent burial to Britain’s industrial towns and cities followed the Burial Acts of 1852-7, which recognised that most people couldn’t afford the fees of the cemeteries companies, and empowered local authorities to provide dignified burial facilities for all.

In most towns this led to the establishment of an elective Burial Board, backed by the power to levy rates and led by local figures who knew, and felt a responsibility to, their local community.

This meant that overcrowded, insanitary churchyards could be closed.  It also enabled Roman Catholics and Nonconformists to be interred by their own clergy, rather than by the local Church of England priest.

I recently visited my local Victorian municipal burial ground, Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield, which has a small but active Friends’ group:

The cemetery was opened in 1861, and extended by Sheffield Corporation when they took over from the Burial Board in 1900.  It’s still open for burials in existing graves, and the magnificent chapels by Flockton & Son are intact and listed, but in urgent need of weather-proofing and restoration.

In more prosperous times a company called Creative Outpost devised a grandiose restoration scheme but it seems to have closed down:

This leaves the Friends seeking fresh support, expertise and – most of all – funds.  They’ve digitised the cemetery records to provide an invaluable service locating graves for relatives and descendants, and they’ve begun a detailed study of some of their more celebrated “residents”:  

They open the chapels as often as possible on Sunday mornings, and they serve as a link between the local community and the council’s Bereavement Services department.

Their existence is the vital factor that keeps Burngreave Cemetery safe and civilised, and encourages its use as a place to walk, jog and enjoy the fresh air in a built-up area that is not blessed with many amenities.

Every cemetery deserves friends like the Friends of Burngreave Cemetery.  The co-ordinating body for such organisations is the National Federation of Cemetery Friends:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Sheffield General Cemetery (1976)

Sheffield General Cemetery:  Nonconformist chapel (1976)

When I first knew the Sheffield General Cemetery in the late 1960s it was an undignified, sometimes frightening eyesore.

It was hard to believe that when it was opened in 1836 the Porter Valley was Sheffield’s classical Elysium.  On the north side of the valley stood the classical terrace The Mount (William Flockton c1830-2), the Botanical Gardens (Benjamin Broomhead Taylor & Robert Marnock 1833-6) and the Palladian Wesley College (William Flockton 1837-40, now King Edward VII School).

Opposite, the General Cemetery was laid out in terraces by the designer and curator of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Robert Marnock, with Greek Revival buildings, the Lion Gate, the Nonconformist chapel and the Secretary’s House, all designed by Samuel Worth, the designer, with B B Taylor, of Sheffield’s Cutler’s Hall (1832).

The original nine acres were extended by a further eight in 1850 to provide a consecrated section, dominated by William Flockton’s fine Gothic Cemetery Church.

The valley became built up in the later nineteenth century.  The turnpike road became a tram-route and Cemetery Avenue, originally built across open fields, is now one of the very few streets of terraced houses in the city with trees on either side [].

The Cemetery is now recognised as one of the finest provincial company cemeteries in England, built in response to the 1832 cholera epidemic (which in Sheffield killed 404 people, including the Master Cutler), founded as a joint-stock company by Nonconformists, with picturesque landscaping and a fondness for Egyptian detail on otherwise classical buildings.

It is the resting place of many of the great names of Victorian Sheffield – Samuel Holberry (1816-1842), the Chartist leader;  James Montgomery (1771–1854), newspaper editor and hymn-writer;  Mark Firth (1819-1880), steel magnate and philanthropist and the brothers John, Thomas, and Skelton Cole, founders of the Sheffield department store. 

Like all early-Victorian company cemeteries it fell into ruin as the income streams of plot-sales and burial fees dried up after the Second World War.

A development company bought the cemetery company, but gave up on the idea of building apartments on the site when they realised they’d have to exhume up to 77,000 corpses.

Eventually, in 1978, Sheffield City Council took it over, secured an Act of Parliament to extinguish burial rights, and perhaps ill-advisedly cleared eight hundred gravestones to create a green recreational space.

In 1989 a Friends’ group, now reconstituted as the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust [], took on a voluntary role as custodians of the place, encouraging conservation, preservation and appropriate use of a fine amenity that at one time seemed an insoluble liability.

There is still much for the Trust and the City Council to do:  the Lion Gate has been fully restored, but both chapels are empty shells awaiting a creative and sympathetic use.

In the meantime, the Trust works constantly to “encourage everyone to enjoy this historical site by walking its paths, learning its history or simply as a quiet place to sit and contemplate”.

Without their voluntary labours, the place would simply slip back into dereliction.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 13, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield:  interior December 2011

I didn’t realise when I first posted an article about St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield [Losing a landmark, followed by Church going] how many of my neighbours I would stir up.

A local resident has started a website to campaign for the future of the building –  the associated petition has attracted around three hundred signatures, most of them local.

I’ve done an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield and an article has appeared in the Sheffield Star newspaper.

Local people are waking up to the probability that a distinguished local landmark is about to disappear, and those individuals who have a past connection with St Hilda’s are particularly upset that it may disappear.

Since it finally closed for services in 2007, there seems to have been no mention or discussion of its fate in the local media, and I’ve yet to find any proposal to replace it with any other kind of building.

Local politicians have explained, politely but wearily, that the problem has been around for years, and say that they wouldn’t stand in the way of a practical, businesslike scheme to save the building.

Some national amenity societies have been encouraging, but their brief is primarily to engage with English Heritage within their guidelines, which are interpreted to the disadvantage of St Hilda’s [See Praised with faint damns.]

Members of the core group of supporters have made contact with the Church Commissioners, who currently still own the building and have invited bids to redevelop or demolish it.

One can’t blame the Church Commissioners for their disinclination to support a redundant building at the expense of the real work of the Church.  It’s a pity, nevertheless, that the situation wasn’t advertised a good deal more loudly in the streets that surround St Hilda's.

Not everyone loves the building.  One commentator on a web forum said she thought it looked like a factory, which suggests a sanguine view of Sheffield’s industrial architecture.

In the Sheffield Local Studies Library I came across a run of parish magazines from the late 1980s which show exactly how a once thriving parish went downhill.

In April 1988, the month before the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration, the vicar, Father Roger Bellamy, enumerated the previous year’s rites of passage:   baptisms – 11;  confirmations – 0;  marriages – 0;  blessing of a marriage – 1;  funerals – 57.  He noted that fund-raising was “not a great success”.

At the end of 1988 he estimated the active membership of the parish at 42, and expected around ten of those to be “lost”, through age or migration, over the following year.

At the start of 1990 he commented:  “We are facing the realities of our situation:  a small congregation, a largeish building and a remarkable indifference to us from the parish.”

It’s not so much the eleventh hour as five-to-midnight for St Hilda’s, so it’s time for those of us who live on the spot and care about the building’s existence to audit whether there really are community and commercial needs that it could serve, and to identify any positive, practical proposals to present to the owners and the planners.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Jan 11, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Catherine's RC Church, Pitsmoor, Sheffield

When I was collecting signatures for the petition to save St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns], a gentleman who knows a thing or two about historic building conservation told me a scurrilous tale suggesting that listed-building inspectors aren’t always infallible.

Apparently the very fine Italianate St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, Pitsmoor, Sheffield was originally listed Grade II and dated “c1860”.

In fact, the original, temporary St Catherine’s by M E Hadfield & Son was built in 1884 on an entirely different site on Andover Street.

Eventually, the very fine permanent church that stands on the corner of Burngreave Road and Melrose Street was built to designs by the Halifax architects Charles Edward Fox & Son and consecrated with great ceremony in 1926.

Its interior is sumptuous:  black marble columns with Carrara capitals support a coffered ceiling over the nave.  The aisles are vaulted.  The chancel apse has a mosaic frieze with a cornice of Connemara marble, under which stands a baldachino, its canopy supporting a statue of Christ the King.

I'm told that when this date came to light English Heritage promptly delisted it on the grounds that it was so recent – and so old-fashioned for its date.

I've found no evidence to back this story, except that St Catherine's does not appear on the current English Heritage list.

The fact that an authentic-looking Italian basilica was planted in the midst of inner-city Sheffield in the year of the General Strike is actually more significant than if it was simply a mid-Victorian Italianate church.

On the night of its consecration – the Feast of St Catherine – the Bishop of Leeds carried the Sacred Host from the temporary church to the new building in a torchlit procession.  Two thousand Sheffield Catholics turned out to witness their faith, and Canon Charles Leteux pointed out in an address to the crowds that “their public procession made history, for not twenty years before, a similar function in London had been banned by the orders of the Prime Minister”.

Apparently, the legislation banning public processions by clergy and members of the Roman Catholic Church was repealed soon after St Catherine’s opened.

It’s salutary to consider the power and energy that invested organised religion in Britain up to the Second World War.

For this reason, apart from its aesthetic value, St Catherine’s deserves to be recognised for its historic interest.  Fortunately, this church apparently continues to thrive, unlike so many.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving the Anglican parish church of St Hilda, Wincobank (which is also unlisted, partly because it's "old-fashioned for its date"):  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Jan 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred places

Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Some buildings stick in the memory for entirely sentimental reasons.  I passed the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield every morning in my first five years of schooling.

My Auntie Nellie lived literally next door.  It formed the background to my earliest memories of backyard Bonfire Nights when Uncle Charlie was in charge of the box of matches:  in Coronation year the biggest bang of all came when Auntie Nellie’s new pressure-cooker, inexpertly screwed down, exploded and spattered mushy peas all over the kitchen ceiling.

My latest memory of this thriving temple of Methodism is of my cousin Cathryn singing at a chapel anniversary in the early 1960s.

It’s an austerely attractive, utterly unremarkable building, unlisted, invisible in the Sheffield Local Studies Library index.

Built in 1890, its foundation stones were laid by a star-studded cast of Sheffield’s most important Methodists, such as Jethro and Samson Chambers, Robert Hadfield and Sir Frederick Mappin.

Its registration for marriages was cancelled because it was no longer used for worship in 1966.

I have a 1977 image of the building, with the brickwork still encrusted with industrial grime and most of the windows smashed.

No-one would have given tuppence for its chances of survival.

Nowadays it sparkles:  it’s well-maintained;  its windows are renewed and its brickwork is beautifully cleaned.  It serves as the Jamia Mosque.

So historic buildings which are not worth listing can survive if someone finds an appropriate use for them that will justify their upkeep.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns]:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Jan 5, 2012

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield from Firth Park

After I first expressed an interest in the threatened St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield [Losing a landmark] I was shown the Council for the Care of Churches 2006 report, from which I quoted in Church going, which recommended the building for listing.

I’ve now seen the latest English Heritage advice-report rejecting that recommendation.  The task of an English Heritage inspector is to evaluate the building in the context of its national significance, according to guidelines which are set out at  At the end of these guidelines (p 20) is a comment that “while all listed buildings are of national importance, local factors may sometimes be of significance”.

St Hilda’s failed the tests when it was last inspected in October 2011.  There’s more than a hint of de haut en bas about the inspector’s silky comments.

The architect, Leslie Moore, is described as a “junior partner” to his better-known father-in-law, which he would be, being the son-in-law.  The original design of 1922 had a “strong resemblance” to Temple Moore’s St Mary, Nunthorpe, but the rather different building of 1935-8 is “simplified down” – as if an imitation is preferable to an adaptation while still not quite good enough.

It’s described as a “plain rectangular box”, which it certainly isn’t, “old-fashioned for [its] date”, built of red engineering brick which is “common”, like most of inter-war Sheffield, and the interior, embellished by George Pace, is “austere”.  Ruth Harman and John Minnis clearly thought it merited an illustration in their Pevsner Architectural Guide Sheffield (2004), p 188.

All this suggests that if St Hilda’s has aesthetic worth, it belongs on a local list in “recognition of its architectural or historical importance and its value to the local community” [see].  Somehow, it seems not to have been considered so far as a candidate for the local list.

It’s not for me to assert that the national inspector and the local planners are wrong about St Hilda’s.  I think it’s a memorable, exciting, confident building that could once more be put to good use.  None of those epithets is necessarily a criterion for listing.

It would be peevish to point to listed buildings in the locality that might compare with St Hilda’s, but it is pertinent to point to some of the interesting, attractive and potentially useful structures that Sheffield has lost over the decades when listed-building legislation has existed to protect the built environment – the Britannia Music Hall, Huntsman’s Gardens Schools and the Pavilion Cinema, Attercliffe.

While St Hilda’s stands, there’s a chance of saving it – and it’s worth saving, whether it’s worth listing or not.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Dec 17, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield:  interior December 2011

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield:  interior, December 2011

I’ve learned more about the plight of St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield as a result of my earlier article Losing a landmark.

It seems that the verbal information on which Matthew Saunders, Secretary of the Ancient Monuments Society, based his report in the recent Newsletter was perhaps over-dramatic.

Recent images by an urban explorer show that though the building has indeed been repeatedly vandalised, the attempts at arson have not caused major damage, and that George Pace and Ron Sims’ screen and the eighteenth-century organ case from the bombed church of St James remain, battered but intact.

I sense that the vandals' acrobatics on the roof could only have been motivated by a search for scrap:  since the roof itself is tiled, the most likely source of scrap metal would have been the organ pipes, if they remained in situ.

The Council for the Care of Churches 2006 report on the building describes it as “striking...very ambitious...for its setting...[with] considerable townscape value” and in conclusion commented, “A fine church by an architect whose work deserves to be re-evaluated, with a particularly good and dramatic...interior.”

It ends:  "The Council has previously voiced concern about the number of churches of this period being considered for redundancy, and thought this church of a quality comparable to many listed churches."

A private individual has lodged an application for emergency listing with English Heritage, making a judgement that there remains enough about the building to justify listed-building protection.

I can understand entirely why the Church of England authorities are anxious to divest themselves of liability for a redundant structure.  They have enough work to do in their Christian mission.

However, I don’t see why that must involve destroying the local heritage.  I’ve yet to hear of any positive proposal to use the site in any new way.

St Hilda’s, prominent on its ridge about Firth Park, belongs to the locality.  It offers substantial, well-built space for local people’s social activities.

If it remains standing, someone in the future can find a worthwhile use for it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone for ever.

And with it would go a relatively economical opportunity to offer local people somewhere to congregate, which St Hilda’s was for decades before, during and after the Second World War.

Philip Larkin, in his poem ‘Church going’ [The Less Deceived, 1955], asked –

When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into...?

“Rubble” was not the answer he was looking for.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Dec 5, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageSacred places

St Hilda's Church, Wincobank, Sheffield

I learned from that fountain of useful information and news, the Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter, that the only historic building I can see from my office window is about to disappear.

St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen is an interesting inter-war brick church on a literally outstanding site.  It stands on an abrupt cliff-edge alongside the Flower Estate, itself a notable landmark of early-twentieth century municipal housing [see Ruth Harman & John Minnis, Sheffield (Pevsner Architectural Guides 2004), pp 185-8, and].

The church was designed by Leslie Moore (1883-1957) in 1935-8, presumably to serve the council estate and the slightly earlier community down the hill.  Moore made clever use of an extremely steep site, building his nave above a community room, accessible by steep steps built into the hillside.

The interior was high quality:  the white-and-gold classical gallery by the York architect George Pace (1915-1975) supported an eighteenth-century organ case with pipes brought from the blitzed city-centre church of St James.

St Hilda’s was closed, no doubt surplus to requirements, in 2007.

The Newsletter tells the regrettable tale of three arson attacks and some spectacularly energetic vandalism (which I suspect was an attempt at theft of lead organ-pipes).  The only way intruders could penetrate the secured building was to climb on to the roof ridge and then drop down through an access door behind the bell turret.  This is 35 metres above the sloping ground level.

I can’t help thinking that the athleticism and ingenuity behind such burglary would command a healthy wage in a healthy legitimate economy.

Apparently, the Church Commissioners and the Diocese of Sheffield have given up any attempt to save the building and intend it to be demolished.

This is a pity.  The local community is not blessed with public spaces, or indeed social opportunities.  The precipitous plot on which the church stands won’t be easy to redevelop.  The views from the site are magnificent, but any replacement structure will need high-quality design to deserve a place in the landscape.

There’s an obvious argument for mothballing St Hilda's in the hope of better economic times, sometime in the indefinable future.  But it’s only practical if there’s some guarantee that the local villains won’t keep trashing the place, and possibly killing themselves, in the process.

The saddest fact of all, of course, is that it’s a fine building nobody wants.  It’s not the first time that Sheffield has lost a useful historic building because no-one – owners, city planners, local amenity groups, interested individuals like me – took sufficient notice to appreciate its value [See Rue Britannia].

I can’t imagine why St Hilda’s isn’t listed.  And if you don’t use it, you lose it.

A detailed examination of the challenges facing the Anglican Church in north Sheffield is posted at

The Ancient Monuments Society can be contacted at  The Twentieth Century Society, which has a brief to support and conserve buildings dating from after 1914, is at

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Nov 7, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Britannia Music Hall, Sheffield (1984)

Britannia Music Hall, Sheffield (1984)

The surviving mid-nineteenth century music halls in the UK can almost be counted on one hand – Wilton's [see The handsomest hall in town and Theatrical roots] and the Hoxton Hall in London, the Old Malt Cross and the Talbot (now Yates's Wine Lodge) in Nottingham, the City Varieties in Leeds and the Britannia in Glasgow.  Sheffield had a couple of surviving examples until the 1990s, and one of them at least was worth saving.

In the second half of the nineteenth century West Bar, which runs along the valley floor below the hill on which the town centre had grown, was what the journalist Steve McClarence described as "the Shaftesbury Avenue of the Sheffield working man".  Here stood the Surrey Music Hall, which burnt down spectacularly in 1865, the Bijou (which survived as a tacky cinema into the 1930s), the London Apprentice (demolished in the 1970s) and the Gaiety, of which fragments survived until it was demolished c2000 to clear space for the Inner Ring Road.

The Gaiety in its heyday was owned by Louis Metzger, a pork-butcher.  He kept a musical pig called Lucy who, if plied with beer, would sing – as indeed a pig owned by a pork-butcher might.

The Britannia Music Hall on West Bar stood literally next door to the former police- and fire-station that is now the South Yorkshire Fire Police Museum[].  Built on the back-land behind the older Tankard Tavern, it dated from around the mid-1850s, and was superseded by bigger, better and more central variety theatres in the 1890s.

Incredibly, it survived as a bathroom showroom, intact but altered with a floor built across the proscenium and a lift-shaft at the back of the auditorium, and was described in detail by historian Andrew Woodfield in 1978.  When I first encountered it in 1984 it was Pink Champagne, providing wedding goods and, it appeared, a venue for wedding receptions.

In February 1988, by which time it was operating as Harmony Wedding World, Ian McMillan and the late Martyn Wiley broadcast their BBC Radio Sheffield Saturday-morning show from the Britannia and an actor called Stuart Howson (whose great-grandfather had managed the Regent Theatre in the east end of Sheffield) gave the final performance, a couple of verses of a Victorian ballad, 'The best of the bunch'.

Later the building became Door World and then, just as Sheffield City Council prepared to put a preservation order on it in 1992, it went up in flames and was quickly demolished.

There was much hand-wringing by the Council, the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, the Theatres Trust and the site-owners, West Bar Partnership who (in The Stage, April 4th 1992) "expressed regret".  The fact remains that conservationists have to win every battle, while the developer only has to win one.

The space where the Britannia stood is now used for car sales.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 2, 2011

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Paradise Square

For all its reputation as a gritty Victorian town, bombed and repeatedly redeveloped over recent generations, Sheffield is not short of Georgian buildings, but it has only one Georgian square – Paradise Square (1736 and 1771-c1790), down the hill from the parish church, now the Anglican Cathedral.

In fact, substantial parts of Paradise Square are neo-neo-Georgian, tactfully reinstated after World War II bombing by the long-established Sheffield architectural partnership, Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson in 1963-6.  According to Ruth Harman & John Minnis’ Pevsner Architectural Guide, Sheffield (Yale University Press 2004), nos 18 and 26 are almost entirely rebuilt and no 10 was refaced “in ill-chosen brick” c1985.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of this steeply sloping space, once a bustling market known as “Pot Square”, remains evocative of when Sheffield was a metal-bashing cutlery town, vibrant with religious and political dissent.

Here is where sermons and turbulent meetings took place, sometimes ending in violence.  In 1779 John Wesley preached here to "the largest congregation I ever saw on a weekday". 

There are repeated claims of audiences of eight to twelve thousand people crammed into this space [].

Really?  Twelve thousand is the capacity of the Sheffield Arena, an indoor space far bigger than Paradise Square with raked seating as well as a flat floor.

Who counts these crowds?  And how?

Let’s simply assume that when elections were much livelier affairs than nowadays, this elegant Georgian space, now the exclusive home of lawyers, surveyors and my accountant, would have been packed to capacity, and when the Chartists cut up rough and “the town was kept in great agitation the whole night” it would have been a dangerous place to hang around.

Posted by: mike on Sep 30, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Old Town Hall

George Eliot remarked, in Middlemarch (chapter 20), that “…the quickest of us walk about well wadded in stupidity”.  It’s astonishing how much we miss while going about our daily business.

When Valerie Bayliss led an intriguing Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walk around just three streets in the centre of Sheffield earlier this summer, she ended at the Old Town Hall on the corner of Castle Street and Waingate.

This huge building, dating back to 1807-8, was repeatedly extended through the nineteenth century.  After the E W Mountford “new” Town Hall opened in 1897, it became law courts, with a tunnel connection to the Police Offices across the road in Castle Green.  The Old Town Hall, as it’s long been known, ceased to be used as law courts in 1997 and has been practically abandoned ever since.

I – and thousands of other Sheffielders – go past it daily without giving it a second glance.  It has no street presence.  Even the tower clock doesn’t work.

A 2001 plan to turn it into a nightclub and offices came to nothing, and it seems as if the owner has simply walked away from it.

Valerie and her group have kept an eye on it and campaigned to arrest its decay for years now [see]. 

It featured in the Victorian Society’s national list of endangered buildings in 2007:

Anyone can see, thanks to an urban explorer who is also an inspired photographer [], the extent of the building, its architectural merit and the degree of decay that follows from the leaking roof and utter lack of maintenance.  Further urban-explorer images are at and

Now is not a good time to pump money into a dying building.  Yet it’s barely credible that such a huge and important public building has no use, and has had no maintenance for fourteen years.

For the Victorian Society’s 2011 campaign to highlight endangered buildings see

Future meetings of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group are advertised at  Guests are welcome.  The biscuits are excellent.

Posted by: mike on Sep 3, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Cavendish Buildings

It’s remarkable how much built history is literally invisible.

Among John Minnis’ slides when he talked to the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group about 'Early Automobile Architecture' [see Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works] was one image of my native Sheffield that made me double-take.

John knows Sheffield because he co-authored the Pevsner Architectural Guide on the city.

He pointed out Cavendish Buildings on West Street as an example of an early purpose-built motor-sales and repair shop.  I thought it was a wine-bar, until I remembered that it used to belong to the Kenning Motor Group.  In fact, I once hired a car there.

Cavendish Buildings has a very fine, imposing terra-cotta façade, obviously designed in one piece but actually, by the date-stones on the semi-circular pediments, built in three stages, 1907, 1910 and 1919.

It was built for the Sheffield Motor Company Ltd with, according to Ruth Harman and John Minnis’ guide, showrooms at street level and, on the upper stories, one of those repositories of misspent youth, a billiard hall.

Contributors to the history forum relate that during the Second World War part of the upper level was occupied by the apparently lively Central Labour Working Men's Club, and later the space was used by the Cavendish Dance Studio.

Until at least the 1970s there was a car hoist within the building, presumably serving repair shops on the first floor.  To passers-by, of course, its original use had long been forgotten.

Now you can eat and drink at the Cavendish: – even if you don’t qualify for student ID.

And you can see it in 3D at


Future meetings of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group are advertised at  Guests are welcome.  The biscuits are excellent.

Posted by: mike on Aug 10, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageLife-enhancing experiencesFun Palaces

Sheffield Fat Cat

The Fat Cat is a Sheffield legend:  It’s not the only award-winning real-ale pub in the city – there’s another round the corner on the next street – but it was the first, and it has a special place in the affections of beer-drinkers.  It welcomes anyone who enjoys civilised traditional conviviality and home-cooked food within easy access of public transport – so you don’t have to drive home (though there’s ample car-parking if you do).

There was a Kelham Tavern on the site by the 1830s.  After the street was named Alma Street to commemorate the Crimean battle of 1854, the pub was renamed the Alma Hotel.

The exact date of the present building is unclear:  it’s of straightforward artisan construction, with a traditional bar inside.  Though it has been extended, the only significant architectural alteration is the blocking of the original corner entrance door.

For many years it was crowded by surrounding housing and the noise and dirt of heavy industry.  Now it’s much quieter.

The saving of the Alma Hotel was Stones’ Brewery’s failure to implement 1952 planning permission to extend the building, doubling the number of bedrooms to eight and creating an open-plan interior.

Because the building survived intact while the local community contracted, it was an ideal location for Dave Wickett and Bruce Bentley’s scheme to reintroduce traditional beers to Sheffield.  They gave the building its current name when they opened in 1981 serving beers from independent breweries.  The first pint was pulled by the much-loved Sheffield football legend, Derek Dooley.

Their policy has proved durable and enormously successful:  good beer well served, home-cooked food ranging from carnivore to vegan, no piped music or gaming machines.  (There is a Monday quiz-night, when for lack of a microphone Stephen the quizmaster flits between rooms shouting the questions and answers.)

Dave Wickett became sole owner in 1989 and began brewing beer behind the pub the following year.  Within ten years he built the Kelham Island Brewery next door, and now you can find his beer in real-ale pubs across the country, and buy bottles in Waitrose.

Dave Wickett died, aged 64, on May 16th 2012:  The Fat Cat is a memorial to a man who added a great deal to the sum of human happiness.

Posted by: mike on Jul 16, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield (1987)

While the Adelphi Cinema lay dark [see Picture palace gathers dust] Sheffield’s other listed cinema building found a practical use as a performance building.

I’ve a soft spot for the Abbeydale Cinema.  Though I only ever once saw a film there, I repeatedly visited it in the 1980s when it was an office-equipment showroom – an unexpected fate for a superannuated cinema.  The company that bought it, A & F Drake Ltd, sold filing cabinets and office desks in the stalls and balcony, and separately operated the former ballroom and billiard hall in the basement as a snooker club.  The Drakes and their manager, Ian Humphreys, repeatedly allowed me to take adult-education groups to see the place from top to bottom, and on one occasion Ian McMillan and Martyn Wiley broadcast Radio Sheffield’s Saturday morning show live from the Abbeydale auditorium.

Because the Drakes had the imagination to find a productive use for the building – they regarded it as a better customer attraction than an anonymous box on a trading estate – it survived intact long enough to attract the attention of a Friends’ group who are restoring it as a venue for film and amateur dramatics.  Cinemas in the 1920s featured live performance as well as silent movies, and the Abbeydale had an organ – long ago destroyed – and still has a full-scale stage with wings, fly-tower and dressing-rooms.

Even more interesting is the iron safety-curtain, which has remained in situ even after Drakes jacked up the stage-floor six feet to create more space for their wares.  This must date back to the 1920s, but its unique interest is the complete set of painted advertisements that faced audiences between films.  Clifford Shaw, the greatest living expert on Sheffield cinemas, has dated the existing adverts to the 1950s.  Ian Humphreys observed to me in the 1980s that all but one of the businesses advertised had by that time folded.  The Cinema Theatre Association reports that, to the best of their knowledge, no other cinema safety-curtain survives with contemporary advertisements, and for this reason is supporting the proposal to upgrade the listing.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 4, 2011

Category:Sheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1982)

Former Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1985)

When the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group ran a historic walk of Attercliffe in 2010, one of the buildings they were able to point out was the Adelphi Cinema (1920), one of Sheffield's two listed cinemas and currently a cause for conservationist concern.

Originally located up a cul-de-sac, it has an interesting façade of buff and blue faience with a stubby little dome, designed to catch the eye.  Now that the surrounding buildings have been cleared, it's more visible from the main road and forms one of a group of historic buildings alongside the former Attercliffe Baths (1879), the former Attercliffe Library (1894) and one of Attercliffe's two Burton's stores.

All these survive alongside the Don Valley Stadium, formerly Brown Bayley's steelworks, and shortly to be redeveloped:  there seems to be an opportunity waiting to be taken to develop the possibilities of this location.  The Baths and the Library have been converted into rather sterile office and conference facilities, which at least safeguards the fabric, but the Adelphi is more of a problem.

It closed as a cinema in 1967, and operated as a bingo club until well into the 1980s.  There was a project to take advantage of its elegant classical interior as a gay club, and eventually it was transformed into a rock venue.  It's listed Grade II, which does nothing to keep the rain out.  Though it appears to be in fair condition, it badly needs a sympathetic owner and a way of earning its keep.

Now that the Stadium has gone, the area is largely deserted apart from the patrons of a couple of pubs and restaurants and the rather sad massage parlours up the road.

Yet the Adelphi stands on the main road between Sheffield, Rotherham and the M1 motorway.  There's no shortage of car-parking.

It's a possibility waiting to be turned into a practicality.

For details of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group's future events and conservation activities, go to

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 2, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Pavilion Cinema, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1982)

Another building that the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group couldn't visit during their Attercliffe walk in 2010 was the Pavilion Cinema, opened in 1915 and eventually demolished in 1982.

Though the original plans show that a classical interior was intended, in fact the auditorium was mock-Tudor, with black-and-white timbering, strapwork and lanterns as house-lights.  The auditorium was distinguished by side boxes, as in a theatre, very popular with couples:  the cinema management had an interesting strategy of pricing these box seats at 3/- for five people.

The Pavilion was converted to bingo briefly in 1970 and then became an Asian cinema:  at some point the owners repainted the entire auditorium in raspberry pink and two shades of blue.

When demolition began, in the innocent days before security fencing, I explored and photographed the entire building, primarily because it was one of the two Attercliffe cinemas that my parents patronised regularly on Saturday nights.  (My dad, who wasn't nicknamed "Scottie" for nothing, declared around 1954 that we wouldn't buy a television because they'd soon be making colour ones.)

I alerted the Victorian Society to the imminent demise of this unusual building, to be told that no-one had any idea how unusual it was, because no survey of Sheffield cinemas had been attempted.

So I tramped around the city checking out the survivors and was briefly the greatest living expert on the subject until Richard Ward produced his book In Memory of Sheffield Cinemas (Sheffield City Libraries 1988).  (I happen to know that Richard wanted the book to be titled A Memory... but made the common error of dictating his intention over the phone.)

I'll always have a soft spot for the Pavilion, not so much because it was part of my childhood as because it kick-started my interest in the architecture of the entertainment industry, and led me to run continuing-education courses and study tours about pubs, theatres, cinemas and the seaside under the umbrella title 'Fun Palaces'.

And that has proved to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of all my history work.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 30, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Huntsman's Gardens Schools, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1980)

Huntsman's Gardens Schools, Attercliffe, Sheffield:  central hall during demolition (1980)

When the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group visited the historic buildings of Attercliffe in 2010, one of the buildings they couldn't see – being a quarter of a century too late – was my early alma mater, Huntsman's Gardens Schools, demolished as part of the Sheffield Development Corporation's wholesale clearance of parts of the valley in preparation for the World Student Games event in 1981.

The name Huntsman's Gardens commemorates the schools' location alongside the Attercliffe works (established 1770) of the inventor of crucible steel, Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776).  Round the corner on Worksop Road, the Britannia Inn still carries on its gable the date 1772 in numerals reputedly cast by Huntsman.

The huge school complex was one of the magnificent series of Sheffield School Board structures designed by Charles J Innocent and Thomas Brown from 1871 onwards.  Huntsman's Gardens dated from 1884, and was an impressive example of the so-called Prussian model of building classrooms with glass partitions around a central hall so that the headteacher could supervise teaching and learning across the whole school without patrolling corridors in crepe soles.

Huntsman's Gardens, like many of the surviving Innocent & Brown schools across Sheffield, was characterised by solid walls, faced in stone, and huge, high windows to make the most of the light in a polluted industrial environment.  My memories of school in the 1950s include whole days when the lights remained on in classrooms because the sun couldn't penetrate the smog.

Most memorable of all, however, especially for a seven-year-old, was the enormous height of the school hall.  I don't ever remember feeling cold, but I've no idea how such an enormous space was heated.

In 1980 the building was razed without much comment.  If it had somehow survived a couple more decades, it would have presented an interesting challenge for redevelopment – bigger than the Leeds Corn Exchange (now a shopping centre), far more dramatic than any other surviving Victorian school for miles around.

The Victorian Society South Yorkshire group's publication Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 is obtainable from

Posted by: mike on Jun 28, 2011

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Banner's Department Store, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1977)

Banner's Department Store, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1977)

The South Yorkshire Group of the Victorian Society runs a series of history walks around the city through the summer months [see].  These excursions are always led by someone who has done detailed research into the locality, often supplemented by others who can add further knowledge.

I particularly enjoyed one of the 2010 walks around Attercliffe, the heart of the steel industry in Sheffield's Lower Don Valley, because that's where I grew up in the 1950s.  Most of the vibrant post-war life of the valley has long gone, leaving a few isolated standing relics, some of them architectural, others human.

There was a moment, at the height of the Second World War, when a well-placed German bomb dropped on the east end of Sheffield could have dished the only forge in Britain capable of producing Spitfire crankshafts.  Fortunately, the Luftwaffe's radar beams, positioned directly over the Wellington Inn on Hawke Street, somehow failed to guide the pilots, who in one blitz-attack destroyed much of the city-centre, and in the other hit anywhere but the crucial quarter square mile.

After the war, the valley continued to thrive – grimy, smog-laden and industrial, yet home to some 55,000 workers.  In the 1950s Attercliffe boasted a Woolworth's, two Burton's tailors, a Littlewood's store, four cinemas and a live theatre.

It also had its own family-run department store, Banner's.  Shoppers from Rotherham, travelling into Sheffield by tram and later by bus, often stopped off at Attercliffe, rather than travel all the way into the city-centre.

Writers such as Keith Farnsworth, Sheffield's East Enders:  life as it was in the Lower Don Valley (Sheffield City Libraries 1987), and Frank Hartley, Where sparrows coughed (Sheaf 1989) and Dancing on the cobbles (Sheaf 1992), describe how there was plenty of work, and in general wages were sufficient, but there was very little to spend it on in the days of austerity.

And almost everyone lived in a terraced house with an outside lavatory and no bathroom.

By the time I left Sheffield in 1958, the terraced streets were disappearing as "slum clearance", and the old community ties were quickly broken.  Some of the late-surviving housing made homes for the first generation of immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia, but they too had moved away by the 1980s.

Indeed, a VicSoc history walk round Attercliffe in 1980 would have come across even more interesting buildings than survive today.

Andy Moffatt wrote a detailed account of growing up in Attercliffe just before the community finally disappeared at and has his own website at

Posted by: mike on May 1, 2011

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Hillsborough Leisure Centre

I will always have a particular regard for the Hillsborough Leisure Centre, the third and smallest of Sheffield's World Student Games sports facilities, because members of its staff saved my life when I had a cardiac arrest in the gym.  It's because of Mel who pressed the panic button, Ryan who ran for the defibrillator and John who kick-started me to excellent effect that I'm here to write this.

Until the Centre was built in 1991, Beulah Road was lined with typical Sheffield artisan terraced houses, which before they were demolished figured as a location in the gloomy, award-winning Barry Hines/Mick Jackson TV film, Threads (1984).  My mate Phil's uncles lived here, and there are glorious family tales of their fanatical devotion to Sheffield Wednesday FC.  One of the uncles apparently threw himself in the River Don once when his team lost.  The river is at least a foot deep at this point.

Sheffield Wednesday is so-called because it was originally a butchers' side, and they played on early-closing day which was, in the late-nineteenth century, Wednesday.  Though the ground is officially called Hillsborough, it more or less stands in Owlerton, which is why the team are called the Owls, and devoted fans go to considerable lengths to acquire car-registrations ending in OWL.

(Sheffield United's colours are red and white, apparently because of the red headscarves of the formidable buffer girls who polished the blades of Sheffield-made cutlery, which is probably why their team is known as the Blades.)

But the Beulah Road landmark that means most in Sheffield's history and popular culture is the factory of George Bassett & Co, whose salesman accidentally tipped his display box of liquorice sweets all over a customer's shop counter, and before he could replace them neatly in their compartments was offered an order for them as they were – "all sorts".

Posted by: mike on Apr 29, 2011

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Canal & Brown Bayley's (1978)

Sheffield Canal and Brown Bayley's steelworks, later the site of the Don Valley Stadium (1978)

On one of my visits to the gym at the Don Valley Stadium, in Sheffield's east end, I suddenly realised that I was pumping iron (in a desultory manner) on the exact site where, seventy years before, my grandfather had built the brick linings for the furnaces of Brown Bayley's steelworks.

My granddad's skills must have been quite specialised, and on the strength of his wartime earnings my grandmother kept family state in a terraced house with a postage-stamp front garden and a privet hedge.

All that world of metal-bashing, heavy steel disappeared in the early 1980s.  (The Full Monty, filmed as contemporary in 1997, actually relates to a context fifteen years earlier.)  The great corrugated iron sheds of the works backing on to the Sheffield Canal have vanished, replaced by the magnificent athletics complex with its distinctive tent-like stands, made of Teflon-coated glass fibre, providing covered accommodation for 10,000 spectators.

The stadium was in turn closed in September 2013, preparatory to demolition and redevelopment.

This cleverly designed space was orientated so that the principal seats did not face the daytime sun, and the finishing straight avoided the glare of sunset.  Wind-tunnel tests determined that, because of the sheltering terrace-embankments, ambient wind-speed was cut by 70% at the stadium-floor.

After the World Student Games of 1991, the Stadium proved an admirable home for the Sheffield Eagles rugby-league club and latterly for Rotherham United FC after their original home at Millmoor was sold.

It also offered capacity of up to 40,000 spectators for huge rock concerts by the likes of the Rolling Stones and U2.  Those who didn't wish to pay the price, or see the artistes, could hear it all perfectly clearly while picnicking on the banks of the Sheffield Canal.

My granddad wouldn't believe it.

Posted by: mike on Apr 27, 2011

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Ponds Forge (1978)

Ponds Forge (1978)

"Ponds Forge" for most people who know Sheffield nowadays means the huge swimming and sports complex that was built in 1991 as part of the city's investment in the World Student Games, a one-off event to which Sheffield council-tax payers continue to contribute.

Names often indicate hidden history.

Underneath the sports centre runs the River Sheaf in a culvert:  whether or not the river was named after the sheaves of corn harvested by its banks, it certainly gave its name to the city of Sheffield, and the sheaves duly appear on the municipal coat of arms.

North of the site stands the 1960s Castle Market, which has been refused listing as a building of historic and architectural interest and may disappear, once again revealing the vestigial remains of the medieval Sheffield Castle, which was destroyed after the Civil War.

Ponds Forge, and the adjacent Pond Street which gives its name to the central bus station, took the name from the ponds which provided a supply of fish for the castle and, presumably, the town in the Middle Ages.

In the days when Sheffield industry made things, Ponds Forge belonged to George Senior & Sons, and the adjacent Ponds Works was owned by a toolmaker, Marsh Brothers.  By the 1970s, these businesses had ceased, and Ponds Forge was for a number of years an architectural antiques repository, from which friends of mine bought the doors of a defunct local cinema.

When the Ponds Forge International Sports Centre was erected, to the designs of Faulkner Browns, who also built Center Parcs, Nottinghamshire (1987) and the Doncaster Dome Leisure Centre (1989), George Senior's pedimented and pilastered gateway was carefully re-erected round the corner, scrubbed to within an inch of its life.

By these means, tenuous connections survive of a history that deserves not to be forgotten.

Posted by: mike on Oct 15, 2010

Category:Sheffield's HeritageThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

David Mellor Round Building

My friends Doug and Marion, who share my appetite for life-enhancing experiences, took me to the David Mellor Factory [] at Hathersage, in Derbyshire, recently.

David Mellor (1930-2009) is a fascinating figure.  A Sheffield lad, the son of a toolmaker, he was the beneficiary of an education system that allowed him to begin training at art school in metalwork, pottery, woodwork, painting and decorating at the age of eleven.

As a teenage student at the Royal College of Art he designed his first cutlery, 'Pride', which was manufactured by the Sheffield company, Walker & Hall, in 1953, and remains David Mellor Designs' best-selling range.  Later cutlery designs include 'Symbol' (1963), the first stainless-steel mass-produced cutlery, for Walker & Hall, 'Embassy' (1963) for use in UK embassies across the world, and 'Thrift' (1965), a further Government commission which combined economy with good design by reducing the number of items in a place-setting from eleven to five for bulk institutional orders ranging from prisons to railway buffets.

He made Sheffield his base, and became famous not only for cutlery, but also for Eclipse saws for James Neil, garden shears for Burgon & Ball, and much, much else.  Working with the Abacus company, he redesigned the standard British traffic-light and pedestrian crossing (1965-70).  He devised a bus shelter that ran to 140,000 units and, at the request of the Postmaster General, Tony Benn, rethought the traditional post-box:  his square design was intended to be easier to empty, but encountered much public resistance because it wasn't round.  A letter-writer to the Scotsman newspaper complained that it would endanger passing drunks.

His first customised workshop building in Park Lane, Sheffield, was designed by Patric Guest in the early 1960s and is now a listed building.  He then took over the derelict Broom Hall, once the home of the Jessop family and dating back to the late fifteenth century, and turned it into a integrated living space and workshop, described in his Guardian obituary as "a rare example of a family house containing a 55-ton blanking press, a 180-ton coining press and two grinding machines".

Then, in 1990, he moved his business out to the Peak District National Park, taking over the site of the former Hathersage gasworks:  here the factory, the famous Round Building, was built on the base of the demolished gasholder with a roof derived from the principle of the bicycle wheel, upending the Sheffield tradition of fragmented cutlery manufacture so that the processes were integrated within a single space.

The architect was David Mellor's friend, Sir Michael Hopkins, whose other work includes Portcullis House opposite the Houses of Parliament, the Mound Stand at Lord's, and the Inland Revenue building and the initial phase of the University Jubilee Campus in Nottingham.

Hopkins returned to Hathersage to convert the retort house and other ancillary buildings on the site into a shop, a restaurant and the David Mellor Design Museum, opened in 2006.

David Mellor married Fiona MacCarthy, the biographer:  their son Corin Mellor (b 1966) is now Creative Director of David Mellor Design, while their daughter Clare (b 1970) is a graphic designer.

Roy Hattersley, his Sheffield near-contemporary, added this comment to the Guardian obituary:  "William Morris urged his followers:  'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.'  Mellor extended that precept to Britain's streets.  In the argot of Mellor's home town, 'he did all right'."

The David Mellor Factory is on the B6001 south of Hathersage, just beyond the railway station.  The café is excellent and the design museum fascinating;  factory tours are held at the weekend.

The David Mellor Factory opened a new Street Scene exhibition in September 2013:

Posted by: mike on Sep 9, 2010

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Assay Office

When my mate retired as a dentist, he surprised me by trotting off to the Sheffield Assay Office [] with a jamjar.  It turned out that he'd been collecting scrap gold fillings for thirty-odd years to cash in on his retirement.  Melted down into a dull-looking ingot (the colour, I'm assured, caused by the presence of other precious metals), this produced a healthy little nest-egg.  The Assay Office provides a certificate of the metallic content which is immediately acceptable to precious-metals dealers and offers virtually instant conversion to a satisfying cheque.

It's an indication of Sheffield's status as a manufacturing city of fine metalwork that, like Birmingham, it supports an assay office alongside the capital cities of London, Edinburgh and Dublin.  Eighteenth-century manufacturers of cutlery and silver ornaments in Sheffield collaborated with the jewellery workers of Birmingham to obtain the right to test the quality of local precious-metal products in 1773.  The meetings to campaign for the necessary Act of Parliament took place at the Crown & Anchor pub on London's Strand:  as a result of the toss of a coin, it is said, Birmingham took as its place-mark the anchor and Sheffield the crown.  (The crown symbol was changed in 1975, and now Sheffield ware is identified by a Tudor rose.)

I had an opportunity to tour the Sheffield Assay Office earlier this year with the Art Fund South Yorkshire Group [].  Emma Paragreen, the Assay Office's Librarian/Curator, gave an introductory talk, and there was a tour of the analytical and marking areas of the new Guardians' Hall, opened in 2008.

The interiors of the new premises in Hillsborough are decorated with oak panelling from the previous building, carved with the complete sequence of Sheffield date marks from 1773 onwards.  A selection from the Assay Office collection of silver is displayed, including new items which are commissioned from local craftsmen and women annually.

The culture of the Sheffield metal trades combines practicality with elegance.  The clothes brushes in the splendid gents' lavatory are hand-made.  We do things properly in Sheffield.

Posted by: mike on Sep 3, 2010

Category:Sheffield's HeritageLife-enhancing experiences

Sheffield Rivelin Valley

One of the great privileges of reaching the age of sixty is having a bus pass, especially now that they're available across the whole of mainland Britain.

When my mate Richard reached his sixtieth birthday we made a point of meeting for breakfast in order to celebrate both his birthday and his new-found freedom.

At some expense (because before 9.00 am you have to pay bus fare even if you're sixty) we met in the Sheffield suburb of Hillsborough in order to catch the once-every-two-hours bus to Rivelin Post Office.  We travelled in state, because no-one else got on or got off, and from the terminus walked down the picturesque Rivelin Valley, past ponds and waterfalls that in the era of water-powered industry had been dams and mills.

Sheffield has a much better known route, the Round Walk, which follows the River Porter through the elegant Victorian western suburbs.  Rivelin, on the north of the city, is much less frequented, but just as attractive.  All it lacks is more thorough interpretation:  we knew we were looking at historically interesting scenery, but only one notice-board told us anything about it.

There are other priorities, however.  Our goal was the Pudding Ladies' Café [], which offers smoked-salmon and creamed-cheese bagels for breakfast.  (Richard had bacon and creamed cheese, which seemed to me a little eccentric.)  When his wife Janet appeared, she had kippers and scrambled egg.

Janet looked a little surprised when Richard declined a lift back so he could ride home on Supertram for free.

The guy has style.

Posted by: mike on Aug 19, 2010

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Jeffie Bainbridge Children's Shelter

For years I wondered, when I walked along Norfolk Street in Sheffield's city-centre, about the carved stone on the corner of the Halifax Bank, which says "JEFFIE BAINBRIDGE CHILDREN'S SHELTER".  Why, in particular, does the lettering say "Jeffie" rather than "Jessie"?

The building which now contains the bank was built in 1893-4 by Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (1845-1911), a towering figure in nineteenth-century industry in the north of England.  He was the son of the founder of Bainbridge's department store in Newcastle-on-Tyne, trained as a mining engineer, and became manager of the Sheffield, Tinsley and Nunnery Collieries in Sheffield.  His industrial directorships extended to other collieries in Yorkshire, and he was effectively the founder of the colliery and village of New Bolsover in Derbyshire.  He was also a director of the Yorkshire Engine Company, and an instigator of the huge Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway (which ultimately only extended from Chesterfield to Lincoln), intended to connect Warrington on the Mersey with a major coal-exporting port to be built at Sutton-on-Sea (and which was eventually built at Immingham).

He was MP for Gainsborough from 1895 to 1900, built a villa near Monte Carlo and purchased a 40,000 acre deer-forest in Ross-shire.  He died worth a quarter of a million pounds (worth according to nearly £19 million now).

He was a strong supporter of the YMCA, and his building on the corner of Norfolk Street and Surrey Street was partly intended to house the YMCA headquarters.  He also provided a children's shelter, the Jeffie Bainbridge Home for Waifs & Strays, which included a dining room and dormitories for homeless children and was opened by the Duke and Duchess of Portland.  The interior was swept away behind the façade in 1977-8.

Why Jeffie?  Emerson Bainbridge's first wife was born Eliza Jefferson Armstrong (died 1892);  their daughter was Eva Jeffie Bainbridge.  Jeffie is simply short for Jefferson.

Posted by: mike on Aug 3, 2010

Category:Sheffield's Heritage

Leah's Yard, Sheffield

Cambridge Street typifies the heart of Sheffield's city centre:  at the top end, one side is occupied by the 1960s John Lewis store;  opposite is a string of pubs and restaurants – RSVP, Ask, a Wetherspoon's called the Benjamin Huntsman, the utterly unreconstructed Sportsman pub and another bar called the Cutler – alongside John Lewis' overspill store.

Scratch the surface, though, and it all becomes much more interesting:  the ironwork front to part of the Benjamin Huntsman pub is all that's left of a coachbuilder's works of 1878;  the John Lewis shopfront hides an imposing gabled Primitive Methodist chapel of 1835;  the Cutler occupies that chapel's brick, gabled Sunday School.

Sitting right in the middle of this block, next to the Sportsman pub, is a derelict façade which is the key to the history of the street and the area.

Leah's Yard dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, originally known as the Cambridge Street Horn Works (presumably making handles for table cutlery) and later named after Henry Leah, who made die stamps here from 1892.  It's an intact example of a Sheffield "Little Mesters" works, brick workshops with generous windows for light and external stairs on a long narrow site running back from the street.

Cambridge Street was originally Coalpit Lane, when Sheffield's craftsman trades crowded into the town centre.  Yet even in its heyday this area was not uniformly industrial:  the Bethel Chapel and its Sunday school are only a few doors down;  across the road, the John Lewis site was the Albert Hall, Sheffield's most imposing concert hall.

This place witnesses the rich, vibrant diversity of life in Victorian industrial towns.  The phrase "cheek-by-jowl" doesn't begin to express it.  Ruth Harman & John Minnis, Pevnser Architectural Guides:  Sheffield (Yale University Press 2004), pp 98-100, contains a description of Leah's Yard, pointing out the eighteen workshops in Leah's Yard were occupied by a dram-flask manufacturer, hollow-ware and silver buffers, a palette-knife hafter, a steel-fork manufacturer, a silver-ferrule maker, brass and german-silver turners, an electroplate manufacturer and a cutler.

Leah's Yard has been empty and gradually decaying for a couple of decades now.  It's listed Grade II* and figures on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk register.  From the street it looks not so much tired as exhausted.  Various schemes for sympathetic regeneration of this precious survival have come to very little.

The entire area is due for comprehensive redevelopment, held up by the economic downturn.  Planning permission exists to demolish the entire street, and much else, to build a new retail quarter.  Meanwhile Leah's Yard moulders, and there's time to question whether there's an economic way of rejuvenating the best of the buildings around it.

Posted by: mike on Aug 2, 2010

Category:Sheffield's HeritageLife-enhancing experiences

111 Arundel Street Sheffield

Sheffield's proud cutlery industry is based on the work of the "little mesters", small – often one-man – crafts businesses that divided up the multiplicity of tasks involved in creating tableware, kitchenware and cutting tools.  Some of these businesses prospered and grew, sometimes into very large, ultimately world-famous enterprises such as Mappin & Webb [].

Around the original town centre there remain tall tenement blocks, often now converted to apartments or offices, which bear the names of long-gone enterprises which imprinted the phrase "Made in Sheffield" as a mark of quality on the best cutlery in the world.  These are areas very like the better known Birmingham Jewellery Quarter.  There is an excellent account of these characteristic Sheffield buildings in Nicola Wray, Bob Hawkins & Colum Giles, One Great Workshop: The buildings of the Sheffield metal trades (English Heritage 2001) [].

One such was George Ellis (Silversmiths) Ltd.  George Ellis (1863-1944) began working in 1895 in a little mesters' shop in John Street, gained his own hallmark from 1912 and formed a limited company in 1932.  The works on Arundel Street – in what was originally an eighteenth-century house – ceased trading around 1971.

Now, after some encouragement from Gordon Ramsay, the building is Silversmiths [] , a very modern restaurant with an emphasis on regional food, which in Sheffield includes the resolutely local Henderson's Relish [], the work of another kind of Sheffield "little mester", Henry Henderson.

My friend Paul, who suggested we visit, was present when Gordon Ramsay gave his encouragement.  This apparently involves lots of cameras, lights and theatricals.

We happened upon Pie Night, with Yorkshire pudding served – as it should be – as a starter with Henderson's Relish gravy.  The pies were excellent, with chips like miniature house-bricks.  And there was gooseberry fool.

The inimitable Yorkshire journalist, Stephen McClarence, had a less favourable experience of Silversmiths, so – much as I admire Steve's writing – I'll draw a veil over his review.  You can find it if you know where to look.

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