Random notes on the Steelopolis. This isn’t just a history page. It’s about appreciating everything around us – the buildings, people, products and events that shaped the City of Sheffield. It’s about taking notice of what is around you now, and observing the things that will become history for our descendants. Photograph by Brian Mosley.
Yesterday’s post about the demolition of the former Next building on Fargate caused a bit of a hubbub. Redevelopment is also taking place nearby, at 33-35 Fargate, better known to us as the former Topshop/Topman building.
Part of the ground floor is now occupied by Superdrug, but you may have noticed building work going on in the rest of the property. This is going to be new office space called Ratoon – its name meaning a new shoot or sprout springing from the base of a plant, especially sugar cane, after being cut.
The main entrance, and former escalator access to Topman on the first floor, is being turned into a new opening for office space above, much of which has been empty for years.
The £6.5m project is being financed by fund manager Nuveen on behalf of Medical Research Council Pension Fund. Sheffield City Council has also provided a £900K grant as it seeks to reinvent Fargate and High Street.
Offices will be rented as a whole, or floor-by-floor basis, with a rooftop terrace garden with views over St Marie’s Cathedral and Fargate. A lightwell will be installed over the stairs and an orangery-style roof lantern will shed light directly onto the upper floors.
But more about the history of the site.
If we go back to the beginning of the twentieth century the site was occupied by J.B. Eaton, well-known drapers at No. 33, and a public house called Old Red House, at No. 35. The pub closed in 1903 and the whole site developed as a purpose-built shop for J.B. Eaton.
The draper closed in the early 1930s and the site was bought by the British and Colonial Furniture Company. It demolished the former shop and built a new property for James Woodhouse and Son, known for selling furniture of modern and attractive design, and opened in May 1937.
The new Woodhouse building had five floors of spacious and well-lit showrooms providing nearly 40,000 square feet of floor space.
The shop fronts with large arcades, specially designed for the display of furniture, were of modern character, equivalent in size to a window nearly 200 feet long. A bronze and illuminated canopy protected shoppers and added to the dignity of the building.
The elevation, on classical lines, was constructed of Portland stone, with ornamental windows, and was floodlit at night.
Inside, staircases of polished oak were features of each floor, which were also served by express lifts.
The architect is unknown, but likely to have been the same one used to design many of James Woodhouse’ similar-looking stores.
Construction was by Sheffield-based George Longden and Son, who had also cleared the site, using materials of ‘British and Empire origin,’ and incorporating nearly 200 tons of British steelwork for the frame. Ornate plastering inside was completed by Hudson and Dore of Crookes.
British and Colonial was created after it bought James Woodhouse of Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as furniture retailers in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland. James Woodhouse is recorded in the records of Gillows of Lancaster, and it is thought he carried out his apprenticeship here.
The company traded as James Woodhouse and Son and expanded throughout Great Britain, Toronto, Quebec, and in 1936 had opened a New York store on West 34th-Street, Fifth Avenue. Its success was due to selling modern furniture at the lowest price, and by providing convenient and economical means of payment.
In 1945, British and Colonial was bought by Great Universal Stores and Woodhouse lasted on Fargate until the late1970s/early 1980s. Its eventual closure, and that of its sister company Cavendish, was the result of GUS divesting much of its physical retail subsidiaries to concentrate on mail order, property, and finance. In 2006, it was split into two separate companies. Experian which continues to exist, and Home Retail Group which was bought by Sainsbury’s in 2016.
33-35 Fargate eventually became Topshop/Topman, and for a while had a branch of Dorothy Perkins. It closed in 2020, a few months before the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.
And so, the next time you walk past, look at this old building, and remember its overlooked history.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
It’s all gone wrong at 45-47 Fargate, better known as the former Next store.
When the chain store relocated from the corner of Fargate and Norfok Row, the building was earmarked for a £1.5m makeover. It was to become a café/restaurant with external alterations including replacement facades, second floor extension and the formation of a roof terrace, with provision for a rooftop plant enclosure.
The application was made by Woodhead Investments and work started last year.
But in April, David Walsh, in The Star, showed photographs of the site, and the building had been demolished.
Owner David Woodhead of Woodhead Investments explained they had encountered structural problems. Original cast iron columns they hoped to reuse had proved too weak, forcing them to start from scratch.
However, the photographs revealed something interesting.
Demolition revealed old brickwork that didn’t fit in with what most of us thought to be a nineteen sixties construction. And the inclusion of cast iron columns certainly raised questions.
The site was once occupied by the “Lord’s House” which incorporated a Catholic Chapel. This was demolished in 1815 to make way for commercial buildings.
And digging deeper, we find that historical maps show an amalgamation of properties from the middle of the 19th Century onwards… and these formed the structure of the building recently demolished.
According to the planning application, remnants of the original shops fronting Fargate were visible in the basement, where substantial stone walls were incorporated into the existing framed structure.
And we find that underneath the early 1960s façade was the framed structure of the original three-storey shop, although the pitched roofs had been replaced with a flat roof.
We must be grateful to Picture Sheffield because we can see what the building looked like. In a photograph, taken between 1915-1925, it was occupied by Robert Hanbridge and Sons, hosiers, hatters, and glovers.
In 1953, it was purchased by Joseph Hepworth and Son, tailors, of Leeds, for £100,000, and after reconstruction and modernisation opened as a branch of Hepworths. The company rebranded to Next in the 1980s and stayed here until its closure in 2019.
The building was not deemed worthy of architectural interest and the sixties development destroyed much of its original character. However, we have lost another piece of Sheffield history, even if we didn’t know it still existed.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
The appeal of Kelham Island shows no signs of abating. Next up is a planning application for 122 apartments and a commercial unit in a six storey block at the corner of Corporation Street and Alma Street.
The planning application, called 180 Shalesmoor, has been submitted by CODA Architecture on behalf of R.S. Sabkha Construction and Developments Ltd.
The site is currently occupied by a few car repair workshops, a collection of one and two storey buildings in various states of disrepair.
Back in the 1700s this was an area of orchards and fields related to Coulston Croft, but the area was divided up along the Don into parcels of land which would later be filled by industrial development.
The area known as Kelham Island was one of the largest and most significant industrial zones in Sheffield. Its position along the River Don was very advantageous in the early days of industry for transportation and power. The surrounding areas such as St. Vincent’s and Bridgehouses were densely packed residential areas, many traditional back-to-back style houses were home to the many industrial workers for Kelham.
The site itself has housed some form of industrial property since it was first built on. It was originally called Mill Works, and maps dating back to 1850 show a steel and iron wire factory on site called Pilot Works which occupied much of the site, part of which became Corporation Street when it was introduced in the 1860-70s. Sections were added and removed from the works over the early 20th century.
Most recently it was occupied by City Centre Clutch, Yello Car & Van Hire, and VMC Bodyshop fronting along Corporation Street. It was on the market for £1.4m and was bought in December.
Backfields, a cess-pit of filth, was how it was described in the 1870s. These days, we know it as an unassuming narrow lane running between Division Street and Wellington Street. Once it was rural idyll, the fields behind Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) but by the mid-1800s contained slum housing and workshops.
There were a few unsavoury public houses to satisfy the thirst of the poor and were joined in the 1850s by another one.
It was an ambitious attempt by John Banks to capitalise on the success of ‘The Book of the Age,’ and he called his small hostelry Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, in full, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly,’ was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in serialised form in the United States in 1851-52 and in book form from 1852 onwards. An abolitionist novel, it achieved popularity, particularly among white readers in America’s north, by vividly dramatising the experience of slavery.
The first London edition appeared in 1852 and sold 200,000 copies. “Anything in such universal demand has never been known in the history of literature. Many booksellers aver that they are selling nothing else, the trade for the time being seemingly centred in this one book, which, unlike almost all others, presents equal attractions to both old and young,” reported the Sheffield Independent.
It was a brave move by John Banks, and one that probably raised a few eyebrows.
Very little is known about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and by the 1860s had been let out to another tenant before disappearing.
However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had another claim to fame.
In 1857, a new lodge in connection with the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds – Ashton Unity, was formed at the house of John Banks, under the sign of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
This strange society had been formed on Christmas Day 1826, when several groups came together to create a mutually beneficial society. It came into existence in consequence of the refusal of the officers of the Manchester Unity to permit the opening of an additional lodge in Ashton-Under-Lyne.
The aim of the Order of Ancient Shepherds was “To relieve the sick, bury the dead, and assist each other in all cases of unavoidable distress, so far as in our power lies, and for the promotion of peace and goodwill towards the human race.”
They drew their mythology from biblical sources, emphasising pastoral aspects of mutuality that could be exercised for and by members of the lodge.
The pioneers attached importance to regalia and symbolism. When completing lodge business all members had to wear aprons made of lambskins with the wool on. The Chief Shepherd was to wear a mantle. Guardians were decorated with sheep shears, and to wear broad brimmed hats, and the Minstrel was to carry a harp, an imitation of the Biblical shepherd David.
In 1829 it was designated the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. Loyal referring to the Crown, and Shepherds referring to the nativity of Jesus.
Shepherdry was introduced into Sheffield with the Shepherd’s Care Lodge in 1852. It was followed by the opening of the Sir Colin Campbell Lodge in 1853 and afterwards several other lodges, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opened.
It held its national AGM at the Cutlers’ Hall in 1867 and at the Church Institute in 1886. It survived in Sheffield until 1930 when all the Sheffield District lodges transferred to the City of Leeds District.
Interestingly, the society still exists, and became Shepherds Friendly in the 1990s, now offering Isas, investments, life insurance and income protection.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
While you were sleeping last night. Backfields, 3am. A forgotten thoroughfare amid 21st century redevelopment. A street with an undesirable history. Our ancestors imperilled this narrow street to crime – stabbings, muggings, and death, and I doubt that Sheffield has another street which suffered so many devastating fires.
In 1872, a Dr Hime expressed his opinion that it was not surprising that there should be so much sickness in the town while there were such places as Backfields and the neighbourhood.
Backfields led from Division Street to Wellington Street, off which were alleys and passageways with access to Coal Pit Lane, and Carver Street. It was an area of dirty, dense, back-to-back housing, and small workshops.
It was a cess-pit of filth, but it hadn’t always been like this.
Once upon a time, Backfields was exactly that. The fields beyond Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street), once the distant boundary of town, was where cows grazed, sheep gambolled, and children played in the meadows.
Cometh the Industrial Revolution, no trace of its rural past existed.
In the same year that Dr Hime pontificated about Backfields, the Sheffield Independent provided a unique account: –
“On the eastern side of a yard there is a privy that must do duty for a considerable number of houses, and it is scarcely equal to the duty. The ashpit is more than full – it is overflowing. It has made an encroachment almost into the middle of the yard, in front of the doors of some of the houses and extends about twenty feet until its further extension laterally is stopped by the water branch.
“It is the same in every yard. Near St. Matthew’s Church there is an ashpit adjoining the street, piled up high beyond the retaining walls, and the rubbish falls onto the footpath leading to the houses. The passages are worthy of exploration. A visit to them will show that the ashpit question, though a grave one, is not the only point affecting the sanitary position in Sheffield. Air, light, ventilation, and crowding have much to do with it, and many of these places ought to be improved off the face of the earth.
“There is a passage, the old entrance to which has been removed by the erection of a privy, and the actual passage left would scarcely admit the entrance to a turtle-fed alderman. But there are other privies, not only as bad, but worse. One could not be seen because the doors were closed. The other could not be seen because the doors could not be closed. But here, as in the other case, a solution has been found. Human necessity is strong in resources; and the depositions that should be made in the privies are made in or thrown into the passage. These premises are stuck over with notifications from the Health Committee enjoining cleanliness on the inhabitants, in circumstances and under conditions where it is impossible to be clean!
“Yet again, in these jennels and passages, there are active business proceedings carried on. In one of them, there is a bakery, where spicy-looking buns were being made for the delectation of young Sheffield, which may be very excellent in their way, though fastidious people would prefer that the materials of their food should not be exposed and manipulated in such unsavoury localities. In another passage, a large tray of pork pies was met ready for the oven. These ‘Melton Mowbrays’ may be all that could be desired; and the givers of picnics will perhaps feel obliged for hints as to the possible sources of their pies and buns, or other delectable confections manufactured over conditions of sweetness that may impart a flavour and improve the appetite.”
It took years for things to improve. A hundred years later, the houses had finally gone while recession claimed industry and commerce. St. Matthews is perhaps the only reminder of our inglorious past.
Sheffield did little to redevelop Backfields and it is only now, with the Heart of the City project, that the area has been embraced. Tower blocks are not long from completion, and people, maybe descendants of those who ate spicy-buns and pork pies, are returning.
But, as somebody recently pointed out to me, are we simply building the slums of the future?
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
While you were sleeping last night. I walked down a lonely street. It was shadowy, nothing stirred, all buildings were in darkness. But there was one window that called out. It said, I am a window that used to be part of a busy factory. Little boys used to peer through my dirty glass and watch workmen in flat caps toiling in gloomy conditions. But then the machines stopped, and I was broken. A relentless desolation. The little boys grew older, and they longed to see what mysteries I shielded. I could have told them that there was nothing but discarded tools, benches, old newspapers, cigarette ends, and wretched rats. Only these old railings stalled their curiosity. And now, I am born-again. A young man lives here. Perhaps the great-grandson of one of those little boys of the past. He’s starting out in the university of life with his books and music. But he is vulnerable to prying eyes, and these railings still keep them out, and I offer him warmth and protection, and I tell all, that behind me, this boy is comfortable.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
I know somebody who once went to Dublin and sat on the doorstep of a traditional Irish pub and drank four cans of Ward’s Best Bitter. Much has been written about the closure of S.H. Ward in 1999, but there is a little-known chapter in the brewery’s history that eventually led to its downfall.
Septimus Henry Ward (1831-1905) was the seventh son of John Ward, a gentleman farmer of Pickering, North Yorkshire. He went to London, aged seventeen, and for twenty years was engaged in commercial pursuits.
He came to Sheffield in 1868 and bought a partnership in Kirby, Wright, and Co at the Sheaf Island Brewery on Effingham Road. This was later dissolved, and the company renamed S.H. Ward, although George Wright stayed on as a brewer.
In 1872, it amalgamated with the Old Albion Brewery of Lathom and Quihampton, in Ecclesall Road, and the new firm purchased the adjoining Soho Brewery from the executors of Thomas Bradley.
The site of the Sheaf Island brewery was sold, and Captain Weyland Mere Lathom, one of the former proprietors of the Old Albion Brewery, became Ward’s partner but took little active part in affairs.
Under Septimus Ward, the business prospered and the Soho Brewery on Ecclesall Road was renamed the Sheaf Brewery, where brewing continued until its closure.
The partnership was dissolved in 1893, and the company converted into a limited company with Septimus becoming Managing Director. The Wright family still ran the day to day business, but ownership eventually reverted to the Ward family with a 51% share, and the Wright family owning the remaining 49%.
In later years, the Ward family reduced their brewing interests. The Wright family were given first option to buy and bought two shares to regain control of the business lost when George Wright had handed over ownership to Septimus due to bad investments in 1869.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Sometime during the 1970s, the Ward family was approached by Truman’s Brewery, East London, who were interested in expanding into the north. Truman bought approximately half the Ward’s interests then, and the remainder were bought after Grand Metropolitan acquired Truman in a marathon battle with Watney Mann in 1971.
Matters rested until 1974 when Grand Metropolitan made a bid for the 51% interest held by the Wright family.
Who were Grand Metropolitan?
This business began in 1934 and was a UK-based, international hotel and catering conglomerate that diversified into areas such as home milk and dairy deliveries (Express Dairies), steak restaurants (Berni Inns) and gambling (William Hill and Mecca Bingo Halls). It entered the beer, wine, and spirits markets through the purchase of two UK breweries including Watney Mann, which itself had recently taken over International Distillers and Vintners. In 1997, after more mergers and acquisitions, Grand Metropolitan finally merged with Guinness PLC to create the largest drinks company in the world, Diageo.
The Wright family had no wish to be absorbed into the Grand Met machine but reconciled themselves to the fact that they would probably sell it to someone sooner or later. It happened sooner, when the shares were sold to Vaux and Associated, a Sunderland-based brewer.
Vaux then tidied up matters and bought Grand Met’s 49% and Ward’s, with its brewery and 110 pubs, became a wholly owned subsidiary.
S.H. Ward operated successfully until the 1990s, but events were taking place in Vaux Group’s boardroom that had devastating consequences. The business had diversified into Swallow Hotels and the board of directors accepted the advice of their corporate financier to close all their brewing concerns in 1999.
The Vaux Group was rebranded the Swallow Group and taken over by Whitbread a year later, and the pubs sold to Enterprise Inns.
The last brew at Sheaf Brewery was in June 1999, and despite valiant efforts by former board members to save it, the site was shut down. It was subsequently flattened, apart from the brewing tower and a few adjacent buildings, that were absorbed into a new apartment complex.
All these years later, with the benefit of hindsight, what might have happened had S.H. Ward been sold to Grand Metropolitan? Still gone? Or, one of Britain’s leading beer brands?
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
I need you to use your imagination.
We are on Barnsley Road, heading towards Fir Vale, an area adjacent to Page Hall, where a large Slovakian Roma community lives. Page Hall has attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons. It has an unwanted reputation for crime and disorder.
But before we reach Fir Vale, and the sprawl of the Northern General Hospital, we come to a set of traffic lights, at the junction with Norwood Road. On the corner, we can see an abandoned and boarded-up former care home. Steel-mesh barriers surround it, and graffiti covers most parts. It won’t be long before someone sets it on fire, and it will be gone.
We carry on down Barnsley Road and turn left into Crabtree Close. We park the car and retrace our steps to a patch of scrubland where a sign welcomes you to Crabtree Ponds Local Nature Reserve.
Slipping through the trees, we descend a rough path, and at the bottom is a most unexpected sight. A beautiful expanse of water, with carefully made walkways around it, surrounded by tall trees and thick vegetation. All you can hear are birds singing, and the distant hum of traffic.
A man with a big dog sits on a bench. He is drinking from a cheap bottle of wine. He is drunk, but he doesn’t care that we have disturbed him. “Reyt, pal,” he calls, and sits back to enjoy the last of the day’s sun. We walk past him, along wooden planks suspended above water, and climb the steep hillside, back towards that decaying care home. Nearby, an ambulance wails its way to the hospital.
But imagine we could go back in time.
We are in the mid-1800s. Like today, the birds are singing, but the only traffic is a horse and cart gently clattering along the other side of a huge stone wall. We have walked around the ornamental pond, admired the fountain at the centre, and said good evening to a beautiful Victorian lady taking the summer air.
We climb the neat, terraced gardens, up exquisitely carved steps, absorb the sweet fragrances, and walk across the manicured lawn towards the big house. It looks splendid as the sun slips behind its sloping eaves, and shadows fall across the decorative gardens. It will soon be night.
We sit on a garden bench and look across the valley, to the meandering stream below, the ponds with their delicate fish, and the trees and fields that stretch over to Wincobank Hill.
Let us hope that this landscape remains as it is forever.
In 1884, a newspaper reported that Crabtree Lodge was a pleasantly-situated residence, in a district of Sheffield which had grown very rapidly. Pitsmoor had lost its rural charm, but this big house remained at the corner of Crabtree Lane.
It was a mansion in the picturesque old English style built in the nineteenth century, allegedly for a Mr Rotherham.
It later became home to Charles Atkinson, J.P. (1800-1879), chief partner in the firm of Marriott and Atkinson, Fitzalan Works, Attercliffe, one time Mayor, and Master Cutler. He had started as a travelling salesman for George Marriott and took his daughter as his first wife.
In 1875, he published a pamphlet called ‘Sheffield as it was; Sheffield as it is; Sheffield as it should be; by an old Grammar School boy of 1808.’
“I have endeavoured to show what Sheffield was 60 years ago, and what it is now. With all its increase of population and wealth, and yet without a good street as a leading thoroughfare, the centre of town a complete blot; the public buildings scarcely reaching to mediocrity and situated as they are in bye streets. While its merchants and manufacturers have made advancement in the race of improvement, the town itself remains much the same as it was in the days of Chaucer.”
On his death in 1880, the house and its contents were put up for sale and described thus: –
“The house contains a spacious entrance hall, noble dining room, excellent drawing rooms, library, and boudoir, loft corridors, good bedrooms, pantries, kitchens, larders, and every convenience. There is a four-stall stable with coach-house, and coachman’s room over. A small conservatory, with mushroom beds and potting sheds. The grounds of over 2 acres are tastefully laid out, being terraced up to the house, with an ornamental lake below, having a fountain in the centre. There is also a well-stocked and productive kitchen garden. There is also three acres of pastureland. It is held under two leases from the Duke of Norfolk.”
It was acquired in 1881 by Edward Tozer (1820-1890), a partner in the firm of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers, another Mayor of Sheffield, and twice Master Cutler of Hallamshire.
He was a rags-to-riches story, born in comparative poverty, and rising to become a partner in one of Sheffield’s best-known firms. He was born at Clifton, near Bristol, the son of a brewer, who came to Sheffield. Following his father’s death, he was brought up by his mother who opened a school in Victoria Street.
At the age of eleven, Tozer started work with Sanderson Brothers on West Street and remained to become Managing Director. He eventually left to and joined Henry Steel, T. Hampton, and William Peech in the management of the Phoenix Bessemer Works
It was during Tozer’s time that tragedy occurred at Crabtree Lodge.
In 1886, his youngest daughter, Margaret, aged 19, suffering from ‘religious mania’, went to an upstairs room and committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sulphuric acid.
Edward Tozer died, aged 70, in 1890, and Crabtree Lodge passed to Francis Markham Tindall, head of Thomas Marrian and Co, Burton Weir Brewery, Attercliffe, who died in 1902.
It is not without doubt that by now the city had encroached upon Crabtree Lodge and it spent years being offered for sale or to rent. In 1907, it was briefly home to Ernest Adames, a district manager of an assurance company, but appears empty until World War One.
In 1916, the Y.W.C.A. secured the lease as a hostel for the recreation and rest of women and girls coming to Sheffield and engaged in munition work.
“The house is going to be so nice when it is finished,” said Miss Goldie, the warden.
“The house has been unoccupied for some time, and the grounds have suffered in consequence, yet such imperfections as a break in the stone balustrade which surrounds the delightful terrace only seems to give an air of romance and makes the house appear older than it probably is.
“The large dining hall with panelled dado, surmounted with green duresco and dark oak ceiling, is considered one of the finest rooms in Sheffield, and here the girls will sit at tables laid for six and look out from a large lattice-paned window over a stretch of country blocked on the horizon by Wincobank Hill.”
After the war, Crabtree Lodge, referred to as The Hostel, was managed by a committee of ladies, although still affiliated to the Y.W.C.A., and lasted until 1927. It was advertised as a private hotel or boarding house but survived as a place for meetings and functions with garden fetes regularly taking place in the grounds. It was later converted into flats, and there is a suggestion that the grounds may also have been used as a T.A. Centre.
We might consider the area to be called Burngreave now, and the lodge was eventually demolished, the site used as the Norbury Home for Elderly People.
But its gardens and ponds remained and today form Crabtree Ponds, a large area of standing water abundant with aquatic life such as rudd, roach, perch, crucian carp, sticklebacks and even eels. Bats fly from nearby Roe Woods to feed on the ponds.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
History has the gift of repeating itself, and this applies to one of Sheffield’s forgotten masterpieces. I am referring to The Mount, on the north side of Glossop Road, at the top of the hill, in which a listed planning application has been submitted by Broomgrove Properties and Axis Architecture to convert the Grade II* listed property into fifty-five residential apartments.
Its beauty is lost amidst the urban sprawl of Broomhill, but once upon a time this was an ambitious attempt to recreate the grand terraces of Bath’s Royal Crescent and London’s Regent’s Park. It was built between 1830-1832 by William Flockton, aged 26, a builder, and forever famous as one of Sheffield’s leading architects.
Pevsner describes it as “a palace-fronted terrace of eight houses, seventeen bays long, with an Ionic giant portico of six columns carrying a pediment and end pavilions with giant columns in antis.”
The Mount, located in rural surroundings, looked like a country house but contained several individual mansions. It was first advertised in 1832 and allowed prospective occupants to view a shell before adjusting the interior to individual needs.
It was referred to as ‘Flockton’s Folly’ because for the first eight years after construction it was only occupied by one person. But its popularity increased and became a place of literary fame when James Montgomery lived and died here, while John Holland, another noted Sheffield poet, lived in one of the houses – occupied by William Parkin for 33 years – until his own death.
The fame of The Mount says that a ballot was once taken as to who should become the tenant of one of the houses.
Other well-known people who lived at The Mount included, Walton J. Hadfield, the City Surveyor who lived at number 2 from 1926 to 1934, James Wilkinson, the iron and steel merchant who lived at number 6 from 1837 to 1862 and George Wostenholm, the cutlery manufacturer, who lived at number 8 between 1837 and 1841. Numbers 14 and 16 were lived in by George Wilson, the snuff manufacturer, between 1857 and 1867, one house not being big enough for his family. While another George Wilson, who was managing director of Charles Cammell and Co for many years, also lived at The Mount.
In time, it was occupied by “headmasters, ministers, station masters, and all sorts of people.”
The Mount was used as the basis for the nearby Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School, later Wesley College, and now King Edward VII School, in 1838.
In 1914, John Walsh, the department store owner, bought The Mount and served notice on its tenants. The need to expand his city centre store meant that his live-in shop assistants needed new accommodation. Numbers 10-16 were used for the purpose, and when the Blitz of 1940 destroyed the store, the building was used as temporary retail space for a year.
It was bought by United Steel Companies in 1958 and converted into offices, with extensive additions to the rear, by Sheffield architects Mansell Jenkinson Partnership, who also installed lifts. In 1967 it became the regional headquarters of British Steel Corporation and in 1978 was purchased by the insurance company General Accident, later becoming Norwich Union.
For a long time, The Mount was owned by Aviva (formed from the merger of Norwich Union and Commercial General Union) but was rented to A+ English, a language school, which carried out significant improvements to the offices.
The latest planning application calls for fifty-five residential apartments (with a mix of 1, 2, and 3, bedroom and studio units), including single-storey infill extensions at ground floor level, a single-storey rooftop extension to the existing annex, formation of four basement lightwells to the listed range, and provision of internal/external residents’ parking and associated landscaping. In addition, the proposals allow the removal of the through vehicular route, with access from Newbould Lane closed, and with an infill extension at ground floor level to provide in effect a new main entrance for the development and space for a concierge.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.
I had to make a hurried and brief visit to London. There is somebody you need to meet, said my friend. Come straightaway. The fact I heard this at 9am, and had only been asleep for four hours, made it an interesting journey. And so, hungover, I found myself waiting outside the world famous Savoy Hotel in The Strand. I would like to say the meeting was in the hotel, but it would take place in a nearby Costa Coffee.
I watched London rush by and looked up at the hotel entrance. “Fantastic engineering, isn’t it?” said a voice behind me. “It’s stainless steel,” said the member of staff. “Do you know they once found a dead body on top of the glass canopy?” I didn’t, and later found out it was true. In 1935, a down-and-out, one of the unemployed, exhausted, and defeated, had painfully climbed on to the shining stainless steel canopy over the entrance to the hotel to die of starvation.
And this got me thinking. Stainless steel. Was there a Sheffield connection? On my way home, I found out that there was.
“Isn’t it lovely?” exclaimed a girl gazing at the entrance to the adjacent Savoy Theatre. “Fancy a theatre front made of silver!” The year was 1931, and her boyfriend knew better. “That’s not silver. It’s stainless steel, and it’s made in Sheffield.”
But he was only partly right. The famous Sheffield product was not, strictly speaking, stainless steel, but a development of it – chromium nickel steel – which could be polished up to a degree that eclipsed the brilliance of polished silver and retained its sheen in any atmosphere.
‘Staybrite’ was a product of Thomas Firth and Sons, and in the 1920s and 1930s was making its mark in London. It was used for the imposing entrance to the Oxford Street Corner House, and combined with glass, there were the massive entrances to the Savoy Hotel and Savoy Taylor’s Guild, the beautiful rotating doors of the Strand Palace Hotel, and glittering turnstiles at the Olympia.
And there were examples abroad. Including the main entrance and ticket barriers of Geneva railway station, ornamental gates at Berne, and the doors of the Palais de Justice at Lausanne.
It was all manufactured in Sheffield.
Harry Brearley was the man credited with the invention of ‘rustless steel,’ but he left Brown Firth Laboratories in 1915 after a disagreement. It was his successor, Dr W.H. Hatfield who created the so-called “18/8” – Staybrite, still the most widely used alloy of this type.
The testing of it was rigorous. It was buried in a garden for six months and came up gleaming as new. It was attached to a vessel bound on a nine months’ voyage and dragged through the waves for that long period, hauled aboard, and found to be bright as polished silver.
Its use is ubiquitous now, but how did the Savoy Hotel come to get this Sheffield product? It was all about art-deco. A young architect, Howard Robertson, wrote to the hotel pitching for work, and in 1929 he revealed his most famous and prominent design – The Savoy’s iconic ‘Staybrite’ sign which runs the width of Savoy Court.
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