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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. To contact, please use the facebook link at the bottom of the page.

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Places

When Graves Park had an open-air theatre

Old sandstone quarry at Cobnar Wood. Photograph by Sheffield City Council

One day, in 1926, a lady walked through newly opened Graves Park and came upon an old quarry within Cobnar Wood. Well-known in musical circles, she was well-versed with acoustics and approached Sheffield Corporation with an idea.

This had once been Norton Rifle Range and formed part of land gifted by J.G. Graves to the city. In February 1927, undergrowth was cleared, and the ground levelled, in preparation for an open-air theatre.

“Around the natural cavity, at one side of which there is a wall of stone – part of the original quarry – the ground rises steeply and is covered with trees and bushes. On the left stands part of the Cobnar Wood, and it does not need much imagination to visualise the beauty of the scene on a fine summer evening. On the side of the hill accommodation will also be made for thousands of people to stand or sit.

“The theatre will not be confined to one class of entertainment. There could be music of all kinds – orchestral music, chamber music, bands, Pierrots, and others, chosen by the Parks Committee.”

A platform was erected under the quarry wall with seating arranged facing the stage.

The open-air theatre opened on June 16th, 1927, when a crowd of 3,000 people attended a concert in the presence of the Lord Mayor, who happened to be J.G. Graves.

“The beautiful natural amphitheatre became a vast arena of song when the first municipal open-air community singing concert was held. The basin, with its grassy slopes and fringe of trees, is admirably suited for events of this kind. The singing was led by the Sheffield Orpheus Male Voice Choir, conducted by Mr T. Ratcliffe, and although the audience was a little shy at first, they soon joined in the choruses lustily, and sang with real heartiness songs like Love’s Old Sweet Song, On Ilkla Moor Baht At and Pack Up Your Troubles. Four hundred chairs were occupied, and a good crowd behind the ropes.”

The success of this first evening led to further concerts by the Melody Minstrels and Motley Entertainers, and for the next ten years the public were treated to regular summer entertainment in the old quarry.

Sir Henry Coward conducts the last concert of the 1927 season at Graves Park. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Despite its success, Sheffield Corporation brought an end to the concerts in 1937, the victim of unforeseen circumstances.

The quarry was to be no longer used because of midges. It had attempted several solutions including spraying the quarry before each performance and at the interval when attendants walked around with spray pumps.

As a last resort an outside expert had suggested spraying the surrounding woods, quarry walls and the ground with disinfectant and insect killer.

All attempts failed and the midges affected attendances causing one council official to say, “The day would come when performers would be singing to an audience of gnats.”

Alas, the open-air theatre was abandoned, and future concerts held in the Deer Park. Today, there is little evidence of its exciting past, the area overgrown, and only the old sandstone quarry walls providing a clue of its location.

An open-air concert at Graves Park. Photograph by Sheffield City Council
Categories
Places

Graves Park

Photograph by The Outdoor City

Earlier this week we highlighted Dr Robert Styring’s gift to Sheffield of the Brinckcliffe Tower estate (Brincliffe Towers) in November 1925, its former grounds now known as Chelsea Park.

One of Styring’s close friends was John George Graves, head of the successful mail order firm, and generous benefactor to the city.

It is extremely likely that Graves played an important part in Styring’s decision and came just two days after it was announced that Graves had made one of his biggest ever bequests.

This story begins in 1925 when the Norton Hall estate was broken up and sold by Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Alexander Firth. He donated Norton Hall to the Joint Hospitals Board and negotiated the sale of 112 acres of land for £25,000.

The plan was to incorporate Norton Hall into a new hospital which would amalgamate the services of the Royal, Royal Infirmary and Jessop hospitals (although the plan never materialised).

Norton Hall

It left 154 acres of parkland still available and attracted the attention of speculative builders wanting to construct houses in a respectable part of the city. Sheffield Corporation recognised that the land might make a suitable park but was prevented from entering negotiations because it did not have sufficient funds.

However, the council need not have worried because, in October 1925, J.G. Graves presented a letter to Sheffield Corporation revealing that he had purchased the land and was gifting it to the city.

“In making the purchase I have had in mind, among other considerations, that it will be very advantageous to have a large area of land between the hospitals and the city kept open and free from buildings, thereby ensuring for the hospitals, as far as possible, in the vicinity of a great city, an atmosphere free from dust and smoke pollution.

“The estate which now belongs to me is varied in character and covers an area of 154 acres. It includes a great deal of beautiful parkland, well-wooded valleys in their natural state, and a lake suitable for boating which is, I believe, larger than any piece of water within the city to which the public have access.

“There are fifty or sixty acres of land, well suited for organised games and a picturesque summer residence which I think would make an attractive tea house with garden and lawn accommodation.”

The council accepted his generous offer and passed a resolution to call it Graves Park.

Photograph by DepositPhotos

Joining up with the hospital estate beyond Norton Church, the park was enclosed by a boundary wall which ran along Hemsworth Road and Cobnar Road. This continued along Cobnar Wood, on the west, via Meadowhead, and Chesterfield Road as far as the lodge leading up to the hospital site.

The greater part of the land was level and required little alteration in laying it out as football, cricket, and other sports grounds. On one part of the estate there was ample room for at least 20 football fields, welcome news to many amateur clubs in Sheffield who had been handicapped by the scarcity of suitable and convenient playing fields.

The estate included Bolehill Farm, North Croft, and three charming coppices known as Cobnar Wood, Waterfall Wood, and Summerhouse Wood. The southern portion of the park was separated from the hospital grounds by three small lakes, well stocked with fish, and quite large enough for boating, the largest of which already had a boathouse.

In the early part of 1926, about sixty men provided by the Guardians from the unemployed were engaged to lay out walks across the lawns and woodland.

The main entrance to the park was now on Cobnar Road, from which point a wide drive leading through the Deer Park, to the lakes, was built. Paths were made on either side of a ravine, uniting shortly before they reached a drive leading up from Meadowhead to Norton Hall.

The land nearest Cobnar Road was mown and rolled, and one of the prettiest areas was at the top end of the lawn, just over the wall from Bunting Nook, under the shade of beeches and sycamores, alternating with copper beeches. A long winding path was built here offering views towards the Derbyshire countryside and lofty moors, while walks around the largest of the lakes, adorned with rhododendrons, were widened.

Graves Park was opened to the public during the spring, but the official opening was on June 3rd, 1926.

The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, accompanied by Councillor and Mrs J.G. Graves head the procession at the opening ceremony.

Summer weather favoured the day, the sun shone, and the woods and grasses had been freshened after recent rains.

The Band of the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons played during the afternoon and evening, and a crowd of at least 15,000 attended the opening by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Joseph Benson, in the vicinity of the summerhouse.

It was left to J.G. Graves to make a philosophical speech: –

“Our parks and moorlands in no small measure help us to realise that ideal in our own city. Nature has been very generous and kind to Sheffield, for there are few cities in the world which are so favoured as we are in our surroundings. We hear a lot about what we have not got and what we ought to have, but sometimes I think we hear far too little of what we really do enjoy. It would not be at all a bad thing if we could occasionally have a municipal thanksgiving day, when we might count our blessings and realise, or try to realise, something of the value of the heritage of which we are all partakers.

“Both nationally and municipally we enjoy a great inheritance, and we owe much to those who have gone before us, and who have enriched the city, not merely by benefactions, but by voluntary service, seen and unseen, which in the aggregate had made for safety, sanitation, and a general high level of comfort and happiness.”

The Lord Mayor formally opening Graves Park

The day ended with the singing of the National Anthem and for the last 94 years Graves Park has remained a Sheffield institution, cherished for generations, enjoyed by young and old, and quite possibly reaching its zenith as a place of sanctuary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lady Mayoress crossing stepping-stones in Graves Park
Councillor and Mrs J.G. Graves chatting to the Lady Mayoress at the ceremony

And finally, a letter from August 1931 that appeared in the Sheffield Independent:

“Sir – I wonder how many of the numerous visitors to Graves Park on Monday evening about 6 o’clock recognised the donor strolling through this lovely picture of woodland beauty. It must have gladdened Mr Graves heart to see the many elderly people resting in the shade, as well as the hundreds of young folk enjoying themselves, all possible through his wonderful appreciation of others and the benefit that such places can confer on the individual.”

Councillor J.G. Graves and Sir William Clegg discussing horticulture at Graves Park
Categories
Other Places

The first television pictures in Sheffield

Radio equipment and T.V. experimentation’ masts and station, Dore Moor, near Newfield Lane, in 1938. The house was built in 1934 and called Newfield. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

I wonder how we might have survived without TV during the lockdown. It makes this story from almost 88 years ago even more remarkable and shows how far technology has advanced in a relatively short space of time.

In 1938, in a secret experimenting room on the remote outskirts of Sheffield, three men had received television programmes from London. One September night, George W. Bagshaw, K. Hopkinson and G. Thompson, all employees of mail order company, J.G. Graves, managed to receive an almost perfect picture and sound.

The television receiver used was the only one in the north of England and had been built by the three amateur radio enthusiasts, led by Bagshaw, the manager of the wireless department at Graves Ltd.

This was thought to be the first time that anybody had received television programmes in Sheffield.

The television pictures were being broadcast by the BBC from Alexandra Palace to the London area. It started broadcasting in 1936, followed by the first outside broadcast in May 1937, the Coronation of King George VI.

The receiver was installed at Dore Moor, near Newfields Lane, the only giveaway being two large latticed wireless masts, which few people knew what they were for.

Bagshaw said that he had been receiving pictures for three weeks, the gap between London and Sheffield being one of the greatest distances that pictures had been transmitted.

“It was thought that television had a visual range as far as the eye could see. That is its true range, but it is possible to receive from greater distances,” Bagshaw told the Daily Independent.

“Working on ultra-short waves, pictures have been received further than was at first thought possible, and I have found that I can receive transmissions from Alexandra Palace.

“In Sheffield, we are 160 miles away from the transmitter, and it cannot be expected that our pictures are as clear as those in the London area.

“However, we have obtained pictures which, although they might not suit the critical onlooker, are very satisfying to the experimenter.”

Mr Bagshaw had been experimenting in television since its inception, and the first station was in the radio department of J.G. Graves, but after a time it was realised that interference from motor-cars and trams were hindering progress.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The site at Dore Moor had been chosen because it was almost ideal for radio work. It was 750 feet above sea level, remote from roads and electrical interference.

In the station was a bewildering collection of radio apparatus. The workshop was only small, but large enough to contain all its necessary equipment. The shed, built in 1936, housed over a thousand pounds worth of apparatus, with five short-wave transmitters and several ultra-short-wave receivers. The two radio masts on the site, nearly eighty feet high, both carried a large aerial.

BBC television schedule for Tuesday August 30 1938. These programmes were received in Sheffield. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Unfortunately, when the Daily Independent visited Dore Moor for a demonstration of television pictures, thundery conditions prevented the signals reaching Sheffield.

Asked for his views on the future of television in Sheffield, Mr Bagshaw pointed out that results were only obtained outside London by using very intricate and expensive apparatus and having special receivers.

Until there was a local transmitter there was little prospect of Sheffield people being able to receive television.

So far as the provinces were concerned, he thought the BBC and the Post Office were waiting for a better response in London before they put up provincial stations.

The first step towards the opening of a provincial station was thought to be the completion of a special cable between London and Birmingham, but as that cable had been completed some time before, and there was no news of a Birmingham transmitter, it was thought in radio circles that either the cable was not satisfactory in a technical sense, or the Post Office thought it much more useful for multi-channel trunk lines.

“The solution to the provincial station is a radio-link, which means using ultra-high-frequency transmitters between towns to convey television, sound and speech.

“All this is a very expensive undertaking, and to cater for the whole country at present would appear to be prohibitive in cost,” he added.

Sadly, despite the sale of 20,000 TV sets in the London area, the service was immediately shut down when World War Two started in September 1939. Transmissions didn’t resume until 1946, with a Midlands transmitter opening in 1949, and one for the North two years later.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield
Categories
Buildings Places

Brincliffe Towers and Chelsea Park

Photograph by David Poole

This story is not unique to Sheffield. A once great house adapted over the years, and eventually falling on hard times. Across the nation there are many old houses that went this way, but they remain a fascination to us.

Brincliffe Towers was a town villa, built in 1852 in an area that eventually became one of the city’s most desirable suburbs.

At the time of writing, the old house is empty, awaiting redevelopment, but its former grounds are known today as Chelsea Park, one of those public spaces that attracts little attention with most city people.

For this post we should refer to the mansion by its original name – Brinkcliffe Tower – an imposing mansion in Gothic-style, which formed a conspicuous object on the landscape. It was built by James Wilson, solicitor, for his own occupation. Built of Greenmoor rock-faced stone, with ashlar facings, no expense was spared to render it complete with every modern convenience.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

With its park-like surroundings of 24 acres, Brinkcliffe Tower was one of the finest gentleman’s residences in this part of Sheffield, commanding a prospect of the most rich and beautiful scenery in the district.

James Wilson, a descendant of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, was the senior member of Wilson, Young and Pierson, and for many years had been Law Clerk to the Cutlers’ Company. He died in 1867 and the estate was put on the market: –

“The mansion contains a dining-room, drawing-room, breakfast-room, and the spacious vestibule, entrance hall, and principal staircase are lighted from the roof by a handsome lantern light. There are seven principal bedrooms and dressing-rooms, bathrooms, etc.

“The kitchens, servants’ hall, and other arrangements are of the most commodious description. There are large and lofty cellars (cut-out from the valuable bed of stone known as Brinkcliffe Edge Stone), servants’ staircase, butler’s pantry, sculleries, store closets, and four large upper rooms of stores and servants’ apartments.

“In the large paved yard is stabling for five horses, loose box, saddle and harness rooms, hay chamber, granary, and a spacious carriage-house, sheds and all the requisite appurtenances for a family mansion.

“The kitchen gardens are extensive and laid out in the best possible manner, while the grounds are enriched with fine timber and ornamental trees with flourishing shrubs.”

“Water is of the most common character, and during the dry summers of 1864 and 1865, a most abundant supply was always at hand.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Brinkcliffe Tower estate was bought by George Marples, descended from an old family line with origins at Barlborough and Stavely in North East Derbyshire. Until 1879, he was head of Marples and Marples, solicitors, Norfolk Row, at which time he vacated the position in favour of his son, George Jobson Marples.

George Marples died of a heart-attack in 1881 leaving personal estate worth £218,000 (that is almost £27million today), leaving Brinkcliffe Tower to George Jobson Marples, a man who had trained at the Inner Temple, but never practised as such. For twenty years he was a county magistrate in Derbyshire and senior magistrate at Bakewell.

In the 1890s, George Jobson Marples bought Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, for £160,000, leaving Brinkcliffe Tower behind, and eventually putting it up for sale.

Photograph by David Poole

In 1897, it was acquired by Robert Styring (1850-1944),  another solicitor, councillor, Lord Mayor, and a man whose contribution to Sheffield has been unforgivably overlooked, and subject of another post.

Styring remembered his father speaking of the building of Brinkcliffe Tower, which at the time had been regarded locally by many as “one of the seven wonders of the world.”

Not a man to miss an opportunity, Styring disposed of parts of the “valuable building estate” and in 1916 was involved in a dispute with Sheffield Corporation over land development.

An inquiry by the Local Government Board Inspector covered a scheme affecting Banner Cross, Brincliffe, Kenwood Park and Nether Edge. The Corporation had insisted that a maximum of twelve houses should be built per acre but, according to Mr Gibson, Deputy Town Clerk, Styring wanted to be free to build 25 houses to the acre.

Styring had married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, and her death would have significant implications for the house and estate.

While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 she remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.

Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”

Photograph of Robert Styring by Picture Sheffield

In November 1925, Styring decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.

“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”

After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.

For a time, the grounds were considered as a memorial garden, the alternative site for a Peace Gardens, proposed after the Munich Agreement of 1938, but which were eventually created on the site of St Paul’s Church next to the Town Hall. Instead, the grounds were turned into Chelsea Park, named after nearby Chelsea Road, once known as Palmerston Road, until renamed in 1886.

As for the house, as always, there was a dilemma for the council. It remained empty for a while, and for a brief period was a girls’ school dormitory during World War Two. It became a nursing home, known as Brincliffe Towers, and in 1959 was refurbished and enlarged with “modernistic” 1950s extensions, funded by the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust.

Photograph by David Poole

Eventually falling into private hands, the care home closed in 2011, victim of modern legislation, and since then there have been various controversial schemes to convert the house back into a single dwelling, funded by the conversion of the coach-house and erection of new houses in the wooded grounds.

Photograph by David Poole

Sadly, the property is in poor condition, but still retains original characteristics, including the main entrance overlooking Chelsea Park, beyond the balustraded terrace, elaborately carved timber bargeboards, carved stone bay windows, doorways, and towers.

The internal fabric of the building has diminished overtime. However, there are some original features remaining to ground floor rooms, including fireplaces, architraves and coving and ceiling detailing. Rooms to the upper floors have been significantly altered and reconfigured through partition walls, but the tower and ceiling light remains intact.

Photographs by David Poole

Categories
People

Dr Robert Styring

Photograph by University of Sheffield

In another post we looked at Brincliffe Towers (Brinkcliffe Tower), and through this old Victorian house we come across Dr Robert Styring, a name overlooked by Sheffield history.

Styring was one of the city’s good people, neglected in favour of his friend, J.G. Graves, a man who will be forever remembered for the substantial gifts to its people.

However, although Styring’s benevolence was modest in comparison, I hope that this synopsis will allow us to appreciate his impact on the city.

Robert Styring was born in Sheffield on March 18th, 1850, the second son of Henry Styring, an estate agent, and completed his education at Hebblethwaite’s School in the old Freemason’s Hall in Paradise Square.

He left school at fifteen becoming a clerk and collector in his father’s business, leaving four years later when his older brother, Henry Ashmore Styring, returned from his travels

Robert moved into law and was articled as clerk to George Edward Webster, qualifying as a solicitor in 1875, and later going into partnership until Webster’s retirement in 1908.

Shortly afterwards, with his two sons, he founded Robert Styring and Sons on North Church Street.  He became president of the Sheffield District Incorporated Law Society in 1907.

Styring became a City Councillor for St Peter’s Ward, in 1886, and, after four re-elections, was promoted to the aldermanic bench in 1899. He held this position until 1926, when, after forty years’ public service, he was one of the aldermen who were refused re-election by the Socialist majority which gained power that year.

He was Lord Mayor in 1906-07, and for a considerable period was chairman of the Electricity, Water and Parliamentary Committees, and reputed to never have worn the same tie twice when attending Council sittings. In 1912, he was successful in the inclusion of Tinsley into the city boundaries.

Royal visit of Princess Christian in 1906 as she leaves Sheffield Town Hall accompanied by Lord Mayor, Robert Styring. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

As a member of the City Council it fell to him to organise the Sheffield Electric Supply Department, initiated the Surplus Lands Committee, made arrangements for the purchase of the tramway system and subsequent conversion to electric, and led a Parliamentary struggle for Sheffield to claim a share of the Derwent Valley Water Board scheme in Derbyshire.

Styring was interested in education and appointed a member of the Education Committee in 1903.

Robert Styring

To the civic and educational life of the city Styring gave generously. He was a staunch supporter of Sheffield University, in fact, may well be said to have been one of its pioneers. He was a member of the Council of the old University College from which the University sprang, and when the proposal for a University was made, he was a sincere and determined supporter of the scheme.

In those days there was a suggestion that Leeds and Sheffield should combine to form a Yorkshire University, but Leeds declined to co-operate. Styring was a strong advocate of a University for Sheffield and when it was granted a charter became a member of the Court of Governors and expressed faith in its future by having his sons educated there.

In 1923 he anonymously presented the University with £20,000 for the endowment of scholarships and research work. It was only later that his identity was revealed and the following year the University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) and only a few days later the Corporation presented him with the Freedom of the City.

His departure from the Council meant he ended his work on the Education committee but was reappointed not long after, as well as being chairman of the Governors at King Edward VII School.

In other public life, he was leader of the Liberal party in Sheffield, a Justice of the Peace, became a member of the Licensing Committee, and was elected a Town Trustee in 1925. .

A Congregationalist, for many years Styring was associated with Cemetery Road Congregational Church, was chairman of the Sheffield Congregationalist Organisation, treasurer of the Sunday School Union, and completed more than half a century’s service as Sunday school teacher and superintendent.

Styring married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, who helped him in his public duties, and became a rock in his life for 45 years.

Annie Frances Styring

For a while they lived at Moorseats Hall, Hathersage, a house identified with Jane Eyre, and he frequently walked from there to his office in Sheffield.

A man who always looked younger than his age, he attributed his good health to gardening. When living at Hathersage, he had a delightful garden, which he reproduced on a larger scale at Brinkcliffe Tower, which he purchased in 1897.

Brinkcliffe Tower

While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 Annie Styring remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.

Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”

In November 1925, he decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.

“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”

Styring was a lifelong abstainer and non-smoker and indulged in the healthy pursuits of walking and golf.

In later years he became a world traveller and completed a 33,000 mile round the world tour during which he visited Egypt, India, Ceylon, China, Japan, and the United States.

After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.

Brinkcliffe Tower, later known as Brincliffe Towers, became a care home until 2011 and is currently empty awaiting redevelopment. A better fate has befallen its former grounds, opened in 1935 as Chelsea Park, although arguably it maybe should have been called Styring Park.

Categories
Buildings People

Foster’s Building

The next time you are able walk into McDonalds or HMV, on High Street, be aware that you are walking into history. Before you go inside, take a moment and look above, and you will find that these popular ground floor premises are part of an elaborate building.

This is the Foster’s Building, built in French domestic Gothic style by Sheffield architects Flockton and Gibbs in 1896.

The origin of the Foster’s Building goes back to the Anglo-French Wars of the sixteenth century, and the entrepreneurship of William Foster, draper, tailor and outfitter, who opened a shop on High Street in 1769.

At the time that William Foster opened his business, High Street was a narrow thoroughfare, described by some as resembling a village street.

When peace was concluded with France, the British Government advertised for sale a vast stock of old uniforms and equipment, which had been given up by troops on disbandment.

William Foster took a coach to London and bought up large quantities of soldiers’ jackets and belts. These were brought to Sheffield and stacked in large crates and baskets outside his shop.

It was said that there was hardly a grinder or cabman in Sheffield who did not buy one of the jackets, not particularly concerned about appearance, but appreciating something cheap.

Being extremely durable they were suited to both trades, and a credible record suggests that the old workshops looked as though a regiment of soldiers was at work, for every grinding wheel had a red-jacketed attendant.

The army belts were of excellent leather, so the record runs, and were largely used by craftsmen for buffing and similar purposes.

Foster was afflicted with an obscure disease, the chief symptom of which was that he frequently fell asleep.

“Mr Foster fell asleep while seated on the hampers of soldiers’ clothes. These used to stand on the edge of the pavement, and there Mr Foster sold the contents, so long as he could keep awake,” said an old humourist.

According to George Leighton in Reminiscences of Old Sheffield (1876) there were other amusing consequences of Foster’s illness.

“I went once to him, as a boy, to be measured for a jacket. Standing behind him, he made me hold my arm horizontally, with the elbow bent, and I thought he seemed a very long time in measuring it. A person on the other side of the street, at York Street corner, was watching the operation, and, seeing him laughing, I looked round, and found that the old man had fallen fast asleep.”

William Foster made a huge sum of money from the transaction and left his family very wealthy.

He was succeeded by his son, also William, who subsequently went into partnership with his own son, George Harvey Foster, in 1860, and renamed the business William Foster and Son, operating at 12-14 High Street.

It soon became necessary to enlarge the premises, and for this purpose, they acquired an adjoining public house, the Spread Eagle, and incorporated it into the original building.

And so, we come to the building that we see today.

When Sheffield grew in prosperity during the late 1800s, the council considered various schemes to improve the condition of its streets. The High Street improvement scheme finally concluded in 1895, resulting in one of the city’s biggest redevelopment projects, and doubling the width of the street.

However, to allow the road widening it meant the demolition of the old properties on the south side of High Street, including buildings owned by William Foster and Son.

George Harvey Foster sold 400 yards of freehold land in High Street for £34,000 in 1893. He took £24,000 in cash for the site of the tailor’s shop, and £10,000 for adjoining land that he owned, and needed by Sheffield Corporation.

Foster died in 1894, his will confirming that he had sold the frontage of the High Street property to Sheffield Corporation for road widening, and empowering his trustees to rebuild and rearrange replacement premises.

In 1895, the first plans for the new building were issued by the architects, Flockton and Gibbs, and convinced the public that this was an “ornament to the widened street.”

The chief architect for the building was Edward Mitchell Gibbs with construction work starting in 1895, undertaken by George Longden and Son, with ironwork supplied by Carter Brothers (surprisingly based in Rochdale).

The building stood on a new street line, set back about forty feet, that allowed existing shops to continue trading during construction, and be demolished afterwards.

When the Foster’s Building was completed in late 1896, it accommodated previous tenants from the old site , Foster and Son being the principal tenant, with other shops for J. Harrison, hosier, C. Tinker, boot and shoe manufacturer, E. Brown, goldsmith and Mr W. Lewis, tobacconist.

Foster and Son had two entrances, with four large windows. Their frontage was 86 feet long and 100 feet in depth and came with a large back yard, and within, contained all three of their departments – ready-made clothes, children’s and bespoke tailoring.

A balcony extended across the top of the building, while Gibbs set back the main wall of the frontage about two feet, so that the supports would not interfere with ground floor window space, and was described as being a “huge showcase”.

The Foster’s Building, on a slightly sloping site, was built in a curved line, leading towards the bottom of Fargate.

The front of the showrooms, above the shops, was ornamented with light wooden tracery, and the upper parts of the building (four floors) was of Huddersfield sandstone, richly moulded, and with a steep-pitched slate roof. It was relieved by oriel windows, ornamental gables and turrets, and dormer windows.

The whole of the upper floors was utilised as rented offices, varying in size, approached by a staircase, ten feet wide, leading from High Street, and by a passenger elevator (see note at end). Each office was fitted with “electric wiring, gas tubing and all modern conveniences.”

The corridors on each floor were eight feet wide, with mosaic-tiled floors and tiled walls up to the height of the door heads,  These were well lit by windows placed at the end of each corridor, and also borrowed light from the offices.

The office entrance was marked by a lofty arch, with oriel windows over it, surmounted by a gable, with turrets, and crowned with an ornamental tower, which was to have been the water tank for the elevator, had not “technology” quickly intervened.

Foster and Son remained in the High Street until 1931, by which time they had been here for over 160 years. It was the oldest tailoring firm in the city, with other premises at Waingate and Castle Hill, and had been run by the widow of William Joseph Foster, great-grandson of its founder, since 1905.

Foster and Son consolidated trade at its other shops, and while war had been instrumental in its initial success, it effectively led to its demise after the Waingate branch was destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz.

The Foster’s Building eventually succumbed to other retailers at street level and, for a time, was known as Norwich Union Buildings. It was refurbished during the late twentieth century, presumably with much period detail lost, and before it was Grade II-listed by English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1989.

NOTE: –
The Foster’s Building had the first American Elevator in Sheffield, built by the Otis Elevator Company, founded in Yonkers, New York in 1853 by Elisha Otis.

In 1890, Otis had entered the British market under the name of the American Elevator Company. Between 1870 and 1900, there had been a transition between hydraulic lifts to electric-powered elevators.

The Otis company advertised its new generation of elevators with the consideration that such an installation was no longer a complicated matter, and well-suited to places which could not have had one before.

The Foster’s Building had intended to have a hydraulic lift and Gibbs’ design included a small water tower on the roof for its elevator. After it was decided to install an electric-powered lift the tower remained, but instead used as a motor room for the American Elevator.

In 1897, a newspaper advertisement for potential occupiers of its offices described the lift as being able to “accomplish the journey from ground floor to fourth floor in THREE seconds.” Unlikely, even today.

Categories
People

J.G. Graves

John George Graves (1866-1945) packed a lot into his 79 years. He was a hard-working businessman, councillor, and cared a lot about his adopted city. A much-travelled man, he knew Europe intimately, and visited America, Egypt, South Africa, India, and Palestine, and spoke fluent French, German and Italian.

Seventy-five years after his death, his name still echoes across Sheffield, and yet, we are guilty of under-estimating the influence he had on the city.

J.G. Graves was born in Lincolnshire, grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, and was educated at Batley Grammar School. When he was 15, he moved to Sheffield to take up apprenticeship with a German watchmaker in Gibraltar Street, and at the age of 20, he started his own watch-making business in town.

He moved to larger premises in Surrey Street where he expanded his business to include jewellery, cutlery and silverware. His decision to sell goods by mail order was pivotal and, through advertising on the back pages of the national press, became incredibly successful.

Graves was one of the first to embrace the idea of selling goods, notably watches, on ‘monthly’ terms, and by 1903 employed 3,000 people with products sold through extensive catalogues.

Graves was first elected to the city council in 1896 as a Liberal member for the old Nether Hallam Ward and retained his seat for six years. In 1905, he was returned to the Council as a member for the Walkley Ward but did not seek re-election in 1908. His third entry to the Council, again for Walkley, was as an Independent councillor in 1916.

Graves went on to serve as Lord Mayor in 1926 and was granted Freedom of the City in 1929.

“Alderman Graves brings to his work unusual gifts of business acumen and a kindly spirit towards the general welfare of the people,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1930. “A fluent, dignified speaker, with originality of thought, he can marshal facts well and present a case strikingly. He always impresses his hearers by his transparent earnestness and sincerity in whatever cause he is pleading. Truly, he is one of the big men of the Council – big in stature and big in vision.”

However, J.G. Graves should be remembered for being Sheffield’s “Fairy Godfather”, probably the city’s most generous benefactor in its history.

When he died at his home, Riverdale House, at Ranmoor, in 1945, newspapers calculated that he had gifted more than £1 million to the city, that amounts to more than £44 million at today’s value.

His first gift to Sheffield, probably Pearl Street playground in 1903, was the start of small projects for children, but these grew in significance with gifts that included Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Barker’s Pool Garden, Concord Park, Graves Art Gallery, Graves Park, Graves Trust Homes, Blacka Moor, and playing fields. He was a generous benefactor to Sheffield University and the Children’s Hospital, gave much of the land forming the green belt around Sheffield, made gifts of land to the National Trust, and at the outbreak of World War Two, made an unconditional gift of £250,000 to the nation.

Graves Art Gallery cost him £20,000 as well as a further £10,000 towards the cost of the Central Library. He had started collecting art in 1899 and throughout his life collected over 3,000 pictures, 700 of which he gave to Sheffield to be displayed in the Graves Gallery.

“It has seemed to me the most natural thing that I should engage in effort and outlay which has for its object the betterment of the city in which my own lot has been cast, and which I love and understand so well.”

Graves had loved the countryside and was a keen cyclist, with one of his ambitions being to provide Sheffield with beautiful open spaces. As well as Concord Park and Graves Park, he provided £10,000 towards the acquisition of Ecclesall Wood and gave much of the land forming the Green Belt around Sheffield.

One such place was Blacka Moor that had been owned by Norton Rural District Council since 1929. The small council was poor and unable to fight off advances from developers and so, in 1933, had approached J.G. Graves as a last resort. He bought the land and duly presented it to the city.

Ethel Haythornthwaite, a prominent environmental campaigner, recalled a conversation she had with Graves at the official opening in 1933.

“Now, after we’ve done all this for you (by ‘we’ he meant the Graves Trust) will you promise to never trouble us again?” I took a deep breath, thought I had better be truthful and said, “Whenever the countryside around Sheffield is in danger, I shall appeal to you.” He looked at me, severely but not unkindly. “Well,” he said, “Now we know.”

After his death, the mail order company was absorbed into Great Universal Stores, but his legacy lives on through The J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, a grant-making body established in 1930 derived from £400,000 of shares of his company.

Today, the Trust is managed by nine trustees, including Adrian Graves, the fourth generation of the family to serve on it, and continues to support projects that relate to the charitable interests of its founder.

These include parks, open spaces, recreation grounds, art galleries and libraries for public use, promotion of education and community projects, and medical, recreational and sporting facilities.

Periodically, the Trust is in a position to make significant contributions including the J.G. Graves of Sheffield Lifeboat (1958), the redesign of Tudor Square (1990), the J.G. Graves Tennis Centre (1991), the J.G. Graves Woodland Discovery Centre (2007) and the purchase of ‘Comfort Blanket’ by Grayson Perry for the City’s art collection in 2016.

Categories
Other Places

The View from Sheffield

Lincoln Cathedral photograph by Linsey Williams

Sometimes the subject of a post materialises by chance, and this letter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in June 1926, caught the attention: –

“Sir, – In view of the present favourable conditions for long distance views from the hills about Sheffield, it would be interesting to know if it is possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from any vantage point about the district. Rumours have been current from time to time that Hagg Lane, Intake, is a suitable point, but it is difficult to get concrete evidence of this. On inquiries you are generally put off by ‘Well, I have heard my grandfather say that a cousin of his told him he knew a man, etc.’ Perhaps your readers in the Intake, Gleadless, and Ridgeway areas, might throw some light on the matter. Yours, etc., GREEBA.”

To start with, Hagg Lane is now known as Hurlfield Road, and these days we do not consider it to be part of Intake, more appropriate to say it borders Arbourthorne and Gleadless.

Ridiculous as the letter might appear, as Lincoln Cathedral was about 40 miles away, further curiosity was aroused a few days later in a response to the same newspaper: –

“Sir, – Greeba need not be in any doubt as to the possibility of seeing Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane. It is a matter of considerable difficulty, of course, and needs a good glass, plus an exceptionally clear day, and from my own experience (it was visible from the garden of my house in which I lived for some years) I do not think it can be seen oftener than three or four times a year.

“During the coal strike of 1921, however, I saw it at least four times in one week, and after spotting it with the glass it was possible to see it with the naked eye.

“The normal appearance is that of a tower of immense height, but in 1921 it was possible to get a good idea of the whole building.

“The viewpoint I can recommend is that from the portion of Hagg Lane, between Gleadless Common and the old Handsworth Waterworks, but I should regard the sight of it by a casual visitor as highly improbable.

“I was looking for it on all suitable occasions for about two years before I succeeded in finding it, and I should imagine that visibility is worse now on account of the housing estate on Gleadless Common, the smoke from which will drift across the foreground, with a south-west wind, which normally gave us the clearest weather, – Yours, etc. W.W. WOOD.”

We must appreciate that in the late 1920s this part of Sheffield was still rural, and the new Gleadless Common council housing estate had just been built at the top end (since demolished and replaced with new builds). Hagg Lane, or Hurlfield Road, was slightly higher than nearby Manor Top with views across the surrounding countryside. The spot identified is approximately where Sheffield Springs Academy now stands.

Today, any notion of seeing distant Lincoln Cathedral from here is virtually impossible, the area built-up with further housing, restricting the view.

Photograph from Hurlfield Road by Google

The question is how reasonable it would have been to see the Lincolnshire landmark about forty miles away?

Dust, water vapour and pollution in the air will rarely let you see more than 12 miles, even on a clear day. Often, the curvature of the earth  gets in the way first, it curves about 8 inches per mile and, according to experts, standing on a flat surface, the farthest edge that you can see is about three miles away. Without the earth’s curve and from higher up you might be able to identify objects from dozens, even hundreds, of miles away.

This being the case, it might have been possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane, especially as there was a coal strike at the time of the newspaper letters, making visibility much clearer.

Photograph of Lincoln Cathedral from Ringinglow by Daniel/Flickr

Further evidence emerges more recently, albeit using the zoom lens of a modern camera. A quick search on Flickr, the photograph sharing site, reveals interesting images taken from the western outskirts of Sheffield.

Looking easterly, from Fulwood Lane/Greenhouse Lane, it is possible to see the Humber Bridge (52 miles distant), photographs by Vince Sellars reveal the two towers of the suspension bridge,  and other contributors confirm that Lincoln Cathedral can be seen on a clear day from Ringinglow. Looking north from Grenoside, although there is no photographic evidence, it appears that York Minster (about 43 miles away) can also be seen.

Photograph of Humber Bridge from Ringinglow by Vince Sellers
Photograph of Humber Bridge at night from Ringinglow by Vince Sellers

Categories
Places

Barker’s Pool Garden

Photograph by Google

It is the “garden at the heart of the city”, and yet, the small plot at the corner of Barker’s Pool and Balm Green has never officially been named. It has been here since 1937, but these days most folk barely give it the time of day.

Barker’s Pool Garden, Balm Green Garden and Fountain Square are three of the names that have been attributed to it. However, when J.G. Graves, to whom Sheffield owes so much, attended the opening in 1937, he thought it unnecessary to give a name to the garden, but he had in mind its proximity to the City War Memorial.

“It will, I hope, provide a note of quiet sympathy which will be in harmony with the feelings of those who visit the War Memorial in the spirit of a visit to a sacred place.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

This garden, 400 square yards in size, would never have been created had it not been for the opening of the City Hall in 1932.

The land was owned by the adjacent Grand Hotel, the plot used as a car-park enclosed with advertising hoardings. But to J.G. Graves, it was an “eyesore”, obstructing the view of the splendid new City Hall from the Town Hall and the top of Fargate.

His solution was to negotiate the purchase of the land from the hotel. He paid £25 a square yard and outlined his plans in a letter to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mrs A.E. Longden: –

“When planning the new City Hall, the architect, in order to give due importance and dignity to the elevation, placed the front of the building at some distance from the existing building line.

“This, of course, enhanced the architectural appearance of the Hall, but has had the incidental result of obstructing a view of the Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall corner, as is partially done now by the hoarding which surrounds the intervening plot of vacant land, and if in due course a tall building should be erected on the plot referred to, the possibility of a view of the City Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall would be completely lost.

“I feel it would be a misfortune if, through lack of action at the present time, building developments should proceed which would permanently deprive the city of an impressive architectural and street view at its very centre.

“With this in mind, I have arranged to buy the plot of land in question at its present day market value, with the intention of establishing thereon a formal garden, already designed by an eminent firm expert in this class of work.

“With this explanation I have the pleasure of offering the piece of land as a gift to the city, together with the garden which I propose to have established thereon at my own expense, and with the condition that the garden shall be maintained by the Corporation in as good a state as it will be when it is handed over on completion of the work.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The gift was a personal one, not connected with the Graves Trust, and duly accepted by Sheffield Corporation.

In 1937, the Grand Hotel announced proposals for extensive alterations and to place their principal entrance on Balm Green. The whole of the corner was now thrown open and the new garden would later adjoin the forecourt to the Grand’s main entrance, running from Barker’s Pool to the building line of the hotel.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

To complete the scheme the Grand Hotel management decided to reface the whole of the side of the hotel with a material approximate to the colour of the stone of the City Hall.

Photograph by Hazel Hickman

The garden had been laid out by “a famous firm of garden landscapers,” railed off from the footpath, with a border of shrubs, crazy paving, a fountain, and a water runway to a lily pond, and various flower beds.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

A huge crowd gathered for the official opening on August 3, 1937.

“We shall always be proud of this garden, because it is not only a gift for all time,” said the Lord Mayor. “I hope the garden will become a real garden of remembrance for the future generation, who could thank the beauty of mind and heart which prompted the gift.”

Of course, two years later, Britain went to war with Germany again, the symbolism of the garden perhaps lost on the despairing public. However, the garden has remained, although J.G. Graves’ conditions seem to have been forgotten by subsequent councils.

Photograph of the opening by The British Newspaper Archive

The fountain was eventually removed, the condition of the gardens fluctuating between mini-restorations, but its current state is a pale shadow of its original glory.

We might do well to remember the terms of J.G. Graves’ gift, although progress often comes into conflict with the past.

In 2019, initial plans were announced by Changing Sheffield action group (formerly Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group) to create a unique space featuring ten large musical instruments and mini-trampolines, although the status of the application is unknown.

Photograph by Sheffield History

Categories
Buildings

Crucible Theatre

Photograph by Sportsmatik

It is hard to believe that next year, the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield’s architectural upstart, will be fifty-years-old. It has been a long journey, with plenty of ups and downs, but survives with its reputation intact.

The Crucible Theatre was built as a replacement for the Sheffield Playhouse on Townhead Street, home to the Sheffield Repertory Company, whose origins went back to 1919.

Photograph of Sheffield Playhouse by Flying Pig

Colin George was appointed Artistic Director of Sheffield Playhouse in 1965, and did not grasp that its hand-to-mouth existence was going to be turned upside down.

“One sunny spring day in 1966, I was one of a deputation from the Playhouse Theatre who went to the Town Hall to ask the Council for a subsidy to run the theatre. We were ushered into the main Council Chamber, empty but for a formidable northern lady seated at one end, on her Lord Mayor’s throne – Alderman Grace Tebbutt. We sat in front of her, naughty schoolchildren in front of the headmistress. She looked at us for a minute and then dropped her thunderbolt. ‘Nah then. Where do you want your new theatre?’ To those of us working at the Playhouse it was quite unexpected. ‘You probably want an island site,’ she continued forcefully, and with a wave of her hand effortlessly destroyed Norfolk Street.”

A new Sheffield Theatre Trust and Building Committee was created, an architect was appointed, and plans were made to create a new conventional theatre with its proscenium arch and using a large forestage.

Had these plans progressed, the history of Sheffield theatre would have been quite different. The cat-amongst-the-pigeons was Sir  William Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971), an English director instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival theatre in Ontario and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In October 1967, Guthrie arrived in Sheffield to talk about theatre. Hearing of plans, he spoke to the Trust and excited them enough to send Colin George and David Brayshaw, a local solicitor appointed as administrative director, to visit America to see and report on thrust or promontory stages.

They spent ten days in Minneapolis, Stratford, Ontario, and New York, and reported back that Sheffield should have a thrust stage. The Trust agreed, and the cries of derision began.

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis (top) and Stratford Festival, Ontario (below)

Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles (“The theatre is a freak. It will be blacklisted by all reputable dramatists”), by councillors at public meetings (“I’m not going to pay to see Hamlet’s backside”), and in the media, the modernists won the day.

There was also the problem of  giving the new theatre a name. The Star ran a competition and ‘The Adelphi’ won, named after the famous hotel and public house that had stood on the site, but in the end, Hilary Young, who worked at the Playhouse, suggested the Crucible, a nod to Sheffield’s industrial past.

Photograph of Colin George by The Guardian

The Crucible was designed by Renton Howard Wood Associates, the project architects being Nicholas Thompson and Robin Beynon.

However, we must not forget the part played by Tanya Moiseiwitsch (1914-2003), regarded as one of the foremost British designers in twentieth century theatre, an innovative designer of costumes, sets and stages, and responsible for the look of over two hundred productions in Britain, Canada and the United States.

Moiseiwitsch had worked closely with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and was the principal designer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis from 1963–1966, and again designed a thrust stage like that she had designed (and in 1962 modified) in Stratford, Ontario.

Returning to England in the 1970s, she designed plays both for the National Theatre and the West End, but her last legacy was designing the stage for the Crucible Theatre. The whole of the stage (18ft wide-28ft deep) was mounted on steel stanchions and beams provided flexibility to adapt it for different productions.

Photograph by Sheffield Theatres
Photograph by Sheffield Star
Photograph by Sheffield Theatres

Construction started in October 1969, the work undertaken by Gleesons, and was completed in November 1971. It cost almost £1 million to build, £650,000 contributed by Sheffield City Council and the Arts Council, and £260,000 raised by the New Sheffield Theatre Trust as the public contribution to the theatre.

In Spring 1971, it was decided that Colin George would direct Peer Gynt to open the Crucible, followed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s Aeschylus Trilogy, The House of Atreus. However, in July news came through that Guthrie had died, and the opening schedule was hastily rearranged.

Photograph by Building Design
Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Crucible Theatre, principally made of reinforced concrete, opened on November 9, 1971, with Fanfare, a production devised in three parts. The first was ‘Children’s Theatre’ in which 34 children were involved. The centre piece was Ian McKellen playing the Old Actor in Chekhov’s Swan Song and the last part was rumbustious Music Hall.

And so, the futuristic theatre with its twinkly ceiling lights, orange auditorium seats (provided by Race Furniture of London), and gaudy foyer carpets, started its journey.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

Once deemed a ‘white elephant’ due to low audiences, it steadily gained a reputation, along with the Lyceum Theatre, as the best production theatre outside London. With far more full houses than not, the long list of success is remarkable – The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night, Chicago (the European premiere, no less), The Wiz (British premiere), Funny Girl, Brassed Off, Fiddler on the Roof, Hamlet, Othello, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… the list goes on, and it was once called the ‘National Theatre of the North’. And, of course, there is the snooker.

The Crucible Theatre was Grade II listed in 2007, considered of national importance in the history of theatre design, ahead of a £15 million refurbishment that included a new roof and the Adelphi Room extension to the front. Ironically, during the construction of the extension the cellars to the old Adelphi Hotel were discovered and some of its foundations used to support the new build.

Colin George left the Crucible Theatre in 1974, but returned to appear in a production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters in 2011. His ambition to write the history of the theatre was never fulfilled, but as one newspaper reported on his death in 2016, his legacy stands in Tudor Square.

Photograph by Hire Space
The Adelphi Hotel. Photograph by Picture Sheffield
Photograph by FDA Design
Photograph by Our Favourite Places