This building has seen a lot of tragedy since it was built in the 1780s, initially as a home for the company secretary to the Sheffield Reservoir Company. Dam House, on Mushroom Lane, was built above the Old Great Dam, better known now as the lake at Crookes Valley Park.
Since 1951, Dam House has been used on-and-off as a bar and restaurant, but for 160 years beforehand it was a large house, owned by the reservoir company, and subsequently the Sheffield Water Works Company.
It’s fair to say that Dam House has witnessed an awful lot of drownings over the years. Suicides have been common, and accidental deaths numerous, whether the result of swimmers, both sober and drunk, misjudging the dam’s 60ft depth, or skaters falling through ice.
And, as we shall see, tragedy hasn’t been confined outdoors.
Let’s appreciate that this was once in rolling countryside, with spectacular views down Crookesmoor Valley, and it was only during the 19th century that the town advanced towards it.
In 1841, Dam House was advertised to let. “Beautifully situate at Crookesmoor, and commanding some of that delightful scenery for which the vicinity of Sheffield is so deservedly famous.”
The house had a spacious entrance hall, dining, drawing and breakfast rooms, and two kitchens, together with a two-stalled stable, coach house and requisite out-offices.
By 1848, it was occupied by William Smith, magistrate for the West Riding, director of the Midland Railway Company, and for many years chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company. A barrister by profession, he was an active friend of the Sheffield General Infirmary and of the Public Hospital and Dispensary (later the Royal Hospital).
Smith died a broken man at Dam House in 1864, shortly after the collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam, at Bradfield, that claimed the lives of 240 people. He’d resigned as chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company, claiming ill-health, and died of probable heart failure.
It was next occupied by Michael Hunter, Jr., brother of Joseph Hunter, the antiquarian, who headed a cutlery firm and had been a Master Cutler. For 22 years he was a member of Sheffield Town Council, becoming its Mayor in 1881-1882.
He left for Stoke Manor, near Grindleford, in the 1870s, the house passing to James Bartlett, and subsequently to Dr Robert Salmon Hutton, head of a silverware company.
During the early 1920s, Dam House was inhabited by Gilbert Rowe, a civil engineer, who committed suicide by filling a room with gas in 1924.
It was later rented by Mr F.C. Lea, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield nearby. He retired in 1936 and the last occupant appears to have been E.J. Waller, a man with connections to Sheffield Corporation’s Water Department.
Dam House has always looked out upon the Old Great Dam (and at one time separated it from the New Dam behind, later filled in).
In 1893, Sheffield Corporation built Crookes Valley Road, a monumental engineering effort that needed 450,000 loads of material to build up an embankment.
The view from Dam House was thus restricted and the Recreation Ground was built alongside the road, adjacent to the dam, in 1905, with bowling greens and tennis courts.
The Old Great Dam was redundant by this time, and it wasn’t until 1951 that Sheffield Corporation made use of the land as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme, renaming the area Crookes Valley Park.
The dam was turned into a boating lake and Dam House was converted into the Festival Restaurant, complete with furnishings from Heal’s Contracts of Tottenham Court Road, London, and offering “first-class meals of a continental standard.”
Since then, Dam House has had a chequered history, changing ownership several times, and suffered a devastating fire in 1996 that gutted the interior and destroyed most of the roof. It was restored and reopened as a restaurant by Carlton Palmer, the former Sheffield Wednesday footballer.
After closing and standing empty for several years, it was bought by Kamalijit Sangha and Simrun Badh, both from Grenoside, in November 2011, functioning as the Dam House Bar and Restaurant ever since.