By the time you read this, it should have been another busy night at The Viper Rooms, on Carver Street. Situated at the heart of Sheffield’s hectic night scene, this club is the latest reincarnation of a building with completely different origins.
Behind the glitz and glamour, you can see traces of its humble beginnings. Not least, a large plaque above the four-bay gabled centre, which declares that this was once the “National School – Built by Subscription – 1812.”
The National School was set up in 1811 by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, providing an elementary education with teaching of the Church of England to children of the poor. Supported by voluntary subscriptions and donations, it was probably the first near-universal system of education in England and Wales.
Sheffield had a good supply of National Schools, conveniently distributed, allowing the working man a choice of schools within easy distance to which he could send his children.
The oldest of these was the Carver Street school, opened in 1813, consisting of two large rooms, one downstairs for boys and the upper one for girls, to which committee rooms were attached, and a playground outside.
In 1823, a report said there were 340 boys and 513 girls in attendance, although three years earlier three thousand children had squeezed inside for a rally.
The National School on Carver Street survived until 1882, its demise probably caused by rising population and a building unable to cope with demand. There was, also, the Victorian idea that all children should go to school, and in 1880 schooling became mandatory, all children attending until they were 10-years-old, initiating a school-building programme across the town.
The building stood empty, although parts of it had already been let to John B. Corrie, plumber and glazier, and the vast arched-brick cellars rented by J.J.G. Tuckwood as warehousing for his general supply stores.
The Sheffield School Board expressed interest in buying the building when it went to auction in 1884, but the remainder of the leasehold (99 years from March 1794) was eventually bought by the Sheffield Technical School for £538.
However, the technical school never used it, writing its history elsewhere, and the subject of a future post.
In 1913, the building was bought by Charles Constantine, builders’ merchants and hardware factors, complementing premises down the hill on Fargate.
Eventually, the business consolidated here and was joined by Woollen and Company, sign specialists and colour printers, in 1929, moving here from Holly Green, as a result of street widening for the new City Hall.
Generations of people will remember it as Constantine’s Ironmongers, remaining here until the 1970s, by which time the property had fallen into disrepair and after the closure of the business became derelict.
For younger readers, understand that Carver Street, along with Division Street, was very different to the area seen today. It was populated with small shops, factories and workshops, all past their best, and came as a surprise when the building was converted into a public house in 1981.
Opening as Dickens at ground level, it offered a separate venue, Le Metro, making use of the old arched-cellars to echo the Paris underground.
It was inspired planning, quick to exploit eighties bar culture, and became a must-go-to place on a Saturday night.
It subsequently became Ruby Lounge and Cellar 35, later reinventing itself as The Viper Rooms, along with late licence, and a credible reputation with Sheffield’s student population.
Next time you pay a visit, take a moment to look at the stone plaque above your head, and remember that this was once something far removed from its present use.