The Brown Bear is referred to as one of the oldest pubs in Sheffield, believed to have been built about 1745, although whether it was originally a pub is open to debate.
The square-set Georgian pub is one of the earliest surviving brick buildings in the area, once referred to as being the last house in Norfolk Street.
The Sign of the Brown Bear, the Brown Bear Inn, or the Old Brown Bear, as it was once known, probably refers to bear-baiting, popular in Europe until the 19th century. Any claims that it was named after the bear pit at the Botanical Gardens are unlikely as this wasn’t created until 1836, and was home to Bruin, a black bear.
We can trace its origins as a pub to at least 1790, home to John Crookes, regularly frequented by townsfolk, and where beer was brewed at the back of the house.
As well as an ale house it was also home to several groups, including the Fitzalan Sick Society and the Old Brown Bear Sick and Funeral Society.
In 1896, The Brown Bear was taken by John Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery on a 21-year lease which maintained ties up until the beginning of this century.
In the 1920s, it was used to play the game of Bumble Puppy, a version of True Madame, a game still played in Belgium and France. It was played on a raised board, balls rolled down a sloping top towards nine numbered arches.
It was bought by Sheffield Corporation in the 1930s, and in 1981, when the lease was up for renewal, a stipulation was included that the character of the pub could not be altered. The winning bidder turned out to be John Smiths, which held it until 2005 when it was taken over by Samuel Smiths.