It stands rather grandiose, next to Broad Lane, on the way to Brook Hill roundabout. St. George’s Church, aside from Sheffield’s two cathedrals, is one of two magnificent churches around the city centre.
St. George’s was built for the Church Building Commission between 1821-1825, one of three churches to have been built in Sheffield under the Church Building Act of 1818. (The others were St. Mary’s, Bramall Lane, still standing, and St. Phillip’s at Netherthorpe, demolished in 1951).
A Commissioner’s Church was an Anglican church built with money voted by Parliament, aiming to increase the number of church places for parishioners.
By the start of the Industrial Revolution, people had moved from rural areas into towns and cities, putting unprecedented demand on places of worship. Before these three new churches, Sheffield had just 6,280 seats for a population of 55,000 people.
The foundation stone for St. George’s, built on a piece of spare land, was laid by Thomas Sutton, Vicar of Sheffield, on 19 July 1821, the Coronation day of King George IV, hence the name.
The church was designed by Woodhead and Hurst, in Perpendicular Gothic style, at a cost of £15,181 (about £1.2million today) and was planned to have been completed by October 1824.
It was an ambitious building scheme, overseen by John Smith, Superintendent of Works for Thomas Flockton, builder and contractor for many of Sheffield’s churches.
The construction was carefully planned with master craftsmen brought him from various Yorkshire companies.
Ironwork was provided by Raynor and Company, of St. James’s Street, while Nowell’s of Dewsbury afforded masons and bricklayers, the slate roof completed by Brown’s of Division Street, Sheffield, and plumbing and glazing carried out by Smith and Binks of Rotherham.
William Nicholson, of St.James’s Street, provided plasterers, and Robert Drury, from Eyre Street, supplied a team of painters and decorators. Carpentry and joinery were completed by a team from Thomas Flockton, based on Rockingham Street.
St. George’s was finally completed in 1825, the consecration ceremony held by Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, Archbishop of York, on 29th June 1825.
A procession formed in the chancel of the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral) and proceeded to St. George’s, the parade made up from members of the clergy, charity girls and boys, the Town Collector and Trustees as well as the Master Cutler and members of the Cutlers’ Company.
Such was the demand to view the ceremony that members of the public were only admitted by ticket.
The finished church was 122ft long and 67ft wide, with a flat-ceilinged nave of six bays, a single-bay chancel and a 140ft high tower. Galleries extended the length of the north and south walls, and there was a two-tiered gallery on the west wall, providing total seating for 380 worshippers.
It was soon apparent that St. George’s was going to be a success, attracting a congregation from nearby high-density housing. However, the Archbishop considered it unfit for the internment of the dead, due to the churchyard not being properly fenced off, and burials only commenced from 1830.
St. George’s prospered, but declining attendances during the 1970s resulted in its closure in 1981. It stood unused for many years until the University of Sheffield bought it in 1994, its presence slowly extending towards the city centre.
The church was converted by Peter Wright and Martin Phelps, with a lecture theatre sited in the nave, seating provided in the west gallery, a dais set in the chancel, and three floors of student accommodation built in the aisles.
Standing at the centre of St. George’s Square, the former church is best seen at night when it is floodlit.