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Tapton Court: A ‘brass castle’ above the fog of the town

Photograph by BNP Paribas Real Estate

There is an old house at Ranmoor that is looking distinctly down-at-heel these days. Tapton Court, on Shore Lane, is shuttered-up and anticipating its reawakening. It is owned by the University of Sheffield, most recently used as student accommodation but now, along with adjacent Ranmoor Annexe, it awaits a buyer.

Fortunately, the university has been good to Tapton Court, given Grade II listing in 1995, and following a fire in 2010, made sure essential primary repairs and rebuilding brought the building back to shell condition in accordance with Listed Building Consent.

Tapton Court came to light after a recent post about Henry Steel (1832-1915), a ‘leviathan’ of the racecourse and one of the founders of Steel, Peech and Tozer, once a well-known steel firm in Rotherham. He lived here from 1879 until his death in 1915, but further research throws up an exciting past, and reveals that this house was visited by Royalty, possibly on more than one occasion.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The house was built on land sold by William Spooner, a member of a farming and landowning family with large holdings in Ecclesall, Crookes, Nether Hallam and Bradfield, in 1865. Three years later, John Henry Andrew (1824-1884), steel manufacturer, built an Italianate mansion here, one of many ‘brass castles’ that sprung up in this pleasant part of town.

Photograph by HughieDW on Flickr

He was one of Sheffield’s self-made men, head of the Toledo Works (J.H. Andrew and Co), and rose from the ranks of labour. Early in life he was apprenticed to Wilson & Sothern, in Doncaster Street, and when he was 22, became a partner in Richard Graves & Son, in Snow Lane, remaining there for fifteen years. For the next ten years, up to 1870, he carried on his steel works in Malinda Street, then removing to Toledo Works which he had built at Neepsend.

A former member of the Town Council and Cutlers’ Company, he declined the office of Master Cutler on account of ill-health, that also forced him to relinquish duties to his three sons. He died very suddenly from asthma on his return from Bridlington in 1884, by which time, he’d already sold Tapton Court and was living at Oak Lawn, on Oakholme Road.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

John Henry Andrew sold Tapton Court to Henry Steel in 1879. He was a man who had made his fortune as a bookmaker on the racecourses of England, a close friend of Lord Rosebery and King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales.

This larger-than-life character made a huge success of Steel, Peech & Tozer, subsequently merged with other steel firms to become United Steel Companies of which he became chairman.

In later years, J.G. Graves, that great Sheffield entrepreneur and benefactor, revealed that the Prince of Wales often visited Tapton Court, perhaps secretly, to see his friend. His ascendency to King curtailed their friendship and they next met in 1905 when Edward opened the University of Sheffield. “He recognised Henry, left the procession, and shook him heartily by the hand.”

Henry Steel

After Henry Steel died in 1916, a newspaper advertisement spelled out the magnificence of the Victorian house.

“A well-appointed stone-built residence of attractive appearance surrounded by full-grown forest trees. The property is situated at an elevation of about 600 feet and is clear of the low-lying fogs which so often envelop the city.

“The contents of the property comprise lounge hall, three large reception rooms, smoke room, billiard room, nine principal bedrooms, three attics, two bathrooms and excellent offices, with servants’ hall.

“Well laid-out grounds, with entrance lodge, tennis court, fishpond, large sloping lawn, kitchen garden, paddock, stables, garage for two cars, and extensive glass-houses replete with full bearing vines and peach trees.”

Amongst the first items to be sold were the contents of the greenhouses: carnations, cypripediums, heliotropes, and maidenhair ferns.

Photograph by HughieDW on Flickr

The house contents were sold from a marquee in the grounds, the four-day sale including cabinet furniture, principally made by Manuel and Son, silver and electro-plate, books, linen, glass and china. The item that attracted most interest was a trophy, the Brighton Cup 1874, staged with figures, stags and hounds and sold to a Sheffield gentleman for 72 guineas.

Tapton Court  wasn’t sold until 1918 and fell into the hands of Albert Victor Derry (1872-1932), another man airbrushed from Sheffield history.

Albert Kochs, as he was known, was born in Manchester, the son of William Edward Kochs, of German extract. He was educated at Cardiff and South Wales University, and then articled to his father and for a time was placed at the works of the Humboldt Engineering Company of Cologne, Germany.

Later becoming a partner in W. Edward Kochs & Company, consulting engineers, of Foster’s Building, Sheffield, he set up in 1901, along with Charles Rudolph Altenhein and Dr Heinrich Koppers, a company to build coke oven plants across Britain and overseas.

Photograph by HughieDW on Flickr

During World War One, Koppers Coke Oven By-Products was taken over by the Government (Altenhein was detained during the war), and afterwards Derry bought the company back and called it Koppers Coke Oven Company, its biggest order being for the Gas Light and Coke Company, London.

Unsurprisingly, the war had seen Albert adopt his mother’s maiden name and was hereafter known as Albert Derry.

In 1917, Derry started British Tar Products, at Irlam, Manchester, with offices on Glossop Road, and shortly afterwards started the Coal Products and Derivates Company, as well as Senrac, for the purpose of making concrete blocks for houses, several examples of houses built from these were found on the Manor estate. Along with Koppers, Derry also formed the Building Engineers’ and Contractors’ Company, which erected several  buildings, including Rawmarsh Public Baths.

In 1931, Albert, and his wife, Olga, extremely rich by now, and with another house in Italy, left Tapton Court and moved to Wick House, Bristol. However, within twelve months Albert collapsed and died in Cairo while visiting his wife’s birthplace.

In part two of the story of Tapton Court, we’ll look at the next stage of the house’s history, and its role looking after nurses from the Royal Hospital.

Photograph by HughieDW on Flickr