In another post we looked at Brincliffe Towers (Brinkcliffe Tower), and through this old Victorian house we come across Dr Robert Styring, a name overlooked by Sheffield history.
Styring was one of the city’s good people, neglected in favour of his friend, J.G. Graves, a man who will be forever remembered for the substantial gifts to its people.
However, although Styring’s benevolence was modest in comparison, I hope that this synopsis will allow us to appreciate his impact on the city.
Robert Styring was born in Sheffield on March 18th, 1850, the second son of Henry Styring, an estate agent, and completed his education at Hebblethwaite’s School in the old Freemason’s Hall in Paradise Square.
He left school at fifteen becoming a clerk and collector in his father’s business, leaving four years later when his older brother, Henry Ashmore Styring, returned from his travels
Robert moved into law and was articled as clerk to George Edward Webster, qualifying as a solicitor in 1875, and later going into partnership until Webster’s retirement in 1908.
Shortly afterwards, with his two sons, he founded Robert Styring and Sons on North Church Street. He became president of the Sheffield District Incorporated Law Society in 1907.
Styring became a City Councillor for St Peter’s Ward, in 1886, and, after four re-elections, was promoted to the aldermanic bench in 1899. He held this position until 1926, when, after forty years’ public service, he was one of the aldermen who were refused re-election by the Socialist majority which gained power that year.
He was Lord Mayor in 1906-07, and for a considerable period was chairman of the Electricity, Water and Parliamentary Committees, and reputed to never have worn the same tie twice when attending Council sittings. In 1912, he was successful in the inclusion of Tinsley into the city boundaries.
As a member of the City Council it fell to him to organise the Sheffield Electric Supply Department, initiated the Surplus Lands Committee, made arrangements for the purchase of the tramway system and subsequent conversion to electric, and led a Parliamentary struggle for Sheffield to claim a share of the Derwent Valley Water Board scheme in Derbyshire.
Styring was interested in education and appointed a member of the Education Committee in 1903.
To the civic and educational life of the city Styring gave generously. He was a staunch supporter of Sheffield University, in fact, may well be said to have been one of its pioneers. He was a member of the Council of the old University College from which the University sprang, and when the proposal for a University was made, he was a sincere and determined supporter of the scheme.
In those days there was a suggestion that Leeds and Sheffield should combine to form a Yorkshire University, but Leeds declined to co-operate. Styring was a strong advocate of a University for Sheffield and when it was granted a charter became a member of the Court of Governors and expressed faith in its future by having his sons educated there.
In 1923 he anonymously presented the University with £20,000 for the endowment of scholarships and research work. It was only later that his identity was revealed and the following year the University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) and only a few days later the Corporation presented him with the Freedom of the City.
His departure from the Council meant he ended his work on the Education committee but was reappointed not long after, as well as being chairman of the Governors at King Edward VII School.
In other public life, he was leader of the Liberal party in Sheffield, a Justice of the Peace, became a member of the Licensing Committee, and was elected a Town Trustee in 1925. .
A Congregationalist, for many years Styring was associated with Cemetery Road Congregational Church, was chairman of the Sheffield Congregationalist Organisation, treasurer of the Sunday School Union, and completed more than half a century’s service as Sunday school teacher and superintendent.
Styring married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, who helped him in his public duties, and became a rock in his life for 45 years.
For a while they lived at Moorseats Hall, Hathersage, a house identified with Jane Eyre, and he frequently walked from there to his office in Sheffield.
A man who always looked younger than his age, he attributed his good health to gardening. When living at Hathersage, he had a delightful garden, which he reproduced on a larger scale at Brinkcliffe Tower, which he purchased in 1897.
While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 Annie Styring remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.
Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”
In November 1925, he decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.
“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”
Styring was a lifelong abstainer and non-smoker and indulged in the healthy pursuits of walking and golf.
In later years he became a world traveller and completed a 33,000 mile round the world tour during which he visited Egypt, India, Ceylon, China, Japan, and the United States.
After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.
Brinkcliffe Tower, later known as Brincliffe Towers, became a care home until 2011 and is currently empty awaiting redevelopment. A better fate has befallen its former grounds, opened in 1935 as Chelsea Park, although arguably it maybe should have been called Styring Park.