Matilda Tavern: the life and times of a coaching inn

Recent image of the Matilda Tavern. Photograph: Sheffield Star

Once upon a time there was a mill called Cinder Hill Mill, the property of the Wigfull family, powered by water from Porter Brook that flowed into a dam. In 1780, Joshua Wigfull rebuilt Wigfull’s Mill, and it was later enlarged, with a steam engine fixed for driving six pairs of French stones, one pair of grey stones, and a shelling mill.

Most of the flour made at these mills went to Stockport and taken by wagons and pack-saddle to Middleton. There they were met by a team of relay teams and vehicles and carried forward. The mill was demolished in 1862 and stood in or near the present Leadmill Road.

At the side of the mill were fields rented by a Doctor Brown from the Duke of Norfolk, and the district became known as Doctor’s Fields.

Wigfull’s Mill. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

In the late 18th century, the Duke of Norfolk set about his ambitious plan to develop this neighbourhood, alongside Alsop Fields, into a fashionable residential district. James Paine drew up a masterplan with a proposed gridwork of streets, the key ones being Union Street, Norfolk Street, Eyre Street, Arundel Street, Howard Street, Charles Street, Furnival Street, and Duke Street.

Duke Street stretched between Union Street and Porter Brook, and when it was extended towards Doctor’s Fields the new portion from Arundel Street onwards became known as Matilda Street, named after William the Conqueror’s wife, Queen Matilda of Flanders.

By 1838 nine newly-erected houses had been constructed, one of them a large public-house, a coaching inn beside Porter Brook, with an archway that led to a stable yard behind, and this was called the Matilda Tavern.

The masterplan faltered, and instead of posh houses for the wealthy, the area was instead utilised for industry. By the 1870s, the upper portion of the road, Duke Street, was also renamed Matilda Street to avoid confusion with the street of the same name at Park.

The Matilda Tavern thrived and apart from serving ale, it was a place where Thomas Badger, coroner for the Upper Division of the Wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill, held inquests on dead bodies, many of whom had drowned in Porter Brook or in the unprotected portion of the Wigfull Mill dam.

Photograph: Picture Sheffield

And so, the Matilda Tavern thrived, and when coach and horses disappeared, it served the hundreds of thousands of workers that worked in nearby factories. Eventually, industry disappeared, and its fortunes waned.

In 1999, its exterior was used in an ITV series called Four Fathers, starring Tony Doyle and Neil Dudgeon, its north of England setting somewhat gloomy, but its characters gainfully employed with humour amid the drama.

However, six years later, in 2005, the Matilda Tavern closed for good, its windows boarded-up, and the interiors left to rot.

Photograph: Closed Pubs

Several new residential developments in the area, notably the apartments on the corner of Matilda Street and Arundel Street, and the apartments along Fornham Street, have brought students to the area.

In 2007, developers were given permission to alter and extend the old pub and erect a new building behind for student accommodation and ground floor business space. All these years later, conversion of the upper floors have been completed and work on the new student accommodation is under way and due to be finished in spring 2022.

However, in a new planning application, architects Wireframe Studio, says “The proposal is to now change the ground floor and basement of the building from business use back to its original use as a drinking establishment with the paved area along the river as an external terrace.”

The golden days might have disappeared, its smoky rooms and beer-stained carpets likely replaced with modern interiors, but at least the Matilda Tavern may live-on.

Photograph: David Johnson

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.