The Cannon: An attractive building with a notorious past

The Cannon. Photograph: Mark Jenkinson & Son

I know somebody who once walked into the Cannon public house on Castle Street and was smashed in the face with a baseball bat. It was a case of mistaken identity, but he never went back.

When the police shut it down in the mid-2000s it said: “The Cannon pub has for many years now attracted shoplifters, people who take drugs and drug dealers. It smells of cannabis as you walk past. In short, it is a den of iniquity.”

Sadly, this was the end of a drinking establishment that could be traced back to 1774, when Castle Street was called Truelove’s Gutter (more about in a future post).

It eventually became Castle Street and the Castle Wine Vaults survived until the early 1900s when Sheffield Corporation decided to widen the narrow street. It purchased ninety-three square yards of freehold land from William Stones, the brewer, and the old drinking house was demolished.

Permission was granted for the building of a new hotel to replace the one which had come down, and construction started in 1902-1903. It was designed by James Ragg Wigfull (1864-1936), once articled to Flockton and Gibbs, who had set up his own architectural practise in 1892.

Built in Tudor Renaissance style, with three big dormers, the windows were flanked by tapered pilasters and topped by segmental pediments. There were also ornate stone panels including one of the brewery’s cannon emblems, and the company initials.

The ‘up-to-date popular professional lounge’ had two bars, one on the ground floor and another upstairs, as well as hotel accommodation above.

The Cannon Hotel did not get off to the best start.

On Christmas Eve, 1903, days before it was due to open, it suffered a gas explosion. A barman, plumber and painter entered a small store room with a light. Gas ignited and there was a flash accompanied by a loud bang. The barman, Ernest Emmerton, received the full force of the flame and severely burnt his face, head, arms, and neck. Fortunately, there was no damage to the building.

The likelihood is that the top-hatted gentleman is Vernon H. Ryde, the first landlord of the Cannon Hotel on Castle Street.

The first landlord was Vernon H. Ryde, a theatrical man, who had managed the Empire Theatre, Oldham, and Empire Palace, Holloway, and had arrived in Sheffield to manage the Theatre Royal in 1899.

In December 1903, Ryde ended his forty year association with the stage and accepted managership at the Cannon Hotel.

From heights of respectability, the Cannon Hotel’s fortunes steadily declined, and despite its proximity to the police station and law courts it was the domain for villains and thieves.

Stones Brewery (William Stones Ltd) was founded in Sheffield in 1868. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

When the closed pub changed hands a ‘restrictive covenant’ was placed on it. The restriction stated that the owner was: “Not to use the property, or any part of the property, as a public house, or bar, or off-licence, or for the manufacture of alcoholic beverages or for the sale of alcoholic beverages.”

It was bought for £245,000 in 2018 by a company called Aestrom Limited (the same developer that bought the Old Town Hall) but it collapsed because of the pandemic.

It has now been converted into luxury flats upstairs with space for two shops on the ground floor. The building, renamed The Cannon, will go to auction next month with a guide price of £575,000.

Photographs: Mark Jenkinson & Son

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