I love those Sheffield streets that people struggle to identify with. This is typical of Penton Street, a short, cobbled road that slopes diagonally between Trippet Lane and Bailey Lane. It might serve little purpose nowadays, but if we go back in time, this was a residential street amidst factories.
This street was once a haven for criminals, many living in old houses deemed dangerous, injurious to health, and unfit for human habitation. It was no surprise that violent attacks and street robberies around this narrow, congested street, were not uncommon. There were tales of suicide, domestic abuse, and personal tragedy, within these slums.
To get an idea of what Penton Street was like, the oldest known novel about Sheffield, Put Yourself In His Place, written in 1870 by Charles Reade, a contemporary of Dickens and Elliott, is loosely based on the true story of a London woodcarving-tool maker, James Bacon Addis, who was brought to the town by Ward and Payne, and provided an account of the ‘Sheffield Outrages,’ the battle to protect union membership, often through violent means. And Penton Street was always at the heart of the unrest.
In 1886, the street was at the centre of a riot at the factory of Ward and Payne, edge tool and sheep shear manufacturers. A crowd of two thousand youths, congregated in Bailey Lane, Trippet Lane, Penton Street, and West Street, and armed with stones, smashed hundreds of panes of glass. The rioters believed that German grinders had arrived to replace workers sacked by the company. In truth, no foreign workers had been employed.
A big fire in 1929 at the factory of F.G. Gill, putty knife manufacturers, threatened to burn down all the houses in Penton Street. People evacuated their homes and hastily removed furniture before the fire was brought under control.
Industry has long gone, as have the houses, but a huge block of student accommodation now lines one side of the street. And, of course, Trippet’s Lounge Bar, formerly the premises of Bowler J. Dewsnap, cutlery manufacturers, occupies the triangle of land on the right.
The Victorians knew how to build shops. And this is a perfect example of elaborate architecture. It is Boots, on West Street, at its corner with Regent Street. There has been a Boots here since 1890, which makes it one of Sheffield’s oldest shops.
“It was built in Free Renaissance house style, executed in light brown faience, with big Flemish gables, an open parapet, and a cupola on the corner with a dome,” says Pevsner.
Forget the shop, it is what happens at roof level that intrigues me most. How often do people go up there? What secrets lie within that cupola? What will the view from it look like?
Boots was established in 1849 by John Boot, but it was his son, Jesse, who built the company into a household name with stores all over the world. I’ve mentioned before that its first chemist branch outside Nottingham was at Spital Hill, and Sheffield played an important part in its growth.
The building we see is not the original shop. The old store was three storeys high, comprising a commodious shop, with seven large plate-glass windows, on the first floor six stock rooms, and on the second floor, six similar rooms. The site itself was held on an 800 year lease from 1 October 1825.
In 1905, the old store was rebuilt, and Boots took temporary premises opposite for its chemist, while fancy goods were sold from a shop higher up at the corner with Victoria Street.
The new shop opened in 1906 and was designed by Albert Nelson Bromley (1820-1934), whose work in Sheffield had already included a Boots branch in 1904 at Attercliffe. (It also survives, home to Samara Lounge, but for years as the Zeenat Restaurant).
The West Street branch followed the company tradition of purpose-built branches, faced in caramel-coloured glazed terracotta, often with shaped gables or corner turrets. The detailing followed French Renaissance and English Jacobean architecture, often including hybrid sea creatures in its decoration.
A good example of this can be found at Pelham Street, once Boots’ flagship Nottingham store, now occupied by Zara. West Street, although built on a much smaller scale, is a replica, still in original form, except for the disappearance of the corner clock. The terracotta may be Doulton’s Carraraware, which was specified for Boots’ branch in Southend in 1915.
Albert Nelson Bromley, the architect, was born in Stafford, and moved to Nottingham to live with his uncle, architect Frederick Bakewell. He joined his office and became a fellow member of RIBA in 1872. He was on the point of taking up a post in Manchester when he was encouraged to spend time sketching buildings on the continent.
Between 1872-73 he visited 90 towns and cities, including Bruges, Chartres, Heidelberg, Prague, Venice, Siena, Athens, and Constantinople. In ‘Work and Sport: Memories of an Architect’ (1934), he stated that the object of the book was “mainly to reduce to readable proportions his ‘Continental Diary of my Architectural Travels.’
Gifted in the use of the pencil, pen, and brush, he executed watercolours of high artistic merit.
On returning to England, Bromley re-joined his uncle’s practice although their partnership was dissolved in 1876. He became principal architect for Nottingham School Board and did work for Nottingham Tramway Company. But it was his work for Boots that he is best remembered for, a relationship that lasted into the 1920s.
Over a hundred years later, this modern-day Boots is a far cry from its origins, described back in the day as a ‘Chemist, Fine Art Dealer, and Bookseller.’
Special thanks to Kathryn A Morrison for providing historical date about Boots and Albert Nelson Bromley.
Cambridge Street at 3am. The changing face of our city centre.
Grosvenor House, home to HSBC, with the reflection of the almost-complete Isaacs Building opposite. Both buildings form part of Sheffield’s Heart of the City development.
Once upon a time, this was the site of Barrasford’s Hippodrome presenting music hall acts and films projected from the Barrascope. It was soon renamed the Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties and was Sheffield’s largest theatre.
It eventually became the Hippodrome Cinema, demolished in 1963, and the Grosvenor House Hotel and retail outlets built in its place. History likes reinventing itself, and the hotel was itself demolished in 2016-2017.
I was on Trippet Lane the other day, answering a telephone call, when I looked at my feet and realised, I was standing on a piece of history. Beneath were glass panels that were common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More importantly, it tells us that there is a lot more going on underneath our pavements than we can see.
These are pavement lights that were installed to illuminate the space below, usually a basement or cellar. It was a way to lighten spaces where natural light wasn’t available and a way to avoid using gas, oil, and candles. It also indicates that basements often extended underneath the pavement and sometimes beneath the road as well.
The earliest pavement light was developed in America by Edward Rockwell in 1834 using single large round glass lenses set in an iron frame. The lenses often broke and it was Thaddeus Hyatt who corrected the faults with his Hyatt Light of 1854. They had protruding iron knobs, designed to protect the glass, and even if the lenses were broken the panel would still have been safe to walk on.
They first appeared in London in the late 1880s in the form of cast iron frames glazed with cut squares of glass. In time, the glass was replaced with pressed glass prism lenses designed to transmit as much light as possible. It wasn’t long before other towns and cities, including Sheffield, adopted them too.
Pavement lights were extremely popular, but they weren’t without problems. It was the responsibility of shopkeepers to replace broken squares, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to sustain injury after catching their heel in a hole. There were stories of small children getting their foot stuck in them and in World War One, wounded soldiers were reported to have had their crutch caught in them. Discarded cigarettes dropped through a broken panel were also the cause of many a fire below.
Pavement lights waned in popularity with the introduction of the electric light but have made a comeback in recent years.
They are far more common in Sheffield than you probably realise and provide clues that there are underground secrets waiting to be explored.
Thomas Street, looking towards Moore Street, with a covered walkway between Cosmos, recently constructed student accommodation.
This was formerly the site of Stokes Tiles, but back in 1892 we would have been looking at a much narrower Thomas Street, with the Noah’s Ark public house evident. The council paid £750 for 113 square yards of freehold land from Tennant Bros for the purpose of widening these streets.
Former back-to-back housing in the area was cleared and made way for industry, but times change, and the people are returning.
In the background is the Moorfoot Building, and Wickes, this land now under ownership of NewRiver, owners of The Moor, and I’m informed will be assigned for further residential development.
Grinders Hill. Lonely at 3am. A shortcut for our ancestors… a shortcut for us now.
But it nearly wasn’t.
November 1935. “The City of Sheffield. Notice is hereby given that a certain public highway to wit a footway known as ‘Grinders Hill’ situate in Sheffield and running in a south-westerly direction between certain other public highways known as Paternoster Row and Leadmill Road shall be entirely stopped up as being useless and unnecessary for the public.”
The motion failed, and Grinders Hill is still with us.
If I had a favourite building in Sheffield, this would be it. Cornish Works, abandoned, derelict, still charming, is one of the last substantial development opportunities at Kelham Island. This was once home to George Barnsley and Sons, specialists in files and cutting tools for leather workers and the shoe-making industry.
Unlike many famous Sheffield firms, its name lives on in premises at Mowbray Street. But for many years the business was located here, at Cornish Street, a narrow road, that is slowly readying itself for regeneration.
If I had made this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, then I might have considered paying the £1.65m being asked for it, and substantially more for it to be made good. Until somebody else does, the building falls into ruin.
“It is an amazing labyrinth,” said a friend of mine. “Obsolete machinery has become museum pieces, old offices have finely crafted woodwork, and everywhere you look there’s evidence of Victorian and Edwardian history. But nature is taking over, with greenery covering old courtyards, the sides of buildings, and encroaching inside. Roofs have collapsed and birds have made home. It is an urban explorer’s paradise, most of whom show the respect it deserves, but the big worry is that one day somebody will set it on fire.”
Cornish Works is a collection of listed buildings, including crucible furnaces and a dwelling house, constructed about 1850, and extended in the later nineteenth century.
George Barnsley was a manufacturer of files and other tools. He was born into humble surroundings in 1810 and educated at the Boys’ Charity School,
However, aged 26, he was clever enough to start a file making firm on Wheeldon Street and moved into the new Cornish Works in 1850, improving his product range to include shoes and butchers’ knives. He was a member of the Town Council for the St Philip’s Ward, and a member of the Cutlers’ Company.
His son, George Jnr, joined the company as a travelling salesman at 14 and was made a partner when he reached twenty-one. He took over the company on the death of his father in 1874.
Like George Snr, he became a Town Councillor, as well as becoming an alderman, J.P., and Master Cutler.
George Jnr died at Oakvale, Collegiate Crescent, in 1895, and the business passed to his son, Henry, who steered the business through the difficult times of the twentieth century.
But when he died in 1958, the number of employees had dwindled to around one hundred, and by the time the works closed in 2004 only a handful remained in this cavernous and dilapidated workspace.
The name eventually passed to the Mowbray Manufacturing Company of which it is now a wholly owned subsidiary.
This photo reminds me of a story brought to my attention a few years ago by Michael Dolby. It is rather a sweet late night tale.
In 1939, the American jazz pianist and singer, Fats Waller, played his first European concerts with a tour of the Moss Empire’s theatre circuit. One of those dates included a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre on Charles Street.
“I will never forget how on a tour of the English provinces we were playing the Empire Theatre, in Sheffield,” Fats once wrote. “After theatre is our usual time for relaxation and following dinner, I roamed restlessly through the beautiful park there. At dawn the birds awakened, and out of their lively chirpings one short strain stood out. I went back to the hotel, and by ten o’clock that morning, with the aid of some delicious Amontillado sherry, we had finished ‘Honey Hush.’ You see, it’s fifty percent inspiration and fifty percent perspiration.”
The song was co-written by Ed Kirkeby and recorded in New York later that year.
Legend says that the ‘beautiful’ park was the Peace Gardens, laid the year before, in 1938, but known then as St Paul’s Gardens, in recognition of St Paul’s Church that had been demolished.
But there are also suggestions that the park might have been the Botanical Gardens.
I can confirm that Waller played the Sheffield Empire that year, and that he stayed at the Grand Hotel on Leopold Street. Therefore, it seems more than likely that the park was indeed the Peace Gardens, at least that’s what I’d like to believe.
And so, in the middle of the night, when the Peace Gardens are deserted, sit down, listen carefully, and remember this story.
While you were sleeping last night. This is a wet and deserted Earl Way, which lies parallel between The Moor and Eyre Street.
If we go back to Norman times, and the time of Thomas de Furnival, this was thought to have been the site of a large ditch at the edge of Sheffield Deer Park, one of England’s largest deer parks, and spanning a circumference of eight miles in total.
Earl Way is modern compared to most Sheffield roads. It was created in the second half of the twentieth century when this part of the city centre was redeveloped. Prior to this, there were three significant roads in the vicinity.
These were Porter Street, that ran diagonally from Hereford Street, towards Moorhead, and Porter Lane, a narrow road that linked it with Union Lane.
Union Lane once ran from Charles Street, near to the Roebuck Tavern, across Furnival Road (now Furnival Gate) and ended at Jessop Street (where the Moor Market now stands). The only surviving section of Union Lane is behind Derwent House, near The Roebuck (think deer).
In this photograph, it would have run along the left hand side where the former Plug nightclub and Kit-Kat car-park stand. Porter Street would have been to the right.
If we could go back in time, right in the centre of the picture, and in the middle of the road, would have been Porter Street School.
There were two reasons why Earl Way came into being.
Up until the 1930s, this was an area of back-to-back housing and designated for slum clearance. Then came World War Two. German bombs caused extensive damage around The Moor, Porter Street, and Eyre Street, leaving the site to be redeveloped afterwards.
Union Lane disappeared, and Earl Way was built as a link road to Earl Street (seen running across the end of the road here).
And familiar landmarks appeared too, including the Pump Tavern, later demolished to make way for the Moor Market, and Violet May, a record shop, run by a pivotal figure in the development of the music scene in Sheffield.
Perhaps the most dramatic modern building is the Kit-Kat car-park, designed by Broadway Malyan in 2008, and sold for £9m last month by joint owners NewRiver and BRAVO Strategies.
A photograph that will confuse younger generations. Doing an excellent job at imitating the London Underground, this was Charles Street Station, pictured in 1983. This was a theme bar, but such was the authenticity, that Omnia, the online cultural site, includes the image on its London Underground pages. It was incorporated within the Isaacs Building, built by David Isaacs, a wallpaper merchant, in 1905.
Isaacs Building was an example of Edwardian entrepreneurship, the ground floor containing seven shop units with an assembly hall above, its entrance being from Charles Street. The top floor of the building contained offices and several workshops, mostly rented by enterprising tailoring businesses.
The assembly hall was once the Sheffield Trades Club and in the 1970s was converted into a nightclub, its various incarnations being Faces, Raffles, Charlie Parker’s and Freedom. For a time, the old basement was used as Charles Street Station.
The bar was short-lived, and the entire building was demolished in 2020 as part of the Heart of the City redevelopment. Its replacement, modern office-space, with ground-floor retail units, is nearing completion, and is also called Isaacs Building.