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William John Hale

William John Hale (1862-1929) was an architect based in Sheffield, creating some of the city’s most outstanding architecture.

He was the son of Matthew Hale, and member of an old Sheffield family, several of his ancestors having been Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company.
Hale was born in Sheffield, educated at Wesley College, and articled to Innocent and Brown, commencing practice as an architect and surveyor in 1893.

He was a member of the Sheffield Architects Society and erected several public buildings, schools, and chapels, including Bole Hill, Hammerton Road, Lydgate Lane and Owler Lane Schools; Brightside Wesleyan Chapel, St. Luke’s Wesleyan Church, Bradfield Wesleyan Chapel, Crookes Congregational Church, Wesley Hall, Crookes, Rawmarsh Wesleyan Chapel, Attercliffe Wesleyan Hall, Banner Cross Methodist Church, Southey Methodist Church and Bents Green Methodist Church.

Hale was one of the pioneers of the octagonal style of church architecture of which Crookes Congregational Church and Crookes Wesley Hall were fine examples.

Upon the death of architect William Angelo Waddington, in 1907, he was appointed to complete work on the Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission.

Another example of his work can be found at the Carver Street Wesleyan Extensions, confusingly built on West Street, opened in 1929.

This was the same year that Hale died at his home, Tainby, in Ranmoor, aged 67.

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Buildings

The Victoria Hall

When it opened in 1908, the Victoria Hall was a bit of an eye-opener for Methodist church-goers. At the start of a new century, the Wesleyans wanted to attract a new crowd, so the words ‘church’ and ‘chapel’ were omitted from its name.

This was a replacement for the Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1780 and demolished in 1906, and didn’t want to draw its strength from existing churches. Instead, it wanted to catch those people who spent their spare time in the streets.

The Sheffield Wesleyan Mission had considered calling it the Central Mission Hall, but realised that there was already a Central Hall on Norfolk Street, one that was devoted to public entertainment.

This meant that the Victoria Hall, as it was christened, looked nothing like conventional Methodist buildings, the design chosen in a competition, won by  Waddington, Son and Dunkerley of Manchester.

However, when the architect, William Angelo Waddington, died in 1907, a year after the foundation stones had been laid, it was left to Sheffield-based William John Hale (1862-1929), second in the competition, to finish the design.

The extent of Hale’s alterations to the original plans is unclear, but the tower and its uppermost elevations were considerably changed.

The result was a mix of Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles, red brick and stone, with a massive neo-Baroque top to the tower, and carved decorations by Alfred and William Tory. The total cost was £41,000, of which £25,000 had already been paid or promised.

As usual for this time period, construction was by the inexhaustible Sheffield builders, George Longden and Son.

The Main Hall, with its tip-up seats and wooden flooring, was designed for 2,000 people, while the Lecture Hall accommodated up to 400. The rest of the Victoria Hall was made up of smaller suites, halls, class and club rooms, as well as an innovative cinematographic box.

The total number of rooms amounted to seventy, suitable for institutional and religious work.

Said one commentator at the time:

“One finds a pleasure to traverse the cement-stepped stairs, with their bright walls, and beautifully designed stained glass windows, and at every turn, vistas of long corridors, where monotony of vision is eased by the insertion of arches on the ceiling.”

Pleasant to the eye also was the artistic brightness, without a suggestion of garishness, of the white and pale green walls and the well-lighted roof.

A ventilation system of powerful exhaust fans drove impure air through a series of tubes and emitted it by way of the tower.

In World War One, the Victoria Hall opened its doors to the Armed Forces and was visited, in 1919, by King George V and Queen Mary, who presented medals to returning soldiers. It also served free breakfasts during the Great Depression to needy children, as well as distributing food parcels to the unemployed.

Prior to the opening of the City Hall in 1932, this was also Sheffield’s leading concert venue, a role it still fulfils as a popular classical music venue.

During World War Two, the Victoria Hall was partly converted into an Armed Forces rest hostel with 20 beds, increased to 35 at the height of hostilities.

The building underwent an extensive restoration in 1930, and has subsequently been remodelled to create an events venue, although church services still take place every Sunday evening.

If ever you get chance to call in, take a good look at the splendid glass roof in the Main Hall.