Charter Row, 3am. This is a relatively modern road, created in the 1960s when Sheffield, like other cities, tried to separate cars from pedestrians.
According to Harman and Minnis in Pevsner’s Architectural Guide, the inner ring road (a revival of the Civic Circle from 1945) was only partly completed, comprising Arundel Gate, Eyre Street, and Charter Row, while St. Mary’s Road and Hanover Street were upgraded to form an outer ring.
Charter Row runs roughly along the course of Button Lane that ran between Moorhead and the junction of Moore Street and Fitzwilliam Street. It was heavily bombed during the Blitz of 1940 and remaining slum housing and workshops demolished.
While you were sleeping last night. I walked down a lonely street. It was shadowy, nothing stirred, all buildings were in darkness. But there was one window that called out. It said, I am a window that used to be part of a busy factory. Little boys used to peer through my dirty glass and watch workmen in flat caps toiling in gloomy conditions. But then the machines stopped, and I was broken. A relentless desolation. The little boys grew older, and they longed to see what mysteries I shielded. I could have told them that there was nothing but discarded tools, benches, old newspapers, cigarette ends, and wretched rats. Only these old railings stalled their curiosity. And now, I am born-again. A young man lives here. Perhaps the great-grandson of one of those little boys of the past. He’s starting out in the university of life with his books and music. But he is vulnerable to prying eyes, and these railings still keep them out, and I offer him warmth and protection, and I tell all, that behind me, this boy is comfortable.
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.
The old man with the pipe made another impromptu appearance. This time, outside the Town Hall. He looked sad as he rested underneath a lamppost. Good evening, I said. He didn’t answer straightaway. “Aye lad, it is a good evening.” He looked towards the Peace Gardens and sighed. “I must take leave of you lad. Tonight I’m meeting up with my family in the churchyard..” He walked away and I was distracted by the chimes of the Town Hall clock. When I looked back, the old man with the pipe faded in a light mist and was gone. Happy Easter everyone.
May 1850. Water that flowed down an underground sewer in Howard Street had formerly been derived from springs in the neighbourhood. It ran down the hillside and emptied into the River Sheaf near the Pond tilt. All went well until several properties in Eyre Street, at the top of the hill, started emptying waste into the drain. It might not have been an issue had it not been for Thomas Dewsnap of Arundel Works, who discovered that his father had diverted the sewer to a reservoir at the works and used the water to power a steam engine. The reservoir water started giving-off a foul smell and after numerous complaints from neighbours was deemed to be injurious to the health of the neighbourhood.
July 1885. Henry Bradbury, a boy, living in South Lane, was charged with stealing seven newspapers from the shop of Mrs Pearson. The youngster made a small profit by selling the newspapers to men living in the slum neighbourhood. With this money he bought food for his brothers and sisters. He had previously been convicted of similar thefts and was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment and hard labour. He cried in court.
Last night I met the old man with the pipe. He was leaning against a wall. “Good evening again,” he said. “This is a lonely spot,” I commented. “Aye lad, it is that. Duke Lane is not a nice place at night. Just last week, three ruffians went into the Three Legs of Man down yonder, and such a commotion they caused. Police Constable Hobson was called and ordered them to go away. The poor man was knocked down and kicked. He blew his whistle and they got ‘em, and all three went to prison for hard labour.” I looked at the scene of the crime and when I turned back to the old man he had disappeared.
Thursday 29 May 1856. Thousands of people attended a May-day procession to celebrate the fall of Sevastopol, the capital of Crimea, the previous October. “The view from Moor-head along this fine street was lively in the extreme, presenting to the eye at one glance a greater number of flags and banners than perhaps any other part of the town.”
March 1927. George Mooney and John Thomas Murphy arrived at the Raven Tavern in Fitzwilliam Street. The two drunken men came across their enemy and foe – Sam and Bob Garvin. The brothers shouted, “They’re here lads. Cut their heads off.” And a violent fight ensued. It was the latest instalment in Sheffield’s Gang Wars. Fast forward 95 years, and such history is lost under West One.
Last night, I met an elderly gentleman, who stood smoking a pipe outside the gate to St George’s Church. “It’s a wet night,” he obliged. “Aye, but Mappin Street looks very beautiful in the rain,” I said.
“Nay lad. This is Charlotte Street, and before that it was St George’s Square.” He paused. “I understand why you might be confused,” and pointed his pipe back towards West Street.
“Walk back yonder and look at the white paint on the building at the end. It says ‘Zarlot Street.’ Once upon a time, there was a Pitman Society in Sheffield, and they persuaded the town authorities to allow them to name our streets phonetically. That’s the last reminder, but it’s always been Charlotte Street to us.”
And Charlotte Street became Mappin Street, named after Sir Frederick Mappin, whose building for the University of Sheffield was completed in 1913.