On the nights of 11th and 13th December 1940, a German attack on Sheffield lasted for many hours, and cinemas, stores, and shops, were wrecked, and some churches damaged. Two days later, on the 15th and 16th, Sheffield was again attacked with material results, explosions, and a considerable number of fires observed.
“Between 3.30 and 4.00 a.m. on 13th December 1940, from our terrace we watched Sheffield burn. Sheffield is my native city. I felt then that the rest of my life must be devoted to helping to restore and rebuild the fortunes of the city.”
These words were written by Dr W. H. Hatfield in the introduction of his book, Sheffield Burns, published in 1943, in which he idealises and hopes the city will have a brighter future.
“My father desired to rest with his father, and I remember subsequently on a quiet wintry afternoon standing before their tombstone and reading the dates on which my grandfather and my father passed away, and then realising that I could from the inscriptions before me, predict the approximate date upon which I, given good fortune, would also pass away.”
Hatfield gave the final proofs of his book to his publisher on 13th October 1943 and died four days later, much sooner than he had probably anticipated.
“He died through strain and overwork in furthering our war effort,” said his wife Edith at the time. “Working unflinchingly at all hours, day and night for four years without rest or holiday, for our armaments and aircraft industry.”
William Herbert Hatfield was born in 1882, and worked in the laboratory of Henry Bessemer and Co, while at the same time studying at University College, Sheffield, where he became Doctor of Metallurgy in 1913. Later he became a metallurgist at John Crowley and Co and was subsequently appointed director of the Brown-Firth Research Laboratories, and later with the board of Thomas Firth and John Brown.
It was Hatfield who discovered 18/8 stainless steel in 1924 which happens to be the most widely used stainless steel in the world today. For all his efforts, he is sadly overlooked by history, except for the Hatfield Memorial Lecture, held every December by the University of Sheffield.
He might not have been from Sheffield, but Rotherham counts, and the steel city had a big impact on his career.
Ernest John Harris (1916-1991) was a sailor, airman, a journalist, travel courier, cartoonist, and a history teacher. He was best known as a productive author publishing a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pel, as well as numerous war books. He wrote under his own name, John Harris, and under the pennames of Mark Hebden and Max Hennessy.
He wrote more than 80 novels, including The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1953) that became a film of the same name starring Michael Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Steel.
Harris was educated at Rotherham Grammar School before getting a job as a reporter at the Rotherham Advertiser in the early 1930s.
He married Betty Wragg in Rotherham and had a son, Max, and a daughter, Juliet, who carried on the Pel detective series after her father’s death.
Harris moved to the Sheffield Telegraph and during World War Two served in the RAF as a corporal attached to the South African Air Force. It was said that he served two navies and two air forces during the war.
Afterwards, he re-joined the Sheffield Telegraph as a political and comedy cartoonist, drawing comic strips such as the Calamity Kids and Amateur Archie, and published his first novel, The Lonely Voyage, in 1951.
He stayed in Sheffield until the 1950s and following the success of The Sea Shall Not Have Them became a full-time author, moving to West Wittering in West Sussex.
After turning to full-time writing, Harris wrote adventure stories and created a sequence of crime novels around the quirky fictional character Chief Inspector Pel.
Harris’s books are still in publication, and for Sheffielders, a must-read is Covenant with Death (1961), a ‘fictionary’ account of the Sheffield City Battalion from its formation to catastrophe at Serre on 1 July 1916.
“When war breaks out in 1914, Mark Fenner and his Sheffield friends immediately flock to Kitchener’s call. Amid waving flags and boozy celebration, the three men – Fen, his best friend Locky and self-assured Frank, rival for the woman Fen loves – enlist as volunteers to take on the Germans and win glory.
“Through ramshackle training in sodden England and a stint in arid Egypt, rebellious but brave Fen proves himself to be a natural leader, only undermined by on-going friction with Frank. Headed by terse, tough Sergeant Major Bold, this group of young men form steel-strong bonds and yearn to face the great adventure of the Western Front.
“Then, on one summer’s day in 1916, Fen and his band of brothers are sent to the Somme, and this very ordinary hero discovers what it means to fight for your life.”
Harris interviewed battalion survivors for the book, and the central character, Mark Fenner, is partly based on his Sheffield Telegraph colleague Jess Richard ‘Roddy’ Robinson.
There are many war memorials and plaques located around Sheffield, including the City War Memorial in Barker’s Pool. All of these are cared for by Sheffield City Council, but did you know that it also maintains the Sheffield Battalion Memorial in Serre-lès-Puisieux, a village in northern France.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 men of the 12th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (“the Sheffield Pals”) were entrenched ready to launch an attack on the German position in the fortified hilltop hamlet of Serre. The troops met with devastating machine gun fire and by the end of the day, the Battalion reported 248 killed, 246 wounded and 18 missing.
This tiny village has been indelibly stamped on the pages of Sheffield history – stamped with the blood of city sons, for in a fruitless endeavour to take Serre, the Sheffield City Battalion suffered enormous losses.
In October 1920, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield received the following correspondence from the Mayor of Puisieux:
“I am happy to send you the resolution by which the Municipal Council of Puisieux has decided unanimously to offer to the City of Sheffield the ground necessary for the erection of a monument. This monument will perpetuate among the population of Puisieux a souvenir of your dear lost ones. Believe me sincerely, that even without this monument they will not be forgotten.”
After World War One, the area around Puisieux was one of the saddest and most desolate-looking heaps of ruins. It looked like it had been dead for many years! Very little signs of life or vegetation, the once beautiful, wooded country was just a collection of dead stumps and bits of trees—a few odd ones standing here and there, but all dead, as the asphyxiating gas used by the Germans killed every living thing.
Serre was really part of Puisieux, but had no inhabitants left. Puisieux had about 250 but before the war had a population of over 1,000. The reason they had not returned was the lack of money to work their devastated fields into order again. Sheffield had given a steam tractor, but it was at Arras because no one knew how to drive it, but a man had been sent from Puisieux to take lessons.
A Sheffield-Serre Memorial committee, chaired by Alderman Wardley, raised funds for the memorial, and Major C.B. Flockton, architect, offered a prize of five guineas for the best design, won by J.S. Brown, of Barnsley Road, an ex-serviceman studying in the Department of Architecture at Sheffield University.
The memorial, in Villebois stone, was erected on a slope overlooking the field where within an hour the battalion suffered 600 casualties. On its inscription, in English and French:
“To the memory of the officers and men of the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion) who fell before Serre 1916.”
Above were four bronze plaques, representative of Sheffield’s Coat of Arms, those of Serre, and the regimental badge of the York and Lancasters.
The memorial was unveiled on Monday 21 May 1923. The gathering of Frenchmen and Englishmen included about a hundred people from Sheffield, among them a company of survivors of the battalion, besides parents and friends, and citizens who occupied prominent positions during the war.
It was unveiled by Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Wedgewood, D.S.O., commanding the 1st Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, and was dedicated by Dr H. Gresford Jones, Bishop of Kampala (who was Vicar of Sheffield from 1912 to 1920).
Perhaps the saddest moment of all was the sounding of the Last Post and the Reveille. As these well-known notes rang over the battlefields, thoughts fled back to the happy days at Redmires, and again to the long rows of little wooden crosses in the valley yonder, beside stinted, and blasted trees that had once been copses.
In 1926, a large wooden hut was erected nearby, much to the disappointment of survivors, and even the Mayor of Puisieux, who complained that it overshadowed the memorial. After months of negotiation, the owner of the land adjoining the memorial agreed to remove two huts after he was paid 3,000 francs, the cost met by the Sheffield ‘Twelfth Club’ (made up of ex-servicemen) on condition that the owner would not erect anything else of a similar nature.
Serre-lès-Puisieux was slowly rebuilt, but only as a hamlet of houses dotted along the road. The Sheffield Battalion Memorial survived World War Two and remains as a tribute to Sheffield’s lost sons – still honoured by the French who regularly lay flowers and wreaths around it.
In 2006, the memorial was restored and re-dedicated by the Right Rev. Jack Nicholls, Bishop of Sheffield.
(The Sheffield Battalion Memorial isn’t the only dedication to those lost in France, and in a future post we’ll look at the nearby park owned by the City of Sheffield).
Here’s a book that will become a collectors item, and a must for those who appreciate Sheffield’s recent history. ‘Stirring Up Sheffield,’ a substantial book, is written by the Crucible Theatre’s first Artistic Director, Colin George, and his son, Tedd George, and will be published by Wordville Press on 9 November 2021.
This is the extraordinary story of a group of visionaries who came together to build the revolutionary thrust stage theatre. The radical design they proposed for the auditorium—which redefined the actor/audience relationship—aroused fierce opposition from Sheffield’s conservative quarters and several of the era’s theatrical luminaries. But it also galvanised a new generation of Britain’s actors, directors, designers and playwrights who launched a passionate defence of the thrust stage and its theatrical potential.
Colin George was the founding Artistic Director of the Crucible Theatre. Born in Pembroke Dock, Wales, in 1929, Colin read English at University College, Oxford, and was a founding member of the Oxford and Cambridge Players. After acting in the repertory companies of Coventry and Birmingham, Colin joined the Nottingham Playhouse in 1958 as Assistant Director to Val May. In 1962, he was appointed as Assistant Director at the Sheffield Playhouse, becoming Artistic Director in 1965. Colin played a leading role in the creation of the Crucible Theatre, which opened in November 1971, and was the Crucible’s Artistic Director from 1971 to 1974.
During his tenure Colin also established Sheffield Theatre Vanguard. This innovative scheme took theatre out of the Crucible to engage with the wider Sheffield community. Sheffield Theatres continues to build on his legacy with Sheffield People’s Theatre, a cross-generational community company which trains and nurtures the aspirations and skills of local people through special one-off projects and collaborations.
He later worked as Artistic Director of the Adelaide State Theatre Company (1976-1980), as Artistic Director of the Anglo-Chinese Chung Ying Theatre Company (1983-1985) and as Head of Drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (1985-1992). Colin joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as an actor (1994-96 & 1997-99).
In 2011 Colin was invited by the Crucible’s Artistic Director, Daniel Evans, to join the Company for the 40th anniversary production of Othello. This was to be his last theatrical performance and, fittingly, it took place on the thrust stage he had created. Following Othello, Colin produced the first draft of this book, before his death in October 2016.
The introduction is by Sir Ian McKellen:
“Adventures need heroes and here its principal one is Colin George, the first artistic director of The Crucible Theatre, who in this memoir recalls in fascinating detail how, aided by others locally and internationally, a dream came true. Here, too, there are troublesome villains, who failed to share our hero’s imagination and determination.”
Sometimes you stumble across something quite astonishing. This tale of the unexpected involves local artist Joe Scarborough, famous for bringing to life the everyday scenes of Sheffield, and Jackie Collins, nicknamed the ‘Queen of Trash’ for her 32 novels – featuring the sexual gymnastics of heroines including the mafia princess Lucky Santangelo and the insatiable supermodel Fontaine Khaled – selling more than half a billion copies.
Born in London in 1937, Collins’ first novel, “The World is Full of Married Men” was published in 1968 and established Collins as an author who dared to step where no other female writer had gone before. She followed it year after year with one successful title after another, including “The Stud” and “The Bitch,” both adapted into films in the 1970s starring her actress sister, Joan Collins.
Collins settled her family in sunny California in 1980, and had her home designed by architect Ardie Tavangarian, a man inspired by the clean lines of Swiss-French early 20th-century architect Le Corbusier.
The two-story Bel Air home had a guesthouse in the back, connected by a 100-foot-long gallery displaying artworks.
Enter Joe Scarborough, born in Sheffield in 1938 and raised at Pitsmoor, who began scribbling art on the back of reports his steelworker father brought home from work. After years spent working in the coal mines, Joe held his first solo art show at the age of 26, and quickly made a name for himself with his multicoloured paintings, which feature anonymous four-inch figures and scenes inspired by the 1950s and 60s.
In 1987, looking to add a splash of colour to her new mansion, Collins spotted a painting by Joe Scarborough and commissioned him to paint three pictures. The first of these – a scene of Blackpool – was sent to California in 1988.
Jackie Collins died of breast cancer in September 2015 while Joe Scarborough continues to paint on his much loved narrowboat on the canal.
In 2017, the contents of Collins’ mansion were sold at auction by Bonhams in Los Angeles. Sure enough, within the pages of the glossy catalogues were Joe Scarborough’s three masterpieces, although none depicted scenes of Sheffield. Between them, the three paintings – Blackpool, Cricket Match and City Scene – fetched US$6,500 (£4,664).
This story starts with an apartment complex in Brooklyn, bounded by East 14th Street, Locust Avenue, Chestnut Avenue, and the Brighton Line of the New York City Subway. The smart new development is called The Vitagraph, built on the site of Vitagraph Studios (1906), the first modern motion picture production company in the U.S.. Apart from the name, the only thing that survives is an adjacent smokestack on which you can still make out the VITAGRAPH name.
In 1896, James Stuart Blackton, a journalist and illustrator for the New York Evening World interviewed Thomas Edison about his new Vitascope, and the man was impressed enough with Blackton’s drawings to make a cartoon film with him: Blackton the Evening World Cartoonist. This was twenty-eight years before Walt Disney formally introduced us to Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Blackton bought a Kinetoscope from Edison and went into partnership with Albert E. Smith, and later William T. Rock, to form the Vitagraph Company.
The studio produced films in which they acted themselves. Tearing Down the Spanish Flag (1898), proved popular in recreating an incident from the Spanish-American war and Vitagraph went on to explore all types of filmmaking, including actualities of local events, comedy series (such as The Happy Hooligan) and adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens.
At the Vitagraph Studios, Blackton pioneered stop frame animation and shot one of his most successful films, Humorous Phases of a Funny Face (1906). He was also innovative in editing techniques and camera work and streamlined processes of the studio to supervise several productions at once.
This was long before Hollywood established itself as the centre of the movie industry and at its peak, Vitagraph was producing up to eight films a week on the Brooklyn lot, and all because of one enterprising Sheffield lad.
James Stuart Blacktin was born in Sheffield in 1875, the son of Henry Blacktin, a saw-maker, and Jessie Stuart, but weeks after his birth his mother filed for divorce.
“She had been beaten regularly by a drunken Henry Blacktin prior and during her pregnancy, he raped her when she refused sex, denied her food at home if she didn’t put in slave hours at the saw-making shop, was told she would have to become a prostitute if that was the only way he could get back money to pay a loan to her father, threatened her with death if she informed her family of the state of her marriage, and cut her off from all her friends.”
Mother and son moved into her family home at 121 Broomspring Lane, and James attended nearby Eton House Collegiate School. In 1886, when he was aged 11, they travelled from Liverpool to New York aboard the SS Celtic to start afresh. He changed his surname to Blackton and ten years after arriving met up with Thomas Edison.
Blackton left Vitagraph in 1917 selling his stock for $1.5million and became an independent producer making four big productions a year that were released through Paramount.
In 1920, Blackton visited Sheffield for the first time in 34 years and presented a private showing of his latest picture Passers-By at the Electra Palace in Fitzalan Square (later to become the Classic).
Accompanied by his beautiful young wife he had been looking around the country with an eye to producing pictures here.
“I think there is a splendid opening, and I expect to be over again by the New Year ready to start work.” he said. “I shall never produce a photo-play that I would not like my wife and children to see. I want all screen plays to reflect the beauty of the home, of motherhood, and of life, and to appeal to clean-minded people.”
In 1921 he came to England, where he directed three lavish costume dramas in ‘Prizmacolor’. The Glorious Adventure (1922) and The Virgin Queen (1923) both starred the society beauty Lady Diana Cooper (billed as Diana Manners); Gypsy Cavalier (1922) starred the world light heavyweight boxing champion, George Carpentier.
Blackton returned to the US in 1923 and directed several more films, including Beloved Brute (1924) starring Victor McLaglen, who he had used in The Glorious Adventure.
His world came crashing down after losing his fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. He then made a living from showings of his old films and giving lectures about silent movies.
He ended his days working for the Anglo American Film Company and died in 1941 when he suffered a fractured skull after being hit by a car while crossing the street with his son. He was buried at Glendale, Los Angeles County.
There has perhaps only been one authority on law in Sheffield, and that was Judge David Ronald Bentley Q.C. (1942-2012) who wrote ‘Courts & Court Houses in Sheffield’. The Sheffield-born judge pieced together the city’s judicial history from its days as a manorial court at Sheffield Castle to the opening of the Sheffield Combined Court Centre at West Bar in 1996.
“Sheffield grew up around the castle erected early in the 12th century by William de Lovetot. It was a manor and had its own manorial court. In the 13th century this sat in the castle itself. Unlike the manorial courts of nearby Ecclesall, it was a court leet, possessing both criminal and civil jurisdiction. Minor civil disputes arising within the manor were tried there as was petty crime. Later its place of sitting was moved to Sembly Green (now the Wicker), earning it the nickname of the Court of Sembly Quest.
“By the 17th century criminal jurisdiction had passed to the Justices of the Peace for the West Riding. They sat in the town to try petty offences and to hold preliminary examinations in cases of felony.
“In 1700 a Town Hall was erected at the south-east corner of the Parish (now the Cathedral) Churchyard. This building, which had cells for the detention of prisoners, was for much of the 18th century used by the Justices as a court-house. By 1800, however, they had taken to using a room on the ground floor of the Cutlers’ Hall in Church Street (known locally as Bang Beggars Hall).
“On court days the prisoners waiting to be dealt with would be stood in gangs in the churchyard and then taken across when their cases were called on. Those sentenced to imprisonment or sent for a trial in custody at the West Riding Quarter Sessions were despatched to the Wakefield House of Correction (a journey they made chained together and on foot). Those sent for trial at the Assizes were taken to the county gaol at York. Although having at the beginning of the 19th century a population of 45,000, Sheffield had neither Quarter Sessions nor an Assizes Court.
“The civil jurisdiction of the local manorial courts continued into the 19th century. In 1756, a local Act of Parliament had constituted the Sheffield and Ecclesall courts (Courts of Requests), with jurisdiction to try claims for sums of less than 40/ (later increased to £5). Each had its own debtor’s prison. The Sheffield prison was originally in Pudding Lane (now King Street) but in 1818 was moved to Scotland Street. That for Ecclesall (known as Little Sheffield Jail) stood at the corner of Bishop Street and Tudor Street Moor (later Thomas Street), near Moorfoot. Each court had jurisdiction over claims arising within the area of each other (a provision designed to prevent debtors escaping arrest by moving from one manor to the other).
“In 1808, the Town Trustees demolished the existing Town Hall and built a new one at the corner of Castle Street. From its opening in 1810 this building served as court-house for both the West Riding Magistrates and the Courts of Requests.
“In 1841 a committee of prominent townsmen was formed to petition the Crown for Sheffield (population now 110,000) to be granted a charter incorporating it as a Borough. In 1848 the Borough was granted its own Commission of the Peace. Thenceforth two Magistrates courts sat at Castle Street – a Borough Magistrates’ court trying cases arising within the town and a West Riding court trying cases from the outlying district.
“The incorporation of the town meant that Sheffield acquired its own Borough Coroner. Inquests at this date were commonly held in public houses (in 1876 the inquest into the Banner Cross murder for which Charlie Peace was hanged was held at the Stag Inn, Sharrow Head), and this unsatisfactory practice only ended with the building of a public mortuary and coroner’s court in Plum Street in 1884 (replaced in 1914 by a new building in Nursery Street and in 1977 by the present Medico-Legal Centre). In the meantime, the Small Debts Court Act, 1846 had been passed providing for the establishment of county courts throughout England and Wales. Sheffield got its own court in 1847. At first it sat in Castle Street but in 1854 a County Court Hall was erected in Bank Street. The coming of the County Court meant the end of the Courts of Requests.
“In 1864 both Manchester and Leeds were made Assize towns (belatedly following Liverpool in 1835). The Borough Council promoted a Bill to make Sheffield an Assize town in 1867, planning to erect a new court-house in Castle Street on the site of the existing court-house and the adjacent Black Rock public house. The West Riding was scandalised, particularly Doncaster Borough Council, not wishing to fund a new public building in Sheffield, and the Government made it clear that it would not grant its status.
“In 1880 Sheffield sought and was granted its own Quarter Sessions. Its first Recorder was Alfred Wills Q.C., who fifteen years later, would try and jail Oscar Wilde. Its court-house was the Castle Street building. In 1888 Sheffield became a County Borough and was created a city in 1893, and by the early 20th century, was the most populous city on the North-eastern Circuit with no Assize.
“In the 1930s the Council took up the question asking the Royal Commission on the Despatch of Business at Common Law. In its Third Report (1936) the Commission urged that the city’s claims be given ‘the most sympathetic consideration’, and later the same year the Circuit Towns Committee recommended that Sheffield become an Assize town. The City Council busied itself with plans for a new court-house. Initially the site of the old Albert Hall (Cole Brothers) in Barker’s Pool was considered.
“Eventually, the Council plumped for a site in Eyre Street close to the Central Library. A compulsory purchase order was obtained but WW2 brought the scheme to a halt.
“In 1953, Lord Chief Justice Goddard declared that Castle Street court-house would serve as a temporary home for the Assizes. Alterations to the place were made, and Whirlow Court, which had been acquired as judges’ lodgings, converted to its new purpose (pre-war the Council had contemplated acquiring nearby Parkhead House).
“In 1955 an Order in Council was made creating Sheffield a new Assize Division, and on June 23 the first Assize was held. In 1962 the Sheffield Assize Division was by Act of Parliament made a separate judicial county (Hallamshire) with its own High Sheriff.
“Sheffield’s Assize so long in gestation had only a short life. On January 1, 1972, it was, together with the City Quarter Sessions, swept away and replaced by the Crown Court.
“The Castle Street court-house served as the home for the new court. In 1978 the City Magistrates moved out to a new court-house a few hundred yards away, releasing more court rooms for use by the Crown Court. But even this proved insufficient. In 1984-85 the County Hall Court was provided with cells and courtrooms capable of taking criminal cases as an overflow building for the Crown Court.“
It wasn’t until 1996 that all these were closed and moved to the new Combined Court Centre at West Bar. The Castle Street court-house (more commonly referred to as the Old Town Hall) has remained empty, but never out of the news, ever since.
Tudor Square, the home of theatres, the library, and the Winter Garden, and created in 1991 to become Sheffield’s cultural centre. But how did it get its name?
Let us go back to the late 1700s, and we would be standing in the grounds of Tudor House. This Adam house was built in 1770 for Dr Sherburn with commanding country views across Alsop Fields. The gardens extended to the front and right, the land sloping down across what is now Arundel Gate, amid sycamore trees, to the margin of the Sheaf.
Now let us introduce Henry Tudor, a man identified by Dr Sherburn to become head of a firm making the best wrought silver plate. Tudor teamed up with Thomas Leader and the firm of Tudor and Leader was created, eventually building a workshop close to the house. Dr Sherburn showed his appreciation of the efforts of his active partners by bequeathing the bulk of his property to Henry Tudor, with a share in the concern to Thomas Leader.
Henry Tudor moved into what became Tudor House, while Thomas Leader rented a house nearby that the Duke of Norfolk built for his land agent and became known as Leader House.
Mr Tudor was for many years a prominent man in the town’s affairs – as a Town Trustee, one of the first Guardians of the Assay Office, and in other offices. He had the reputation of being the proudest man in Sheffield, and this earned him the title of ‘My Lord Harry.’ He was highly indignant at finding another Henry Tudor, a journeyman, and he vainly endeavoured to bribe the man to change his name.
This idyllic retreat, with bright flowers and country air, changed as Sheffield grew. The front garden became a bowling green, and in 1808, the house of the late Henry Tudor, though shorn of its once extensive grounds, retained as garden, the whole of the triangle which with Tudor Street as its base, had its sides along Arundel Street and Surrey Street, and its apex at their junction. Narrow streets (Tudor Street, Tudor Place) had surrounded it, with industry spreading into the Sheaf Valley below. By now, one of the Lucas’s, of the Royd’s Mill Silver Refinery, was the occupant of the house, coach-house, and stables.
Tudor House stopped being a home, its remaining land sold off, and it became a Dispensary (1832-33), the Tudor Place Institute (a bible society), Medical Officer’s Department, and Offices of the Weights and Measures Department.
In 1872, a letter appeared in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.
“Passing through Tudor Place the other day I could not help being struck with the lost and demoralised appearance it presents. Grimy brick walls, whose monotony is increased by tattered shreds of flaring posting bills, stare at the once considerable residence of Henry Tudor, which, with its ancient adornments of wreathed flowers, contemplates with an aspect which is the height of melancholy, the deep puddles, the chaotic boulders, the piles of stones, the layers of timber, and general waste heap look that have invaded the sacred precincts of its once charming garden. The parade ground of the Artillery Volunteers and the other buildings that intervene between Tudor Place and Arundel Street have usurped the place of the flower beds and fruit trees of Henry Tudor, and the sycamores that surrounded his domain have their memory perpetuated in the adjoining street, that breathes a fragrance of anything but bright flowers and green trees.”
The parade ground mentioned was cleared, and a large wooden circus erected. It later became the site of the Lyceum Theatre and Tudor House’s last use was as storage for theatrical scenery.
By 1908, Tudor House was doomed.
“It is remarkable that at the moment when a special appeal is being made for funds for the erection of a new Infirmary in the city the home of the oldest of our medical charities, the Sheffield Dispensary, is about to be demolished. The building referred to is in Tudor Place. Its broken windows and deserted appearance give little indication as to the important part it played for many years in the alleviation of suffering humanity. A few days, and the building will be demolished. What is to become of the old operating table which is in the old building? A gruesome relic it would doubtless be, but it is surely worthy of consideration whether something cannot be done with a view to preserving it from the flames.”
The house was demolished, the old oak panelling chopped up, and the Adam mantelpieces with one exception (rescued by artist Charles Green), shared a similar fate, with the promise of a few shillings to a workman employed in the destruction, for carting it away.
The site stood empty until the 1930s, and its foundations lie somewhere beneath the Central Library. The old roads – Tudor Street, Tudor Way, Sycamore Street – have long disappeared, and only Tudor Place survives as a private road between the Lyceum and the Library.
This might have been called ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’s Last Case,’ except it was one which that great writer left to others to solve and involved a story with Sheffield connections.
Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930 and several documents, unused typescripts, and odd papers, were placed in a deed box by Lady Conan Doyle. Among them were some typewritten pages headed, ‘The Man Who Was Wanted,’ recounting a hitherto unrelated adventure of the great Sherlock Holmes.
Reference was made to it by Hesketh Pearson, a biographer of Conan Doyle, and the revelation caused a literary stir. People clamoured for its publication, American and British editors approached the Conan Doyle family, and tempting prices were mentioned. But the family were unwilling to sell at the time.
Some years later, the American Cosmopolitan magazine acquired the right to print the story in the United States, and in Britain, shortly after Christmas 1948, it was published by the Sunday Dispatch.
It prompted a letter to the Conan Doyle family from Arthur Whitaker, a slim, grey-haired man, who was living in Longridge, near Stroud, and spent his days collecting ornithology reports from bird-watchers in Gloucestershire.
“You know that story called ‘The Man Who Was Wanted,’ which appeared in an American magazine and in the Sunday Dispatch? Well, I wrote it. I don’t want any money or publicity, of course, but I just thought you’d like to know, that’s all.”
It caused upset in the Conan Doyle family and a solicitor began to investigate the claim. He interviewed Whitaker, examined a letter from Arthur Conan Doyle, and saw that he had an exact carbon copy of ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’
“It is quite simple, really,” said Mr Whitaker. “In 1911 I was a young architect, married, and living in Barnsley. I thought I might earn a little more money by writing detective stories, so I wrote five or six. One was called ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’ I sent it to Arthur Conan Doyle, asking him whether he ever collaborated in story-writing, and if he would like to collaborate with me.
“He replied that the story was not bad, but that he did not collaborate; he sometimes paid ten guineas, however, for an idea which he later worked up in his own way. He advised me to change the names in the story and get it published myself. However, I accepted the ten guineas, and he retained the typescript. That’s all there is to it, really.”
Because the typescript was unsolicited, the Conan Doyle family had retained it but held back on publication believing it was not up to the great man’s standards. However, Arthur Conan Doyle’s son, Denis, had eventually allowed publication with a note to that effect, and adding that the family had at last yielded to public pressure and had allowed it to be printed.
And the Sheffield Connection? I quote from the pages of ‘The Man Who Was Wanted.’
“Holmes picked up a telegram from the table and looked at it thoughtfully. “If only the inquiry this refers to promised to be of anything like the interest of some we have gone into together, nothing would have delighted me more than to have persuaded you to throw your lot in with mine for a time; but really I’m afraid to do so, for it sounds a particularly commonplace affair,” and he crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it over to me.
“I smoothed it out and read: “To Holmes, 221B Baker Street, London, S.W. Please come to Sheffield at once to inquire into case of forgery. Jervis, Manager British Consolidated Bank.”
“It appears that a gentleman named Mr. Jabez Booth, who resides at Broomhill, Sheffield, and has been an employee since January I88I, at the British Consolidated Bank in Sheffield, yesterday succeeded in cashing quite a number of cleverly forged cheques at twelve of the principal banks in the city and absconding with the proceeds.”
The Conan Doyle family returned the money it received from the Sunday Dispatch and the newspaper forwarded it to Arthur Whitaker to help him support his seriously wife.
The story itself eventually appeared in ‘The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.’ It was credited to Arthur Whitaker and retitled ‘The Adventure of the Sheffield Banker.’
Sherlock Holmes remains the most popular fictional detective in history. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is best known for the 60 stories he wrote about Sherlock Holmes, but he was also a physician and spiritualist.
In November 1921, Conan Doyle gave a lecture at the Victoria Hall. It was arranged by the Sheffield Educational Settlement and the title was “Modern Psychic Thought.” He had arrived the day before and at once proceeded to the Sheffield Settlement’s premises, in Shipton Street, Upperthorpe, where an informal gathering had assembled, and where he spent the night.
The Sheffield Settlement had been founded by the YMCA in 1918, opening the following year under the wardenship of Arnold Freeman. Its mission was to create a better society. ‘That which described in three words is Beauty, Truth and Goodness, and described in one word is GOD.”
Conan Doyle was accorded a hearty welcome, and in a brief response expressed his pleasure at seeing a “growing centre of activity.” He said he could imagine how beneficial it was to the city to have in the Settlement such a centre of art and culture of every kind.
Another comment made by Conan Doyle sparked the greatest interest.
“It is not generally known that I once lived in Sheffield. When I was a medical student, 17 or 18 years of age, I advertised my willingness to learn a little about medicine, and a Dr. Richardson, who lived in Spital Hill, was good enough to take me on. I had no salary, which was probably what I was worth, and it was just as well for the population of Sheffield that in a few weeks I got the order of the boot.” (Laughter.)
And it was true, Conan Doyle had come to Sheffield in 1878, working as an assistant to Dr Charles Sydney Richardson at Nelson Terrace, 80 Spital Hill. It was evidently not a happy experience.
“These Sheffielders would rather be poisoned by a man with a beard than saved by a man without one.”
Conan Doyle had, by this time, become an agnostic, and although he already had interest in psychic phenomena, his philosophy was still materialistic.
However, at the 1921 lecture the ‘world-famous’ novelist found the Victoria Hall only half full. He related to the ‘jury’, as he called them, that “The subject is by all odds the most important thing in the world. It is a thing which is going to influence and bear upon the future of every man and woman in the room. There is one alternative, and that is either this movement is the greatest delusion the human race has ever experienced, or else it is far the most important thing – the most important addition to our knowledge which has ever come from the centre of all knowledge.
“The afterlife,” he said, “is merely a waiting room where you are waiting, very likely in discomfort, until you are fit to go on.
“Everybody eventually gets to heaven, but these places of waiting – hospitals for the soul they might call them – are not pleasant places to wait in. One of the real punishments is in being earth-bound.”
Conan Doyle related séance experiences and told of a conversation he had with the spirit of James Johnson Morse, a ‘trance medium’ who had died in 1919. The departed leader claimed that their last meeting had been in a newspaper office. “No,” said Conan Doyle, “It had been at Sheffield, at a meeting at the Empire Theatre.” Afterwards, he was reminded by his wife that it had been in a newspaper office.
Almost as soon as the people had left the Victoria Hall, they were handed pamphlets bearing such phrases as ‘Spiritualism is to be avoided like the plague’.
Conan Doyle died nine years later, in July 1930, and a few weeks later the Sheffield Daily Telegraph was one of only a handful of newspapers that printed a ‘spirit’ photograph of him.
The image was vouched by the Rev. Charles Tweedale, Vicar of Weston, near Otley, a man Conan Doyle had known quite well, and who had been confident that the author would manifest himself after death.
In a series of sittings immediately after Conan Doyle’s death, Tweedale claimed to have had communication with him (“Well Tweedale, I have arrived here in Paradise. That is not heaven. Oh, no! But what we should call a dumping place, for we all come here as we pass on to rest.”)
Rev. Tweedale had then sat with the psychic, William Hope, of Crewe, and photographs taken of the séance. Afterwards, four plates were exposed, and two were “clearly recognisable pictures of Conan Doyle.”
The ‘spirit’ photographs of Conan Doyle, although still available if you know where to look, rarely surface these days. Perhaps not surprising considering that William Hope, who had become famous for dozens of other ‘ghost’ pictures, was later found to be a fraud, and had double-exposed his images.