In our investigations into the Victoria Station one structure appeared on old photographs that deserved further investigation.
This was an elegant memorial that stood at the entrance of the railway station. The classical portico, with colonnade, contained nine columns with the names of workers of the Great Central Railway who died in World War One.
The names of 1,304 men were inscribed on tablets of French marble, and the memorial was unveiled by Earl Haig on Wednesday 9th August 1922. He had commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the WesternFront from late 1915 until the end of the war.
Sheffield had been chosen for the memorial because it was the centre of the railway’s operations. About 8,000 people turned up for the ceremony, including hundreds of relatives of the fallen.
Haig inspected a guard of honour composed of over 200 ex-servicemen employees who had gained decorations for gallantry in the field.
“The day will come when we in our turn will have passed on, but these stones will still stand as evidence of the splendid sacrifice and glorious achievement of the 1,300 brave and gallant men whose names they bear.”
The ceremony was presided by Lord Faringdon, chairman of the Great Central Railway, who said the memorial had been subscribed by no fewer than 3,000 shareholders and servants of the company as far afield as Canada, India, Australia, and Africa. He pointed out that over 10,000 employees had gone to war.
Canon Houghton dedicated the memorial, after which wreaths of remembrance were laid, and the service closed with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
They would have been forgiven that the future of the memorial was secured. However, within two years the marble had crumbled, and some names were already illegible.
In 1925, the London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which had absorbed the Great Central Railway, graciously replaced the tablets with Kupron bronze plaques. The memorial stood on its own until 1938 when LNER improved the station, extending the booking hall, so that the memorial became its eastern wall. (I presume the memorial was reversed and the tablets were relocated inside).
It remained until the Victoria Station’s closure in 1970 and might have been lost with subsequent demolition.
A handful of survivors campaigned for it to be saved and the bronze tablets were re-erected (somewhat hidden) underneath Wicker Arch, where it was rededicated in November 1971. The magnificent portico, in which they had stood, was sadly lost).
The decline of The Wicker is well publicised, and the memorial suffered from neglect and vandalism. Various locations were suggested as an alternative site, but it was the owners of the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn (the former Victoria Station railway hotel) that offered it a permanent home.
With support of the hotel, sponsors and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Great Central Railway Society organised rescue of the plaques and relocation to its new home, almost on the site of the original memorial.
It was rededicated on Remembrance Day 2008 and remains outside the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza. A Roll of Honour for all the men listed, collated by the Great Central Railway Society, can be found inside the hotel.
It might be out of the question now, but if you get chance to visit Spain’s capital city there is a Sheffield connection.
The answer lies in a tablet over the south door of St George’s Anglican Church, on the corner of Calle Núñez de Balboa and Calle Hermosilla in the barrio Salamancadistrict of Madrid.
“To the memory of William Edgar Allen. Born March 30th, 1837. Died January 28th, 1915. By whose generosity, this church was completed A.D. 1925.”
William Edgar Allen is a familiar name in Sheffield history. In 1868, he founded the firm of Edgar Allen and Co, Imperial Steel Works, at Tinsley. Taking advantage of his knowledge of continental firms, he soon obtained extensive orders for foreign arsenals, dockyards, and railway companies.
Besides other donations, Allen gave, in 1909, the Edgar Allen Library to the University of Sheffield, contributed £10,000 to Sheffield hospitals, and founded, in 1911, the Edgar Allen Institute (in Gell Street) for Medico-Mechanical treatment, the first institution of its kind in this country. It proved especially beneficial during the First World War; a great number of soldiers having recovered the use of their limbs through the effectiveness of the treatment.
In 1913, Edgar Allen, staying in Madrid, asked Edward Mitchel Gibbs, the famous Sheffield architect at Gibbs, Flockton and Teather, to visit the Spanish city and draw up plans for a Protestant Church.
The church, in Early English-style was to have seated 150 people, funded entirely by Edgar Allen. Unfortunately, the estimates for the building amounted to £10,300, a larger amount than Edgar Allen had anticipated, and the plan was abandoned.
However, at the suggestion of the architect, Edgar Allen, who was in failing health, bequeathed a legacy of £6,000 for a new church to be built.
Edgar Allen died at Whirlow House two years later, and his bequest was put towards the building of St George’s Church, the church of the British embassy, completed in 1925.
Spain was a Roman Catholic country, and rules as to the building of churches other than those of the Roman Catholic communion, were strict. Because St George’s was built on the premises of the British Legation, such restrictions did not apply.
“The workmanship and material of the church throughout were the best, and everything was in excellent taste.”
St George’s was designed by the Spanish architect Teodoro de Anasagasti, who blended elements of the Spanish Romanesque style (cruciform plan, semi-circular apse, bell tower, tiled roof) and the characteristic brick-and-stone construction of the uniquely Spanish “Mudéjar” tradition with specifically Anglican forms.
The chaplain of the church was the Rev. Francis Symes-Thompson, who received a grant of £250 per annum from the Foreign Office.
“If you want to see a monument to this man, look around you.”
Here is a man once described as “one of the makers of Sheffield,” for he was responsible for many of its principal buildings and played a leading part in changing the shape of the city.
His long list of work can be seen around Sheffield today.
In his earlier years, Edward Mitchel Gibbs was architect for the branch libraries at Upperthorpe and Highfield, and later designed the Mappin Art Gallery, St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Telegraph Building, Lodge Moor Hospital, Channing Hall, Glossop Road Baths, Foster’s Building in High Street, and the White Building at Fitzalan Square. He was also responsible for some of the finest shops of the time in High Street and Fargate.
E.M. Gibbs (1847-1935) was born in Sheffield, educated at the Milk Street School, and articled to architects Flockton & Abbott between 1862 to 1868, remaining as principal assistant. He attended classes at Sheffield School of Art and subsequently spent time in London, studying at the Royal Academy Schools and assisting in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse.
Gibbs worked as Superintendent of Works to Archibald Neill of Leeds from 1868 until 1872, when he was taken into partnership by Flockton & Abbott.
He continued in partnership with Thomas James Flockton after the retirement of George Lewslie Abbott in 1875, and the partnership was joined by Flockton’s son, Charles Burrows Flockton, in 1895.
Gibbs became senior partner in 1902 (as Gibbs & Flockton), and the partnership was joined by John Charles Amory Teather in 1908, and Gibbs’ son, Henry Beckett Swift Gibbs, in 1921.
Like all good men, it was only after his death that people appreciated his contribution to the city.
His funeral in December 1935 was held at the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street (in which Gibbs had designed much of its interior) where the Rev. Alfred Hall paid tribute:
“Gibbs’ aim was to make Sheffield beautiful. All his artistic insight and architectural skill were devoted to that end, and, though tastes and fashion had changed, all men would acknowledge that the buildings he conceived and erected were dignified and noble.”
The funeral achieved national attention because Rev. Hall read out a document left by Gibbs:
“Born of Unitarian parents, I was a staunch supporter of the Unitarian precepts for many years, but under the teaching of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer became an agnostic. I hope the Minister, if he accepts the responsibility of conducting my funeral, will do so in the simplest manner possible, remembering that I die an agnostic.”
The clergyman admired his “sterling honesty” after which Gibbs’ remains were taken to City Road for cremation.
During his lifetime Gibbs thought positively and deeply and was a man of definite views. He was afraid that the country might fall into the hands of extremists and had the foresight to see the danger it faced arising out of Germany’s ambitions.
But he was not just an architect.
Gibbs had knowledge of property values and was retained by Sheffield Corporation in all cases of arbitration under the Tramways and Street Widening Act of 1897.
He also published essays: ‘The Town Planning of Sheffield’ and ‘The Finance of Housing and Reform of Rating’. In 1895, he presented a scheme for a central railway station in the vicinity of Haymarket. The plans were dismissed, as was his big scheme for housing.
Gibbs’ grand expansion plan was based on garden city principles with radiating main roads linked by a ring road with suburban settlements at its junctions.
As well as being a city magistrate, he was a trustee of Woofindin Homes, a director of the Gladstone Buildings Company and a governor of the University of Sheffield, where he was awarded a Master of Arts, and was instrumental in establishing the Department of Architecture.
He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1892 and was also president of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors. Gibbs also succeeded Thomas James Flockton as Consulting Surveyor to the Town Trustees, for which he designed the Fulwood Park estate.
Gibbs was married to Lucy, daughter of a manager at the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, who died a year before him, and lived at Woodcroft, 7 Riverdale Road. On his death he left gross estate of £52,939 (about £3.8 million today).
We walk over them regularly, and might be guilty of not giving them a second glance.
These are the Sheffield Legends, stars that line the pavement outside Sheffield Town Hall.
This is Sheffield’s Walk of Fame, honouring those who have achieved national or international acclaim. As in the Hollywood version, there are plaques with people’s names on them and why they are celebrated.
The idea was first suggested in 2005 when the people of Sheffield were asked who should be honoured after a local resident suggested honouring the footballer Gordon Banks, who grew up in Sheffield.
Nominations are considered by an independent selection board representing various sectors across the city such as the arts, sport, education, media, and business, and chaired by the Lord Mayor.
To date, the inductees are:
Gordon Banks – England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Sean Bean – film and TV actor Joe Cocker – singer Sebastian Coe – Olympic medal winner and President of the International Association of Athletics Federation Derek Dooley – Footballing legend for United and Wednesday Dame Margaret Drabble – internationally respected novelist and critic Dame Jessica Ennis – Olympic Champion, double Outdoor and Indoor World Champion athlete Professor Barry Hancock – OBE, world renowned cancer expert Brendan Ingle – world famous boxing manager and trainer Def Leppard – top-selling rock band Nick Matthew – world squash champion David Mellor – internationally renowned cutlery designer Michael Palin – famous film and television personality Steve Peat – champion downhill mountain biker Helen Sharman – first British astronaut Joe Simpson – renowned mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker Joe Scarborough – one of Sheffield’s finest artists Michael Vaughan – one of this country’s most successful cricket captains Clinton Woods – world champion boxer Grace Clough – Paralympic gold medallist, rowing Tony Foulds – the man who inspired the spectacular flypast to remember those who died in the Mi Amigo wartime plane crash
It’s been a while since we had a look at some of those people with Sheffield connections. Today, the lady once considered to be Britain’s premier comedienne and the clown queen of TV comedy.
Like America’s Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller, she paved the way for women working in light entertainment, whether it was the tough world of northern clubs or hosting her own television specials.
Born in 1945 at Sheffield, Lynne Denise Shepherd worked as a model, petrol pump attendant and a croupier. She’s better known to us as Marti Caine, her first professional performance aged 18 at a working men’s club in Rotherham, which led to more than 12 years playing the northern cabaret circuit.
Professionally she wasn’t Marti Caine then, or even Lynne Stringer. She was Sunny Smith for all of three weeks, followed by a spell as Zoe Bond. Unhappy with both, she scoured a gardening book for inspiration. Her husband Malcolm Stringer tinkered with tomato cane and came up with Marta Cane. The club she was playing misheard and billed her as Marti Caine.
She became an overnight star at the age of 30 on the TV talent show New Faces. Viewers took to her gawky, but highly glamorous looks and quickfire timing and she soon became a household name on television and starred on her own show, Marti Caine, on BBC2 from the early 1980s.
Marti starred in Funny Girl, in 1989, playing the lead as Fanny Brice, at the Crucible Theatre.
During the last ten years of her life she combined an outstanding career in light entertainment with that of one on the stage and undertook tours including a notable performance in Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings. In 1986 she presented her own one woman show, An Evening with Marti, at the Donmar Warehouse in London.
For three years from 1986 Caine hosted ITV’s New Faces, where she was noted for her friendliness and encouragement to young performers appearing on television for the first time.
In 1992 she toured Britain to record BBC’s Joker in the Pack and later completed another series, Your Best Shot, also for the BBC.
Pantomime was one of her first loves and for many years she made the character of the Red Queen a special part in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which played in Cambridge, Bath, Bournemouth and in London’s West End at the Strand Theatre.
She talked about her TV image as if she were an acquaintance, someone she didn’t particularly like, but had grown to accept.
“She drives too fast, smokes too much, her language is a bit choice and she is very ambitious. I am an emotional coward. I don’t like being the centre of attention. When Marti Caine is out under the spotlight, I’m in the wings throwing up with nervousness.”
In 1988, it was made publicly known that she was suffering from cancer of the lymphoid cells which prompted her to ask her doctor “Does this mean I am a lymphomaniac?”
She was given two years to live but refused to stop working and fought against the disease for seven years.
Marti died aged 50 at her home in Oxfordshire in November 1995, her second husband, Kenneth Ives, by her side. A funeral service was held at Sheffield Cathedral. It was attended by showbusiness personalities and a public address system was set up outside to relay the service to those unable to get inside.
“Remember me with a smile. I don’t want any weeping and wailing when I’ve gone. I want people to dance in the aisles.”
The 2017 film, Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake, tells the story of a female comedian playing working- men’s clubs in the 1970s and is said to be loosely based on Caine’s story.
In another post we looked at Brincliffe Towers (Brinkcliffe Tower), and through this old Victorian house we come across Dr Robert Styring, a name overlooked by Sheffield history.
Styring was one of the city’s good people, neglected in favour of his friend, J.G. Graves, a man who will be forever remembered for the substantial gifts to its people.
However, although Styring’s benevolence was modest in comparison, I hope that this synopsis will allow us to appreciate his impact on the city.
Robert Styring was born in Sheffield on March 18th, 1850, the second son of Henry Styring, an estate agent, and completed his education at Hebblethwaite’s School in the old Freemason’s Hall in Paradise Square.
He left school at fifteen becoming a clerk and collector in his father’s business, leaving four years later when his older brother, Henry Ashmore Styring, returned from his travels
Robert moved into law and was articled as clerk to George Edward Webster, qualifying as a solicitor in 1875, and later going into partnership until Webster’s retirement in 1908.
Shortly afterwards, with his two sons, he founded Robert Styring and Sons on North Church Street. He became president of the Sheffield District Incorporated Law Society in 1907.
Styring became a City Councillor for St Peter’s Ward, in 1886, and, after four re-elections, was promoted to the aldermanic bench in 1899. He held this position until 1926, when, after forty years’ public service, he was one of the aldermen who were refused re-election by the Socialist majority which gained power that year.
He was Lord Mayor in 1906-07, and for a considerable period was chairman of the Electricity, Water and Parliamentary Committees, and reputed to never have worn the same tie twice when attending Council sittings. In 1912, he was successful in the inclusion of Tinsley into the city boundaries.
As a member of the City Council it fell to him to organise the Sheffield Electric Supply Department, initiated the Surplus Lands Committee, made arrangements for the purchase of the tramway system and subsequent conversion to electric, and led a Parliamentary struggle for Sheffield to claim a share of the Derwent Valley Water Board scheme in Derbyshire.
Styring was interested in education and appointed a member of the Education Committee in 1903.
To the civic and educational life of the city Styring gave generously. He was a staunch supporter of Sheffield University, in fact, may well be said to have been one of its pioneers. He was a member of the Council of the old University College from which the University sprang, and when the proposal for a University was made, he was a sincere and determined supporter of the scheme.
In those days there was a suggestion that Leeds and Sheffield should combine to form a Yorkshire University, but Leeds declined to co-operate. Styring was a strong advocate of a University for Sheffield and when it was granted a charter became a member of the Court of Governors and expressed faith in its future by having his sons educated there.
In 1923 he anonymously presented the University with £20,000 for the endowment of scholarships and research work. It was only later that his identity was revealed and the following year the University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) and only a few days later the Corporation presented him with the Freedom of the City.
His departure from the Council meant he ended his work on the Education committee but was reappointed not long after, as well as being chairman of the Governors at King Edward VII School.
In other public life, he was leader of the Liberal party in Sheffield, a Justice of the Peace, became a member of the Licensing Committee, and was elected a Town Trustee in 1925. .
A Congregationalist, for many years Styring was associated with Cemetery Road Congregational Church, was chairman of the Sheffield Congregationalist Organisation, treasurer of the Sunday School Union, and completed more than half a century’s service as Sunday school teacher and superintendent.
Styring married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, who helped him in his public duties, and became a rock in his life for 45 years.
For a while they lived at Moorseats Hall, Hathersage, a house identified with Jane Eyre, and he frequently walked from there to his office in Sheffield.
A man who always looked younger than his age, he attributed his good health to gardening. When living at Hathersage, he had a delightful garden, which he reproduced on a larger scale at Brinkcliffe Tower, which he purchased in 1897.
While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 Annie Styring remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.
Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”
In November 1925, he decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.
“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”
Styring was a lifelong abstainer and non-smoker and indulged in the healthy pursuits of walking and golf.
In later years he became a world traveller and completed a 33,000 mile round the world tour during which he visited Egypt, India, Ceylon, China, Japan, and the United States.
After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.
Brinkcliffe Tower, later known as Brincliffe Towers, became a care home until 2011 and is currently empty awaiting redevelopment. A better fate has befallen its former grounds, opened in 1935 as Chelsea Park, although arguably it maybe should have been called Styring Park.
The next time you are able walk into McDonalds or HMV, on High Street, be aware that you are walking into history. Before you go inside, take a moment and look above, and you will find that these popular ground floor premises are part of an elaborate building.
This is the Foster’s Building, built in French domestic Gothic style by Sheffield architects Flockton and Gibbs in 1896.
The origin of the Foster’s Building goes back to the Anglo-French Wars of the sixteenth century, and the entrepreneurship of William Foster, draper, tailor and outfitter, who opened a shop on High Street in 1769.
At the time that William Foster opened his business, High Street was a narrow thoroughfare, described by some as resembling a village street.
When peace was concluded with France, the British Government advertised for sale a vast stock of old uniforms and equipment, which had been given up by troops on disbandment.
William Foster took a coach to London and bought up large quantities of soldiers’ jackets and belts. These were brought to Sheffield and stacked in large crates and baskets outside his shop.
It was said that there was hardly a grinder or cabman in Sheffield who did not buy one of the jackets, not particularly concerned about appearance, but appreciating something cheap.
Being extremely durable they were suited to both trades, and a credible record suggests that the old workshops looked as though a regiment of soldiers was at work, for every grinding wheel had a red-jacketed attendant.
The army belts were of excellent leather, so the record runs, and were largely used by craftsmen for buffing and similar purposes.
Foster was afflicted with an obscure disease, the chief symptom of which was that he frequently fell asleep.
“Mr Foster fell asleep while seated on the hampers of soldiers’ clothes. These used to stand on the edge of the pavement, and there Mr Foster sold the contents, so long as he could keep awake,” said an old humourist.
According to George Leighton in Reminiscences of Old Sheffield (1876) there were other amusing consequences of Foster’s illness.
“I went once to him, as a boy, to be measured for a jacket. Standing behind him, he made me hold my arm horizontally, with the elbow bent, and I thought he seemed a very long time in measuring it. A person on the other side of the street, at York Street corner, was watching the operation, and, seeing him laughing, I looked round, and found that the old man had fallen fast asleep.”
William Foster made a huge sum of money from the transaction and left his family very wealthy.
He was succeeded by his son, also William, who subsequently went into partnership with his own son, George Harvey Foster, in 1860, and renamed the business William Foster and Son, operating at 12-14 High Street.
It soon became necessary to enlarge the premises, and for this purpose, they acquired an adjoining public house, the Spread Eagle, and incorporated it into the original building.
And so, we come to the building that we see today.
When Sheffield grew in prosperity during the late 1800s, the council considered various schemes to improve the condition of its streets. The High Street improvement scheme finally concluded in 1895, resulting in one of the city’s biggest redevelopment projects, and doubling the width of the street.
However, to allow the road widening it meant the demolition of the old properties on the south side of High Street, including buildings owned by William Foster and Son.
George Harvey Foster sold 400 yards of freehold land in High Street for £34,000 in 1893. He took £24,000 in cash for the site of the tailor’s shop, and £10,000 for adjoining land that he owned, and needed by Sheffield Corporation.
Foster died in 1894, his will confirming that he had sold the frontage of the High Street property to Sheffield Corporation for road widening, and empowering his trustees to rebuild and rearrange replacement premises.
In 1895, the first plans for the new building were issued by the architects, Flockton and Gibbs, and convinced the public that this was an “ornament to the widened street.”
The chief architect for the building was Edward Mitchel Gibbs with construction work starting in 1895, undertaken by George Longden and Son, with ironwork supplied by Carter Brothers (surprisingly based in Rochdale).
The building stood on a new street line, set back about forty feet, that allowed existing shops to continue trading during construction, and be demolished afterwards.
When the Foster’s Building was completed in late 1896, it accommodated previous tenants from the old site , Foster and Son being the principal tenant, with other shops for J. Harrison, hosier, C. Tinker, boot and shoe manufacturer, E. Brown, goldsmith and Mr W. Lewis, tobacconist.
Foster and Son had two entrances, with four large windows. Their frontage was 86 feet long and 100 feet in depth and came with a large back yard, and within, contained all three of their departments – ready-made clothes, children’s and bespoke tailoring.
A balcony extended across the top of the building, while Gibbs set back the main wall of the frontage about two feet, so that the supports would not interfere with ground floor window space, and was described as being a “huge showcase”.
The Foster’s Building, on a slightly sloping site, was built in a curved line, leading towards the bottom of Fargate.
The front of the showrooms, above the shops, was ornamented with light wooden tracery, and the upper parts of the building (four floors) was of Huddersfield sandstone, richly moulded, and with a steep-pitched slate roof. It was relieved by oriel windows, ornamental gables and turrets, and dormer windows.
The whole of the upper floors was utilised as rented offices, varying in size, approached by a staircase, ten feet wide, leading from High Street, and by a passenger elevator (see note at end). Each office was fitted with “electric wiring, gas tubing and all modern conveniences.”
The corridors on each floor were eight feet wide, with mosaic-tiled floors and tiled walls up to the height of the door heads, These were well lit by windows placed at the end of each corridor, and also borrowed light from the offices.
The office entrance was marked by a lofty arch, with oriel windows over it, surmounted by a gable, with turrets, and crowned with an ornamental tower, which was to have been the water tank for the elevator, had not “technology” quickly intervened.
Foster and Son remained in the High Street until 1931, by which time they had been here for over 160 years. It was the oldest tailoring firm in the city, with other premises at Waingate and Castle Hill, and had been run by the widow of William Joseph Foster, great-grandson of its founder, since 1905.
Foster and Son consolidated trade at its other shops, and while war had been instrumental in its initial success, it effectively led to its demise after the Waingate branch was destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz.
The Foster’s Building eventually succumbed to other retailers at street level and, for a time, was known as Norwich Union Buildings. It was refurbished during the late twentieth century, presumably with much period detail lost, and before it was Grade II-listed by English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1989.
NOTE: – The Foster’s Building had the first American Elevator in Sheffield, built by the Otis Elevator Company, founded in Yonkers, New York in 1853 by Elisha Otis.
In 1890, Otis had entered the British market under the name of the American Elevator Company. Between 1870 and 1900, there had been a transition between hydraulic lifts to electric-powered elevators.
The Otis company advertised its new generation of elevators with the consideration that such an installation was no longer a complicated matter, and well-suited to places which could not have had one before.
The Foster’s Building had intended to have a hydraulic lift and Gibbs’ design included a small water tower on the roof for its elevator. After it was decided to install an electric-powered lift the tower remained, but instead used as a motor room for the American Elevator.
In 1897, a newspaper advertisement for potential occupiers of its offices described the lift as being able to “accomplish the journey from ground floor to fourth floor in THREE seconds.” Unlikely, even today.
John George Graves (1866-1945) packed a lot into his 79 years. He was a hard-working businessman, councillor, and cared a lot about his adopted city. A much-travelled man, he knew Europe intimately, and visited America, Egypt, South Africa, India, and Palestine, and spoke fluent French, German and Italian.
Seventy-five years after his death, his name still echoes across Sheffield, and yet, we are guilty of under-estimating the influence he had on the city.
J.G. Graves was born in Lincolnshire, grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, and was educated at Batley Grammar School. When he was 15, he moved to Sheffield to take up apprenticeship with a German watchmaker in Gibraltar Street, and at the age of 20, he started his own watch-making business in town.
He moved to larger premises in Surrey Street where he expanded his business to include jewellery, cutlery and silverware. His decision to sell goods by mail order was pivotal and, through advertising on the back pages of the national press, became incredibly successful.
Graves was one of the first to embrace the idea of selling goods, notably watches, on ‘monthly’ terms, and by 1903 employed 3,000 people with products sold through extensive catalogues.
Graves was first elected to the city council in 1896 as a Liberal member for the old Nether Hallam Ward and retained his seat for six years. In 1905, he was returned to the Council as a member for the Walkley Ward but did not seek re-election in 1908. His third entry to the Council, again for Walkley, was as an Independent councillor in 1916.
Graves went on to serve as Lord Mayor in 1926 and was granted Freedom of the City in 1929.
“Alderman Graves brings to his work unusual gifts of business acumen and a kindly spirit towards the general welfare of the people,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1930. “A fluent, dignified speaker, with originality of thought, he can marshal facts well and present a case strikingly. He always impresses his hearers by his transparent earnestness and sincerity in whatever cause he is pleading. Truly, he is one of the big men of the Council – big in stature and big in vision.”
However, J.G. Graves should be remembered for being Sheffield’s “Fairy Godfather”, probably the city’s most generous benefactor in its history.
When he died at his home, Riverdale House, at Ranmoor, in 1945, newspapers calculated that he had gifted more than £1 million to the city, that amounts to more than £44 million at today’s value.
His first gift to Sheffield, probably Pearl Street playground in 1903, was the start of small projects for children, but these grew in significance with gifts that included Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Barker’s Pool Garden, Concord Park, Graves Art Gallery, Graves Park, Graves Trust Homes, Blacka Moor, and playing fields. He was a generous benefactor to Sheffield University and the Children’s Hospital, gave much of the land forming the green belt around Sheffield, made gifts of land to the National Trust, and at the outbreak of World War Two, made an unconditional gift of £250,000 to the nation.
Graves Art Gallery cost him £20,000 as well as a further £10,000 towards the cost of the Central Library. He had started collecting art in 1899 and throughout his life collected over 3,000 pictures, 700 of which he gave to Sheffield to be displayed in the Graves Gallery.
“It has seemed to me the most natural thing that I should engage in effort and outlay which has for its object the betterment of the city in which my own lot has been cast, and which I love and understand so well.”
Graves had loved the countryside and was a keen cyclist, with one of his ambitions being to provide Sheffield with beautiful open spaces. As well as Concord Park and Graves Park, he provided £10,000 towards the acquisition of Ecclesall Wood and gave much of the land forming the Green Belt around Sheffield.
One such place was Blacka Moor that had been owned by Norton Rural District Council since 1929. The small council was poor and unable to fight off advances from developers and so, in 1933, had approached J.G. Graves as a last resort. He bought the land and duly presented it to the city.
Ethel Haythornthwaite, a prominent environmental campaigner, recalled a conversation she had with Graves at the official opening in 1933.
“Now, after we’ve done all this for you (by ‘we’ he meant the Graves Trust) will you promise to never trouble us again?” I took a deep breath, thought I had better be truthful and said, “Whenever the countryside around Sheffield is in danger, I shall appeal to you.” He looked at me, severely but not unkindly. “Well,” he said, “Now we know.”
After his death, the mail order company was absorbed into Great Universal Stores, but his legacy lives on through The J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, a grant-making body established in 1930 derived from £400,000 of shares of his company.
Today, the Trust is managed by nine trustees, including Adrian Graves, the fourth generation of the family to serve on it, and continues to support projects that relate to the charitable interests of its founder.
These include parks, open spaces, recreation grounds, art galleries and libraries for public use, promotion of education and community projects, and medical, recreational and sporting facilities.
Periodically, the Trust is in a position to make significant contributions including the J.G. Graves of Sheffield Lifeboat (1958), the redesign of Tudor Square (1990), the J.G. Graves Tennis Centre (1991), the J.G. Graves Woodland Discovery Centre (2007) and the purchase of ‘Comfort Blanket’ by Grayson Perry for the City’s art collection in 2016.
If we are not careful, we might forget about Maurice Colbourne, stage, and television actor, who started and ended his journey in Sheffield.
For a generation, this interesting actor played the role of Tom Howard, boatyard owner, the central character in BBC TV series Howard’s Way, and might have led viewers to suppose that he had the same background. In fact, he was born Roger Middleton in 1939, the son of a Sheffield labourer, and worked as a seaman, pavement-layer, labourer and with a circus before arriving in London, where he was initially a waiter for three years.
After meeting the film star Tom Courtenay in the early 1960s, Middleton suddenly found the inspiration he had been seeking. He obtained a grant for the Central School of Speech and Drama and adopted the name Maurice Colbourne as a result of seeing an obituary of a distinguished film actor in The Stage, an action that did not please the deceased’s family.
He came to prominence through television, first in the serial Gangsters and in Van Der Valk, The Day of the Triffids, Shoestring, Dr Who, The Onedin Line and Take Three Women.
As well as a starring role in the Walt Disney film, Escape from the Dark (the last film by Alastair Sim), he was a dedicated stage actor, being one of the founders of the Half Moon Theatre, which strongly reflected his left-wing ideals.
In 1985, he landed his best-known role in Howard’s Way, the BBC’s Sunday night response to glossy American soaps such as Dynasty and Dallas.
Colbourne died of a heart attack at his Brittany holiday home in August 1989, while taking a break in filming of the fifth series, the eight episodes he had completed were subsequently shown at the insistence of his widow.
He was buried at City Road Cemetery, the funeral attended by family, friends, and fans. Most of the cast of Howard’s Way were unable to join due to filming commitments in Guernsey, but sent a simple bouquet of white lilies tied with a black silk ribbon, with the inscription: “With much love from us all.”
Colbourne was married twice, his widow being the former Lian Si Chan, a Malaysian, known as Jeany.
In the first part of our story about Tapton Court, we looked at its role as a family home for John Henry Andrew, Henry Steel and Albert Victor Derry.
Derry moved to Bristol in 1931 and died in Cairo the following year. Tapton Court had been put up for sale, and it was left to his widow, Olga, to find a suitable buyer.
In the summer of 1933, the first indication of Tapton Court’s future use was found in the legal sections of newspapers.
Olga sought to alter covenants on the house and land, put in place by Henry Spooner in 1865, that forbid change of use to non-residential. Her application being successful, Olga then negotiated the sale of empty Tapton Court to the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, which presented the house to the Royal Hospital as a nurses’ home.
The Charitable Trust, created by Sheffield’s ‘Fairy Prince’, J. G. Graves, was set up in 1932 with capital of over £400,000.
The nurses’ home was intended to replace existing accommodation in three different places – at the Royal Hospital, where nurses were removed from Eldon Street to make way for an x-ray extension, Ranmoor, and later Crookes.
The new nurses’ home, also with a Nurses’ Preliminary Training School, was opened on 20 July 1934 by Alderman J.G. Graves, the event reported in the Sheffield Independent: –
“A few months ago, it was a sorry reminder of Sheffield’s spacious days of entertaining. Dust clung to the walls, rust coated the iron of immense stoves and cupboards gaped, empty and desolate.
“A tiled entrance leads into a large nurses’ lounge, furnished in rose and green. Settees, easy chairs, carpets, a grand piano and all the furnishings have been provided through gifts. A grandfather clock is the contribution of the nurses and sisters.
“The beautiful ceiling, which was painted for the visit of King Edward, has been restored in its original colours.
“The old kitchen has been converted into a delightful dining room. Stone flags have been replaced by wooden flooring. Eight old stoves have ended their days on the scrap heap.
“The room is decorated in a soft green with rich flame-coloured curtains. Green rubber-topped tables are matched by bronze tubular steel chairs upholstered in green leather.
“Each bedroom is curtained and partitioned in a different sunshine shade, and each nurse has her own small suite of furniture in limed oak.
“Jacobean curtains give a rich note of colouring to the sisters’ lounge, and the settees and chairs are covered in bronze.
“Old fashioned covered baths have been replaced by modern ones in the three bathrooms. In the kitchen, a gas stove with two ovens has been fitted into a white tiled alcove, and a teak sink has taken the place of the stone one.
“Two lawns, large enough for a hockey field, skirt the house and the gardens are shaded by beautiful trees. Raspberries, loganberries and blackcurrants grow in the kitchen gardens and in a large vinery clusters of grapes are ripening.”
The opening was performed by John George Graves, the man responsible for buying Tapton Court and handing it over to the hospital:-
“Some thanks are due to those who have gone before and spent their money so lavishly in providing this wonderful house. I sometimes hear lamentations about the uses to which fine houses in the West End of Sheffield are being put. I do not share those feelings.
“Such houses as Tapton Court were provided for purposes which are perhaps not well appreciated today. They were built for entertaining, for people indulged in very elaborate dinners in those days, and the more successful of the people had ‘rich man’s gout’ which gave them an exclusive touch.
“Tapton Court is a historic house. It once belonged to Henry Steel, who was a friend of King Edward, and King Edward visited and probably stayed here.”
The cost of the scheme had been £25,000, but plans were already in place to add two new extensions to the old house.
By 1936, two new wings had been built, at a cost of £28,000, on the site of an old peach orchard, and included contributions from a fundraising campaign. A floor was named after each donor of £5,000, while bedrooms were named after each donor of £100 (in all, 20 people had rooms named after them).
The east wing was occupied by nurses on 20 March, and the west wing on 10 July.
“The re-adaptation of the old house is also in progress, and by removing the dome on the tower, the cost of maintenance will be reduced, and the structure more substantial. The supply of electricity has been improved by the building of a sub-station with transformers. It has also been decided, that as the electrical wiring in parts is no longer efficient, to re-wire throughout.”
The Duke of Kent officially opened the new extensions in October 1936. A canopied entrance from Tapton Court to a large marquee, where the ceremony was held, was lined by a guard of honour from the sisters.
“It houses the whole of the nursing staff in the pleasantest possible conditions, in five-acres of wooded grounds,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
“In the west wing is a light and spacious dining hall, opening out onto a paved terrace and loggia. Above the hall are 20 bedrooms for sisters with its own wash basin and oak furniture. The east wing is entirely devoted to nurses’ bedrooms and bathrooms. Each of the 100 bedrooms has a fitted wardrobe, and the colour scheme is bright and cheerful. Shampoo rooms and shower baths are among the amenities, and there are ironing rooms for home laundry work.
“The old house has been adapted for recreation and sitting-room purposes.”
There was a touch of nostalgia in the Royal proceedings, said the Sheffield Independent. “A little grey-haired woman, who left Tapton Court as a bride fifty years ago, saw the Duke of Kent open her old home as a home for nurses. She was Mrs E.W. Turner, formerly Miss Andrew, wife of the Rev. George W. Turner, Vicar of St. Judes’s Church, and daughter of the late John Henry Andrew.”
And so, the nurses lived in relative harmony until, that is, the Royal Hospital closed in 1978, by which time Tapton Court had fallen into the hands of the University of Sheffield and used as halls of residence. A three-storey north wing, bridging the east and west wings, had been added, as well as the modern-looking Ranmoor Annexe (120 bedrooms over three floors), all of which are empty today.
Up for sale, the interiors of Tapton Court remain a secret, hidden behind steel-gated windows to deter urban explorers, but the sales brief provides us with a final insight: –
“The original house comprises two floors centred on a top-lit hall surrounded by a gallery at first floor level on three sides. The central court (surrounded by the 20th century wing extensions) is approached from the external portico on the eastern façade, through the entrance hall and with a major room opening off the opposite side of the court. The southern side of the court is flanked by corner rooms separated by a central hallway which gives access to the garden and houses the main staircase. Sections of the original service wing to the north still survive.”