People Sculpture

The lost genius of Charles Green

Charles Green loved flowers, animals, and children. “He took scrupulous care in workmanship.” (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Charles Green (1836-1916) had reasonable acquaintance of old Sheffield buildings and landmarks, and his knowledge of Sheffield craftsmen was remarkable. But throughout his life he lamented the fact that they weren’t valued.

“The citizens of Sheffield have little idea of the beautiful works that are now being produced by its native sculptors in other towns, where they have gone for lack of encouragement at home.”

The same could be said for Charles Green, sculptor, modeller, and designer, whose reputation faded after his death.

Today, his name barely registers in the art world, yet his work was patronised by the likes of the Duke of Portland, Baron Rothschild, and Indian Rajahs. After the Boer War he designed and modelled monuments for the battlefields of South Africa.

Charles Green was born at Brampton, Chesterfield, the son of William Green, who became a fender maker at Sheffield’s Green Lane Works. He was educated at St. George’s School, Hallam Street, and showed great aptitude for art with a love of drawing and modelling at the expense of his lessons. He went to Sheffield School of Art aged 11, becoming a pupil of Young Mitchell, and was apprenticed to Edwin Smith, sculptor, and learnt how to model and carve with marble.

A newspaper advertisement from 1877. Green had moved from his original studio on North Church Street. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

During his apprenticeship he carved a bust of Rev. Thomas Sutton for Sheffield Parish Church (now Cathedral) and that of Sir Robert Hadfield for the Cutlers’ Hall.

Green set up his own business and drifted away from sculpture, designing, and modelling ornamental cast-iron on a large scale. He designed fountains, gateways, mantelpieces, ceilings, decorative silver, and metalwork.

Perhaps his finest work was a cabinet commissioned for the Duke of Portland at a cost of £1,100. It seems the Duke changed his mind, but the ebony and bronze cabinet, representing the four seasons, the four elements, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the globe, merited exhibition in London and Paris.

“I had the spirit within me to make this cabinet as a monument to my father who was so fond of flowers.”

Charles Green’s ebony and bronze cabinet (top) was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. It was later exhibited in Sheffield and Rotherham but its whereabouts is unknown. It would appear that these images from Picture Sheffield are the only in existence, and underlines the incredibly important work of the photo archive. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

His studio was at North Church Street, later relocating to Bank Street, and ending up at 19 Shrewsbury Road, opposite his home at No.18, a listed building that survives. (It subsequently became Samuel Walker’s sweet factory).

“He was widely read in the classics, his broad outlook mellowed by a sense of humour.” (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Charles Green married the daughter of Dr Wright Wilson, and had four daughters, one of which, Florence, also became an artist, modeller, and designer.

Before the Society of Artists was formed, local artists met at his studio in North Church Street as far back as 1859, he being one of the first members of the society. He was invited by John Ruskin to attend the first meeting of the Ruskin Museum, and the Sheffield Art and Crafts Guild was formed at 18 Shrewsbury Road in 1894, he being the first master.

He also wrote Artist’s Rambles In and Around Sheffield for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.

No. 19 Shrewsbury Road. If ever a building experienced highs and lows this is it. Destroyed by fire, rebuilt to become a sweet factory, and then allowed to fall into disrepair and become a crack den. The Grade II listed building was restored by South Yorkshire Buildings Preservation Trust in 2001.

Charles Green was a lifelong collector of works, and at his studio on Shrewsbury Road, he had a large library, priceless antiques, and prints.

Amongst these were two original models by Francis Chantrey, one was a plaster cast of Sir Walter Scott, and the other, an early model of Rob Roy, thought to have been the only one. He also had several masks taken after death of Lord Brougham, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, and others.

Sadly, one August evening in 1911, Green was heating wax in his studio, when it boiled over, a sheet of flame enveloping him in fire. He managed to rip off his apron, but flames spread to the whole property.

The Chantrey busts were lost, as were pieces of carved oak, old oak chairs, pencil drawings, and sketches by Thomas Creswick, Alfred Stevens, William Ellis, E. Stirling Howard, and Robert Baden-Powell. Amongst his huge collection of books lost were a first edition of Rhodes’ Peak Scenery and early editions of Ebenezer Elliott, and first editions of James Montgomery.

“The scene after the fire was a particularly distressing one. Near the entrance was a ruined China cheese dish, huge enough to take a stilton cheese, obviously of high value. All around were prints and frames and statues of beautiful design, hopelessly wrecked, whilst the valuable library, too, was utterly destroyed.”

Charles Green was critical of Sheffield Corporation for destroying old artworks. The demolition of Tudor House, in Tudor Square, about 1909, had allowed him to save several relics from the rubbish heap, including this fireplace that was installed at 19 Shrewsbury Road. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Green died at No. 18, High Bank, Shrewsbury Road, in April 1916.

“The last of the arts craftsmen of the type that won for Sheffield its proud pre-eminence, associated with Alfred Stevens, Godfrey Sykes, Henry Hoyles, Hugh Stannas, William Ellis, James Gamble, Reuben Townroe, and Robert Glassby. He also enjoyed the friendship of Ruskin, Onslow Ford, Tom Taylor, and James Orrock.”

One of Green’s last unfinished works was a bronze bust of conductor Dr Henry Coward, presented to him by the Sheffield Musical Union, and completed by his daughter. He had also made a Florentine bronze tablet for the Hunter Archaeological Society, with various panels with portraits of the Earl of Surrey, Mary Queen of Scots, Cardinal Wolsey, Chaucer, and Joseph Hunter.

Amongst his first successes were the Montgomery Medal, offered by the ladies of Sheffield in honour of the poet, for modelling wild flowers from nature, and awarded by the poet himself. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Some of Green’s work survives in private collections but an internet search reveals extraordinarily little. However, we can still see some of his work in Sheffield, including the Lord Mayor’s Chain of Office (which he designed aged 21), and some of the ceilings in the Cutlers’ Hall.

But where did that prized ebony and bronze cabinet go?

“The work of a lifetime is practically gone.” The words of Charles Green after the fire at his studio in 1911. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


The Adventures of Roger L’Estrange

The fascinating story of Roger L’Estrange stands alongside Sheffield’s claim to Robin Hood, and if it is true, makes him one of our most remarkable sons.

This account begins in 1891 when Dominick Daly, barrister-at-law, and former editor of the Birmingham Gazette, was in Mexico City on private business, and was asked by his friend, Colonel Hoffman, of New York, to see if he could find documents that he could use in a forthcoming book about Quetzalcoatl, the Mexican Messiah – a strange legendary white man with a long beard, reputed to have imparted the doctrine and practices of Christianity on the Aztecs, hundreds of years before the Spanish Conquest.

Daly visited the city’s library and was allowed access into its archives.

“One day, I happened to pick out from amongst the contents of an old cedar-wood chest, a strongly, though roughly bound book of quart size, secured by a broad strap of leather.”

Written in English and Spanish, it appeared to be a diary written by Roger L’Estrange, ‘Sometime Captain of the Florida Army of His Excellency the Marquis Hernando De Soto, Governor of Cuba, and Captain-General of all Florida,’ who accompanied De Soto in the invasion of Florida in 1541, when the Mississippi River was discovered.

De Soto (1500-1542), the Spanish explorer and conquistador, was famous for leading the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States, through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, where he died on the banks of its great river.

Daly spent the next few years translating the document and it was published as Adventures of Roger L’Estrange by Swan Sonnenschein & Co in 1896.

The book came with an impressive preface by Henry Morton Stanley, journalist, explorer, author, and politician, famed for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, whom he later claimed to have greeted with the now-famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

“What I most admire in Roger is that he is so fresh, naïve, and candid, and can tell a straight story. Even Daniel Defoe, of whose style he reminds me, could not have told it better.”

The reference to Defoe was not lost on a reviewer in The Bystander magazine:

“I read with immense pleasure the book by Mr Dominick Daly. The book contained an extremely interesting account of De Soto’s ill-starred expedition, together with an elaborate route map; but I confess I am still in doubt as to whether it was a work of fiction or fact. I accepted it as the latter; but many critics treated the book as pure romance.”

The Sheffield connection appeared in the opening chapter of the translation:

“My father, Roger L’Estrange, was son of a yeoman in a Yorkshire holding in fee by ancient descent a small but sufficient estate in land not far from the town of Sheffield. My mother was daughter of Sir Geoffrey Stanley, of the ancient and noble family of Stanleys of Hooton Manor, Cheshire.

“My early years were partly passed in my father’s house, and partly in that of a bachelor brother of his, Uncle Richard, who was a founder and worker of metals, at Sheffield, where he made knives, scissors, and cutting implements of all kinds, as well as many other useful things. Now Uncle Richard was much attached to me from my earliest youth, and desired greatly that I should come into his trade at Sheffield and keep it as my own business after he passed away. Therein I was nothing loth, nor was my father unwilling; but my good mother and the Stanleys were cold to a proposal which they said would turn me from a gentleman into a mere mechanic.

“So, though much was spoken about it, nothing ever came of Richard’s plan; though all the same I spent a good deal of time with him, and by his help gained some knowledge of the many curious arts of his business, and also of those appertaining to other trades carried on by artificers engaged in making metal implements and utensils, pottery, bricks, grindstones, charcoal, lime, and other things. For Sheffield is a town where there are five rapidly flowing streams, which are made use of to turn a multitude of wheels for all kinds of purposes. Besides which, great quantities of metallic ores, stones, and clays of various sorts, and wood, are found very near the town, or not far off. What I learned with my Uncle Richard in Sheffield was afterwards very useful to me.

“I was nigh seventeen years when my father died somewhat suddenly, and then my brother Hugh succeeded as heir to the paternal estate. Thereupon my Grandfather, Sir Geoffrey, sent to my mother to say that she should come back to Hooton to live again with him, and should bring me with her, and he would take charge of my education and future advancement.”

Roger L’Estrange, along with his cousin Stanley, eventually left Hooton, travelling to Bilbao, and via Madrid, ended up in the Florida expedition with De Soto, going through thrilling adventures and continuous fights between the Indians and the Spanish invaders. That was in 1538.

L’Estrange never returned to Sheffield but married an Indian woman and established a ‘Little Sheffield’ on the banks of the Mississippi River. He began making spades and ploughs made of wood, then, having built a furnace for melting copper, made hammer heads, nails, household utensils, and other useful articles. He built a large trade by barter with neighbouring Indian tribes.

Then the L’Estrange’s found iron and tin, and his implements and weapons greatly improved, the first steel saw fashioned from an old cuirass (piece of armour).

Roger eventually built a corn-grinding mill alongside his works, but they didn’t last long. The Mississippi River having little sympathy with foreign invaders, flooded the land, and ‘Little Sheffield’ was destroyed.

The story didn’t end here.

L’Estrange, looking into his affairs, found that he possessed a fortune in jewels, settled in Mexico with his Indian wife and five children, where Antonio de Mendoza, the Spanish Viceroy, bestowed on him a large estate, and where, as alleged, he wrote his diary, subsequently lost, rediscovered, and then forgotten about.

In the 1930s, Mr Cecil L’Estrange Ewen, author of “Witch Hunting and Witch Trials’ and “A History of British Surnames,’ published a pamphlet designed to show that there never was a Roger L’Estrange, and that Sheffield’s claim “to have produced the first Englishman to navigate the Mississippi must be relegated to the limbo of the chimerical.”

The Telegraph and Independent responded:

“For our part, we intend to go on believing it – as in the case of Robin Hood. Learned persons assure us that Robin was a myth. Not to us, he wasn’t; Nor are we going to consign Roger to that category. Whether Mr. Ewen is right or wrong in the contentions he puts forward in his pamphlet we shall make no attempt to decide. But we don’t like parting with Roger and the ‘Little Sheffield’ story. If it wasn’t true, it ought to have been. It was just the sort of thing a Sheffield man would do.”

But it appears that Sheffield did forget Roger L’Estrange – ignored until now.

For my part, I’m afraid that “Adventures of Roger L’Estrange” was probably an elaborate work of fiction, a story brilliantly orchestrated by Dominick Daly.

With the benefit of modern technology, it appears there never was a Roger L’Estrange from Sheffield, neither does there seem to have been a Sir Geoffrey Stanley at Hooton Manor (although the family and house did exist until 1788). Colonel Henry C. Hoffman died in 1883, eight years before supposedly asking Dominick Daly to search the library archives. And, in 1891, the year of the diary’s discovery, Daly appears to have spent most of the year in the English law-courts, and not in Mexico!

But, there again, you never know, and it makes a compelling story.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings People

Alwyn Henry Holland

A few of us might argue that Sheffield has never been at the forefront of cultural excitement. This was never more apparent when, over a century ago, Alwyn Henry Holland put his money into the Howard Gallery.

His determination to give us an alternative exhibition space came at a cost and ended with the collapse of the family business.

Holland’s far-sightedness didn’t resonate with the public, and the only reminder of his folly is a stone relief set in a small portico above a doorway on Chapel Walk.

For many years, Alwyn Henry Holland (1862-1935), was the Hon. Sec. and member of the Council of the Sheffield Society of Artists, and probably the most enthusiastic artist in the city at the time. He was also a lay member of the Society of Architects, and Hon. Sec. and trustee of the Croft House Settlement.

He was born in Sheffield, the son of Alwin Hibbard Holland, provisions merchant, and was brought up as an architect.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The family home was at 11 Broomgrove Crescent, and he was educated principally at Brampton Schools, Wath. He then became a pupil, and afterwards assistant, with architect John Dodsley Webster.

On the death of his father in 1883, however, he succeeded to the business of A.H. Holland, at No. 9 Fargate.

Shuttered up during this year’s pandemic. This was once the main entrance to the Howard Gallery, with the original stone relief above the door.

In its day, A.H. Holland, was one of Sheffield’s finest grocery stores, famous for its high-class goods at low prices, and awarded three prize medals at London exhibitions.

He ran the business with his mother, Eliza, and, with Thomas Flockton, designed new shop premises as part of the Fargate widening scheme in 1889.

Like many Victorian businessmen, Holland dipped into the property market, and when land became available adjacent to No. 9 Fargate, on Chapel Walk, he designed and built eight single shops in English Renaissance style.

At the time of construction in 1897, Henry Fitzalan Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, was Mayor, and later Lord Mayor, of Sheffield, and the inspiration for naming the new art gallery that Holland built above the shops.

The gallery comprised two exhibition spaces, both 60ft in length, separated by a staircase, with light supplied by a lantern roof above. The main entrance was on Chapel Walk, with a separate carriage entrance around the back on Black Swan Walk.

The inclusion of the art gallery satisfied Holland’s notions as a watercolour painter,  providing more suitable environs to display artwork, rather than on the walls of the shop that had previously been the case.

The Howard Gallery never intended to be a showcase for his own work but was to be used for rotating exhibitions of works by other artists.

Holland’s plans were extravagant, seeing it as a northern rival to the big London galleries. There were those who mocked his plans, but even the fiercest critics were astonished when the Howard Gallery announced its opening exhibition in April 1898.

William Marchant, manager of the Goupil Gallery in Regent Street, was persuaded to bring a collection of pictures and drawings to Sheffield – and the samples of work seem inconceivable today.

“The exhibition contains examples of Gainsborough, Constable, David Cox, Turner, Landseer, Corot, Guardi, J. Maris, Mauve, Israels, Whistler, and J.M. Swan,” wrote the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

The opening exhibition at the Howard Gallery. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Public opinion was favourable, the critics silenced, but William Marchant struck a note of caution that pinpointed what lay ahead:

“I must say that when I decided to take this collection to Sheffield, I was fully aware of the fact that I was not catering for the popular taste, and I may add that several people who witnessed my preparations laughed and predicted total failure. I cannot say that much of Sheffield’s gold has found its way into our coffers, and the visitors have been, if select, very few, but I must own that I never expected to meet with so publicly expressed an appreciation.”

Opening advertisement for the Howard Gallery. (Image: Sheffield History)

Despite the lacklustre support the Goupil Exhibition was extended past its May closing date, with several works removed and replaced with new works by Peter Graham, John Syer, Henry Dawson, Niemann and E.M. Wimperis. Several local artists were also represented including Austin Winterbottom, James Moore, Frank Saltfleet, and Jean Mitchell.

In June 1898, Thomas Agnew and Sons, fine art dealers, brought an exhibition to Sheffield, including Gethsemane ‘Jesus In the Garden’, painted by Tom Mostyn, and the engravings from the canvases of Landseer, Peter Graham, and Rosa Bonheur.

The Howard Gallery hired glass cases for its next exhibition of artistic book-bindings, obtained on loan from the Ruskin Museum Library, and which had rarely been seen.

And so, there followed a cycle of short-lived seasonal exhibitions – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter – all of which cost a lot of money and poor return.

The interior of the Howard Gallery. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In June 1899, Holland closed the East Gallery claiming that previous exhibitions had been too large for art lovers to properly view, but finances were diminishing and, apart from the annual Sheffield Society of Artists’ Exhibition, the major showings dwindled away. But the local press remained optimistic:

“There had been sneers at the Howard Gallery as a mere commercial speculation, but they only exhibit a complete ignorance of the motives with which it was founded, and their absurdity is as patent as their injustice,” wrote ‘Le Flaneur’ in the Sheffield Independent.

Holland launched a Winter Exhibition in December 1901, using the West and East Gallery, which had been used as a restaurant, and showing nearly 250 oils and watercolours, but, apart from a Frank Saltfleet exhibition in January 1903, the galleries were advertised as being available to hire for dances and evening entertainments.

Music recitals became a mainstay of the gallery, a popular home for the Sheffield Chamber Music Society, as well as for meetings including those of the Alliance Francais.

The principal use, from 1903, was for the Sheffield Gentlemen’s Club during the rebuilding of their premises on Norfolk Street. It occurred to Holland that the comforts and conveniences of the club might be appreciated by the public, so, with necessary alterations and additions, the Howard Gallery, and adjoining Rutland Institute (above No.9 Fargate) were transformed into a café and restaurant.

Holland auctioned his collection of paintings, pewter, and pottery, as well as fixtures and fittings, and the gallery became The Meerah Café in December 1904.

A list of contents sold by Alwyn Henry Holland following the closure of the Howard Gallery. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Once again, the undertaking received support from the local press:

“Mr Holland is an architect of considerable repute, and in the extensive range of rooms has given free play to his artistic ideas. The place is full of artistic surprises. They seem to meet you at every turn. The old-fashioned windows he has so daintily worked into his scheme, the many snug retreats, the originality displayed in the lighting and the decorations, all breathe art. The very atmosphere seems artistic. Even the furniture has all been studied with an artist’s care. The late William Morris designed some of the most comfortable of the chairs which will be found in the gentlemen’s quarters; but Mr Holland has designed the remainder of the furniture. The tables of solid old oak, also breathe of art. The names of the rooms sound artistic. There are the York Room, the Howard Room, the Wharncliffe Room, and the Rutland Room. Music is provided by Charles Callum.”

The café and restaurant fared marginally better than the Howard Gallery, but the overindulgences of the exhibition space and subsequent conversion, played heavily on the finances of A.H. Holland.

Alwyn and Eliza invited shareholders into the business, and it became Hollands Ltd in 1906, but the company went into voluntary liquidation three years later.

The shop and café were closed, and the contents auctioned to help pay off the creditors.

The contents of the cafe were auctioned after the company went into liquidation. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

The last hurrah appeared in the Sheffield Independent:

“’It is a tragedy, that is the only word for it,’ said an old customer. The Wharncliffe Room of Holland’s Café was half filled with buyers, and about a dozen men hung about waiting for jobs to remove the purchases. A couple of dogs, which had strayed into the room, surveyed the scene, and made a faint effort to wag their tails. The firm, business-like tones of the auctioneer rang out, and soon the artistic fittings, pictures, crockery, and cutlery, were auctioned off.

“Hollands was well known for the original designs of the interior of the premises, Mr Holland being quite ambitious in this direction. The shop was regarded as an example of the art doctrines of Ruskin and Morris. Indeed, Holland made a special effort to introduce art into ordinary matter-of-fact business. Unfortunately, the effort failed.”

Alwyn Henry Holland in 1925. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Afterwards, Alwyn Henry Holland faded into obscurity, no doubt chastened by his experience, and spent time walking, playing tennis and golf, and sketching.

His legacy is forgotten, his work little-known.

Some of his work hangs at the Cutlers’ Hall which had commissioned him to paint views of the banqueting halls as well as its exterior. Perhaps his most famous painting is Sheffield from above the Midland Station, included in the Sheffield Museum collection.

Sheffield from above the Midland Station by Alwyn Henry Holland (1909). (Image: Museum Sheffield)

Holland died in 1935 at Patrington, near Hull, aged 73.

The Howard Gallery returned in name only, used by British Westinghouse and the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company as showrooms, and part of it used by Thomas Monkman and later H.C. Hibbert as a billiards hall.

In the time since, the gallery space has been sub-divided, but the Howard Gallery carving remains, as does the long glass roof, visible only from above.

This aerial photograph shows the length of the two rooms at the Howard Gallery. Parts of the glass roof remain above one of the galleries. (Google)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Victor Burgin

Victor Burgin. (Image: University of Southampton)

There must be somebody in Sheffield who can provide more information about one of our famous sons. This is a strange one, a man of mystery as far as his birth city is concerned, and worldwide success seems to have separated him from his roots.

Victor Burgin, born at Sheffield in 1941, a distinguished artist and theorist who has made his name with language and photography.

In the sixties he studied at the Royal College of Art and Yale University. While in America he discovered ‘minimal art’, at that time little known in Britain. This raised issues, not only about the form, but the nature of art, and Burgin was one of those artists on both sides of the Atlantic who developed ‘conceptual art’.

He has written numerous books and essays on art theory and criticism, and his chic photo pieces have been exhibited throughout the world.

“Art is not a spectator sport.”

Burgin taught  at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham, and the Polytechnic of Central London, before moving to San Francisco.

He was nominated for a Turner Prize in 1986, and is Professor Emeritus of History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Emeritus Millard Chair of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2015 Burgin was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and in 2016 a Mellon Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also Professor of Visual Culture at Winchester School of Art.

He holds Honorary Degrees at Sheffield Hallam University, as well as the University of Liège.

Victor Burgin. Fiction Film, 1991.

Burgin’s work is in public collections that include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Tate, London, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.

“I’ve made it from working class Sheffield to this middle class artistic milieu, and what the f**k am I doing here?”

These days, Burgin appears to split his time between homes in Somerset and Paris.

Photograph by Victor Burgin. In Grenoble, 1981.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


William Fox Tibbitts

The story of William Fox Tibbitts is remarkable. A man of extraordinary business acumen but who lived the life of a poor man.

At the time of his death in 1927 he was described as “probably the most eccentric rich man in Sheffield.” He was a mass of contradictions, so bizarre and so unlikely that only personal sight and knowledge of them could make them credible.

Tibbitts was born in 1842, educated at Collegiate School, and was the last in a long line of Sheffield attorneys, a profession he turned his back on to become a shrewd property owner and speculator in stocks and shares.

He lived at Netherthorpe House, built by the Hoyle family in 1750, at what was once the centre of an estate of green fields. By the time he died, the house was in one of the poorest districts of Sheffield, situated at the junction of Meadow Street and Hoyle Street, surrounded by back-to-back houses, mean streets, shops, and the smoke of works.

Tibbitts’ father had married into the Hoyle family, one of noble recognition in Sheffield, and to which Hoyle Street got its name.

William Fox Tibbitts bought block after block of property at Upperthorpe and ultimately almost all that district fell into his hands, and he became known as the ‘Upperthorpe Lawyer’. He also purchased properties in Skegness and London.

Tibbitts was of careful disposition and in his early years said he could not afford to marry, and in later years had no inclination toward marriage.

Notwithstanding his eagerness to amass money, there was a kindly disposition to him and frequently befriended poor people offering them free legal advice.

His motor-car was  a Corporation tram; he was a keen traveller, mountain climber and walker; a wizard of finance who kept personal records of all his shares and transactions in old-fashioned ledgers with a medley of out-of-date newspaper cuttings; a solicitor who sold coal mines; a big landowner who let off a portion of his own house as a surgery and who had titled relatives in the highest rank; a man who might have been Lord Mayor, but never tried to enter public life.

William F. Tibbitts. Image: British Newspaper Archive

Shortly before his death in March 1927 he agreed to an interview with a reporter from the Sheffield Independent: –

“I recently found him at his house. Several minutes of ringing called his housekeeper, and I was ushered into the presence of a well-preserved, very old and venerable man seated before a small fire by a desk poring over a rent book in a sparsely furnished office lit by a single lamp in a common shade. He greeted me with kind courtesy and, with an emphatic embargo on notebooks, he talked almost as a monologue for two hours.

“’My friends tell me that I should take a house in the country,’ he said, ‘but if I did I should never be able to get down here to work every day, and I often take a penny ride on the tramcar for exercise. People will not believe me when I say that I can hardly afford to keep this old house going.’

“He sighed, and I noted the frayed cuffs of his old coat and the worn waistcoat.

“Yet a few minutes later this amazing old man told me that he sold a colliery (he mentioned its name) and believed that he might have got about £50,000 or more if he had pressed.

“’I held a controlling interest in the shares,’ he explained, ‘but they wanted me to put up the money for another 400 houses at over £400 each, and I refused.’

“Politically, he was still back in 1909, and he revealed an astonishing collection of cuttings denouncing Mr Lloyd George’s Budget campaign (all mixed up with denunciations of Arthur James Cook), and then he bemoaned the break-up of the big ducal estates, the approaching flight of capital from this country, and the especial iniquity of death duties. His newspaper cuttings, yellow and creased, were like leaves of Vallombrosa.

“He knew the Sheffield Stock Exchange Daily Price-List almost by heart, and the sight of it on his desk moved him to further sighs of regret concerning the vast interests he had in shares that were not paying a dividend.

“With a great effort he lifted down a ponderous ledger, scanned the index, and turned up entries recording the financial history of big blocks of shares in Sheffield and other companies. ‘I am the biggest shareholder in So-and-So,’ he mentioned quite casually, and the name he mentioned was that of one of the oldest and biggest steel firms in the country.

“Page after page recorded his holding of thousands and tens of thousands of shares, and a sheaf of company reports, fresh from the postman, gave an idea of what his yearly total of such documents must have been.

“Mr Tibbitts took a boyish pride in speaking of his travelling and mountaineering exploits, discontinued since the war on account of the ‘big charges now made at the hotels.’

“A bachelor, he talked of this and that famous person, whose names are national property, and of this and that big industrial organisation and their weaknesses and scandals far too piquant to repeat, until at long last he closed his ledgers and I rose to leave.

“I had gone, by the way, to ask him for his views on ‘success’. ‘It would not do,’ he had said in refusing. ‘I may finish in the Bankruptcy Court.’”

Tibbitts liked to speak tongue-in-cheek, his wealth assured, and following his death Samuel Mather, a close friend and sharebroker, revealed more about Tibbitts’ character: –

“In ordinary justice to his memory, the idea of some of his supposed eccentricities should be removed.

“He had a simple, unassuming, genial nature, making no display either in his mode of life or dress. When, on our walks, we had been asked to help some good cause, it was a surprise to the recipients to get a gold coin instead of a silver one which was all that was expected from a plainly attired wayfarer.

“Most sensible men enjoyed wearing an old comfortable suit but cannot afford to defy convention by doing so except when pottering about the garden.

“Ostentation was an anathema to him. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘should I be troubled with all the cares occasioned by the upkeep of a large establishment.’ His only desire was to be comfortable. His residence was not in a salubrious neighbourhood, but he had grown accustomed to the old home of his family, and so remained there, notwithstanding the change in the character of his surroundings. It was, too, convenient as an office and for his workmen.

“Living as he did, a somewhat self-centred life, it was perhaps inevitable that, as do many others, he should possess the defects of his qualities, but it would be a good thing for our city and country , as well as for themselves personally, if others could be induced to follow in his footsteps.”

Netherthorpe House in the early 1950s. Image: Picture Sheffield

After his death, press speculation said Tibbitts had left about £2 million to his niece, Sheffield-born Henrietta Sarah Fisher, who lived at Tunbridge Wells, and this prompted her to avoid media attention by fleeing to France.

The actual figure was £1.5 million, and after dispositions and death duties, the amount left to her was £938,000.

In the 1930s she returned to Sheffield and made her home at the Kenwood Hotel before moving to Devon. In her lifetime she gave generous donations to the Royal Hospital as well as providing £2,100 for the purchase of Prior Bank at Nether Edge, a home for rest for the chronically ill, and gave £1,000 for the relief of post-Blitz distress in 1941.

She died in 1950, leaving £1.49 million, but death duties amounted to a staggering £1.14 million, leaving just £350,000 to be distributed as per the terms of her will.

After personal bequests, she left sums of £5 each to be distributed among Sheffield’s oldest tenants and her cars were left to her chauffeur. All her letters were burned and all her apparel, except furs and laces, were given away.

The residue was given to the Cutlers’ Company. The bequest, known as ‘The William Tebbitts Fund’, was for the protection and benefit of the trade of Hallamshire, for charitable and other purposes.

Netherthorpe House succumbed to the bulldozers, its site consumed by Netherthorpe Road’s dual carriageway, but Hoyle Street survives as a reminder of an old Sheffield family.


The Tibbitts Papers were given by Henrietta Sarah Fisher to Sheffield Reference Library after William Fox Tibbitts’ death. These provided matter relating to the history of Sheffield, particularly Owlerton, including a ‘Court Roll of the Manor’ from 1711. There was a great deal of information about turnpike roads, including minutes of meetings, maps, plans and documents about the keeping and management of toll-bars. Other papers related to the keeping and management of local canals and rivers. Included in the collection were legal records accumulated in the 18th century. These are held by Sheffield City Archives.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Dr Bartolomé: A Spaniard who made Sheffield his home

Bernard Edward Cammell’s portrait of Dr Mariano Martin de Bartolome (1813-1890), (Image: Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

The Story of Dr Mariano Alejo Martin de Bartolomé might be straight from the pages of a novel.

Bartolomé (1813-1890) was born in Segovia, Spain, and came from an old Castilian Hidalgo family, his father being the civil governor of the province.

Aged 8, he became a student at the Artillery College of the Alcazar of Segovia and had lined up a commission in the Hussars. However, Spain was in a state of revolution and the representative system was abolished. Ferdinand VII was restored by the intervention of the French, and the Bartolomé’s were driven out of Spain and their estate confiscated.

Segovia is a Spanish city located in the autonomous community of Castile and León. It is the capital and most populated municipality of the Province of Segovia.

They sought refuge in England, eventually taking up residence in Jersey.

It was here that Bartolomé met Mary Elizabeth Parker, the daughter of Rev Frank Parker of Dore, and they married in 1834. He had no profession, but Mary paid for him to become a medical student at Edinburgh University.

Bartolomé studied under Professor Sir Robert Christison, regarded as a brilliant physician and chemist, and gained his medical degree in 1838.

The couple moved to Sheffield taking up residence at 3 Eyre Street, popular with surgeons and physicians, and remained here for 45 years.

In 1840 Bartolomé was elected one of the honorary physicians to the Sheffield Hospital and Dispensary (later the Royal Hospital) and in 1846 joined the Sheffield Infirmary, later becoming senior physician. It was said that he rode there on a fine black horse and to have jumped the gate when he found it closed. By the time he retired through ill-health in 1889 it was estimated that Bartolomé had treated more than 750,000 patients.

Sheffield Infirmary (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In 1846, Bartolomé joined the staff of lecturers at the Sheffield Medical Institution, later the Medical School, delivering over 3,000 lectures and becoming its president.

As president he was instrumental in obtaining funds to build a new building in Leopold Street, finished in 1888, and after merging with Firth College and Sheffield Technical School it was renamed University College Sheffield before becoming University of Sheffield in 1905.

(University of Sheffield Library Digitals Collection)

His crowning glory was in 1876 when he was elected president of the British Medical Association (BMA) at a meeting in Sheffield. His presidential address was an exhaustive description of Sheffield, its surroundings, some of its trades, their effects on the health of workers, and suggestions as to future legislation.

Bartolomé was painted by artist Bernard Edward Cammell which was presented to him by the Medical School in November 1888.

“I came amongst you as a stranger and an alien, but you stretched out the right hand of friendship towards me, and I stand before you now one of the oldest Englishmen in the room, having been naturalised long before the majority of you were in existence.

“I wish that my portrait may remain in the midst of its givers – those friends whom I have so sincerely and frequently loved.”

Bartolomé moved his house and surgery to Glossop Road in the 1880s, the building on the corner with Hounsfield Road better known now as The Harley bar.

As well as his medical work, Bartolomé was a freemason at the Britannia and Brunswick Lodges (and laid the foundation stone at the Masonic Hall in Surrey Street) and was founder and president of Sheffield Athenaeum club.

In his last few years Bartolomé suffered from heart problems and was forced to give up a lot of work. In 1890, after waking, he attended his invalid son in an adjoining room and died soon after, supposedly “brought on by dressing somewhat hastily in order that he might visit his son.”

His wife, Mary, died in 1863, and Bartolomé married a second time, Mary Emily Jackson, the daughter of Samuel Jackson, who survived him.

After his death, Bartolomé’s family left the city, but his grandson, Dr Stephen M de Bartolomé (1919-2001), a former Sheffield University student returned to Sheffield to work for Spear & Jackson of which he became chairman.

The Bartolomé Papers – a collection relating to the history of the family through both Bartolomés – is held at the University of Sheffield. As a fitting tribute the former Winter Street Hospital (and then St George’s Hospital) became the School of Nursing for the University of Sheffield in 1997, named Bartolomé House in 1998 after Dr Mariano Martin de Bartolomé, and now the School of Law.

Bartolomé House. (Image: University of Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


When the Shah of Persia visited Sheffield

The photograph taken at The Farm, the Duke of Norfolk’s Sheffield residence, by Herbert Rose Barraud. It now belongs to the National Portrait Gallery. (Image: NPG)

Here is a story about a Royal visit to Sheffield that to younger generations will appear extraordinary.

In July 1889, the Shah of Persia (now the Islamic Republic of Iran) was invited to Sheffield by the Duke of Norfolk as part of His Imperial Majesty’s visit to Britain.

The welcome given to Shahanshah, Khaqan, Soltane Saheb Quaran, Quebleye alam (or plain old Naser-al Din Shah Quajar) was on a scale only afforded to British monarchs.

His visit to these shores was politically motivated, with the hope that it might lead to Britain developing Persia’s railways and business interests. Despite the pomp and ceremony that surrounded the Shah the country was regarded a poor relation, but one that might offer riches to our Victorian ancestors.

“Politically, Persia is misgoverned, oppressed, and plundered, and is sunk in barbarism.”

The Shah arrived at the Midland Station on Friday 12th July. He had been fatigued in Birmingham and his journey to Sheffield was delayed, causing unnecessary anxiety to those who had organised the schedule. Nevertheless, the people of Sheffield waited patiently, and gave him a rapturous welcome.

“The sight that met the Shah was one rarely witnessed in Sheffield. Not only were there thousands of people pressing against the barriers, but house tops, walls, boards, and almost every point from which a view of His Imperial Majesty could be obtained was occupied.”

From Midland Station, a huge procession, escorted by a squadron of the Yorkshire Dragoons, made its way to the Corn Exchange where a reception was held. Afterwards he visited the Atlas Works of John Brown and Company before heading to The Farm, the Duke of Norfolk’s residence (now the site of Sheffield College), where he stayed overnight.

The scene in the Corn Exchange during the presentation of an address from the Mayor. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)
The Shah witnessing the forging of a steel ingot at the Atlas Steel and Iron Works. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Saturday was a rainy day, but it did not stop big crowds gathering along the Shah’s route.

“Flags flapped limply about their poles, the bunting drooped ingloriously, the streamers and floral festoons looked bedraggled, and all the bravery of decoration had departed.”

The Shah posed for a photograph at The Farm taken by Herbert Rose Barraud of Oxford Street, London.

“He was dressed in a dark coat fastened with emerald buttons. He wore a shoulder belt across his breast with bars of precious stones including Cabochin emeralds and rubies, the edges bordered with diamonds. Attached to a slender gold chain was the heart-shaped diamond he wore as an amulet; on his breast gleamed a richly jewelled star of the garter. His shoulder straps were studded with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. He wore a Kolah cap displaying the Lion and Sun of Persia.”

Once again events ran incredibly late, the Shah’s carriages, accompanied by 30 members of the Yorkshire Dragoons, not leaving The Farm until after mid-day.

“Punctuality is the courtesy of Princes, but in Persia it is an unknown quantity. There every man takes his time from the King who, come what may, is never late.”

Despite the long delay, thousands lined the streets as the Royal procession travelled along St Mary’s Road, The Moor and to Norfolk Street where the Shah visited the works of Joseph Rodgers and Sons, including a tour of the vast ivory cellar, before being presented with a handsome sporting knife.

From here, the Shah was transported to the silver plating company, James Dixon and Sons, at Cornish Works, where a whistle-stop tour ended with the presentation of a silver drinking flask.

By his side throughout the visit was a 10-year-old boy favourite of the Shah. It was said that if the opulently decorated boy were beside him no harm could ever befall the Ruler of Persia.

A late lunch was held at the Cutlers’ Hall where toasts were exchanged, with Prince Michael Khan acting as the Shah’s interpreter.

From here he left for Victoria Station which had been gaily decorated, as was the Royal Victoria Hotel, and a guard of honour was formed by the Artillery Volunteers while a band played the Persian National Hymn. His train set off for Liverpool and at Wardsend a battery of six guns was fired to send him on his way.

Sadly, the Shah of Persia was assassinated in 1896 but the monarchy remained until 1979 when it was abolished after the Iranian Revolution.

His Imperial Majesty Naser al-Din, The Shar of Persia. He was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani when he was praying in the shrine of Shah-Abdol-Azim in 1896. It was said that the revolver used to kill him was old and rusty and had he worn a thicker overcoat, or been shot from a longer distance, he would have survived. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Enid Blyton: once upon a time

(Image: Alamy)

A few unsuspecting people across Sheffield might not realise that the houses they live in have a connection to Enid Blyton, that infamous children’s author of over 400 titles, 600 million copies sold, and translated into 42 languages.

Our story begins in the 1870s when a Lincolnshire-born linen draper, Thomas Carey Blyton, and his wife, Mary Ann, moved from Kent to Sheffield. They brought with them four children – Bertha Sidney, Thomas Carey, and Sybil – and a fourth child, Alice May, was born here and died at Dore in 1962. The Blyton family lived at Asline Road, Aizlewood Road and finally moved to Machon Bank.

Their son, Thomas Carey Blyton Jr, married a Sheffield girl, Theresa May Harrison, from Monmouth Street, Broomhall, in London in 1896, moving on account of his job as a cutlery salesman. The newly-married couple lived in a small flat above a shop in East Dulwich where Enid Mary Blyton was born in 1897, followed by two boys, Henly and Carey.

They later separated with Enid’s mother telling people that her husband was “away on business.”

It appears that Thomas Carey wanted Enid to be a concert pianist but in 1916, aged 19, she moved to Ipswich and trained as a teacher. However, she had already started writing and her first book Child Whispers was published in 1922.

She went on to write hundreds of short stories, as well as introducing us to Noddy and Big Ears, the Famous Five, Secret Seven and the Malory Towers series.

Her work was loved by children, less-so by critics who regarded it as being “not great literature – but harmless.” However, some libraries and schools banned her works, and the BBC refused to broadcast it from the 1930s until the 1950s because they were perceived to lack literary merit.

The negativity about Enid Blyton continues today – not least tales of her being a ‘bad mother’, and in 2016 the Royal Mint blocked a proposal to honour her with a commemorative 50p coin on the grounds that she was ‘a racist, a sexist and a homophobe’. Millions of children would probably disagree.

Did Enid Blyton ever visit her Sheffield relations? Perhaps not, she became increasingly distant from her mother and with her less direct relatives, although a visit to Meadway Drive at Dore to see Auntie Alice May might not have been out of the question.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Peter Horbury

(Image: Autocar)

Peter Horbury is probably an unfamiliar name.

Born in Alnwick in 1950, his family moved to Sheffield and he attended King Edward VII School between the ages of 7 to 11. It was here that he started doodling car designs.

After moving to Darlington, Horbury attended art school in Newcastle, going on to complete a master’s at the Royal College of Art in London.

His first job was at Chrysler, before moving to Ford in Essex working on the Ford Sierra programme and joining Volvo in 1979.

After leaving to set up his own business, he re-joined Volvo in Sweden as Head of Design from 1991. His Volvo ECC concept car influenced designs for years to come including the S40, S60, S80 and XC90 SUV.

The Horbury-penned ECC sparked a Volvo design revolution in the 1990s (Image: Autocar)

When Ford bought Volvo, he became Head of Design at Ford’s Premier Automotive Group including Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover as well as Volvo.

Horbury later moved to Detroit and influenced the design of the Ford Fusion, Ford Focus and Ford Taurus as well as remodelling the Lincoln car brand.

In 2009 he returned to Volvo in Gothenburg, remaining when Chinese company Geely bought the brand in 2010. He is now Executive Vice-President, Design, overseeing Geely Auto, Lotus, Lynk and Co and Volvo.

Not bad for a lad from King Ted’s.

Volvo had never done an SUV and many thought it never should. But the brand had always had a strong following in the US and demand there won the day. (Image: Autocar).

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings People Sculpture

Victoria Station Memorial

The original memorial outside Victoria Station. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

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 Western Front 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.

Remains of the memorial before demolition in 1980. The plaques had been removed to the underneath of Wicker Arch. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

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.

The memorial plaques underneath Wicker Arch. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

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.

(Images: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.