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Places

Lost in France: We may count this little plot of ground ‘Forever Sheffield.’

In 1927, Sheffield made plans to purchase land near Serre-lès-Puisieux where Sheffield City Battalion suffered heavy casualties in July 1916. Photograph: Pierre’s Western Front.

Jean Lois Legrand, is a bit of an embarrassment to the village of Serre-lès-Puisieux, and he’s also a nuisance to the French police. The volatile farmer works land near Sheffield Memorial Park in northern France where there are memorials to the famous Pals Battalions of World War One.

To reach the Pals’ Battalions memorial, which is owned by Sheffield City Council, visitors must use an unmade public right of way that crosses land owned by Legrand. The path is owned by the town of Serre whilst the park itself is looked after and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

The fiery farmer has been threatening visitors who use a track that leads to it, shouting at them, starting fires – and even driving his van towards them at high speed.

The matter is yet to be resolved, the French aren’t happy about him, and it clouds this quiet place on the Somme battlefields.

Jean Lois Legrand, the feuding farmer. Photograph: Philip Ide.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 men of the 12th battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (“the Sheffield Pals”) were entrenched ready to launch an attack on the German position in the fortified hilltop hamlet of Serre. The troops met with devastating machine gun fire and by the end of the day, the Battalion reported 248 killed, 246 wounded and 18 missing.

“Two armies that fight each other is like one large army that commits suicide.” – Henri Barbusse, 1916.

In 1927, Alderman Wardley chaired the Sheffield-Serre Memorial Park committee which raised £978, part of the proceeds for which came from a friendly football match between Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, and a gift of £60 from Sheffield Town Trustees.

The Park on land at Railway Hollow, near Serre, where the Pals had been entrenched on the 1 July 1916, contains a cemetery with the graves of 107 British and two French soldiers. Only some of the graves are of Sheffield soldiers because the practice was adopted of burying those who could be identified near where they had fallen, irrespective of their nationality or regiment.

A memorial service at Sheffield Memorial Park in 1939, weeks before war was declared again. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

Sheffield Memorial Park was opened in May 1931 by Mr J. Lawson, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary  to the Ministry of Labour, who represented Sir Fabian Ware, Chief of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and the dedication service was conducted by the Rev. Edward Cattell, of Sheffield. Also present, was bugler Heber Joseph Revitt, the Sheffield man who sounded the ‘cease fire’ call in France on 11 November 1918, and who rang the Last Post and Reveille on the same bugle.

Sheffield’s greatest benefactor, J.G. Graves, presided over the ceremony:

“Let me say how grateful we all feel to the former owner of this land for his kindness in making its use for this noble purpose. So now we may count this little plot of ground ‘Forever Sheffield’.

“Well may we count this soil sacred and desire that it shall remain forever consecrated and apart as an altar on which was offered the greatest sacrifice our city has ever made in the cause of right and freedom.”

The memorial represented some 10,000 men whose names were inscribed in a roll of honour (4,898 from Sheffield) kept in a stainless-steel casket given by Sir Robert Hadfield and placed in a teak case with a glass front presented by Walker & Hall in a shelter, designed by Mr F. Ratcliffe, an original member of the Sheffield Battalion.

Observers will notice that the shelter we see today is different to the one unveiled in 1931.

During the Second World War, Sheffield Memorial Park didn’t suffer as badly as it might have. The Germans allowed a Commission gardener, Mr B.M. Leach, to maintain the grounds, and he hid the memorial casket and roll of honour in his tool shed and at the end of hostilities deposited it at the nearby Chapel of Notre Dame de Treile, Serre, but was found to be in damp condition. This casket is now in the Town Hall at Puisieux. However, the shelter didn’t fare so well, and was eventually replaced with a more modest structure.

In 1927, the owner of the land at Serre-lès-Puisieux gave orders to his solicitor for the transfer of his land to the City of Sheffield. Nearly a hundred years later the land is still owned by Sheffield City Council and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). Photographs: ww1cemeteries

The Sheffield Memorial Park is a wooded area where the original frontline trenches and the shell-holes in the ground have been preserved. There is an information tablet placed by Sheffield City Council near the front of the park. This has a coloured map, showing the positions of the various battalions here on July the 1st 1916, along with the German trenches and machine-gun positions they advanced against.

The memorial park slopes downhill, and the land still bears the scars of battle, with shell-holes and vague outlines of other trenches still visible today. Within the park are several memorials to the various “Pals” battalions that fought here or near here that day, including the Accrington Pals, the Barnsley Pals, and the Y (Chorley) and Z (Burnley and District) Companies of the 11th East Lancashire Regiment.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People Places Sculpture

Lost in France: “Back to the happy days at Redmires, and to the long rows of wooden crosses in the valley yonder,”

“To the memory of the officers and men of the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion) who fell before Serre 1916.” Photograph: Google.

There are many war memorials and plaques located around Sheffield, including the City War Memorial in Barker’s Pool. All of these are cared for by Sheffield City Council, but did you know that it also maintains the Sheffield Battalion Memorial in Serre-lès-Puisieux, a village in northern France.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 men of the 12th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (“the Sheffield Pals”) were entrenched ready to launch an attack on the German position in the fortified hilltop hamlet of Serre. The troops met with devastating machine gun fire and by the end of the day, the Battalion reported 248 killed, 246 wounded and 18 missing.

This tiny village has been indelibly stamped on the pages of Sheffield history – stamped with the blood of city sons, for in a fruitless endeavour to take Serre, the Sheffield City Battalion suffered enormous losses.

In October 1920, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield received the following correspondence from the Mayor of Puisieux:

“I am happy to send you the resolution by which the Municipal Council of Puisieux has decided unanimously to offer to the City of Sheffield the ground necessary for the erection of a monument. This monument will perpetuate among the population of Puisieux a souvenir of your dear lost ones. Believe me sincerely, that even without this monument they will not be forgotten.”

After World War One, the area around Puisieux was one of the saddest and most desolate-looking heaps of ruins. It looked like it had been dead for many years! Very little signs of life or vegetation, the once beautiful, wooded country was just a collection of dead stumps and bits of trees—a few odd ones standing here and there, but all dead, as the asphyxiating gas used by the Germans killed every living thing.

Serre was really part of Puisieux, but had no inhabitants left. Puisieux had about 250 but before the war had a population of over 1,000. The reason they had not returned was the lack of money to work their devastated fields into order again. Sheffield had given a steam tractor, but it was at Arras because no one knew how to drive it, but a man had been sent from Puisieux to take lessons.

A Sheffield-Serre Memorial committee, chaired by Alderman Wardley, raised funds for the memorial, and Major C.B. Flockton, architect, offered a prize of five guineas for the best design, won by J.S. Brown, of Barnsley Road, an ex-serviceman studying in the Department of Architecture at Sheffield University.

The memorial, in Villebois stone, was erected on a slope overlooking the field where within an hour the battalion suffered 600 casualties. On its inscription, in English and French:

“To the memory of the officers and men of the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion) who fell before Serre 1916.”

Above were four bronze plaques, representative of Sheffield’s Coat of Arms, those of Serre, and the regimental badge of the York and Lancasters.

The memorial was unveiled on Monday 21 May 1923. The gathering of Frenchmen and Englishmen included about a hundred people from Sheffield, among them a company of survivors of the battalion, besides parents and friends, and citizens who occupied prominent positions during the war.

The memorial to those of the City Battalion who fell. On the right were members of the battalion and their friends. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

It was unveiled by Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Wedgewood, D.S.O., commanding the 1st Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, and was dedicated by Dr H. Gresford Jones, Bishop of Kampala (who was Vicar of Sheffield from 1912 to 1920).

Perhaps the saddest moment of all was the sounding of the Last Post and the Reveille. As these well-known notes rang over the battlefields, thoughts fled back to the happy days at Redmires, and again to the long rows of little wooden crosses in the valley yonder, beside stinted, and blasted trees that had once been copses.

Captain Douglas Leng opened the proceedings before the unveiling ceremony. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.
A presentation by the Mayor of Bapaume, Sheffield’s adopted city in France, to the architect of the memorial. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.
Survivors ready for the march past in May 1923. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

In 1926, a large wooden hut was erected nearby, much to the disappointment of survivors, and even the Mayor of Puisieux, who complained that it overshadowed the memorial. After months of negotiation, the owner of the land adjoining the memorial agreed to remove two huts after he was paid 3,000 francs, the cost met by the Sheffield ‘Twelfth Club’ (made up of ex-servicemen) on condition that the owner would not erect anything else of a similar nature.

Serre-lès-Puisieux was slowly rebuilt, but only as a hamlet of houses dotted along the road. The Sheffield Battalion Memorial survived World War Two and remains as a tribute to Sheffield’s lost sons – still honoured by the French who regularly lay flowers and wreaths around it.

In 2006, the memorial was restored and re-dedicated by the Right Rev. Jack Nicholls, Bishop of Sheffield.

(The Sheffield Battalion Memorial isn’t the only dedication to those lost in France, and in a future post we’ll look at the nearby park owned by the City of Sheffield).

J.S. Brown’s winning entry in C.B. Flockton’s 1921 competition to create the Sheffield Battalion Memorial at Serre-lès-Puisieux. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People Places Streets

Pound’s Park: a belated tribute to a fire chief

Pound’s Park, named after the man responsible for creating Sheffield’s first fire brigade. The former John Lewis store is seen at bottom-left. Cambridge Street is already being developed as a cultural centre. (Sheffield City Council)

The Heart of the City II programme moves forward, and this artist impression shows Pound’s Park, a new public space that will be created on the site of the demolished Wellington Street fire station.

It will be on the western side of the Heart of the City masterplan, located between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street, and will create another green space in the city centre, as well as creating children’s’ play areas, water features, and a new bus interchange.

The Park will also provide an accessible new home for the William Mitchell frieze, which was removed from Barker’s Pool House a few months ago in preparation for the construction of the new Radisson Blu hotel on Pinstone Street.

A lot has been written about Pound’s Park, but I’d like to focus on the man it is named after.

John Charles Pound (1834 -1918) was the city’s first Fire Superintendent, and responsible for laying the foundations of our modern fire service.

He was born at Sittingbourne in Kent and served for eight years  in the Navy and Mercantile Marine Service, and as a man-of-war took part in operations in the Crimea.

Leaving the sea, he joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in its earliest days. He was engaged at the memorable Tooley Street fire in 1861, where his chief, Captain Braidwood, was killed by a falling wall just minutes after Pound had been talking to him. (It was referred to as ‘the greatest fire since the Great Fire of London,’ and occurred at Cotton Wharf where many warehouses were situated. It attracted a crowd of more than 30,000 spectators).

“This was in the early days of fire brigade work, and long before the extinguishing of fires had been the object of practical and scientific studies. The Metropolitan firemen learnt engineering by travelling on locomotives and receiving instruction from engine drivers. The scheme had been adopted by Captain Braidwood, and John Pound was one of those who familiarised himself in engineering. When proficient he was appointed to a responsible position on one of the brigade’s river floats.”

He applied for a position at Nottingham and was appointed as engineer of the first steam fire engine, staying two years before coming to Sheffield in 1869 to form the Corporation’s first fire brigade. The decision of the Corporation to take over and run the Fire Brigade was brought to a head by a series of large fires between 1865 and 1869.

John Charles Pound (1834-1918). Sheffield Fire Superintendent between 1869 and 1895. (Picture Sheffield)

Pound established the fire brigade over 26 years, with trained firemen, and the introduction of the best firefighting appliances. His biggest fires included Portland Street Confectionery Works (George Bassett and Co) and at G. H. Hovey and Sons (drapers and house furnishers) in Angel Street in the winter of 1893 in which six large shops were destroyed.

Superintendent Pound was injured at the Park Club fire, on Bernard Street, in February 1895 when he fell against a kerbstone whilst handling a jet. His injuries were at first thought to be bruising of the ribs, but later he suffered difficulty in breathing. He retired from the Fire Brigade shortly afterwards.

“He may now begin to feel the need of rest and relief from being in a state of incessant preparedness, and the Micawbian attitude of ‘waiting for something to turn up,’ and the good wishes of the citizens will follow him in retirement.”

John Charles Pound died from influenza at his home on Tullibardine Road in 1918. His coffin was shrouded in the Union Jack and conveyed on a horse-drawn fire brigade tender, with Indian Mutiny veterans, firemen and police taking part in the cortege. He was buried at Sheffield General Cemetery.

A fitting tribute that Sheffield’s first fire officer should be honoured with a park, and on the site of a former fire station.

Pound’s Park will be the latest addition to Sheffield City Council’s plans to create green spaces in the city centre. (Sheffield City Council)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Places Streets

Kelham Island

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

Once a rural idyll, along came industry, and Kelham Island became famous for its factories and works. It’s hard to believe that in a remarkably short space of time, the last remnants of industrial heritage are being squeezed out, and Kelham is becoming one of the “coolest places to live in Britain.”

Here’s an extract from Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People’ (1876), in which Richard Leonard remembered the days before industry.

“Beyond Bower Spring, the footpath – Cottonmill Walk – was the continuation of Spring Street. It ran in the direction now taken by Russell Street, across ‘Longcroft,’ as the open space was called in 1771, towards Green Lane. Of course, it took its name from the cotton mill of Mr Middleton.

“An open stream ran from the top of Cornish Street, in front of Green Lane, and emptied itself in the Don, below where Green Lane works now stand. On the other side of the stream were cottage gardens. Middleton’s silk mill – built in 1758, burnt down in 1792, and the cotton mill, re-erected on the same site only in turn to be burnt down in 1810, and again built only to become the Poor-house in 1829 – stood alone in its glory, its nearest neighbour being Kelham Wheel, still there, as it had been at least as long before as in 1674, on the now covered-in ‘Goit’.

“Across the river was the suburb of Bridgehouses, and all around was verdure. Those were the days when ‘the old cherry tree,’ whose name is now perpetuated only by the public-house (on Gibraltar Street) and the yard where it stood, was still young, and when Allen ‘Lane’ and the Bowling Green marked the extremity of the inhabited region of Gibraltar. Beyond the road ran between fields – ‘Moorfields’ (now Shalesmoor) – and on to the distant rural haunts of Philadelphia and Upperthorpe.”

The photographs show Citu’s recent sustainable housing development at Little Kelham (Little Kelham Street).

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)
Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Other Places

How the Norfolks and the Fitzwilliams took the people’s acres

Once upon a time Sheffield town was surrounded by fields, moorland, and pasture. Much of this land was ‘common’ or ‘waste’ land. Common land was under the control of the Lord of the Manor, with certain rights, such as pasture, held by certain nearby properties. Waste was land without value, unsuitable for farming, and often in awkward locations.

In 1773, during the reign of George III, an Act of Parliament created a law that enabled inclosure (or enclosure) of land, at the same time removing the rights of commoners’ access.

As a result, common land, moorland, and other property of the people, was distributed amongst landowners of the district.  

In the Manor of Ecclesall about 1,000 acres of common land was lost by an Act in 1779.

Three Commissioners – William Hill, of Tadcaster, Samuel Brailsford, of Rowthorne, and John Renshaw, of Bakewell – distributed the land accordingly among landowners.

The Marquis of Rockingham (Fitzwilliam) of Wentworth Woodhouse, as Lord of the Manor, benefited most, while the Earl of Surrey (as Duke of Norfolk) obtained all the tythes and two thirds of the small tythes in Ecclesall that lay on both the north and south side of the Porter Brook.  Andrew Wilkinson, Bethiah Jessop, Philip Gell, John Gell, Mary Catherine Gell and Mary Gell were entitled to the other third part of the tythes for the land lying on the south side of Porter Brook, and James Wilkinson, as Vicar of the Parish Church at Sheffield, was entitled to the remainder of the small tythes on both sides of the Brook.

The commoners were outraged, it caused significant unrest, but they were powerless to stop the loss of land.

In 1909, the old deed was rediscovered in archives at the Ecclesall Board of Guardians, and the full extent of the land division laid bare.

It showed that some of the most fashionable residential quarters of Sheffield had developed from these waste lands, that the most thriving centres of industry had sprung up on old moorland, and that what were once common lands had become villa residences paying fat ground rents.

Land that fell within the Inclosure Act included Little Sheffield Moor, Carter Knowle, Brincliffe, Bent’s Green, Whirlow, Millhouses, Greystones, Sharrow Moor, and Sharrow Head.

The streets in the vicinity of Sheffield Moor were set out by the Commissioners.  For instance, Carver Street, Rockingham Street, Bright Street, Earl Street, Alsop Lane, Jessop Street, Tudor Street, Duke Street (later Matilda Street), Cumberland Street, Hereford Street, Bishop Street, Button Lane, and Porter Lane, were all inclosure roads formed at this time out of what was then called Little Sheffield Moor.

Other new roads indicate the localities where inclosure took place, it being necessary to make new roads to give access to the owners of the new allotments – Fulwood Road, Clarkehouse Road, Manchester Turnpike Road, Whirlow Road, Ecclesall Wood Road, Dead Lane, Button Hill Road, Cherrytree Hill Road, Tapton Hill Road, Broomhill Bridle Road, Whiteley Wood Road, Greystones Road, High Storrs Road, Ranmoor Road, Dobbing Hill Road, Little Common Road, Holt House Road, Brincliffe Road and Machon Bank Road.

The discovery of the buried deed caused quite a stir in Sheffield with the naïve realisation that land had long before been taken from the people and gifted to aristocracy and the well-to-do.

In 1909, there were  a great many people complaining about unfair taxation when it was proposed to take a generous portion of their money.

The irony was not lost on the Sheffield Daily Independent:

“It would be interesting to know what those who were crying so loudly, about the people taking from their landlords, would say about what the landlords had taken from the people.

“There was a large amount of land at Bradfield which was taken from the people, chiefly by the Duke of Norfolk. It was taken from them under the pretext that it was waste land, and if it were inclosed and given to private individuals, they would cultivate it. It was still moorland, however, and if the people dared go off the roadway, and walked on to the moors, they would soon meet somebody who would inform them that they were trespassing.”

And so, Sheffield expanded, swallowing the gifted lands that became the roads and suburbs we know today. Somewhere, concealed in dusty old archives, will be the story of how these lands, taken from the people, delivered a huge fortune for the landowners.

NOTE: Thanks to Sheffield Indexers and the British Newspaper Archive for details of the Ecclesall Inclosure Act.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Places

Little Sheffield

Fairbanks’ Map of Little Sheffield in 1808. South Street became The Moor. The road marked Little Sheffield is now London Road. There are some familiar road names in the top half of the map. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Once upon a time there was a small hamlet near Sheffield town that went by the name of Little Sheffield.

During the early 1800s, Sheffield’s rapidly growing population needed to expand outside the historical boundaries, and Little Sheffield disappeared.

We know where Little Sheffield was, but its boundaries blurred over time, with experts long contesting where it started and finished. The area has never been clearly defined, like those forgotten places of Port Mahon and Hallamshire.

We must go back to olden days when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.

Today, we know this marshy land as The Moor with its surrounding streets.

A path was made by throwing up two embankments, between which was a deep ditch, with only a footbridge over Porter Brook.

By the 1760s, travellers had to go down Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) and Button Lane (long disappeared) to Little Sheffield – a group of poor and time-worn cottages. The road to it ran across Sheffield Moor, thence up a sharp rise to Highfield. The only house you came to after passing Moorhead was Mr Kirkby’s, standing on Button Lane (opposite where the ramp to Sainsbury’s car-park on Charter Row now stands). There was one other building nearby, with a bowling green attached to Sheffield Moor. Beyond was Little Sheffield, the outlying hamlet.

By the nineteenth century, the fields around Little Sheffield had been swallowed up for the working classes, a poor and densely populated area, its houses with roofs of stone slabs, low windows, and red brick walls.

Nowadays, we can define Little Sheffield’s northern boundary as being where the Moorfoot Building stands, taking in Young Street, South Lane, St Mary’s Gate, London Road, and surrounding streets like Hermitage Street, Sheldon Street, Hill Street, John Street, and Boston Street (once called George Street), up towards its southern boundary at Highfield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places Streets

It’s hard to imagine our former landscape

Sheffield in 1791. This reproduction was one of David Martin’s Series of Sheffield Sketches, showing what was the appearance of the town from the north side of Broomhall Spring.

The wood called Broomhall Spring extended to Broomhall Park, full of fine old oak trees, with very little underwood, and soft turf like that of a park. The wood was later cut down, the Government wanting oak timber for ship-building.

The spring itself was later referred to as Spring Garden Well, with the inscription “To the public use, by the Rev. James Wilkinson and Phillip Gell, Esq. Freely take – freely communicate. thank God.”

It was at what is now the corner of Gell Street and Conway Street, and it isn’t without coincidence that the names Broomspring Lane, Wilkinson Street and Gell Street emerged.

To the picture itself, and the fields between Broomhall Spring and the churches – the Parish Church, St. James’s and St. Paul’s – are known to us now as West Street, Division Street, and their adjacent thoroughfares.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Places Sculpture Streets

Grey to Green

The recent post about Castlegate failed to mention that it is in the process of being part-pedestrianised, Phase 2 of Sheffield’s ‘Grey to Green’ project. Unless you visit this forgotten part of the city centre the relevance of the initiative might escape you.

It is part of an approach to transform ‘redundant’ road space into a network of public spaces, sustainable drainage and urban rain gardens, which aims to improve the setting of the Riverside Business District, Castlegate and the rest of the city centre and then on to Kelham Island and Victoria Quays, as a place to work, live and enjoy, whilst also dealing with the effects of climate change.

Phase 1 (West Bar/Bridge Street/Snig Hill) was completed in Spring 2016 and was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund and Sheffield City Council.

The area suffered catastrophic river floods in 2007. With the completion of the Inner Relief Road in 2008, traffic was diverted away from West Bar. The opportunity was seized to replace the ‘grey’ impermeable ‘redundant’ roads into ‘green’ permeable beds, transforming the space with colourful meadow-like planting and significantly increasing surface water storage.

With advice on plant selection from the University of Sheffield Landscape Department this has created a new townscape that is different to anything done in Sheffield before. Over 40,000 bulbs, 40 new trees, 600 evergreen shrubs and 26,000 herbaceous plants were introduced to form a seasonal urban meadow.

The new road layout was designed to slow vehicle speeds and make walking and cycling more attractive. New paving, street furniture, colourful seating and five eye-catching  public art ‘totems’ celebrate the local history of the West Bar area including its Victorian music halls and theatres, its lively street life, its complex relationship to the river and its legacy of industry and brewing.

Phase 2 (Castlegate to Exchange Place) is nearing completion, and Phase 3 (Gibraltar Street  to Shalesmoor) will eventually transform 1.2km of ‘redundant’ road-space into an attractive new linear green public space.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places Sculpture Streets

King Edward Square

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

This extraordinary sketch shows a grand municipal square that was once proposed for the centre of Sheffield. The illustration from 1911 was by Alwyn Henry Holland, and showed King Edward Square, considered as a memorial to King Edward VII who died in 1910.

At the time, Alderman George Franklin had suggested that the Fitzalan Market should be swept away and the central block between King Street and Fitzalan Square used as a handsome open square. In its centre was to be an equestrian monument celebrating King Edward with fountains either side.

The proposal would have meant that the main streets of the city would run into the square and afford adequate space for dealing with increasing tram traffic.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

It was understandable that Sheffield considered such a scheme.

The city was often compared to Leeds, with its city square and ornamental embellishments, and the architecture of its public buildings and offices were thought far superior.

Fitzalan Market, dating back to the 18th century, was considered an ‘eyesore’ and described by market traders as being like the “Black Hole of Calcutta.”

The scheme was subject of several meetings at the Town Hall, and serious consideration was given to the plan. Alas, with the cost estimated at £200,000 (nearly £24 million today), the idea was abandoned in favour of the much-cheaper standing figure of King Edward VII in nearby Fitzalan Square.

From the illustration we can determine where King Edward Square would have been.

The road at the centre of the sketch is Commercial Street, leading into High Street, with Fitzalan Square to the left. The road on the right side of the square is King Street. Several buildings are familiar, including The White Building on the left and the York City and County Bank (now The Banker’s Draft) in the centre of the picture. The spire of Sheffield Parish Church, now the Cathedral, can be seen behind.

Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 and a large part of the site was acquired by C&A Modes Ltd for a new department store. This was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced with a less spectacular building, later acquired by Primark, and now easyHotel.

NOTE:-
Alwyn Henry Holland (1861-1935) was a little-known painter in watercolours who was initially articled to the architect John Dodsley Webster. He acted as Honorary Secretary of the Sheffield Society of Artists but, on the death of his father, succeeded to the family grocery business. Holland was the owner and architect for the Howard Fine Art Gallery on Chapel Walk, which opened in 1898 for the exhibition of old, modern, pictorial, and applied arts.

Photograph by David Poole

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places

When Graves Park had an open-air theatre

Old sandstone quarry at Cobnar Wood. Photograph by Sheffield City Council

One day, in 1926, a lady walked through newly opened Graves Park and came upon an old quarry within Cobnar Wood. Well-known in musical circles, she was well-versed with acoustics and approached Sheffield Corporation with an idea.

This had once been Norton Rifle Range and formed part of land gifted by J.G. Graves to the city. In February 1927, undergrowth was cleared, and the ground levelled, in preparation for an open-air theatre.

“Around the natural cavity, at one side of which there is a wall of stone – part of the original quarry – the ground rises steeply and is covered with trees and bushes. On the left stands part of the Cobnar Wood, and it does not need much imagination to visualise the beauty of the scene on a fine summer evening. On the side of the hill accommodation will also be made for thousands of people to stand or sit.

“The theatre will not be confined to one class of entertainment. There could be music of all kinds – orchestral music, chamber music, bands, Pierrots, and others, chosen by the Parks Committee.”

A platform was erected under the quarry wall with seating arranged facing the stage.

The open-air theatre opened on June 16th, 1927, when a crowd of 3,000 people attended a concert in the presence of the Lord Mayor, who happened to be J.G. Graves.

“The beautiful natural amphitheatre became a vast arena of song when the first municipal open-air community singing concert was held. The basin, with its grassy slopes and fringe of trees, is admirably suited for events of this kind. The singing was led by the Sheffield Orpheus Male Voice Choir, conducted by Mr T. Ratcliffe, and although the audience was a little shy at first, they soon joined in the choruses lustily, and sang with real heartiness songs like Love’s Old Sweet Song, On Ilkla Moor Baht At and Pack Up Your Troubles. Four hundred chairs were occupied, and a good crowd behind the ropes.”

The success of this first evening led to further concerts by the Melody Minstrels and Motley Entertainers, and for the next ten years the public were treated to regular summer entertainment in the old quarry.

Sir Henry Coward conducts the last concert of the 1927 season at Graves Park. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Despite its success, Sheffield Corporation brought an end to the concerts in 1937, the victim of unforeseen circumstances.

The quarry was to be no longer used because of midges. It had attempted several solutions including spraying the quarry before each performance and at the interval when attendants walked around with spray pumps.

As a last resort an outside expert had suggested spraying the surrounding woods, quarry walls and the ground with disinfectant and insect killer.

All attempts failed and the midges affected attendances causing one council official to say, “The day would come when performers would be singing to an audience of gnats.”

Alas, the open-air theatre was abandoned, and future concerts held in the Deer Park. Today, there is little evidence of its exciting past, the area overgrown, and only the old sandstone quarry walls providing a clue of its location.

An open-air concert at Graves Park. Photograph by Sheffield City Council