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.
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.
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.
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.
Earlier this week we highlighted Dr Robert Styring’s gift to Sheffield of the Brinckcliffe Tower estate (Brincliffe Towers) in November 1925, its former grounds now known as Chelsea Park.
One of Styring’s close friends was John George Graves, head of the successful mail order firm, and generous benefactor to the city.
It is extremely likely that Graves played an important part in Styring’s decision and came just two days after it was announced that Graves had made one of his biggest ever bequests.
This story begins in 1925 when the Norton Hall estate was broken up and sold by Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Alexander Firth. He donated Norton Hall to the Joint Hospitals Board and negotiated the sale of 112 acres of land for £25,000.
The plan was to incorporate Norton Hall into a new hospital which would amalgamate the services of the Royal, Royal Infirmary and Jessop hospitals (although the plan never materialised).
It left 154 acres of parkland still available and attracted the attention of speculative builders wanting to construct houses in a respectable part of the city. Sheffield Corporation recognised that the land might make a suitable park but was prevented from entering negotiations because it did not have sufficient funds.
However, the council need not have worried because, in October 1925, J.G. Graves presented a letter to Sheffield Corporation revealing that he had purchased the land and was gifting it to the city.
“In making the purchase I have had in mind, among other considerations, that it will be very advantageous to have a large area of land between the hospitals and the city kept open and free from buildings, thereby ensuring for the hospitals, as far as possible, in the vicinity of a great city, an atmosphere free from dust and smoke pollution.
“The estate which now belongs to me is varied in character and covers an area of 154 acres. It includes a great deal of beautiful parkland, well-wooded valleys in their natural state, and a lake suitable for boating which is, I believe, larger than any piece of water within the city to which the public have access.
“There are fifty or sixty acres of land, well suited for organised games and a picturesque summer residence which I think would make an attractive tea house with garden and lawn accommodation.”
The council accepted his generous offer and passed a resolution to call it Graves Park.
Joining up with the hospital estate beyond Norton Church, the park was enclosed by a boundary wall which ran along Hemsworth Road and Cobnar Road. This continued along Cobnar Wood, on the west, via Meadowhead, and Chesterfield Road as far as the lodge leading up to the hospital site.
The greater part of the land was level and required little alteration in laying it out as football, cricket, and other sports grounds. On one part of the estate there was ample room for at least 20 football fields, welcome news to many amateur clubs in Sheffield who had been handicapped by the scarcity of suitable and convenient playing fields.
The estate included Bolehill Farm, North Croft, and three charming coppices known as Cobnar Wood, Waterfall Wood, and Summerhouse Wood. The southern portion of the park was separated from the hospital grounds by three small lakes, well stocked with fish, and quite large enough for boating, the largest of which already had a boathouse.
In the early part of 1926, about sixty men provided by the Guardians from the unemployed were engaged to lay out walks across the lawns and woodland.
The main entrance to the park was now on Cobnar Road, from which point a wide drive leading through the Deer Park, to the lakes, was built. Paths were made on either side of a ravine, uniting shortly before they reached a drive leading up from Meadowhead to Norton Hall.
The land nearest Cobnar Road was mown and rolled, and one of the prettiest areas was at the top end of the lawn, just over the wall from Bunting Nook, under the shade of beeches and sycamores, alternating with copper beeches. A long winding path was built here offering views towards the Derbyshire countryside and lofty moors, while walks around the largest of the lakes, adorned with rhododendrons, were widened.
Graves Park was opened to the public during the spring, but the official opening was on June 3rd, 1926.
Summer weather favoured the day, the sun shone, and the woods and grasses had been freshened after recent rains.
The Band of the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons played during the afternoon and evening, and a crowd of at least 15,000 attended the opening by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Joseph Benson, in the vicinity of the summerhouse.
It was left to J.G. Graves to make a philosophical speech: –
“Our parks and moorlands in no small measure help us to realise that ideal in our own city. Nature has been very generous and kind to Sheffield, for there are few cities in the world which are so favoured as we are in our surroundings. We hear a lot about what we have not got and what we ought to have, but sometimes I think we hear far too little of what we really do enjoy. It would not be at all a bad thing if we could occasionally have a municipal thanksgiving day, when we might count our blessings and realise, or try to realise, something of the value of the heritage of which we are all partakers.
“Both nationally and municipally we enjoy a great inheritance, and we owe much to those who have gone before us, and who have enriched the city, not merely by benefactions, but by voluntary service, seen and unseen, which in the aggregate had made for safety, sanitation, and a general high level of comfort and happiness.”
The day ended with the singing of the National Anthem and for the last 94 years Graves Park has remained a Sheffield institution, cherished for generations, enjoyed by young and old, and quite possibly reaching its zenith as a place of sanctuary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And finally, a letter from August 1931 that appeared in the Sheffield Independent:
“Sir – I wonder how many of the numerous visitors to Graves Park on Monday evening about 6 o’clock recognised the donor strolling through this lovely picture of woodland beauty. It must have gladdened Mr Graves heart to see the many elderly people resting in the shade, as well as the hundreds of young folk enjoying themselves, all possible through his wonderful appreciation of others and the benefit that such places can confer on the individual.”
I wonder how we might have survived without TV during the lockdown. It makes this story from almost 88 years ago even more remarkable and shows how far technology has advanced in a relatively short space of time.
In 1938, in a secret experimenting room on the remote outskirts of Sheffield, three men had received television programmes from London. One September night, George W. Bagshaw, K. Hopkinson and G. Thompson, all employees of mail order company, J.G. Graves, managed to receive an almost perfect picture and sound.
The television receiver used was the only one in the north of England and had been built by the three amateur radio enthusiasts, led by Bagshaw, the manager of the wireless department at Graves Ltd.
This was thought to be the first time that anybody had received television programmes in Sheffield.
The television pictures were being broadcast by the BBC from Alexandra Palace to the London area. It started broadcasting in 1936, followed by the first outside broadcast in May 1937, the Coronation of King George VI.
The receiver was installed at Dore Moor, near Newfields Lane, the only giveaway being two large latticed wireless masts, which few people knew what they were for.
Bagshaw said that he had been receiving pictures for three weeks, the gap between London and Sheffield being one of the greatest distances that pictures had been transmitted.
“It was thought that television had a visual range as far as the eye could see. That is its true range, but it is possible to receive from greater distances,” Bagshaw told the Daily Independent.
“Working on ultra-short waves, pictures have been received further than was at first thought possible, and I have found that I can receive transmissions from Alexandra Palace.
“In Sheffield, we are 160 miles away from the transmitter, and it cannot be expected that our pictures are as clear as those in the London area.
“However, we have obtained pictures which, although they might not suit the critical onlooker, are very satisfying to the experimenter.”
Mr Bagshaw had been experimenting in television since its inception, and the first station was in the radio department of J.G. Graves, but after a time it was realised that interference from motor-cars and trams were hindering progress.
The site at Dore Moor had been chosen because it was almost ideal for radio work. It was 750 feet above sea level, remote from roads and electrical interference.
In the station was a bewildering collection of radio apparatus. The workshop was only small, but large enough to contain all its necessary equipment. The shed, built in 1936, housed over a thousand pounds worth of apparatus, with five short-wave transmitters and several ultra-short-wave receivers. The two radio masts on the site, nearly eighty feet high, both carried a large aerial.
Unfortunately, when the Daily Independent visited Dore Moor for a demonstration of television pictures, thundery conditions prevented the signals reaching Sheffield.
Asked for his views on the future of television in Sheffield, Mr Bagshaw pointed out that results were only obtained outside London by using very intricate and expensive apparatus and having special receivers.
Until there was a local transmitter there was little prospect of Sheffield people being able to receive television.
So far as the provinces were concerned, he thought the BBC and the Post Office were waiting for a better response in London before they put up provincial stations.
The first step towards the opening of a provincial station was thought to be the completion of a special cable between London and Birmingham, but as that cable had been completed some time before, and there was no news of a Birmingham transmitter, it was thought in radio circles that either the cable was not satisfactory in a technical sense, or the Post Office thought it much more useful for multi-channel trunk lines.
“The solution to the provincial station is a radio-link, which means using ultra-high-frequency transmitters between towns to convey television, sound and speech.
“All this is a very expensive undertaking, and to cater for the whole country at present would appear to be prohibitive in cost,” he added.
Sadly, despite the sale of 20,000 TV sets in the London area, the service was immediately shut down when World War Two started in September 1939. Transmissions didn’t resume until 1946, with a Midlands transmitter opening in 1949, and one for the North two years later.
This story is not unique to Sheffield. A once great house adapted over the years, and eventually falling on hard times. Across the nation there are many old houses that went this way, but they remain a fascination to us.
Brincliffe Towers was a town villa, built in 1852 in an area that eventually became one of the city’s most desirable suburbs.
At the time of writing, the old house is empty, awaiting redevelopment, but its former grounds are known today as Chelsea Park, one of those public spaces that attracts little attention with most city people.
For this post we should refer to the mansion by its original name – Brinkcliffe Tower – an imposing mansion in Gothic-style, which formed a conspicuous object on the landscape. It was built by James Wilson, solicitor, for his own occupation. Built of Greenmoor rock-faced stone, with ashlar facings, no expense was spared to render it complete with every modern convenience.
With its park-like surroundings of 24 acres, Brinkcliffe Tower was one of the finest gentleman’s residences in this part of Sheffield, commanding a prospect of the most rich and beautiful scenery in the district.
James Wilson, a descendant of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, was the senior member of Wilson, Young and Pierson, and for many years had been Law Clerk to the Cutlers’ Company. He died in 1867 and the estate was put on the market: –
“The mansion contains a dining-room, drawing-room, breakfast-room, and the spacious vestibule, entrance hall, and principal staircase are lighted from the roof by a handsome lantern light. There are seven principal bedrooms and dressing-rooms, bathrooms, etc.
“The kitchens, servants’ hall, and other arrangements are of the most commodious description. There are large and lofty cellars (cut-out from the valuable bed of stone known as Brinkcliffe Edge Stone), servants’ staircase, butler’s pantry, sculleries, store closets, and four large upper rooms of stores and servants’ apartments.
“In the large paved yard is stabling for five horses, loose box, saddle and harness rooms, hay chamber, granary, and a spacious carriage-house, sheds and all the requisite appurtenances for a family mansion.
“The kitchen gardens are extensive and laid out in the best possible manner, while the grounds are enriched with fine timber and ornamental trees with flourishing shrubs.”
“Water is of the most common character, and during the dry summers of 1864 and 1865, a most abundant supply was always at hand.”
The Brinkcliffe Tower estate was bought by George Marples, descended from an old family line with origins at Barlborough and Stavely in North East Derbyshire. Until 1879, he was head of Marples and Marples, solicitors, Norfolk Row, at which time he vacated the position in favour of his son, George Jobson Marples.
George Marples died of a heart-attack in 1881 leaving personal estate worth £218,000 (that is almost £27million today), leaving Brinkcliffe Tower to George Jobson Marples, a man who had trained at the Inner Temple, but never practised as such. For twenty years he was a county magistrate in Derbyshire and senior magistrate at Bakewell.
In the 1890s, George Jobson Marples bought Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, for £160,000, leaving Brinkcliffe Tower behind, and eventually putting it up for sale.
In 1897, it was acquired by Robert Styring(1850-1944), another solicitor, councillor, Lord Mayor, and a man whose contribution to Sheffield has been unforgivably overlooked, and subject of another post.
Styring remembered his father speaking of the building of Brinkcliffe Tower, which at the time had been regarded locally by many as “one of the seven wonders of the world.”
Not a man to miss an opportunity, Styring disposed of parts of the “valuable building estate” and in 1916 was involved in a dispute with Sheffield Corporation over land development.
An inquiry by the Local Government Board Inspector covered a scheme affecting Banner Cross, Brincliffe, Kenwood Park and Nether Edge. The Corporation had insisted that a maximum of twelve houses should be built per acre but, according to Mr Gibson, Deputy Town Clerk, Styring wanted to be free to build 25 houses to the acre.
Styring had married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, and her death would have significant implications for the house and estate.
While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 she 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, Styring 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.”
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.
For a time, the grounds were considered as a memorial garden, the alternative site for a Peace Gardens, proposed after the Munich Agreement of 1938, but which were eventually created on the site of St Paul’s Church next to the Town Hall. Instead, the grounds were turned into Chelsea Park, named after nearby Chelsea Road, once known as Palmerston Road, until renamed in 1886.
As for the house, as always, there was a dilemma for the council. It remained empty for a while, and for a brief period was a girls’ school dormitory during World War Two. It became a nursing home, known as Brincliffe Towers, and in 1959 was refurbished and enlarged with “modernistic” 1950s extensions, funded by the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust.
Eventually falling into private hands, the care home closed in 2011, victim of modern legislation, and since then there have been various controversial schemes to convert the house back into a single dwelling, funded by the conversion of the coach-house and erection of new houses in the wooded grounds.
Sadly, the property is in poor condition, but still retains original characteristics, including the main entrance overlooking Chelsea Park, beyond the balustraded terrace, elaborately carved timber bargeboards, carved stone bay windows, doorways, and towers.
The internal fabric of the building has diminished overtime. However, there are some original features remaining to ground floor rooms, including fireplaces, architraves and coving and ceiling detailing. Rooms to the upper floors have been significantly altered and reconfigured through partition walls, but the tower and ceiling light remains intact.
Sometimes the subject of a post materialises by chance, and this letter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in June 1926, caught the attention: –
“Sir, – In view of the present favourable conditions for long distance views from the hills about Sheffield, it would be interesting to know if it is possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from any vantage point about the district. Rumours have been current from time to time that Hagg Lane, Intake, is a suitable point, but it is difficult to get concrete evidence of this. On inquiries you are generally put off by ‘Well, I have heard my grandfather say that a cousin of his told him he knew a man, etc.’ Perhaps your readers in the Intake, Gleadless, and Ridgeway areas, might throw some light on the matter. Yours, etc., GREEBA.”
To start with, Hagg Lane is now known as Hurlfield Road, and these days we do not consider it to be part of Intake, more appropriate to say it borders Arbourthorne and Gleadless.
Ridiculous as the letter might appear, as Lincoln Cathedral was about 40 miles away, further curiosity was aroused a few days later in a response to the same newspaper: –
“Sir, – Greeba need not be in any doubt as to the possibility of seeing Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane. It is a matter of considerable difficulty, of course, and needs a good glass, plus an exceptionally clear day, and from my own experience (it was visible from the garden of my house in which I lived for some years) I do not think it can be seen oftener than three or four times a year.
“During the coal strike of 1921, however, I saw it at least four times in one week, and after spotting it with the glass it was possible to see it with the naked eye.
“The normal appearance is that of a tower of immense height, but in 1921 it was possible to get a good idea of the whole building.
“The viewpoint I can recommend is that from the portion of Hagg Lane, between Gleadless Common and the old Handsworth Waterworks, but I should regard the sight of it by a casual visitor as highly improbable.
“I was looking for it on all suitable occasions for about two years before I succeeded in finding it, and I should imagine that visibility is worse now on account of the housing estate on Gleadless Common, the smoke from which will drift across the foreground, with a south-west wind, which normally gave us the clearest weather, – Yours, etc. W.W. WOOD.”
We must appreciate that in the late 1920s this part of Sheffield was still rural, and the new Gleadless Common council housing estate had just been built at the top end (since demolished and replaced with new builds). Hagg Lane, or Hurlfield Road, was slightly higher than nearby Manor Top with views across the surrounding countryside. The spot identified is approximately where Sheffield Springs Academy now stands.
Today, any notion of seeing distant Lincoln Cathedral from here is virtually impossible, the area built-up with further housing, restricting the view.
The question is how reasonable it would have been to see the Lincolnshire landmark about forty miles away?
Dust, water vapour and pollution in the air will rarely let you see more than 12 miles, even on a clear day. Often, the curvature of the earth gets in the way first, it curves about 8 inches per mile and, according to experts, standing on a flat surface, the farthest edge that you can see is about three miles away. Without the earth’s curve and from higher up you might be able to identify objects from dozens, even hundreds, of miles away.
This being the case, it might have been possible to see Lincoln Cathedral from Hagg Lane, especially as there was a coal strike at the time of the newspaper letters, making visibility much clearer.
Further evidence emerges more recently, albeit using the zoom lens of a modern camera. A quick search on Flickr, the photograph sharing site, reveals interesting images taken from the western outskirts of Sheffield.
Looking easterly, from Fulwood Lane/Greenhouse Lane, it is possible to see the Humber Bridge (52 miles distant), photographs by Vince Sellars reveal the two towers of the suspension bridge, and other contributors confirm that Lincoln Cathedral can be seen on a clear day from Ringinglow. Looking north from Grenoside, although there is no photographic evidence, it appears that York Minster (about 43 miles away) can also be seen.
It is the “garden at the heart of the city”, and yet, the small plot at the corner of Barker’s Pool and Balm Green has never officially been named. It has been here since 1937, but these days most folk barely give it the time of day.
Barker’s Pool Garden, Balm Green Garden and Fountain Square are three of the names that have been attributed to it. However, when J.G. Graves, to whom Sheffield owes so much, attended the opening in 1937, he thought it unnecessary to give a name to the garden, but he had in mind its proximity to the City War Memorial.
“It will, I hope, provide a note of quiet sympathy which will be in harmony with the feelings of those who visit the War Memorial in the spirit of a visit to a sacred place.”
This garden, 400 square yards in size, would never have been created had it not been for the opening of the City Hall in 1932.
The land was owned by the adjacent Grand Hotel, the plot used as a car-park enclosed with advertising hoardings. But to J.G. Graves, it was an “eyesore”, obstructing the view of the splendid new City Hall from the Town Hall and the top of Fargate.
His solution was to negotiate the purchase of the land from the hotel. He paid £25 a square yard and outlined his plans in a letter to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mrs A.E. Longden: –
“When planning the new City Hall, the architect, in order to give due importance and dignity to the elevation, placed the front of the building at some distance from the existing building line.
“This, of course, enhanced the architectural appearance of the Hall, but has had the incidental result of obstructing a view of the Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall corner, as is partially done now by the hoarding which surrounds the intervening plot of vacant land, and if in due course a tall building should be erected on the plot referred to, the possibility of a view of the City Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall would be completely lost.
“I feel it would be a misfortune if, through lack of action at the present time, building developments should proceed which would permanently deprive the city of an impressive architectural and street view at its very centre.
“With this in mind, I have arranged to buy the plot of land in question at its present day market value, with the intention of establishing thereon a formal garden, already designed by an eminent firm expert in this class of work.
“With this explanation I have the pleasure of offering the piece of land as a gift to the city, together with the garden which I propose to have established thereon at my own expense, and with the condition that the garden shall be maintained by the Corporation in as good a state as it will be when it is handed over on completion of the work.”
The gift was a personal one, not connected with the Graves Trust, and duly accepted by Sheffield Corporation.
In 1937, the Grand Hotel announced proposals for extensive alterations and to place their principal entrance on Balm Green. The whole of the corner was now thrown open and the new garden would later adjoin the forecourt to the Grand’s main entrance, running from Barker’s Pool to the building line of the hotel.
To complete the scheme the Grand Hotel management decided to reface the whole of the side of the hotel with a material approximate to the colour of the stone of the City Hall.
The garden had been laid out by “a famous firm of garden landscapers,” railed off from the footpath, with a border of shrubs, crazy paving, a fountain, and a water runway to a lily pond, and various flower beds.
A huge crowd gathered for the official opening on August 3, 1937.
“We shall always be proud of this garden, because it is not only a gift for all time,” said the Lord Mayor. “I hope the garden will become a real garden of remembrance for the future generation, who could thank the beauty of mind and heart which prompted the gift.”
Of course, two years later, Britain went to war with Germany again, the symbolism of the garden perhaps lost on the despairing public. However, the garden has remained, although J.G. Graves’ conditions seem to have been forgotten by subsequent councils.
The fountain was eventually removed, the condition of the gardens fluctuating between mini-restorations, but its current state is a pale shadow of its original glory.
We might do well to remember the terms of J.G. Graves’ gift, although progress often comes into conflict with the past.
In 2019, initial plans were announced by Changing Sheffield action group (formerly Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group) to create a unique space featuring ten large musical instruments and mini-trampolines, although the status of the application is unknown.
The Vickers Corridor, in a Victorian part of the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield is named after Edward Vickers (1804-1897), a successful miller who invested his money in the railway industry.
In 1828 he gained control of his father-in-law’s steel foundry business, formerly Naylor & Sanderson, and renamed it Naylor Vickers & Co. He went on to be Alderman and the Mayor of Sheffield and was the first President of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce before he died in 1897. The company went on to become Vickers Ltd.
These days, the Vickers Corridor has a reputation of being haunted, with stories being passed down amongst doctors and nurses.
“The cardiac arrest call had been called over the bleeper system. A young doctor was rushing down the corridor and met an old woman who wanted his help. He said that he couldn’t as he was going to an emergency. When he arrived on the ward, he found the patient was the old woman he had just met in the corridor.”
Stories like this are common, with many reports of ghostly patients walking up to doctors and nurses asking them for something to help them sleep. When the staff reach out to them, they disappear.
But they don’t always ask for help.
“I was once walking down the corridor with a few other workers when an old woman came towards us. We moved aside to let her pass and noticed that she was wearing a lovely perfume. When we turned around, she had completely vanished.”
There are also stories of nurses catching up on sleep and reporting the same dream. When they wake, they see the apparition of an angry matron-like figure trying to strangle a ghostly patient. No sooner does the vision appear, than it quickly vanishes.
And there are tales of cutlery and trays being thrown by a poltergeist while staff are working the night shift.
If these stories are designed to unnerve our dedicated night-time medical staff then I’ll end with the story of the smartly-dressed elderly gentleman, resplendent with a long white beard, “looking incredibly proud” as he wanders the corridor seemingly inspecting the hospital… and then he disappears through a wall.
Of course, if you walk down Vickers Corridor during the daytime everything seems perfectly normal.
It’s appropriate that during these dark times we look at the Northern General Hospital, the city’s largest hospital and one of the country’s leading facilities.
The sprawl that is the Northern General has its origins in the hospital of Sheffield Poor Law Union workhouse, erected in 1878-1880.
Before the creation of the Sheffield Poor Law Union in 1837, the workhouse for the township of Sheffield was in Kelham Street. That building, originally erected in 1811 as a cotton mill, had been converted in 1829 for use as a workhouse to accommodate some 1,200 inmates.
It had no special provision for the sick except for an isolation unit provided during the cholera epidemic of 1832.
Due to opposition from ratepayers, plans drawn up in 1856 for a new workhouse for Sheffield Union were not completed until 1881, when new premises at Fir Vale were opened.
The completed buildings, comprised six separate departments: the main building to accommodate 1,662 paupers, plus officials; asylums to accommodate 200 patients classed as lunatic; a school for 300 pauper children; vagrants wards to take up to 60 men and 20 women; the hospital block to cater for 366 patients; and the fever hospitals.
Management was in the hands of the Board of Guardians and its various committees, which in the 1880s had established a training school for nurses and a midwifery school. Overcrowding caused by the numbers of children was addressed by setting up a boarding out system in 1888, and by opening a children’s hospital, for up to 60, in 1894.
A Lock ward or Lock hospital for treating women with venereal diseases also existed in the 1890s.
A new 3-storey hospital block was completed in 1906 and on 21 March 1906 the Local Government Board issued an order to formally separate the newly named Sheffield Union Hospital (which by then could accommodate 643 patients) from the workhouse, thereafter, known as Fir Vale Institution.
Over the next few years Sheffield Union Hospital became known as Fir Vale Hospital. The workhouse became Fir Vale Institution, though Fir Vale House was the name generally used for the institution premises accommodating geriatric patients and those classed as mental defectives.
Belgian refugees were temporarily housed at Fir Vale during World War I, and over 15,000 soldiers, including men from the Sheffield Battalion who had been wounded on the Somme, were treated in a new children’s hospital which had opened in 1916. Military patients remained until 1920 and it was not until 1921 that the children’s hospital received its first children.
In 1930 the name was changed to the City General Hospital.
About 1929, Fir Vale House was renamed Fir Vale Infirmary (for the care of the aged and chronic infirm), though the name ‘institution’ lingered for some years.
During World War II numbers of its inmates were temporarily transferred to the Grenoside Institution when the hospital premises were designated as an Emergency Medical Service Hospital. No casualties from the war front were admitted until 1944 when 992 service cases and 405 prisoners of war were treated.
During the 1950s, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery commenced and in 1955 the City Hospital performed the first heart valve replacement operation in the world; in 1957 one of the first open heart operations in Europe was conducted here.
It provided medical and surgical wards, children’s hospital, maternity hospital, casualty and orthopaedic departments. The City General Hospital and the Fir Vale Infirmary were run as separate institutions until 1967 when the Hospital (then with 654 beds) and the Infirmary (then with 682 beds) were amalgamated under the title of the Northern General Hospital.
Fir Vale Infirmary was to be known as the Geriatric Wing and the City General Hospital as the General and Maternity Wing.
In 1968 a League of Friends was established to harness local support and raise additional funds.
Teaching was long a key function of the hospital and this was recognised when it, together with Nether Edge Hospital, was awarded university teaching status in 1971, and was one of the first Trust Hospitals.
The Northern General Hospital is the largest hospital campus within the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with over 1,100 beds. In fact, it is one of the largest hospitals in the UK and a leading teaching unit with a growing international reputation. It is classed as a major trauma centre and recently opened a helipad close to the Accident and Emergency block.
Thank you to Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library for the historical detail.
Did you know that several buildings on the site are named after local families and individuals, particularly in the steel industry?: –
The Huntsman Building is named after Benjamin Huntsman, a manufacturer of cast or crucible steel, consisting of mostly orthopaedics but also contains the A&E, Surgical Assessment Centre (SAC), X-Ray departments, the theatres, one of four outpatients’ departments, a large dining room and the site’s main Medical Records department.
The Firth Wing, is named after Mark Firth, an industrialist, and contains CCU, Vascular surgery and other surgical wards.
The Chesterman Wing, named after James Chesterman, a manufacturer of steel products, contains the regional cardiology centre as well as extensive inpatient and outpatient facilities.
The Vickers Corridor, reputed to be haunted, takes its name from Edward Vickers, an industrialist, and deals primarily with renal and endocrine diseases, but also contains departments of Sheffield Medical School and the Sheffield Kidney Institute.
The Sorby Wing is named after Henry Clifton Sorby, a microscopist and geologist, and contains the renal outpatients unit and the Metabolic Bone Centre.
Samuel Osborn, a steelmaker, is remembered in the Osborn Building and contains the spinal unit.
The Brearley Wing celebrates Harry Brearley, a metallurgist, containing the respiratory and rehabilitation wards and a dining area, as well as an outpatient department and a specialised Patient Discharge Lounge which allows patients to move into a comfortable waiting area before leaving the hospital.
The Bev Stokes Day-Surgery Unit recognises Harold Beverley Stokes, a former Chairman of the Northern General Hospital Trust.
Finally, the Hadfield Wing is named after Sir Robert Hadfield, another metallurgist, and holds departments displaced from older wings of the hospital.
There was a time during the 1970s when a young man spent a few years at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, developing his talents before moving on to bigger things.
This review appeared in The Stage in October 1975: –
“There is no doubt about the entertainment value of Rex Doyle’s musical documentary The Great Sheffield Flood, given its premiere at the Crucible Studio. The songs by Rodney Natkiel cover a wide range of styles – from a pastiche patter song to romantic ballads to a more contemporary folk sound – and there is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, and in Mel Smith’s production a great deal of pace to keep the pot boiling throughout.”
The Mel Smith in question was THE comedian Mel Smith (1952-2013), who, is now largely forgotten for his role as an associate director at the Crucible during the seventies.
The son of a Chiswick bookie, Smith was already directing plays at six years old, when he staged Little Plays for Little People with his friends. He read experimental psychology at New College, Oxford, choosing the university because he wanted to be involved with its Dramatic Society.
As a member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, Smith honed his theatrical and comedy prowess with a production of The Tempest in Oxford and shows at the Edinburgh fringe. After graduation he worked in 1973 at the Royal Court theatre in London, as assistant director, and at the Bristol Old Vic, before arriving at the Sheffield Crucible in 1975.
And it seems he had some expertise with pantomime, contributing to Cinderella in 1976, and writing and directing Jack and the Beanstalk in 1977.
“This new version is without doubt the most original and witty pantomime I have seen this year,” wrote Paul Allen in The Stage. “This Jack is a would-be pop singer with a group that desperately needs new equipment; the good fairy, a New York Jew who turns herself into an agent to help him get the necessary cash; the villainous demon a punk rocker who was never really understood as a child.”
In 1979, he tackled musical theatre with Salad Days, written in 1954 by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds.
“The audience has a collective sigh of relief they appear to be having at being confronted with a piece of theatre their rose-tinted memories tell them the way it used to be 25 years ago,” wrote The Stage, “Mel Smith’s production doesn’t quite send it up, but I doubt if anyone would have noticed if it did.”
And Salad Days was perhaps a sign of things to come.
“The production has toy props; doll’s house sets and the kind of costumes which look as though someone has stumbled on a fifties theatrical skip. The choreography is all jolly-hockey-sticks prancing, the music is sweet and decorative, and it is stuffed with gags.”
In September 1979, Paul Allen’s review of Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus, directed by Smith, was described as funny if not entirely successful.
“There is perhaps more weight and drive to Habeas Corpus than the production is prepared to allow; a readiness to slip into an over-jokey revue style doesn’t help Bennett’s acute verbal dexterity and it often obstructs the play’s speed of thought and action.”
I suspect Mel Smith’s kind of humour was ahead of its time, and he had other projects in mind.
Having performed with the Oxford Footlights at the Edinburgh fringe festival, he met John Lloyd who invited him to join Not the Nine O’Clock News with Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, and Griff Rhys Jones, as well as Chris Langham in the first series. It ran from 1979 to 1982 and was conceived originally as a topical news-based satire, broadcast at 9pm weekly on BBC2 against the actual nine o’clock news over on BBC1.
Smith and Griff Rhys Jones continued from that TV sketch show to create Alas Smith and Jones. The pair later formed Talkback Productions which was responsible for dozens of comedies shows, including Da Ali G Show and I’m Alan Partridge. The company was sold to Pearson for £62million in 2000.
As an actor, Smith was most memorable on screen in The Princess Bride (1987) and Brain Donors (1992), and was ideally cast as Sir Toby Belch in Trevor Nunn’s 1996 film of Twelfth Night. On TV, he starred in Colin’s Sandwich (1988-1990), a sitcom about a British Rail worker with writing aspirations; Hustle (2006); and John Sullivan’s prequel to Only Fools and Horses, Rock and Chips (2010-2011).
Mel Smith died in 2013 of a heart attack, aged 60.