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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
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Places

Graves Park

Photograph by The Outdoor City

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).

Norton Hall

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.

Photograph by DepositPhotos

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.

The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, accompanied by Councillor and Mrs J.G. Graves head the procession at the opening ceremony.

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 Lord Mayor formally opening Graves Park

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.

The Lady Mayoress crossing stepping-stones in Graves Park
Councillor and Mrs J.G. Graves chatting to the Lady Mayoress at the ceremony

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.”

Councillor J.G. Graves and Sir William Clegg discussing horticulture at Graves Park
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Other Places

The first television pictures in Sheffield

Radio equipment and T.V. experimentation’ masts and station, Dore Moor, near Newfield Lane, in 1938. The house was built in 1934 and called Newfield. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

BBC television schedule for Tuesday August 30 1938. These programmes were received in Sheffield. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield
Categories
Buildings Places

Brincliffe Towers and Chelsea Park

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.”

Photograph of Robert Styring by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photographs by David Poole

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Other Places

The View from Sheffield

Lincoln Cathedral photograph by Linsey Williams

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.

Photograph from Hurlfield Road by Google

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.

Photograph of Lincoln Cathedral from Ringinglow by Daniel/Flickr

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.

Photograph of Humber Bridge from Ringinglow by Vince Sellers
Photograph of Humber Bridge at night from Ringinglow by Vince Sellers