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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

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Places

Barker’s Pool Garden

Photograph by Google

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.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by Hazel Hickman

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph of the opening by The British Newspaper Archive

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.

Photograph by Sheffield History

Categories
Buildings Places

The Ghosts of Vickers Corridor

Photograph by Budby/Flickr

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.

Photograph by Terry Robinson

Categories
Buildings Places

Northern General Hospital

Photograph by David Lally

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by Sheffield Star

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.

Photograph by Sheffield Glass Company

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.

Photograph by More Rehab

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.

Photograph by Anderson Green

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by Sheffield Star
Categories
People Places

Mel Smith

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.

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Buildings Places

Beauchief Abbey

The painting of Beauchief Abbey was by Reuben Bower (1828-1912) and is the property of Museums Sheffield.

In another post, we looked at the history of Beauchief Abbey and now we look at some of its romantic legends and secret tunnels.

It is said that an underground passage runs between Beauchief Abbey and Norton Church. About halfway between the two buildings is an iron box full of treasure which can be removed only by a white horse with his feet shod the wrong way; furthermore, he must approach the box with its tail foremost.

Then there is a supposed passage between the mill house at Millhouses and the Abbey, where gold plate belonging to the Abbey is reputed to have been hidden at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537.

Finally, there is another legend attached to Lees Hall, a mansion that once adjoined Lees Hall Golf Course and dated to 1626. Before that the site was thought to have been occupied by the White Canons from Beauchief Abbey, and that an underground passage went from one of the cellars in the house to the Abbey.

Local legend said that Lees Hall was used as a place of refuge for Mary Queen of Scots in her flight from Elizabeth I, and that there was also another secret passage leading to Manor Castle.

The mansion was demolished in 1957, described as “one of the tragedies of urban development in Sheffield,” and all traces of it reclaimed by nature.

Unfortunately, excavations at Beauchief Abbey during the 1920s didn’t reveal any evidence of the tunnels, but stories persist that the secret passages are still waiting to be discovered.

Categories
Buildings Places

Beauchief Abbey

Photograph by Rachel Marsden

Until Beauchief Abbey, together with the surrounding estate, was purchased by Frank Crawshaw in 1922, little beyond the name and a private chapel with a western tower, remained to remind anyone of the former magnificence of this house of Premonstratensian Canons.

At this time, Beauchief Abbey (comically mispronounced outside Sheffield, it should be spoken as Beechiff), was set in a beautiful rich valley, through which the Abbey Brook meandered, bounded by well-wooded hills and by the distant Derbyshire Moors.

Sheffield has swallowed it up now, but Beauchief Abbey remains in a tranquil location and its history remains a mystery to many.

The suburb of Beauchief takes its name from the small abbey, founded on the southern border of Hallamshire over eight hundred years ago.

Beauchief is a Norman French name for the ‘beautiful headland’ above the River Sheaf.

The abbey was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Thomas the Martyr, otherwise known as Thomas Becket and now more commonly known as St. Thomas of Canterbury.

It was founded somewhere between 1173 and 1176 by Robert FitzRanulph, former Sheriff of both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Lord of Alfreton and Norton in Derbyshire, Edwalton in Nottinghamshire and Wymeswold in Leicestershire.

The Beauchief estate was created in a remote part of FitzRanulph’s manor of Norton, right on the border with Yorkshire.

Photograph by Delcampe.net

The White Canons (or Premonstratensian Canons) came from Welbeck Abbey which had been founded in 1153. The White Canons lived under a rule less strict than that of the monks, and attended regular services at the abbey church, ate a vegetarian diet in the refectory, and slept in the common dormitory.

The abbey land amounted to about 800 acres with the abbey set in a park of about 200 acres with several fishponds fed by the small stream.

The White Canons also owned a corn mill at Bradway, a fulfilling mill on what is now the site of Dore Station, a corn mill to which Millhouses was named after, and a smithy – Smithy Wood.

Beauchief was surrendered ‘without any trouble or giving opposition’, as part of the dissolution of monasteries, and in April 1537 was granted by Henry VIII to Sir Nicholas Strelley , Lord of Ecclesall, on the opposite bank of the River Sheaf. The description of the property granted was of ` the house and site of the abbey or monastery De Bello Capite’ and included gardens, orchards, ponds and parks plus a further 259 acres.

In 1648, it passed through the marriage of Gertrude Strelley to Edward Pegge of Ashbourne, who used much of the stone from the abbey to build a suitable country house called Beauchief Hall.

Seven bays wide and three storeys high, it was built on a site to the south-west of the abbey described as `a gentle descent on the brow of the hanging wood, the bellum caput or Beau Chef’. The house is thought to have been the site of the Grange where the monks formerly made their butter and cheese.

Photograph of Beauchief Hall by Neal Theasby.

Pegge adapted the ruins of the abbey church into a private chapel and by the 1660s this was the only part of the old abbey remaining.

The present appearance of the abbey grounds owes itself to excavations carried out between 1923 and 1926 by William Henry Elgar, an Art Master at King Edward VII Grammar School.

Frank Crawshaw, a businessman and local councillor, as owner of the estate, encouraged the excavations and on the very first afternoon a wall to the west of the cloister was discovered, and during the next two months they succeeded in tracing this southward to the refectory doorway.

Search was then made for the opposite wall, and when it was found attention was drawn to the eastern end of the abbey and defining the site for excavation. When the sanctuary was laid bare the base of the high alter and two broad steps were uncovered in which several fourteenth century tiles bearing arms were found.

A recess was also found in the north wall which had held a coffin of a full grown man, believed to have been the founder, Robert FitzRanulph. Several bones and portions of the lead coffin were found.

“The buildings included an aisleless cruciform church about 150ft long, each transept having two almost square chapels, and a great western tower. Abutting against the tower was the western range of the cloister, and against the south transept came the eastern range: the south side of the cloister was formed by a long refectory with a kitchen adjoining it.”

Sketch by William Henry Elgar, 1926. The British Newspaper Archive.

In March 1931, Frank Crawshaw gifted Beauchief Abbey to Sheffield Corporation, which agreed to buy the nearby golf course, the adjoining Abbey Farm, land, and woods, comprising about 166 acres, and extending from near Woodseats to Twentywell Lane, for £30,000. Parts of the old estate have now been built on – Greenhill and Bradway – and the areas around Abbey Lane and Hutcliffe Wood.

Today, only the western tower of the Abbey remains, together with some ruins (including a wall) to the immediate south-east. The tower is attached to the chapel (now a church). The foundations of other buildings are visible, and the medieval fishponds still exist.

Much of the old estate is now occupied by two golf courses (Abbeydale Golf Club and Beauchief Golf Club), but several areas of ancient woodland remain: Parkbank Wood to the east of the Abbey, Old Park Wood and Little Wood Bank to the south, Gulleys Wood in the centre of the park and Ladies Spring Wood to the west.

W.H. Elgar explaining some of the arch stones of Beauchief Abbey to members of the Derbyshire and Hunter Archaeological Societies in 1925. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Categories
Places

Hallamshire

The map shows the approximate area of Hallamshire as described in the 14th century (red shaded area) overlaid on a map of the modern ceremonial county of South Yorkshire.

Hallamshire is an ancient name for Sheffield and the villages, hamlets and farmsteads in the surrounding countryside. It is a name that everyone knows, but very few know what it means, and where it was.

Let’s go back to the days before the County of York existed.

Hallamshire is first recorded by its full name in a charter of 1161, although it is thought to be much older. The Domesday Book of 1086 used the shortened version, though it was transcribed as Hallun.

The name Hallam is peculiar; it looks to have had a Frisian origin; and probably was derived from the great tribe of the Halling or Halsing. The lordship belonged to the Waltheof family for a considerable time before the Norman conquest; passed to a female heiress of that family in 1075; passed afterwards to the Earls of Northampton; had a seneschal in the time of Edward I; and then parts of it belonged to the Duke of Norfolk.

The English Place-Name Society describe Hallam originating from a formation meaning “on the rocks”.

Alternative theories are that it is derived from halgh meaning an area of land at a border, Old Norse hallr meaning a slope or hill, or Old English heall meaning a hall or mansion.

Hallamshire was the most southerly of the Northumbrian shires, for it shared a border with the kingdom of Mercia.

The extent of its boundary is unclear, but it would seem to have constituted the Saxon manor of Hallam, included the parish of Sheffield, together with the parish of Bradfield and the smaller Saxon manor of Attercliffe.

In later chronicles, Sheffield, Bradfield, Ecclesfield and Handsworth are included under the term.

In broader terms, Hallamshire probably covered much of the same area as does present day Sheffield.

Its legacy is still with us, with various uses of the name evident – Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield Hallam University, Hallam FM, Diocese of Hallam, Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, Hallam F.C., Hallamshire Golf Club and Hallamshire Harriers, to name just a few.

Categories
People Places

An American tale

Photograph by The Telegraph

They say that American schoolchildren know more about Wentworth Woodhouse than their British counterparts. More astonishingly, there are far more people in Sheffield who have probably never heard of it.

Wentworth Woodhouse, just over the Sheffield border with Rotherham, is the result of building work carried out by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), who built it between 1724 to 1749. It is remarkable for consisting of two houses built as one. The famous Palladian east front hides the grand Baroque west-wing behind.

His son, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782), was a committed Whig and became Prime Minister of Great Britain on two occasions – between 1765-1766 and in 1782.

He spent most of his political career in opposition to George III’s Government, but Wentworth Woodhouse became a seat of political activity, where ‘The Rockingham Whigs’ including Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and the Duke of Portland met to draft policies.

He argued consistently with reconciliation with America at a time when thirteen colonies were becoming increasingly at odds with Great Britain. However, he failed to convince most of the House of Commons and as a result there was the long and bloody American War of Independence (1775-1783).

When he took office again in 1782 it was on condition that George III recognise American Independence, but Wentworth died before terms of peace could be negotiated. As one historian says, he was “a champion of a lost cause.”

But don’t think that he was a radical, initially believing that America shouldn’t be given independence. “Our object has always been to try to preserve a friendly union between the colonies and the Mother Country.”

The American War of Independence ended a year later, marking the end of British rule and the formation of the United States of America.

Categories
Places

Sheffield Botanical Gardens

Photograph by Sheffielder

It’s a Sheffield park that we take for granted, but the story behind the Botanical Gardens is not as straightforward as we might believe. The next time you visit, spare a thought for our ancestors who probably didn’t have the opportunity.

It is Sheffield’s oldest park, with origins going back to 1833 when Thomas Dunn, the Master Cutler, called a public meeting following a petition signed by 85 local residents concerned about the lack of public open spaces and facilities to promote both healthy recreation and self-education in Sheffield. It was resolved, at the meeting, to develop a Botanical Garden.

Photograph by Sheffielder

By 1834 the Society had raised £7,500 through shares, and, having taken practical advice from Joseph Paxton of Chatsworth and Joseph Harrison of Wortley Hall, they purchased 18 acres of south facing farmland at Clark House from Joseph Wilson, head of the family of snuff makers.

“The roads to it were good, the land itself lay very well to the south, it was well sheltered and very fertile.”

Photograph by Sheffielder

The laying out of the grounds was determined through a competition, the winner chosen from a panel of judges made up of experienced gardeners –  Joseph Paxton (Chatsworth), Joseph Cooper (Wentworth), Joseph Walker (Banner Cross) and John Wilson (Worksop Manor).

A design submitted by Robert Marnock, former Head Gardener at Bretton Hall, was chosen for the new Botanical Gardens – . “He laid out the Gardens in the then highly fashionable Gardenesque style, the main characteristic being that all the trees, shrubs and plants were positioned in such a way that each plant can be displayed to its full potential in scattered planting.  The approach involved the creation of small-scale landscapes, winding paths, expanses of grass and tree-planted mounds.”

Photograph by Sheffielder
Photograph by Sheffielder
Photograph by Sheffielder

The runner-up in the competition, Benjamin Broomhead Taylor, was appointed as the architect for the buildings. The pavilions became known as Paxton’s Pavilions, hinting that these were designed by Joseph Paxton, but it is more likely that he merely offered advice in their design.

The Botanical Gardens were finally opened on the 29th July 1836, under the patronage of the Duke of Norfolk, Duke of Devonshire, Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Wharncliffe, the Earl of Surrey and John Stuart Wortley.

“Two excellent bands of music were stationed in the grounds, and refreshments of various kinds offered. The buildings, consisting of a lodge or grand entrance, on the left of which are the conservatories, and the residence of Robert Marnock, the Curator, are erected in a very tasteful style of architecture, which reflects the skill of Mr Benjamin Broomhead Taylor.

“The walks assume all the intricacy and mystery of a labyrinth maze, while the monkey cages, the bear’s den, the eagles’ habitation, water-works etc., give a variety to the whole.

“The gardens command a view of many miles of rural scenery, with the grand imposing appearance of the New Cemetery (General Cemetery) in front, seeming, as it were, to form a portion of the grounds.”

Photograph by Sheffielder

A few things to note here. One, is that the Botanical Gardens were built in what was then open countryside. Second, the Gardens were only open to the general public on about four gala days each year; otherwise admission was limited to shareholders and annual subscribers.

In 1839, The Gardeners’ Magazine reported that the attempt to combine a zoological garden had not succeeded. “In fact, the filth, stench, roaring, howling, and other annoyances incident to carnivorous animals, are altogether inconsistent with the repose which is essentially a botanic garden.”

Photograph by Sheffielder

Robert Marnock left the Botanical Gardens in 1840 and moved to Hackney in London. Soon afterwards, the Council of the Royal Botanic Society appointed him Curator and to lay out the grounds in Regent’s Park.

In 1844, financial problems led to the failure of the first society, but the Gardens were rescued with the formation of a second society (also known as the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society) which purchased the land from the former society for £9,000. The conservatories were extended, a tea pavilion and the present Curator’s House were constructed within the succeeding decade. A period of steady development and growing international renown followed for the next 30 years.

Photograph by Sheffielder

In 1897, falling income, competition from the new free city parks and residential development in the area meant that the Gardens were in danger again. It was decided that the proprietors could not make them pay and were disinclined to maintain them. It was suggested that several of the shareholders would give their shares, and others would sell theirs, for £5 each, if the Sheffield Town Trust (dating back to 1297) would purchase the Gardens and maintain them for the benefit of the people of Sheffield.

In 1898 the Sheffield Town Trust paid £5,445 for the value of the shares, becoming owners and managers of the Gardens for the first half of the 20th Century. The Gardens were reopened without fuss on Thursday 20th August 1899, and it was then that free admission was introduced and continues today. Demolition of unsafe buildings was necessary and only the conservatory domes were repaired. The Gardens thrived until World War II, when extensive damage left the Sheffield Town Trust unable to afford the repairs and restoration required.

Photograph by Sheffielder

In 1951, a Special Committee decided that they could lease the Botanical Gardens at a nominal rent; the maintenance of the Gardens as a Botanic Garden; that no organised games or sports other than a children’s corner be permitted; that the staff of the Gardens be taken over by Sheffield Corporation.

Sheffield Corporation accepted the offer and the management of the Gardens passed to them on a 99-year lease for a peppercorn rent of one shilling per year raised to 5p a quarter in 1971. The Town Trust remains the owners of the Gardens.

With the aid of a grant from the War Damage Commission, the Council was able to instigate repairs to the domes, creating an Aviary and an Aquarium, and restoring Sheffield Botanical Gardens to their former glory. However, a downturn in the economy during the 1980s meant a severe reduction in funding and once again the Gardens were on their way to dereliction.

Photograph by Sheffielder

In 1984, the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield (FOBS) was established as a group providing education for the public and supporting the Gardens. Practical volunteer work to help staff maintain the Gardens started in 1993.

The Friends managed to arrest the decline in many parts of the Gardens but not the listed structures, even the Paxton’s pavilions were derelict and in danger of collapse.

In 1996 the Friends set up the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust with the aim of applying for grants to restore the Gardens.

Photograph by Sheffielder

The Heritage Lottery Fund announced its Urban Parks Programme in January 1996. Soon afterwards, an organisation known as the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Partnership was formed to produce a bid for the Gardens. Its membership was Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield Town Trust, the City Council and the Landscape Department of Sheffield University.

The Gardens were awarded a grand of £5.06 million, which was to be matched by £1.22 million in funds and £0.41 million in work in kind.

The project was designed to restore the Gardens, all the buildings and features to their 19th century condition whilst adapting to modern requirements. This included the full reinstatement of the Paxton’s pavilions to become a splendid home for frost sensitive plants from around the world.

The restored Gardens were officially opened in June 2007 at a cost of approximately £6.69 million.

(Information for this post was provided by Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Sheffield Town Trust and ‘Sheffield Botanical Gardens – People, Plants and Pavilions’ by R. Alison Hunter).

Photograph by Sheffielder