Pepper Alley

I bet most of you have never heard of the delightfully named Pepper Alley. This was once a thoroughfare passing from Fargate to Norfolk Street, quite close to the surviving Upper Chapel.

Its existence is shown on this map, taken from “A Correct Plan of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York, drawn by William Fairbanks, 1771.”

You’ll notice that Norfolk Row, pictured, doesn’t appear on the map at all, only coming into existence about nine years later. However, Chapel Walk is shown.

A little bit of Pepper Alley (Pepper is a local surname) can still be seen today, leading into Upper Chapel Yard, behind the shops which form part of the former YMCA property, now named Carmel House, at the corner with Fargate.

If you study the map you’ll see that the Town Hall stood by the Church Gates (now the Cathedral), at the junction of High Street and Church Lane (now Church Street).

Other names to look for are Bullstake (now Haymarket), Pudding Lane (King Street), Castle Green Head (Castle Street), Irish Cross (Queen Street), and Pinstone Croft Lane (Pinstone Street)


George Street

It is one of Sheffield’s oldest streets and contains some of our most significant buildings, including the former premises of the Sheffield Banking Company, now reborn as the Curzon Cinema (middle right), the old offices of the Alliance Insurance Company (centre) and the 1960s-built Cutler’s Hotel (left, originally the Sheffield Club).

The greatest mystery with George Street is the “dog’s hind leg” half-way along, a cause of traffic congestion in Victorian and Edwardian times, as it was a thoroughfare between High Street and Norfolk Street.

While many roads were widened, George Street was mercifully spared, despite our ancestors wanting the road to be straightened. This would have necessitated wholesale demolition of buildings.

The street’s historic layout was secured when the offices of the Alliance Insurance Company were built in 1913-1914, replacing the old Sheffield Fire Insurance Company building where the town fire engine was once housed.

It is now the NSPCC, Sheffield Service Centre.

Buildings Streets


The long-term plan for Fargate is to address the decline of retail and focus on leisure instead.

The regeneration of The Moor as a retail destination and the future development of Heart of the City II, which on completion will consolidate the retail core to the south of Fargate, has prompted Sheffield City Council to bid for up to £25million of government funding to improve the pedestrianised street.

It comes as no surprise then that the council has granted planning permission for the conversion of the old Next building at the corner of Norfolk Row.

Woodhead Investments’ proposal for a dining venue, along with a roof terrace fronting Norfolk Row, was accepted by the council, seen as regenerating the area.

Next relocated to The Moor in August, and the empty store was used as a pop-up Christmas shop during November and December.

The unit will be renovated to designs by Pearce Bottomley Architects, using new glazed panels and stone cladding, with a minimalist clock placed at the front of the building.


West Street

Let’s talk about West Street, a haven for bars, restaurants and takeaways, a road that has changed considerably since the 1990s.

However, a look back in history suggests that there were attempts during the 1920s to make West Street one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares.

In 1929, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph made the following observation: –

“West Street seems intent upon coming into line with other busy shopping centres in the city, and of acquiring the same prestige. Many new shop premises have opened, and recently the removal of a length of hoarding revealed an array of smart, single-fronted shops.

“Such signs are distinctly encouraging, for although many roads radiate from the hub of Sheffield – High Street and Fargate – yet, West Street, with its width and fine approach, appears to be the natural outlet and extension of the shopping centre of the city.

“There are other reasons why the street should continue to develop. It is the main approach to many important public buildings, such as the Royal Hospital, the Edgar Allen Institute, Jessop Hospital, Children’s Hospital, the Applied Science Department of the University in St. George’s Square, Weston Park, Mappin Art Gallery, Western Bank Buildings of the University, and Glossop Road Baths.

“Hundreds of persons daily pass and repass along West Street, on their way to and from these buildings, and motorists going to Derbyshire also make great use of this route out of the city.

“Despite the fact that West Street is served by an excellent service of Corporation tramcars and motor-buses which run to a number of outlying residential districts, it has to be admitted that the road has not, hitherto, enjoyed the prosperity that would appear to be its right.

“It should always be borne in mind that West Street has been developed by private enterprise, Sheffield Corporation do not now possess a single square yard in this street, but there was a period when they owned a considerable area of freehold land there.

“When this was in their possession, the Corporation did not do anything to encourage traders by building new shops, and otherwise improving the amenities of the highway, but simply erected hoardings around the land, making it an unsightly blot in the neighbourhood.”

An interesting look at the past that also throws up some noteworthy observations.

Take, for instance, the fact that all premises built had to be three storeys, or over, and conform with the adjacent property.

Gone were the days of narrow, mean streets, with high crooked houses, each one with a dark and dismal “basement,” and of low, badly lit shops, with small window space. In their place were wide, low windows and a spaciousness about the new properties.

And we also discover that Sheffield Corporation, at one time, considered building a square in West Street, about 5,200 square yards in size, the plan later abandoned as being too costly.

The shopping centre that was promised never really materialised, although there were several specialist and prestige shops. But West Street did eventually thrive.

As the decades rolled on, the University of Sheffield expanded, with West Street becoming the gateway between the city centre and campus buildings. It soon became obvious that the street’s traditional public houses would become popular with students – once described as the “West Street Run” – a turn of events that eventually created the trendy bars that we see today.

And, of course, city living became popular again, particularly along West Street, with numerous new-build apartments, alas creating conflict between those living in them, and the businesses that brought prosperity in the first place.


Mushroom Lane

This is the story of a narrow road with a magical name.

Mushroom Lane winds up Crookesmoor Valley, originally from St. Stephen’s Church at Netherthorpe (now called The Vine), but now assumes its name further up the hillside. It crosses over Winter Street, and winds between Weston and Crookes Valley Parks, before emerging at Western Bank, near to the museum.

These days, most people barely take notice of the name , and those that do often presume it relates to the growing of mushrooms on the hillside back in ancient times.

However, the tale behind Mushroom Lane is far more interesting than that and begins at a time when this area was simply fields, trees and rolling countryside.

In early days, great tracts of waste or common land lay between villages. This land belonged to no one and was sometimes referred to as “Folkland” – as we see in Fulwood, a corruption of “Folkwood.”

The villagers had free access to this land for grazing purposes, fetching and carrying wood and using it for the benefit of the community. There was no special right to any part because it belonged to all, in the true communal manner.

Under certain conditions, however, it was possible for an enterprising squatter, providing he was a free man and able to quit his Lord’s service, to obtain a tenure on that waste land.

This is how a house called Mushroom Hall came to be built.

In the year 1789, a man called Ben Pinder contrived to build and cover, between sunset and sunrise (that is in a single night), a house, and to boil a pot therein. Once completed, it gave him the right to hold the place under what was known as a Keyhole Tenure.

The house was built of sods, stones, brick-ends and other binding materials, and the springing up of the place in one night naturally led locals to call it Mushroom Hall. As time passed the house was gradually improved, and the track that ran up the hillside to it became known as Mushroom Lane.

It was later bought by Whittington Sowter, landlord of the delightfully named Warmhearthstone public house at Townhead Street in Sheffield Town.

The custom of Keyhole tenure and the boiling of a pot harks back to Pagan times when hearth fires were held sacred.

It wasn’t the boiling of the pot that made the tenancy complete, but rather the lighting of the fire that boiled it. The ever-burning village fire was held to be hallowed, and the kindling and the maintenance of the fire upon real estate was proof of lawful occupation and possession.

And so, Mushroom Hall and Mushroom Lane may sound ridiculous, but were named in quite serious circumstances.

What became of Mushroom Hall?

A far cry from its humble origins, it is now part of 362 Mushroom Lane, owned by the University of Sheffield, and where you will find the Department for Human Communication Sciences.