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People

John Harris: a bestselling author over four decades

John Harris (1916-1991). Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

He might not have been from Sheffield, but Rotherham counts, and the steel city had a big impact on his career.

Ernest John Harris (1916-1991) was a sailor, airman, a journalist, travel courier, cartoonist, and a history teacher. He was best known as a productive author publishing a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pel, as well as numerous war books. He wrote under his own name, John Harris, and under the pennames of Mark Hebden and Max Hennessy.

He wrote more than 80 novels, including The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1953) that became a film of the same name starring Michael Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Steel.

Harris was educated at Rotherham Grammar School before getting a job as a reporter at the Rotherham Advertiser in the early 1930s.

He married Betty Wragg in Rotherham and had a son, Max, and a daughter, Juliet, who carried on the Pel detective series after her father’s death.

Harris moved to the Sheffield Telegraph and during World War Two served in the RAF as a corporal attached to the South African Air Force. It was said that he served two navies and two air forces during the war.

Afterwards, he re-joined the Sheffield Telegraph as a political and comedy cartoonist, drawing comic strips such as the Calamity Kids and Amateur Archie, and published his first novel, The Lonely Voyage, in 1951.

Amateur Archie featured in the Sheffield Telegraph, as well as other regional newspapers during the 1950s. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

He stayed in Sheffield until the 1950s and following the success of The Sea Shall Not Have Them became a full-time author, moving to West Wittering in West Sussex.

After turning to full-time writing, Harris wrote adventure stories and created a sequence of crime novels around the quirky fictional character Chief Inspector Pel.

Covenant with Death was published in 1961 and despite critical acclaim has long-since been overlooked. Photograph: Sphere.

Harris’s books are still in publication, and for Sheffielders, a must-read is Covenant with Death (1961), a ‘fictionary’ account of the Sheffield City Battalion from its formation to catastrophe at Serre on 1 July 1916.

“When war breaks out in 1914, Mark Fenner and his Sheffield friends immediately flock to Kitchener’s call. Amid waving flags and boozy celebration, the three men – Fen, his best friend Locky and self-assured Frank, rival for the woman Fen loves – enlist as volunteers to take on the Germans and win glory.

“Through ramshackle training in sodden England and a stint in arid Egypt, rebellious but brave Fen proves himself to be a natural leader, only undermined by on-going friction with Frank. Headed by terse, tough Sergeant Major Bold, this group of young men form steel-strong bonds and yearn to face the great adventure of the Western Front.

“Then, on one summer’s day in 1916, Fen and his band of brothers are sent to the Somme, and this very ordinary hero discovers what it means to fight for your life.”

Harris interviewed battalion survivors for the book, and the central character, Mark Fenner, is partly based on his Sheffield Telegraph colleague Jess Richard ‘Roddy’ Robinson.

John Harris died in 1991.

A master of war and crime fiction. Photograph: Curtis Brown.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Companies

Béres: from Budapest, a Sheffield success story

The Béres hot pork sandwich has been hailed as a Sheffield favourite for the past 50 years. Photograph: Béres.

If it hadn’t been for a speech in 1956 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev then you might not have been able to enjoy your modern-day Sheffield pork sandwich.  Khrushchev attacked the period of Joseph Stalin’s rule and, encouraged by the new freedom of debate and criticism, a rising tide of unrest and discontent in Hungary broke out into active fighting in October 1956. The following month, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the revolution.

Sandor Béres , a young Hungarian butcher, left his home city of Budapest after communists had taken possession of his father’s butchers shops, and arrived in the UK as a political refugee. He was one of many evacuees to seek a new life in Sheffield, and in 1960 married a Barnsley girl, Eileen Lovell, whom he met at a dance.

A year later, Sandor and Eileen, opened their first butchers shop at Wadsley Bridge, and set up a mobile round selling to nearby estates. Béres specialised in pork and beef, and quickly realised the potential of selling freshly-made pork sandwiches to Sheffield folk. Within a few years, they’d opened three more Béres shops.

Photographs: Béres

Their son, Richard, joined the business in 1988, and under his leadership embarked on a significant expansion plan. In the 1990s, he was joined by his two sisters, Helen and Catherine, and the business trebled in size with further shops in the north of the city.

Larger production facilities were needed, and Béres converted a factory on Rawson Spring Road allowing it to bake its own bread.

In the early part of this century the company expanded into Crookes, Woodseats, and Chapeltown, as well as shops on Pinstone Street and Crystal Peaks, and will open their fourteenth shop at Broomhill next month.

Béres shop at Crystal Peaks shopping centre. Photograph: Béres.

Béres bone-out and roast all their own joints and each pork sandwich is freshly made to order. The success of the Béres Pork sandwich is said to be down to the taste, enhanced by the roasting juices that each breadcake is dipped in. And, of course, the company sells a range of other tasty products, including pies, cooked and raw meats, and pork dripping.

After 60 years, Béres (note the Hungarian diacritic) is a Sheffield institution.

Béres production facility on Rawson Spring Road. Photograph: Google.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Aldine Court: named after a Venetian printer

Aldine Court looking from High Street. Photograph: DJP 2021.

The glitziness of Sheffield’s High Street has long disappeared, now it’s a modern-day Miss Havisham, whose dilapidated appearance attracts only those of similar behaviour.

As such, we’re not likely to risk cutting along Aldine Court to Hartshead if we can help it. However, it is one of our oldest streets, and although concealed by surrounding buildings, it can tell a few stories.

Up until 1913 Aldine Court meandered from High Street towards Hartshead in so erratic a fashion that historian Robert Eadon Leader suggested its origin could have been from a primeval footpath across the waste.

Aerial view of Aldine Court. Its entrance is to the immediate right of the Telegraph Building on High Street and passes between later newspaper extensions behind. Photograph: Google.

It was Leader who disclosed a deed from Mary Trippett’s time, she was descended from  John Trippitte, yeoman, and Master Cutler in 1794, which revealed the haphazard buildings that had wantonly appeared; a malthouse (once William Patrick, then Thomas Wreaks), a maltkiln, a stable, workshops, and a bakehouse, as well as the old Sheffield Iris newspaper office at the Hartshead end.

“No two buildings were the same shape, the same height, scarcely of the same alignment; yet, decayed and ramshackle, they proved good enough for a typographer.”

Aldine Court had been called Trippett’s Yard, Wreaks Yard, and in 1845, when Joseph Pearce set up a printing works here, was referred to as Wilson’s Yard (probably after George Wilson, of the Sharrow Mills family, who had set up a snuff shop on High Street in the 1830s).

Pearce, the son of a bookseller in Gibraltar Street, was a stationer, printer and part-proprietor of the Sheffield Times before launching the Sheffield Telegraph, Britain’s first daily provincial newspaper, in 1855.

Aldo Manuzio (Aldus Manutius) (1449/52-1515)

The narrow thoroughfare would become forever linked with newspapers, and it was Pearce who renamed it Aldine Court, honouring one of history’s publishing greats.

Aldo Manuzio arrived in Venice in 1490 and produced small books in Latin and Italian, publishing the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Erasmus. Over two decades, his Aldine Press published 130 editions, famous for its imitation of the handwriting of Petrarch, using a typeface called ‘venetian’ or ‘aldine’, but later known by the name we are familiar with today – ‘italic’.

Between 1913-1916, Aldine Court was somewhat straightened to accommodate the Sheffield Telegraph building, and partly covered with later newspaper extensions.

Aldine Court looking towards the back of the Telegraph Building. Photograph: DJP2021.
Aldine Court looking towards Hartshead. Photograph: DJP2021.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Leopold Chambers: the inevitable change to modern use

The proposals do not result in any change to the scale of the existing building, as no extensions or demolitions to the building are required. Photograph: Sheffield Star.

I recall visiting a sunbed salon at Leopold Chambers in the 1980s and climbing the huge Victorian staircase. I couldn’t help thinking that the old building was past its best. That was 37 years ago, and a lot has changed. The curved four storey building on the corner of Leopold Street and Church Street is home to a cafe, letting agent and tanning and beauty salon at ground floor level, with student accommodation occupying the floors above.

We looked at Leopold Chambers several weeks ago, built in 1893-1894 as new offices for Webster and Styring, an established firm of solicitors set up by George Edward Webster and Dr Robert Styring.

It was designed by Andrew Francis Watson (1856-1932), designer of many well-known buildings in Sheffield, including the Norfolk Market Hall, the old Fitzwilliam Market, Westminster Bank, High Street, showrooms for Mappin and Webb, and the offices of Messrs Vickers and William Jessops on Brightside Lane.

There are now plans by Ashgate Property Developments to convert the first, second and third floors into two studios, three one-bed and three two-bed apartments.

The plans involve reconfiguring the current units with no external works to the ornate Grade II listed facade and the ground floor retail units are unaffected.

“The building was constructed during the Victorian period and has seen various internal and external alterations and modifications over the years to the present day.

“The building has undergone extensive refurbishment and remodelling since its construction and little or no original features can be found other than the staircase which will remain.”

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

New use proposed for empty Endcliffe Sunday School

The former Endcliffe Sunday School on Ecclesall Road. Photograph: Axis Architecture.

Axis Architecture, on behalf of developers, has submitted a planning application to convert the former Endcliffe Sunday School, next to the old Endcliffe Methodist Church, on Ecclesall Road, into apartments and townhouses.

It was originally built at a cost of £8,000 as the Sunday School Hall. It was designed by John Charles Amory Teather, who placed copies of religious and local newspapers, a circuit plan, and a programme of the day’s proceedings in a cavity, when the foundation stone was laid on 6 October 1927.

In later years it was sold to the University of Sheffield and, in 1985, became the Traditional Heritage Museum. The museum closed in 2011 and the building was last used by the university in 2016, but remains vacant.

The building, on the market for six years, is in a state of disrepair and is currently unusable in its current physical state.

Proposed Ecclesall Road frontage. Photograph: Axis Architecture.

The proposed development of 605 Ecclesall Road will involve the partial demolition at the rear of the former Sunday School building – this is the area internally previously used as a stage, with the rear wall in its new position, re-built utilising salvaged stonework. That part of the site, along with the existing walled car-parking area, will then be given over to the construction of four terrace townhouse dwellings, facing Neil Road with gardens at first floor level and additional roof gardens.

“The Ecclesall Road frontage would be preserved, with new extensions set back to minimise their impact. The church building is considerably taller than the existing Sunday School building and it will be possible to extend the building upwards by at least two storeys without detracting from the setting of the local landmark building.

“Most of the existing building will be retained – the roofs are the only major elements which would be replaced, to allow for upward extension. The later, brick built elements at the rear would also be removed.”

There is a passageway between the church and Sunday School leading from Ecclesall Road to Neill Road which would remain open for members of the public.

The empty Sunday School building. Photograph: Axis Architecture.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

There’s not a lot of love for the proposed C-N Tower

The CN-Tower from Norfolk Street. Image: Grantside.

A developer has responded after one of its project on the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street attracted 127 objections.

Grantside applied for planning permission to Sheffield City Council for a 10-storey office block, called C-N Tower, to replace two 1960s buildings.

Residents complained it would block natural light, destroy privacy and damage businesses, and Historic England is concerned about the height of the tower and its effect on existing heritage buildings.

Grantside chief executive Steve Davis said: “According to Sheffield City Council there is a ‘chronic shortage’ of high-quality, Grade ‘A’ office space in the city centre. This is hugely detrimental to Sheffield’s future economic growth both in the short term and the long-term, as potential occupiers may be forced to look elsewhere.

One of the buildings that will be demolished at the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street. Photograph: Sheffield Star.

The area around Norfolk Street and Pinstone Street was drastically redesigned in the late 1800s, widening and realigning Pinstone Street which involved the demolition of many buildings including some on this site.

The first building to be built on the site within the new road layout was the Three Horseshoes Hotel Public House in the 1890s. In the early 1900s buildings were built either side of the pub including the existing building St. Paul’s Chambers which originally housed the New Central Hall, cited as one of Sheffield’s first picture houses. This building also took up a section of the proposed site and became the Tivoli Cinema in 1914.

On 12th December 1940 Sheffield City Centre suffered extreme bomb damage during an intensive air raid. This included a direct strike outside the site where the Three Horseshoes Hotel and partof the Tivoli Cinema were gutted by the blast and subsequent fires.

The cinema never reopened but the Central Hall entrance signage can still be seen on the building today.

The site was eventually cleared of rubble and sat as an empty plot, used for parking during the 1950s. In the 1960s the current buildings on site were constructed and provided new offices above ground floor retail space. Over the following decades the buildings were occupied by many differing uses including BBC Radio Sheffield and a branch of The Post Office.

The C-N Tower is shown as an artist impression behind St Paul’s Building and the Prudential Assurance Building. Photograph: Grantside.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People Places Sculpture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings People

Stirring Up Sheffield: “Adventures need heroes and troublesome villains.”

Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles, by councillors at public meetings and in the media, Colin George carried the day to build the Crucible Theatre, inspired by the legendary director Tyrone Guthrie, who died before he could direct the Crucible’s first play, Ibsen’s rarely-produced epic Peer Gynt. Photograph: Tenby Observer.

Here’s a book that will become a collectors item, and a must for those who appreciate Sheffield’s recent history. ‘Stirring Up Sheffield,’ a substantial book, is written by the Crucible Theatre’s first Artistic Director, Colin George, and his son, Tedd George, and will be published by Wordville Press on 9 November 2021.

This is the extraordinary story of a group of visionaries who came together to build the revolutionary thrust stage theatre. The radical design they proposed for the auditorium—which redefined the actor/audience relationship—aroused fierce opposition from Sheffield’s conservative quarters and several of the era’s theatrical luminaries. But it also galvanised a new generation of Britain’s actors, directors, designers and playwrights who launched a passionate defence of the thrust stage and its theatrical potential.

Colin George was the founding Artistic Director of the Crucible Theatre. Born in Pembroke Dock, Wales, in 1929, Colin read English at University College, Oxford, and was a founding member of the Oxford and Cambridge Players. After acting in the repertory companies of Coventry and Birmingham, Colin joined the Nottingham Playhouse in 1958 as Assistant Director to Val May. In 1962, he was appointed as Assistant Director at the Sheffield Playhouse, becoming Artistic Director in 1965. Colin played a leading role in the creation of the Crucible Theatre, which opened in November 1971, and was the Crucible’s Artistic Director from 1971 to 1974.

“My father was Artistic Director of the Playhouse and the previous year Sheffield City Council had agreed that the Playhouse should have a new theatre. Discussions on its design were already advanced, but my father was unhappy with the proposed stage and wanted to break free from the ‘picture box’ proscenium arch and bring the actors closer to the audience.” – Tedd George. Photograph: Wordville Press.

During his tenure Colin also established Sheffield Theatre Vanguard. This innovative scheme took theatre out of the Crucible to engage with the wider Sheffield community. Sheffield Theatres continues to build on his legacy with Sheffield People’s Theatre, a cross-generational community company which trains and nurtures the aspirations and skills of local people through special one-off projects and collaborations.

He later worked as Artistic Director of the Adelaide State Theatre Company (1976-1980), as Artistic Director of the Anglo-Chinese Chung Ying Theatre Company (1983-1985) and as Head of Drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (1985-1992). Colin joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as an actor (1994-96 & 1997-99).

The Crucible Theatre is today one of Britain’s major touring venues and a Producing House in its own right, and is also famous for being the home of the World Snooker Championship, screened on TVs all over the world every year. Image: Sheffield Theatres.

In 2011 Colin was invited by the Crucible’s Artistic Director, Daniel Evans, to join the Company for the 40th anniversary production of Othello. This was to be his last theatrical performance and, fittingly, it took place on the thrust stage he had created. Following Othello, Colin produced the first draft of this book, before his death in October 2016.

The introduction is by Sir Ian McKellen:

“Adventures need heroes and here its principal one is Colin George, the first artistic director of The Crucible Theatre, who in this memoir recalls in fascinating detail how, aided by others locally and internationally, a dream came true. Here, too, there are troublesome villains, who failed to share our hero’s imagination and determination.”

In 2011, in the theatre’s 40th anniversary production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters, Daniel Evans invited George back to play Desdemona’s aged father. It was George’s last role, in a theatre he loved and which was now garlanded with awards. And it was a full house. Photograph: The Guardian.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Old County Court: “A considerable amount of money was spent, and I think not wisely.”

Old County Court, Bank Street, Sheffield. Many people have now forgotten what it was originally used for. Photograph: Crosthwaite Commercial.

To Bank Street, and a forgotten Grade II listed building, that was almost lost before it had even been completed.

This is the Old County Court, built in 1854, to replace court sessions that had previously been held at the Old Town Hall on Castle Street.

It was designed by Charles Reeves (1815-1866), an architect and surveyor to the Metropolitan Police from 1843, and from 1847 architect to the County Courts in England and Wales, designing 64 new courts across the country.

County Courts, as now, dealt with civil cases, including those about personal debt. They were not there to decide whether someone was ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty, did not issue fines, and neither did it imprison anyone in debt.

Work started on the new County Court in early 1854 and was due to be completed by October. However, one night in September, just as it was nearing completion, a serious fire broke out.

A young man called Henry Bradshaw noticed smoke coming out of one of the windows and climbed over the builders’ hoardings to investigate.

In one of the back offices, he found wood shavings on fire in several places. He tried to stamp the fires out but scorched his feet. The fire spread to stacks of wooden floorboards and Bradshaw was forced to raise the alarm at the offices of the Sheffield and North of England Insurance Companies.

The fire engines arrived within five minutes, but until a supply of water could be obtained from the main, the small engines were worked with water brought in buckets from adjoining houses.

The fire quickly spread, and the back suite of rooms became one mass of blaze.

Floorboards on the upper rooms had not been laid and this hampered efforts to fight the fire, with several firemen injured by falling between joists. The heat became so intense that roof lead melted, and with no floor intervening, it fell onto firemen below who were severely burned.

However, the blaze was prevented from reaching the front of the building, but the whole of the woodwork of the back rooms and the roof of that portion were destroyed.

It was suspected that a group of boys had broken into the building, setting fire to wood shavings by lighting matches.

The damage amounted to between £300 and £400 (about £35K-£45K today)- the cost falling on the contractor, Miles Barber, who was not insured. (Barber was later responsible for the widening of Lady’s Bridge in 1866).

The opening was delayed until 1855 and the property rebuilt.

The last County Court sitting at the Old Town Hall was on 12 July 1855 and the first session in the new building, presided by Judge Walker, was on the 18 July.

The building was in Italian style, with two entrances in Bank Street – one a private entrance for the judge, etc, and the other entrance for the public.

On the ground floor were offices for the high bailiff and clerks’ rooms for the entering of plaints and the payment of money, and a strong room for storing books and records, fitted with slate shelves, and iron fireproof doors with Chubb patent locks.

On the basement floor were water closets, etc, and four rooms for the office keeper.

The court room was on the second storey (revolutionary for its time) – 43ft long by 27 wide, and 22 feet high. On the same floor was a private room for the Judge, barristers and attorneys’ consultation room, jury room, and a large entrance hall or waiting room for parties attending the court.

The former main courtroom. Photograph: Crosthwaite Commercial.

While Sheffielders considered this a ‘fine’ building, it seems not to have been popular with those who worked there.

In 1901, Judge Waddy K.C. criticised the acoustic properties of the County Court. “The building was erected under exceptional circumstances, which I do not want to go into because the people are dead; but the result of it is, that a very considerable amount of money was spent, and I think not wisely.”

When it was built, Bank Street had been a quiet street, but by now had become a regular thoroughfare, so full of noise and disturbance, that it was impossible sometimes for them to get on with their work.

The stench from the main court by the middle of the day was said to be “perfectly shocking,” while the sanitary arrangements were “not fit to be used by considerable bodies of people.”

Poor acoustics were also mentioned in 1923 when Judge Lias and officials complained of difficulty in hearing evidence and suggested that the front of the Judge’s desk should be lowered.

Alterations to the court were eventually completed, including an annexe at the rear, and it functioned as the County Court until 1996 when it moved to new Law Courts at West Bar. The building was sold, and its interiors converted into offices, the configuration altered, but the stone cantilevered staircase survived.

When the building was put up for sale it had been used as office space. Photographs: Crosthwaite Commercial.

It was acquired by One Heritage Group in January 2021 for conversion into 22 one- and two-bedroom single storey and duplex apartments that will be split over four floors. The developer says these are carefully designed to showcase the building’s inherent Grade II listed features such as high ceilings, deep skirtings, and original architraves. Planning permission was granted in August 2021.

Proposed restorations and new apartments at the Old County Court. Photographs: One Heritage Group.

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