Random notes on the Steelopolis. This isn’t just a history page. It’s about appreciating everything around us – the buildings, people, products and events that shaped the City of Sheffield. It’s about taking notice of what is around you now, and observing the things that will become history for our descendants.
Sir James William Alexander Burnet (1928-2012) was born in Sheffield, the son of a Scottish engineer.
He was educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read history.
To many of a generation he was simply Alastair Burnet, the suave ITV news reader once described as “the booster rocket that put ITN into orbit.”
He joined ITN in 1963 as its political editor, but left after two years to become editor of The Economist and later the Daily Express.
On July 3 1967, with Andrew Gardiner sitting beside him, he launched the first ‘News at Ten’ bulletin with the words “Good evening. The railway freight strike has been called off.”
It was the beginning of a television institution.
He retired in 1991, disappeared from our screens, and died seven years ago at a nursing home in Kensington.
Once upon a time, back in 1932, a war of words existed between Sheffield City Council and the local ex-servicemen’s Association (embracing 20,000 members) concerning the name to be attached to the new Civic Hall.
The councillors wanted it to become Sheffield City Hall, the ex-servicemen preferred Sheffield Memorial Hall.
Such was the level of feeling that the ex-servicemen wrote to King George V hoping to bring the matter to his attention.
The reply when it came offered no solution. “I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that the matter has been laid before the King, but the Secretary of State regrets he was unable to advise His Majesty to issue any commands thereon.”
When it opened in September 1932, the canvas covers above the front doors were removed to reveal it would be called Sheffield City Hall, its crowning glory being the large Oval Hall inside.
However, by means of compromise, the smaller half-moon hall at the back was called the Memorial Hall, more famous now as being weekend home to the Last Laugh Comedy Club.
We’ve never mastered the art of saying, “Let’s go for a pint at the Sheffield Water Works Company.”
The chiefs at J.D. Wetherspoon will cringe as we insist on calling it by its previous name, Lloyds No. 1. One of the few occasions where you can hop, skip and jump between two ‘Spoons’ pubs.
A lot of history behind this building. Palazzo-style, a rarity in Sheffield, designed by Flockton and Abbott in 1867 for the Sheffield Waterworks Company.
The sculptured heads of Greek and Roman water gods are above the ground-floor windows.
The Grade II listed building was later the home of the hugely successful Graves Mail Order Empire… the Amazon of the Edwardian period. It was founded by John George Graves, whose many gifts to the city included Graves Park and Graves Art Gallery.
Arguably Sheffield’s most impressive building. English Renaissance with Corinthian colonnades. But to us locals there has always been a second-class air about Sheffield City Hall.
Sadly, like many of my generation, I can count on one hand the number of concerts I’ve seen here. My biggest memory is of sitting on its chunky front steps as a kid, and later falling down them as a drunken teenager.
But it’s not that old.
Designed in 1920 by Emanuel Vincent Harris (he also designed the Board of Trade Buildings in Whitehall), construction was delayed eight years because of the economic climate.
Built of Hopton Wood stone, from Wirksworth, laid in alternate courses of white and grey shades. The walls at the front were pierced by three archways of black-veined marble from Ashburton, near Dartmoor.
It cost £500,000 and opened in 1932 when this photograph by Edward Bale Stewart was taken.
Within the Victoria Hall, on Norfolk Street, is a time capsule that was buried within one of fifteen foundation stones in September 1906.
The ceremony was attended by 3,000 people, celebrating the construction of the new building for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission, designed as a place of worship, as well as for institutional and religious work.
The Victoria Hall stood on the site of the old Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, the site extended to include land gifted by Thomas Skelton Cole, a devout Methodist, and the chairman of Cole Brothers.
Inside the foundation stone laid by Mrs Thomas Cole was placed a casket, hermetically sealed. It contained an old bottle which was taken out of the stone at the entrance of the old Norfolk Street Chapel, and placed there no doubt when the foundation stone of that building was laid in 1780.
The bottle contained a circuit plan of that day and the day’s programme. Also placed in the casket was the circuit plan for September 1906, a list of the trustees of the new Victoria Hall, the last annual report of the Mission, copies of the Sheffield daily newspapers, a civic directory of the city, and some coins of the realm.
Two years in the building, the Victoria Hall was opened on September 24, 1908, by three ladies, representative of the oldest and most esteemed Wesleyan families in Sheffield – Mrs Samuel Osborn, Mrs Samuel Meggitt Johnson and Mrs Cole. Called to the front, William John Hale, the architect, presented to each of the ladies a gold key with which were opened the three large main doors.
Over a hundred years later, the Victoria Hall is now used by voluntary organisations, including meals for the homeless, and as a popular music and events venue. However, church services are still held every Sunday evening.
William John Hale (1862-1929) was an architect based in Sheffield, creating some of the city’s most outstanding architecture.
He was the son of Matthew Hale, and member of an old Sheffield family, several of his ancestors having been Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company.
Hale was born in Sheffield, educated at Wesley College, and articled to Innocent and Brown, commencing practice as an architect and surveyor in 1893.
He was a member of the Sheffield Architects Society and erected several public buildings, schools, and chapels, including Bole Hill, Hammerton Road, Lydgate Lane and Owler Lane Schools; Brightside Wesleyan Chapel, St. Luke’s Wesleyan Church, Bradfield Wesleyan Chapel, Crookes Congregational Church, Wesley Hall, Crookes, Rawmarsh Wesleyan Chapel, Attercliffe Wesleyan Hall, Banner Cross Methodist Church, Southey Methodist Church and Bents Green Methodist Church.
Hale was one of the pioneers of the octagonal style of church architecture of which Crookes Congregational Church and Crookes Wesley Hall were fine examples.
Upon the death of architect William Angelo Waddington, in 1907, he was appointed to complete work on the Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission.
Another example of his work can be found at the Carver Street Wesleyan Extensions, confusingly built on West Street, opened in 1929.
This was the same year that Hale died at his home, Tainby, in Ranmoor, aged 67.
When it opened in 1908, the Victoria Hall was a bit of an eye-opener for Methodist church-goers. At the start of a new century, the Wesleyans wanted to attract a new crowd, so the words ‘church’ and ‘chapel’ were omitted from its name.
This was a replacement for the Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1780 and demolished in 1906, and didn’t want to draw its strength from existing churches. Instead, it wanted to catch those people who spent their spare time in the streets.
The Sheffield Wesleyan Mission had considered calling it the Central Mission Hall, but realised that there was already a Central Hall on Norfolk Street, one that was devoted to public entertainment.
This meant that the Victoria Hall, as it was christened, looked nothing like conventional Methodist buildings, the design chosen in a competition, won by Waddington, Son and Dunkerley of Manchester.
However, when the architect, William Angelo Waddington, died in 1907, a year after the foundation stones had been laid, it was left to Sheffield-based William John Hale (1862-1929), second in the competition, to finish the design.
The extent of Hale’s alterations to the original plans is unclear, but the tower and its uppermost elevations were considerably changed.
The result was a mix of Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles, red brick and stone, with a massive neo-Baroque top to the tower, and carved decorations by Alfred and William Tory. The total cost was £41,000, of which £25,000 had already been paid or promised.
As usual for this time period, construction was by the inexhaustible Sheffield builders, George Longden and Son.
The Main Hall, with its tip-up seats and wooden flooring, was designed for 2,000 people, while the Lecture Hall accommodated up to 400. The rest of the Victoria Hall was made up of smaller suites, halls, class and club rooms, as well as an innovative cinematographic box.
The total number of rooms amounted to seventy, suitable for institutional and religious work.
Said one commentator at the time:
“One finds a pleasure to traverse the cement-stepped stairs, with their bright walls, and beautifully designed stained glass windows, and at every turn, vistas of long corridors, where monotony of vision is eased by the insertion of arches on the ceiling.”
Pleasant to the eye also was the artistic brightness, without a suggestion of garishness, of the white and pale green walls and the well-lighted roof.
A ventilation system of powerful exhaust fans drove impure air through a series of tubes and emitted it by way of the tower.
In World War One, the Victoria Hall opened its doors to the Armed Forces and was visited, in 1919, by King George V and Queen Mary, who presented medals to returning soldiers. It also served free breakfasts during the Great Depression to needy children, as well as distributing food parcels to the unemployed.
Prior to the opening of the City Hall in 1932, this was also Sheffield’s leading concert venue, a role it still fulfils as a popular classical music venue.
During World War Two, the Victoria Hall was partly converted into an Armed Forces rest hostel with 20 beds, increased to 35 at the height of hostilities.
The building underwent an extensive restoration in 1930, and has subsequently been remodelled to create an events venue, although church services still take place every Sunday evening.
If ever you get chance to call in, take a good look at the splendid glass roof in the Main Hall.