In the first part of our story about Tapton Court, we looked at its role as a family home for John Henry Andrew, Henry Steel and Albert Victor Derry.
Derry moved to Bristol in 1931 and died in Cairo the following year. Tapton Court had been put up for sale, and it was left to his widow, Olga, to find a suitable buyer.
In the summer of 1933, the first indication of Tapton Court’s future use was found in the legal sections of newspapers.
Olga sought to alter covenants on the house and land, put in place by Henry Spooner in 1865, that forbid change of use to non-residential. Her application being successful, Olga then negotiated the sale of empty Tapton Court to the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, which presented the house to the Royal Hospital as a nurses’ home.
The Charitable Trust, created by Sheffield’s ‘Fairy Prince’, J. G. Graves, was set up in 1932 with capital of over £400,000.
The nurses’ home was intended to replace existing accommodation in three different places – at the Royal Hospital, where nurses were removed from Eldon Street to make way for an x-ray extension, Ranmoor, and later Crookes.
The new nurses’ home, also with a Nurses’ Preliminary Training School, was opened on 20 July 1934 by Alderman J.G. Graves, the event reported in the Sheffield Independent: –
“A few months ago, it was a sorry reminder of Sheffield’s spacious days of entertaining. Dust clung to the walls, rust coated the iron of immense stoves and cupboards gaped, empty and desolate.
“A tiled entrance leads into a large nurses’ lounge, furnished in rose and green. Settees, easy chairs, carpets, a grand piano and all the furnishings have been provided through gifts. A grandfather clock is the contribution of the nurses and sisters.
“The beautiful ceiling, which was painted for the visit of King Edward, has been restored in its original colours.
“The old kitchen has been converted into a delightful dining room. Stone flags have been replaced by wooden flooring. Eight old stoves have ended their days on the scrap heap.
“The room is decorated in a soft green with rich flame-coloured curtains. Green rubber-topped tables are matched by bronze tubular steel chairs upholstered in green leather.
“Each bedroom is curtained and partitioned in a different sunshine shade, and each nurse has her own small suite of furniture in limed oak.
“Jacobean curtains give a rich note of colouring to the sisters’ lounge, and the settees and chairs are covered in bronze.
“Old fashioned covered baths have been replaced by modern ones in the three bathrooms. In the kitchen, a gas stove with two ovens has been fitted into a white tiled alcove, and a teak sink has taken the place of the stone one.
“Two lawns, large enough for a hockey field, skirt the house and the gardens are shaded by beautiful trees. Raspberries, loganberries and blackcurrants grow in the kitchen gardens and in a large vinery clusters of grapes are ripening.”
The opening was performed by John George Graves, the man responsible for buying Tapton Court and handing it over to the hospital:-
“Some thanks are due to those who have gone before and spent their money so lavishly in providing this wonderful house. I sometimes hear lamentations about the uses to which fine houses in the West End of Sheffield are being put. I do not share those feelings.
“Such houses as Tapton Court were provided for purposes which are perhaps not well appreciated today. They were built for entertaining, for people indulged in very elaborate dinners in those days, and the more successful of the people had ‘rich man’s gout’ which gave them an exclusive touch.
“Tapton Court is a historic house. It once belonged to Henry Steel, who was a friend of King Edward, and King Edward visited and probably stayed here.”
The cost of the scheme had been £25,000, but plans were already in place to add two new extensions to the old house.
By 1936, two new wings had been built, at a cost of £28,000, on the site of an old peach orchard, and included contributions from a fundraising campaign. A floor was named after each donor of £5,000, while bedrooms were named after each donor of £100 (in all, 20 people had rooms named after them).
The east wing was occupied by nurses on 20 March, and the west wing on 10 July.
“The re-adaptation of the old house is also in progress, and by removing the dome on the tower, the cost of maintenance will be reduced, and the structure more substantial. The supply of electricity has been improved by the building of a sub-station with transformers. It has also been decided, that as the electrical wiring in parts is no longer efficient, to re-wire throughout.”
The Duke of Kent officially opened the new extensions in October 1936. A canopied entrance from Tapton Court to a large marquee, where the ceremony was held, was lined by a guard of honour from the sisters.
“It houses the whole of the nursing staff in the pleasantest possible conditions, in five-acres of wooded grounds,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
“In the west wing is a light and spacious dining hall, opening out onto a paved terrace and loggia. Above the hall are 20 bedrooms for sisters with its own wash basin and oak furniture. The east wing is entirely devoted to nurses’ bedrooms and bathrooms. Each of the 100 bedrooms has a fitted wardrobe, and the colour scheme is bright and cheerful. Shampoo rooms and shower baths are among the amenities, and there are ironing rooms for home laundry work.
“The old house has been adapted for recreation and sitting-room purposes.”
There was a touch of nostalgia in the Royal proceedings, said the Sheffield Independent. “A little grey-haired woman, who left Tapton Court as a bride fifty years ago, saw the Duke of Kent open her old home as a home for nurses. She was Mrs E.W. Turner, formerly Miss Andrew, wife of the Rev. George W. Turner, Vicar of St. Judes’s Church, and daughter of the late John Henry Andrew.”
And so, the nurses lived in relative harmony until, that is, the Royal Hospital closed in 1978, by which time Tapton Court had fallen into the hands of the University of Sheffield and used as halls of residence. A three-storey north wing, bridging the east and west wings, had been added, as well as the modern-looking Ranmoor Annexe (120 bedrooms over three floors), all of which are empty today.
Up for sale, the interiors of Tapton Court remain a secret, hidden behind steel-gated windows to deter urban explorers, but the sales brief provides us with a final insight: –
“The original house comprises two floors centred on a top-lit hall surrounded by a gallery at first floor level on three sides. The central court (surrounded by the 20th century wing extensions) is approached from the external portico on the eastern façade, through the entrance hall and with a major room opening off the opposite side of the court. The southern side of the court is flanked by corner rooms separated by a central hallway which gives access to the garden and houses the main staircase. Sections of the original service wing to the north still survive.”