Categories
Streets

Is there anything to discover underneath the streets beside the City Hall?

Sheffield City Hall, Barker’s Pool, with Holly Street (left), and Balm Green (right). Image: GoogleEarth

I have an intriguing question. If we were to dig beneath the roads flanking the City Hall, what would we find?

Holly Street and Balm Green, both 60ft wide, were created in 1932 to service the newly constructed building.

“The importance of a big space is emphasised when it is realised that between 3,000 and 4,000 people will frequently leave the City Hall within a few minutes and many of them will have motor-cars,” said M. J. Hadfield, the City Engineer, at the time.

It turned out to be a massive undertaking because the roads were built over old cellars and three deep wells and required a bed of 12 inch concrete with double reinforcements, triangulated to provide the greatest possible strength at the least expense. Masses of iron rods were intertwined in the form of triangles, allowing the roads to carry weights more than 100 tons.

The cellars had belonged to shops between Pool Square and Holly Street and had been erected well over a hundred years before. In the first instance they were private dwellings, but in the course of time were reconstructed and remodelled as shops and demolished to make way for the City Hall.

What undiscovered treasures lay beneath these roads?

In the Burgery of 1609 Holly Street is referred to as Blynde Lane, and in 1700 is called Blind Lane or Hollin Lane, while the records of 1823 show it as Hollin Street. The corruption of Hollin Street to Holly Street is simple because ‘hollin’ or ‘hollen’ was an ancient name for holly.

In Fairbank’s survey, what is now Barker’s Pool appears as Balm Green, while the lane now known as Balm Green was called Flint Well. In Taylor’s survey of 1832, Balm Green had been renamed Barker’s Pool, while Flint Well was known as Flint Well Lane. With the building of the City Hall, Flint Well Lane became Balm Green.

The origin of Balm Green is one that has puzzled historians, but there is a likely explanation.

Joseph Woolhouse wrote in 1832, that a Mr Barker was living at Balm House, a large farmhouse supposed to be situated in Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street). Behind the house were orchards where now Back Fields is. It is possible that Balm Green was the herb garden attached to the orchards.

But we should also consider that Orchard Street, between Church Street and Leopold Street, was once the site of an extensive fruit garden known as Brelsforth’s Orchard, and Balm Green might have been the herb garden attached to this property instead.

A less likely theory suggests that the open space between the former John Lewis department store and the City Hall was once called Le Baine, with an early reference in a deed of 1333. Because the area was rich in springs and wells, it has been suggested that Le Baine evolved from the Latin word ‘balneum’, a warm bath, or a place for swimming, and eventually into ‘balm’.

Mr Barker established our first waterworks at Balm Green in 1434. The area subsequently became Barker’s Pool and two centuries later, it was cleaned and repaired by a public benefactor, Robert Rollinson, and for upwards of three centuries was in daily use. The pool in its latter days became defiled; the rubbish of the town, and dead animals, were thrown in, and it was subsequently filled up in 1793.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
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