Somewhere, displayed on a sideboard, or lost in a miserable attic, I would like to believe that an old model of Banner Cross Hall survives.
This was the creation of Jeffry Wyatt (1766-1840), architect of Banner Cross Hall, and used to highlight his magnificent new mansion in 1817-1821.
Shortly afterwards, in 1824, King George IV allowed him to change his surname to Wyatville and knighted him in 1828.
The existence of the model emerged in the 1930s when it was owned by Major Francis Ernest Gisborne Bagshawe, of Ford Hall, Chapel-en-le-Frith, a descendant of the family which once owned Banner Cross Hall.
In 1937, Bagshawe loaned the model to the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, which it displayed for three weeks, alongside valuable works of art that once adorned the walls of Banner Cross Hall. By this time, the old mansion was the company headquarters of builders Henry Boot and Son.
A portrait by George Romney was Mary Murray, grand-daughter and heiress of John Bright. Another portrait, of James II, had been painted by Peter Lely. Other paintings included Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie), Prince Rupert, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and George III.
Amongst historic furniture loaned was a Sedan chair used to carry Mrs Murray to Ecclesall Church as late as the 19th century and a needlework picture showing the beauty of an Elizabethan Banner Cross Hall. Several Georgian silver exhibits had the Bagshawe and Murray Arms along with a pair of silver-mounted pistols containing the Murray Coat of Arms.
Major Bagshawe sold Ford Hall in 1957 and lived at Snitterton Hall (Matlock). He died in 1985 and the hall was sold the following year. Where did those cherished artworks go? The art detectives amongst you might have a better idea what happened to them!
Banner Cross is long associated with Ecclesall Road. It is infamous for being the scene of the murder committed by Charles Peace, the notorious criminal, in 1876.
In the time of Queen Elizabeth, nearby Banner Cross Hall was known as Bannerfield, but referred to as Banner Cross in the times of James I.
There appears to be no clear account of how Banner Cross got its distinctive name. ‘Banner Cross’ seems to suggest battles and campaigns, but the most likely explanation appeared in Hunter’s Hallamshire in 1819.
“This is one of the ancient esquires’ seats in the manor of Ecclesall. It stands near the chapel, and not far from the turnpike road to Manchester, from which however it is shut in by plantations, while its front presents a pleasing feature in the landscape to the traveller on the opposite hill along the road to Chesterfield. The name might tempt an antiquary to wild conjectures, especially when he stands on the base of an old stone cross still remaining, and looks along Salter (perhaps Psalter) Lane, towards Sheffield.”
It refers to an old stone cross that once stood near the previous hall, and quite possibly the ‘Banner Cross Stone.’
In the early part of the twentieth century, William Henry Babington, a Sheffield photographer, took images of a piece of stone, and labelled it as being the ‘Base of the Banner Cross Stone, now on terrace of Banner Cross Hall. Removed from Banner Cross Hall Gardens.’
If this was the original ‘Banner Cross,’ how likely is it that the base is still at Banner Cross Hall?
There was once an old mansion called Bannerfield that stood on a hill. It belonged to a branch of the Bright family, from superior yeomanry, who replaced it about 1616 and referred to it as Banner Cross.
The Bright family became extinct on the death of John Bright of Chesterfield and Banner Cross in 1748.
In 1758, his granddaughter and heiress, Mary Dalton, conveyed the estate to her husband, Lord John Murray, of the well-known Scottish house of Athol. He was Colonel of 42nd or Highland Regiment of Foot (the celebrated ‘Black Watch’) and spent much of his time here.
Lady John Murray died in 1765. Her only daughter married William Foxlowe, a Lieutenant-General, who obtained the Royal licence to use the Murray name. He purchased the Athol interest in the hall and retired here with the intention “of spending within its tranquil shades the evening of an active and honourable life.”
Banner Cross was not in the best condition, unoccupied for some years, and was later described in a poem by Mrs Hofland (Barbara Wreaks, of Sheffield): –
“A gloomy mansion, where in empty state And cob’web’d ruin hangs a goodly list Of pictur’d lords, and many a beauteous dame Of Athol’s princely race; for time has been They grac’d these gloomy walls and e’en of late Hath beauty’s queen here shown her peerless power, And given her mandate from a Murray’s eye, Bereft of these the mouldering mansion wears In every view the signal of decay; Slow whispering wind creeps through the chilling roof The tatter’d hangings shake with every breeze; Through the long passages, and cold dark hall, (So fame reports) the flimsy spirits glide In robes of white, or sweep the narrow stairs In all the shapes of fear-form’d misery.”
Like most shut-up properties, it had fallen into decay, the grounds choked with weeds, the drives, and pathways grass-grown, the ornamental shrubs ragged and broken from the weight of uncleared snow in wintertime. Gates yawned on their rusty hinges, while rotting woodwork and empty window frames marred the handsome façade of the building itself.
According to Rev. William Bagshawe, who spent a night here in 1818, “A side of the house gave way. I was in much danger”.
General Murray had already decided to rebuild Banner Cross and in 1817 had appointed Jeffry Wyatt, the distinguished architect of parts of Windsor Castle and the north wing of Chatsworth House. Within three months plans had been chosen and work commenced. The plan was for a Tudor Gothic house composed around a central octagonal porch-tower, with reception rooms along the south front, overlooking views over the grounds.
“And the work proceeded so rapidly under the eye of its master,” says historian Joseph Hunter, “that its pinnacles were seen rising above the woods around it in the summer of next year.”
The work, supervised by William Dent, was well underway when General Murray died in 1818. Ownership passed to Rev. William Bagshawe, a younger son of Colonel Samuel Bagshawe of Ford Hall, Chapel-en-le-Frith, and his wife, Anne, who was the general’s sister. The main block was finished by 1821, and the intention had been to incorporate the old house as a service wing. However, the decrepit building was demolished and replaced by 1823 when the family moved in. A plan for a Gothic Conservatory was dropped, to offset the cost of replacing the old house.
Strangely enough, the estate went again with another daughter, Mary, and to her husband, Henry Marwood Greaves, of Hesley Hall, who died at Banner Cross in 1859. His son, William Henry Greaves-Bagshawe assumed the name of Bagshawe in addition to that of Greaves in 1853 and chose to let the property.
The Bagshawe’s never lived at Banner Cross again, although it passed to Henry’s daughter, Frances Alice Devereux, who married Edward Carter (later Bagshawe).
Notable tenants at Banner Cross Hall were Samuel Butcher (of W and S Butcher, Philadelphia Works), Douglas Vickers, also George Wilson, chairman and managing director of Charles Cammell and Co.
Colonel Henry Kenyon Stephenson, (later Sir Henry), also resided here. He was chairman and managing director of Stephenson, Blake & Co Ltd, later becoming chairman of the Sheffield Gas Company.He became treasurer of the University College of Sheffield, and later the first treasurer of its successor, the University of Sheffield. It was at Banner Cross Hall that Stephenson entertained Prime Minister, Lloyd George, in 1919.
When Colonel Stephenson moved to Hassop Hall in 1921, the Bagshawes put the house and estate on the market. It failed to sell and three years later was tenanted by David Flather, of the firm of W.T. Flather, Standard Steel Works, Tinsley, who moved from Whiston Grange. During his tenure, another Prime Minister visited Banner Cross Hall, Stanley Baldwin in 1928. Flather remained until 1931 when he left for Hooton Levitt Hall, near Maltby.
Land immediately adjacent from Ecclesall Road South to Archer Lane was sold for development, and the property once again put on the market.
“The mansion is delightfully situated with a southern aspect, overlooking a dell with woodland and parkland. Included in the sale are the parks and meadows, with ornamental water, cricket ground, and pleasant walks. The total area is over seventy-eight acres.”
In 1932, the house and just over an acre of land was bought by Charles Boot to replace offices for Henry Boot and Son at Moore Street.
“Certain structural alterations to adapt it for office purposes have been started and would be completed within a month,” said Charles Boot. “The front of the Hall will be somewhat altered, but it is not my intention to do anything to destroy the amenities of the district.”
As might have been expected, the interiors were much altered. The Dining Room became the Board Room and was decorated with 17th century carved wood from demolished Hayes Place (Kent) and a fireplace and panelling from RMS Mauretania, scrapped in 1935.
Most of the grounds were lost to development, and the history of Banner Cross Hall and the names of the distinguished families who occupied it are maintained in the naming of roads in the vicinity, including Tullibardine, Murray, Glenalmond, Gisborne, Blair Athol, and Ford roads.
There will be angry cries. There will be tears. People will call out to protect the trees.
Banner Cross Hall once stood in rural idyll. Then Sheffield grew and surrounded it. In the 1930s, the fate of the old mansion was precarious. It was on the market and people feared that it would be demolished, and the beautiful trees would be lost. Many already had, but for 90 years since, it has been the company headquarters of Henry Boot and some of the surrounding habitat survived.
However, faced with enormous costs to modernise it, and make it environmentally friendly, Henry Boot is reconsidering its future at the Grade II listed mansion.
If it chooses to vacate, the likelihood is that Banner Cross Hall will be converted into luxury apartments with possible development in its grounds.
If this happens, prepare for objections, just like there were almost a century ago.
This story is not unique to Sheffield. A once great house adapted over the years, and eventually falling on hard times. Across the nation there are many old houses that went this way, but they remain a fascination to us.
Brincliffe Towers was a town villa, built in 1852 in an area that eventually became one of the city’s most desirable suburbs.
At the time of writing, the old house is empty, awaiting redevelopment, but its former grounds are known today as Chelsea Park, one of those public spaces that attracts little attention with most city people.
For this post we should refer to the mansion by its original name – Brinkcliffe Tower – an imposing mansion in Gothic-style, which formed a conspicuous object on the landscape. It was built by James Wilson, solicitor, for his own occupation. Built of Greenmoor rock-faced stone, with ashlar facings, no expense was spared to render it complete with every modern convenience.
With its park-like surroundings of 24 acres, Brinkcliffe Tower was one of the finest gentleman’s residences in this part of Sheffield, commanding a prospect of the most rich and beautiful scenery in the district.
James Wilson, a descendant of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, was the senior member of Wilson, Young and Pierson, and for many years had been Law Clerk to the Cutlers’ Company. He died in 1867 and the estate was put on the market: –
“The mansion contains a dining-room, drawing-room, breakfast-room, and the spacious vestibule, entrance hall, and principal staircase are lighted from the roof by a handsome lantern light. There are seven principal bedrooms and dressing-rooms, bathrooms, etc.
“The kitchens, servants’ hall, and other arrangements are of the most commodious description. There are large and lofty cellars (cut-out from the valuable bed of stone known as Brinkcliffe Edge Stone), servants’ staircase, butler’s pantry, sculleries, store closets, and four large upper rooms of stores and servants’ apartments.
“In the large paved yard is stabling for five horses, loose box, saddle and harness rooms, hay chamber, granary, and a spacious carriage-house, sheds and all the requisite appurtenances for a family mansion.
“The kitchen gardens are extensive and laid out in the best possible manner, while the grounds are enriched with fine timber and ornamental trees with flourishing shrubs.”
“Water is of the most common character, and during the dry summers of 1864 and 1865, a most abundant supply was always at hand.”
The Brinkcliffe Tower estate was bought by George Marples, descended from an old family line with origins at Barlborough and Stavely in North East Derbyshire. Until 1879, he was head of Marples and Marples, solicitors, Norfolk Row, at which time he vacated the position in favour of his son, George Jobson Marples.
George Marples died of a heart-attack in 1881 leaving personal estate worth £218,000 (that is almost £27million today), leaving Brinkcliffe Tower to George Jobson Marples, a man who had trained at the Inner Temple, but never practised as such. For twenty years he was a county magistrate in Derbyshire and senior magistrate at Bakewell.
In the 1890s, George Jobson Marples bought Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, for £160,000, leaving Brinkcliffe Tower behind, and eventually putting it up for sale.
In 1897, it was acquired by Robert Styring(1850-1944), another solicitor, councillor, Lord Mayor, and a man whose contribution to Sheffield has been unforgivably overlooked, and subject of another post.
Styring remembered his father speaking of the building of Brinkcliffe Tower, which at the time had been regarded locally by many as “one of the seven wonders of the world.”
Not a man to miss an opportunity, Styring disposed of parts of the “valuable building estate” and in 1916 was involved in a dispute with Sheffield Corporation over land development.
An inquiry by the Local Government Board Inspector covered a scheme affecting Banner Cross, Brincliffe, Kenwood Park and Nether Edge. The Corporation had insisted that a maximum of twelve houses should be built per acre but, according to Mr Gibson, Deputy Town Clerk, Styring wanted to be free to build 25 houses to the acre.
Styring had married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, and her death would have significant implications for the house and estate.
While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 she remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.
Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”
In November 1925, Styring decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.
“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”
After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.
For a time, the grounds were considered as a memorial garden, the alternative site for a Peace Gardens, proposed after the Munich Agreement of 1938, but which were eventually created on the site of St Paul’s Church next to the Town Hall. Instead, the grounds were turned into Chelsea Park, named after nearby Chelsea Road, once known as Palmerston Road, until renamed in 1886.
As for the house, as always, there was a dilemma for the council. It remained empty for a while, and for a brief period was a girls’ school dormitory during World War Two. It became a nursing home, known as Brincliffe Towers, and in 1959 was refurbished and enlarged with “modernistic” 1950s extensions, funded by the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust.
Eventually falling into private hands, the care home closed in 2011, victim of modern legislation, and since then there have been various controversial schemes to convert the house back into a single dwelling, funded by the conversion of the coach-house and erection of new houses in the wooded grounds.
Sadly, the property is in poor condition, but still retains original characteristics, including the main entrance overlooking Chelsea Park, beyond the balustraded terrace, elaborately carved timber bargeboards, carved stone bay windows, doorways, and towers.
The internal fabric of the building has diminished overtime. However, there are some original features remaining to ground floor rooms, including fireplaces, architraves and coving and ceiling detailing. Rooms to the upper floors have been significantly altered and reconfigured through partition walls, but the tower and ceiling light remains intact.