Big Houses

Crabtree Lodge – a picturesque old English mansion

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

I need you to use your imagination.

We are on Barnsley Road, heading towards Fir Vale, an area adjacent to Page Hall, where a large Slovakian Roma community lives. Page Hall has attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons. It has an unwanted reputation for crime and disorder.

But before we reach Fir Vale, and the sprawl of the Northern General Hospital, we come to a set of traffic lights, at the junction with Norwood Road. On the corner, we can see an abandoned and boarded-up former care home. Steel-mesh barriers surround it, and graffiti covers most parts. It won’t be long before someone sets it on fire, and it will be gone.

We carry on down Barnsley Road and turn left into Crabtree Close. We park the car and retrace our steps to a patch of scrubland where a sign welcomes you to Crabtree Ponds Local Nature Reserve.

Slipping through the trees, we descend a rough path, and at the bottom is a most unexpected sight. A beautiful expanse of water, with carefully made walkways around it, surrounded by tall trees and thick vegetation. All you can hear are birds singing, and the distant hum of traffic.

A man with a big dog sits on a bench. He is drinking from a cheap bottle of wine. He is drunk, but he doesn’t care that we have disturbed him. “Reyt, pal,” he calls, and sits back to enjoy the last of the day’s sun. We walk past him, along wooden planks suspended above water, and climb the steep hillside, back towards that decaying care home. Nearby, an ambulance wails its way to the hospital.

But imagine we could go back in time.

We are in the mid-1800s. Like today, the birds are singing, but the only traffic is a horse and cart gently clattering along the other side of a huge stone wall. We have walked around the ornamental pond, admired the fountain at the centre, and said good evening to a beautiful Victorian lady taking the summer air.

We climb the neat, terraced gardens, up exquisitely carved steps, absorb the sweet fragrances, and walk across the manicured lawn towards the big house. It looks splendid as the sun slips behind its sloping eaves, and shadows fall across the decorative gardens. It will soon be night.

We sit on a garden bench and look across the valley, to the meandering stream below, the ponds with their delicate fish, and the trees and fields that stretch over to Wincobank Hill.

Let us hope that this landscape remains as it is forever.


Crabtree Lodge, Pitsmoor, Sheffield. The only known sketch of the house is by N. Roberts in 1884. Image: Picture Sheffield

In 1884, a newspaper reported that Crabtree Lodge was a pleasantly-situated residence, in a district of Sheffield which had grown very rapidly. Pitsmoor had lost its rural charm, but this big house remained at the corner of Crabtree Lane.

It was a mansion in the picturesque old English style built in the nineteenth century, allegedly for a Mr Rotherham.

It later became home to Charles Atkinson, J.P. (1800-1879), chief partner in the firm of Marriott and Atkinson, Fitzalan Works, Attercliffe, one time Mayor, and Master Cutler. He had started as a travelling salesman for George Marriott and took his daughter as his first wife.

In 1875, he published a pamphlet called ‘Sheffield as it was; Sheffield as it is; Sheffield as it should be; by an old Grammar School boy of 1808.’

“I have endeavoured to show what Sheffield was 60 years ago, and what it is now. With all its increase of population and wealth, and yet without a good street as a leading thoroughfare, the centre of town a complete blot; the public buildings scarcely reaching to mediocrity and situated as they are in bye streets. While its merchants and manufacturers have made advancement in the race of improvement, the town itself remains much the same as it was in the days of Chaucer.”

On his death in 1880, the house and its contents were put up for sale and described thus: –

“The house contains a spacious entrance hall, noble dining room, excellent drawing rooms, library, and boudoir, loft corridors, good bedrooms, pantries, kitchens, larders, and every convenience. There is a four-stall stable with coach-house, and coachman’s room over. A small conservatory, with mushroom beds and potting sheds. The grounds of over 2 acres are tastefully laid out, being terraced up to the house, with an ornamental lake below, having a fountain in the centre. There is also a well-stocked and productive kitchen garden. There is also three acres of pastureland. It is held under two leases from the Duke of Norfolk.”

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

It was acquired in 1881 by Edward Tozer (1820-1890), a partner in the firm of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers, another Mayor of Sheffield, and twice Master Cutler of Hallamshire.

He was a rags-to-riches story, born in comparative poverty, and rising to become a partner in one of Sheffield’s best-known firms. He was born at Clifton, near Bristol, the son of a brewer, who came to Sheffield. Following his father’s death, he was brought up by his mother who opened a school in Victoria Street.

At the age of eleven, Tozer started work with Sanderson Brothers on West Street and remained to become Managing Director. He eventually left to and joined Henry Steel, T. Hampton, and William Peech in the management of the Phoenix Bessemer Works

It was during Tozer’s time that tragedy occurred at Crabtree Lodge.

In 1886, his youngest daughter, Margaret, aged 19, suffering from ‘religious mania’, went to an upstairs room and committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sulphuric acid.

Edward Tozer died, aged 70,  in 1890, and Crabtree Lodge passed to Francis Markham Tindall, head of Thomas Marrian and Co, Burton Weir Brewery, Attercliffe, who died in 1902.

It is not without doubt that by now the city had encroached upon Crabtree Lodge and it spent years being offered for sale or to rent. In 1907, it was briefly home to Ernest Adames, a district manager of an assurance company, but appears empty until World War One.

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

In 1916, the Y.W.C.A. secured the lease as a hostel for the recreation and rest of women and girls coming to Sheffield and engaged in munition work.

“The house is going to be so nice when it is finished,” said Miss Goldie, the warden.

“The house has been unoccupied for some time, and the grounds have suffered in consequence, yet such imperfections as a break in the stone balustrade which surrounds the delightful terrace only seems to give an air of romance and makes the house appear older than it probably is.

“The large dining hall with panelled dado, surmounted with green duresco and dark oak ceiling, is considered one of the finest rooms in Sheffield, and here the girls will sit at tables laid for six and look out from a large lattice-paned window over a stretch of country blocked on the horizon by Wincobank Hill.”

After the war, Crabtree Lodge, referred to as The Hostel, was managed by a committee of ladies, although still affiliated to the Y.W.C.A., and lasted until 1927. It was advertised as a private hotel or boarding house but survived as a place for meetings and functions with garden fetes regularly taking place in the grounds. It was later converted into flats, and there is a suggestion that the grounds may also have been used as a T.A. Centre.

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022
Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

We might consider the area to be called Burngreave now, and the lodge was eventually demolished, the site used as  the Norbury Home for Elderly People.

But its gardens and ponds remained and today form Crabtree Ponds, a large area of standing water abundant with aquatic life such as rudd, roach, perch, crucian carp, sticklebacks and even eels. Bats fly from nearby Roe Woods to feed on the ponds.

Former Norbury Home for Elderly People. Image: DJP/2022
Former Norbury Home for Elderly People. Image: DJP/2022
Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings People

Walter Gerard Buck

This influential character is relatively unknown in Sheffield’s history. A modest person, he was responsible for one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Walter Gerard Buck (1863-1934) was born in Beccles, Suffolk, the youngest son of Edward Buck. He was educated at the Albert Memorial College in Framlingham, and acquired an interest in architecture, joining the practice of Arthur Pells, a reputable Suffolk architect and surveyor, where he learned the techniques to design and build.

Walter Gerard Buck, architect and surveyor (1863-1934)

Walter, aged 21, realised there were limitations to this rural outpost and would need to improve his talent elsewhere. This opportunity arose in Manchester, the seat of the industrial revolution, where demand for new commercial buildings was great. It was here where he gained several years’ experience in large civil engineering and architectural works, including the building of the Exchange Station, Manchester, as well as the Exchange Station and Hotel in Liverpool.

Liverpool Exchange Street Station and Hotel. The frontage remains and in the 1980s was incorporated into the Mercury Court office development. It has recently been converted into 21st century office space called ‘Exchange Station’. (Image: Alan Young)
Manchester Exchange Station was a railway station located in Salford, immediately to the north of Manchester city centre. It served the city between 1884 and 1969. The station was closed on 5 May 1969. (Image: National Railway Museum)

In 1890, his reputation growing, Walter made the move over the Pennines and into the practice of Mr Thomas Henry Jenkinson at 4 East Parade.

Jenkinson had been an architect in Sheffield for over forty years. He had been responsible for several buildings built in the city centre, taking advantage that Sheffield had been one of the last among the big towns to take in hand the improvement of its streets and their architecture.

Buck’s move to Sheffield proved advantageous. Jenkinson had become a partner at Frith Brothers and Jenkinson in 1862, which he continued until 1898, when he retired. He made Walter his chief assistant and allowed him to reorganise the business and control affairs for several years. During this period Walter carried out work on many commercial buildings and factories in Sheffield.

Initially, Walter boarded in lodgings at 307 Shoreham Street, close to the city centre. He married Louisa Moore Kittle in 1892 and, once his reputation had been established, was able to purchase his own house at 4 Ventnor Place in Nether Edge.

A letter from Walter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Nov 1905)

Perhaps Walter Buck’s greatest work also proved to be his most short-lived.

In May 1897, Queen Victoria made her last visit to Sheffield for the official opening of the Town Hall. It also coincided with the 60th year of her reign – Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

The visit caused considerable excitement in Sheffield and preparations lasted for weeks. Shops and offices advertised rooms that commanded the best positions to see the Queen. Not surprisingly, these views were quickly occupied, but the closest view was promised in the Imperial Grandstand, specially designed for the occasion by Walter Gerard Buck.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee visit to Sheffield in May 1897. The central interest was the newly-built Town Hall where ‘the gilded gates stood closed until her majesty touched the golden key and they flew open’.

This spectacle was built next to the newly-erected Town Hall, opposite Mappin and Webb, on Norfolk Street (in modern terms this would be where the Peace Gardens start at the bottom-end of Cheney Walk across towards Browns brasserie and bar). It was advertised as ‘absolutely the best and most convenient in the city’, with a frontage of nearly 200 feet and ‘beautifully roofed in’. The stand, decorated in an artistic manner by Piggott Brothers and Co, provided hundreds of seats, the first three rows being carpeted with back rests attached to the back. In addition, the stand provided a lavatory, refreshment stalls and even a left luggage office. It was from here that the people of Sheffield saw Queen Victoria as the Royal procession passed within a few feet of the stand along Norfolk Street to Charles Street.

The next day the Imperial Grandstand was dismantled.

The professional relationship between Walter Buck and Thomas Jenkinson matured into a close friendship.

When Jenkinson died in 1900, he left the business to Walter and made him one of his executors. His son, Edward Gerard Buck, eventually joined the business which became known as Buck, Lusby and Buck, moving to larger premises at 34 Campo Lane.

In 1906, Walter was elected to the Council of the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and District Society of Architects and Surveyors and was elected President in 1930. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and a member of the council of that body.

Walter also became a member of the council of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Court of Governors of Sheffield University, a member and director of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club, a member of the Nether Edge Proprietary Bowling Club and vice-president of the Sheffield Rifle Club. It was this last role that he enjoyed best. Walter was a keen swimmer but his passion for rifle shooting kept him busy outside of work.

Apart from architectural work Walter held directorships with the Hepworth Iron Company and the Sheffield Brick Company. These astute positions allowed him to negotiate the best prices for the building materials needed to complete his projects.

A familiar site on Sheffield’s streets. The Sheffield Brick Company had brickyards situated at Neepsend, Grimesthorpe, Wincobank and Wadsley Bridge. Materials were used in many of the city’s buildings including Sheffield University, the Grand Hotel and the Town Hall. (Image: Sheffield History)

However, as the new century dawned, it was a role outside of architecture that occupied Walter’s time.

In 1892 the French Lumière brothers had devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. Their first show came to London in 1896 but the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park in 1889 by William Friese Greene. The ‘new’ technology of silent movies exploded over the next few years and by 1906 the first ‘electric theatres’ had started to open. In London, there were six new cinemas, increasing to 133 by 1909.

Not surprisingly, this new sensation rippled across Britain and Sheffield was no exception. This had been pioneered by the Sheffield Photo Company, run by the Mottershaw family, who displayed films in local halls. They also pioneered the popular ‘chase’ genre in 1903 which proved significant for the British film industry. The Central Hall, in Norfolk Street, was effectively Sheffield’s first cinema opening in 1905, but the films were always supported with ‘tried and tested’ music hall acts. Several theatres started experimenting with silent movies, but it was the opening of the Sheffield Picture Palace in 1910, on Union Street, that caused the most excitement. This was the first purpose built cinema and others were looking on with interest.

Walter Buck was one such person and saw the opportunity to increase business by designing these new purpose-built cinemas. One of his first commissions was for Lansdowne Pictures Ltd who had secured land on the corner of London Road and Boston Street. The Lansdowne Picture Palace opened in December 1914, built of brick with a marble terracotta façade in white and green, with a Chinese pagoda style entrance. It was a vast building seating 1,250 people. In the same year he designed the Western Picture Palace at Upperthorpe for the Western Picture Palace Ltd.

The Lansdowne Picture Palace was designed by architect Walter Gerard Buck of Campo Lane, Sheffield. It stands at the junction of London Road and Boston Street and opened on 18th December 1914.  In 1947 the cinema became a temporary store for Marks & Spencers. In the 1950’s it became a Mecca Dance Hall called the ‘Locarno’ later changing into ‘Tiffany’s Night Club’. It had several more reincarnations as a night club with different names and the frontage was painted black, its last name being ‘Bed’. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Weston Picture Palace, designed by Walter Gerard Buck in 1913-14. The cinema was on St Phillip’s Road and Mitchell Street and was demolished. (Image: Sheffield History)

With the knowledge required to build cinemas it was unsurprising that Walter Buck was asked to join several companies as a director. One of these was Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd which was formed in 1910 for ‘the purpose of erecting and equipping in the busiest and most thickly populated parts of the City of Sheffield and district picture theatres on up-to-date lines’. Its first cinema was the Electra Palace Theatre in Fitzalan Square with a seating capacity upwards of 700 with daily continuous shows. Their second cinema was the Cinema House built adjoining the Grand Hotel and adjacent to Beethoven House (belonging to A Wilson & Peck and Co) on Fargate, this part later becoming Barker’s Pool. This was a much grander cinema with a seating capacity of 1,000 together with luxuriously furnished lounge and refreshment, writing and club rooms.

Ironically, Walter Buck did not design either of these picture houses. Instead, they were conceived by John Harry Hickton and Harry E. Farmer from Birmingham and Walsall, but the bricks were supplied by the Sheffield Brick Company, that lucrative business where Walter was a director. It should not go unnoticed that this highly profitable company probably made Walter a wealthy man. It had already supplied bricks for the Grand Hotel, Sheffield University and the Town Hall.

Opened as the Electra Palace on 10th February 1911. It was designed by J.H. Hickton & Harry E. Farmer of Birmingham & Walsall. Constructed by George Longden & Son Ltd. (who built several Sheffield cinemas), the proprietors being Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. (Image: Sheffield History)
Opened in 1913, the Cinema House seated 800 and was one of the smaller city centre cinemas. Boasting a tea room, it had a narrow auditorium and patrons entered from the screen end of the hall. Being narrow, it’s Cinemascope image size was severely restricted. It closed in 1961 and was subsequently demolished. (Image: Cinema Treasures)

The cinema undertaking was not without risk and Cinema House, which opened six months before the start of World War One, always struggled to break even.

In 1920, far from building new cinemas right across the city, the company bought the Globe Picture House at Attercliffe. The following year they reported losses of £7,000 with Cinema House blamed for the poor performance.

At this stage, it is unclear as to what involvement Walter Buck had with Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres. He was also a director of Sunbeam Pictures Ltd, designing the Sunbeam Picture House at Fir Vale in 1922, and the Don Picture Palace at West Bar. He was most certainly a director of the Sheffield and District Cinematograph Company  by the late 1920s, and eventually became its chairman. In 1930, absurdly on hindsight, he was faced with a public backlash as the company made the transfer over to ‘talkie’ pictures.

“It was true that some people preferred the silent pictures, but the difficulty was that the Americans were producing very few silent films, or the directors might probably have kept some of the houses on silent films to see if they could hold their own with the talkie halls.”

Located on Attercliffe Common at the junction with Fell Road. The Globe Picture Hall was a venture of the Sheffield Picture Palace Co. Ltd. It opened on 10th February 1913 and was, at that time, one of the largest cinemas in Sheffield. The architects were Benton & Roberts. The owning company reformed on 21st March 1914 as the Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. and remained owners until closure on 29th June 1959. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Sunbeam Picture House was built on Barnsley Road at the junction of Skinnerthorpe Road in the Fir Vale district of Sheffield. The Sunbeam Picture House opened on Saturday 23rd December 1922. It was built set back from the road and was an imposing brick and stucco building, with a large embossed rising sun motif on the facade, set inside an ornamental parapet. A central entrance to the cinema was covered with a canopy. (Image: Sheffield History)
The Don Picture Palace opened on Monday 18th November 1912 with the films “Captain Starlight” and “Monarchs Of The Prairie”. The architect was Henry Patterson and it was situated in what was then one of the main entertainment areas of Sheffield with the old Grand Theatre of Varieties being close by. (Image: Sheffield History)

Walter Buck never retired but died at his home at 19, Montgomery Road, Nether Edge, aged 70, in September 1934. He left a widow, his second wife, Fanny Buck, and three sons – Edward Gerard Buck, William Gerard Buck, a poultry farmer, and Charles Gerard Buck, chartered accountant. Walter Gerard Buck was buried at Ecclesall Church.

It seems the only epitaph to Walter Buck is the Chinese pagoda style entrance of the Lansdowne Picture Palace. The auditorium was demolished to make way for student accommodation, but the frontage was retained for use as a Sainsbury’s ‘Local’ supermarket. Very little information exists about his other work in the city and further research is needed to determine which buildings he designed, and which remain. Any information would be most welcome.

All that remains of the former Lansdowne Picture Palace. The frontage and Chinese-style pagoda were retained for this Sainsbury’s Local supermarket, soon to become Budgens. (Image: Cinema Treasures)