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.


The Mount – Flockton’s Folly is about to go full circle

The Mount. View from landscaped gardens towards portico on southern elevation. Axis Architecture

History has the gift of repeating itself, and this applies to one of Sheffield’s forgotten masterpieces. I am referring to The Mount, on the north side of Glossop Road, at the top of the hill, in which a listed planning application has been submitted by Broomgrove Properties and Axis Architecture to convert the Grade II* listed property  into fifty-five residential apartments.

Its beauty is lost amidst the urban sprawl of Broomhill, but once upon a time this was an ambitious attempt to recreate the grand terraces of Bath’s Royal Crescent and London’s Regent’s Park. It was built between 1830-1832 by William Flockton, aged 26, a builder, and forever famous as one of Sheffield’s leading architects.

Pevsner describes it as “a palace-fronted terrace of eight houses, seventeen bays long, with an Ionic giant portico of six columns carrying a pediment and end pavilions with giant columns in antis.

Main portico of the Flockton range, southern elevation. Image: Axis Architecture
Newspaper advertisement from 1831. Interesting to note that in this proposal there are only six mansions. There were eight when it was built. Image: British Newspaper Archive

The Mount, located in rural surroundings, looked like a country house but contained several individual mansions. It was first advertised in 1832 and allowed prospective occupants to view a shell before adjusting the interior to individual needs.

It was referred to as ‘Flockton’s Folly’ because for the first eight years after construction it was only occupied by one person. But its popularity increased and became a place of literary fame when James Montgomery lived and died here, while John Holland, another noted Sheffield poet, lived in one of the houses – occupied by William Parkin for 33 years – until his own death.

The Mount, 1849. Built of stone with an Ioninic giant portico of six columns carrying a pediment in 1834 by architect William Flockton. It was the first home of the Wilsons of Snuff Mill fame. Once the home of James Montgomery. Image: Picture Sheffield

The fame of The Mount says that a ballot was once taken as to who should become the tenant of one of the houses.

Other well-known people who lived at The Mount included, Walton J. Hadfield, the City Surveyor who lived at number 2 from 1926 to 1934, James Wilkinson, the iron and steel merchant who lived at number 6 from 1837 to 1862 and George Wostenholm, the cutlery manufacturer, who lived at number 8 between 1837 and 1841. Numbers 14 and 16 were lived in by George Wilson, the snuff manufacturer, between 1857 and 1867, one house not being big enough for his family. While another George Wilson, who was managing director of Charles Cammell and Co for many years, also lived at The Mount.

In time, it was occupied by “headmasters, ministers, station masters, and all sorts of people.”

The Mount was used as the basis for the nearby Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School, later Wesley College, and now King Edward VII School, in 1838.

The Mount, Glossop Road, Sheffield. 1900-1919. This image was originally part of the Tim Hale Photographic Collection. It was purchased at auction in September 2019 through donations from members of the public and a grant from the Graves Trust. Image: Picture Sheffield

In 1914, John Walsh, the department store owner, bought The Mount and served notice on its tenants. The need to expand his city centre store meant that his live-in shop assistants needed new accommodation. Numbers 10-16 were used for the purpose, and when the Blitz of 1940 destroyed the store, the building was used as temporary retail space for a year.

It was bought by United Steel Companies in 1958 and converted into offices, with extensive additions to the rear, by Sheffield architects Mansell Jenkinson Partnership, who also installed lifts. In 1967 it became the regional headquarters of British Steel Corporation and in 1978 was purchased by the insurance company General Accident, later becoming Norwich Union.

Existing galleried office entrance inserted into Flockton range as part of 1960’s office conversion. Image: Axis Architecture
View of typical room in Flockton range with dividing wall removed. Image: Axis Architecture

For a long time, The Mount was owned by Aviva (formed from the merger of Norwich Union and Commercial General Union) but was rented to A+ English, a language school, which carried out significant improvements to the offices.

The latest planning application calls for fifty-five residential apartments (with a mix of 1, 2, and 3, bedroom and studio units), including single-storey infill extensions at ground floor level, a single-storey rooftop extension to the existing annex, formation of four basement lightwells to the listed range, and provision of internal/external residents’ parking and associated landscaping. In addition, the proposals allow the removal of the through vehicular route, with access from Newbould Lane closed, and with an infill extension at ground floor level to provide in effect a new main entrance for the development and space for a concierge.

Ornate fireplace. Image: Axis Architecture
The Mount. Internal view looking towards north elevation of Flockton range. Image: Axis Architecture

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.