The name suggests that this is one of Sheffield’s ancient roads, perhaps named after Sheffield Castle, this stronghold destroyed by Parliamentarians during the 1600s. Castlegate is the road that runs alongside the River Don between Blonk Street and the junction of Waingate and Bridge Street.
However, you might be surprised to know that Castlegate is a relatively modern road and celebrates its centenary in 2030.
The road is found on the site of the lost castle and was first suggested by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, the Sheffield architect, as part of his ambitious plans for a Viaduct Scheme connecting Great Central Station (Victoria Station) with Haymarket.
The River Don Road was the only portion of the proposal adopted by Sheffield Corporation and built to ease congestion around Blonk Street, The Wicker and Lady’s Bridge. Its construction was made easier by the council’s Castle Hill Market development built on the embankment of the castle.
Castlegate (or Castle Gate), 60 feet wide and 200 yards long, was built at a cost of £13,000 in 1930, using over 9,000 tons of material, with a one-foot layer of strong concrete laid below the asphalt.
It was divided from the River Don by an old stone wall which had to be reinforced by 14 concrete buttresses each weighing 50 tons. Over the buttresses was a solid mass of concrete stretching from the wall halfway under the road and taking the weight of the traffic.
The former Castle Market site lays in transition waiting for the day when a park is created between Castlegate and Exchange Street.
It was demolished in 2015 allowing the few remains of Sheffield Castle to be excavated in detail.
The area might be run-down and demands attention, but had an extravagant scheme been completed over a century ago, the place might look vastly different now.
In 1911, Sheffield Corporation drew up plans to create a new street running from Great Central Station (Victoria Station) into the centre of the city. Objections were made by the Markets Committee that any such road would have made it impossible to complete its proposed new market scheme.
In response, the Sheffield architect Edward Michel Gibbs created an alternative plan whereby, instead of building the street at ground level, a new road could be carried on a viaduct, allowing the site beneath to be developed for market use.
“The street to the station would be similar in position to that recommended by the committee. It would run from Haymarket to Blonk Street, nearly in a direct line for the station, but instead of descending 26 feet to Blonk Street and then ascending 20 feet to the station yard, it would be carried on a viaduct on the level of Haymarket, then by a bridge over Blonk Street (26 feet high), and forward to a viaduct over the side of Smithfield Market to the station yard.”
The viaduct road would have resulted in level access to Great Central Station, avoiding traffic congestion in Blonk Street, and allowing for the expansion of the markets.
It was a radical scheme that also allowed for the creation of brand new market halls. A wholesale market would have been constructed underneath the viaduct, covering an area of 13,960 square yards, and built on part of the River Sheaf.
On top of the viaduct were to be retail markets, with bold balustraded parapets, and set back 40 feet on each side of the new street, fronting onto a decorative space almost as big as Fitzalan Square. With 5,555 square yards of selling space, the markets would have been bigger than the combined areas of the existing Norfolk Market Hall and Fitzalan Market.
Gibbs estimated the cost of the Viaduct Scheme to be £351,000, inclusive of land, road, viaduct, markets, and a new River Don Street from Blonk Street to Lady’s Bridge.
Unsurprisingly, Sheffield Corporation recoiled over the estimated cost (equivalent to over £16 million today) and refused to consider the scheme.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph favoured the proposal and filled column inches with reasons why the council should at least consider it.
“There can be no doubt that the streets abutting onto the station approach are a disgrace to the town. They are dangerous, congested and filthily dirty, and they give the visitor to Sheffield a first impression of squalor and sordidness.
“If they alight at the station, what do they see? On the right a piece of wasteland: on the left a road that dips under the railway and is flanked with ugly stone walls; straight before them a sloping road leading to a narrow street of dingy, mean-looking buildings, with a dirty, battered ‘convenience’ of the worst and most ancient type standing proudly as a centrepiece.”
Gibbs published a pamphlet to convince people about the scheme and the council eventually agreed to discuss the proposal. However, the projected cost had increased to £398,000 and the Corporation went for the cheaper option.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph was unimpressed.
“The Corporation have before them a scheme which is only a tinkering with an admitted evil, not a bold and generous attempt to extirpate it. It will suffice only for a generation or so.”
Unfortunately, World War One halted all plans for the markets, and it was not until 1930 that Castle Hill Market opened, subsequently replaced by Castle Market in 1959.
There is a photograph from January 1970 that shows a train driver, sitting in reflective mood on a bench at Sheffield’s Victoria Station. He was waiting to take out one of the last passenger trains from Sheffield Victoria to Manchester.
Once it had departed the lights went out and darkness descended on a railway station once considered the city’s ‘pride and joy’.
An eventual victim of cuts initiated by Dr Beeching, almost nothing remains today, but if you know where to look, and use a bit of imagination, you can see where once Sheffield folk hopped on a train across the Pennines and down to London’s Marylebone and King’s Cross stations.
The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway was engineered by Joseph Locke and opened in 1845, the line originally terminating at Bridgehouses Station (the site on waste land above the lower end of Derek Dooley Way).
In 1847, it merged with two other railway companies to form the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, prompting an extension of the line and construction of a new railway station about 1km to the east.
It was developed by Sheffield-born John Fowler, engineer-in-chief, and included a 40ft-high, 750-yard long, viaduct over The Wicker (Wicker Arches) and was completed in 1847-1848. The new Victoria Station opened on September 15th, 1851.
The railway station was opened for the convenience of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, the Great Northern, and the south traffic of the Midland Company. It occupied a space between Wicker Arches to the canal, crossing the river, the site of the old Blonk Dam, the cattle market, and fairground, and the back of Sheaf Works.
Built on arches by Miller, Blackie and Shortridge, it rose 40ft above the level of The Wicker, the station fronting south-west with prominent views of the Corn Exchange, the New Market Hall, and canal warehouses.
The approaches to the station and the platforms were the work of John and Amos Ridal, and the station buildings were erected by Robert Tomlinson Carlisle, the builder of Beighton Viaduct and the New Market Hall.
It was not the magnificent station envisaged by Fowler. The architects, Weightman, Hadfield and Goldie, were asked to reduce costs, probably the result of high expenditure engineering the approach to the station.
The front of the Victoria Station was destitute of ornament, being simple in architectural character. It was approached from Blonk Street by a straight incline, built upon the arches, 50ft wide, 220-yards long, and rose at a rate of 1 in 30. As the road approached the station it opened out into an extended area.
The station consisted of a centre and wings, the latter being extended with a high fence wall, with gateways for the exit of arriving passengers, and beyond these, on each side, covered by stands for horse-drawn cabs.
The length of the masonry front was 400ft, built of rock-faced Greenmoor stone, with chiselled beds and joints, and facings of ashlar stone from Wadsley.
A covered veranda, with glazed roof supported by iron brackets, extended the whole length of the centre building, to allow carriages to set people down under cover.
The entrance, or waiting hall, was 50ft by 30ft, and 25ft high, having an enclosed office for booking clerks. Tickets were issued at three windows. At the centre, first-class passengers of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway got their tickets, and on the right-hand side, second and third class passengers got theirs. The left-hand window was for Great Northern passengers.
In the eastern wing were refreshment and waiting rooms, public conveniences, parcels office, and on the chamber floor the station master’s house. The refreshment rooms were rented by Mr Moyes, the landlord of the Great Northern Hotel at Lincoln.
In the western wing were the telegraph and station master’s office, rooms for lamps and porters, guards etc., and the engineer’s office. Above these were the boardroom and other offices.
Having passed through the booking office and reaching the platform, the passengers were greeted with ample light and a conveniently arranged station.
The platforms were covered with a light roof of iron and glass, 83ft wide and 400ft long, regarded as one of the “first fruits of the Crystal Palace.” It was the work of Fox, Henderson and Company, a ridge and furrow roof, with Paxton gutters, designed to carry away rain and condensation underneath (used for water closets and urinals), and the centre of the roof was raised to permit a line of ventilation.
The roof was not supported by pillars, but its principals were set 25ft apart, resting on the inner wall of the station buildings on one side, and a lofty wall on the other. The glass was strong crown glass, about the thickness of ordinary pottery, and extended to an area of 34,600 sq. ft.
Through the station ran four lines of rails – two for passenger trains and two for spare carriages. Two other lines were laid outside the north-eastern wall for goods traffic.
The exits were closed by sliding gates, opened only when a train arrived and thus preventing ‘idlers’ entering the platforms, which themselves were divided by iron railings through which only passengers with tickets could pass.
With the building of Victoria Station, the Bridgehouses Station was converted into a goods, cattle and minerals station that operated until the 1960s.
The Victoria Station opened on Monday September 15th, 1851. Although not fully completed, the station was elaborately decorated with flags, some bearing loyal inscriptions, others wishing good wishes for the prosperity of the railway and docks, while others were simple decorative banners.
The first train to leave the station was an early morning service with 500 passengers bound for Hull and Grimsby. About 9am, a pleasure train with 2000 travellers set off for Worksop, and in the early afternoon a special train left for London. Combined with local services the station was a scene of bustling activity, soon tested by the presence at the same time of two through trains and two Eckington trains sharing the same platforms.
With formalities out of the way, and the Victoria Station left to its daily business, Robert Tomlinson Carlisle, the builder responsible for the station buildings, entertained 500 of his men at the New Market Hall.
His workers were treated to a substantial dinner of beef and ham provided by Mrs Outram of the Black Swan in Snig Hill.
The ceremony was attended by John Fowler, engineer-in-chief, the man responsible for the massive project.
Robert Tomlinson Carlisle gave a toast to “The Queen, Prince Albert, Albert – Prince of Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family; Prosperity to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, and the Grimsby Docks; Success to the Sheffield Markets, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Yarborough.”
Charles Anderson Worsley Anderson-Pelham, 2nd Earl of Yarborough, former MP, was the chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway. His Lincolnshire estate was adjacent to the line and had been responsible for the development of the track through the county, especially its extension to Grimsby Docks
The Victoria Station was a success and received a new roof spanning main line platforms in 1867. Three years later the Midland Railway opened the Midland Station and it received its first real competition. Victoria was enlarged by Logan and Hemingway in 1874 and received a new frontage in 1908.
The Great Central Railway came into being when the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name in 1897, anticipating the opening in 1899 of its London Extension. Interestingly, for a short time afterwards Victoria Station was renamed Great Central Station but as was often the case, old names refused to go away, and it reverted to its original name. The Great Central Railway was later grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway.
In 1948 the railways were nationalised, and it brought wholesale change to the network, as governments committed to the elimination of steam traction in favour of diesel and electric power.
After World War Two, the Victoria track was the first main line in the UK to be electrified, reaching Victoria Station by 1954.
Over time, with the growth of the road haulage sector, passengers replaced freight (especially coal transport) as the railways’ main source of income, and Victoria’s glory period was in the 1950s.
The Manchester London Road to London Marylebone service, via Victoria Station, used the Great Central Line. Other expresses ran to King’s Cross over the East Coast main line, and The Master Cutler, The Sheffield Pullman and The South Yorkshireman all served the station.
However, by the end of the decade expresses to Marylebone had either been cut or re-routed to King’s Cross and by the mid-1960s many local and express services had been transferred to the Midland Station. It left Victoria with just one hourly Manchester service and the daily Liverpool-Harwich ‘Continental’.
The Beeching Report of 1963 resulted in the closure of a third of the rail network and originally favoured closing Midland Station. However, in the ensuing years Victoria Station became the chosen casualty instead, the Hope Valley line between Sheffield Midland Station and Manchester preferred because it served more communities. There was a suggestion that the cost of upgrading Victoria’s obsolete electric line was too expensive, but there were also suggestions that politics decided its fate. After much wrangling, and a two-year enquiry, passenger services were withdrawn from Victoria Station on January 5th, 1970.
Goods traffic still ran through the station but all tracks (except one that still exists nearby) were lifted in 1983, and the station buildings demolished in 1989 to make way for extensions to the nearby Royal Victoria Hotel.
Perhaps we should mention HS2. The long-running saga of Britain’s next generation railway originally had plans for a station at Meadowhall, but Sheffield City Council wanted a city centre location.
For a brief time, it seemed that Victoria Station might have been resurrected but alas, once again, its old rival, the Midland Station (now Sheffield Station), became the preferred option instead.
And so, to the present. Much of the site of Victoria Station’s former buildings and platforms is now lost under modern hotel buildings and car-parks. However, the elegant sloping approach to the Crowne Plaza Royal Victoria hotel remains much the same as it did when the station existed.