On Tuesday April 4, 1923, about nine o’clock in the evening, London Road, at the corner with Sharrow Lane, was quiet, only a handful of people going about their business.
Suddenly, there was a deafening roar, a crash of breaking glass and – silence!
The loud explosion caused terror in the neighbourhood and within minutes hundreds of people swarmed out of their little houses and surrounded Highfield House at the bottom of Sharrow Lane.
Police officers from Highfield police station, about 100 yards away, rushed to the scene but had difficulty reaching the house through the crowd.
Highfield House was the home of Dr George Scott Davidson and he emerged at the front of the house to speak with the police.
Dr Davidson and his wife had just finished dinner and were traumatised by a loud explosion at the back of the property.
The police tried to move the crowds away from Highfield House and used flashlights to search the garden at the rear.
The house was unscathed, but remains of garden trellis work was strewed across the ground and glass in small garden frames had been destroyed.
“We rushed into the grounds, but could see very little, of course, except the frames were badly smashed,” said Dr Davidson. “I have not the slightest doubt the damage was caused by a bomb, but I cannot imagine any reason for the affair.”
And so, Sheffield newspapers filled their pages with the story of ‘another bomb,’ because a week earlier a similar explosion had occurred 200 yards away, in the back yard of a shop at the junction of Randall Street and London Road.
After the Highfield House episode, people told stories of the event.
“It was a noise like rumbling thunder,” said a woman who lived in a house some considerable distance away, “and the windows shook in their frames.”
A boy named Alec Winston, who was playing cards with a friend at 38 Sharrow lane, the nearest house, was thrown to the floor.
“It was a terrific bang, and I thought someone was showering stones onto the windows of the house.”
Closer inspection revealed that broken glass covered the window-sills and steps to No. 38, pieces of glass had shot over the 10ft walls from Highfield House into yards of several adjoining properties. Worse for others, soot had fallen down chimneys filling rooms and covering furniture.
The following day police began investigating the bomb explosion and worked on the theory that it had been thrown from one of the courts at the rear of Grosvenor Square or Sharrow Street, behind Highfield House, but no suspicious characters had been seen.
The neighbourhood was a small, congested area, a far cry from the days when Highfield stood in large grounds in the countryside. It was now isolated by shops on London Road, a large garden in Sharrow Lane, and the houses in Sharrow Street and Grosvenor Square behind.
It was suggested the bomb had been thrown towards the house but had hit the garden trellis causing it to fall short of its target.
However, further examination by police officers revealed a more menacing scenario.
A portion of time fuse was found in the garden, and furthermore the force of the blast had been downwards, suggesting a certain deliberateness that defeated the suggestion it had been thrown by some irresponsible person.
It seemed the device had been made up from gunpowder or dynamite, possibly a mining or quarrying charge, because no fragments of a bomb were found.
The perpetrator must have entered the grounds to lay and ignite the fuse.
Police made numerous enquiries but could not find a reason for the bomb.
There were suggestions it might have been placed by those with Irish connections and suspicion was directed at the out-of-control gangs from around West Bar and Park.
The leaders of the Communist Party in Sheffield denied any knowledge.
“It is not in our line, and we would not do things this way.”
In the end, police believed the two separate explosions, undoubtedly linked, might have been carried out by a ‘desperate man,’ who might have got possession of an explosive.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph tried to downplay the incident, possibly at the request of puzzled police.
“It seems scarcely conceivable that anybody who deliberately was trying to cause serious damage would place whatever explosive in a cucumber frame many yards from the house, while such a receptacle would certainly add to the effect of any efforts merely to produce a ‘big bang.’
“On the whole there seems no cause for anyone to get very nervous, though the sooner the practical joker, or escaped lunatic, who is responsible, is brought to book the better.”
The mystery was never solved but the bomb scares caused many people to look uneasily at their First World War souvenirs – nose caps, cartridges, ‘dud’ bombs and in many cases live bombs which for the previous five years had occupied an honoured place on the mantelshelf or sideboard. Dozens of people paid hurried visits to the Central Police Station in Water Lane to hand them in.
NOTES: Built about 1788 for John Henfrey, Brightfield House was renamed Highfield House by Dr Charles Nelson Gwynne in 1880. His surgery was later taken over by Dr George Scott Davidson. It remained a doctor’s surgery until the 1970s and later became the Charnwood Hotel. The house has since been converted into apartments known as Wisteria Gardens. In the 1920s, Randall Street ran from Bramall Lane to London Road but only exists today between Bramall Lane and Hill Street.
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