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Buildings Places

Brincliffe Towers and Chelsea Park

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.”

Photograph of Robert Styring by Picture Sheffield

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photograph by David Poole

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.

Photographs by David Poole

Categories
People

Dr Robert Styring

Photograph by University of Sheffield

In another post we looked at Brincliffe Towers (Brinkcliffe Tower), and through this old Victorian house we come across Dr Robert Styring, a name overlooked by Sheffield history.

Styring was one of the city’s good people, neglected in favour of his friend, J.G. Graves, a man who will be forever remembered for the substantial gifts to its people.

However, although Styring’s benevolence was modest in comparison, I hope that this synopsis will allow us to appreciate his impact on the city.

Robert Styring was born in Sheffield on March 18th, 1850, the second son of Henry Styring, an estate agent, and completed his education at Hebblethwaite’s School in the old Freemason’s Hall in Paradise Square.

He left school at fifteen becoming a clerk and collector in his father’s business, leaving four years later when his older brother, Henry Ashmore Styring, returned from his travels

Robert moved into law and was articled as clerk to George Edward Webster, qualifying as a solicitor in 1875, and later going into partnership until Webster’s retirement in 1908.

Shortly afterwards, with his two sons, he founded Robert Styring and Sons on North Church Street.  He became president of the Sheffield District Incorporated Law Society in 1907.

Styring became a City Councillor for St Peter’s Ward, in 1886, and, after four re-elections, was promoted to the aldermanic bench in 1899. He held this position until 1926, when, after forty years’ public service, he was one of the aldermen who were refused re-election by the Socialist majority which gained power that year.

He was Lord Mayor in 1906-07, and for a considerable period was chairman of the Electricity, Water and Parliamentary Committees, and reputed to never have worn the same tie twice when attending Council sittings. In 1912, he was successful in the inclusion of Tinsley into the city boundaries.

Royal visit of Princess Christian in 1906 as she leaves Sheffield Town Hall accompanied by Lord Mayor, Robert Styring. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

As a member of the City Council it fell to him to organise the Sheffield Electric Supply Department, initiated the Surplus Lands Committee, made arrangements for the purchase of the tramway system and subsequent conversion to electric, and led a Parliamentary struggle for Sheffield to claim a share of the Derwent Valley Water Board scheme in Derbyshire.

Styring was interested in education and appointed a member of the Education Committee in 1903.

Robert Styring

To the civic and educational life of the city Styring gave generously. He was a staunch supporter of Sheffield University, in fact, may well be said to have been one of its pioneers. He was a member of the Council of the old University College from which the University sprang, and when the proposal for a University was made, he was a sincere and determined supporter of the scheme.

In those days there was a suggestion that Leeds and Sheffield should combine to form a Yorkshire University, but Leeds declined to co-operate. Styring was a strong advocate of a University for Sheffield and when it was granted a charter became a member of the Court of Governors and expressed faith in its future by having his sons educated there.

In 1923 he anonymously presented the University with £20,000 for the endowment of scholarships and research work. It was only later that his identity was revealed and the following year the University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) and only a few days later the Corporation presented him with the Freedom of the City.

His departure from the Council meant he ended his work on the Education committee but was reappointed not long after, as well as being chairman of the Governors at King Edward VII School.

In other public life, he was leader of the Liberal party in Sheffield, a Justice of the Peace, became a member of the Licensing Committee, and was elected a Town Trustee in 1925. .

A Congregationalist, for many years Styring was associated with Cemetery Road Congregational Church, was chairman of the Sheffield Congregationalist Organisation, treasurer of the Sunday School Union, and completed more than half a century’s service as Sunday school teacher and superintendent.

Styring married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, who helped him in his public duties, and became a rock in his life for 45 years.

Annie Frances Styring

For a while they lived at Moorseats Hall, Hathersage, a house identified with Jane Eyre, and he frequently walked from there to his office in Sheffield.

A man who always looked younger than his age, he attributed his good health to gardening. When living at Hathersage, he had a delightful garden, which he reproduced on a larger scale at Brinkcliffe Tower, which he purchased in 1897.

Brinkcliffe Tower

While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 Annie Styring 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, he 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.”

Styring was a lifelong abstainer and non-smoker and indulged in the healthy pursuits of walking and golf.

In later years he became a world traveller and completed a 33,000 mile round the world tour during which he visited Egypt, India, Ceylon, China, Japan, and the United States.

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.

Brinkcliffe Tower, later known as Brincliffe Towers, became a care home until 2011 and is currently empty awaiting redevelopment. A better fate has befallen its former grounds, opened in 1935 as Chelsea Park, although arguably it maybe should have been called Styring Park.