St Matthew’s Church – “Where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence nearby.”

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/DJP/2022

It was an exceptionally cold evening, and the light was starting to wane, but this building stood out, magnificent against the clear sky, and all the time, a gentle warmth emanated from within its walls.

“I’ve never noticed it before,” said someone who has lived in Sheffield all his life. “When you think about churches in the city centre, you think about Sheffield Cathedral and St Marie’s. I would be hard-pressed to name others.”

I understood what he meant, but there are several churches besides, including this one, for which we will start at the beginning.  

There was once a piece of land extending from Carver Street to Backfields and separated from Division Street by a row of shops known as Division Street market. Houses stood upon this land – some of them notorious dens of vice – but by 1855, these had been cleared and a church built in its place.

In the early years of this century, Carver Street surrendered to change, with most of its historical buildings on its upper section with West Street converted into bars. Nowadays we refer to it as Sheffield’s ‘Party Street.’

Further down the road, where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence, life is quieter and simpler, and St Matthew’s Church is still with us.

Late at night, each weekend, Street Pastors congregate here before going out to care for those youngsters who have succumbed to the ‘demon drink.’

The Parish of St Matthew’s was created in 1848 when the original Sheffield parish (now the Anglican Cathedral) was subdivided. Its first Vicar, J.F. Witty, held early services at the National School on Carver Street (now Viper Rooms), but sufficient funds were raised to build a permanent church.

“Since I came to this district, at the invitation of my friend, Rev. T. Sale, Vicar of Sheffield, I have always looked upon it as a missionary appointment – as one calling for more arduous labours than any regular organised district or parish. When I see that there is a population large enough to fully occupy the time of three ministers – that the population is suffering from negligence of years past, and from deep-rooted prejudice and gross ignorance, the alienation of the intellect as well as moral pollution, I see that there is great labour ahead of me.”

The foundation stone was laid in 1854 by H.M. Greaves, of Banner Cross, who was presented with a silver trowel which had on one side a view of the proposed church, and on the other an inscription.

The church was designed by Flockton and Son and was consecrated on 6 June 1855 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave.

It cost £3,297 to build, the main benefactor being snuff-maker Henry Wilson of Westbrook Mill who contributed £1,020. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £200 and the Incorporated Church Building Society gave £250. The rest of the money had to be raised by Witty and his congregation.

St Matthew’s was described as in the perpendicular gothic style of architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and aisles, with a small gallery in the tower at the west end.

It abutted adjoining buildings which meant that it had to be lit solely from windows in the clerestory and those at the west end where an octagonal tower was built – the first in Sheffield – surmounted by a spire of 65 feet, making a total height to the top of the spire 121 ft.

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The West End showing the Goetz & Gwyn Organ installed in 1993. Image/The Church of England

St Matthew’s survived German bombs in World War Two, but many nearby houses were not so fortunate, and those that remained were later demolished. Without a residential congregation, its fortunes dwindled, surviving a fire in 1956 and the threat of demolition to make way for a new road in the 1970s.

Its circumstances have improved with houses and flats returning within parish boundaries, and there have been several restorations since it was built.

“I often think about those who built these old buildings,” said my colleague. “I wonder what they would think to see that their work is still here all these years later.”

I too, think about those people, long dead and forgotten, and it always provides pleasure to seek out those responsible, each with a story to tell.

Mason’s work, James Powell; carpenter’s work, John Dutton and William Heald; plumbers, John Johnstone; slating, Roger Brown; plastering Thomas S. Harrison.

The High Altar. Image: The Church of England
Two members of the congregation, brothers Edwin, 21, and Noel Inman, 18, died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and lived in the Parish of St Matthew’s Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The Rood – In memory of Father G C Ommanney Parish Priest 1882-1936. Image: The Church of England
The Font. Image/The Church of England

©2023 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Attercliffe Parish Church – “Standing on a bold cliff which overhangs the Don.”

Christ Church, Attercliffe Road, from the River Don by Walter Revill. Described in early directories as standing near the bold cliff which overhangs the Don. Image: Picture Sheffield

We forget about Attercliffe, and so it is inevitable that we forget its lost buildings.

One example is Attercliffe Parish Church, also known as Christ Church Attercliffe, once a grand place of worship, badly damaged in the Sheffield Blitz of 1940 and later demolished.

And we might be forgiven for not knowing where it stood, but its site is plain to see.

Christ Church, Attercliffe Road. Image: Picture Sheffield/G. Bagshaw and Sons

We can turn to Pawson and Brailsford’s Illustrated Guide to Sheffield (1868) for details: –

“There is a handsome church at Attercliffe, which is about two miles from the centre of town, on the Doncaster Road. Formerly Attercliffe was a detached village, but now it is practically a busy manufacturing suburb of Sheffield. It was opened in 1826, having been built by means of a Parliamentary grant, at the cost of £14,000. It is a Gothic building, with lancet windows and a handsome groined roof. It will accommodate from 1,100 to 1,200 persons.”

The old chapel-of-ease of the Township of Attercliffe-cum-Darnall, dating from the 17th century, had been replaced by the new church.

Attercliffe, at that time, was a comparatively small place, and largely consisted of lanes and fields, and the new church was one of four churches built in Sheffield out of what was known as the ‘Million Fund.’

The nucleus of the building fund consisted of a grant from an indemnity paid to England by Austria after the Battle of Waterloo.

Christ Church, Attercliffe Road. Built at a cost of £14,000. Image: Picture Sheffield
Interior of Christ Church, Attercliffe Road. In 1867 the galleries were removed, and the interior reseated with open benches. Image: Picture Sheffield

The first stone was laid by the 12th Duke of Norfolk assisted by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam in October 1822 and took four years to build. It was consecrated by the Archbishop Vernon Harcourt of York in 1826.

Early directories referred to the church as standing near the bold cliff which overhangs the Don.

“Time was when Attercliffe was a place of sylvan beauty and picturesque repose, of pleasant pastures and stately houses on the banks of a River Don whose waters were clear and transparent.”

“In the church, there are galleries on the sides and at the west end; which, with the pews in the body of the church, contain two thousand sittings. Some of the windows of the church are ornamented with painted glass, containing the arms of Fitzwilliam and Surrey, Gell, Milner, Staniforth, and Blackburn.”

The churchyard closed for burials in 1856 and a cemetery leading down to the Don was opened in 1859.

In 1876, the church was closed for cleaning and redecoration.

“Below the windows the walls are tinted puce, but above they are straw-coloured, with ornamental work above the windows. The groins are picked out in stone and the roof is coloured buff. White is the groundwork of the chancel roof, but other tints are introduced.”

The church didn’t forget the men who served in World War One, and at a cost of £300 a memorial was erected in the form of oak reredos and panelling together with remembrance panels framed in oak, bearing the names of all those who answered the call of their country.

By the time of its centenary in 1926, the parish embraced around 33,000 souls, but it was a different place.

“The mere mention of Attercliffe to those who are closely acquainted with it is scarcely calculated to send them into ecstasies of delight, for the very sound reason that Attercliffe has precious little that appeals to the aesthetic sense. Attercliffe and throbbing, thriving industry are – in normal times – synonymous terms, and when the clang and clatter, the smoke and grime of heavy trades fill the air, Attercliffe, from the casual visitor’s point of view, is a place to get away from rather than to remain at.

“Looking back upon a picture of a rural landscape, with its common (now filled with shops), its thatched cottages, and its sheep grazing on the riverbanks, the individual might well exclaim: ‘All this has changed.’”

The church was in debt for years, especially after the installation of electricity, and following the departure of Rev. A. Robinson in 1930, the church revealed that its finances were “vague and confused,” and that he had left a debt of £550-£600.

Unfortunately, the church was closed after bomb damage in 1940. Most of its contents were destroyed and Sheffield lost one of its finest churches.

Christ Church, Attercliffe, after bomb damage. Image: Picture Sheffield
Attercliffe Road – Christ Church after air raids. Image: Picture Sheffield
Carved detail from Christ Church, Attercliffe after air raid. Image: Picture Sheffield

The organ from the blitzed church was rebuilt and taken to St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Hanover Street.

The adjacent church hall became the parish church until 1950, and then functioned as a chapel in the parish of Attercliffe-cum-Carbrook until it was closed in April 1981. The new church of St Alban (Darnall) is now the parish church of Attercliffe.

In 1953, the site of the old church and its graveyard was turned into a garden, an area of pleasant green turf bordered by paths. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Coun. Oliver S. Holmes, who said, “it was inspiration to the whole city that good will make beauty rise from the rubble of war.”

Attercliffe Garden of Rest (in the grounds of former Christ Church), Attercliffe Road from Church Lane with Christ Church Sunday School and No. 747, William Deacons Bank in the background. 1959. Image: Picture Sheffield

The church site and the garden of remembrance can be seen on Attercliffe Road, opposite the Don Valley Hotel. Access is available into old Attercliffe Cemetery behind and the Five Weirs Walk.

A rare book, ‘The Church in Attercliffe,’ by Rev. Arthur Robinson, was published to celebrate the church’s centenary in 1926.

The site of Attercliffe Parish Church. Images: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Autumn at St Mary’s Church

Autumn leaves are beautiful! God’s blessings are breath-taking! In the shadow of Bramall Lane.

It has seen joy, laughter, sadness, and tears. Life and death. And has witnessed murder more than once. There were those who tried to set it on fire, and German bombs virtually blew off its roof.

St Mary’s Church is one of three churches built in Sheffield under the Church Building Act 1818 (the other two being St George’s Church, Portobello and St Philip’s Church, Netherthorpe), and the only one still to be used as a church.

Built between 1826-1830 by Joseph Potter of Lichfield with the foundation stone laid by the Countess of Surrey. The construction was supervised by Robert Potter, his son, who resided in Sheffield during progress, and afterwards practised here as an architect for the rest of his days. It was consecrated on 21 July 1830 by the Archbishop of York.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Buildings People

A church in Madrid with Sheffield connections

St George’s Anglican Church in Madrid. Built in 1926

It might be out of the question now, but if you get chance to visit Spain’s capital city there is a Sheffield connection.

The answer lies in a tablet over the south door of St George’s Anglican Church, on the corner of Calle Núñez de Balboa and Calle Hermosilla in the barrio Salamanca district of Madrid.

It reads:

“To the memory of William Edgar Allen. Born March 30th, 1837. Died January 28th, 1915. By whose generosity, this church was completed A.D. 1925.”

William Edgar Allen is a familiar name in Sheffield history. In 1868, he founded the firm of Edgar Allen and Co, Imperial Steel Works, at Tinsley. Taking advantage of his knowledge of continental firms, he soon obtained extensive orders for foreign arsenals, dockyards, and railway companies.

Besides other donations, Allen gave, in 1909, the Edgar Allen Library to the University of Sheffield, contributed £10,000 to Sheffield hospitals, and founded, in 1911, the Edgar Allen Institute (in Gell Street) for Medico-Mechanical treatment, the first institution of its kind in this country. It proved especially beneficial during the First World War; a great number of soldiers having recovered the use of their limbs through the effectiveness of the treatment.

In 1913, Edgar Allen, staying in Madrid, asked Edward Mitchel Gibbs, the famous Sheffield architect at Gibbs, Flockton and Teather, to visit the Spanish city and draw up plans for a Protestant Church.

The church, in Early English-style was to have seated 150 people, funded entirely by Edgar Allen. Unfortunately, the estimates for the building amounted to £10,300, a larger amount than Edgar Allen had anticipated, and the plan was abandoned.

However, at the suggestion of the architect, Edgar Allen, who was in failing health, bequeathed a legacy of £6,000 for a new church to be built.

Edgar Allen died at Whirlow House two years later, and his bequest was put towards the building of St George’s Church, the church of the British embassy, completed in 1925.

Spain was a Roman Catholic country, and rules as to the building of churches other than those of the Roman Catholic communion, were strict. Because St George’s was built on the premises of the British Legation, such restrictions did not apply.

“The workmanship and material of the church throughout were the best, and everything was in excellent taste.”

St George’s was designed by the Spanish architect Teodoro de Anasagasti, who blended elements of the Spanish Romanesque style (cruciform plan, semi-circular apse, bell tower, tiled roof) and the characteristic brick-and-stone construction of the uniquely Spanish “Mudéjar” tradition with specifically Anglican forms.

The chaplain of the church was the Rev. Francis Symes-Thompson, who received a grant of £250 per annum from the Foreign Office.

St George’s Madrid

William Edgar Allen (1837-1915), Founder of the Edgar Allen Institute. (Image: Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/ArtUK)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.