Crookes Valley Park

Crookes Valley Park has long been a favourite for residents, workers and students, one of three Crookesmoor Parks, the others being Weston Park and the Ponderosa.

I doubt that many people will realise that this is one of Sheffield’s newest parks, named Crookes Valley Park in 1951 as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme.

Before this, the piece of land beneath Crookes Valley Road had been called the Recreation Ground, and the lake was referred to as the Old Great Dam.

However, the story of this park is fascinating and one that has probably been lost over time.

Our tale starts in 1782, when Joseph Matthewman, together with Messrs. Wheat, Lee and Gunning, of the Sheffield Reservoirs Company, were granted a 99-year lease by the Earl of Surrey to build a new reservoir in the Crookesmoor Valley.

They believed the supply of water to the town was inadequate and turned their attention to the deep valley at Crookesmoor which separated the townships of Sheffield and Nether Hallam, and where the sides of the hillside were abundant with fresh springs. The topography of the land allowed them to pin-up the water at little cost.

The Old Great Dam was completed in February 1785, spread over four acres and contained 21million gallons of water, fed by a small stream in its western corner.

It was later joined by the New Dam, Godfrey Dam, and the Ralph and Misfortune Dams, together with four smaller dams in the Crookesmoor Valley. They were later accompanied by the Hadfield Reservoir at Crookes, built at a height of 600ft above sea level.

Water was conveyed into Sheffield by wooden pipes, 1,100 yards to a working dam at Portobello, and then to a stone cistern at Division Street, then distributed through the streets in the upper part of town. The lower Crookesmoor reservoirs supplied the lower parts via Watery Lane.

The Old Great Dam was thought big enough to supply the town for years, but when the Sheffield Waterworks Company assumed responsibility in 1830, the population had grown from under 10,000 to nearly 50,000, doubling between 1780 to 1810.

The Crookesmoor Dams were no longer able to cope with demand and larger reservoirs were built farther out of town. All the dams, except Old Great Dam, were filled in, with the Town Trustees offering to buy part of its land in 1874 to create a public park or recreation ground.

The scheme failed and it wasn’t until the completion of Crookes Valley Road in 1893 that the idea was resurrected.

Before this time, the valley had been crossed using the Great Dam Road, roughly following the edge of the reservoir, but involved a steep descent.

A new road was required to link Winter Street with the other side of the valley, and a massive embankment was built between the two. The project needed 450,000 loads of material, and to assist, Sheffield Corporation offered a “free tip” whereby “good, hard, dry rubbish” could be taken for the formation of the road. For years afterwards, the area at the end of Winter Street was still referred to as “The Tip.”

In 1905, Sheffield Corporation created the Recreation Ground next to Crookes Valley Road with a shelter, the city’s first municipal bowling green, and tennis courts. However, the Old Great Dam, as well as the privately-owned Dam House beside it, remained untouched.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the Old Great Dam was turned into a boating lake, with thirty rowing boats, and the Dam House converted into the Festival Restaurant, offering “first class meals of a continental standard.” The whole area was renamed Crookes Valley Park.

Nowadays, the lake (as it has become known) is used for fishing, and don’t let anyone fool you that it isn’t deep.

Over the past 235 years, it has claimed hundreds of lives, most unaware of its chilly depths, estimated at between 45 and 60ft.


Mushroom Lane

This is the story of a narrow road with a magical name.

Mushroom Lane winds up Crookesmoor Valley, originally from St. Stephen’s Church at Netherthorpe (now called The Vine), but now assumes its name further up the hillside. It crosses over Winter Street, and winds between Weston and Crookes Valley Parks, before emerging at Western Bank, near to the museum.

These days, most people barely take notice of the name , and those that do often presume it relates to the growing of mushrooms on the hillside back in ancient times.

However, the tale behind Mushroom Lane is far more interesting than that and begins at a time when this area was simply fields, trees and rolling countryside.

In early days, great tracts of waste or common land lay between villages. This land belonged to no one and was sometimes referred to as “Folkland” – as we see in Fulwood, a corruption of “Folkwood.”

The villagers had free access to this land for grazing purposes, fetching and carrying wood and using it for the benefit of the community. There was no special right to any part because it belonged to all, in the true communal manner.

Under certain conditions, however, it was possible for an enterprising squatter, providing he was a free man and able to quit his Lord’s service, to obtain a tenure on that waste land.

This is how a house called Mushroom Hall came to be built.

In the year 1789, a man called Ben Pinder contrived to build and cover, between sunset and sunrise (that is in a single night), a house, and to boil a pot therein. Once completed, it gave him the right to hold the place under what was known as a Keyhole Tenure.

The house was built of sods, stones, brick-ends and other binding materials, and the springing up of the place in one night naturally led locals to call it Mushroom Hall. As time passed the house was gradually improved, and the track that ran up the hillside to it became known as Mushroom Lane.

It was later bought by Whittington Sowter, landlord of the delightfully named Warmhearthstone public house at Townhead Street in Sheffield Town.

The custom of Keyhole tenure and the boiling of a pot harks back to Pagan times when hearth fires were held sacred.

It wasn’t the boiling of the pot that made the tenancy complete, but rather the lighting of the fire that boiled it. The ever-burning village fire was held to be hallowed, and the kindling and the maintenance of the fire upon real estate was proof of lawful occupation and possession.

And so, Mushroom Hall and Mushroom Lane may sound ridiculous, but were named in quite serious circumstances.

What became of Mushroom Hall?

A far cry from its humble origins, it is now part of 362 Mushroom Lane, owned by the University of Sheffield, and where you will find the Department for Human Communication Sciences.