Categories
Streets

When the Victorians complained about our roads

By the 1870s, many Sheffield roads had been laid with macadam but the corporation found it difficult to maintain and keep clean. As such, many roads were ripped up and replaced with granite setts.

Complaints about pot-holes always cause a stir. But you might be surprised to know that our roads have long been the subject of contention. The columns of local newspapers have been filled with grumbles going back to Victorian times.

The grievance was the type of material used to surface our streets. As Sheffield grew, the network of roads expanded, and many of the main streets were overlaid with cobbles (water-rounded stones collected from beaches and rivers), irregular flat-shaped stones, or more commonly, slag macadam.

In the 19th century, cobbles were replaced with round or hexagonal wooden setts, probably creosoted Norway pine, that provided a safer surface for horses and wagons. They gave a better grip for horse-shoes and the iron rims on wheels, and reduced the noise of traffic.

Wooden cobbles unearthed on Hodgson Street. Picture: Nigel Humberstone

The wooden setts, although abundant in supply, proved expensive, and granite setts, squared off by hand, were brought to Sheffield from several locations, including Cornwall, the Channel Islands, and then increasingly from Aberdeen.

Once worked, granite setts were capable of much greater precision of laying and could help construct a far smoother street surface. They lasted for 30 years, hardwood for 15 years, and afterwards could be taken up and redressed.

However, the people of Sheffield objected to granite, complaining that noise generated by horse-drawn traffic was too loud. On West Street, wooden setts had been laid to make it quieter around the Royal Hospital, but ratepayers on the other side, on Division Street and Devonshire Street, protested that noise from granite was “nerve-racking,” “a distinct disgrace to the city,” and “enough to send people to the county asylum.”

There was a bigger drawback. Horses tended to slip on granite causing serious injury, sometimes death, to the animals. It was reason enough for Sir John Bingham, head of the firm of Walker and Hall, to campaign against their use in the 1890s.

Bingham had good reason to dislike granite setts. When driving a high dog cart, one of his horses had slipped and fallen, pitching him out onto his head. He started a crusade and gained support from Reuben Thompson and Joseph Tomlinson, proprietors of Sheffield’s two largest horse-drawn cab and omnibus firms.

“I, like many others, have been injured for life upon these granite setts, and I feel most strongly that where they are laid, they should be properly and regularly roughed. About a year ago, accidents happened on the same day to two of our leading steel manufacturers, Colonel Vickers, and Sir Alexander Wilson, one of them having his horse killed, the other being seriously injured, and will bear deep scars on his forehead so long as he lives, and says will never drive again in Sheffield.”

Bingham re-entered the council to enforce his views and was eventually able to stop granite setts being used on Sheffield’s main streets.

In 1895, he discovered that the stringy bark of a Tasmanian tree could be combined with granite to create a safer, quieter, and more durable road surface. He developed Bingham Patent Paving, first used on Norfolk Street, and then across many of the city’s main streets.

However, by the 1920s, the use of asphalt  meant that Sheffield Corporation hadn’t bought any wood or granite setts (or Bingham’s paving) for several years. Asphalt had been created by accident in Kent after tar barrels had fallen onto a road and broken. Ultimately, it was discovered the part of the road covered with tar was found the best, and afterwards the use of tar had spread all over the country.

It resulted in most of Sheffield’s cobbled streets being covered over, a practice that continues to this day using modern techniques.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of granite setts in streets across Sheffield, and some of the wooden setts have even resurfaced in recent years, notably on Hodsgon Street, near the Moore Street roundabout, and on Sackville Road, at Crookes.

Highways supervisor Gary Booth examines some of the wooden blocks in 2018 at the Streets Ahead Olive Grove depot. Picture: Sheffield Star

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Central Fire Station

The former Central Fire Station, on Division Street, photographed in 2017. (Budby/Flickr)

This is Bungalows and Bears, on Division Street, a popular bar with students, but you might not be aware that in 2028 the building will celebrate its centenary. In Pevsner’s Architectural Guide to Sheffield, Harman and Minnis describe it as ‘bloodless, Neo-Georgian,’ typical of inter-war building. Sadly, it’s not looking its best these days.

This was the former Fire Brigade Headquarters, built in 1928 at a cost of £39,000, and opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman H. Bolton in July 1929.

It would be interesting to know how much remains of its interior since its conversion to flats and ground-floor bar in the 1990s.  

Finishing touches to Sheffield’s new fire station in July 1929. Painters can be seen in rather precarious positions. (The British Newspaper Archive)

The fire station was designed by the City Architect, W.G. Davies, and was intended as an extension to an adjacent station on Rockingham Street (1883-1884). A row of shops fronting Division Street from Rockingham Street to Rockingham Lane was purchased and demolished.

The new Division Street frontage was 155ft long, of which 60ft was occupied by the engine room, with accommodation for 10 engines. Inside, the engine room had white-tiled walls, tastefully picked out in blue, a floor of terrayo, and huge teak doors that opened onto the road.

Adjoining the engine room was the ‘watch room’ – a private telephone exchange and switchboard, with automatic fire bells for calling out the firemen.

On each side of the buildings were stairways and sliding poles of stainless steel fitted on each floor, enabling the men to reach the engine room from the first and second floor firemen’s quarters. There was a children’s playground at the rear of the first floor, while the third floor housed a recreation hall, gymnasium, and more firemen’s quarters.

Electric clocks were fitted throughout, as well as a lighting system controlled by the watch room that ensured that when an alarm sounded emergency lights were switched on automatically.

Outside the engine house, in Division Street, two solid bronze flamboyant torch-fitting electric lamps were fitted, each consisting of three torch-shaped, red-tinted electric lamps.

At the back was a courtyard with a 70ft high brick tower used for drill purposes with Pompier and hook ladders.

The building work was undertaken by Messrs. Abbott and Bannister, Ltd., general builders, and public works contractors, of Machon Bank, using Stairfoot Double Pressed Red Facing bricks, and stone supplied by Joseph Turner of Middlewood Quarries. A green Westmorland slate roof was installed by W.W. Fawcett of Hale Street.

The next time you go past, have a look for five different carvings on the building. They include the Sheffield Coat of Arms and representations of four of the old Fire Marks, all executed by Frank Tory and Sons, architectural sculptors, of Ecclesall Road.

The fire station survived until 1983 when a replacement building was opened on Wellington Street, subsequently demolished in 2010, with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue moving to its current Eyre Street headquarters. Now used as a car park, the Wellington Street site is earmarked to become Pound’s Park, named after Sheffield’s first Fire Superintendent.

Central Fire Station in operational use in 1974. The engine house could house ten fire engines, but by the 1970s only four were housed here. (Picture Sheffield)
The former fire station now requires some restorative work. The upper floors are flats and the old engine house is used as a bar. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places Streets

It’s hard to imagine our former landscape

Sheffield in 1791. This reproduction was one of David Martin’s Series of Sheffield Sketches, showing what was the appearance of the town from the north side of Broomhall Spring.

The wood called Broomhall Spring extended to Broomhall Park, full of fine old oak trees, with very little underwood, and soft turf like that of a park. The wood was later cut down, the Government wanting oak timber for ship-building.

The spring itself was later referred to as Spring Garden Well, with the inscription “To the public use, by the Rev. James Wilkinson and Phillip Gell, Esq. Freely take – freely communicate. thank God.”

It was at what is now the corner of Gell Street and Conway Street, and it isn’t without coincidence that the names Broomspring Lane, Wilkinson Street and Gell Street emerged.

To the picture itself, and the fields between Broomhall Spring and the churches – the Parish Church, St. James’s and St. Paul’s – are known to us now as West Street, Division Street, and their adjacent thoroughfares.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Sheffield Water Works Company

We’ve never mastered the art of saying, “Let’s go for a pint at the Sheffield Water Works Company.”

The chiefs at J.D. Wetherspoon will cringe as we insist on calling it by its previous name, Lloyds No. 1. One of the few occasions where you can hop, skip and jump between two ‘Spoons’ pubs.

A lot of history behind this building. Palazzo-style, a rarity in Sheffield, designed by Flockton and Abbott in 1867 for the Sheffield Waterworks Company.

The sculptured heads of Greek and Roman water gods are above the ground-floor windows.

The Grade II listed building was later the home of the hugely successful Graves Mail Order Empire… the Amazon of the Edwardian period. It was founded by John George Graves, whose many gifts to the city included Graves Park and Graves Art Gallery.