Categories
Streets

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds

Backfields looking towards Division Street in 1937. Image: Picture Sheffield

Backfields, a cess-pit of filth, was how it was described in the 1870s. These days, we know it as an unassuming narrow lane running between Division Street and Wellington Street. Once it was rural idyll, the fields behind Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) but by the mid-1800s contained slum housing and workshops.

There were a few unsavoury public houses to satisfy the thirst of the poor and were joined in the 1850s by another one.

It was an ambitious attempt by John Banks to capitalise on the success of ‘The Book of the Age,’ and he called his small hostelry Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, in full, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly,’ was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in serialised form in the United States in 1851-52 and in book form from 1852 onwards. An abolitionist novel, it achieved popularity, particularly among white readers in America’s north, by vividly dramatising the experience of slavery.

The first London edition appeared in 1852 and sold 200,000 copies. “Anything in such universal demand has never been known in the history of literature. Many booksellers aver that they are selling nothing else, the trade for the time being seemingly centred in this one book, which, unlike almost all others, presents equal attractions to both old and young,” reported the Sheffield Independent.

It was a brave move by John Banks, and one that probably raised a few eyebrows.

Very little is known about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and by the 1860s had been let out to another tenant before disappearing.

However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had another claim to fame.

In 1857, a new lodge in connection with the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds – Ashton Unity, was formed at the house of John Banks, under the sign of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

This strange society had been formed on Christmas Day 1826, when several groups came together to create a mutually beneficial society. It came into existence in consequence of the refusal of the officers of the Manchester Unity to permit the opening of an additional lodge in Ashton-Under-Lyne.

The aim of the Order of Ancient Shepherds was “To relieve the sick, bury the dead, and assist each other in all cases of unavoidable distress, so far as in our power lies, and for the promotion of peace and goodwill towards the human race.”

They drew their mythology from biblical sources, emphasising pastoral aspects of mutuality that could be exercised for and by members of the lodge.

The pioneers attached importance to regalia and symbolism. When completing lodge business all members had to wear aprons made of lambskins with the wool on. The Chief Shepherd was to wear a mantle. Guardians were decorated with sheep shears, and to wear broad brimmed hats, and the Minstrel was to carry a harp, an imitation of the Biblical shepherd David.

In 1829 it was designated the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. Loyal referring to the Crown, and Shepherds referring to the nativity of Jesus.

Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. A photograph of typical regalia. Sadly, not in Sheffield, but taken at Springhills, Shotts, about 1896. Image: North Lanarkshire Council

Shepherdry was introduced into Sheffield with the Shepherd’s Care Lodge in 1852. It was followed by the opening of the Sir Colin Campbell Lodge in 1853 and afterwards several other lodges, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opened.

It held its national AGM at the Cutlers’ Hall in 1867 and at the Church Institute in 1886. It survived in Sheffield until 1930 when all the Sheffield District lodges transferred to the City of Leeds District.

Interestingly, the society still exists, and became Shepherds Friendly in the 1990s, now offering Isas, investments, life insurance and income protection.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Backfields – while you were sleeping last night

Backfields, looking from Division Street. Image: DJP/2022

While you were sleeping last night. Backfields, 3am. A forgotten thoroughfare amid 21st century redevelopment. A street with an undesirable history. Our ancestors imperilled this narrow street to crime – stabbings, muggings, and death, and I doubt that Sheffield has another street which suffered so many devastating fires.

In 1872, a Dr Hime expressed his opinion that it was not surprising that there should be so much sickness in the town while there were such places as Backfields and the neighbourhood.

Backfields led from Division Street to Wellington Street, off which were alleys and passageways with access to Coal Pit Lane, and Carver Street. It was an area of dirty, dense, back-to-back housing, and small workshops.

It was a cess-pit of filth, but it hadn’t always been like this.

Once upon a time, Backfields was exactly that. The fields beyond Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street), once the distant boundary of town, was where cows grazed, sheep gambolled, and children played in the meadows.

Cometh the Industrial Revolution, no trace of its rural past existed.

In the same year that Dr Hime pontificated about Backfields, the Sheffield Independent provided a unique account: –

“On the eastern side of a yard there is a privy that must do duty for a considerable number of houses, and it is scarcely equal to the duty. The ashpit is more than full – it is overflowing. It has made an encroachment almost into the middle of the yard, in front of the doors of some of the houses and extends about twenty feet until its further extension laterally is stopped by the water branch.

“It is the same in every yard. Near St. Matthew’s Church there is an ashpit adjoining the street, piled up high beyond the retaining walls, and the rubbish falls onto the footpath leading to the houses. The passages are worthy of exploration. A visit to them will show that the ashpit question, though a grave one, is not the only point affecting the sanitary position in Sheffield. Air, light, ventilation, and crowding have much to do with it, and many of these places ought to be improved off the face of the earth.

“There is a passage, the old entrance to which has been removed by the erection of a privy, and the actual passage left would scarcely admit the entrance to a turtle-fed alderman. But there are other privies, not only as bad, but worse. One could not be seen because the doors were closed. The other could not be seen because the doors could not be closed. But here, as in the other case, a solution has been found. Human necessity is strong in resources; and the depositions that should be made in the privies are made in or thrown into the passage. These premises are stuck over with notifications from the Health Committee enjoining cleanliness on the inhabitants, in circumstances and under conditions where it is impossible to be clean!

“Yet again, in these jennels and passages, there are active business proceedings carried on. In one of them, there is a bakery, where spicy-looking buns were being made for the delectation of young Sheffield, which may be very excellent in their way, though fastidious people would prefer that the materials of their food should not be exposed and manipulated in such unsavoury localities. In another passage, a large tray of pork pies was met ready for the oven. These ‘Melton Mowbrays’ may be all that could be desired; and the givers of picnics will perhaps feel obliged for hints as to the possible sources of their pies and buns, or other delectable confections manufactured over conditions of sweetness that may impart a flavour and improve the appetite.”

It took years for things to improve. A hundred years later, the houses had finally gone while recession claimed industry and commerce. St. Matthews is perhaps the only reminder of our inglorious past.

Sheffield did little to redevelop Backfields and it is only now, with the Heart of the City project, that the area has been embraced. Tower blocks are not long from completion, and people, maybe descendants of those who ate spicy-buns and pork pies, are returning.

But, as somebody recently pointed out to me, are we simply building the slums of the future?    

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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.