Categories
People

When the Shah of Persia visited Sheffield

The photograph taken at The Farm, the Duke of Norfolk’s Sheffield residence, by Herbert Rose Barraud. It now belongs to the National Portrait Gallery. (Image: NPG)

Here is a story about a Royal visit to Sheffield that to younger generations will appear extraordinary.

In July 1889, the Shah of Persia (now the Islamic Republic of Iran) was invited to Sheffield by the Duke of Norfolk as part of His Imperial Majesty’s visit to Britain.

The welcome given to Shahanshah, Khaqan, Soltane Saheb Quaran, Quebleye alam (or plain old Naser-al Din Shah Quajar) was on a scale only afforded to British monarchs.

His visit to these shores was politically motivated, with the hope that it might lead to Britain developing Persia’s railways and business interests. Despite the pomp and ceremony that surrounded the Shah the country was regarded a poor relation, but one that might offer riches to our Victorian ancestors.

“Politically, Persia is misgoverned, oppressed, and plundered, and is sunk in barbarism.”

The Shah arrived at the Midland Station on Friday 12th July. He had been fatigued in Birmingham and his journey to Sheffield was delayed, causing unnecessary anxiety to those who had organised the schedule. Nevertheless, the people of Sheffield waited patiently, and gave him a rapturous welcome.

“The sight that met the Shah was one rarely witnessed in Sheffield. Not only were there thousands of people pressing against the barriers, but house tops, walls, boards, and almost every point from which a view of His Imperial Majesty could be obtained was occupied.”

From Midland Station, a huge procession, escorted by a squadron of the Yorkshire Dragoons, made its way to the Corn Exchange where a reception was held. Afterwards he visited the Atlas Works of John Brown and Company before heading to The Farm, the Duke of Norfolk’s residence (now the site of Sheffield College), where he stayed overnight.

The scene in the Corn Exchange during the presentation of an address from the Mayor. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)
The Shah witnessing the forging of a steel ingot at the Atlas Steel and Iron Works. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Saturday was a rainy day, but it did not stop big crowds gathering along the Shah’s route.

“Flags flapped limply about their poles, the bunting drooped ingloriously, the streamers and floral festoons looked bedraggled, and all the bravery of decoration had departed.”

The Shah posed for a photograph at The Farm taken by Herbert Rose Barraud of Oxford Street, London.

“He was dressed in a dark coat fastened with emerald buttons. He wore a shoulder belt across his breast with bars of precious stones including Cabochin emeralds and rubies, the edges bordered with diamonds. Attached to a slender gold chain was the heart-shaped diamond he wore as an amulet; on his breast gleamed a richly jewelled star of the garter. His shoulder straps were studded with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. He wore a Kolah cap displaying the Lion and Sun of Persia.”

Once again events ran incredibly late, the Shah’s carriages, accompanied by 30 members of the Yorkshire Dragoons, not leaving The Farm until after mid-day.

“Punctuality is the courtesy of Princes, but in Persia it is an unknown quantity. There every man takes his time from the King who, come what may, is never late.”

Despite the long delay, thousands lined the streets as the Royal procession travelled along St Mary’s Road, The Moor and to Norfolk Street where the Shah visited the works of Joseph Rodgers and Sons, including a tour of the vast ivory cellar, before being presented with a handsome sporting knife.

From here, the Shah was transported to the silver plating company, James Dixon and Sons, at Cornish Works, where a whistle-stop tour ended with the presentation of a silver drinking flask.

By his side throughout the visit was a 10-year-old boy favourite of the Shah. It was said that if the opulently decorated boy were beside him no harm could ever befall the Ruler of Persia.

A late lunch was held at the Cutlers’ Hall where toasts were exchanged, with Prince Michael Khan acting as the Shah’s interpreter.

From here he left for Victoria Station which had been gaily decorated, as was the Royal Victoria Hotel, and a guard of honour was formed by the Artillery Volunteers while a band played the Persian National Hymn. His train set off for Liverpool and at Wardsend a battery of six guns was fired to send him on his way.

Sadly, the Shah of Persia was assassinated in 1896 but the monarchy remained until 1979 when it was abolished after the Iranian Revolution.

His Imperial Majesty Naser al-Din, The Shar of Persia. He was assassinated by Mirza Reza Kermani when he was praying in the shrine of Shah-Abdol-Azim in 1896. It was said that the revolver used to kill him was old and rusty and had he worn a thicker overcoat, or been shot from a longer distance, he would have survived. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza

(Image: David Poole)

In 1860, James Radley, founder of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, suggested to architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield that Sheffield required a first-class hotel. “Merchants from America, the Continent, and elsewhere, have frequently returned to Manchester and Liverpool, instead of remaining in the town.”

This spurred the Sheffield architect into action, enlisting local businessmen, and choosing a site next to the Victoria Station.

The Duke of Norfolk supported the scheme, but not wishing to be a speculator, gave a £1,000 donation. Encouraged by this, about forty shareholders invested, and the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was founded.

However, once plans were made public, there was a negative response from the public.

“An hotel let us have by all means, but pray don’t build it where the first visit will most assuredly be the last.”

This reflected the proposed location of the hotel close to the railway, rolling-mills, forges, and factories, all of which belched gases and smoke from chimneys.

There were also concerns that the “putrid water beneath it,” would make it a most uncomfortable place. A reference to the polluted waters of the River Don.

And there were cries that the site was too far away from the town centre where it might have been more sensible to build a new hotel.

It later emerged that a rival consortium had planned to build a large hotel in the town, with a suggestion that negative press had originated here.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company granted the site next to the Victoria Station on favourable terms. Nevertheless, there were obstacles to be overcome, not least the fact that the land had previously been the site of a dam, and subsequently the solid foundations for the hotel ended up costing the company £1,500.

As a director, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, designed the new hotel and work started in 1861.

The first board meeting of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was held in the boardroom at Victoria Station in February 1862. Those attending were Charles Atkinson (chairman), John Brown (mayor), William Frederick Dixon, Thomas R. Parker, Henry Wilkinson, John Jobson Smith (M, S and L Railway Company) , Michael Joseph Ellison, Frederick Thorpe Mappin, James Willis Dixon, Francis Hoole, John Hobson, Robert Younge, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, and Bernard Wake (law clerk).

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

With work underway, the company looked for somebody to take over management of the hotel. With the help of James Radley, who had committed £500 to the project, the company appointed George Meyer, proprietor of the Queen’s Hotel at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, built for the London and North Western Railway Company.

The Victoria Hotel consisted of a front and two-wings. It rose four storeys above the entrance to the Victoria Station with a basement.

A covered passage was built from the station platform to the north wing, leading into a lobby which ran through the building. From this were all the various trappings of a fine hotel – coffee rooms, two sitting rooms either side of the main entrance, dining room, assembly room, bar, and smoking room.

The staircases and corridors, illuminated with gas lamps, were built of stone.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The fifty bedrooms on the first, second and third floors occupied the front and outer portions of the building, in addition to servants’ apartments and ten sitting rooms. There were two water closets on each floor as well as a communal bathroom. Luggage was conveyed to each floor using a hoist. The first floor bedrooms and sitting rooms were furnished with mahogany, the second and third floor rooms kitted out at lesser cost.

The kitchen was built behind the front portion of the hotel and contained two stoves and two plate-heaters. The basement extended underneath the kitchen. Half of this was occupied with servants’ rooms and the remainder used as a wines and spirits cellar. A passage with iron bar gates ran through the cellar with perforated zinc windows for ventilation.

(Image: Eventbrite)

George Meyer brought with him a considerable sum of money used to furnish the Victoria Hotel.

“I learned a lesson some years ago from the Emperor of the French. It was said that when Queen Victoria visited, she found all the rooms fitted up so much like those of her own palace that she had difficulty in realising that she was not at home. I hope that this will be just the feeling which all would experience who visited the Victoria Hotel.”

He spent about £15,000 on furnishings. The dining room had chandeliers and silver gas brackets with richly decorated walls. Splendid services of pottery and glass were manufactured in Staffordshire and silver-plate supplied by James Dixon and Sons.

The Victoria Hotel opened on July 28th, 1862. At the invitation of Meyer, a number of leading gentlemen and their families were invited to visit and a sumptuous déjeuner was prepared for them.

“The whole establishment has about it an air of comfort and elegance, and we may add of cleanliness, which in the midst of our smoky atmosphere will not be maintained without considerable exertion.”

(Image: David Poole)

An official inauguration ceremony took place in September 1862 when leading gentry and manufacturers were invited to a banquet “with a profusion of the good things of this world, and adorned with silver-plated epergnes, fruit and flowers, presenting a scene of almost Eastern luxuriousness.”

Despite the misgivings about its location the Victoria Hotel was a success. It was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1875 and hereon it was called the Royal Victoria Hotel.

Shareholders got their money back with a little over 3 per cent interest and hardly a share changed hands while under ownership of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company.

Their 24th annual general meeting in 1889 was their last because by negotiation the hotel had practically passed into ownership of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway.

“In the hands of the railway company the hotel will continue to be that great boom to the town which it had been from the outset.”

George Meyer had died in 1873, and his wife chose to retire.

It was the railway company’s first venture into hotel management setting a precedent for the Great Central Railway’s (as it became) later hotels at Nottingham and Marylebone.

The Royal Victoria Hotel was enlarged in 1898, later passing to London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and on nationalisation was owned by British Transport Hotels.

When the Victoria Station closed in 1970 the hotel might have gone the same way. However, it was sold in 1972 and for a long time was called the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn.

Most of the station’s buildings were demolished by 1989 allowing a new extension to be built and connecting to the main hotel by a covered passageway much the same way as passengers used to leave the platform.

The hotel and the retaining wall and approach ramp of the old railway station were Grade II listed in 1995 and in March 2019 the hotel was rebranded as the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza.

(Image: IHG Hotels and Resorts)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Sculpture Streets

King Edward VII Memorial

Photograph © 2020 David Poole

Despite the mixed fortunes of Fitzalan Square, one structure has stood proudly for well over a hundred years. The King Edward VII Memorial in the centre of the square was erected in October 1913, Sheffield’s commemoration of the King who had died three years before. The bronze statue has seen out two World Wars, surviving the destruction of the immediate area during the Blitz.

It might seem hard to believe now, but Edward was a popular King with Sheffield people. His mother, Queen Victoria, had been a relative stranger to the city, but as the Prince of Wales, he had opened Firth Park in 1875, and attended the opening of an industrial exhibition by the Cutlers’ Company in 1885. There were also stories of Edward’s incognito visits, including those to friends in the suburbs and a town centre hostelry.

He visited again in 1905, this time as Monarch, to open the University of Sheffield and to unveil the Boer Monument to the York and Lancaster Regiment outside Sheffield Parish Church (now the Cathedral).

After his death in 1910, it seemed appropriate that Sheffield should honour him with a statue. As always,  the proposal sparked debate amongst its people.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

Sheffield Corporation made it known it intended to add an equestrian statue and fountains at both end of Fitzalan Square, already upgraded in 1909. However, opinion was divided because of the poor reputation the square had long held.

A grander scheme had also been proposed for a new King Edward Square nearby, on the site of the Fitzalan Market (where the easyHotel stands today). This scheme would have cost excess of £100,000 and after much deliberation was abandoned.

Any memorial to King Edward had to be funded through voluntary public subscription, and so Fitzalan Square was deemed more suitable as the cheaper option.

Sheffield Corporation had already been solicited by artists keen to work on the memorial, including Benjamin Creswick, Albert Bruce-Joy, Frederick Pomeroy, and Adrian Jones.

In March 1911, the city architect, Mr Edwards, invited artists to submit designs for both an equestrian statue and a standing figure. As well as those proposals already received, there were others from Alfred Drury, Francis Derwent Wood, William Goscombe John, Henry Alfred Pegram, Paul Raphael Montford, Thomas Brock and Charles John Allen.

It became known that King George preferred non-equestrian statues of his late father, and Sheffield respected those wishes with its choice.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The winning design was by Alfred Drury (1856-1944), a sculptor with a fine reputation in London. He quoted between £1600 and £2000 for the design, and £2000 as his fee, although he eventually received 2000 guineas.

A photograph of the design was published in December 1911, and the following month Fitzalan Square was officially announced as the chosen site.

Fundraising was slow, and the project might have faltered, had it not been for a £5,000 donation from Samuel Meggitt Johnson, of George Bassett and Co, on the condition that a home and school for ‘crippled’ children also be built in the city.

The statue was winched into place in October 1913, quickly covered, and officially unveiled by the Duke of Norfolk at a high-profile ceremony on 28 October, the same day that the Duchess of Norfolk laid the foundation stone of the ‘Cripples’ home in the Rivelin Valley.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

Thousands of people turned up for the ceremony, curious to see the uncovering of a statue, something that was not commonplace in Sheffield. At the time, there were only three other statues on display – Queen Victoria opposite the Town Hall (now at Endcliffe Park), James Montgomery and Ebenezer Elliot. Sheffield had only recently possessed wider streets, and the old narrow congested roads had always been unsuitable for statuary.

Before the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, the vast crowd was entertained by the bands of the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters and the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons, playing in turn, while troops lined the enclosure around Fitzalan Square.

At 3.30pm there were speeches by Samuel Osborn (Lord Mayor), Colonel Henry Kenyon Stephenson (Chairman of the Memorial Committee), Thomas W. Ward (Master Cutler), Alderman William Henry Brittain (Town Collector), and Alderman John Hobson (Deputy-Lord Mayor).

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Duke of Norfolk drew the cord which allowed the covering to fall from the statue, to an outburst of cheering and the playing of the National Anthem.

“I highly esteem the honour of being allowed to unveil in this great city the statue of a great King. We have assembled to place a lasting remembrance in the centre of the city which will bring home to the minds of other generations who will only hear of him as a memory of the past, and as a historical character, the personality of their late King.”

The King Edward VII statue (2.9 metres high) was made of bronze, situated on top of an Aberdeen Kemnay Granite plinth (4.27 metres high), designed by a local architect, similar to one Drury had designed in Aberdeen, but also thought better to withstand Sheffield’s industrial pollution.

There are four panels in stone on all four sides of the plinth – ‘Fame and Truth’, ‘Philanthropy, ‘Unity’ and ‘Peace’, with the word ‘Peacemaker’ incorporated into a banner across one of the bronze reliefs.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Photograph of the King Edward VII Memorial in 1918 by Picture Sheffield
Photograph © 2020 David Poole