Once upon a time Sheffield town was surrounded by fields, moorland, and pasture. Much of this land was ‘common’ or ‘waste’ land. Common land was under the control of the Lord of the Manor, with certain rights, such as pasture, held by certain nearby properties. Waste was land without value, unsuitable for farming, and often in awkward locations.
In 1773, during the reign of George III, an Act of Parliament created a law that enabled inclosure (or enclosure) of land, at the same time removing the rights of commoners’ access.
As a result, common land, moorland, and other property of the people, was distributed amongst landowners of the district.
In the Manor of Ecclesall about 1,000 acres of common land was lost by an Act in 1779.
Three Commissioners – William Hill, of Tadcaster, Samuel Brailsford, of Rowthorne, and John Renshaw, of Bakewell – distributed the land accordingly among landowners.
The Marquis of Rockingham (Fitzwilliam) of Wentworth Woodhouse, as Lord of the Manor, benefited most, while the Earl of Surrey (as Duke of Norfolk) obtained all the tythes and two thirds of the small tythes in Ecclesall that lay on both the north and south side of the Porter Brook. Andrew Wilkinson, Bethiah Jessop, Philip Gell, John Gell, Mary Catherine Gell and Mary Gell were entitled to the other third part of the tythes for the land lying on the south side of Porter Brook, and James Wilkinson, as Vicar of the Parish Church at Sheffield, was entitled to the remainder of the small tythes on both sides of the Brook.
The commoners were outraged, it caused significant unrest, but they were powerless to stop the loss of land.
In 1909, the old deed was rediscovered in archives at the Ecclesall Board of Guardians, and the full extent of the land division laid bare.
It showed that some of the most fashionable residential quarters of Sheffield had developed from these waste lands, that the most thriving centres of industry had sprung up on old moorland, and that what were once common lands had become villa residences paying fat ground rents.
Land that fell within the Inclosure Act included Little Sheffield Moor, Carter Knowle, Brincliffe, Bent’s Green, Whirlow, Millhouses, Greystones, Sharrow Moor, and Sharrow Head.
The streets in the vicinity of Sheffield Moor were set out by the Commissioners. For instance, Carver Street, Rockingham Street, Bright Street, Earl Street, Alsop Lane, Jessop Street, Tudor Street, Duke Street (later Matilda Street), Cumberland Street, Hereford Street, Bishop Street, Button Lane, and Porter Lane, were all inclosure roads formed at this time out of what was then called Little Sheffield Moor.
Other new roads indicate the localities where inclosure took place, it being necessary to make new roads to give access to the owners of the new allotments – Fulwood Road, Clarkehouse Road, Manchester Turnpike Road, Whirlow Road, Ecclesall Wood Road, Dead Lane, Button Hill Road, Cherrytree Hill Road, Tapton Hill Road, Broomhill Bridle Road, Whiteley Wood Road, Greystones Road, High Storrs Road, Ranmoor Road, Dobbing Hill Road, Little Common Road, Holt House Road, Brincliffe Road and Machon Bank Road.
The discovery of the buried deed caused quite a stir in Sheffield with the naïve realisation that land had long before been taken from the people and gifted to aristocracy and the well-to-do.
In 1909, there were a great many people complaining about unfair taxation when it was proposed to take a generous portion of their money.
The irony was not lost on the Sheffield Daily Independent:
“It would be interesting to know what those who were crying so loudly, about the people taking from their landlords, would say about what the landlords had taken from the people.
“There was a large amount of land at Bradfield which was taken from the people, chiefly by the Duke of Norfolk. It was taken from them under the pretext that it was waste land, and if it were inclosed and given to private individuals, they would cultivate it. It was still moorland, however, and if the people dared go off the roadway, and walked on to the moors, they would soon meet somebody who would inform them that they were trespassing.”
And so, Sheffield expanded, swallowing the gifted lands that became the roads and suburbs we know today. Somewhere, concealed in dusty old archives, will be the story of how these lands, taken from the people, delivered a huge fortune for the landowners.
NOTE: Thanks to Sheffield Indexers and the British Newspaper Archive for details of the Ecclesall Inclosure Act.
What do you do with a problem like Fitzalan Square? Those of you that have seen it lately cannot have failed to notice its recent overhaul with a new grassed area around the statue of King Edward VII, and the addition of new trees. The square has also been given open access from Norfolk Street, across Arundel Gate, and down Esperanto Place.
The improvements to Fitzalan Square and the surrounding area are part of a £5.5million ‘Knowledge Gateway’ project to transform the area which runs from the Cultural Industries Quarter up to the square.
However, there will be doubters that look upon this work with a note of scepticism. Fitzalan Square has never lived up to its name, not helped by unremarkable twentieth century buildings on one side of the square, and a tendency to attract ‘undesirables’.
Its history goes back to 1869 when Sheffield Corporation started purchasing and demolishing premises on the east side of Market Street (where the top end of the square is now) and the south side of the old Haymarket.
Several properties came down, including the Star Hotel, Theaker’s Coffee House, the King’s Arms Hotel, the Blue Bell, Fisher and Sons, Mr Arnison’s drapery, and Mr Jeffrey’s pawnbrokers.
A large portion of the premises belonged to the Misses Shearwood. These two ladies objected to part with their property and refused to lend themselves in any way to the proceedings for acquiring it. Sheffield Corporation had to execute a deed poll vesting the property in themselves and paid money into a bank account for the benefit of the ladies. The Sheriff of Yorkshire was called in to give the Corporation possession of the property, and did so by placing in the street an article of furniture and getting the tenants to ‘attorn’ to the Corporation – that was to admit that the Corporation was their landlord. The money remained in a Bank of England account until the death of the ladies some years later.
When the property between Market Street and Jehu Lane (still standing off Commercial Street) was pulled down the open space was called Fitzalan Square, after the Duke of Norfolk’s family.
It was in 1882 that the council announced that it was obtaining plans and specifications for completing a new layout in the open space.
“The space will be levelled, and a retaining wall built along Market Street, surmounted with ornamental palisades, leaving a part open in the centre with steps down to the space levelled, at each of which is to be erected two small ornamental stone buildings, the one near the markets for the use of gentlemen, to contain a good reception or waiting room, lavatory, retiring and attendant’s rooms. The building at the other end near to Norfolk Street, for the use of ladies; to be provided with similar accommodation. The open space is to be well spaced with good flagstones, and in the centre a suitable fountain to be erected, or a statue to William Jeffcock, the first Mayor of Sheffield.”
It appears that the plans were rejected in full, the toilets not built, but some improvements were made to ‘Welshers’ Oval’, as the Sheffield Independent called Fitzalan Square.
“The police were asked to undertake the keeping of order in the open space,” said Le Flaneur in the newspaper. “I am afraid this open space will be very much like the proverbial white elephant. It certainly cost enough to get, and now a permanent addition of the police force will be necessary to keep it constantly free of the loafers, idlers and book makers that make it their daily resort.”
It was left to Police-constable George Warhurst to be the object of terror. Betting loungers were prompt to obey his orders to make themselves scarce, and it was a difficult task for the Chief Constable when Warhurst died in 1884.
Matters did not improve after a pagoda-style building, comprising tram waiting rooms, water closets and urinals, as well as a clock turret, was built in the centre of the square in 1885.
Far from enhancing the appearance of the square, it provided shelter to ‘mouldy old men and frowsy women’ and in a short time had acquired a shabby reputation.
“If only some of our worthy Aldermen and Councillors would make it convenient to spend a few hours each day, for a week, in the immediate vicinity of this structure, they would, I am sure, be earnest in their endeavours to put an end to the constant ‘loafing’ which takes place by ‘undesirables’ at this particular sport,” said one letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
It was a subject repeated day after day.
“The evil at the shelter is a radiating evil. It embraces all the seats around, for the reason that, while the shelter is the converging point of the very pick of Sheffield’s undesirable characters, they also use it as a kind of base from which they carry on their predatory prowling: a long rest, then a short spell of loafing at the street corners, – that is the day’s programme.”
“It has been a disgrace far too long, and from every point of view. In my judgement the lavatories themselves are a menace to public decency.”
The ‘Current Topics’ column in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph took up the matter and its biting words make painful reading today.
“The correspondents who are raising the question of this unpicturesque resort of the city’s Weary Willies and Tired Tims will do good service if they can stimulate the authorities into action. We will confess that we never pass through Fitzalan Square without experiencing a keen desire to turn a hose pipe on those seats, partly because it would be a pleasing novelty to see the people run, as in their abhorrence of cold water they would, and partly because both they and the seats they occupy look as if they would be the better for a smart wash.
“There need be no sentiment wasted over the denizens of Fitzalan Square. When we are really civilised, we shall transport such people to Labour Colonies and give them to eat exactly what they earn. Failing that there is neither reason nor sense in retaining them as permanent decorations to the city’s ‘finest site’. Fitzalan Square might be something to be proud of. At present it is only disgusting.”
Sheffield Corporation was indeed stimulated into action, probably the result of land at one end of the square being chosen as the site for the new General Post Office.
While land was cleared for the Post Office in 1907, councillors proposed reconstructing Fitzalan Square to harmonise with the new building.
It was probably one of the best known public spaces in Sheffield, but the most ardent son could scarcely claim that the pagoda-like structure which gave it its chief characteristic had added either architectural grace or dignity to this part of the city.
“The pagoda had served various purposes satisfactorily, and, notably, as a rendezvous for a little army of folk with apparently little to do than doze and gossip the day through.”
The council adopted a scheme for laying out Fitzalan Square in ornamental style as an open space, and at the same time taking advantage for utilitarian purposes. The scheme was worked out by Mr C.F. Wike, City Engineer, based on drawings prepared by the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors.
At the time it was noted that there were more pipes laid through Fitzalan Square than through any part of the city. Here, the lines to the GPO, the National Telephone, and Electric Light Power stations converged. The Post Office was also laying cables to connect trunk wires to the new GPO building and on completion of work, in January 1909, renovation of the square commenced.
The contractor chosen for the work was George Longden and Son, but the original plan had been shorn of ornamental detail due to cost, although the property overlooking the square was nearly all rebuilt.
The ugly pagoda went and the central part of the square it occupied was enlarged. This was made possible by removing an old cab stand and filling up the slope on the south side of the square to make it level and wider.
The upper part of Baker’s Hill, a sloping road in front of where the new GPO was being built, had been done away with, and steps substituted as an outlet from that corner of the square into Pond Street.
The new scheme provided an ornamental stone balustrade, public conveniences at either end of the square, and a tramway office, all underground. At the four corners were electric arc lamps, with further embellishments, in the shape of a fountain and a statue, planned for a later date.
However, the scheme was embroiled in controversy, the council wanting to use Norwegian or Swedish granite because it resisted damage, but the majority wanting cheaper Stoke Hall stone. In the end, the balustrades were built of imported granite.
Fitzalan Square was formally opened on Wednesday December 8, 1909, by the Lord Mayor, Earl Fitzwilliam, at which he made an expressive speech: –
“We live in a time when the question – a burning question in some cities – of open spaces is bidding fair to see some very satisfactory accomplishment. In no city more than Sheffield are these open spaces desirable. In a city like Sheffield where we burned the very best ‘South Yorkshire’, they made the very best mess of the South Yorkshire atmosphere. Science has not yet taught us how altogether to avoid this murky effect, but by providing open spaces we might make best of the atmosphere that is left to us. Sheffield is especially fortunate in its open spaces and in this particular one, because although in the past they had had a space here, it had not been one worthy of the size or importance of the city.”
The improvements had cost £9,000 (about £1.1 million now), but the age-old problems refused to go away, and criticism was often scathing.
“Within a year an article appeared in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, written by an anonymous correspondent, under the heading ‘THAT SQUARE’: –
“A good deal of the recent talk about Fitzalan Square may have been ineffectual, but if it did nothing else it sent me to inspect the place. Though my work brings me into the city daily, I had never had reason to descend to the bottom of High Street since the so-called improvement had taken place. Yesterday I determined to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
“I have no desire to exaggerate but I do not hesitate to say that Fitzalan Square is the most pestilently ill-favoured open space in England. This is patent without seeing all the others, for there is an instinct which tells you when you have seen the absolute nadir of ugliness. I have seen IT.
“If you are at all run down the effect of suddenly coming upon such a spectacle as this forlorn wilderness of paltry dog kennels and pretentious architectural incoherencies may easily cause a shock dangerous to health.
“The said ‘improvement’ consists of a stone balustrade round a large piece of nothing at all. What this petty stone fence is meant to enclose or exclude is not obvious. There are four lamp-posts of the most abysmal hideousness. Possibly there is poetic fitness in this, for they are meant to light the way below.
“It might be roofed in and let as a skating rink or turned into a rifle range. It might be dug up and let out to husbandmen. Unless three out of four of the surrounding buildings are absolutely wiped out and a big sum spent in covering up the alleged ‘improvement’ which has recently been carried out, nothing can be done to make the place decent.”
And so, the tone was set, for decades subject of ridicule, damaged during the Blitz, and often left to its own unsavoury devices.
The fountain never materialised and a plan to relocate a statue of Ebenezer Elliot from Weston Park to Fitzalan Square was abandoned. It was graced with a statue of King Edward VII (subject of another post) in 1913.
In time the underground toilets were removed, the trams disappeared, and even the taxis left for busier parts of the city centre.
When the area has become too down-at-heel there have been attempts to restore it, including a 2003 facelift, with the restoration of the King Edward VII statue, new sandstone paving, steel benches and improved street lighting.
The latest restoration comes at a time when this part of the city centre is in transition. A vast proportion of people have migrated to The Moor along with the old market, the old General Post Office now belongs to Sheffield Hallam University, and the future depends on the Castlegate development and most probably our student population.
The Fitzwilliam Street part of Sheffield city centre was developed in the early 19th century, from agricultural fields into Victorian terracing and warehouses. Of significance, is that the area was heavily bombed during World War Two and as a result was cleared and remained largely undeveloped until the 1970s and 1980s.
The boom in student accommodation has resurrected the area in the past decade, not least with another new planning application submitted to Sheffield City Council for a thirteen-storey block of 209 student studio apartments. If all current applications are approved, the area will once again revert to residential use.
But what is the history of Fitzwilliam Street?
Back in 1874, Samuel Everard, a prominent citizen of the town, made the following observations: –
“As we pass Bright Street, Fitzwilliam Street and Rockingham Street, let us know them as illustrations of the origin of our street names. They at once indicate the ownership of the soil by the house of Wentworth (of Wentworth Woodhouse).”
The last Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, married Mary, the daughter and heir of Thomas Bright, of Badsworth, near Pontefract, in 1752, who in her own right was Lord of the Manor of Ecclesall and owner of extensive estates in the vicinity.
It was said that the Marquis, when once taunted with marrying a woman of no blood, had replied, “If she had no blood, she had plenty of suet.”
The marriage brought the land into possession of the Marquis of Rockingham and it descended to his nephew, William Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam.
The names of Fitzwilliam Street and Rockingham Street are familiar to us all, but Bright Street, named after the Lord of the Manor of Ecclesall, has long disappeared.
It ran directly from the bottom end of Fitzwilliam Street towards Cumberland Street, crossed by South Street (that we now know as The Moor). It broadly spanned the same line as does Fitzwilliam Gate today.
“If you lay out your money in improving your seat, lands, gardens, etc., you beautify the country and do the work ordered by God himself.” These were the words of the 1st Marquess of Rockingham in the letter of advice he left for his son, the future Prime Minister, shortly before his death in 1750.
He had been good as his word, by his own reckoning he had spent £82,500 improving his house and grounds at Wentworth, providing it with one of the longest fronts of any English country house.
We are talking about Wentworth Woodhouse, situated within Rotherham borough, but within a stone throw of the Sheffield border, up the road from Chapeltown.
This remains one of South Yorkshire’s hidden secrets, only emerging from years of obscurity within the past few years.
Few people realise that behind the 600ft Palladian front is a second house with a grand baroque front. The difference between the two houses is blatant, but they formed a single building programme between 1724 to 1749.
The family made their fortune from coal mining, and the Fitzwilliams, descended from the Rockinghams, became well-known in Sheffield circles.
However, the 20th century wasn’t kind to the family and certainly not to Wentworth Woodhouse.
After World War Two, Manny Shimwell, Minister of Fuel and Power, told Peter Fitzwilliam, “I am going to mine right up to your bloody front door.” And he did.
Years of open-cast mining devastated the gardens and parkland and did lasting damage to the old house itself.
Unable to be maintained properly, Wentworth Woodhouse survived due to the efforts of Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam, sister of the 7th Earl, who negotiated a deal with West Riding County Council in 1949 to use it as a training college for physical education teachers. The family retained the Baroque wing.
Lady Mabel College later merged with Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) and remained at Wentworth Woodhouse until 1988.
The house was put up for sale and bought by Wensley Haydon-Baillie, a millionaire, who, after a bad business investment in 1998, admitted debts of £13million, and the property was repossessed by the bank.
Its saviour was Clifford Newbold, a London architect, who, far from being the recluse he was originally made out to be, did what he could to save Wentworth Woodhouse.
After his death in 2015, Wentworth Woodhouse was put on the market and eventually sold to Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust for £7million in 2017.
This is undoubtedly the renaissance for Wentworth Woodhouse, with £7.2million of repairs to the roof almost complete.
In normal circumstances, the state rooms are open to the public, with plans to use parts of the house as a hotel and business centre.
Subsidence and age have contributed to its unstable condition, underlined by the recent discovery that Georgian cornices, 18 metres above the ground, were crumbling away.
The good news is that Historic England has stepped in with a grant of £224,000 to replace more than 90metres of the ornate sandstone and limestone cornice, which runs around the roofline of the mansion’s Palladian East front.
They say that American schoolchildren know more about Wentworth Woodhouse than their British counterparts. More astonishingly, there are far more people in Sheffield who have probably never heard of it.
Wentworth Woodhouse, just over the Sheffield border with Rotherham, is the result of building work carried out by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), who built it between 1724 to 1749. It is remarkable for consisting of two houses built as one. The famous Palladian east front hides the grand Baroque west-wing behind.
His son, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782), was a committed Whig and became Prime Minister of Great Britain on two occasions – between 1765-1766 and in 1782.
He spent most of his political career in opposition to George III’s Government, but Wentworth Woodhouse became a seat of political activity, where ‘The Rockingham Whigs’ including Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and the Duke of Portland met to draft policies.
He argued consistently with reconciliation with America at a time when thirteen colonies were becoming increasingly at odds with Great Britain. However, he failed to convince most of the House of Commons and as a result there was the long and bloody American War of Independence (1775-1783).
When he took office again in 1782 it was on condition that George III recognise American Independence, but Wentworth died before terms of peace could be negotiated. As one historian says, he was “a champion of a lost cause.”
But don’t think that he was a radical, initially believing that America shouldn’t be given independence. “Our object has always been to try to preserve a friendly union between the colonies and the Mother Country.”
The American War of Independence ended a year later, marking the end of British rule and the formation of the United States of America.
Peter Wentworth Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam (1910-1948), soldier, nobleman and peer, with a seat in the House of Lords.
He was born at Wentworth Woodhouse, just over the Sheffield border with Rotherham, married Olive Dorothea Plunket in 1933, and succeeded to the earldom in 1943.
In later years his marriage was said to be in disarray and heading for divorce.
His life was engulfed with scandal and, despite being married, he fell in love with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy (Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington), sister of future US President John F. Kennedy, at the end of the Second World War after meeting the 28-year-old widow at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
Kennedy patriarch Joe had been persuaded to consider them marrying, but tragedy struck in 1948 as they took a premeeting holiday, and their plane crashed in France during a storm.
He left no son and the peerage moved to his second cousin once-removed Eric Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, but his fortune, including half the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, the Coolattin estate in County Wicklow and a large part of the Fitzwilliam art collection, was inherited by his 13-year-old daughter, Lady Juliet Tadgell.
Fitzwilliam is portrayed by Thomas Gibson in the television mini-series The Kennedys of Massachusetts (1990) and by Larry Carter in the film Lives and Deaths of the Poets (2011).