Big Houses

Crabtree Lodge – a picturesque old English mansion

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

I need you to use your imagination.

We are on Barnsley Road, heading towards Fir Vale, an area adjacent to Page Hall, where a large Slovakian Roma community lives. Page Hall has attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons. It has an unwanted reputation for crime and disorder.

But before we reach Fir Vale, and the sprawl of the Northern General Hospital, we come to a set of traffic lights, at the junction with Norwood Road. On the corner, we can see an abandoned and boarded-up former care home. Steel-mesh barriers surround it, and graffiti covers most parts. It won’t be long before someone sets it on fire, and it will be gone.

We carry on down Barnsley Road and turn left into Crabtree Close. We park the car and retrace our steps to a patch of scrubland where a sign welcomes you to Crabtree Ponds Local Nature Reserve.

Slipping through the trees, we descend a rough path, and at the bottom is a most unexpected sight. A beautiful expanse of water, with carefully made walkways around it, surrounded by tall trees and thick vegetation. All you can hear are birds singing, and the distant hum of traffic.

A man with a big dog sits on a bench. He is drinking from a cheap bottle of wine. He is drunk, but he doesn’t care that we have disturbed him. “Reyt, pal,” he calls, and sits back to enjoy the last of the day’s sun. We walk past him, along wooden planks suspended above water, and climb the steep hillside, back towards that decaying care home. Nearby, an ambulance wails its way to the hospital.

But imagine we could go back in time.

We are in the mid-1800s. Like today, the birds are singing, but the only traffic is a horse and cart gently clattering along the other side of a huge stone wall. We have walked around the ornamental pond, admired the fountain at the centre, and said good evening to a beautiful Victorian lady taking the summer air.

We climb the neat, terraced gardens, up exquisitely carved steps, absorb the sweet fragrances, and walk across the manicured lawn towards the big house. It looks splendid as the sun slips behind its sloping eaves, and shadows fall across the decorative gardens. It will soon be night.

We sit on a garden bench and look across the valley, to the meandering stream below, the ponds with their delicate fish, and the trees and fields that stretch over to Wincobank Hill.

Let us hope that this landscape remains as it is forever.


Crabtree Lodge, Pitsmoor, Sheffield. The only known sketch of the house is by N. Roberts in 1884. Image: Picture Sheffield

In 1884, a newspaper reported that Crabtree Lodge was a pleasantly-situated residence, in a district of Sheffield which had grown very rapidly. Pitsmoor had lost its rural charm, but this big house remained at the corner of Crabtree Lane.

It was a mansion in the picturesque old English style built in the nineteenth century, allegedly for a Mr Rotherham.

It later became home to Charles Atkinson, J.P. (1800-1879), chief partner in the firm of Marriott and Atkinson, Fitzalan Works, Attercliffe, one time Mayor, and Master Cutler. He had started as a travelling salesman for George Marriott and took his daughter as his first wife.

In 1875, he published a pamphlet called ‘Sheffield as it was; Sheffield as it is; Sheffield as it should be; by an old Grammar School boy of 1808.’

“I have endeavoured to show what Sheffield was 60 years ago, and what it is now. With all its increase of population and wealth, and yet without a good street as a leading thoroughfare, the centre of town a complete blot; the public buildings scarcely reaching to mediocrity and situated as they are in bye streets. While its merchants and manufacturers have made advancement in the race of improvement, the town itself remains much the same as it was in the days of Chaucer.”

On his death in 1880, the house and its contents were put up for sale and described thus: –

“The house contains a spacious entrance hall, noble dining room, excellent drawing rooms, library, and boudoir, loft corridors, good bedrooms, pantries, kitchens, larders, and every convenience. There is a four-stall stable with coach-house, and coachman’s room over. A small conservatory, with mushroom beds and potting sheds. The grounds of over 2 acres are tastefully laid out, being terraced up to the house, with an ornamental lake below, having a fountain in the centre. There is also a well-stocked and productive kitchen garden. There is also three acres of pastureland. It is held under two leases from the Duke of Norfolk.”

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

It was acquired in 1881 by Edward Tozer (1820-1890), a partner in the firm of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers, another Mayor of Sheffield, and twice Master Cutler of Hallamshire.

He was a rags-to-riches story, born in comparative poverty, and rising to become a partner in one of Sheffield’s best-known firms. He was born at Clifton, near Bristol, the son of a brewer, who came to Sheffield. Following his father’s death, he was brought up by his mother who opened a school in Victoria Street.

At the age of eleven, Tozer started work with Sanderson Brothers on West Street and remained to become Managing Director. He eventually left to and joined Henry Steel, T. Hampton, and William Peech in the management of the Phoenix Bessemer Works

It was during Tozer’s time that tragedy occurred at Crabtree Lodge.

In 1886, his youngest daughter, Margaret, aged 19, suffering from ‘religious mania’, went to an upstairs room and committed suicide by swallowing a bottle of sulphuric acid.

Edward Tozer died, aged 70,  in 1890, and Crabtree Lodge passed to Francis Markham Tindall, head of Thomas Marrian and Co, Burton Weir Brewery, Attercliffe, who died in 1902.

It is not without doubt that by now the city had encroached upon Crabtree Lodge and it spent years being offered for sale or to rent. In 1907, it was briefly home to Ernest Adames, a district manager of an assurance company, but appears empty until World War One.

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

In 1916, the Y.W.C.A. secured the lease as a hostel for the recreation and rest of women and girls coming to Sheffield and engaged in munition work.

“The house is going to be so nice when it is finished,” said Miss Goldie, the warden.

“The house has been unoccupied for some time, and the grounds have suffered in consequence, yet such imperfections as a break in the stone balustrade which surrounds the delightful terrace only seems to give an air of romance and makes the house appear older than it probably is.

“The large dining hall with panelled dado, surmounted with green duresco and dark oak ceiling, is considered one of the finest rooms in Sheffield, and here the girls will sit at tables laid for six and look out from a large lattice-paned window over a stretch of country blocked on the horizon by Wincobank Hill.”

After the war, Crabtree Lodge, referred to as The Hostel, was managed by a committee of ladies, although still affiliated to the Y.W.C.A., and lasted until 1927. It was advertised as a private hotel or boarding house but survived as a place for meetings and functions with garden fetes regularly taking place in the grounds. It was later converted into flats, and there is a suggestion that the grounds may also have been used as a T.A. Centre.

Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022
Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

We might consider the area to be called Burngreave now, and the lodge was eventually demolished, the site used as  the Norbury Home for Elderly People.

But its gardens and ponds remained and today form Crabtree Ponds, a large area of standing water abundant with aquatic life such as rudd, roach, perch, crucian carp, sticklebacks and even eels. Bats fly from nearby Roe Woods to feed on the ponds.

Former Norbury Home for Elderly People. Image: DJP/2022
Former Norbury Home for Elderly People. Image: DJP/2022
Crabtree Ponds. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Places

Northern General Hospital

Photograph by David Lally

It’s appropriate that during these dark times we look at the Northern General Hospital, the city’s largest hospital and one of the country’s leading facilities.

The sprawl that is the Northern General has its origins in the hospital of Sheffield Poor Law Union workhouse, erected in 1878-1880.

Before the creation of the Sheffield Poor Law Union in 1837, the workhouse for the township of Sheffield was in Kelham Street. That building, originally erected in 1811 as a cotton mill, had been converted in 1829 for use as a workhouse to accommodate some 1,200 inmates.

It had no special provision for the sick except for an isolation unit provided during the cholera epidemic of 1832.

Due to opposition from ratepayers, plans drawn up in 1856 for a new workhouse for Sheffield Union were not completed until 1881, when new premises at Fir Vale were opened.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The completed buildings, comprised six separate departments: the main building to accommodate 1,662 paupers, plus officials; asylums to accommodate 200 patients classed as lunatic; a school for 300 pauper children; vagrants wards to take up to 60 men and 20 women; the hospital block to cater for 366 patients; and the fever hospitals.

Management was in the hands of the Board of Guardians and its various committees, which in the 1880s had established a training school for nurses and a midwifery school. Overcrowding caused by the numbers of children was addressed by setting up a boarding out system in 1888, and by opening a children’s hospital, for up to 60, in 1894.

A Lock ward or Lock hospital for treating women with venereal diseases also existed in the 1890s.

A new 3-storey hospital block was completed in 1906 and on 21 March 1906 the Local Government Board issued an order to formally separate the newly named Sheffield Union Hospital (which by then could accommodate 643 patients) from the workhouse, thereafter, known as Fir Vale Institution.

Over the next few years Sheffield Union Hospital became known as Fir Vale Hospital. The workhouse became Fir Vale Institution, though Fir Vale House was the name generally used for the institution premises accommodating geriatric patients and those classed as mental defectives.

Photograph by Sheffield Star

Belgian refugees were temporarily housed at Fir Vale during World War I, and over 15,000 soldiers, including men from the Sheffield Battalion who had been wounded on the Somme, were treated in a new children’s hospital which had opened in 1916. Military patients remained until 1920 and it was not until 1921 that the children’s hospital received its first children.

In 1930 the name was changed to the City General Hospital.

About 1929, Fir Vale House was renamed Fir Vale Infirmary (for the care of the aged and chronic infirm), though the name ‘institution’ lingered for some years.

Photograph by Sheffield Glass Company

During World War II numbers of its inmates were temporarily transferred to the Grenoside Institution when the hospital premises were designated as an Emergency Medical Service Hospital. No casualties from the war front were admitted until 1944 when 992 service cases and 405 prisoners of war were treated.

During the 1950s, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery commenced and in 1955 the City Hospital performed the first heart valve replacement operation in the world; in 1957 one of the first open heart operations in Europe was conducted here.

It provided medical and surgical wards, children’s hospital, maternity hospital, casualty and orthopaedic departments. The City General Hospital and the Fir Vale Infirmary were run as separate institutions until 1967 when the Hospital (then with 654 beds) and the Infirmary (then with 682 beds) were amalgamated under the title of the Northern General Hospital.

Fir Vale Infirmary was to be known as the Geriatric Wing and the City General Hospital as the General and Maternity Wing.

In 1968 a League of Friends was established to harness local support and raise additional funds.

Photograph by More Rehab

Teaching was long a key function of the hospital and this was recognised when it, together with Nether Edge Hospital, was awarded university teaching status in 1971, and was one of the first Trust Hospitals.

The Northern General Hospital is the largest hospital campus within the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with over 1,100 beds. In fact, it is one of the largest hospitals in the UK and a leading teaching unit with a growing international reputation. It is classed as a major trauma centre and recently opened a helipad close to the Accident and Emergency block.

Thank you to Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library for the historical detail.

Photograph by Anderson Green

Did you know that several buildings on the site are named after local families and individuals, particularly in the steel industry?: –

The Huntsman Building is named after Benjamin Huntsman, a manufacturer of cast or crucible steel, consisting of mostly orthopaedics but also contains the A&E, Surgical Assessment Centre (SAC), X-Ray departments, the theatres, one of four outpatients’ departments, a large dining room and the site’s main Medical Records department.

The Firth Wing, is named after Mark Firth, an industrialist, and contains CCU, Vascular surgery and other surgical wards.

The Chesterman Wing, named after James Chesterman, a manufacturer of steel products, contains the regional cardiology centre as well as extensive inpatient and outpatient facilities.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Vickers Corridor, reputed to be haunted, takes its name from Edward Vickers, an industrialist, and deals primarily with renal and endocrine diseases, but also contains departments of Sheffield Medical School and the Sheffield Kidney Institute.

The Sorby Wing is named after Henry Clifton Sorby, a microscopist and geologist, and contains the renal outpatients unit and the Metabolic Bone Centre.

Samuel Osborn, a steelmaker, is remembered in the Osborn Building and contains the spinal unit.

The Brearley Wing celebrates Harry Brearley, a metallurgist, containing the respiratory and rehabilitation wards and a dining area, as well as an outpatient department and a specialised Patient Discharge Lounge which allows patients to move into a comfortable waiting area before leaving the hospital.

The Bev Stokes Day-Surgery Unit recognises Harold Beverley Stokes, a former Chairman of the Northern General Hospital Trust.

Finally, the Hadfield Wing is named after Sir Robert Hadfield, another metallurgist, and holds departments displaced from older wings of the hospital.

Photograph by Sheffield Star