For those that don’t know, Moorfields is the short stretch of ring-road between Gibraltar Street and Shalesmoor and is at risk of being forgotten because most people have never heard of it. Once upon a time this was a small piece of common land, but as the city expanded it became one of the poorest districts of Sheffield.
Its name survives in the 1930s block of flats that wouldn’t look out of place in the London suburbs.
Moorfields Flats were built in 1933-1934 as part of Sheffield’s big slum clearance scheme. It was anticipated that those living in the back-to-back terraces around Scotland Street would move here. But there was a problem. People with families didn’t want to go into the flats, preferring instead to move to new council estates that were being constructed at Woodthorpe and Arbourthorne, which came with gardens.
Nor were the flats without its critics.
“The flats were not buildings of which Sheffield Corporation could be proud. No person in his right senses would choose to live in the Moorfields flats and they would be a standing disgrace to Sheffield for all time,” said Alderman C.W. Gascoigne in 1934.
It was a slight on its designer, city architect W.G. Davies, who had created 37 flats, built over three storeys above seven shops that fronted the building.
Each flat had two or three bedrooms, kitchen, scullery, and were cheaper in price than new council houses, although comparable in size.
“Each flat had a washing copper and provision for drying the weekly wash in either the courts at the back of the flats, or by means of a clothes line along the front balconies attached to the flats.”
But people refused to live in them and by October 1934 the council had only managed to sign up twenty tenants while the shops were described as a ‘white elephant’ with only one application of interest.
A letter from Darrell H. Foxton also reached the Sheffield Independent: –
“The rents of the Moorfields Flats are 8s 7d. and 9s 8d., according to size, and although they are a paradise in comparison to the squalid hovels which the present tenants are used to, so many are on relief or unemployment that it is quite impossible for them to furnish the rooms adequately. On many of the floors are neither carpet nor linoleum.”
The flats were eventually occupied, as were the shops beneath, but correct me if I am wrong, Moorfields flats have never really been loved, and are definitely showing their age.
But there is a potential twist to the story and that involves the advancement and gentrification of Kelham Island that is almost upon the back of the property.
Might we see the block sold, demolished, and replaced with twenty-first century apartments? Or might we see the flats sold to a developer to turn into trendy private apartments in the same way as Park Hill?
Once a rural idyll, along came industry, and Kelham Island became famous for its factories and works. It’s hard to believe that in a remarkably short space of time, the last remnants of industrial heritage are being squeezed out, and Kelham is becoming one of the “coolest places to live in Britain.”
Here’s an extract from Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People’ (1876), in which Richard Leonard remembered the days before industry.
“Beyond Bower Spring, the footpath – Cottonmill Walk – was the continuation of Spring Street. It ran in the direction now taken by Russell Street, across ‘Longcroft,’ as the open space was called in 1771, towards Green Lane. Of course, it took its name from the cotton mill of Mr Middleton.
“An open stream ran from the top of Cornish Street, in front of Green Lane, and emptied itself in the Don, below where Green Lane works now stand. On the other side of the stream were cottage gardens. Middleton’s silk mill – built in 1758, burnt down in 1792, and the cotton mill, re-erected on the same site only in turn to be burnt down in 1810, and again built only to become the Poor-house in 1829 – stood alone in its glory, its nearest neighbour being Kelham Wheel, still there, as it had been at least as long before as in 1674, on the now covered-in ‘Goit’.
“Across the river was the suburb of Bridgehouses, and all around was verdure. Those were the days when ‘the old cherry tree,’ whose name is now perpetuated only by the public-house (on Gibraltar Street) and the yard where it stood, was still young, and when Allen ‘Lane’ and the Bowling Green marked the extremity of the inhabited region of Gibraltar. Beyond the road ran between fields – ‘Moorfields’ (now Shalesmoor) – and on to the distant rural haunts of Philadelphia and Upperthorpe.”
The photographs show Citu’s recent sustainable housing development at Little Kelham (Little Kelham Street).
A £3.25m funding package from Lloyds Bank has been secured to support the redevelopment of a former grocer’s warehouse and coffee roastery in Sheffield’s Kelham Island district into apartments. Developer Ashgate is redeveloping the currently disused Nichols Building, Shalesmoor, to a mixed-use scheme with private residential units and commercial space.
Work is to start this summer, and retain many of the building’s original features, including mosaic tiling, stone, and brickwork.
The Nichols Building is an elegant three-storey range built with iron-hard engineering red bricks, such as Accrington or Noris type, laid in English Garden Wall bond.
Leather’s Plan of Sheffield (1823) shows the site (once known as Moor Fields) to have two buildings. The adjacent road had also been renamed ‘Shalesmoor’ although the smaller streets around it remained unnamed.
The 1853 Ordnance Survey map shows the site to comprise back-to-back housing, and likely small workshops, concentrated around two courtyards.
The Nichols Building appears to have been built in 1914 as indicated by a date sign located within the front gable at the corner between Shalesmoor and Shepherd Street. Cartographic records confirm such a date for the construction of the building as the site was formerly occupied by several terraced buildings with internal courts.
The building includes two signs stating, ‘FOUNDED AD 1854’, referring to the establishment of the company; and an additional one to the north-western end along Shalesmoor which reads ‘REBUILT AD 1914’, which refers to the ‘rebuilding’ of the company on the site.
The business Nichols & Co., wholesale grocer, tea merchant and dealer, was established in 1854 by Charles Nichols which originally occupied premises at 231 Gibraltar Street. In 1868, the business held an additional property in Meadow Street and in 1877 in Langsett Road. The 1900 Kelly’s Directory also lists a property in Trinity Street. Once the company moved to the present Nichols Building, no other associated premises are listed, suggesting that the aim of the Nichols Building was to bring the different properties of the company together within a single and purposely-built warehouse.
Nichols and Co. are listed on the site until 1965 when the company is renamed ‘Nichols, Johnson and Bingham’. Following liquidation, various parts of the buildings were sold off with the final reference in the 1973 directory showing ‘Richardson, Arthurs and Son Ltd’ which had purchased part of the former Nichols and Co. business.
It subsequently became auction rooms for Eadon Lockwood & Riddle, and more recently functioned as an antique centre that closed in 2018.
The recent post about Castlegate failed to mention that it is in the process of being part-pedestrianised, Phase 2 of Sheffield’s ‘Grey to Green’ project. Unless you visit this forgotten part of the city centre the relevance of the initiative might escape you.
It is part of an approach to transform ‘redundant’ road space into a network of public spaces, sustainable drainage and urban rain gardens, which aims to improve the setting of the Riverside Business District, Castlegate and the rest of the city centre and then on to Kelham Island and Victoria Quays, as a place to work, live and enjoy, whilst also dealing with the effects of climate change.
Phase 1 (West Bar/Bridge Street/Snig Hill) was completed in Spring 2016 and was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund and Sheffield City Council.
The area suffered catastrophic river floods in 2007. With the completion of the Inner Relief Road in 2008, traffic was diverted away from West Bar. The opportunity was seized to replace the ‘grey’ impermeable ‘redundant’ roads into ‘green’ permeable beds, transforming the space with colourful meadow-like planting and significantly increasing surface water storage.
With advice on plant selection from the University of Sheffield Landscape Department this has created a new townscape that is different to anything done in Sheffield before. Over 40,000 bulbs, 40 new trees, 600 evergreen shrubs and 26,000 herbaceous plants were introduced to form a seasonal urban meadow.
The new road layout was designed to slow vehicle speeds and make walking and cycling more attractive. New paving, street furniture, colourful seating and five eye-catching public art ‘totems’ celebrate the local history of the West Bar area including its Victorian music halls and theatres, its lively street life, its complex relationship to the river and its legacy of industry and brewing.
Phase 2 (Castlegate to Exchange Place) is nearing completion, and Phase 3 (Gibraltar Street to Shalesmoor) will eventually transform 1.2km of ‘redundant’ road-space into an attractive new linear green public space.
John George Graves (1866-1945) packed a lot into his 79 years. He was a hard-working businessman, councillor, and cared a lot about his adopted city. A much-travelled man, he knew Europe intimately, and visited America, Egypt, South Africa, India, and Palestine, and spoke fluent French, German and Italian.
Seventy-five years after his death, his name still echoes across Sheffield, and yet, we are guilty of under-estimating the influence he had on the city.
J.G. Graves was born in Lincolnshire, grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, and was educated at Batley Grammar School. When he was 15, he moved to Sheffield to take up apprenticeship with a German watchmaker in Gibraltar Street, and at the age of 20, he started his own watch-making business in town.
He moved to larger premises in Surrey Street where he expanded his business to include jewellery, cutlery and silverware. His decision to sell goods by mail order was pivotal and, through advertising on the back pages of the national press, became incredibly successful.
Graves was one of the first to embrace the idea of selling goods, notably watches, on ‘monthly’ terms, and by 1903 employed 3,000 people with products sold through extensive catalogues.
Graves was first elected to the city council in 1896 as a Liberal member for the old Nether Hallam Ward and retained his seat for six years. In 1905, he was returned to the Council as a member for the Walkley Ward but did not seek re-election in 1908. His third entry to the Council, again for Walkley, was as an Independent councillor in 1916.
Graves went on to serve as Lord Mayor in 1926 and was granted Freedom of the City in 1929.
“Alderman Graves brings to his work unusual gifts of business acumen and a kindly spirit towards the general welfare of the people,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1930. “A fluent, dignified speaker, with originality of thought, he can marshal facts well and present a case strikingly. He always impresses his hearers by his transparent earnestness and sincerity in whatever cause he is pleading. Truly, he is one of the big men of the Council – big in stature and big in vision.”
However, J.G. Graves should be remembered for being Sheffield’s “Fairy Godfather”, probably the city’s most generous benefactor in its history.
When he died at his home, Riverdale House, at Ranmoor, in 1945, newspapers calculated that he had gifted more than £1 million to the city, that amounts to more than £44 million at today’s value.
His first gift to Sheffield, probably Pearl Street playground in 1903, was the start of small projects for children, but these grew in significance with gifts that included Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Barker’s Pool Garden, Concord Park, Graves Art Gallery, Graves Park, Graves Trust Homes, Blacka Moor, and playing fields. He was a generous benefactor to Sheffield University and the Children’s Hospital, gave much of the land forming the green belt around Sheffield, made gifts of land to the National Trust, and at the outbreak of World War Two, made an unconditional gift of £250,000 to the nation.
Graves Art Gallery cost him £20,000 as well as a further £10,000 towards the cost of the Central Library. He had started collecting art in 1899 and throughout his life collected over 3,000 pictures, 700 of which he gave to Sheffield to be displayed in the Graves Gallery.
“It has seemed to me the most natural thing that I should engage in effort and outlay which has for its object the betterment of the city in which my own lot has been cast, and which I love and understand so well.”
Graves had loved the countryside and was a keen cyclist, with one of his ambitions being to provide Sheffield with beautiful open spaces. As well as Concord Park and Graves Park, he provided £10,000 towards the acquisition of Ecclesall Wood and gave much of the land forming the Green Belt around Sheffield.
One such place was Blacka Moor that had been owned by Norton Rural District Council since 1929. The small council was poor and unable to fight off advances from developers and so, in 1933, had approached J.G. Graves as a last resort. He bought the land and duly presented it to the city.
Ethel Haythornthwaite, a prominent environmental campaigner, recalled a conversation she had with Graves at the official opening in 1933.
“Now, after we’ve done all this for you (by ‘we’ he meant the Graves Trust) will you promise to never trouble us again?” I took a deep breath, thought I had better be truthful and said, “Whenever the countryside around Sheffield is in danger, I shall appeal to you.” He looked at me, severely but not unkindly. “Well,” he said, “Now we know.”
After his death, the mail order company was absorbed into Great Universal Stores, but his legacy lives on through The J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, a grant-making body established in 1930 derived from £400,000 of shares of his company.
Today, the Trust is managed by nine trustees, including Adrian Graves, the fourth generation of the family to serve on it, and continues to support projects that relate to the charitable interests of its founder.
These include parks, open spaces, recreation grounds, art galleries and libraries for public use, promotion of education and community projects, and medical, recreational and sporting facilities.
Periodically, the Trust is in a position to make significant contributions including the J.G. Graves of Sheffield Lifeboat (1958), the redesign of Tudor Square (1990), the J.G. Graves Tennis Centre (1991), the J.G. Graves Woodland Discovery Centre (2007) and the purchase of ‘Comfort Blanket’ by Grayson Perry for the City’s art collection in 2016.