Queen Victoria reckoned that Edward, the playboy Prince of Wales, would not make a good King. She frowned upon his antics – drinking, gambling, horse-racing, shooting and passionate attachments – but she was quite wrong.
However, she might have been forgiven for believing this. On more than one occasion Edward proved an embarrassment, something not known to common folk, but whispered about in higher circles.
In a separate post, we discovered that Edward, as Prince of Wales, paid a discreet visit to Tapton Court, at Ranmoor, to meet his old friend, Henry Steel, a man who made his fortune as a bookmaker. Now, we have another story where Edward made a clandestine journey into Sheffield.
“In a little oak room reached by a winding staircase in an old Sheffield inn there used to sit a caped and overcoated figure playing cards or talking to two or three friends.
“The story goes that this striking figure was King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and the inn was the Shades Vaults in Hartshead.
“People well remembered His Majesty walking up the narrow passage along Hartshead and going straight into the Shades Vaults and up to a little oak room.”
The story goes that King Edward was dressed in an old ulster overcoat, an old hat, and old boots. In the little room, it is said, he used to meet his good friend Henry Steel, of Tapton Court, former bookmaker and one of the founders of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers.
The place was romantic enough. The room in which he was supposed to have sat with Henry Steel, a man of his day, was a small and secluded old-world corner in which anyone travelling incognito could sit quietly and enjoy a rest far away from the worries and cares of the outer world.
The story emerged in 1932, long after the deaths of those involved – Edward died in 1910, and Henry passed away five years later – but it was a tale passed down by generations.
Shades Vaults has long gone, destroyed by German bombers during World War Two, and the narrow passage was Watson’s Walk that ran from Angel Street into Hartshead. It was named after a well-known local family that kept several public houses in the town centre and, despite being flattened during the Blitz, is still the name attached to the covered walkway that goes underneath Argos into Hartshead Square.
The Shades dated to the late 1790s, was kept in 1805 by Sam Turner, known as ‘Gin Sam’, and was commonly known as T’oil in T’wall.
In the first part of our story about Tapton Court, we looked at its role as a family home for John Henry Andrew, Henry Steel and Albert Victor Derry.
Derry moved to Bristol in 1931 and died in Cairo the following year. Tapton Court had been put up for sale, and it was left to his widow, Olga, to find a suitable buyer.
In the summer of 1933, the first indication of Tapton Court’s future use was found in the legal sections of newspapers.
Olga sought to alter covenants on the house and land, put in place by Henry Spooner in 1865, that forbid change of use to non-residential. Her application being successful, Olga then negotiated the sale of empty Tapton Court to the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, which presented the house to the Royal Hospital as a nurses’ home.
The Charitable Trust, created by Sheffield’s ‘Fairy Prince’, J. G. Graves, was set up in 1932 with capital of over £400,000.
The nurses’ home was intended to replace existing accommodation in three different places – at the Royal Hospital, where nurses were removed from Eldon Street to make way for an x-ray extension, Ranmoor, and later Crookes.
The new nurses’ home, also with a Nurses’ Preliminary Training School, was opened on 20 July 1934 by Alderman J.G. Graves, the event reported in the Sheffield Independent: –
“A few months ago, it was a sorry reminder of Sheffield’s spacious days of entertaining. Dust clung to the walls, rust coated the iron of immense stoves and cupboards gaped, empty and desolate.
“A tiled entrance leads into a large nurses’ lounge, furnished in rose and green. Settees, easy chairs, carpets, a grand piano and all the furnishings have been provided through gifts. A grandfather clock is the contribution of the nurses and sisters.
“The beautiful ceiling, which was painted for the visit of King Edward, has been restored in its original colours.
“The old kitchen has been converted into a delightful dining room. Stone flags have been replaced by wooden flooring. Eight old stoves have ended their days on the scrap heap.
“The room is decorated in a soft green with rich flame-coloured curtains. Green rubber-topped tables are matched by bronze tubular steel chairs upholstered in green leather.
“Each bedroom is curtained and partitioned in a different sunshine shade, and each nurse has her own small suite of furniture in limed oak.
“Jacobean curtains give a rich note of colouring to the sisters’ lounge, and the settees and chairs are covered in bronze.
“Old fashioned covered baths have been replaced by modern ones in the three bathrooms. In the kitchen, a gas stove with two ovens has been fitted into a white tiled alcove, and a teak sink has taken the place of the stone one.
“Two lawns, large enough for a hockey field, skirt the house and the gardens are shaded by beautiful trees. Raspberries, loganberries and blackcurrants grow in the kitchen gardens and in a large vinery clusters of grapes are ripening.”
The opening was performed by John George Graves, the man responsible for buying Tapton Court and handing it over to the hospital:-
“Some thanks are due to those who have gone before and spent their money so lavishly in providing this wonderful house. I sometimes hear lamentations about the uses to which fine houses in the West End of Sheffield are being put. I do not share those feelings.
“Such houses as Tapton Court were provided for purposes which are perhaps not well appreciated today. They were built for entertaining, for people indulged in very elaborate dinners in those days, and the more successful of the people had ‘rich man’s gout’ which gave them an exclusive touch.
“Tapton Court is a historic house. It once belonged to Henry Steel, who was a friend of King Edward, and King Edward visited and probably stayed here.”
The cost of the scheme had been £25,000, but plans were already in place to add two new extensions to the old house.
By 1936, two new wings had been built, at a cost of £28,000, on the site of an old peach orchard, and included contributions from a fundraising campaign. A floor was named after each donor of £5,000, while bedrooms were named after each donor of £100 (in all, 20 people had rooms named after them).
The east wing was occupied by nurses on 20 March, and the west wing on 10 July.
“The re-adaptation of the old house is also in progress, and by removing the dome on the tower, the cost of maintenance will be reduced, and the structure more substantial. The supply of electricity has been improved by the building of a sub-station with transformers. It has also been decided, that as the electrical wiring in parts is no longer efficient, to re-wire throughout.”
The Duke of Kent officially opened the new extensions in October 1936. A canopied entrance from Tapton Court to a large marquee, where the ceremony was held, was lined by a guard of honour from the sisters.
“It houses the whole of the nursing staff in the pleasantest possible conditions, in five-acres of wooded grounds,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
“In the west wing is a light and spacious dining hall, opening out onto a paved terrace and loggia. Above the hall are 20 bedrooms for sisters with its own wash basin and oak furniture. The east wing is entirely devoted to nurses’ bedrooms and bathrooms. Each of the 100 bedrooms has a fitted wardrobe, and the colour scheme is bright and cheerful. Shampoo rooms and shower baths are among the amenities, and there are ironing rooms for home laundry work.
“The old house has been adapted for recreation and sitting-room purposes.”
There was a touch of nostalgia in the Royal proceedings, said the Sheffield Independent. “A little grey-haired woman, who left Tapton Court as a bride fifty years ago, saw the Duke of Kent open her old home as a home for nurses. She was Mrs E.W. Turner, formerly Miss Andrew, wife of the Rev. George W. Turner, Vicar of St. Judes’s Church, and daughter of the late John Henry Andrew.”
And so, the nurses lived in relative harmony until, that is, the Royal Hospital closed in 1978, by which time Tapton Court had fallen into the hands of the University of Sheffield and used as halls of residence. A three-storey north wing, bridging the east and west wings, had been added, as well as the modern-looking Ranmoor Annexe (120 bedrooms over three floors), all of which are empty today.
Up for sale, the interiors of Tapton Court remain a secret, hidden behind steel-gated windows to deter urban explorers, but the sales brief provides us with a final insight: –
“The original house comprises two floors centred on a top-lit hall surrounded by a gallery at first floor level on three sides. The central court (surrounded by the 20th century wing extensions) is approached from the external portico on the eastern façade, through the entrance hall and with a major room opening off the opposite side of the court. The southern side of the court is flanked by corner rooms separated by a central hallway which gives access to the garden and houses the main staircase. Sections of the original service wing to the north still survive.”
There is an old house at Ranmoor that is looking distinctly down-at-heel these days. Tapton Court, on Shore Lane, is shuttered-up and anticipating its reawakening. It is owned by the University of Sheffield, most recently used as student accommodation but now, along with adjacent Ranmoor Annexe, it awaits a buyer.
Fortunately, the university has been good to Tapton Court, given Grade II listing in 1995, and following a fire in 2010, made sure essential primary repairs and rebuilding brought the building back to shell condition in accordance with Listed Building Consent.
Tapton Court came to light after a recent post about Henry Steel (1832-1915), a ‘leviathan’ of the racecourse and one of the founders of Steel, Peech and Tozer, once a well-known steel firm in Rotherham. He lived here from 1879 until his death in 1915, but further research throws up an exciting past, and reveals that this house was visited by Royalty, possibly on more than one occasion.
The house was built on land sold by William Spooner, a member of a farming and landowning family with large holdings in Ecclesall, Crookes, Nether Hallam and Bradfield, in 1865. Three years later, John Henry Andrew (1824-1884), steel manufacturer, built an Italianate mansion here, one of many ‘brass castles’ that sprung up in this pleasant part of town.
He was one of Sheffield’s self-made men, head of the Toledo Works (J.H. Andrew and Co), and rose from the ranks of labour. Early in life he was apprenticed to Wilson & Sothern, in Doncaster Street, and when he was 22, became a partner in Richard Graves & Son, in Snow Lane, remaining there for fifteen years. For the next ten years, up to 1870, he carried on his steel works in Malinda Street, then removing to Toledo Works which he had built at Neepsend.
A former member of the Town Council and Cutlers’ Company, he declined the office of Master Cutler on account of ill-health, that also forced him to relinquish duties to his three sons. He died very suddenly from asthma on his return from Bridlington in 1884, by which time, he’d already sold Tapton Court and was living at Oak Lawn, on Oakholme Road.
John Henry Andrew sold Tapton Court to Henry Steel in 1879. He was a man who had made his fortune as a bookmaker on the racecourses of England, a close friend of Lord Rosebery and King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales.
This larger-than-life character made a huge success of Steel, Peech & Tozer, subsequently merged with other steel firms to become United Steel Companies of which he became chairman.
In later years, J.G. Graves, that great Sheffield entrepreneur and benefactor, revealed that the Prince of Wales often visited Tapton Court, perhaps secretly, to see his friend. His ascendency to King curtailed their friendship and they next met in 1905 when Edward opened the University of Sheffield. “He recognised Henry, left the procession, and shook him heartily by the hand.”
After Henry Steel died in 1916, a newspaper advertisement spelled out the magnificence of the Victorian house.
“A well-appointed stone-built residence of attractive appearance surrounded by full-grown forest trees. The property is situated at an elevation of about 600 feet and is clear of the low-lying fogs which so often envelop the city.
“The contents of the property comprise lounge hall, three large reception rooms, smoke room, billiard room, nine principal bedrooms, three attics, two bathrooms and excellent offices, with servants’ hall.
“Well laid-out grounds, with entrance lodge, tennis court, fishpond, large sloping lawn, kitchen garden, paddock, stables, garage for two cars, and extensive glass-houses replete with full bearing vines and peach trees.”
Amongst the first items to be sold were the contents of the greenhouses: carnations, cypripediums, heliotropes, and maidenhair ferns.
The house contents were sold from a marquee in the grounds, the four-day sale including cabinet furniture, principally made by Manuel and Son, silver and electro-plate, books, linen, glass and china. The item that attracted most interest was a trophy, the Brighton Cup 1874, staged with figures, stags and hounds and sold to a Sheffield gentleman for 72 guineas.
Tapton Court wasn’t sold until 1918 and fell into the hands of Albert Victor Derry (1872-1932), another man airbrushed from Sheffield history.
Albert Kochs, as he was known, was born in Manchester, the son of William Edward Kochs, of German extract. He was educated at Cardiff and South Wales University, and then articled to his father and for a time was placed at the works of the Humboldt Engineering Company of Cologne, Germany.
Later becoming a partner in W. Edward Kochs & Company, consulting engineers, of Foster’s Building, Sheffield, he set up in 1901, along with Charles Rudolph Altenhein and Dr Heinrich Koppers, a company to build coke oven plants across Britain and overseas.
During World War One, Koppers Coke Oven By-Products was taken over by the Government (Altenhein was detained during the war), and afterwards Derry bought the company back and called it Koppers Coke Oven Company, its biggest order being for the Gas Light and Coke Company, London.
Unsurprisingly, the war had seen Albert adopt his mother’s maiden name and was hereafter known as Albert Derry.
In 1917, Derry started British Tar Products, at Irlam, Manchester, with offices on Glossop Road, and shortly afterwards started the Coal Products and Derivates Company, as well as Senrac, for the purpose of making concrete blocks for houses, several examples of houses built from these were found on the Manor estate. Along with Koppers, Derry also formed the Building Engineers’ and Contractors’ Company, which erected several buildings, including Rawmarsh Public Baths.
In 1931, Albert, and his wife, Olga, extremely rich by now, and with another house in Italy, left Tapton Court and moved to Wick House, Bristol. However, within twelve months Albert collapsed and died in Cairo while visiting his wife’s birthplace.
In part two of the story of Tapton Court, we’ll look at the next stage of the house’s history, and its role looking after nurses from the Royal Hospital.
Allow me to introduce you to Henry Steel (1832-1915), somebody you’ve never heard of, but one of Sheffield’s larger-than-life characters. This ‘Great Master of the Odds’ made a fortune from bookmaking, earning so much money that his account at the Westminster Bank in Sheffield was its largest.
It all started with fishmongery, but as a young man he was quick to realise the gains to be made from horse racing. At first, he speculated with the ‘silver book’, but soon established a vein of gold having received the commission for St. Albans and later moving into London.
He became acquainted with John Jackson and Harry Hargreaves, both racehorse owners, and, along with his best friend, William Peech, ended up securing their extensive Turf business.
Henry’s clients included the rich and famous, counting amongst his close friends Lord Rosebery, and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales, and who once gave him a valuable breast-pin. When Edward opened the University of Sheffield in 1905, he recognised Henry, left the procession, and shook him heartily by the hand.
After Blue Gown won the Epsom Derby in 1868, it is said that Henry strolled jauntily and unconcernedly down to Tattersall’s, the auctioneers, and deposited £90,000 (about £10.2million today) to buy a horse.
Henry was known at every racecourse and his transactions so enormous that he became known as ‘the Leviathan’, leader of the ring in the 1860s and 1870s, with society magazine, Vanity Fair, speculating that he was probably the richest man ever to have made his fortune in bookmaking.
His frankness and freedom sometimes tainted his reputation as a bookmaker, but he was always equal to jibes, and a ready repartee gave him the better of his critics.
Henry eventually moved to London, buying the Archbishop of York’s house, along with an extensive wine collection, but soon tired of it. He returned to Sheffield in 1870, bought Westbourne, and after some years moved to Tapton Court.
However, away from the track, Henry Steel was also famous for establishing Steel, Peech and Tozer, a famous Rotherham steel firm.
In 1875, the works of the Phoenix Bessemer Company had gone into liquidation with liabilities of £140,000. Henry, along with William Peech, Edward Tozer and Thomas Hampton, bought the works for £36,500, and turned it into a private company with a capital of £70,000. After enlargements and improvements, the business became a huge success.
Henry Steel died at Tapton Court in 1915, his will worth £652,418, that’s around £67.5million today.
Steel, Peech and Tozer joined Samuel Fox & Co, Stocksbridge, and Appleby-Frodingham Steel, Scunthorpe, to form United Steel Companies in 1918, subsequently becoming part of British Steel Corporation.