In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.
There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.
The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.
In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).
A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.
The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.
The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.
Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.
While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.
In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.
The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.
These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.
The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.
In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.
The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.
And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.
This extraordinary sketch shows a grand municipal square that was once proposed for the centre of Sheffield. The illustration from 1911 was by Alwyn Henry Holland, and showed King Edward Square, considered as a memorial to King Edward VII who died in 1910.
At the time, Alderman George Franklin had suggested that the Fitzalan Market should be swept away and the central block between King Street and Fitzalan Square used as a handsome open square. In its centre was to be an equestrian monument celebrating King Edward with fountains either side.
The proposal would have meant that the main streets of the city would run into the square and afford adequate space for dealing with increasing tram traffic.
It was understandable that Sheffield considered such a scheme.
The city was often compared to Leeds, with its city square and ornamental embellishments, and the architecture of its public buildings and offices were thought far superior.
Fitzalan Market, dating back to the 18th century, was considered an ‘eyesore’ and described by market traders as being like the “Black Hole of Calcutta.”
The scheme was subject of several meetings at the Town Hall, and serious consideration was given to the plan. Alas, with the cost estimated at £200,000 (nearly £24 million today), the idea was abandoned in favour of the much-cheaper standing figure of King Edward VII in nearby Fitzalan Square.
From the illustration we can determine where King Edward Square would have been.
The road at the centre of the sketch is Commercial Street, leading into High Street, with Fitzalan Square to the left. The road on the right side of the square is King Street. Several buildings are familiar, including The White Building on the left and the York City and County Bank (now The Banker’s Draft) in the centre of the picture. The spire of Sheffield Parish Church, now the Cathedral, can be seen behind.
Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 and a large part of the site was acquired by C&A Modes Ltd for a new department store. This was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced with a less spectacular building, later acquired by Primark, and now easyHotel.
NOTE:- Alwyn Henry Holland (1861-1935) was a little-known painter in watercolours who was initially articled to the architect John Dodsley Webster. He acted as Honorary Secretary of the Sheffield Society of Artists but, on the death of his father, succeeded to the family grocery business. Holland was the owner and architect for the Howard Fine Art Gallery on Chapel Walk, which opened in 1898 for the exhibition of old, modern, pictorial, and applied arts.
The next time you are able walk into McDonalds or HMV, on High Street, be aware that you are walking into history. Before you go inside, take a moment and look above, and you will find that these popular ground floor premises are part of an elaborate building.
This is the Foster’s Building, built in French domestic Gothic style by Sheffield architects Flockton and Gibbs in 1896.
The origin of the Foster’s Building goes back to the Anglo-French Wars of the sixteenth century, and the entrepreneurship of William Foster, draper, tailor and outfitter, who opened a shop on High Street in 1769.
At the time that William Foster opened his business, High Street was a narrow thoroughfare, described by some as resembling a village street.
When peace was concluded with France, the British Government advertised for sale a vast stock of old uniforms and equipment, which had been given up by troops on disbandment.
William Foster took a coach to London and bought up large quantities of soldiers’ jackets and belts. These were brought to Sheffield and stacked in large crates and baskets outside his shop.
It was said that there was hardly a grinder or cabman in Sheffield who did not buy one of the jackets, not particularly concerned about appearance, but appreciating something cheap.
Being extremely durable they were suited to both trades, and a credible record suggests that the old workshops looked as though a regiment of soldiers was at work, for every grinding wheel had a red-jacketed attendant.
The army belts were of excellent leather, so the record runs, and were largely used by craftsmen for buffing and similar purposes.
Foster was afflicted with an obscure disease, the chief symptom of which was that he frequently fell asleep.
“Mr Foster fell asleep while seated on the hampers of soldiers’ clothes. These used to stand on the edge of the pavement, and there Mr Foster sold the contents, so long as he could keep awake,” said an old humourist.
According to George Leighton in Reminiscences of Old Sheffield (1876) there were other amusing consequences of Foster’s illness.
“I went once to him, as a boy, to be measured for a jacket. Standing behind him, he made me hold my arm horizontally, with the elbow bent, and I thought he seemed a very long time in measuring it. A person on the other side of the street, at York Street corner, was watching the operation, and, seeing him laughing, I looked round, and found that the old man had fallen fast asleep.”
William Foster made a huge sum of money from the transaction and left his family very wealthy.
He was succeeded by his son, also William, who subsequently went into partnership with his own son, George Harvey Foster, in 1860, and renamed the business William Foster and Son, operating at 12-14 High Street.
It soon became necessary to enlarge the premises, and for this purpose, they acquired an adjoining public house, the Spread Eagle, and incorporated it into the original building.
And so, we come to the building that we see today.
When Sheffield grew in prosperity during the late 1800s, the council considered various schemes to improve the condition of its streets. The High Street improvement scheme finally concluded in 1895, resulting in one of the city’s biggest redevelopment projects, and doubling the width of the street.
However, to allow the road widening it meant the demolition of the old properties on the south side of High Street, including buildings owned by William Foster and Son.
George Harvey Foster sold 400 yards of freehold land in High Street for £34,000 in 1893. He took £24,000 in cash for the site of the tailor’s shop, and £10,000 for adjoining land that he owned, and needed by Sheffield Corporation.
Foster died in 1894, his will confirming that he had sold the frontage of the High Street property to Sheffield Corporation for road widening, and empowering his trustees to rebuild and rearrange replacement premises.
In 1895, the first plans for the new building were issued by the architects, Flockton and Gibbs, and convinced the public that this was an “ornament to the widened street.”
The chief architect for the building was Edward Mitchel Gibbs with construction work starting in 1895, undertaken by George Longden and Son, with ironwork supplied by Carter Brothers (surprisingly based in Rochdale).
The building stood on a new street line, set back about forty feet, that allowed existing shops to continue trading during construction, and be demolished afterwards.
When the Foster’s Building was completed in late 1896, it accommodated previous tenants from the old site , Foster and Son being the principal tenant, with other shops for J. Harrison, hosier, C. Tinker, boot and shoe manufacturer, E. Brown, goldsmith and Mr W. Lewis, tobacconist.
Foster and Son had two entrances, with four large windows. Their frontage was 86 feet long and 100 feet in depth and came with a large back yard, and within, contained all three of their departments – ready-made clothes, children’s and bespoke tailoring.
A balcony extended across the top of the building, while Gibbs set back the main wall of the frontage about two feet, so that the supports would not interfere with ground floor window space, and was described as being a “huge showcase”.
The Foster’s Building, on a slightly sloping site, was built in a curved line, leading towards the bottom of Fargate.
The front of the showrooms, above the shops, was ornamented with light wooden tracery, and the upper parts of the building (four floors) was of Huddersfield sandstone, richly moulded, and with a steep-pitched slate roof. It was relieved by oriel windows, ornamental gables and turrets, and dormer windows.
The whole of the upper floors was utilised as rented offices, varying in size, approached by a staircase, ten feet wide, leading from High Street, and by a passenger elevator (see note at end). Each office was fitted with “electric wiring, gas tubing and all modern conveniences.”
The corridors on each floor were eight feet wide, with mosaic-tiled floors and tiled walls up to the height of the door heads, These were well lit by windows placed at the end of each corridor, and also borrowed light from the offices.
The office entrance was marked by a lofty arch, with oriel windows over it, surmounted by a gable, with turrets, and crowned with an ornamental tower, which was to have been the water tank for the elevator, had not “technology” quickly intervened.
Foster and Son remained in the High Street until 1931, by which time they had been here for over 160 years. It was the oldest tailoring firm in the city, with other premises at Waingate and Castle Hill, and had been run by the widow of William Joseph Foster, great-grandson of its founder, since 1905.
Foster and Son consolidated trade at its other shops, and while war had been instrumental in its initial success, it effectively led to its demise after the Waingate branch was destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz.
The Foster’s Building eventually succumbed to other retailers at street level and, for a time, was known as Norwich Union Buildings. It was refurbished during the late twentieth century, presumably with much period detail lost, and before it was Grade II-listed by English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1989.
NOTE: – The Foster’s Building had the first American Elevator in Sheffield, built by the Otis Elevator Company, founded in Yonkers, New York in 1853 by Elisha Otis.
In 1890, Otis had entered the British market under the name of the American Elevator Company. Between 1870 and 1900, there had been a transition between hydraulic lifts to electric-powered elevators.
The Otis company advertised its new generation of elevators with the consideration that such an installation was no longer a complicated matter, and well-suited to places which could not have had one before.
The Foster’s Building had intended to have a hydraulic lift and Gibbs’ design included a small water tower on the roof for its elevator. After it was decided to install an electric-powered lift the tower remained, but instead used as a motor room for the American Elevator.
In 1897, a newspaper advertisement for potential occupiers of its offices described the lift as being able to “accomplish the journey from ground floor to fourth floor in THREE seconds.” Unlikely, even today.
In 1855, soon after the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, that had set newspaper prices at 5d to 7d, a dour down-at-heel Scotsman called Mr Benson turned up in Sheffield. After looking the town over, he called at the offices of Joseph Pearce Jnr, a printer and bookseller on High Street, and told him that he had people in London and Manchester who proposed starting a newspaper in Sheffield.
Joseph Pearce was convinced, and Benson recruited shop canvassers from street corners to obtain subscribers at 1s 6d for a month’s issues. The campaign netted a small fortune, and the next day Mr Benson arrived at the office wearing a brand new hat a new pair of wellingtons.
The first issue of the four-page Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared on June 8, 1855, distributed by Benson’s messengers on the back of a wheelbarrow.
Ten days later, Mr Benson, the comic-faced Scot disappeared and was never heard of again. His promised capital was so far behind him that it never caught up.
A man sent to London to telegraph back news milked from the national papers found himself out of pocket, and unable to ask for help, because Benson had failed to mention his colleague back in Sheffield. On his last night in London, the representative of the ‘country’s first great provincial daily’ had to split his journey home.
Joseph Pearce, left with the fallout, met his obligations to initial subscribers and decided to carry on. He arranged to take Reuter dispatches from the Crimean War, a story that was filling everybody’s minds, and sales started to grow.
There were already several weekly newspapers in Sheffield, all of which ignored this ‘upstart’, but when Sheffield writers gathered around the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it burst this bubble of complacency, and one of them, the Sheffield Independent, was forced to publish daily as well.
Despite the rising popularity of the paper, published at 8am every day, it was a financial struggle for Joseph Pearce, and after nine years he decided to make way for younger blood.
In 1864, Frederick Clifford and William Christopher Leng arrived, the latter becoming editor, and relocating to Aldine Court, off High Street.
Under these two, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aimed to popularise the Conservative Party cause amongst the working class, and Leng’s trenchancy and personal courage during the trade union outrages in the 1860s enhanced the newspaper’s prestige.
By 1898 it was selling 1.25 million copies a week, along with its sister publications, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, with articles and serialised fiction, and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.
In 1900, Winston Churchill became South African war correspondent for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, as well as the Morning Post, and the January issue carried his story in four columns of his capture by the Boers.
Between 1913 and 1916, a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments at Aldine Court, was built. Constructed in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, and still dominates High Street today. (It was eventually replaced with modern buildings on York Street).
The Clifford-Leng ownership ended in 1925, bought by Allied Newspapers, controlled by William Ewart Berry, Gomer Berry and Sir Edward Mauger Iliffe, which had been systematically buying up provincial newspapers, though chairmanship was retained by Frederick Clifford’s son, Charles, who actively shared management of the paper until his death in 1936.
Sir Charles Clifford had arrived in 1878 and ten years later was instrumental in the purchase of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph’s rival, the Evening Star, a name familiar to us now as the Sheffield Star.
In 1931, Allied Newspapers bought the rival Sheffield Independent, printing both separately, but both papers started losing ground to the national press and at one time the loss of both seemed possible.
The Allied Newspapers partnership was dissolved in 1937, each partner needing a raft of holdings to pass onto their heirs, with James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, taking control of the Sheffield operation, briefly dropping the word ‘Daily’ from Sheffield Telegraph, and amalgamating it with the Sheffield Independent in 1938 to become the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent, with a broader policy embracing the fundamental principles of both newspapers.
During the first years of World War Two, Kemsley Newspapers, as it had been renamed by Lord Kemsley, became the Telegraph and Independent, commanding world correspondents of Kemsley newspapers, and across the British Isles.
The newspaper eventually became the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent, subsequently the Sheffield Telegraph, and was bought by Roy Herbert Thompson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, in 1959.
In 1965, it was briefly renamed the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, then the Morning Telegraph, continuing a long tradition of producing excellent news correspondents .
Notable staff across its history have included Sir Harold Evans, who was later Public Relations Officer to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and head of ITV News; author Peter Tinniswood; novelists JohnHarris and J.L. Hodson; cartoonists Ralph Whitworth and J. F. Horrabin; critics George Linstead and E. F. Watling; sports writers John Motson, the BBC football commentator, Lawrence Hunter, Peter Keeling, Peter Cooper, Frank Taylor (who later survived the Munich Air crash of 1958), and Keith Farnsworth.
Other editorial staff members have included Keith Graves, who was later with the BBC and Sky TV as a much-travelled reporter; Peter Harvey, a long-serving feature writer who was awarded the MBE in 2002; GeoffreyL. Baylis, who in later years was honoured for services to journalism in New Zealand; Barry Lloyd-Jones, Brian Stevenson and Clive Jones, who were news editors; Leslie F. Daniells and Frazer Wright were long serving industrial reporters; Alf Dow, a news editor who was later the company’s first training officer, and ended his career in public relations at Newton Chambers; Richard Gregory, who became a leading figure at YorkshireTelevision and was later chairman of the Yorkshire Bank; GeorgeHopkinson; Jean Rook, who was later a women’s writer with the Daily Express; and Will Wyatt.
The Morning Telegraph was sold (along with The Star) to United Newspapers in the 1970s, ceasing production in 1986.
The collapse of the newspaper was attributed to moves by estate agents to move advertising away from the highly-popular Saturday edition, and set up what turned out to be an unsuccessful rival property guide.
In 1989, the Sheffield Telegraph was relaunched as a weekly and continues to this day, although now under ownership of JPI Media, formerly the ill-fated Johnston Press.
Standing majestically on the High Street for over one hundred years, the history of this building is lost to many.
This is the former headquarters of the Sheffield Telegraph and Star, built between 1913 and 1916, as a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments behind.
Built in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs (1847-1935), of the Sheffield architects, Gibbs, Flockton & Teather, and was constructed by George Longden and Son.
During the demolition of old shops to make way for the building, a hoard of gold and silver coins, dating between 1547 and 1625, was found behind a cellar wall.
The offices had a faience front, now painted, with a high-tower and clockface on each side.
A lot of thought had to be given to the design.
The portico, sitting on the corner of High Street and York Street, is on the axial line of Fargate, with Sheffield Town Hall standing at the other end.
When built it had to conform to the control of heights to which buildings were permitted, and the ancient rights of light afforded to properties opposite. Hence the broken skyline, the setting back of the upper storeys and the pyramidal form of the building. Even the tower had to be kept with an angle of 45 degrees.
In 1943 it became Kemsley House, named after Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley (1883-1968), owner of the newspaper until he sold it in 1959.
In later years it was abandoned when new offices were built on York Street. Restored in 1985 as offices and shops, it now contains apartments as well, seen here with the lights on.
If you have a spare £4.9million then you might want to consider buying Parade Chambers on the corner of East Parade and High Street. The Grade II listed building comes with five tenants, including Lloyds Bank which occupies most of the ground floor.
In 1883, the premises of Pawson and Brailsford, stationers and printers, were demolished as part of the East Parade improvement scheme, the lane widened, and the building line adjusted.
About 11 yards of Pawson & Brailsford’s land was taken, although they were handsomely compensated by the council.
The company had been founded by Henry Pawson and Joseph Brailsford, both former newspaper men. Pawson had joined the reporting staff of the Leeds Intelligencer, moving to the Sheffield Mercury and later becoming editor of the Sheffield Times. Brailsford had been associated with the Sheffield Independent.
The two opened their first printing and stationary shop on Castle Street, later adding manufacturing works on Mulberry Street, and moving to the High Street, near to the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral), taking the premises of Samuel Harrison, Jeweller.
With enough money to build a replacement, Pawson and Brailsford commissioned Charles Hadfield, of M.E. Hadfield & Son, to build a five -storey Tudor Gothic block, built by George Longden & Son between 1883-1885.
In order to erect the building as quickly as possible the builders worked in night relays, using electric light, and made it one of the first buildings in Sheffield to be built this way.
Constructed in Huddersfield stone, with specially made bricks from Fareham, Kent, it was topped with green Westmoreland slate.
Its two principal elevations were dominated by mullioned and transomed windows. The decorative stonework, with portraits of Chaucer and Caxton and grimacing gargoyles and mythical beasts, was the work of Frank Tory, but the character of the building was emphasised with two picturesque turrets on East Parade.
When completed, Pawson and Brailsford, had a large shop on the corner, with two windows on the High Street and three windows in East Parade. The basement was used for showing mercantile stationary, accounts books, drawing papers, and Milner’s Safes.
Two other shops adjoining the High Street were available to let, soon occupied by the London and Yorkshire Bank.
Well-lit offices for solicitors, architects and accountants were available on the first and second floors, entered by a handsome entrance on East Parade.
The upper floors were used as store-rooms by Pawson and Brailsford.
The new building set the model for High Street, Church Street and Fargate, the architectural drawings being shown by the Royal Academy in 1885.
Pawson and Brailsford extended their Mulberry Street works at the same time, increasing space for wood and copper engraving, letter-press, lithographic printing, book-binding and photo lithography.
The company remained at Parade Chambers until 1930, before moving to another new building on the corner of Norfolk Street and Mulberry Street. (This building still exists and subject to a future post).
The London and Yorkshire Bank eventually became the National Provincial Bank (later NatWest), subsequently taking over the premises of the London City and Midland Bank, at the corner of High Street and York Street. The ground floor premises are still home to a bank, although now occupied by Lloyds.
While the outside of the building remains unchanged, the same cannot be said for the interior. This was gutted in 1988, with only the stone staircase surviving, the offices above now taking on a very modern look.
I bet most of you have never heard of the delightfully named Pepper Alley. This was once a thoroughfare passing from Fargate to Norfolk Street, quite close to the surviving Upper Chapel.
Its existence is shown on this map, taken from “A Correct Plan of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York, drawn by William Fairbanks, 1771.”
You’ll notice that Norfolk Row, pictured, doesn’t appear on the map at all, only coming into existence about nine years later. However, Chapel Walk is shown.
A little bit of Pepper Alley (Pepper is a local surname) can still be seen today, leading into Upper Chapel Yard, behind the shops which form part of the former YMCA property, now named Carmel House, at the corner with Fargate.
If you study the map you’ll see that the Town Hall stood by the Church Gates (now the Cathedral), at the junction of High Street and Church Lane (now Church Street).
Other names to look for are Bullstake (now Haymarket), Pudding Lane (King Street), Castle Green Head (Castle Street), Irish Cross (Queen Street), and Pinstone Croft Lane (Pinstone Street)
One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets. The castle was one of the grandest and most powerful in the north of England before it was demolished by the parliamentarians in 1648.
The site of the castle was built over several times, the remains discovered in the 1920s, and covered over once again. And then Castle Market was built over it in the 1960s.
It might come as a surprise now, but during the 18th and 19th centuries there was doubt as to where Sheffield Castle had stood.
Most historians guessed correctly, and from here on, Victorians liked the romantic notion of secret tunnels running underneath the town, supposedly relics from the old castle.
Different generations handed stories down, with tales of hidden tunnels running from Sheffield Castle towards Manor Lodge, the Old Queen’s Head at Pond Hill, and towards Sheffield Cathedral.
We’re no closer to the truth now, but evidence has been uncovered over the years to suggest there might have been some legitimacy to the stories.
In 1896, during excavations for Cockayne’s new shop on Angel Street, a subterranean passage was discovered, arousing the interest of archaeologists and antiquarians.
However, it wasn’t enough to excite local journalists who were invited to accompany an exploring party up the passage.
Said one. “The expedition sounded attractive, but when I found that to gain admission it was necessary to crawl through a particularly small entrance, and that on the other side the passage had a covering of a foot of water, my exploring enthusiasm was dampened.”
He took consolation with the foreman’s claims that it was merely an “unromantic sewer,” his view confirmed by the explorers.
Alas, the march of progress ended any further exploration, and the passage was duly blocked up.
And there was another story from the same year, but one that didn’t emerge until 1920, when a retired reporter sent a letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
“At the bottom of High Street, at the curve which leads off towards Bank Street, some excavations were made in connection with drainage works, and at a depth of several yards, the opening in the ground cut right through an ancient subterranean way.
“I undertook an investigation with the view of establishing the correctness or incorrectness of the generally accepted theory. The foreman of the works was good enough to detail one of his men to be my guide, and with a lighted candle we began to walk along the passage towards the church. The opening in the direction of the river had been so badly disturbed during the excavations that the ingress on that side was out of the question.
“It was quite plain to see, as we advanced, that the passage had been cut through stone – it was not hard rock, but a rather soft and friable substratum. It was three feet wide, and at first, we could walk upright, but its height diminished a little, and twenty yards or so from the opening where we entered, we had to stoop to make our way along.
“At length we emerged into a dark cellar, with thralls all around it. The roof was of stone, but without ornamentation of any kind, and, altogether, it had the appearance of one of those underground caverns – crypts, they are commonly, but wrongly, called – in which a business had been carried on hundreds of years previously, and which was, in the first instance, reached by steps from without.
“These steps had disappeared however, and my guide brought me to daylight again up ordinary inside cellar steps, and we emerged into a dilapidated building.
“Pursuing my enquiries, I gathered that the premises beneath which the cellar lay had been for many years, at a remote period, the business place of a wine merchant, And the explanation of the passage was that it was, in all likelihood, a drain to conduct water from the cellar to the river.
“It was objected at the time that the cost of such a drain was altogether against the correctness of this theory; but, on the other hand, it is an established fact that drains of this character were common in medieval times. The residents in a locality would combine to bear the cost and to reap the advantage of such a construction, and, doubtless, if my guide and I had a better light, or if we had been more careful in traversing the passage, we might have seen junctions with the drain coming from the other premises.”
It was a disappointment to those who thought that this was part of a tunnel running from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church, but the so-called secret passages which ran underground in most towns were either sewers or watercourses.
The story was forgotten, only to emerge again in the 1930s, and subject of another post.
For hundreds of years there have been rumours of secret tunnels that existed between Sheffield Castle, going towards the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), and heading out to Manor Lodge and the Old Queen’s Head at Pond Hill.
After an underground tunnel was found underneath Angel Street in the 1890s, dismissed as an old sewer, interest in the stories waned.
However, excitement resurfaced in 1920, when discoveries were made at Skye Edge as a result of a coal strike.
In order to keep engines running in a nearby brickworks, several men were digging coal from an outcrop on Sky Edge quarry, when they unearthed what appeared to be a subterranean passage cut out of the solid ironstone.
Sky Edge was amid many historical associations – the old Manor Lodge to which Mary Queen of Scots was held captive – was less than a mile away.
It was possible to penetrate for about 100 yards with a naked light, but further on the tunnel appeared to show signs of caving in, and the presence of foul gases made it unwise for the men to carry on.
The main passage had an arched roof, 6ft high, and the floor was on a seam of coal, 3ft thick.
In the light of similar discoveries made at the time, in River Lane, near Pond Street, and at High Street, the discovery raised the possibility that the tunnel at Sky Edge was part of a subterranean passageway which at one time connected Sheffield Castle at Waingate (where the unfortunate Queen was also imprisoned).
Four years later, Sheffield Corporation workmen laying sewers near Manor Lodge unearthed another tunnel, at a depth of nearly 10ft deep, although it ended in a heap of dirt and stones.
The tunnel ran across the road towards Manor Woods. Explorations revealed that in the direction of the Castle the passage was only about ten yards long, apparently demolished at an earlier stage. But in the opposite direction it was possible to walk about 50 yards.
At the time, it was thought that it had some connection with a tunnel found at Handsworth two years previous.
In some places the roof of the tunnel had shifted slightly, thought to have been caused by ploughing operations above, where coping stones had previously been unearthed.
A reporter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph was invited into the tunnel.
“All sounds from the outside world are cut off, and the thought that people long since dead had trodden the same path was decidedly eerie. The floor, walls, and roof are all made of stone, some of the blocks on the floor being of quite considerable size and thickness.”
An old man at the time, told the same newspaper that he knew of the passage, as it had been opened for the Duke of Norfolk about fifty years previous.
“The tunnel was opened out in the field, and one day, I, in the company of other lads, went on a tour of exploration. We took our lamps with us and were able to walk for quite a considerable distance in the direction of the castle. At last, however, our progress was arrested by a heap of stones and earth and we were compelled to return. I remember the incident well enough because we all got a “belting” when we returned.”
Another claimed that he knew where the tunnel came out of Manor Lodge.
“One had to go down a number of steps into a cellar and from there it was possible to walk some distance along a corridor until a heap of rubbish was encountered. The cellar was within a few yards of the road, being near the large ruined tower,”
The secret tunnel to Sheffield Castle is said to have been through a small opening which was situated in a wall dividing the Lodge from the grounds of the Turret House. This had been boarded up at the time, but rusty staples suggested the fact that years before a strong door was fitted to the passage.
The secret way possibly served two ends. It could either have been used as a means of escape when the Lodge was surrounded, or to assist in the hunting of deer which once abounded in the vicinity.
The legend that Manor Lodge was connected by a subterranean passage to the Castle, the two homes of the Shrewsbury’s, was an old one. But one that suggested that Manor Lodge was connected to the Old Queen’s Head Hotel in Pond Hill had only surfaced later.
There was evidence from a few years before in Thomas Winder’s British Association Handbook and Guide to Sheffield (1910):
“We know that there was a chapel in the Manor House, from the account of the funeral of the 5th Earl, but its position is unknown. The corpse was secretly brought from the said Manor to the Castle.”
Some years before, an underground passage had been discovered, about 4ft high, during drainage excavations under Castle Hill, a passage that was never explored further.
According to that writer, the secret passage from the Manor might have ended near Castle Hill, and not the Old Queen’s Head. Furthermore, the height of the Castle Hill passage corresponded with that of the Manor – about 4ft – whilst the supposed entrance at the Old Queen’s Head was said to be half as high again.
Drainage excavations, which led to the discovery of traces of a passage were referred to in “Rambles Round Sheffield (1915). The writer mentions the Lodge-end of the supposed passage.
“The old lady (custodian at Manor Lodge) will point to the entrance to the subterranean passage which is said to have connected the Lodge with the Castle. During drainage excavations at the castle years ago, traces of a passage were found, but the workmen smashed them in before attention was directed to them. Perhaps some day efforts will be made to trace the passage.”
It was possible that there were two passages, one going from the Castle to the Manor, and the other from the Castle to the gabled structure in Pond Hill (now the Old Queen’s Head), but supposed to have been the laundry of the Castle.
With regards the Old Queen’s Head, a reporter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph visited in March 1925 and spoke with the landlord, Mr Ellis.
“Yes, there is an old tunnel here,” he said, “which is supposed to go to the Manor Castle, but it is all stoned up, although the entrance can plainly be seen.”
Proceeding into one of the cellars, the reporter was shown the entrance which faced in the direction of Midland Railway Station and was about six feet high. It was impossible to go in, as within two feet of the wall a strong stone barricade had been erected.
“I feel quite sure that this goes to the Manor,” said Mr Ellis, “as since the work commenced up there (Manor Lodge), we have been ‘swarmed’ with rats, and, possibly, they have been driven down here.”
And finally, there was the story of a worker at Steer and Webster, cutlery manufacturers, on Castle Hill, who told his fellows in the late 1800s about the works yard where a shaft or dry well was being used to deposit rubbish, and at some distance down the shaft, on the Manor side, there was an opening, apparently a doorway, which he declared was the entrance to the secret passage to the Manor.