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Buildings

Brightfield House: a ‘doomed’ house that survived

Brightfield House and to its right, the soon-to-be-demolished Highfield Club in 1885. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

In 1885, a large and commodious house situated at the bottom of Sharrow Lane was threatened with demolition. The Sheffield Independent printed an article, ‘Doomed Houses at Highfield’, highlighting the plight of Brightfield House, along with an adjacent property fronting London Road, once a family residence, and in its declining years used as the Highfield Club.

“Brightfield House is one of the few remaining examples of comfortable homes of well-to-do manufacturers at Highfield, in the time when it was quite a journey to go ‘over Sheffield Moor’ to that region ‘then a bit of country.’ Where now are long rows of brick houses stood the mansions of the Brights, the Woodheads, the Henfreys, the Lees, and others.

“A long, square house, standing in its own grounds, reminds one of the olden times. It is a pleasant break in the landscape; but appearances point to its early demolition, the builder approaching perilously near with his army of mortar men ‘to make the old order give way to the new.’”

Astonishingly, it wasn’t demolished, the Highfield Club was, and Brightfield House still stands, a monument to Sheffield’s forgotten past. Today, it goes by the name of Wisteria Gardens, divided into apartments, but to many it is known as the former Charnwood Hotel.

Brightfield House, now called Wisteria Gardens. (Image: Rightmove)

As will be explained, Brightfield House lost its name in the 1870s, renamed Highfield House, until losing its identity altogether.

It was erected about 1788 for John Henfrey, a prominent scissor-smith, whose family had been involved in the scissor trade for generations. He became a Freeman in 1753 and was the fourth generation to be apprenticed by The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. He went on to train his brother and his sons in the Brightside area, and was listed in the 1787 trade directory as having premises in Norfolk Street.

“He built for himself a country mansion at Highfield and being asked by his friends if he was not afraid of going over Sheffield Moor after dark, he replied that he took good care always to get home by daylight.”

Brightfield House, the Sharrow Lane home of Dr Gwynne in 1885. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

At that time Sheffield Moor was ‘a shocking road for coaches’. There was quite a steep slope from the Moor head to the Horse Dyke (at the bottom of what eventually became Ecclesall Road), Sharrow Lane being the only road for wheels. Coaches coming from the south were often met by two extra horses at Heeley, to pull them up Goose Green to Highfield, and then up Sheffield Moor. It was a crooked road, with houses few and far between – there were practically none past Little Sheffield, and the surrounding area was rural.

It was no coincidence that John Henfrey built his house opposite Mount Pleasant, built for Francis Hurt Sitwell a few years earlier. This was on the Buxton Road which ran via Sheffield Moor, to Highfields, up Sharrow Lane, along Psalter Lane and up Ringinglow Road.

When it was built in the 1780s, Wisteria Gardens was in the countryside. (Image: Cocker & Carr)

Brightfield House was named after the field it was built in, the suggestion being that Henfrey wanted to call it Highfield House, but a house of that name belonging to the Wilsons of Sharrow already existed at the top of the hill looking towards what became Sheaf House (yes, the pub on Bramall lane) with a large lawn bordered with fine sycamores and horse chestnut trees.

John Henfrey’s family was involved in a scandal when in 1791-92, one of his daughters eloped to Gretna Green with Thomas Leader, ‘one of those dashing young men of the time,’ a young Colonel in the Sheffield Volunteers.

John Henfrey (Image: The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire)

After Henfrey’s death, Brightfield House became home to William Wilson, a member of the same family at Highfield House.

Following Wilson’s death, the mansion was offered at auction but failed to sell for several years, the empty house left in the care of a servant, and subjected to burglaries.

“Comprising drawing room, dining room, and breakfast room, lofty and well-lighted. Seven bedrooms, with closets and dressing rooms. Principal and secondary staircases, capital kitchens, dry cellars, bathroom, water-closet, and brewhouse.

“The views from the house, notwithstanding its proximity to the Town, are extensive and diversified, comprising, in front, the Park, studded with mansions and villas, and the line of the hill stretching towards Norton, and behind, ranging over Sharrowhead, the Botanical Gardens, Broomhill, Crookes, etc.”

The big houses of Highfield. The original Highfield House was demolished. (Image: National Library of Scotland)

It appears that Brightfield House was still in the possession of the Wilson family until the 1870s until bought by John Parkinson Mawhood, of Farm Bank, in 1874. He was head of Stevenson, Mawhood and Company, tool manufacturers, of Pond Street and later the Palm Tree Works at Attercliffe.

His tenure was short-lived and following the failure of the company in 1879 it was bought by Dr Charles Nelson Gwynne, an Irishman, who came to Sheffield in 1875 when he purchased the practice of Dr Webb at Highfield, and built up connections in Sharrow, Highfield, and Heeley.

Gwynne became Honorary Medical Officer at the Children’s Hospital in 1879, after completing a special study of diseases in children.

In 1879, the nearby Highfield House estate was available for development, suggesting the mansion had been demolished, allowing Gwynne to rename Brightfield as Highfield House.

Gwynne died in 1906, and Highfield House became home to Dr George Scott Davidson, who ran a practice here with his son, Dr John Davidson, of Repton Lodge, in Sharrow.

Later this week we’ll look at a remarkable event that took place at Highfield House during Dr Davidson’s tenure.

Davidson practised for over thirty years, his son later moving into Highfield and taking over the practice, the house remaining a surgery until the 1970s.

It became the 22-bed Charnwood Hotel in 1985, opened by Chris and Valerie King, and operated almost 20 years as a wedding venue, along with two top restaurants, Brasserie Leo and the smaller more upmarket Henfrey’s.

Charnwood Hotel in 2004. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

The Charnwood Hotel closed in December 2004 after being unsuccessfully marketed for £1.3 million. It was turned into apartments in 2005 and renamed Wisteria Gardens.

The house and adjoining former coach house are Grade II listed by Historic England.

Wisteria Gardens. A survivor of Georgian England. (Image: Redbrik)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

A brighter future for Tapton Court

Tapton Court. (Image: BNP Paribas Real Estate)

Some time ago, I wrote about Tapton Court, off Shore Lane, a big house that had fallen on hard times.

Tapton Court was built in 1868 as a residential villa before being converted into nurses’ accommodation in the 1930s. It was later taken over by the University of Sheffield and used as a hall of residence for student nurses.

Speaking at the opening of Tapton Court as a nurses’ home in 1934, J.G. Graves spoke of a Royal connection, seemingly forgotten today.

“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.”

Those days of grandeur are long gone.

The approach to the Main House. (Image: PJ Livesey)

Today, Tapton Court lies empty, damaged by fire in 2010, and although the University of Sheffield carried out repairs, it is on Sheffield Council’s Buildings at Risk register and large sections of the site have been boarded up to prevent damage and vandalism.

Main House tower and detail above southern entrance. (Image: PJ Livesey)
Main House feature window above the south entrance. (Image: PJ Livesey)

Now plans have been lodged for the redevelopment of the grade II-listed building to create new housing.

PJ Livesey Holdings, supported by Pegasus Group, has submitted full planning and listed building applications to Sheffield City Council for the change of use and conversion of the buildings for residential use.

The application site includes the main house and adjoining terrace wall and conservatory , as well as the Ranmoor House Annexe, former stables block and lodge building.

Tapton Court would be converted to create 14 apartments, with a further 18 in the Ranmoor House Annexe. The Stables and Lodge would be converted into individual residential units. Four new houses would also be built to the north-west of the main building.

See also Tapton Court: a ‘brass castle’ above the fog of the town, and Tapton Court: When the nurses moved in

Photograph of Tapton Court taken from the 1915 sales particulars. The house was built in 1868 for John Henry Andrew, a steel manufacturer. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

The White Building

The White Building in Fitzalan Square. The old offices have been converted into apartments. (Image: David Poole)

This is probably one of Sheffield’s best-loved buildings. A glance through social media shows positive words about the White Building in Fitzalan Square, and yet little appears to be known about it.

The building is Grade II listed by Historic England, more so for the ten carved friezes that adorn its fascia, but its simple past, as shops and offices, means it is largely forgotten.

(Image: David Poole)

The White Building was built in 1908, named after the white faience used to dress it, quite different from the stone used in other buildings of the time. This material was used because it was ‘self-cleaning’, an antidote against the soot that clung to our city centre buildings in the past. (Another example, still seen today, was the Telegraph Building on High Street).

However, it would not look out of place on a typical Parisian street and comes into its own on a bright sunny day.

The White Building seen shortly after completion in 1908. This was one of several new buildings built at the same time as the square was ornamentalised. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

It was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, of Flockton and Gibbs, who built and owned the building. No surprise then that its construction came the same time that Fitzalan Square was about to be rebuilt. Gibbs, as a member of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors, had consulted on plans for the square, and no doubt saw an opportunity to cash in on future success.

The White Building was built of four storeys with a raised attic storey in the centre. The use of French windows with balconies on the first and third floors provided welcome relief to the usual designs for commercial buildings.

The building was accessed by an arcaded ground floor, the entrance, still with its original name plaque, recessed behind one of the plain elliptical arches.

It is above these five arches that the ten friezes can be seen. These were created by Alfred Herbert Tory and William Frank Tory, the brothers using real workers as models, before sending away the designs to be cast as hollow tiles (the moulding was done with terracotta tiles in Leeds).

With thanks to Darcy White and Elizabeth Norman ‘The Sheffield Trades’ are as follows:-

“A Silversmith (with a blowpipe): a Chaser: an Engineer: a File Cutter; a Steel Roller: a Cutler: a Grinder (using a flat-stick): a Hand Forger; a Buffer; and a Steel crucible teemer (with sweat rag in mouth).”

The Tory brothers made five each, casting their initials beneath their work, although these have weathered badly and are now difficult to read.

After the White Building opened, its ‘first class shops and offices’ were in huge demand and proceeded to be so until the decline of Fitzalan Square in the 1970s and 1980s. It was altered in the late twentieth century, including the removal of decorative rooftop urns, but remains pretty much as it did when first built.

These days the old offices have been converted into apartments and the ground floor shops await the revival of Fitzalan Square.

The King Edward VII Memorial with the White Building in the background. (Image: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.