It was only recently that I realised that I’d never posted about St Paul’s Church, a Sheffield landmark remembered now by only a few.
If you want to know where it once stood look no further than the Peace Gardens.
St Paul’s Church stood on the outskirts of Sheffield on land bordered by Pinson Lane (Pinstone Street) and Alsop Fields, called Shaw’s Close or Oxley Croft. Its foundation stone was laid in 1720, the result of public subscription for ‘the new church’.
It was designed by John Platt, architect, statuary mason, potter, and builder, who was active, particularly around Rotherham, in the mid-to-late 18th and early 19th centuries, and most famous for Wortley Hall. Construction was undertaken by John Wastenage of Handsworth.
The building, completed except for the dome, stood empty until 1739 after a dispute over patronage. A John Snetzler organ was installed in 1755 and the dome was added in 1769. Later, in 1824, St Paul’s was placed in its own parish.
The church prospered until the slum clearances of the 1930s in which a large proportion of sub-standard back-to-back houses in the city centre were swept away. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners decided that six city centre churches were surplus to requirement and intended replacing them with ones on the new housing estates. The congregation at St Paul’s had dwindled and was closed in 1937.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) took an interest in the rebuilding of the church on East Bank Road, at Arbourthorne.
And found amongst the archives is a letter from Mr John Betjeman, of Ufflington, Berkshire, (yes, THE John Betjeman) who had visited.
“As a visitor to Sheffield and a student of architecture, I would like to express a hope that your most beautiful classical church of St Paul’s will be rebuilt exactly as it stands on its new site.
“It is appropriate that Sir William Milner, a Yorkshireman, is to save the work of a great Yorkshire architect John Platt II, who designed the tower of St Paul’s and whose father, John Platt I, probably designed the body of the church.”
Betjeman’s pleas were largely ignored.
St Paul’s was demolished by Joseph Smith of Denby Street in 1938, the saddest sight being the three ton metal dome of the clock tower that was hoisted on its side before dropping to the ground and smashing into pieces.
“St Paul’s beauty did not save it, and all that can be said of those who pulled it down is that they beat the German bombers to the sordid task.”
Work on the new church costing £20,000 at Arbourthorne started almost immediately and was completed by the end of 1939.
“The original idea, partly through sentiment, was to try and move the old church stone by stone and re-erect it, but this simply could not be done,” said the contractor. “To build an actual replica in stone like the original church would have been prohibitive. The cost would have been considerably more than the actual cost of the new building, and so the decision had to be made to build the new church in brick.”
It is thought that some of the stone was used instead to build houses at Bents Green.
Practically all the interior furnishings, including pews, alters, and plate, were transferred to the new church but missing was the organ which went to All Saints in Wingerworth and the Chantrey Memorial which went to Sheffield Cathedral. Missing also was the famous clock tower which, at £800, was thought too expensive. The contents of the former graveyard were transferred to Abbey Lane cemetery.
The vacant land in the city centre was intended to be used for extensions for the Town Hall, but public opinion swayed Sheffield Corporation to turn it into St. Paul’s Gardens, commonly referred to as the Peace Gardens.
And there was a sad end for the ‘new’ St. Paul’s Church. Dwindling congregations in a draughty big building played a part in its downfall and it was demolished by the end of the 1970s. In its place, a hostel for people with learning difficulties, and a house alongside called The Old Vicarage.
Questions remain unanswered about the original St Paul’s Church. The bell and clock were carefully removed during demolition but not used in the reconstruction at East Bank Road. Does anybody know where these might have ended up?
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