It is hard to imagine that beneath Arundel Gate, at its junction with Norfolk Street, is a lost road. When the dual carriageway was constructed in the 1960s, it swept away a street that had once been one of the most influential in Sheffield.
As someone who researches our past, the name of Milk Street frequently appears in the obituaries of well-known medical men, clergymen, merchants, manufacturers, solicitors, and people who rose to prominence, not only in Sheffield, but across Britain, and in all parts of the world.
Milk Street had once been called Petticoat Lane, but by the 1700s had changed its name, and in 1800 became the site of Milk Street Academy, its most famous building.
The academy was established by John Hessay Abraham, a Methodist, as a classical, commercial, philosophical, and mathematical seminary for boys. It used a single room in an existing building and was soon successful enough to occupy the rest of it.
At this time, elementary education in Sheffield was poor, and only the wealthiest people paid for the privilege of private schooling. The boys started lessons at 7am and the curriculum included English, French, mathematics, penmanship, drawing, and the use of the globe. That a very high standard was reached may be judged in the London ‘Universal Magazine’ for April 1805, which produced ‘Juvenile Essays, comprising, in order of merit, the first and second half-yearly prize competitions of the pupils belonging to the Milk Street Academy, Sheffield.’
J.H. Abraham has appeared on these pages before as one of the occupants of Holy Green House. He was an extremely clever man, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and on his death in 1846, his extensive library was auctioned and included standard works in literature, especially philosophy, astronomy, electricity, magnetism, galvanism, chemistry, and mathematics.
In 1840, his daughter Emma had married Richard Bowling, a teacher of twenty years at Milk Street, who succeeded Abraham as principal.
Under ‘Dicky’ Bowling, the academy thrived and achieved success at preparing pupils for Oxford and Cambridge.
He was a fine gentleman – 5ft 11in high and very proportionate, a thorough disciplinarian – a good, all-round scholar who besides the three r’s which he thoroughly drilled into his pupils, taught Latin and Greek.
One guinea a quarter was the fee, drawing and languages extra, and when a new scholar arrived, the father had to pay a 5 shillings entrance fee.
There were about 400 boys in total, and there was what was called the Cabinet, which went to the boy who attained first prize in all subjects.
However, Bowling’s methods were somewhat barbaric.
“For playing truant he laid a boy across the desk (or on another boy’s back) and put his trousers down and gave him the cane on his bare flesh,” said a former pupil. “One boy was made to stand on the form while he sent another boy for an old-fashioned treacle-stick. He tore part of the paper off and made him suck it for a quarter of an hour allowing the schoolboys to jeer at him all the time.”
“I remember him giving me a severe blow to the side of the face because I was holding my pen improperly,” said another. “However, I remember Mr Bowling with pleasant memories as a great and distinguished schoolmaster, who developed in us the faculties which have contributed to any success we may have attained.”
All in all, the boys appeared to enjoy themselves, with physical education taking place at playing fields on the site of the old Winter Street Hospital, now part of Sheffield University. When let loose, they used Cheney Square (lost underneath the Town Hall) as happy hunting grounds.
Bowling resided at Norwood Rise, Pitsmoor, and subsequently at Clough House. At both places he had boarders, who attended the school every day. On his death in 1876, the academy became Milk Street School and continued under the partnership of his son, Walter Henry Bowling, and John Irwin, a former master, who, aged eighteen, had been apprenticed to the academy.
However, its days were numbered, hastened by the 1870 Education Act, the first legislation to provide for national education and create school boards across the country.
In August 1880, Irwin closed Milk Street School, now surrounded by industry, and moved it to Montgomery College, Sharrow.
Gone, but not forgotten. “One Sheffield institution which is frequently mentioned in records of the early careers of public men is the old Milk Street School,” said a newspaper in 1904. “It is referred to more frequently even than the Grammar School or Wesley School as the educational home of prominent citizens. There seem to be few records of the school left, and the old boys have not formed themselves into an association.”
A few years later, the Rescue and Evangelisation Mission was established in the old building, and in 1913 it was occupied by the Sheffield Chauffeurs’ Society, that promoted sociability amongst its drivers, and to safeguard members. It later became premises for Harry Hartley and Son, hardware merchants.
The building and the street may have long disappeared, but you might be interested to know that the name lives on, and not far away from its original location.
Beside the Crucible Theatre, leading from Norfolk Street, underneath Arundel Gate to the multi-storey car-park, is a service road, appropriately called… Milk Street.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.