Crookes Valley Park

Crookes Valley Park has long been a favourite for residents, workers and students, one of three Crookesmoor Parks, the others being Weston Park and the Ponderosa.

I doubt that many people will realise that this is one of Sheffield’s newest parks, named Crookes Valley Park in 1951 as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme.

Before this, the piece of land beneath Crookes Valley Road had been called the Recreation Ground, and the lake was referred to as the Old Great Dam.

However, the story of this park is fascinating and one that has probably been lost over time.

Our tale starts in 1782, when Joseph Matthewman, together with Messrs. Wheat, Lee and Gunning, of the Sheffield Reservoirs Company, were granted a 99-year lease by the Earl of Surrey to build a new reservoir in the Crookesmoor Valley.

They believed the supply of water to the town was inadequate and turned their attention to the deep valley at Crookesmoor which separated the townships of Sheffield and Nether Hallam, and where the sides of the hillside were abundant with fresh springs. The topography of the land allowed them to pin-up the water at little cost.

The Old Great Dam was completed in February 1785, spread over four acres and contained 21million gallons of water, fed by a small stream in its western corner.

It was later joined by the New Dam, Godfrey Dam, and the Ralph and Misfortune Dams, together with four smaller dams in the Crookesmoor Valley. They were later accompanied by the Hadfield Reservoir at Crookes, built at a height of 600ft above sea level.

Water was conveyed into Sheffield by wooden pipes, 1,100 yards to a working dam at Portobello, and then to a stone cistern at Division Street, then distributed through the streets in the upper part of town. The lower Crookesmoor reservoirs supplied the lower parts via Watery Lane.

The Old Great Dam was thought big enough to supply the town for years, but when the Sheffield Waterworks Company assumed responsibility in 1830, the population had grown from under 10,000 to nearly 50,000, doubling between 1780 to 1810.

The Crookesmoor Dams were no longer able to cope with demand and larger reservoirs were built farther out of town. All the dams, except Old Great Dam, were filled in, with the Town Trustees offering to buy part of its land in 1874 to create a public park or recreation ground.

The scheme failed and it wasn’t until the completion of Crookes Valley Road in 1893 that the idea was resurrected.

Before this time, the valley had been crossed using the Great Dam Road, roughly following the edge of the reservoir, but involved a steep descent.

A new road was required to link Winter Street with the other side of the valley, and a massive embankment was built between the two. The project needed 450,000 loads of material, and to assist, Sheffield Corporation offered a “free tip” whereby “good, hard, dry rubbish” could be taken for the formation of the road. For years afterwards, the area at the end of Winter Street was still referred to as “The Tip.”

In 1905, Sheffield Corporation created the Recreation Ground next to Crookes Valley Road with a shelter, the city’s first municipal bowling green, and tennis courts. However, the Old Great Dam, as well as the privately-owned Dam House beside it, remained untouched.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the Old Great Dam was turned into a boating lake, with thirty rowing boats, and the Dam House converted into the Festival Restaurant, offering “first class meals of a continental standard.” The whole area was renamed Crookes Valley Park.

Nowadays, the lake (as it has become known) is used for fishing, and don’t let anyone fool you that it isn’t deep.

Over the past 235 years, it has claimed hundreds of lives, most unaware of its chilly depths, estimated at between 45 and 60ft.


Dam House

This building has seen a lot of tragedy since it was built in the 1780s, initially as a home for the company secretary to the Sheffield Reservoir Company. Dam House, on Mushroom Lane, was built above the Old Great Dam, better known now as the lake at Crookes Valley Park.

Since 1951, Dam House has been used on-and-off as a bar and restaurant, but for 160 years beforehand it was a large house, owned by the reservoir company, and subsequently the Sheffield Water Works Company.

It’s fair to say that Dam House has witnessed an awful lot of drownings over the years. Suicides have been common, and accidental deaths numerous, whether the result of swimmers, both sober and drunk, misjudging the dam’s 60ft depth, or skaters falling through ice.

And, as we shall see, tragedy hasn’t been confined outdoors.

Let’s appreciate that this was once in rolling countryside, with spectacular views down Crookesmoor Valley, and it was only during the 19th century that the town advanced towards it.

In 1841, Dam House was advertised to let. “Beautifully situate at Crookesmoor, and commanding some of that delightful scenery for which the vicinity of Sheffield is so deservedly famous.”

The house had a spacious entrance hall, dining, drawing and breakfast rooms, and two kitchens, together with a two-stalled stable, coach house and requisite out-offices.

By 1848, it was occupied by William Smith, magistrate for the West Riding, director of the Midland Railway Company, and for many years chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company. A barrister by profession, he was an active friend of the Sheffield General Infirmary and of the Public Hospital and Dispensary (later the Royal Hospital).

Smith died a broken man at Dam House in 1864, shortly after the collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam, at Bradfield, that claimed the lives of 240 people. He’d resigned as chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company, claiming ill-health, and died of probable heart failure.

It was next occupied by Michael Hunter, Jr., brother of Joseph Hunter, the antiquarian, who headed a cutlery firm and had been a Master Cutler. For 22 years he was a member of Sheffield Town Council, becoming its Mayor in 1881-1882.

He left for Stoke Manor, near Grindleford, in the 1870s, the house passing to James Bartlett, and subsequently to Dr Robert Salmon Hutton, head of a silverware company.

During the early 1920s, Dam House was inhabited by Gilbert Rowe, a civil engineer, who committed suicide by filling a room with gas in 1924.

It was later rented by Mr F.C. Lea, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield nearby. He retired in 1936 and the last occupant appears to have been E.J. Waller, a man with connections to Sheffield Corporation’s Water Department.

Dam House has always looked out upon the Old Great Dam (and at one time separated it from the New Dam behind, later filled in).

In 1893, Sheffield Corporation built Crookes Valley Road, a monumental engineering effort that needed 450,000 loads of material to build up an embankment.

The view from Dam House was thus restricted and the Recreation Ground was built alongside the road, adjacent to the dam, in 1905, with bowling greens and tennis courts.

The Old Great Dam was redundant by this time, and it wasn’t until 1951 that Sheffield Corporation made use of the land as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme, renaming the area Crookes Valley Park.

The dam was turned into a boating lake and Dam House was converted into the Festival Restaurant, complete with furnishings from Heal’s Contracts of Tottenham Court Road, London, and offering “first-class meals of a continental standard.”

Since then, Dam House has had a chequered history, changing ownership several times, and suffered a devastating fire in 1996 that gutted the interior and destroyed most of the roof. It was restored and reopened as a restaurant by Carlton Palmer, the former Sheffield Wednesday footballer.

After closing and standing empty for several years, it was bought by Kamalijit Sangha and Simrun Badh, both from Grenoside, in November 2011, functioning as the Dam House Bar and Restaurant ever since.


Mushroom Lane

This is the story of a narrow road with a magical name.

Mushroom Lane winds up Crookesmoor Valley, originally from St. Stephen’s Church at Netherthorpe (now called The Vine), but now assumes its name further up the hillside. It crosses over Winter Street, and winds between Weston and Crookes Valley Parks, before emerging at Western Bank, near to the museum.

These days, most people barely take notice of the name , and those that do often presume it relates to the growing of mushrooms on the hillside back in ancient times.

However, the tale behind Mushroom Lane is far more interesting than that and begins at a time when this area was simply fields, trees and rolling countryside.

In early days, great tracts of waste or common land lay between villages. This land belonged to no one and was sometimes referred to as “Folkland” – as we see in Fulwood, a corruption of “Folkwood.”

The villagers had free access to this land for grazing purposes, fetching and carrying wood and using it for the benefit of the community. There was no special right to any part because it belonged to all, in the true communal manner.

Under certain conditions, however, it was possible for an enterprising squatter, providing he was a free man and able to quit his Lord’s service, to obtain a tenure on that waste land.

This is how a house called Mushroom Hall came to be built.

In the year 1789, a man called Ben Pinder contrived to build and cover, between sunset and sunrise (that is in a single night), a house, and to boil a pot therein. Once completed, it gave him the right to hold the place under what was known as a Keyhole Tenure.

The house was built of sods, stones, brick-ends and other binding materials, and the springing up of the place in one night naturally led locals to call it Mushroom Hall. As time passed the house was gradually improved, and the track that ran up the hillside to it became known as Mushroom Lane.

It was later bought by Whittington Sowter, landlord of the delightfully named Warmhearthstone public house at Townhead Street in Sheffield Town.

The custom of Keyhole tenure and the boiling of a pot harks back to Pagan times when hearth fires were held sacred.

It wasn’t the boiling of the pot that made the tenancy complete, but rather the lighting of the fire that boiled it. The ever-burning village fire was held to be hallowed, and the kindling and the maintenance of the fire upon real estate was proof of lawful occupation and possession.

And so, Mushroom Hall and Mushroom Lane may sound ridiculous, but were named in quite serious circumstances.

What became of Mushroom Hall?

A far cry from its humble origins, it is now part of 362 Mushroom Lane, owned by the University of Sheffield, and where you will find the Department for Human Communication Sciences.