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.
It was the summer of 1881, and there were a lot of people in Sheffield town centre. They had come to watch Miss Margaret Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, lay the foundation stone of a new Unitarian Memorial Hall on newly constructed Surrey Street.
Margaret Jessop was the fourth daughter of Thomas Jessop (1804-1887), steelmaker, Mayor, and Master Cutler, and founder of the Jessop Hospital for Women.
She deputised for her sick father and laid the corner stone with a handsome silver trowel with ivory handle, upon which was the inscription – “Presented to Miss Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, Sheffield, on the occasion of her laying the corner stone of a Congregational Hall in connection with the Upper Chapel, June 14, 1881.”
The stone also bore an inscription, and in the cavity underneath a bottle was deposited, which contained a parchment setting forth the purposes for which the hall was erected, and the names of the minister, trustees, secretary, architects, clerk of the works, and contractors. Having laid the mortar, she gave the stone a couple of taps with the mallet and declared it well and truly laid.
The hall was completed the following year and called Channing Hall, a name we are familiar with today.
Channing Hall had been commissioned by the Trustees of the Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street and was named after William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the father of American Unitarianism.
At the time, Rev. Eli Fay said: –
“The trustees some years ago commenced to consider their need of a hall for the promotion of the social life of the congregation, and to enable the Sunday school to realise more fully its own ideals. They did not expect from the trustees anything poor and cheap, but he did not expect that they had given them what had been declared to be the finest small auditorium in Yorkshire, and probably the finest in the north of England.”
The building of Channing Hall and the four shops underneath cost £4200, a new caretaker’s house at the rear £460, the division of the old schoolrooms into classrooms £225, and the total cost, together with the site, was about £7000.
Years earlier, the Chapel had bought property on Pepper Alley (near Norfolk Row) as well as building a Minister’s house on land behind. In the 1880s, Sheffield Corporation had sights on the land these stood on, and gave the trustees £3,870 for it, as well as two pieces of land, one of which was used to build the new hall.
After great difficulty, the Chapel also obtained permission from the Court of Chancery to borrow £714 for themselves. But the rest of the money should have come from subscriptions but raised only £1280 from some 35 or 40 persons. It left the Trustees with a deficit and took years for the debt to be cleared.
The architects were Flockton and Gibbs, the style like that of the old chapel – Italian renaissance – only of a more ornate character.
It was 60ft in length, two storeys in height, with six pilasters on each story, the lower being of an Ionic and the upper an Italian treatment of the Corinthian order, surmounted with a bold cornice and balustrade. The space between the pilasters on the lower story was filled with five arches – the entrance being in the centre arch – and those on the upper story were filled with windows, three of which were arched, and sub-divided with more arches.
The walls of the interior, including entrance and staircase passage, were built of coloured glaze brick, the pilasters being of Indian red colour, the surbase of green and brown, panels of cream colour, and borders of white and French grey.
From the impressive winding staircase hall were doors giving access to the chapel, old schools, chapel-keeper’s house, committee room, and congregational hall. The latter, which was the chief part of the building, was considered a work of beauty.
The roof had partly open timbers, and the caps and bases of the pilasters were of the Italian Corinthian order. This was used as a Sunday school as well as a congregational room, and the seating accommodation was for 350 to 400 persons.
The walls were glazed bricks, with surbase of browns and greens, pilasters of Indian red and cream-coloured panels, and with white and French grey. The caps and bases of the pilasters were cement, and of the Italian Corinthian design.
Around the room, at right angles with the beautiful caps surmounting the pilasters, was an inscription which stated that the hall had been erected “for educational and social purposes, and for the same religious aims with which the chapel was founded in the year 1700, and on the same broad basis of a free and open trust.”
The wooden floor was 4½ inches thick, laid on concrete, with the joints filled with white lead, with a slight fall to the sides; the object of this to enable the floor to be washed with a hose pipe.
All these years later, people tend to forget that Channing Hall and the Upper Chapel are tangibly connected. Both venues can be accessed by going through the other.
Little has changed since its construction, except the addition of a lift, and Channing Hall, now Grade II listed, is mainly used as a conference and banqueting suite.
Once upon a time, this building was on the edge of town, but looked very different to what it does now. And it faced Fargate, not Norfolk Street, as it does now.
Upper Chapel is Sheffield’s oldest Nonconformist chapel. It was built in 1700 and the original brick wall sides still form part of the building.
The congregation was formed by followers of James Fisher, Vicar of Sheffield during the Commonwealth, after he was ejected in 1662 in the Great Ejection, during the restoration of the monarchy, for refusing to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity. Around a tenth of his parishioners followed him in becoming Dissenters, and several more splits ensued, but by the 1690s, the dominant group of non-conformists was led by Timothy Jollie.
Prior to this they probably met for worship in each other’s houses, and the worship grew to such an extent that the faithful few in Sheffield ventured to build a place of worship called New Hall (at the bottom of Snig Hill) – the first Dissenting meeting house in Sheffield.
The congregation grew to such an extent that a bigger chapel was built that faced ‘Farrgate’ and was called New Chapel, the back of it looking across Alsop Fields.
On the death of the Rev. Timothy Jollie in 1714, its members numbered 1,163, the largest group in Yorkshire, and the Trustees of New Chapel appointed the Arian John Wadsworth, causing some dissenters to breakaway and build a new chapel nearby. This was Nether Chapel that gave modern-day Chapel Walk its name.
With two chapels so close to each other, New Chapel became known as Upper Chapel, being farther up the hillside, and in its grounds was the tombstone of Timothy Jollie with the inscription, ‘an eloquent and Evangelical interpreter of the word of God, a man divinely gifted to preach the fundamentals of Christian doctrine.’ The grounds, which form the present day courtyard, were originally used as a burial ground until 1855, when a law was passed preventing further town centre burials.
By the 1840s, Upper Chapel was described as having ‘a dingy aspect externally, and peculiarly inconvenient in the arrangements of the interior.’
In 1847-8 it was completely rebuilt by Sheffield-architect John Frith, a member of the congregation, the style of architecture being ‘Italian, simple and plain in its detail.’
His biggest change was to extend the building to the east and reverse the building to face Norfolk Street.
The principal front, built of cleansed stone, was divided into three compartments, the centre one being composed of an Ionic portico of four columns, over which there were a group of circular-headed windows. It had a slight projection and was surmounted with a pediment. The flanks of the chapel were raised eight feet higher than the former building with architrave moulding, frieze, and cornice, that ran on one level around all the outer walls, with exception of the pediment in the principal front.
The body of the chapel was divided into three compartments by two aisles, commencing at the entrances and terminating on each side of the pulpit and communion table.
A three-sided oval gallery was introduced, the columns supporting it set five feet back from the line of the gallery front and allowing a view of the minister from every part of the chapel.
The interiors were enhanced by later additions and fittings, and according to Pevsner, included pews in1882, the vestry in 1900, and an organ console and central pulpit elevated on Doric columns in 1907, all by Edward Mitchell Gibbs.
From 1890 onwards, 16 stained glass windows were installed, including one re-installation in 2001 of a window found in storage under stairs. Nine of them, all on the ground floor, were designed by Henry Holiday. Further windows were added by Hugh Easton (Liberty and Truth), in 1948, installed either side of the pulpit as replacements for bomb damaged windows.
Upper Chapel is now a member of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarians. Its trustees still own many freehold properties in Sheffield, and the chapel is connected by staircase to Channing Hall on Surrey Street.
In the courtyard are three sculptures by George Fullard – ‘Running Woman,’ ‘Mother and Child,’ and ‘Angry Woman,’ all sited in 1985.
Yesterday, we featured a sketch of Cadman Lane, drawn by Sheffield artist Kenneth Steel (1906-1970). The drawing brought several queries as to the whereabouts of this characteristic old street. Presumably lost? Well, you might be surprised to know that Cadman Lane still exists.
Granted, it is not a street that many wander down anymore. It is a far cry from its heyday when it was a busy thoroughfare lined with factories, workshops, and offices. It survives in truncated form and can be found behind the Graduate public house, running parallel with the Millennium Gallery, and cut short by the presence of the Winter Garden.
How did Cadman Lane get its name?
In the 1780s, there is a story of Thomas Leader walking with the father of T Wilkinson in the field through which Surrey Street was later built. He remarked that the land below had been measured for building. “Yes,” said his companion, “It’s for young Roberts and for a plated manufactory, too.” This was Samuel Roberts, coupled with the mechanical cleverness of his colleague, George Cadman, and “aided by the capital of Mr Naylor, Unitarian Minister, as sleeping partner, and enabled the firm of Roberts and Cadman to outstrip local competitors.”
The most likely candidate for the naming of the street is Peter Cadman, a merchant, who, in 1781 had houses up the south-east side of Norfolk Street. He died in 1812 in the house which he built next “to the gateway in Norfolk Street.” The gateway in question may well have been the arched entrance to Cadman Lane.
In 1929, Sheffield Corporation bought the block of property with the intention of reserving the land to build new administrative offices or public buildings. However, demolition did not start until the 1960s and the new Town Hall extension (the ‘egg box’) opened in 1977. It was demolished in 2002 and replaced with the Millennium Gallery, Winter Garden and McDonalds (now Mercure) Hotel.
A developer has responded after one of its project on the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street attracted 127 objections.
Grantside applied for planning permission to Sheffield City Council for a 10-storey office block, called C-N Tower, to replace two 1960s buildings.
Residents complained it would block natural light, destroy privacy and damage businesses, and Historic England is concerned about the height of the tower and its effect on existing heritage buildings.
Grantside chief executive Steve Davis said: “According to Sheffield City Council there is a ‘chronic shortage’ of high-quality, Grade ‘A’ office space in the city centre. This is hugely detrimental to Sheffield’s future economic growth both in the short term and the long-term, as potential occupiers may be forced to look elsewhere.“
The area around Norfolk Street and Pinstone Street was drastically redesigned in the late 1800s, widening and realigning Pinstone Street which involved the demolition of many buildings including some on this site.
The first building to be built on the site within the new road layout was the Three Horseshoes Hotel Public House in the 1890s. In the early 1900s buildings were built either side of the pub including the existing building St. Paul’s Chambers which originally housed the New Central Hall, cited as one of Sheffield’s first picture houses. This building also took up a section of the proposed site and became the Tivoli Cinema in 1914.
On 12th December 1940 Sheffield City Centre suffered extreme bomb damage during an intensive air raid. This included a direct strike outside the site where the Three Horseshoes Hotel and partof the Tivoli Cinema were gutted by the blast and subsequent fires.
The cinema never reopened but the Central Hall entrance signage can still be seen on the building today.
The site was eventually cleared of rubble and sat as an empty plot, used for parking during the 1950s. In the 1960s the current buildings on site were constructed and provided new offices above ground floor retail space. Over the following decades the buildings were occupied by many differing uses including BBC Radio Sheffield and a branch of The Post Office.
Let us dismiss a legend before we go any further. I cannot find any evidence that bodies are buried beneath Chapel Walk, but there again, nor can I prove that they aren’t. The only connection with the ‘dead’ these days is the number of empty shops and lack of pedestrians.
Since the 1990s, the decline of Chapel Walk is the most remarkable example of degeneration in Sheffield city centre. From being a busy thoroughfare, where people struggled to avoid bumping into each other, it has become a ‘ghost’ street, but one that has the most potential to be impressive again.
Chapel Walk is one of our oldest streets, with origins in medieval times, but its importance surfaces in the 1700s.
At that time, every house on Prior Gate (High Street) had long gardens behind them, backing onto Alsop Fields, a rural and agricultural area sloping down to the River Sheaf.
In 1660, followers of Rev. James Fisher, vicar of Sheffield, broke away from Sheffield Parish Church to form the beginnings of Congregationalism. They met in rooms around the town but in 1700 rented a site that faced ‘Farrgate’ and called it the New Chapel, the back of it looking across Alsop Fields.
On the death of the Rev. Timothy Jollie in 1714, the Trustees of the New Chapel appointed the Arian John Wadsworth, causing some dissenters to breakaway and build a new chapel.
They looked to John Tooker, an early Master Cutler, who lived on ‘Farrgate’ and agreed to sell a piece of garden behind his house for £60 to Elia Wordsworth, a prominent member of the seceding independents, to build a new meeting house.
The chapel, across gardens from New Chapel, was built in 1714 within Tooker’s Yard, access being from Tooker Alley (later Tucker Alley), a narrow thoroughfare, with the conveyance ensuring permanent right of way to the chapel from Fargate and Alsop Fields, and that the passage should never be narrower than two yards. Thereafter, Tucker Alley became known as Chapel Walk.
Because of their proximity to each other, New Chapel became the Upper Chapel with the one on Chapel Walk called Nether Chapel.
“One regrets that there is no picture available of the Nether Chapel of those far-off days. We can imagine the little congregation during a long sermon on a hot summer’s day being beguiled by the song of birds coming through the open windows. We can see them, through fancy’s eye, coming out after worship into the strong sunlight and indulging in a friendly chat under the shade of neighbouring trees, and then dispersing to their homes in the vicinity along narrow lanes with hedges of honeysuckle and hawthorn; the air fragrant with the scent of new-mown hay – the silence broken now and again by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle grazing contentedly in the adjacent fields.”
The chapel was partly destroyed by fire in 1827, and foundations for a New Nether Chapel were laid in May. It cost £4,200 and looked towards Norfolk Street (built at the edge of Alsop Fields) instead of Chapel Walk which had done its duty for 113 years. Dr William Younge sold land fronting Norfolk Street allowing the creation of a new chapel yard.
Over the next hundred years, Sheffield changed considerably. Gone were those rural delights and solitudes. Nether Chapel now stood in the heart of a city of bricks and mortar. The countryside had been obliterated by factories, workshops, and offices, and Chapel Walk became a popular shopping street.
In 1963, congregations at Burngreave, Wicker, Queen Street and Nether Chapel resolved to unite and form one church and to build a new chapel in the city centre. Nether Chapel was demolished, and a new Central Congregational Church opened in 1971.
When the United Reformed Church was formed in 1972 from Congregational and Presbyterian denominations the Church became Central United Reformed Church. It was significantly altered in 2000 and stands at the Norfolk Street end of Chapel Walk.
Meanwhile, Chapel Walk has fallen on tough times. Not helped by the Fargate end being shrouded in ‘abandoned’ scaffolding for several years, attempts to regenerate the street have so far failed. However, with the right investment, this slender pedestrian walkway could rise again. Small independent shops?
NOTE:- Upper Chapel was remodelled in the 1840s, turned around to face across fields. It survives in solitude on Norfolk Street.
Union Street is not a fashionable road, its role as one of Sheffield’s important thoroughfares, and its ancient connection with Norfolk Street, long diminished.
Post-war redevelopment deprived Union Street of its character, and one of its most important buildings, the shops and offices that made up Cambridge Arcade (with its covered walkway into Pinstone Street) disappeared in the 1970s.
A walk along Union Street today shows that almost all its architecture is from the sixties onwards. All except for one narrow building, a survivor of Sheffield’s Victorian past, sandwiched between unsightly 20th century structures.
However, Livesey-Clegg House, at 44 Union Street, is expected to go the same way as its long-lost neighbours soon.
If plans to create Midcity House, three new tower blocks, up to 25-storeys high, are given the go ahead, then this old building will be demolished.
The last Victorian building to survive on Union Street was built for Thomas Henry Vernon, cork manufacturer, in 1881. His father’s business had originally existed at 2 Union Street at the junction with the old line of Pinstone Street.
Street improvements in 1875 resulted in the creation of Moorhead and comprehensive redevelopment in the area. As part of this, Vernon’s old premises were demolished, with Thomas Henry Vernon succeeding to the business and relocating to Milk Street. When his new premises were built in 1881, he moved to 44 Union Street, and employed about a dozen people.
Vernon died in 1919, the ground floor becoming a small car showroom for Midland Motors, later Moorhead Motors, and the upper floors converted into offices.
The ground floor was taken over by Hardy’s Bakery in the 1970s, and frequently changed hands afterwards, used as a shop and several food takeaways, and is now empty and boarded-up.
While most Sheffield folk were interested in what went on at street level, it is the floors above that provide the real sense of history.
The name above an adjacent door – Livesey-Clegg House – indicates that this was once home to the British Temperance League.
In Victorian times, high levels of alcohol consumption and drunkenness were seen by some as a danger to society’s well-being, leading to poverty, child neglect, immorality, and economic decline. As a result, temperance societies began to be formed in the 1830s to campaign against alcohol.
The British Temperance League, a predominantly northern teetotal and Christian society, was the new name in 1854 for the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance. In 1880 it moved its headquarters from Preston to Union Street in Sheffield, largely due to the influence of the Clegg family.
Successive members of the Clegg family served as chairman of the executive committee: William Johnson Clegg (1826-1895), sometime alderman of Sheffield, and his son Sir (John) Charles Clegg, best known as chairman and president of the Football Association. His brother, Sir William Edwin Clegg, sometime Mayor of Sheffield, was a vice-president.
By the 1890s its finances and prestige were in decline, but the society persevered and by 1938 was looking for new premises.
“Street widening and re-planning will shortly make it necessary for us to vacate the offices in Union Street, of which we have been tenants for more than 50 years,” said Herbert Jones, the secretary. “We have long felt the need of a permanent home for books, pictures, and other treasures of the movement.”
In 1940, the society moved into 44 Union Street and called it Livesey-Clegg House – named after Joseph William Livesey (1794-1884), a temperance campaigner, politician, and social reformer, and Sir John Charles Clegg (1850-1937), chairman and president of Sheffield Wednesday and founder of Sheffield United.
As well as the headquarters of the British Temperance League, its collection of journals, monographs, bound collections of pamphlets and non-textual items, including lantern slides, posters, banners, textiles, and crockery, were housed in Victorian bookcases in a large old-fashioned room that was used as a library.
The BTL merged with the London-based National Temperance League in 1952 to become the British National Temperance League, with the HQ in Sheffield. It remained until 1987 when the historically valuable library was transferred to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston (now known as the Livesey Library after teetotal pioneer Joseph Livesey).
The old offices and library at Livesey-Clegg House were eventually turned into student accommodation.
Alas, the building is not considered to be of architectural importance and will most likely be demolished soon.
It is a strange name for a small street in Sheffield. Esperanto Place is the short road that stretches between Arundel Gate, going down past Mecca Bingo, and into Fitzalan Square.
Many years ago, this was the eastern end of Norfolk Street, later separated by the construction of Arundel Gate, and insignificant to most people.
However, in 1974, when Sheffield hosted the British Esperanto Conference, this section of road was renamed in its honour.
Sheffield has been important in the world of Esperanto, hosting the British Esperanto Conference on four occasions, and is one of the few places in Britain to have a street named Esperanto.
Esperanto is a language created in the 19th century which soon became the most widely-spoken constructed international auxiliary language in the world. Advocates included film star Charlie Chaplin and writers J. R. R. Tolkien and Leo Tolstoy.
What do you do with a problem like Fitzalan Square? Those of you that have seen it lately cannot have failed to notice its recent overhaul with a new grassed area around the statue of King Edward VII, and the addition of new trees. The square has also been given open access from Norfolk Street, across Arundel Gate, and down Esperanto Place.
The improvements to Fitzalan Square and the surrounding area are part of a £5.5million ‘Knowledge Gateway’ project to transform the area which runs from the Cultural Industries Quarter up to the square.
However, there will be doubters that look upon this work with a note of scepticism. Fitzalan Square has never lived up to its name, not helped by unremarkable twentieth century buildings on one side of the square, and a tendency to attract ‘undesirables’.
Its history goes back to 1869 when Sheffield Corporation started purchasing and demolishing premises on the east side of Market Street (where the top end of the square is now) and the south side of the old Haymarket.
Several properties came down, including the Star Hotel, Theaker’s Coffee House, the King’s Arms Hotel, the Blue Bell, Fisher and Sons, Mr Arnison’s drapery, and Mr Jeffrey’s pawnbrokers.
A large portion of the premises belonged to the Misses Shearwood. These two ladies objected to part with their property and refused to lend themselves in any way to the proceedings for acquiring it. Sheffield Corporation had to execute a deed poll vesting the property in themselves and paid money into a bank account for the benefit of the ladies. The Sheriff of Yorkshire was called in to give the Corporation possession of the property, and did so by placing in the street an article of furniture and getting the tenants to ‘attorn’ to the Corporation – that was to admit that the Corporation was their landlord. The money remained in a Bank of England account until the death of the ladies some years later.
When the property between Market Street and Jehu Lane (still standing off Commercial Street) was pulled down the open space was called Fitzalan Square, after the Duke of Norfolk’s family.
It was in 1882 that the council announced that it was obtaining plans and specifications for completing a new layout in the open space.
“The space will be levelled, and a retaining wall built along Market Street, surmounted with ornamental palisades, leaving a part open in the centre with steps down to the space levelled, at each of which is to be erected two small ornamental stone buildings, the one near the markets for the use of gentlemen, to contain a good reception or waiting room, lavatory, retiring and attendant’s rooms. The building at the other end near to Norfolk Street, for the use of ladies; to be provided with similar accommodation. The open space is to be well spaced with good flagstones, and in the centre a suitable fountain to be erected, or a statue to William Jeffcock, the first Mayor of Sheffield.”
It appears that the plans were rejected in full, the toilets not built, but some improvements were made to ‘Welshers’ Oval’, as the Sheffield Independent called Fitzalan Square.
“The police were asked to undertake the keeping of order in the open space,” said Le Flaneur in the newspaper. “I am afraid this open space will be very much like the proverbial white elephant. It certainly cost enough to get, and now a permanent addition of the police force will be necessary to keep it constantly free of the loafers, idlers and book makers that make it their daily resort.”
It was left to Police-constable George Warhurst to be the object of terror. Betting loungers were prompt to obey his orders to make themselves scarce, and it was a difficult task for the Chief Constable when Warhurst died in 1884.
Matters did not improve after a pagoda-style building, comprising tram waiting rooms, water closets and urinals, as well as a clock turret, was built in the centre of the square in 1885.
Far from enhancing the appearance of the square, it provided shelter to ‘mouldy old men and frowsy women’ and in a short time had acquired a shabby reputation.
“If only some of our worthy Aldermen and Councillors would make it convenient to spend a few hours each day, for a week, in the immediate vicinity of this structure, they would, I am sure, be earnest in their endeavours to put an end to the constant ‘loafing’ which takes place by ‘undesirables’ at this particular sport,” said one letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
It was a subject repeated day after day.
“The evil at the shelter is a radiating evil. It embraces all the seats around, for the reason that, while the shelter is the converging point of the very pick of Sheffield’s undesirable characters, they also use it as a kind of base from which they carry on their predatory prowling: a long rest, then a short spell of loafing at the street corners, – that is the day’s programme.”
“It has been a disgrace far too long, and from every point of view. In my judgement the lavatories themselves are a menace to public decency.”
The ‘Current Topics’ column in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph took up the matter and its biting words make painful reading today.
“The correspondents who are raising the question of this unpicturesque resort of the city’s Weary Willies and Tired Tims will do good service if they can stimulate the authorities into action. We will confess that we never pass through Fitzalan Square without experiencing a keen desire to turn a hose pipe on those seats, partly because it would be a pleasing novelty to see the people run, as in their abhorrence of cold water they would, and partly because both they and the seats they occupy look as if they would be the better for a smart wash.
“There need be no sentiment wasted over the denizens of Fitzalan Square. When we are really civilised, we shall transport such people to Labour Colonies and give them to eat exactly what they earn. Failing that there is neither reason nor sense in retaining them as permanent decorations to the city’s ‘finest site’. Fitzalan Square might be something to be proud of. At present it is only disgusting.”
Sheffield Corporation was indeed stimulated into action, probably the result of land at one end of the square being chosen as the site for the new General Post Office.
While land was cleared for the Post Office in 1907, councillors proposed reconstructing Fitzalan Square to harmonise with the new building.
It was probably one of the best known public spaces in Sheffield, but the most ardent son could scarcely claim that the pagoda-like structure which gave it its chief characteristic had added either architectural grace or dignity to this part of the city.
“The pagoda had served various purposes satisfactorily, and, notably, as a rendezvous for a little army of folk with apparently little to do than doze and gossip the day through.”
The council adopted a scheme for laying out Fitzalan Square in ornamental style as an open space, and at the same time taking advantage for utilitarian purposes. The scheme was worked out by Mr C.F. Wike, City Engineer, based on drawings prepared by the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors.
At the time it was noted that there were more pipes laid through Fitzalan Square than through any part of the city. Here, the lines to the GPO, the National Telephone, and Electric Light Power stations converged. The Post Office was also laying cables to connect trunk wires to the new GPO building and on completion of work, in January 1909, renovation of the square commenced.
The contractor chosen for the work was George Longden and Son, but the original plan had been shorn of ornamental detail due to cost, although the property overlooking the square was nearly all rebuilt.
The ugly pagoda went and the central part of the square it occupied was enlarged. This was made possible by removing an old cab stand and filling up the slope on the south side of the square to make it level and wider.
The upper part of Baker’s Hill, a sloping road in front of where the new GPO was being built, had been done away with, and steps substituted as an outlet from that corner of the square into Pond Street.
The new scheme provided an ornamental stone balustrade, public conveniences at either end of the square, and a tramway office, all underground. At the four corners were electric arc lamps, with further embellishments, in the shape of a fountain and a statue, planned for a later date.
However, the scheme was embroiled in controversy, the council wanting to use Norwegian or Swedish granite because it resisted damage, but the majority wanting cheaper Stoke Hall stone. In the end, the balustrades were built of imported granite.
Fitzalan Square was formally opened on Wednesday December 8, 1909, by the Lord Mayor, Earl Fitzwilliam, at which he made an expressive speech: –
“We live in a time when the question – a burning question in some cities – of open spaces is bidding fair to see some very satisfactory accomplishment. In no city more than Sheffield are these open spaces desirable. In a city like Sheffield where we burned the very best ‘South Yorkshire’, they made the very best mess of the South Yorkshire atmosphere. Science has not yet taught us how altogether to avoid this murky effect, but by providing open spaces we might make best of the atmosphere that is left to us. Sheffield is especially fortunate in its open spaces and in this particular one, because although in the past they had had a space here, it had not been one worthy of the size or importance of the city.”
The improvements had cost £9,000 (about £1.1 million now), but the age-old problems refused to go away, and criticism was often scathing.
“Within a year an article appeared in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, written by an anonymous correspondent, under the heading ‘THAT SQUARE’: –
“A good deal of the recent talk about Fitzalan Square may have been ineffectual, but if it did nothing else it sent me to inspect the place. Though my work brings me into the city daily, I had never had reason to descend to the bottom of High Street since the so-called improvement had taken place. Yesterday I determined to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
“I have no desire to exaggerate but I do not hesitate to say that Fitzalan Square is the most pestilently ill-favoured open space in England. This is patent without seeing all the others, for there is an instinct which tells you when you have seen the absolute nadir of ugliness. I have seen IT.
“If you are at all run down the effect of suddenly coming upon such a spectacle as this forlorn wilderness of paltry dog kennels and pretentious architectural incoherencies may easily cause a shock dangerous to health.
“The said ‘improvement’ consists of a stone balustrade round a large piece of nothing at all. What this petty stone fence is meant to enclose or exclude is not obvious. There are four lamp-posts of the most abysmal hideousness. Possibly there is poetic fitness in this, for they are meant to light the way below.
“It might be roofed in and let as a skating rink or turned into a rifle range. It might be dug up and let out to husbandmen. Unless three out of four of the surrounding buildings are absolutely wiped out and a big sum spent in covering up the alleged ‘improvement’ which has recently been carried out, nothing can be done to make the place decent.”
And so, the tone was set, for decades subject of ridicule, damaged during the Blitz, and often left to its own unsavoury devices.
The fountain never materialised and a plan to relocate a statue of Ebenezer Elliot from Weston Park to Fitzalan Square was abandoned. It was graced with a statue of King Edward VII (subject of another post) in 1913.
In time the underground toilets were removed, the trams disappeared, and even the taxis left for busier parts of the city centre.
When the area has become too down-at-heel there have been attempts to restore it, including a 2003 facelift, with the restoration of the King Edward VII statue, new sandstone paving, steel benches and improved street lighting.
The latest restoration comes at a time when this part of the city centre is in transition. A vast proportion of people have migrated to The Moor along with the old market, the old General Post Office now belongs to Sheffield Hallam University, and the future depends on the Castlegate development and most probably our student population.
It is hard to believe that next year, the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield’s architectural upstart, will be fifty-years-old. It has been a long journey, with plenty of ups and downs, but survives with its reputation intact.
The Crucible Theatre was built as a replacement for the Sheffield Playhouse on Townhead Street, home to the Sheffield Repertory Company, whose origins went back to 1919.
Colin George was appointed Artistic Director of Sheffield Playhouse in 1965, and did not grasp that its hand-to-mouth existence was going to be turned upside down.
“One sunny spring day in 1966, I was one of a deputation from the Playhouse Theatre who went to the Town Hall to ask the Council for a subsidy to run the theatre. We were ushered into the main Council Chamber, empty but for a formidable northern lady seated at one end, on her Lord Mayor’s throne – Alderman Grace Tebbutt. We sat in front of her, naughty schoolchildren in front of the headmistress. She looked at us for a minute and then dropped her thunderbolt. ‘Nah then. Where do you want your new theatre?’ To those of us working at the Playhouse it was quite unexpected. ‘You probably want an island site,’ she continued forcefully, and with a wave of her hand effortlessly destroyed Norfolk Street.”
A new Sheffield Theatre Trust and Building Committee was created, an architect was appointed, and plans were made to create a new conventional theatre with its proscenium arch and using a large forestage.
Had these plans progressed, the history of Sheffield theatre would have been quite different. The cat-amongst-the-pigeons was Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971), an English director instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival theatre in Ontario and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In October 1967, Guthrie arrived in Sheffield to talk about theatre. Hearing of plans, he spoke to the Trust and excited them enough to send Colin George and David Brayshaw, a local solicitor appointed as administrative director, to visit America to see and report on thrust or promontory stages.
They spent ten days in Minneapolis, Stratford, Ontario, and New York, and reported back that Sheffield should have a thrust stage. The Trust agreed, and the cries of derision began.
Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles (“The theatre is a freak. It will be blacklisted by all reputable dramatists”), by councillors at public meetings (“I’m not going to pay to see Hamlet’s backside”), and in the media, the modernists won the day.
There was also the problem of giving the new theatre a name. The Star ran a competition and ‘The Adelphi’ won, named after the famous hotel and public house that had stood on the site, but in the end, Hilary Young, who worked at the Playhouse, suggested the Crucible, a nod to Sheffield’s industrial past.
The Crucible was designed by Renton Howard Wood Associates, the project architects being Nicholas Thompson and Robin Beynon.
However, we must not forget the part played by Tanya Moiseiwitsch (1914-2003), regarded as one of the foremost British designers in twentieth century theatre, an innovative designer of costumes, sets and stages, and responsible for the look of over two hundred productions in Britain, Canada and the United States.
Moiseiwitsch had worked closely with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and was the principal designer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis from 1963–1966, and again designed a thrust stage like that she had designed (and in 1962 modified) in Stratford, Ontario.
Returning to England in the 1970s, she designed plays both for the National Theatre and the West End, but her last legacy was designing the stage for the Crucible Theatre. The whole of the stage (18ft wide-28ft deep) was mounted on steel stanchions and beams provided flexibility to adapt it for different productions.
Construction started in October 1969, the work undertaken by Gleesons, and was completed in November 1971. It cost almost £1 million to build, £650,000 contributed by Sheffield City Council and the Arts Council, and £260,000 raised by the New Sheffield Theatre Trust as the public contribution to the theatre.
In Spring 1971, it was decided that Colin George would direct Peer Gynt to open the Crucible, followed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s Aeschylus Trilogy, The House of Atreus. However, in July news came through that Guthrie had died, and the opening schedule was hastily rearranged.
The Crucible Theatre, principally made of reinforced concrete, opened on November 9, 1971, with Fanfare, a production devised in three parts. The first was ‘Children’s Theatre’ in which 34 children were involved. The centre piece was Ian McKellen playing the Old Actor in Chekhov’s Swan Song and the last part was rumbustious Music Hall.
And so, the futuristic theatre with its twinkly ceiling lights, orange auditorium seats (provided by Race Furniture of London), and gaudy foyer carpets, started its journey.
Once deemed a ‘white elephant’ due to low audiences, it steadily gained a reputation, along with the Lyceum Theatre, as the best production theatre outside London. With far more full houses than not, the long list of success is remarkable – The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night, Chicago (the European premiere, no less), The Wiz (British premiere), Funny Girl, Brassed Off, Fiddler on the Roof, Hamlet, Othello, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… the list goes on, and it was once called the ‘National Theatre of the North’. And, of course, there is the snooker.
The Crucible Theatre was Grade II listed in 2007, considered of national importance in the history of theatre design, ahead of a £15 million refurbishment that included a new roof and the Adelphi Room extension to the front. Ironically, during the construction of the extension the cellars to the old Adelphi Hotel were discovered and some of its foundations used to support the new build.
Colin George left the Crucible Theatre in 1974, but returned to appear in a production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters in 2011. His ambition to write the history of the theatre was never fulfilled, but as one newspaper reported on his death in 2016, his legacy stands in Tudor Square.