This photo reminds me of a story brought to my attention a few years ago by Michael Dolby. It is rather a sweet late night tale.
In 1939, the American jazz pianist and singer, Fats Waller, played his first European concerts with a tour of the Moss Empire’s theatre circuit. One of those dates included a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre on Charles Street.
“I will never forget how on a tour of the English provinces we were playing the Empire Theatre, in Sheffield,” Fats once wrote. “After theatre is our usual time for relaxation and following dinner, I roamed restlessly through the beautiful park there. At dawn the birds awakened, and out of their lively chirpings one short strain stood out. I went back to the hotel, and by ten o’clock that morning, with the aid of some delicious Amontillado sherry, we had finished ‘Honey Hush.’ You see, it’s fifty percent inspiration and fifty percent perspiration.”
The song was co-written by Ed Kirkeby and recorded in New York later that year.
Legend says that the ‘beautiful’ park was the Peace Gardens, laid the year before, in 1938, but known then as St Paul’s Gardens, in recognition of St Paul’s Church that had been demolished.
But there are also suggestions that the park might have been the Botanical Gardens.
I can confirm that Waller played the Sheffield Empire that year, and that he stayed at the Grand Hotel on Leopold Street. Therefore, it seems more than likely that the park was indeed the Peace Gardens, at least that’s what I’d like to believe.
And so, in the middle of the night, when the Peace Gardens are deserted, sit down, listen carefully, and remember this story.
The old man with the pipe made another impromptu appearance. This time, outside the Town Hall. He looked sad as he rested underneath a lamppost. Good evening, I said. He didn’t answer straightaway. “Aye lad, it is a good evening.” He looked towards the Peace Gardens and sighed. “I must take leave of you lad. Tonight I’m meeting up with my family in the churchyard..” He walked away and I was distracted by the chimes of the Town Hall clock. When I looked back, the old man with the pipe faded in a light mist and was gone. Happy Easter everyone.
Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.
The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.
Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.
Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street
Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.
Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.
Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.
Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.
The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?
Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.
The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.
Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?
We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.
Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.
This story is not unique to Sheffield. A once great house adapted over the years, and eventually falling on hard times. Across the nation there are many old houses that went this way, but they remain a fascination to us.
Brincliffe Towers was a town villa, built in 1852 in an area that eventually became one of the city’s most desirable suburbs.
At the time of writing, the old house is empty, awaiting redevelopment, but its former grounds are known today as Chelsea Park, one of those public spaces that attracts little attention with most city people.
For this post we should refer to the mansion by its original name – Brinkcliffe Tower – an imposing mansion in Gothic-style, which formed a conspicuous object on the landscape. It was built by James Wilson, solicitor, for his own occupation. Built of Greenmoor rock-faced stone, with ashlar facings, no expense was spared to render it complete with every modern convenience.
With its park-like surroundings of 24 acres, Brinkcliffe Tower was one of the finest gentleman’s residences in this part of Sheffield, commanding a prospect of the most rich and beautiful scenery in the district.
James Wilson, a descendant of the Wilsons of Broomhead Hall, was the senior member of Wilson, Young and Pierson, and for many years had been Law Clerk to the Cutlers’ Company. He died in 1867 and the estate was put on the market: –
“The mansion contains a dining-room, drawing-room, breakfast-room, and the spacious vestibule, entrance hall, and principal staircase are lighted from the roof by a handsome lantern light. There are seven principal bedrooms and dressing-rooms, bathrooms, etc.
“The kitchens, servants’ hall, and other arrangements are of the most commodious description. There are large and lofty cellars (cut-out from the valuable bed of stone known as Brinkcliffe Edge Stone), servants’ staircase, butler’s pantry, sculleries, store closets, and four large upper rooms of stores and servants’ apartments.
“In the large paved yard is stabling for five horses, loose box, saddle and harness rooms, hay chamber, granary, and a spacious carriage-house, sheds and all the requisite appurtenances for a family mansion.
“The kitchen gardens are extensive and laid out in the best possible manner, while the grounds are enriched with fine timber and ornamental trees with flourishing shrubs.”
“Water is of the most common character, and during the dry summers of 1864 and 1865, a most abundant supply was always at hand.”
The Brinkcliffe Tower estate was bought by George Marples, descended from an old family line with origins at Barlborough and Stavely in North East Derbyshire. Until 1879, he was head of Marples and Marples, solicitors, Norfolk Row, at which time he vacated the position in favour of his son, George Jobson Marples.
George Marples died of a heart-attack in 1881 leaving personal estate worth £218,000 (that is almost £27million today), leaving Brinkcliffe Tower to George Jobson Marples, a man who had trained at the Inner Temple, but never practised as such. For twenty years he was a county magistrate in Derbyshire and senior magistrate at Bakewell.
In the 1890s, George Jobson Marples bought Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, for £160,000, leaving Brinkcliffe Tower behind, and eventually putting it up for sale.
In 1897, it was acquired by Robert Styring(1850-1944), another solicitor, councillor, Lord Mayor, and a man whose contribution to Sheffield has been unforgivably overlooked, and subject of another post.
Styring remembered his father speaking of the building of Brinkcliffe Tower, which at the time had been regarded locally by many as “one of the seven wonders of the world.”
Not a man to miss an opportunity, Styring disposed of parts of the “valuable building estate” and in 1916 was involved in a dispute with Sheffield Corporation over land development.
An inquiry by the Local Government Board Inspector covered a scheme affecting Banner Cross, Brincliffe, Kenwood Park and Nether Edge. The Corporation had insisted that a maximum of twelve houses should be built per acre but, according to Mr Gibson, Deputy Town Clerk, Styring wanted to be free to build 25 houses to the acre.
Styring had married Annie Frances Hovey in 1880, and her death would have significant implications for the house and estate.
While addressing a meeting of women at the Victoria Hall in March 1925 she remarked, “Excuse me one moment,” sat in her chair, collapsed, and died.
Her death affected Styring deeply. “It was entirely due to her that I entered public life, and due to her efforts, won what was thought to be a forlorn hope, a seat in the City Council for St. Peter’s Ward in 1886.”
In November 1925, Styring decided to gift the Brinkcliffe Tower estate to the city. To be handed over after his death, as well as the house, there were twelve acres of grounds which were to be used as a public park.
“We have enjoyed the pleasure of the estate and nothing would have given her greater satisfaction than to know the purpose to which it was to be adapted.”
After handing over the deeds to the council, Styring remained at Brinkcliffe Tower until 1935, by which time he chose to enjoy retirement in Paignton, Devon. As a result, he vacated the property, gave the keys to Sheffield Council, along with three houses on Brincliffe Edge Road, and left behind a Japanese tapestry and two large oil paintings. He died in 1944, aged 94, at Lancaster House in Paignton.
For a time, the grounds were considered as a memorial garden, the alternative site for a Peace Gardens, proposed after the Munich Agreement of 1938, but which were eventually created on the site of St Paul’s Church next to the Town Hall. Instead, the grounds were turned into Chelsea Park, named after nearby Chelsea Road, once known as Palmerston Road, until renamed in 1886.
As for the house, as always, there was a dilemma for the council. It remained empty for a while, and for a brief period was a girls’ school dormitory during World War Two. It became a nursing home, known as Brincliffe Towers, and in 1959 was refurbished and enlarged with “modernistic” 1950s extensions, funded by the J.G. Graves Charitable Trust.
Eventually falling into private hands, the care home closed in 2011, victim of modern legislation, and since then there have been various controversial schemes to convert the house back into a single dwelling, funded by the conversion of the coach-house and erection of new houses in the wooded grounds.
Sadly, the property is in poor condition, but still retains original characteristics, including the main entrance overlooking Chelsea Park, beyond the balustraded terrace, elaborately carved timber bargeboards, carved stone bay windows, doorways, and towers.
The internal fabric of the building has diminished overtime. However, there are some original features remaining to ground floor rooms, including fireplaces, architraves and coving and ceiling detailing. Rooms to the upper floors have been significantly altered and reconfigured through partition walls, but the tower and ceiling light remains intact.
My favourite walkway in Sheffield. Cheney Row, running alongside the Town Hall and Peace Gardens. It is a name transferred from Cheney Square, a group of nice houses destroyed when Surrey Street and the Town Hall were in the making during the 1890s. One of them was the residence for many years of Hugh Cheney, a doctor. The site of Cheney Square, being on the fringe of a small town, developed after the breaking up of Alsop Fields (a long-lost name), and with the building of St. Paul’s Church and the laying out of its large burial ground. The church stood on the site of the Peace Gardens and was demolished in 1938.
A relic of the past. Cheney Row runs alongside the Town Hall adjacent to the Peace Gardens. It is an old thoroughfare, a survivor from the days of Cheney Square, demolished during the construction of the Town Hall in the 1890s.
Cheney is a very old Sheffield name, being found in the accounts of the Burgery as far back as 1645.
There is a record that says one Edward Cheney, in 1725, bought surplus land left over from the building of St. Paul’s Church, which stood on the site of the Peace Gardens and was demolished in 1938.
The land was known as Oxley Croft before the church was built, but that name disappeared and, in its place, we had New Church Street (also gone) and Cheney Row and Square.
In some old directories the name appeared as China Square, probably the result of a ‘politically-correct’ compiler believing that Cheney was a derivation of China.
And again, the name Cheney has been traced to Dr Hugh Cheney, originally from Bakewell, one of the first surgeons at the Royal Infirmary, who lived in a house at the corner of Cheney Square about 1803. But it was Cheney Square before his time.
There is little doubt that the Edward Cheney, who bought the surplus land of Oxley Croft, built the houses and called two of the thoroughfares after himself.
In January 1886 the Town Council decided that a site bounded by Pinstone Street, (New) Surrey Street, Norfolk Street, and Cheney Row should be utilised for a new Town Hall, and that New Church Street, Cheney Square and an unnamed lane should disappear.
Somewhere underneath Sheffield Town Hall there are likely to be the remains of a dark, narrow, cobbled lane with the sweet-sounding name of Cabbage Alley.
Its existence is almost airbrushed from history, partly because those that used it back in the day didn’t even know that it had a name.
This photograph remains the only image of Cabbage Alley, reproduced in a newspaper in 1931, taken from an old painting by William Topham in 1877, of which its current existence is unknown.
The picture is a view down Cabbage Alley, looking towards the south. In the background can be seen St. Paul’s Church, built in the 1720s and demolished in 1938. In its place we now have the Peace Gardens.
Cabbage Alley ran from New Church Street, both demolished when the Town Hall was built in the 1890s, and Cheney Row, a walkway that survives.
The painting that emerged in 1931 belonged to Mr Ambrose James Wallis, head of Ambrose Wallis and Son, whitesmiths, of Norfolk Lane. His father, who commissioned the artwork, had set up business in Cabbage Alley in 1867 and remained there until about 1889.
“Cabbage Alley was an old-fashioned street even in those days,” he told the Sheffield Daily Independent. “The gutter ran down the centre instead of at the sides.
“A strange thing was that nobody seemed to know its name, and it was not until the notices for us to quit were received, that we learned that we had been living in Cabbage Alley.”
The next time you settle into a seat at one of our multiplex cinemas, take a moment to consider that there are still traces of Sheffield’s original cinema.
Head down to Norfolk Street, and look at part of Brown’s Brasserie and Bar. Above one of the plate glass windows is the name New Central Hall, the remains of a former decorative arched entrance.
This part of the building, just around the corner from St. Paul’s Parade, was built in 1899 by architect John Dodsley Webster as the Central Hall for the Sheffield Workmen’s Mission, established by Pastor A.S.O. Birch in 1880 at the old Circus on Tudor Street. (The building was constructed by James Fidler, contractor, of Savile Street).
The cost, exclusive of land, was about £4,000, made possible by a £3,500 loan from Mr F.E. Smith, “trusting those who will attend the hall to repay him when they can.”
The Central Hall had a frontage of 46 feet, the ground and first floors devoted to the main hall, which contained a gallery, and seating accommodation for 500 people. The second floor was occupied by five classrooms and an office, while the basement was taken up by a large kitchen and store-rooms.
It had been designed as a place of public worship; the Mission having previously held services at the Montgomery Hall on Surrey Street and opened in December 1899.
However, no sooner had it opened when, somewhat unexplainable, the Workmen’s Mission left and taken up residence at the Albert Hall in Barker’s Pool.
It was left to John Dodsley Webster to advertise the Central Hall as being available to buy or let on lease, “suitable for conversion to offices, flats or business premises.”
It wasn’t until November 1904 that we find evidence that the building was in use again.
Nelsons Ltd, “The Pensions Tea Men,” advertised that it was opening its drapery, ready made clothing and boot and shoe departments at Central Hall. It was another short-lived scheme, because in March 1905, the shop had gone into liquidation.
Nonetheless, there was somebody waiting in the wings who saw Central Hall as a long-term answer to a conundrum.
Henry Jasper Redfern (1871-1928) is almost forgotten now, but he packed a lot into a relatively short life. Here was a man who had made a fortune with a long list of business successes – “optician, refractionist, manufacturer of optical, photographic and scientific instruments, photographer, expert in animated photography and Rontgen rays, electrician and public entertainment.”
Born in Sheffield, Redfern trained as an optician, opened a business on Surrey Street, and later added a photography shop nearby.
However, he was more famous in the realms of cinematography, a subject he studied in its early stages, and became a pioneer in exhibiting moving pictures.
Alongside his daily routine, he toured the country with “Jasper Redfern’s world-renowned animated pictures and grand vaudeville entertainment” show.
Redfern decided that a permanent venue was required, and Central Hall provided a convenient solution.
In July 1905, New Central Hall opened to great flourish with the showing of the “Royal visit to Sheffield in its entirety,” shown twice nightly, along with a complete programme of live variety entertainment.
In the following months, there were screenings of more moving pictures, with titles like “Winter Pastimes in Norway” and “North Sea Fishing”, as well as resident acts, such as the two French conjuring midgets and songs by Madame McMullen and Lawrence Sidney.
New Central Hall attracted big houses twice a night, much to the dismay of Smith and Sievewright, clothiers, which occupied the shop next door, and took Redfern to court complaining that the queue of waiting patrons was detrimental to their business.
But, by 1912, the cinema was in financial difficulties, although its company secretary, Norris H. Deakin, found backing to improve amenities, increasing the size of the stage and adding a proscenium arch, and increasing seating capacity to 700.
Jasper Redfern & Company Ltd was wound up and replaced with the New Central Hall Company in early 1913, with Deakin as managing director. At what stage Jasper Redfern left is uncertain, but he emerged elsewhere in the country, his life story worthy of a separate post.
The tenancy of New Central Hall quickly passed to yet another company, Tivoli (Sheffield) Ltd, and the cinema reopened in January 1914 as the Tivoli, newly decorated and improved, with variety acts stopped a year later.
The Tivoli was a success but suffered a disastrous fire during the night in November 1927. Four fire engines raced to the scene, one using a new £3,000 ladder, and attempted to put out flames coming from the roof. However, parts of the roof were destroyed, the balcony was a charred mass, and the ground floor was a mass of burning woodwork.
The cinema was rebuilt and opened in July 1928 as the New Tivoli, completely refurbished with carpets by T. & J. Roberts of Moorhead, theatre furnishings by L.B. Lockwood & Co, Bradford, and lighting effects provided by J. Brown & Company, of Fulwood Road.
In the following decade, a Western Electric sound system was installed and because of a penchant for screening cowboy films, the New Tivoli was popularly known as “The Ranch.”
The curtain finally fell on the cinema on 12 December 1940, the result of Blitz fire damage. It was never rebuilt, the cinema area adapted for offices, restaurant and shop.
All that remains of the original Central Hall is its frontage, and the only nostalgic reminder of its cinema days being the stone-carved sign.
Completing this week’s look around the Peace Gardens, we look at the elaborate building on St. Paul’s Parade, which runs between Pinstone Street and Norfolk Street.
This walkway once ran alongside St. Paul’s Church, demolished in 1938 and replaced with St. Paul’s Gardens, later Peace Gardens, and known as South Parade.
It was renamed St. Paul’s Parade in 1901, largely because of John Dodsley Webster’s new building that had just been completed, the second stage of a development that ran around the corner into Norfolk Street, started by the construction of the Central Hall for the Sheffield Workmen’s Mission in 1899.
Ruth Harman and John Minnis in Pevsner’s Architectural Guide to Sheffield (2004), suggest that the warm-coloured brick with red sandstone dressings, was an unusual combination for Sheffield, where the buff Yorkshire and Derbyshire sandstones were much more common.
The St. Paul’s Building comprised shops, offices and residential flats, along with a gallery and studio, although only the original facades remain following redevelopment behind.
It retains the arcaded shopfronts with carved stone piers and arches, with the faces of lions and rose, shamrock and thistle emblems still decorating the spandrels.
When it was completed, the building was home to James Moore’s Art Classes, which took place in a “beautifully lighted” new studio, its customers promised painting and drawing from live models, portrait and figure compositions, as well as flower and still-life subjects.
Over one hundred years later, the St. Paul’s Building, still retains pretty much the same use, although there have been unsuccessful attempts to have it demolished.
Had it been, the redevelopment of the Peace Gardens as part of the Heart of the City project, might have been very different.
Shops aplenty have occupied the ground floor, the most famous being the Army and General Store, famously sited at its rounded corner with Norfolk Street, later occupied by the Ha Ha Bar, and now Brown’s Bar and Brasserie.
There can be no denying that this area is one of the city centre’s most attractive, St. Paul’s Building sitting comfortably alongside the Prudential Assurance Building, built in 1895 on Pinstone Street.
NOTE: St. Paul’s Building is now referred to as St. Paul’s Chambers. However, when the building was constructed in 1901, St. Paul’s Chambers would have been associated with a completely different building, one that had been demolished to make way for the Town Hall between 1890 and 1897.
The biggest surprise is that it wasn’t until 1985 that the Peace Gardens were formally named. Created in 1938, originally called St. Paul’s Garden, the name was at first suggested, then adopted by the people of Sheffield. It appears that nobody was in any hurry to suggest anything different.
But it wasn’t the case in the beginning.
The gardens stand on the site of St. Paul’s Church, demolished in 1938, when inner city slum clearance resulted in falling attendances. Quickly swept away, Sheffield Council laid out pathways, flower beds and grassed areas within the old churchyard walls.
It was a short-term solution, the council buying the land for £130,000, and designating it for a proposed Town Hall extension.
The name, Peace Garden, was proposed in response to the Munich Agreement.
This was a treaty, concluded at Munich on 30 September 1938, by Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, that allowed Germany to claim the “Sudeten German territory” of Czechoslovakia. Most of Europe celebrated the agreement, because it prevented the war threatened by Adolf Hitler, who had announced it was his last territorial claim in Europe, the choice seemingly between war and appeasement.
The country thought that war had been averted, a pretence, because hostilities started a year later.
The name was suggested at a formal dinner by Alderman Ernest Rowlinson, the proposal immediately mocked by Mr Slater Willis, who thought it would be taken by many to mean the commemoration of Charles Peace, the Sheffield-born burglar and murderer.
There were critics of the garden scheme, Herbert Oliver, standing as Progressive candidate for Crookesmoor said, “I would rather we built 5,000 homes for old age pensioners than use the money making a garden on St. Paul’s site.”
An offer had already been made that the grounds of Brincliffe Towers at Nether Edge, a gift to the city by Dr Roger Styring, should be used as a Peace Garden instead.
The Sheffield Evening Telegraph was also cynical, writing that, “As for peace, this has never, since the Great War, been in graver danger.” It also suggested a better name – “the Appeasement Garden.”
But the Peace Garden name stuck, and after completion there were congratulatory comments in local newspapers.
“There isn’t much to be proud of in the centre of the city so far, which will render this garden the more surprising and impressive to strangers,” said one correspondent.
Bob Green said that, “The Peace Garden is a boon to old age and workers of the city at dinner hours. I’ve been informed that the garden is only temporary. But I hope the garden will continue and not be built on. I say, ‘Long Live the Peace Garden’.”
Another said, “May I suggest that the garden is illuminated or floodlit at night, also a drinking fountain, and a few more seats would be welcome.”
A year later, the city’s residents seemed satisfied with the Peace Garden, and even the Sheffield Evening Telegraph had changed its tune.
“The suggestion that it should be called the Peace Garden was received with ribald mirth. Whatever its official title may be, it is undoubtedly a delightful and peaceful spot, rich with flowers.”
But there were worrying developments that would blight it for decades to come.
“This morning at 8 o’clock it looked like a battlefield. Seats were overturned and the whole place a disgrace. Last week the gardener put in some thousand bulbs and the next morning most of the beds had been trampled on.”
Another correspondent also expressed concern. “I have occasion to come through this morning before the cleaning process begins and it is not a pretty sight – cigarette ends, empty cigarette boxes, matches, and matchboxes, waste-paper round each seat, and a lot of it blown to the grass.”
And there were still critics of the scheme.
“It may surprise a good many to know that the garden is going to cost this generation, and the next, just about £6,000 a year, quite apart, or rather in addition to upkeep, gardeners’ wages, renewals and the like. That is £16 a day in order that a few people may sit there for about seven or eight weeks in the year.”
The Second World War curtailed any plans for Town Hall expansion, although the ‘Egg Box’ extension appeared nearby in the 1970s.
The Peace Garden, or Peace Gardens as they became, survived the war and became subject of civic pride, all-year round planting schemes, grass to lay on and a place to sit and talk.
However, the garden also attracted undesirable characters – the homeless, drunkards and unruly gangs.
When the Heart of the City project came about during the 1990s the Peace Gardens were at the centre of the scheme. In 1997-1998, they were redesigned by the council’s Design and Property Services, a series of water features, pathways, balustrades and artworks, built in Stoke Hall sandstone, the same material used in the Town Hall.
The new garden, without traditional flower beds and less maintenance, were slightly sunk to mask the noise of buses from Pinstone Street.
Its centrepiece is the Goodwin Fountain, 89 individual jets of water, dedicated to Sir Stuart and Lady Goodwin, and the Holberry Cascades, named after Chartist leader Samuel Holberry, including eight large water features located on either side of the four main entrances.