Sheffield Town Hall

Sheffield Town Hall was opened by Queen Victoria on the afternoon of May 21, 1897, postponed from a year earlier, due to the death of Prince Henry of Battenberg, husband to Beatrice, her youngest child.

The story of the grand opening is remarkable because Queen Victoria completed the ceremony, and other duties in the city, without ever leaving her carriage.

On 23 September 1896, Victoria had surpassed George III as the longest-reigning monarch in British history (that distinction now going to our present Queen), but she requested that celebrations be delayed until 1897, to coincide with her Diamond Jubilee.

By this time, she was 77-years-old, much frailer, and her time spent in Sheffield was momentary.

The Town Hall opening was a disruption in her journey from Windsor to Balmoral, where she would celebrate her birthday and spend the summer holidays.

Because of this, she didn’t arrive in Sheffield until late afternoon, arriving at Sheffield Railway Station accompanied by Princess Christian and the Duke of Connaught.

The Royal party were met by the Mayor and Mayoress, the Duke of Norfolk, and his sister, Lady Mary Howard. From the station, a procession was led by the Chief Constable and his mounted police, and a troop of the 17th Lancers.

Thousands of cheering people lined the streets, waving flags, as the parade headed towards the principal entrance of the Town Hall on Pinstone Street, met by the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Lathom, who directed the ceremony.

At 5pm, Victoria remained in her carriage while the Recorder of Sheffield read an address, handed to her in a gold casket, specially made for the occasion by Mappin and Webb.

The Queen handed her reply to the Mayor, after which other addresses were presented by the Duke of Norfolk, on behalf of the Sheffield General Infirmary, by Sir Frederick Mappin, MP, on behalf of the Town Trustees, and by Mr Alexander Wilson, Master Cutler, representing the Cutlers’ Company.

The “golden key” (also by Mappin and Webb) was handed to Victoria, who inserted it into a detached lock, connected by electricity to the gates of the entrance. As she turned the key, the gates swung back as if by magic, and a flourish of trumpets announced that the Town Hall was open.

Afterwards, the Royal procession went to Norfolk Park, where fifty thousand schoolchildren had gathered by invitation of the Duke of Norfolk.

She then went to the Cyclops Steel and Iron Works, belonging to Charles Cammell and Company, where her carriage was drawn into a temporary shed in front of a mighty furnace. Here, the party held glass screens before their eyes, and watched the rolling of armour plate for the new battleship “Ocean”.

By 7.30 in the evening, Queen Victoria was speeding northwards by train to “gain strength for her approaching jubilee.”


Pepper Alley

I bet most of you have never heard of the delightfully named Pepper Alley. This was once a thoroughfare passing from Fargate to Norfolk Street, quite close to the surviving Upper Chapel.

Its existence is shown on this map, taken from “A Correct Plan of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York, drawn by William Fairbanks, 1771.”

You’ll notice that Norfolk Row, pictured, doesn’t appear on the map at all, only coming into existence about nine years later. However, Chapel Walk is shown.

A little bit of Pepper Alley (Pepper is a local surname) can still be seen today, leading into Upper Chapel Yard, behind the shops which form part of the former YMCA property, now named Carmel House, at the corner with Fargate.

If you study the map you’ll see that the Town Hall stood by the Church Gates (now the Cathedral), at the junction of High Street and Church Lane (now Church Street).

Other names to look for are Bullstake (now Haymarket), Pudding Lane (King Street), Castle Green Head (Castle Street), Irish Cross (Queen Street), and Pinstone Croft Lane (Pinstone Street)


Midcity House

Union Street Limited, a Gibraltar-based developer, has submitted plans to Sheffield City Council for the redevelopment of Midcity House, on a site between Pinstone Street, Furnival Gate and Union Street.

The proposal includes the demolition of the existing four-storey concrete-clad building consisting of ground-floor retail, bar, offices and limited student accommodation above.

In its place would be three blocks, up to 25-storeys high, with four ground-floor retail units and 271 dwellings above for the build-to-rent market.

The site once stood on the boundary of old Sheffield Moor, part of a field in 1736, and occupied by houses, shops, workshops and yards by 1771.

Most of the properties survived until 1853 but had been demolished by the late nineteenth-century.

In later times it was occupied by the Nelson Public House, Cambridge Arcade and a series of shops, with most buildings replaced in the 1960s with the present structure.