Queen Victoria reckoned that Edward, the playboy Prince of Wales, would not make a good King. She frowned upon his antics – drinking, gambling, horse-racing, shooting and passionate attachments – but she was quite wrong.
However, she might have been forgiven for believing this. On more than one occasion Edward proved an embarrassment, something not known to common folk, but whispered about in higher circles.
In a separate post, we discovered that Edward, as Prince of Wales, paid a discreet visit to Tapton Court, at Ranmoor, to meet his old friend, Henry Steel, a man who made his fortune as a bookmaker. Now, we have another story where Edward made a clandestine journey into Sheffield.
“In a little oak room reached by a winding staircase in an old Sheffield inn there used to sit a caped and overcoated figure playing cards or talking to two or three friends.
“The story goes that this striking figure was King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and the inn was the Shades Vaults in Hartshead.
“People well remembered His Majesty walking up the narrow passage along Hartshead and going straight into the Shades Vaults and up to a little oak room.”
The story goes that King Edward was dressed in an old ulster overcoat, an old hat, and old boots. In the little room, it is said, he used to meet his good friend Henry Steel, of Tapton Court, former bookmaker and one of the founders of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers.
The place was romantic enough. The room in which he was supposed to have sat with Henry Steel, a man of his day, was a small and secluded old-world corner in which anyone travelling incognito could sit quietly and enjoy a rest far away from the worries and cares of the outer world.
The story emerged in 1932, long after the deaths of those involved – Edward died in 1910, and Henry passed away five years later – but it was a tale passed down by generations.
Shades Vaults has long gone, destroyed by German bombers during World War Two, and the narrow passage was Watson’s Walk that ran from Angel Street into Hartshead. It was named after a well-known local family that kept several public houses in the town centre and, despite being flattened during the Blitz, is still the name attached to the covered walkway that goes underneath Argos into Hartshead Square.
The Shades dated to the late 1790s, was kept in 1805 by Sam Turner, known as ‘Gin Sam’, and was commonly known as T’oil in T’wall.