Next week is an important one for Meadowhall. The shopping centre will learn whether its planned extension will be approved by Sheffield City Council.
British Land applied in late 2020 for The Meadowhall Masterplan project, and following revisions, the application was scaled down to include an extension to Meadowhall for a new leisure hall, an extension to the existing cinema complex, and additional space for new retail units.
The application will be considered by the council’s planning and highways committee on 6 December and is recommended for approval in an officer’s report prepared for the meeting.
The recommendation has been made despite objections from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, NewRiver REIT (UK) Ltd (which owns most of the land and property on The Moor in Sheffield city centre) and Dransfield Properties (which owns and manages the Fox Valley retail, office, and leisure development in Stocksbridge).
Meadowhall opened in 1990 and is the largest shopping centre in Yorkshire. The site was once the Meadow Hall Iron Works, owned by John Crowley and Co, and later occupied by Hadfields Ltd, known as East Hecla Works, which specialised in steel casting to produce points and crossings for railway track works.
Any development within the site has the potential to disturb buried archaeological remains associated with the former East Hecla Works, Imperial Steel Works, West Tinsley Railway Station, and Brightside Works.
Planning consent has been granted for the former gas board offices on Commercial Street.
Sheffield Music Academy submitted full planning and listed building applications to Sheffield City Council earlier this year for the conversion of the grade II*-listed Canada House on Commercial Street.
The building was constructed in 1875 for the Sheffield United Gas Company and continued to be used as offices by the gas board until 1972. It was converted into a nightclub and pub in the 1980s, while the adjoining Shude Hill warehouse wing became Tower Cash & Carry.
In 1990 the building was acquired by Canadian Business Parks of Bedfordshire, and adopted its new name, Canada House.
The plans cover the refurbishment, change of use and extension of the building.
The development would include a performance space for an audience of 300, two rehearsal rooms accommodating 80 musicians, 15 smaller ensemble rehearsal rooms, 20 individual practice rooms and a substantial instrument store.
Office space, a café, breakout spaces and ancillary accommodation would also be provided.
The design was developed by Live Projects, an initiative at the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield.
The proposed ‘Harmony Works’ development, from Sheffield Music Academy and Sheffield Music Hub, aims to create a home for music education in the region.
Sheffield Music Hub is a partnership of education and music organisations, led by Sheffield City Council, which provides music education to 176 schools and 80,000 children across the city. SMA is one of 15 Centres for Advanced Music Training in the UK, funded by the Department for Education’s Music & Dance Scheme.
Sheffield City Council made the following comments after granting the application: –
“The proposed development would being a currently vacant grade II*-listed Building in declining condition in a prominent City Centre gateway location back into beneficial use as a music academy.
“The applicant has revised the proposals to overcome initial concerns in relation to the height of the proposed rear extension and the obstructive effect of the previously proposed accessible ramp to Commercial Street.
“It is considered that the benefits of the proposal would significantly outweigh the less than substantial harm to the heritage asset which would be caused by the proposed listed building works and rear extension.”
We forget about Attercliffe, and so it is inevitable that we forget its lost buildings.
One example is Attercliffe Parish Church, also known as Christ Church Attercliffe, once a grand place of worship, badly damaged in the Sheffield Blitz of 1940 and later demolished.
And we might be forgiven for not knowing where it stood, but its site is plain to see.
We can turn to Pawson and Brailsford’s Illustrated Guide to Sheffield (1868) for details: –
“There is a handsome church at Attercliffe, which is about two miles from the centre of town, on the Doncaster Road. Formerly Attercliffe was a detached village, but now it is practically a busy manufacturing suburb of Sheffield. It was opened in 1826, having been built by means of a Parliamentary grant, at the cost of £14,000. It is a Gothic building, with lancet windows and a handsome groined roof. It will accommodate from 1,100 to 1,200 persons.”
The old chapel-of-ease of the Township of Attercliffe-cum-Darnall, dating from the 17th century, had been replaced by the new church.
Attercliffe, at that time, was a comparatively small place, and largely consisted of lanes and fields, and the new church was one of four churches built in Sheffield out of what was known as the ‘Million Fund.’
The nucleus of the building fund consisted of a grant from an indemnity paid to England by Austria after the Battle of Waterloo.
The first stone was laid by the 12th Duke of Norfolk assisted by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam in October 1822 and took four years to build. It was consecrated by the Archbishop Vernon Harcourt of York in 1826.
Early directories referred to the church as standing near the bold cliff which overhangs the Don.
“Time was when Attercliffe was a place of sylvan beauty and picturesque repose, of pleasant pastures and stately houses on the banks of a River Don whose waters were clear and transparent.”
“In the church, there are galleries on the sides and at the west end; which, with the pews in the body of the church, contain two thousand sittings. Some of the windows of the church are ornamented with painted glass, containing the arms of Fitzwilliam and Surrey, Gell, Milner, Staniforth, and Blackburn.”
The churchyard closed for burials in 1856 and a cemetery leading down to the Don was opened in 1859.
In 1876, the church was closed for cleaning and redecoration.
“Below the windows the walls are tinted puce, but above they are straw-coloured, with ornamental work above the windows. The groins are picked out in stone and the roof is coloured buff. White is the groundwork of the chancel roof, but other tints are introduced.”
The church didn’t forget the men who served in World War One, and at a cost of £300 a memorial was erected in the form of oak reredos and panelling together with remembrance panels framed in oak, bearing the names of all those who answered the call of their country.
By the time of its centenary in 1926, the parish embraced around 33,000 souls, but it was a different place.
“The mere mention of Attercliffe to those who are closely acquainted with it is scarcely calculated to send them into ecstasies of delight, for the very sound reason that Attercliffe has precious little that appeals to the aesthetic sense. Attercliffe and throbbing, thriving industry are – in normal times – synonymous terms, and when the clang and clatter, the smoke and grime of heavy trades fill the air, Attercliffe, from the casual visitor’s point of view, is a place to get away from rather than to remain at.
“Looking back upon a picture of a rural landscape, with its common (now filled with shops), its thatched cottages, and its sheep grazing on the riverbanks, the individual might well exclaim: ‘All this has changed.’”
The church was in debt for years, especially after the installation of electricity, and following the departure of Rev. A. Robinson in 1930, the church revealed that its finances were “vague and confused,” and that he had left a debt of £550-£600.
Unfortunately, the church was closed after bomb damage in 1940. Most of its contents were destroyed and Sheffield lost one of its finest churches.
The organ from the blitzed church was rebuilt and taken to St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Hanover Street.
The adjacent church hall became the parish church until 1950, and then functioned as a chapel in the parish of Attercliffe-cum-Carbrook until it was closed in April 1981. The new church of St Alban (Darnall) is now the parish church of Attercliffe.
In 1953, the site of the old church and its graveyard was turned into a garden, an area of pleasant green turf bordered by paths. It was opened by the Lord Mayor, Coun. Oliver S. Holmes, who said, “it was inspiration to the whole city that good will make beauty rise from the rubble of war.”
The church site and the garden of remembrance can be seen on Attercliffe Road, opposite the Don Valley Hotel. Access is available into old Attercliffe Cemetery behind and the Five Weirs Walk.
NOTE A rare book, ‘The Church in Attercliffe,’ by Rev. Arthur Robinson, was published to celebrate the church’s centenary in 1926.
It’s hard to imagine Attercliffe with green fields and a beautiful river. It became a village, and when Sheffield’s industry exploded, it turned into a busy suburb. It was almost a town, but when the downturn came, we ignored it, and look at its present sorry state.
This will change because Attercliffe is a development opportunity waiting to happen. It’s close to the city centre, motorway, and Meadowhall, and it’s mostly brownfield site.
Sheffield Council probably thinks the same.
It is buying the Grade II-listed Adelphi building, on Vicarage Road, using some of the £37m government levelling-up funds allocated to the city, to buy and refurbish the site and open it for community use.
And the council says there are other ‘important’ buildings on Attercliffe’s faded high street that it might consider buying.
The Adelphi opened as a cinema in October 1920, built on the site of former vicarage gardens.
It was designed by William Carter Fenton (1861-1959), alderman and subsequently Lord Mayor of Sheffield, and a former corporation surveyor who established the architectural practice of Hall and Fenton.
With a seating capacity of 1,350, it joined four other cinemas at Attercliffe, and it’s first showing was Irving Cummings in Auction of Souls.
According to Cinema Treasures, the red brick building has buff and blue coloured terracotta enrichments on the façade, especially on the small turret dome over the entrance, which also has stained glass windows.
“Internally the features add to its grandeur with detailed ceilings, granite floors and wide staircases. Seating in the auditorium was provided in stalls and circle, and the projection box was in the rear stalls, underneath the circle.
“The cinema was in reverse, and patrons entered the auditorium from behind the screen. The decoration includes pilasters, a segment-arched panelled ceiling and a moulded proscenium arch with a central crest which is flanked by torches. The circle has a lattice-work plaster front.”
The familiar ‘soft carpets that harboured and carried disease’ were replaced with cork carpet and linoleum. But from the standpoint of health, it allowed fresh air and sunshine to be admitted. There were no fewer than 17 windows and between performances these were thrown wide open, and during showings they were covered with dark blinds.
It underwent some restoration in 1936 and a re-decoration in 1939. It received some bomb damage during the second week of the blitz and was closed for around a month. It received further renovation in 1946.
The Adelphi operated as a cinema until 1967 after which it became a bingo hall. The striking art deco building later hosted Sheffield’s famous Gatecrasher club nights, among other events, and was also used as a music teaching centre. It sat empty from 2006 until 2013 and has since been used only for storage.
Last year, CODA Bespoke on behalf of Olympia Wellbeing Academy, was granted permission to convert the building’s ground floor into an educational and sporting facility for children.
It was the 1960s, retail was in ascendancy, and Marks & Spencer, with a small shop on Fargate, wanted to build a new store and expand. To do so, it purchased an adjacent property called Fargate House, and Sheffield lost one of its finest buildings.
“As we drove along, we happened to pass a very splendid building. On looking up, I saw it was the new offices of the ‘Independent’ newspaper,” said the Archbishop of York in 1892, the year it had been built.
In the 1890s, there were two newspapers in Sheffield. W.C. Leng owned the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (forerunner to The Star), and the Leader family were proprietors of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. This was a time when newspapers sold thousands of copies daily, and the two were bitter rivals.
The Independent, founded in 1819, to secure ‘British independence, and an amelioration of the condition of the British people,’ had moved premises several times, and when Sheffield Corporation began widening Fargate, it purchased a plot of land.
The site nestled between Tuckwood’s Supply Store and the properties of George Shepley and T.R. Marsden. It was described as an inverted capital ‘T’, the top crossing Fargate and the tail pointing towards Norfolk Street behind. Much the same as Marks & Spencer today.
As were many Sheffield buildings of the day, the new Independent offices were designed by Flockton and Gibbs and constructed by William Ives of Shipley. The crosspiece on Fargate contained shops and commercial offices that were let, while the tail was occupied by the newspaper across six floors.
Once completed, the front of ‘Newspaper House’ was said to be the most imposing of numerous buildings erected in Fargate.
The architectural treatment was defined as ‘modern,’ the front too valuable to afford space for heavy piers and walls. The main arched entrance was set back from the building line, the wings on each side giving the shops on the ground floor a graceful curve to the front. The whole was covered with a steep picturesque roof, and surmounted with a sky sign, the letters of which were four feet high.
The style was said to be a development of early French Renaissance, more particularly the phase of it, which was seen in the Chateaux of the Valley of the Loire, of which the high pitched hipped roofs were an essential feature, but with ornament and mouldings more Greek than Roman.
Newspaper House was built with best Huddersfield stone, celebrated for its durability and its resistance in some measure, to the blackening influence of town atmosphere. On the last count, it failed, because within years it was as black as the rest of Sheffield’s buildings.
The arched recess entrance was placed at the centre, built of moulded stone; it embraced three entrances, leading respectively to the counting-house, a stone staircase, and an upholstered passenger lift to the offices.
The basement was occupied by the machine room with two Victory News machines capable of producing 16,000 copies per hour, and one of the latest forms of the famous Hoe printing machines. Two powerful steam-engines, manufactured by Shardlow of Attercliffe, stood at the far end.
Above was a bookbinding department, where account books, pamphlets and books were bound in all styles, as well as the paper warehouse.
The Counting House, with tesserae floor, and massive mahogany counter, was where the public placed advertisements and orders. The building also contained a library of Sheffield newspaper files dating back to 1787, all copies of the London Times, and an immense collection of Parliamentary records.
On the second floor, reporters were clustered around a central corridor which extended the length of the building.
A technical advance was the installation of two telephones – one in the commercial department for use by day, the other in the sub-editor’s room for use during the night.
Messengers raced between the office and Sheffield’s two railway stations bringing in packets dispatched by district correspondents, while every few hours a large bag of letters were brought from the Post Office.
The rest of the building housed the composing room, lithograph and letterpress departments, and rooms for photography and zincography, both in their infancy.
“The inconveniences of photography consequent upon the dull atmosphere of Sheffield will be entirely overcome by the adoption of electric light for photographic purposes.”
At the Norfolk Street end, newspapers were despatched overnight. Carts distributed parcels to local newsagents and railway stations, the aim being that readers had their morning paper on their breakfast tables.
In 1931, consolidation within the newspaper industry meant that the Sheffield Independent was taken over by Allied Newspapers, now owner of the Sheffield Telegraph, and Newspaper House was surplus to requirement.
By the time it merged with the Telegraph in 1938, the old building had been sold and completely refurbished by architect Victor Heal as offices. The building was gutted, the frontage retained, but the upholstered lift and stone staircase were replaced.
A new entrance was made from Hoptonwood stone and black marble, surmounted by a dome, with an artistic lantern, in green and cream, and an illuminated electric clock with the figures ‘No.21’. Beneath were green enamel letters that stated the building’s new name – Fargate House.
It lasted until the 1960s, but Fargate had become one of Sheffield’s premier shopping streets. It was demolished in 1965 and the stylish new Marks & Spencer store built in its place.
The death of Dr Marriott Hall was tragic, but it kick-started a series of episodes that would give its name to The Harley, now a popular student bar and live entertainment venue, on Glossop Road.
In March 1878, aged 38, Hall was riding along Endcliffe Vale Road on his way to visit a patient at Broomhill Park. His horse threw him, rolled over him, and his head struck a kerbstone. He was taken to the lodge at Oakbrook, belonging to his father-in-law, Mark Firth, where his injuries were treated.
“Oh, my poor head,” he complained, and suffered a slow agonising death.
The son of the Rev. Hall of Greasbrough, Marriott Hall had been assistant to Mr Porter, surgeon, Eyre Street, afterwards appointed assistant house-surgeon at the General Infirmary, subsequently rising to top position.
He started practice with his brother, John, on Victoria Street, going alone at the Bath Buildings on Glossop Road about 1865, until joined by Dr William Cleaver ten years later.
When Hall married Sarah Taylor Bingham Firth, the daughter of Mark Firth, in 1866, their wedding present from the steel magnate was 334 Glossop Road, a new house and surgery added to the end of 1850s terraced villas at the corner with Hounsfield Road.
Hall’s widow remained until the 1880s before taking up residence at The Gables, in Ranmoor.
Dr Mariano Alejo Martin de Bartolome bought the house in 1886 and stayed until his own death four years later, after which it was bought in 1891 by the adjoining Sheffield Nurses’ Home and Training Institution for £1,500.
This organisation had been set up by James Henry Barber at a time when Sheffield’s population was increasing rapidly and often nurses had to be obtained from as far away as Lincoln. The new premises allowed for a staff of district nurses for the working classes.
At the start of World War One it became the Sheffield Queen Victoria District Nursing Association, with a staff of 25 nurses, which remained until 1928 when the building was sold to a group of Liverpool businessmen for £2,962.
The entrepreneurs formed a company, Harley Houses Ltd, acknowledgement of the building’s medical history, the name derived from London’s famous Harley Street, “to build, alter and construct, repair and sustain 334 Glossop Road, or any other premises, to use as a residential club or private hotel.”
In May 1928, it opened as Harley Residential Club for professional businessmen and women.
“Elaborately and tastefully decorated and furnished, with three attractive and reposeful lounges, writing rooms, hot and cold running water in every bedroom, and with comfort, cuisine and service.”
It provided accommodation for 26 residents and visitors to the city, and within a year had been renamed The Harley Hotel, the biggest downside being its inability to obtain an alcohol licence.
The Harley Hotel remained until the late sixties by which time it had fallen into disrepair and was derelict for most of the 1970s.
After several temporary uses it was rescued in 2003 when it became The Harley, operated by Dave Healey, co-founder of Tramlines, as a pub, burger joint, hotel and tearoom.
The Harley played host to many bands, including Arctic Monkeys, ALT-J and Royal Blood to name but a few.
It closed in April 2019 due to financial problems, after which the building’s owner, Mitchell & Butlers, decided to take over the running of the venue, with the Harley Hotel existing upstairs with 23 rooms.
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.
Ban Thai restaurant, on the west side of St. Mary’s Gate, is known to many, but like many old buildings, its original use is overlooked.
It was built in 1894 for the Sheffield Union Bank at the corner of Cemetery Road and Ecclesall Road. The postal address is still No.1 Ecclesall Road and goes back to when it stood adjacent to the Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-op building, demolished to make way for the Safeway (Waitrose) supermarket, and before the widening of St. Mary’s Gate.
Sheffield Union Bank was established in 1843, taking over the business of the Yorkshire District Bank. Its first branch opened in Retford in 1846, and expanded across Sheffield, Rotherham, Penistone, and Chesterfield.
This office was confusingly referred to as the Sheffield Moor branch and after the bank’s amalgamation with the London City & Midland Bank in 1901, it operated as the Midland Bank. The branch was offloaded to the Trustee Savings Bank in the later part of the twentieth century.
When the bank closed, it became Robert Brady, outfitters, before becoming Barbarella’s restaurant and bar and then Ban Thai. The upper floors were converted to provide two storey student accommodation in 1995.
The design of the Grade II listed building was the work of architects J.B. Mitchell-Withers & Son, whose practice was on Surrey Street.
John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1838-1894) came from the family of Samuel Mitchell, a name often mentioned in Hunter’s Hallamshire, and the son of W.B. Mitchell. He was educated at Collegiate College, later tutored by architect Samuel Worth, and set up on his own as an architect and surveyor.
By the will of his aunt, Sarah Withers, he inherited her Sheffield property with the stipulation that he took the name of Withers.
Mitchell-Withers’ work can still be seen across the city. He was responsible for the extension to the Cutlers’ Hall after winning a competition in 1888. There are also Town Hall Chambers on Pinstone Street (1885), Firs Hill Junior School, the Licensed Victuallers’ Association Almhouses, Abbeydale Road South, as well as St John the Baptist Church, Penistone Road, St. Silas Church, Broomhall Street, and restorations to the nave of St. Mary Church at Ecclesfield. He also built his home, Parkhead House (then called Woodlands) on Ecclesall Road South.
He was an enthusiastic watercolour painter with involvement in the local art scene. He became president of the Sheffield School of Art and the Sheffield Society of Artists and was vice-president and treasurer of Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors. The Duke of Devonshire engaged him to supervise the restoration of painted ceilings in the state rooms at Chatsworth House.
This branch of the Sheffield Union Bank was one of his last commissions and he died of a heart attack in the year it was built. Another commission for Union bank on Langsett Road had to be completed by his eldest son, also called John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers in 1895.
John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1865-1920) succeeded his father and initiated several distinguished buildings. These included extensions to Central Schools on Orchard Lane between 1893-1895 (now adjacent to Leopold Square), High Court on High Street, John Walsh’s department store (bombed), and Clifford House at Ecclesall Road South.
As a boy, he was educated at Rugby where he won several prizes and gained his cap in rugby football at the school. After joining his father’s practice, he passed the examination of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1890.
Mitchell-Withers Jnr was a member of Hunter Archaeologist Society and like his father, was involved with the Sheffield Society of Artists and became president of the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors, representing them on the council of RIBA.
He became an honorary lecturer on English Gothic architecture at Sheffield University and a council member with the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society.
Mitchell-Withers was also an agent for the Burgoyne estate and the Duke of Devonshire’s land near Dore.
It confuses many people but is a reliable reminder to others. I’m referring to the one o’clock time signal that blasts out daily from above H.L. Brown at Barker’s Pool.
Today it’s a quirky tradition, and a reminder of a time when the concept of time was a bit fuzzier.
The origin of the time signal goes back to 1874, when in Angel Street, Harris Leon Brown fixed and maintained a ‘Greenwich time ball’ – that was placed on a flagstaff outside his premises, and which by an electric current fell at exactly 1p.m., Greenwich mean-time.
Back then, – different towns tended to keep different times, and thus Greenwich Mean Time was established.
Back in Sheffield, the 1 o’clock Time Signal became a handy way for city workers to mark the end of their lunch breaks, though its position above the watchmaker was used to ensure that his timepieces were accurate.
The equipment was admired for two years, but electric signals in the open air were affected by the weather and its failure to ‘drop’ on several occasions caused it to be removed.
In 1876, he entered into an agreement with the Government to supply him daily for three years with the correct time. A wire connected his shop in Angel Street with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and at one o’clock every day the ball dropped with remarkable precision as the sixtieth part of a second.
In his window, Harris Brown displayed several English keyless chronometer watches, especially adapted for pocket timekeepers. All of these were regulated by the time ball placed outside his shop door.
In 1891, a ‘Greenwich mean time flashing signal and time bell’ was installed in the window of H.L. Brown at new premises at 71 Market Place. It was a synchronised clock with flashing signal and bell, showing mean time daily at 1p.m. and was unaffected by rain or snow.
The clock was 14 inches in diameter, and on either side were two open circles, about half the size of the clock dial.
The one on the left contained a ‘flashing signal’ – a disc of metal painted red, and finely balanced on a pivot. Throughout the day this disc remained with its edge towards the front and was almost invisible. But precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon (GMT) the electric current arrived, giving the disc a quarter revolution, and causing it to reveal its full face, and fill up the open circle, remaining in that position for two seconds.
Simultaneously, the time bell fixed in the open dial to the right of the large clock was struck, so that the electric current made its arrival known both to sight and sound.
To obtain this equipment, H.L. Brown had to enter a five year agreement with the Post Office and pay a large yearly subscription. They were the only watch manufacturer to receive this direct signal. He stated that one of the reasons for installing the equipment was because he had sold many watches from the Government observatory at Kew, and which were guaranteed to keep exact time.
By visiting the Market Place any day at one o’clock, he said that users could ascertain if their watch was ‘on time’ as accurately as by a visit to London.
H.L. Brown later moved to 65 Market Place, and along with it went his equipment. It was bombed in 1940 and the shop moved to 70 Fargate at the corner with Leopold Street.
The time signal was subsequently replaced with a siren, and this was relocated to its current position at Barker’s Pool when H.L. Brown’s Fargate shop was demolished in 1986 for the construction of Orchard Square.
This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.
Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.
He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.
When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.
But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.
Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.
With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.
Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).
In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.
Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.
During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.
He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.
H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.
In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.
When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917. He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.
At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”
His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.
He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.
In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.
During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.
James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.
In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.
Today, H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).