St Matthew’s Church – “Where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence nearby.”

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/DJP/2022

It was an exceptionally cold evening, and the light was starting to wane, but this building stood out, magnificent against the clear sky, and all the time, a gentle warmth emanated from within its walls.

“I’ve never noticed it before,” said someone who has lived in Sheffield all his life. “When you think about churches in the city centre, you think about Sheffield Cathedral and St Marie’s. I would be hard-pressed to name others.”

I understood what he meant, but there are several churches besides, including this one, for which we will start at the beginning.  

There was once a piece of land extending from Carver Street to Backfields and separated from Division Street by a row of shops known as Division Street market. Houses stood upon this land – some of them notorious dens of vice – but by 1855, these had been cleared and a church built in its place.

In the early years of this century, Carver Street surrendered to change, with most of its historical buildings on its upper section with West Street converted into bars. Nowadays we refer to it as Sheffield’s ‘Party Street.’

Further down the road, where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence, life is quieter and simpler, and St Matthew’s Church is still with us.

Late at night, each weekend, Street Pastors congregate here before going out to care for those youngsters who have succumbed to the ‘demon drink.’

The Parish of St Matthew’s was created in 1848 when the original Sheffield parish (now the Anglican Cathedral) was subdivided. Its first Vicar, J.F. Witty, held early services at the National School on Carver Street (now Viper Rooms), but sufficient funds were raised to build a permanent church.

“Since I came to this district, at the invitation of my friend, Rev. T. Sale, Vicar of Sheffield, I have always looked upon it as a missionary appointment – as one calling for more arduous labours than any regular organised district or parish. When I see that there is a population large enough to fully occupy the time of three ministers – that the population is suffering from negligence of years past, and from deep-rooted prejudice and gross ignorance, the alienation of the intellect as well as moral pollution, I see that there is great labour ahead of me.”

The foundation stone was laid in 1854 by H.M. Greaves, of Banner Cross, who was presented with a silver trowel which had on one side a view of the proposed church, and on the other an inscription.

The church was designed by Flockton and Son and was consecrated on 6 June 1855 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave.

It cost £3,297 to build, the main benefactor being snuff-maker Henry Wilson of Westbrook Mill who contributed £1,020. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £200 and the Incorporated Church Building Society gave £250. The rest of the money had to be raised by Witty and his congregation.

St Matthew’s was described as in the perpendicular gothic style of architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and aisles, with a small gallery in the tower at the west end.

It abutted adjoining buildings which meant that it had to be lit solely from windows in the clerestory and those at the west end where an octagonal tower was built – the first in Sheffield – surmounted by a spire of 65 feet, making a total height to the top of the spire 121 ft.

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The West End showing the Goetz & Gwyn Organ installed in 1993. Image/The Church of England

St Matthew’s survived German bombs in World War Two, but many nearby houses were not so fortunate, and those that remained were later demolished. Without a residential congregation, its fortunes dwindled, surviving a fire in 1956 and the threat of demolition to make way for a new road in the 1970s.

Its circumstances have improved with houses and flats returning within parish boundaries, and there have been several restorations since it was built.

“I often think about those who built these old buildings,” said my colleague. “I wonder what they would think to see that their work is still here all these years later.”

I too, think about those people, long dead and forgotten, and it always provides pleasure to seek out those responsible, each with a story to tell.

Mason’s work, James Powell; carpenter’s work, John Dutton and William Heald; plumbers, John Johnstone; slating, Roger Brown; plastering Thomas S. Harrison.

The High Altar. Image: The Church of England
Two members of the congregation, brothers Edwin, 21, and Noel Inman, 18, died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and lived in the Parish of St Matthew’s Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The Rood – In memory of Father G C Ommanney Parish Priest 1882-1936. Image: The Church of England
The Font. Image/The Church of England

©2023 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


A tale of two St Paul’s

View of St. Paul’s Church from Pinstone Street showing the gateway to the Public Lavatories, Cheney Row and entrance to St. Paul’s Graveyard. Image: Picture Sheffield

It was only recently that I realised that I’d never posted about St Paul’s Church, a Sheffield landmark remembered now by only a few.

If you want to know where it once stood look no further than the Peace Gardens.

St Paul’s Church stood on the outskirts of Sheffield on land bordered by Pinson Lane (Pinstone Street) and Alsop Fields, called Shaw’s Close or Oxley Croft. Its foundation stone was laid in 1720, the result of public subscription for ‘the new church’.

St Paul’s Church about 1890 and before the Town Hall was constructed. Image: British Newspaper Archive

It was designed by John Platt, architect, statuary mason, potter, and builder, who was active, particularly around Rotherham, in the mid-to-late 18th and early 19th centuries, and most famous for Wortley Hall. Construction was undertaken by John Wastenage of Handsworth.

The building, completed except for the dome, stood empty until 1739 after a dispute over patronage. A John Snetzler organ was installed in 1755 and the dome was added in 1769. Later, in 1824,  St Paul’s was placed in its own parish.

St. Paul’s Church, Pinstone Street, Interior view. Image: Picture Sheffield

The church prospered until the slum clearances of the 1930s in which a large proportion of sub-standard back-to-back houses in the city centre were swept away. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners decided that six city centre churches were surplus to requirement and intended replacing them with ones on the new housing estates. The congregation at St Paul’s had dwindled and was closed in 1937.

St Paul’s Church in 1921, with a glimpse of Sheffield Town Hall behind. Image: British Newspaper Archive

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) took an interest in the rebuilding of the church on East Bank Road, at Arbourthorne.

And found amongst the archives is a letter from Mr John Betjeman, of Ufflington, Berkshire, (yes, THE John Betjeman)  who had visited.

“As a visitor to Sheffield and a student of architecture, I would like to express a hope that your most beautiful classical church of St Paul’s will be rebuilt exactly as it stands on its new site.

“It is appropriate that Sir William Milner, a Yorkshireman, is to save the work of a great Yorkshire architect John Platt II, who designed the tower of St Paul’s and whose father, John Platt I, probably designed the body of the church.”

Betjeman’s pleas were largely ignored.

St Paul’s was demolished by Joseph Smith of Denby Street in 1938, the saddest sight being the three ton metal dome of the clock tower that was hoisted on its side before dropping to the ground and smashing into pieces.

“St Paul’s beauty did not save it, and all that can be said of those who pulled it down is that they beat the German bombers to the sordid task.”

Site of St. Paul’s Church and church yard following demolition. Image: Picture Sheffield

Work on the new church costing £20,000 at Arbourthorne started almost immediately and was completed by the end of 1939.

“The original idea, partly through sentiment, was to try and move the old church stone by stone and re-erect it, but this simply could not be done,” said the contractor. “To build an actual replica in stone like the original church would have been prohibitive. The cost would have been considerably more than the actual cost of the new building, and so the decision had to be made to build the new church in brick.”

It is thought that some of the stone was used instead to build houses at Bents Green.

Practically all the interior furnishings, including pews, alters, and plate, were transferred to the new church but missing was the organ which went to All Saints in Wingerworth and the Chantrey Memorial which went to Sheffield Cathedral. Missing also was the famous clock tower which, at £800, was thought too expensive. The contents of the former graveyard were transferred to Abbey Lane cemetery.

St.Paul’s C.of E. Church (now demolished), corner of East Bank Road and Berners Road. It was a large, austere, building that never did the original church justice. Remarkably, this appears to be the only surviving photograph. Image: Picture Sheffield

The vacant land in the city centre was intended to be used for extensions for the Town Hall, but public opinion swayed Sheffield Corporation to turn it into St. Paul’s Gardens, commonly referred to as the Peace Gardens.

And there was a sad end for the ‘new’ St. Paul’s Church. Dwindling congregations in a draughty big building played a part in its downfall and it was demolished by the end of the 1970s. In its place, a hostel for people with learning difficulties, and a house alongside called The Old Vicarage.

Questions remain unanswered about the original St Paul’s Church. The bell and clock were carefully removed during demolition but not used in the reconstruction at East Bank Road. Does anybody know where these might have ended up?

Former site of St Paul’s Church, Arbourthorne, at the corner of East Bank Road with Berners Road. Image: Google
Peace Gardens. The former site of the original St Paul’s Church. The area is now referred to as St Paul’s including the naming of buildings and a hotel.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.