I have an intriguing question. If we were to dig beneath the roads flanking the City Hall, what would we find?
Holly Street and Balm Green, both 60ft wide, were created in 1932 to service the newly constructed building.
“The importance of a big space is emphasised when it is realised that between 3,000 and 4,000 people will frequently leave the City Hall within a few minutes and many of them will have motor-cars,” said M. J. Hadfield, the City Engineer, at the time.
It turned out to be a massive undertaking because the roads were built over old cellars and three deep wells and required a bed of 12 inch concrete with double reinforcements, triangulated to provide the greatest possible strength at the least expense. Masses of iron rods were intertwined in the form of triangles, allowing the roads to carry weights more than 100 tons.
The cellars had belonged to shops between Pool Square and Holly Street and had been erected well over a hundred years before. In the first instance they were private dwellings, but in the course of time were reconstructed and remodelled as shops and demolished to make way for the City Hall.
What undiscovered treasures lay beneath these roads?
In the Burgery of 1609 Holly Street is referred to as Blynde Lane, and in 1700 is called Blind Lane or Hollin Lane, while the records of 1823 show it as Hollin Street. The corruption of Hollin Street to Holly Street is simple because ‘hollin’ or ‘hollen’ was an ancient name for holly.
In Fairbank’s survey, what is now Barker’s Pool appears as Balm Green, while the lane now known as Balm Green was called Flint Well. In Taylor’s survey of 1832, Balm Green had been renamed Barker’s Pool, while Flint Well was known as Flint Well Lane. With the building of the City Hall, Flint Well Lane became Balm Green.
The origin of Balm Green is one that has puzzled historians, but there is a likely explanation.
Joseph Woolhouse wrote in 1832, that a Mr Barker was living at Balm House, a large farmhouse supposed to be situated in Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street). Behind the house were orchards where now Back Fields is. It is possible that Balm Green was the herb garden attached to the orchards.
But we should also consider that Orchard Street, between Church Street and Leopold Street, was once the site of an extensive fruit garden known as Brelsforth’s Orchard, and Balm Green might have been the herb garden attached to this property instead.
A less likely theory suggests that the open space between the former John Lewis department store and the City Hall was once called Le Baine, with an early reference in a deed of 1333. Because the area was rich in springs and wells, it has been suggested that Le Baine evolved from the Latin word ‘balneum’, a warm bath, or a place for swimming, and eventually into ‘balm’.
Mr Barker established our first waterworks at Balm Green in 1434. The area subsequently became Barker’s Pool and two centuries later, it was cleaned and repaired by a public benefactor, Robert Rollinson, and for upwards of three centuries was in daily use. The pool in its latter days became defiled; the rubbish of the town, and dead animals, were thrown in, and it was subsequently filled up in 1793.
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