I walked through the city centre the other day and remembered an old newspaper article that spoke of Pinson Lane in 1736, and later became Pinstone Street.
The article from 1927 was written by Harold Rowley who suggested that Pinstone Street may have had some connection with Penistone, once a common surname in the district, but had once been called Pincher Croft, which hinted it may have had some connection with Barker’s Pool, being originally Pitcher Croft.
When I got home, I referred to Sidney Oldall Addy’s ‘The Hall of Waltheof’ or ‘The Early Condition and Settlement of Hallamshire’ from 1893.
“We have few ‘lanes’ in Sheffield now. The popular idea seems to be that there is something mean and insignificant in a lane, and hence Pinson Lane now bears the grander name of Pinstone Street.
Old inhabitants of Sheffield speak of Pinson Lane. Gosling writes it Pinson Lane in 1736, and I find a croft called Pincencroft Len in a document dated 1554.
Pincen is probably the surname Pinson, so that Pincencroft is exactly analogous to Colson Crofts, Sims Croft, Scargill Croft, and Hawley Croft, which are derived from surnames.
The word ‘len’ in Pincencroft Len is not our ‘lane’ but the Old Norse lén, a. fief, or fee, a piece of freehold, or land held in fee simple. Thus, the meaning is Pinson Croft freehold. The croft acquired the name of the person or the family—the Pinsons—who once held it, and then it afterwards became known as the Pinsoncroft ‘len’ or fee.”
Mr Rowley also mentions that the old name for the Fargate end of Pinstone Street was once called Sowmouth, popularly explained because it tapered and grew narrower. However, he says, this was evidently wrong, because Sowmouth meant a door or opening.
I didn’t know this, but I referred to Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and its people’ (1876) and found the following passage from Richard Leonard: –
“Forty years ago, there were one or two trees growing on the property of Mr Withers, in Pinstone Street. A passage leading from Fargate to New Church Street, was a favourite playground of the boys of those days and boasted the name of ‘Sow Mouth.’”
(New Church Street ran parallel to modern-day Surrey Street and was lost underneath the Town Hall when it was built in 1890-1897).
“I believe that we can recapture the lost beauty of Sheffield. In fact, you are already beginning to recapture it. I thought this morning how greatly improved the city was architecturally and structurally. I noticed that many of the old crofts have disappeared – the old slumdom is going. Watch that you don’t get new slums in their place, and that you don’t let the jerry-builder play his old game and run up his weedy, seedy, respectable-looking, but fever-haunted dens, built on rottenness and breeding illness of all kinds in days to come.”
This is a quote from 1910, by the Rev. S.E. Keeble, of Southport, once a Methodist minister at Brunswick Church in Sheffield between 1893 and 1896, who had returned to speak at the Victoria Hall on Norfolk Street.
In olden days, it had been the fashion to name streets or lanes as ‘crofts’. Sheffield had Pea Croft, White Croft, Hollis Croft, Lea Croft, Sims Croft, Hawley Croft, Scargill Croft, and so on. These were (and some still are) located in the area between modern-day Bank Street and towards Scotland Street.
The ‘crofts’ area developed within plots formed by former fields, and the name was originally respectable and modern, much the same as ‘avenue’ became, but the advent of time led to the term becoming synonymous with slums.
And for this reason, Sheffield started eliminating the term, and under the Government’s Slum Clearance Scheme had eradicated the properties in the early twentieth century.
Scargill Croft, Lee Croft, White Croft, and Hollis Croft survive in very different circumstances, and in some cases the people have returned to live here.
Let us go back to the early 1800s and visit a thoroughfare that was entered under an archway at the top of Haymarket. This narrow sloping lane was lined with squalid houses, little workshops, a few shops, and halfway down, on the left-hand side, was the Nag’s Head public house, that gave the lane its name. Nag’s Head Yard ended in a flight of steps that came out onto Shude Hill.
Despite its proximity to the old town, most folk avoided Nag’s Head Yard, for this was where you were likely to find many of the town’s thieves, brawlers, and drunkards.
Nag’s Head Yard is long forgotten, swept away in the late 1860s, when the construction of a new railway station for the Midland Railway on Sheaf Street necessitated road improvements to it.
Four approach roads were built to what became Sheffield Station. The first was down Howard Street, the second commenced on Sheaf Street, opposite the vegetable market, and passed along the River Sheaf into Harmer Lane. The third was a continuation of Cross Turner Street, emerging at the junction of Shrewsbury Road, Suffolk Road, and St Mary’s Road. And it might surprise you that the fourth approach was from Nag’s Head Yard, passing on arches over Shude Hill, and became known as Commercial Street.
This was one of two brand new roads built by Sheffield’s Street Improvements Committee, the other being Leopold Street.
Historians are easily confused by Commercial Street because there was already a road of the same name in proximity.
In 1834, the inhabitants of Jehu Lane wanted to change its name to something more in the spirit of the times. They asked Town Commissioners to allow street boards to be taken down and be replaced with a new name. Amazingly, the commissioners consented and told the residents to choose a new name. They chose Commercial Street, but this would be short-lived because the council started purchasing and demolishing properties on the east side of Market Street and the south side of Old Haymarket, to create Fitzalan Square, named after the Duke of Norfolk’s family.
This process of compulsory purchase didn’t go well, and Sheffield Corporation was involved in numerous court cases in which displaced residents and businesses demanded better compensation.
Nevertheless, the council pressed ahead with plans for a new 40ft street from the upper end of Old Haymarket, where Nag’s Head Yard was, over Shude Hill, near the gas works by a bridge, and into Sheaf Street.
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent jokingly said that the new road might be called ‘Wrangle Street,’ but the surveyor of Sheffield Corporation announced in 1870 that the railway approach road would now become Commercial Street.
It confused locals and the Sheffield Independent’s ‘Spectator in Hallamshire’ asked, “What is the name of that street? I never know how to call it.”
Commercial Street allowed the construction of grand new buildings including the Post Office, at its corner with Haymarket, by James Williams in 1871, and offices and showrooms in 1875 for the Sheffield United Gas Company.
One of the most interesting developments involved the King’s Arms Hotel whose frontage faced Jehu Lane (old Commercial Street). The new road cut immediately alongside it, and in a stroke of brilliant business acumen, the proprietors sold the building to the Midland Banking Company for £20,000.
It demolished the front portion of the hotel for a grand new banking hall, designed by Salmon Linton Swann, and redesigned the remaining part of the hotel so that it faced onto new Commercial Street. The bank would eventually become Barclays Bank.
Both the old Post Office and gas showrooms survive but have been empty for years, the latter regarded as one of Sheffield’s finest Victorian buildings, and is now called Canada House, subject of a current planning application to turn it into Harmony Works, a new home for music education in the region.
However, Barclays Bank and the King’s Arms Hotel were both demolished in the late 1960s as part of further road improvements. It had been decided to make Commercial Street a dual carriageway, linking it to Park Square and Sheffield Parkway, and the two old buildings were swept away. The bank relocated to a newly constructed white office block (behind the site of the old King’s Arms Hotel) and subsequently became Commercial House, occupied these days by law firm Knights.
Ponds Forge International Leisure Centre was added to the bottom of Commercial Street by architects FaulknerBrowns for the World Student Games between 1989-1991.
But a few years later, Commercial Street underwent its biggest transformation with the building of Sheffield Supertram. The original line of the street was covered with new tram tracks, a gateway into the city centre, while the carriageway built on the site of the bank and hotel retained road traffic.
The construction of the iconic bowstring steel arch bridge allowed trams to travel over Park Square Roundabout, across Shude Hill, and onwards through the city centre.
Considering that Commercial Street is about 150 years old, building work has been limited, and there is no denying that recent times have been unkind. Empty buildings and graffiti blight the street, but with the redevelopment of Fitzalan Square, the Grey-to-Green project, proposals to develop Castlegate, and its proximity to Sheffield Hallam University, means that the future might be considerably brighter.
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.
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.
This article first appeared in The Star in April 2022, and is included here for the first time.
I suspect most Sheffield people will struggle to say where Holy Green is. It could be a village green in a rural idyll, but it is in the city centre, an uninspiring little road that stretches from The Moor to Charter Row between Atkinsons and Sainsburys.
Most of it remains hidden underneath the huge concrete ramp that allows drivers to enter the multi-storey carpark above Atkinsons.
This was once an extension of Eldon Street but hidden underneath the sprawling mass of Atkinsons department store is an extraordinary history that gives Holy Green its name.
We must go back to the 1700s when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.
A footpath of single stone was eventually cut through the heath leading to the tiny hamlet of Little Sheffield.
It was a gentleman called Thomas Holy (1752-1830) who built a house at the edge of Sheffield Moor. Holy Green House had a straight avenue of large leaved poplars leading to its substantial doorway, with a kitchen garden at the back, and a grass field called ‘The Croft.
He was a cutlery manufacturers’ merchant and a member of an old Sheffield family of button-makers and soon afterwards added the small works of Holy, Suckley and Co. at the back of the house towards Button Lane (taking its name from the factory, and broadly following the line of present-day Charter Row). He built-up the business until it became an international concern, later diversifying into mining and other mineral activities.
Thomas also became a prominent landowner, buy tracts of land from the Duke of Norfolk, and later leasing it to developers in what became the residential suburbs between Glossop Road, Broomhill and Fulwood.
He was also an early member of the Sheffield Wesleyan Methodist Society and was actively involved in the building of Carver Street Chapel (now Walkabout) in 1805.
John Wesley was a guest of Thomas on several occasions.
In 1786, “after preaching service (at Norfolk Street Chapel) crowds followed Wesley to Mr Holy’s house on the Moor, the streets were lined, and the windows filled with people anxious to have a glimpse of him. During the walk Wesley emptied his pockets scattering gifts to the poor. A vast crowd assembled in front of Mr Holy’s house. Wesley walked into their midst, knelt, and asked God to bless them, the crowd weeping at the thought of losing him.”
Thomas Holy died at Highfield House in 1830, but by this time Holy Green House was occupied by John Hessay Abraham, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and Principal of the Milk Street Academy, a classical, commercial, philosophical, and mathematical seminary for boys, some of whom boarded at his house.
On his retirement in 1835, his daughters, Mary, and Eliza, opened a girls’ school at Holy Green House.
“There were balsam poplars edging the walk, the scent of which was delicious after a shower in the spring, and a clematis arbour in the back garden abutting onto Button Lane.”
J.H. Abraham had been presented with a service of silver plate when he retired, and the girls drank their supper milk and water from silver beakers served by a man servant in white cotton gloves.
The music master was a handsome young Hungarian called Welhi, who encouraged his girls to give concerts for the important people of Sheffield.
However, the most fascinating person was the French teacher, an old lady, who was strong-minded, eccentric, and wore a horsehair wig kept in place by a velvet ‘brain band’ and covered by a white cap.
She was fond of descending into the schoolroom at night, opening the shutters and reciting poetry in the moonlight. But she was also prone to outbursts with the girls.
“I, who am the daughter of one of Napoleon’s generals and the wife of another, oh why have I to teach the daughter of a tailor?’ she asked bitterly one day.
The school closed in 1855 and Holy Green House was taken over as lodgings for the Sisters of Notre Dame, from Namur, in Belgium, who had opened a Roman Catholic school on Surrey Street.
They also started a school here in what was destined to become the great Notre Dame School that has served generations of Sheffield Catholics ever since.
The Sisters of Notre Dame relocated to Convent Walk in 1860 and Holy Green House appears to have been empty for several years before becoming home and workplace to Samuel Smith Middleton, a wholesale beer merchant, and agent for breweries across the country.
This part of expanding Sheffield was still relatively undeveloped and by 1870 there was still open space at Holy Green House between Button Lane to Sheffield Moor, the original path now known as South Street with several one-storey shops.
It was in one of these shops that John Atkinson, a draper, arrived in 1872, subsequently absorbing neighbouring properties built on the green lawns of Holy Green House. A passage led between the shops to the house, now hidden from South Street, and occupied by Ecclesall Working Men’s Club after 1871.
On the further extension of Atkinson’s premises, the low shops were demolished, as was Holy Green House, and the last of its picturesque grounds disappeared forever.
The next major phase in Sheffield City Council’s plans to regenerate the historic area of Castlegate is underway as essential geoarchaeological work begins.
Geoarchaeological investigations will be carried out by archaeology and heritage specialists, Wessex Archaeology, as they conduct 33 borehole surveys across the site of Sheffield Castle to examine the characteristics and conditions of the site’s underlying groundworks. The findings will then be analysed to give insights into what is underground and in turn inform the council’s redevelopment proposals for the area.
It marks a significant step in propelling the council’s plans to revitalise Castlegate after securing £20m from the government’s Levelling Up Fund last year.
Plans include the de-culverting of the River Sheaf, interpretation of the castle remains and the creation of attractive green public spaces; the creation of a cultural destination providing S1 Artspace and Sheffield Music Academy and Sheffield Music Hub with new state-of-the-art facilities; the preparation of land for future uses and investment; better connectivity and improved infrastructure for active travel.
In consultation with South Yorkshire Archaeology and Historic England, each borehole’s location has been carefully planned based on a need to further investigate the site, in order to add the information to the previously conducted archaeological evaluations, including the one carried out by Wessex Archaeology in 2018, after the Castle Markets were demolished.
This phase will supplement the information gathered from earlier assessments to produce a report, a detailed deposit model and archaeological sensitivity map to feed into a constraints plan for the area. The drilling is expected to last 6 weeks.
Castle Market Site. Illustration of the proposed mixed use development and open space from Sheffield City Council.
Sheffield City Council has gone to market with two new development plots within its transformational £470m Heart of the City masterplan.
The Council and its appointed marketing agent, CBRE, are seeking buyers for two development sites located on the former car park between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street.
The new developments would further contribute to the rapidly growing mixed-use district that is being created through Heart of the City – this includes the already completed Grosvenor House, plus several under-construction office, leisure, and residential developments.
The two new plots are located at opposite corners of the evolving Pound’s Park, having been originally outlined during the Council’s public consultation for this landmark public space last year.
Construction of Pound’s Park is already well underway and is set to complete towards the end of this year. By prioritising the physical and mental wellbeing of its visitors – through a focus on pedestrians, cycling, active play, and relaxation – the new green space is seen as a big draw for potential developers.
The sites are expected to provide active ground floor uses such as cafes and restaurants onto this high-quality public realm with office, hotel and residential uses on the upper floors considered appropriate. Whilst both sites could be developed by a single purchaser, the Council will consider separate or combined offers for the sites.
The largest of the two new sites (Site B) sits on the southeastern side of the park on the corner of Carver Street and Wellington Street.
One of the requirements for this site is that it must incorporate and display the locally cherished William Mitchell Frieze artwork, which was carefully removed from Barker’s Pool House to make way for a new Radisson Blu hotel last year.
The second site (Site A) sits to the northeast of the park on the corner of Rockingham Street and Division Lane.
In 1900, the Improvements Committee of Sheffield Corporation paid £10,500 for 2,546 yards of land in Newhall Street. There were certain freehold premises here, including the Hollis Hospital.
The question we ask ourselves 122 years later, where was Newhall Street?
Sheffield Corporation wanted to carry out a road diversion with a straight way from Westbar to Bridge Street.
Newhall Street was at the bottom of Snig Hill and disappeared, the line of Westbar continued across land occupied by the Pack Horse Hotel (demolished), until it joined Bridge Street.
This illustration from 1902 shows the original road layout, with dotted lines indicating the new street pattern and building lines. It also shows the widening of Snig Hill.
The scheme was completed in 1903 providing a more direct route from Westbar to the Victoria Station, and in due course tram lines ran from Westbar into the Wicker. It allowed tramcars to run from Hillsborough to the Wicker and then back to Hillsborough by the Owlerton Route – another step in the completion of the city’s circular tramway system.
The loss of Newhall Street was significant because this had been the boundary between Saint Peter’s Ward and Saint Philip’s Ward, dating to 1843 when Queen Victoria granted The Charter to the Borough of Sheffield.
Fast forward to the present day and things are remarkably quieter, and more beautiful, thanks to Sheffield City Council’s ‘Grey-to-Green project.
An unusual post, in so much that we are looking at a road. In fact, a series of roads that form one big one – Sheffield Inner Ring Road.
We might live in Sheffield, but sometimes it’s difficult to see wood for the trees, and this is the case with the inner ring road, because you probably don’t realise its purpose and where it is.
Let’s start in the 1930s when a route around the city centre was first proposed. Truth be known, World War Two stalled plans until the sixties, and in 1969 Sheffield Corporation published an impressive handbook called ‘Sheffield – Emerging City,’ in which plans for a detailed road system were revealed for the first time.
The council intended to pour £65m into the scheme which included bus lanes, pedestrian areas, as well as an urban motorway and motorway links with the M1.
Robert Waterhouse, writing in The Guardian in 1972, said that “Sheffield was as proud of its new roads as of its housing, its clean air, and its flourishing arts. They were all symbols of rebirth after years of stagnation among the ruins of the Industrial Revolution.”
The Guardian article, long forgotten, provides an interesting snapshot into the arguments that raged at the time.
It pointed out that after 1969, things had started to go wrong. In May 1971, a joint report by the city engineer, the city planning officer and architect, and the general manager of the transport department, had taken a gloomy view.
‘Although a large highway construction programme has been embarked upon,’ it said, ‘the growth of vehicular traffic is much greater than the growth of road capacity. The disparity has been obvious for many years and there seems negligible hope of it being ended in the foreseeable future.”
The report estimated that the proposed highway system, capable of carrying about 50 per cent of commuters to work by car, would cost ratepayers another 20p in the pound, which was probably acceptable, but that a system by which nearly everyone went by car could cost £300m, or another pound on the rates, clearly unacceptable. If the ‘compromise,’ £65m system was going to get clogged up anyway, was it worth building at all?
Waterhouse identified growing opposition within the council.
Sir Ron Ironmonger, Labour’s council leader, admitted that a growing number of councillors were against the scheme, and there had been public exchanges between the planning department and engineers.
The planners, headed by R. Adamson, felt that the engineers were going about the job the wrong way: instead of giving priority to the inner ring road, which everybody thought essential, construction had been advanced near the city centre. This meant that the civic circle – the inner ring road ultimately intended to carry only local shoppers and delivery vans – was being used as a throughway.
But the engineers, under K.D. Wiilliams, replied that highways the size of the inner ring road – a six-lane urban motorway – didn’t happen overnight.
It seemed that Sheffield residents didn’t know what they were in for but would soon find out. The new interchange between the inner ring road and the Parkway was near completion at the bottom of Commercial Street. Sheffield Parkway was also being built and would be the main route into the city centre from the M1.
But the argument in 1971 was that traffic coming into the city centre was being diverted onto newly-constructed roads, because there was no proper inner ring road. And it was causing problems.
On Commercial Street itself, a bridge was being widened to take four lanes of traffic. It joined the civic circle at Castle Square, where traffic and pedestrians were already separated – cars at ground level, pedestrians underground. But before the road got there, it had to pass Fitzalan square, one of the principal routes for shoppers on foot. Everybody agreed this was a problem, but work on widening Commercial Street continued anyway, despite open criticism from Labour councillors.
There were others also opposed to the scheme. Dr Leonard Taitz, a young South African doctor, working in Sheffield, was convener of the Conservation Society’s national transportation working party. He had started a campaign to bring the road building programme to a halt while a new policy on integrated transportation was formulated.
New roads were being built within the city centre but there were design flaws.
He cited the case of Furnival Gate, also a four-lane highway which, he suggested, was bound to be used by commuter traffic, but which divided The Moor and Pinstone Street, two proposed precinct streets. A subway to take people under the road had already been built, while Charter Row, another radial, had a barrier down its middle which cut a whole segment of the city from the centre.
He argued that these roads were primarily being used by commuters cutting across town. But Mr K.D. Williams, head of technical design at the engineers, said this wasn’t the case, and that they were a necessary part of an integral system, that will one day be blocked off to prevent through traffic, and channel motorists to off-street car parks.
Whatever the interpretation, the roads were ‘not a pretty site.’ Certainly not ‘Sheffield’s Champs Elysees,’ as a councillor had called Arundel Gate.
Robert Waterhouse asked the important question? Would the new roads ever carry the massive traffic that Sheffield had come to expect? Would the inner ring road be built as a motorway, and would Sheffield get its two, or even three, motorway links with the M1?
Sir Ron Ironmonger pointed out that after 1974, highways would become the responsibility of the new South Yorkshire metropolitan authority and had no wish to make any drastic moves at such a late stage, and cited Nottingham which had done away with a major part of its road programme. (Sir Ron later became leader of South Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council).
What did happen?
The 1970s proposal for the Inner Ring Road was abandoned because it would have destroyed important heritage assets like Kelham Island and the canal basin, and cash, as ever, was the stumbling block. But we did eventually get an Inner Ring Road, but it took a long time for it to be completed in its entirety.
We can thank Duncan Froggatt, a Chartered Engineer, in his excellent book, ‘Sheffield – A Civilised Place’ (2018), for providing the timeline.
“The inner relief road had started in the 1960s starting with the dualling of Netherthorpe Road. But the later stages came much later with St Mary’s Gate and Hanover Way widened to dual carriageways in the 1980s.
“Sheaf Street was improved in the early 2000s leading to the improvement of Sheaf Square and subsequently links to St Mary’s Road up to 2009.
“The northern section from Sheffield Parkway to Penistone Road was built in two phases in the 1990s. The phase from the Parkway to The Wicker was completed in 2000, originally called Cutlers’ Gate, but later renamed Derek Dooley Way. The next stage, between the Wicker and Shalesmoor was finished in 2008.
“Once completed, it provided a continuous loop of dual carriageway, clockwise from Granville square in the southeast to Sheffield Parkway in the east, linking all main arterial routes in the city.”
All done and dusted, but these days it is what is happening within the Inner Ring Road that creates the interest.
Mr Williams’ plan for streets to be blocked off to traffic within the city centre did and continues to happen. Fargate and The Moor were the first to be pedestrianised, Pinstone Street is in transition, and Arundel Gate will be downgraded.
But what nobody in the 1970s envisaged was something that had been around for centuries… and that was the bicycle. Cycle routes, and the eagerness to cut car emissions, while greening our urban spaces, means that Sheffield city centre will eventually change beyond recognition.
I leave you with a story. Last week, I had to travel by car from one side of the city centre to the other. By foot it was less than a mile. By car, I travelled 2.5 miles.
“Driving into Sheffield, I was looking forward to my friend’s hen-do. We had booked a city centre apartment, a spa day and a restaurant. What could go wrong? Yet, an hour-and-a-half later, I was bellowing tearfully into my mobile at my boyfriend: “You came to university here. Where AM I?” What had caused this emotional meltdown? Certainly not a fall-out with my friends – I hadn’t even seen them yet. Instead, my fun-filled city break had been spent navigating a series of roundabouts on the city’s ring road which kept spitting me out with increasing ferocity. Sheffield’s inner ring road has been tormenting drivers since 1961. Like many of the nation’s worst ring roads, it twists you round its little finger only to catapult you into bus-only zones or roads that lead you off in the opposite direction to the one you need.” – Jenny Scott – BBC News – 2014
NOTE Robert Waterhouse is a journalist. Starting on the Guardian in Manchester and London, he turned freelance and was launch editor of the daily North West Times. He is a co-editor of the review Mediterraneans. His books include The Other Fleet Street, a history of national newspaper publishing in Manchester.