Categories
Streets

When the Victorians complained about our roads

By the 1870s, many Sheffield roads had been laid with macadam but the corporation found it difficult to maintain and keep clean. As such, many roads were ripped up and replaced with granite setts.

Complaints about pot-holes always cause a stir. But you might be surprised to know that our roads have long been the subject of contention. The columns of local newspapers have been filled with grumbles going back to Victorian times.

The grievance was the type of material used to surface our streets. As Sheffield grew, the network of roads expanded, and many of the main streets were overlaid with cobbles (water-rounded stones collected from beaches and rivers), irregular flat-shaped stones, or more commonly, slag macadam.

In the 19th century, cobbles were replaced with round or hexagonal wooden setts, probably creosoted Norway pine, that provided a safer surface for horses and wagons. They gave a better grip for horse-shoes and the iron rims on wheels, and reduced the noise of traffic.

Wooden cobbles unearthed on Hodgson Street. Picture: Nigel Humberstone

The wooden setts, although abundant in supply, proved expensive, and granite setts, squared off by hand, were brought to Sheffield from several locations, including Cornwall, the Channel Islands, and then increasingly from Aberdeen.

Once worked, granite setts were capable of much greater precision of laying and could help construct a far smoother street surface. They lasted for 30 years, hardwood for 15 years, and afterwards could be taken up and redressed.

However, the people of Sheffield objected to granite, complaining that noise generated by horse-drawn traffic was too loud. On West Street, wooden setts had been laid to make it quieter around the Royal Hospital, but ratepayers on the other side, on Division Street and Devonshire Street, protested that noise from granite was “nerve-racking,” “a distinct disgrace to the city,” and “enough to send people to the county asylum.”

There was a bigger drawback. Horses tended to slip on granite causing serious injury, sometimes death, to the animals. It was reason enough for Sir John Bingham, head of the firm of Walker and Hall, to campaign against their use in the 1890s.

Bingham had good reason to dislike granite setts. When driving a high dog cart, one of his horses had slipped and fallen, pitching him out onto his head. He started a crusade and gained support from Reuben Thompson and Joseph Tomlinson, proprietors of Sheffield’s two largest horse-drawn cab and omnibus firms.

“I, like many others, have been injured for life upon these granite setts, and I feel most strongly that where they are laid, they should be properly and regularly roughed. About a year ago, accidents happened on the same day to two of our leading steel manufacturers, Colonel Vickers, and Sir Alexander Wilson, one of them having his horse killed, the other being seriously injured, and will bear deep scars on his forehead so long as he lives, and says will never drive again in Sheffield.”

Bingham re-entered the council to enforce his views and was eventually able to stop granite setts being used on Sheffield’s main streets.

In 1895, he discovered that the stringy bark of a Tasmanian tree could be combined with granite to create a safer, quieter, and more durable road surface. He developed Bingham Patent Paving, first used on Norfolk Street, and then across many of the city’s main streets.

However, by the 1920s, the use of asphalt  meant that Sheffield Corporation hadn’t bought any wood or granite setts (or Bingham’s paving) for several years. Asphalt had been created by accident in Kent after tar barrels had fallen onto a road and broken. Ultimately, it was discovered the part of the road covered with tar was found the best, and afterwards the use of tar had spread all over the country.

It resulted in most of Sheffield’s cobbled streets being covered over, a practice that continues to this day using modern techniques.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of granite setts in streets across Sheffield, and some of the wooden setts have even resurfaced in recent years, notably on Hodsgon Street, near the Moore Street roundabout, and on Sackville Road, at Crookes.

Highways supervisor Gary Booth examines some of the wooden blocks in 2018 at the Streets Ahead Olive Grove depot. Picture: Sheffield Star

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

20-26 Fargate

The units are occupied by a mobile phone and vape shop and a discount fashion retailer – which already has a ‘closing down’ sign in the window. (Sheffield Star)

The subject of city development is emotive. People have different opinions. As someone who looks at historical detail, we’re no different to our ancestors.

In Victorian times, people agreed or disagreed about Sheffield’s redevelopment. Sheffield Corporation was always in the firing line. The difference now is that we’re able to make our views known on a much wider and accessible platform.

This piece of news will provoke the same split opinion.

The Sheffield Star has revealed that Sheffield City Council is about to complete the purchase of 20-26 Fargate, the former Clintons card shop opposite Marks and Spencer, to become ‘Event Central,’ a six-storey flagship for the city’s ‘burgeoning creative sector.’

The acquisition and revamp of the building will consume a ‘sizeable’ chunk of £15.8m the authority won from the Future High Streets Fund, a partnership with Sheffield University, to improve Fargate and High Street.

How it could look by March 2024. (Sheffield City Council)

Prof Vanessa Toulmin, of Sheffield University, who led the bid said she would like to see the top floor used for music gigs and practice sessions. Event Central could also host festival events, such as for DocFest, and acts displaced by the closure of venues. There will also be co-working space, exhibitions and a café. The operating model had not been finalised but was likely to be a commercial and public sector partnership.

As part of the masterplan, the top of Fargate will be reconfigured to provide outdoor space for major events. The scheme is expected to attract 110,680 visitors annually. Meanwhile it is hoped that ‘Front Door Access’ to old offices above shops will spark investment in new flats.

The top of Fargate will be reconfigured to provide outdoor space for major events. (Sheffield City Council)

Categories
Places Streets

Kelham Island

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

Once a rural idyll, along came industry, and Kelham Island became famous for its factories and works. It’s hard to believe that in a remarkably short space of time, the last remnants of industrial heritage are being squeezed out, and Kelham is becoming one of the “coolest places to live in Britain.”

Here’s an extract from Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People’ (1876), in which Richard Leonard remembered the days before industry.

“Beyond Bower Spring, the footpath – Cottonmill Walk – was the continuation of Spring Street. It ran in the direction now taken by Russell Street, across ‘Longcroft,’ as the open space was called in 1771, towards Green Lane. Of course, it took its name from the cotton mill of Mr Middleton.

“An open stream ran from the top of Cornish Street, in front of Green Lane, and emptied itself in the Don, below where Green Lane works now stand. On the other side of the stream were cottage gardens. Middleton’s silk mill – built in 1758, burnt down in 1792, and the cotton mill, re-erected on the same site only in turn to be burnt down in 1810, and again built only to become the Poor-house in 1829 – stood alone in its glory, its nearest neighbour being Kelham Wheel, still there, as it had been at least as long before as in 1674, on the now covered-in ‘Goit’.

“Across the river was the suburb of Bridgehouses, and all around was verdure. Those were the days when ‘the old cherry tree,’ whose name is now perpetuated only by the public-house (on Gibraltar Street) and the yard where it stood, was still young, and when Allen ‘Lane’ and the Bowling Green marked the extremity of the inhabited region of Gibraltar. Beyond the road ran between fields – ‘Moorfields’ (now Shalesmoor) – and on to the distant rural haunts of Philadelphia and Upperthorpe.”

The photographs show Citu’s recent sustainable housing development at Little Kelham (Little Kelham Street).

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)
Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Orchard Street

Sheffield’s forgotten street. It is hard to imagine that Orchard Street was once one of the city’s most important thoroughfares. (DJP/2021)

Never did a street fall out of favour as Orchard Street did. This narrow thoroughfare was once the main route between Church Street and Fargate, bustling with commerce, with horse-drawn carriages and carts squeezing past each other.

Neither did the creation of Leopold Street diminish its popularity, although only a small portion of the street retained its name.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, and the creation of Orchard Square, that it was relegated to become the back door to shops, and a place for lads to have a quick wee on a Saturday night.

It is an incredibly old thoroughfare, though the name Orchard Street wasn’t given to it until comparatively late.

Formerly all the land in the triangle between Church Street and Fargate consisted of orchards and gardens, but warehouses, shops, and cutlery works gradually covered the space.

In the early 1700s, it is referred to as Brinceworth’s Orchard, while in Fairbanks’ Plan of 1777 it was known as Brelsforth’s Orchards, and in the 1787 Directory it is described as Brinsworth’s Orchards. A document of 1763 gives the address of a trader as Brinsford Orchard. Both Brinsworth and Brelsford, or Brelsforth, are old Sheffield names, and possibly the various names indicate changes of ownership of the orchards through which the street passed.

Eventually the personal names were dropped, and the thoroughfare simply became Orchard Street.

In 1980, the surviving portion of Orchard Street was still popular with shoppers. Most of these properties were demolished to make way for Orchard Square. (Picture Sheffield)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

Leopold Street

Work in progress. The pedestrianisation of Leopold Street (above), Pinstone Street, and Surrey Street, will create a traffic-free Town Hall Square. (DJP/2021)

Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.

As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873.  Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.

Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.

A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square

By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.

Aerial view of Leopold Street. The Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square are centre. Before 1880, the main route between Church Street and Fargate was along narrow Orchard Street, to the left, which curved at its junction with Orchard Lane (where the mini-roundabout is today). The top-end of Orchard Street (near to Fargate) was absorbed into Leopold Street. (Google)

The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.

The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”

It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.

A street sign on the wall of what was once Firth College, at its junction with West Street, and now part of the Leopold Hotel. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Fargate

Fargate once extended from High Street up to Balm Green at Barker’s Pool. It now finishes at the junction of Pinstone Street and Leopold Street. (Image: David Poole)

Although one of the oldest streets, Fargate hardly appears to have cut a conspicuous figure in Sheffield history. It boasts no long roll of distinguished residents, and no catalogue of inspiring buildings.

It was never part of Sheffield’s business district, but reinvented itself to become one of the best shopping streets in Sheffield, the result of street widening in the 1880s.

By the 1920s, Fargate was entering its golden period, described as the ‘street of many windows,’ with pavements packed with shoppers.

“There is a charm about it at all times, early in the morning when trams are disgorging their hundreds of workers, and a few hours later when limousines, jaunty sports models, and cheery old-timers, stream through the centre of Sheffield one after another. It is the happy hunting ground of all shoppers, whether of the leisured class who saunter up and down between the hours of 11am and 1pm, or the busy housewife who finds that afternoons are more convenient and joins the crowd always to be found – especially on Saturday.”

Fargate became Sheffield’s first pedestrianised street in the 1970s and missed a trick. It was perfect for open-air café culture, but it never materialised. Fargate struggled to charm and was at its best when the pop-up Christmas market appeared.

Then, along came Meadowhall, the internet, pandemic, and lockdowns.

Fargate is suffering from the collapse in retail with an increasing number of empty shops. (Image: David Poole)

Sheffield’s ‘best’ street is in trouble, empty of workers and shoppers, and vacant shop units growing by the week. All this might change with plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield to change Fargate and High Street into a ‘high-quality place to live, work, and socialise.’

Finally, the mystery of how it came to be called Fargate.

The road was obviously a ‘far gate’ with historians suggesting it was the farthest gate from Sheffield Castle. However, digging into the archives there might be a more plausible explanation.

Back in the 1600s, travellers heading towards the Parish Church (now the Cathedral) crossed a cornfield (Paradise Square) and entered a gate at the corner of what is now the corner of Campo Lane and Paradise Street. The other gate was called the ‘Far Gate,’ at what is now the High Street corner of the Cathedral forecourt, hence the name Fargate.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Black Swan Walk

Black Swan Walk. A tale from the 1980s that suggested ghostly secrets. Image: David Poole

I am reminded that back in the eighties, an old man told me that one night in the 1950s he watched a horse and carriage pass down this lonely dead-end street and stop outside the building to the right. Its passengers dismounted and disappeared through a doorway. The carriage moved off and vanished into thin air.  The man dared himself to wander down the lane. All the property was in darkness, locked-up for the night, and where the carriage disappeared stood only a high brick wall.

Today, I waited for someone at the opening to this lane, known as Black Swan Walk, when a mother and child walked past. The small boy looked down the desolate lane and said to his mother, “I want to see the horses.” She laughed and dragged him about his business.

In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee of the Black Swan public house, £11,600 for his land, and demolished the pub to allow for the widening of Fargate. The freehold was sold to Alwyn Henry Holland, provisions merchant, who built No. 9 Fargate, a narrow shop, still standing, and sadly empty, in between Black Swan Walk and Chapel Walk.

In later years, Holland bought adjoining land on Chapel Walk and built eight shops in English Renaissance style with the Howard Gallery above. Access to the art gallery was from Chapel Walk, with a carriage entrance around the back in Black Swan Yard. Alas, it was a dead end, and a turntable was assembled at the end of the lane that allowed carriages to be spun around and head back the way they came.

Wander down here today, and you will see that the outline of this turntable survives in concrete, with an old mechanism rusting away in a corner.

That story from the 1980s might have been the roguish imagination of an old man, long dead, but a lot of history remains in our forgotten streets.

Black Swan Walk, where carriages were turned around using a turntable that surprisingly survives. Image: David Poole
Victorian engineering. Hidden by an abandoned shopping trolley, and a handy place to dry a mop. Image: David Poole

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Another old building falls victim

Admire this old building while you can… because its days are numbered.

Down it will come, to be replaced with a 27-storey residential development that will provide accommodation for more than 500 students.

Niveda Realty has been granted planning permission for the Calico Sheffield development on the site bounded by Hollis Croft and Broad Lane in the city’s St Vincent’s Quarter.

It will mean demolition for this 90-year-old building, originally constructed for the Hallamshire Tyre and Motor Company in 1930, and recently occupied by Sytner Sheffield.

The smell of oil, grease and petrol is a vague memory for the art-deco building, remarkable for the clever configuration of ground-floor windows that reduce in height with Broad Lane’s incline.  

A familiar site for over 90 years (Image: David Poole)

This area was once considered a slum, with an outbreak of cholera in 1832 blamed on poor sanitation. This caused an exodus of the better-off and the area became the preserve of the working-class poor, with a large influx of Irish immigrants seeking work in the growing cutlery trade in the years following the potato famine.

The site eventually became the Royal Oak public house, fronting Hollis Croft, with access to Court 2, Broad Lane, and a blacksmith. By 1928, they had been replaced with a large building for the Dunlop Rubber Company and shortly afterwards Nos. 2-4 Broad Lane were built alongside for the Hallamshire Tyre and Motor Company, tyre and tube repairers, petrol and oil dealers, motor-car, and electrical engineers.

It was owned and operated by Charles M. Walker, of Whirlowdale Road, and Maurice F. Parkes, of Hoober Road, who turned it into a limited company in 1932.

Hallamshire Tyre & Motor Co in 1939 (Image: Picture Sheffield)

The firm became the Hallamshire Motor Company, specialists in Standard, Triumph, Ford, and Vauxhall cars. It subsequently became an Austin-Rover dealer on a new site, on the opposite side of Hollis Croft, until the franchise was transferred to Kennings who built a showroom next door.

The Hallamshire Motor Company became the Sheffield dealer for BMW, modernising the old workshops to sell used cars, and in 1995 was acquired by Nottingham-based Sytner Group to become Sytner Sheffield.

Sytner transferred to purpose-built premises at Brightside Way in 2017 leaving the old site vacant for development.

Awaiting demolition. 2-4 Broad Lane. (Image: David Poole)

Had the building been anywhere else, it might have been suitable for use as an exhibition or art-space (reminiscent of the Kenning’s Building on Paternoster Row), but the area’s multiplying student accommodation meant the outcome was predictable.  

The new development will replace the old garage. (Image: den architecture)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Victoria Road: an elegant street

Victoria Road, at Broomhall, is built on land that was once attached to the estate of Broom Hall, the manor house, and belonged to the de Ecclesall family, the Wickersleys, and the Jessops, until the death in 1734 of William, Lord Darcy, after which it passed down the female line to the Rev. Wilkinson, Vicar of Sheffield, in the late 18th century.

He died in 1805 and the Broom Hall estate passed to Philip Gell of Hopton, and from him to John Watson of Shirecliffe Hall, who farmed the land for 20 years, and from 1829 split and leased plots for development.

As Sheffield grew, there was an increasing demand for suburban villas to the west of the town where occupants included manufacturers of steel, cutlery, and edge tools.

Victoria Road, named in honour of our Queen, was laid out in 1855, the road curving from Broomhall Road to join Collegiate Crescent. It was a mix of detached and semi-detached properties, the larger houses built at the top end of the road, close to old Broom Hall, with smaller dwellings at the opposite end.

Little has changed since Victorian times, the houses are much the same, except the trees have grown much larger, and the stone walls at the front of each plot still hide what goes on behind.

Back then, this was a road of masters and servants, horse and carriages, gas lamps, grand staircases, busy kitchens, elaborate dining-rooms, lively drawing-rooms, large bedrooms, and fine furniture.

The likes of Daniel Doncaster, William Christopher Leng, and Miss Witham’s Boarding School moved on, to be replaced with new generations of professional people, who lost sons in World War One and witnessed the bombs of World War Two.

But Sheffield continued to grow, Broomhall was at the edge of the encroaching city centre, the affluent people moved farther away, and the area was blighted by nearby dereliction. Prostitutes moved into adjacent streets and the Yorkshire Ripper was caught just up the road.

Nevertheless, Victoria Road maintained its dignity.

And then it all changed for the better.

The Broomhall estate has become one of Sheffield’s hidden secrets, a leafy suburb, with new professionals, and students, and where it is a joy to walk through its streets and marvel at the architecture.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

The widening of High Street

High Street as it was during the 1880s. (British Newspaper Archive)

Back in Victorian times, High Street and its approach was compared to a bottle, of which the approach was the body and the street the neck.

From the Churchgates (Sheffield Cathedral) the road tapered away until constricted at what was known as ‘Grundy’s Corner’ – the bulging portion of which had been an eye-sore for years.

Horse-drawn traffic was the problem, and every year the neck became increasingly congested.

Plans to divert traffic away from High Street were considered impossible, and the Town Council had considered an ambitious widening of the street as far back as 1875.

However, it involved demolishing buildings and prompted objections from shopkeepers concerned about compensation and property boundaries, and it wasn’t until the 1890s that work started.

These two illustrations from 1890, both taken from Coles Corner, showed High Street as was, and the proposed widening of the street.

The proposed High Street widening from 1890. (British Newspaper Archive)

It was completed in 1895-1896 and involved demolition of buildings on the south side (to the right), replacing them with elegant Victorian structures, including the Foster’s Building.

Sadly, the Blitz of World War Two destroyed most of the property and we are left with twentieth century replacements including what was once Walsh’s department store, an old Sheffield name that mutated into Rackhams, House of Fraser, eventually handed over to TJ Hughes.

Only one building survives both sketches and is as familiar today as it was then. Parade Chambers, built for Pawson and Brailsford by Charles Hadfield, and constructed by George Longden & Son between 1883-1885.

High Street before the street widening of 1895-1896. (Picture Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.