Late Night Tales Streets

Charter Row – while you were sleeping last night

Charter Row, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

Charter Row, 3am. This is a relatively modern road, created in the 1960s when Sheffield, like other cities, tried to separate cars from pedestrians.

According to Harman and Minnis in Pevsner’s Architectural Guide, the inner ring road (a revival of the Civic Circle from 1945) was only partly completed, comprising Arundel Gate, Eyre Street, and Charter Row, while St. Mary’s Road and Hanover Street were upgraded to form an outer ring.

Charter Row runs roughly along the course of Button Lane that ran between Moorhead and the junction of Moore Street and Fitzwilliam Street. It was heavily bombed during the Blitz of 1940 and remaining slum housing and workshops demolished.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Snig Hill – the mystery in its name

Snig Hill, looking down towards Bridge Street. Snig Hill Police Station can be seen on the right. Image: DJP/2022

Mention Snig Hill and most people will attach the name to the police station that has stood here since 1970. But Snig Hill refers to the sloping road between the bottom of Angel Street and West Bar. This was once a bustling thoroughfare but has been slowly downgraded because of traffic flow changes.

It is not an unpleasant place. The ‘grey-to-green’ project has seen the introduction of trees and wildflowers to re-connect the Castlegate area with the rest of the city centre and re-use redundant highway. And it soaks up rainwater that would have flowed into the nearby River Don, therefore reducing the risk of flooding.

The mystery about Snig Hill is how it got its name. It has mystified Sheffielders for centuries and various suggestions have been put forward.

Snig Hill, street sign. Image: DJP/2022

Once upon a time, there was a corn mill at Millsands, next to the River Don, and to access this, people used a packhorse track running between high banks behind gardens of old houses that stood on what is now the right hand side of Snig Hill going down the hill.

According to J.W. Farnsworth in 1939, this became so waterlogged in wet weather with rain and the sewage that drained from the Beast Market, that it earned itself the name of Water Lane (think, Hen & Chickens, now Castle Green).

When Snig Hill was made and cobbled, the ancient lane fell into disuse, and several townsmen built houses. On the opposite side, at what became the Black Swan Hotel, was Costnough Hall which stood just below the Irish Cross at the junction of Angel Street.

The hall disappeared, and Snig Hill became a narrow street, and the projecting upper stories of the houses gave an appearance of still greater narrowness.

J.W. Farnsworth’s sketch of old Snig Hill. Costnough Hall is seen on the left. Image: British Newspaper Archive

And so, to the name. In dialect English, of the word ‘snig’ there were five meanings: (1) To cut or chop; (2) to sneak off; (3) to drag over the ground; (4) close and private; (5) a small eel.

One suggestion was that ‘Snig Hill’ derived its name from the fact that it was the incline up which the ‘trees’ were ‘snigged’ from the lower area (the area down to the banks of the river, say) which no doubt was very well wooded at one time.

A ‘snig chain’ was also the chain used for hauling timber or attaching an extra horse to a wagon. At our Snig Hill, it was said that a horse was once kept to ‘snig’ up the hill any wagon that paid a small fee.

But Sidney Oldall Addy in ‘A Glossary of Words used in Sheffield,’ published in 1888, thought differently.

“To snig a load of anything up a hill is to take up the load in two or more instalments. For instance, a load of timber might be left at the bottom of the hill. Each portion brought up would be called a snig. The incline of the hill is not great, and the hill is small. Snig Hill thus appears to mean Little Hill. I think this is really the meaning, there being no proof that the timber was ever dragged up the hill in instalments.”

But he contradicted himself in ‘The Hall of Waltheof,’ published in 1893.

“The word snug, meaning lying close and warm is identical with the word snig used in this street name. It is not the hill in this case, which is snug, but the narrow old street, and had it been Snicket Hill, the meaning would have been clear.”

Others thought that it took its name from the practice of putting a ‘snig’ or length of wood through the back wheels of carts going down the hill to act as a brake.

Snig Hill, looking towards Angel Street. Image: DJP/2022

Willis Crookes, of Normandale, Loxley, said in 1930 that at the Bridge Street end  of Snig Hill, there was a depression in the road, where a pool once existed, and which was really a backwash of the River Don. He told of his boyhood (the 1870s), when he often talked to old men who told him that in their young days it swarmed with eels.

When anybody wanted a fish dinner they took a long stick with a cleft in it, pushed it into the mud of the pool, and dragged out an eel. This useful form of diversion was called ‘snigging.’

A far more likely explanation came about the same time from somebody who said that an old relative had been a stagecoach driver between Leeds and Sheffield. Among stories passed down in his family was one to the effect that the flour ground at Millsands was put into barrels and were ‘snigged up t’hill.’ He suggested that ‘to snig’ was to roll the barrel up the slope and put a under it.

However, it seems that the true meaning of ‘Snig Hill’ may never be known.

South Yorkshire Police at Snig Hill. It was originally built by B. Warren, Sheffield’s Planning Officer and Architect, as force headquarters for Sheffield and Rotherham Constabulary in 1970. It is now the police station covering Sheffield city centre. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Kelham Island – new planning application for apartments

Architects plan for 180 Shalesmoor, Sheffield. Image: CODA Architecture

The appeal of Kelham Island shows no signs of abating. Next up is a planning application for 122 apartments and a commercial unit in a six storey block at the corner of Corporation Street and Alma Street.

The planning application, called 180 Shalesmoor, has been submitted by CODA Architecture on behalf of R.S. Sabkha Construction and Developments Ltd.

The site is currently occupied by a few car repair workshops, a collection of one and two storey buildings in various states of disrepair.

Back in the 1700s this was an area of orchards and fields related to Coulston Croft, but the area was divided up along the Don into parcels of land which would later be filled by industrial development.

The area known as Kelham Island was one of the largest and most significant industrial zones in Sheffield. Its position along the River Don was very advantageous in the early days of industry for transportation and power. The surrounding areas such as St. Vincent’s and Bridgehouses were densely packed residential areas, many traditional back-to-back style houses were home to the many industrial workers for Kelham.

Existing site. Image: CODA Architecture

The site itself has housed some form of industrial property since it was first built on. It was originally called Mill Works, and maps dating back to 1850 show a steel and iron wire factory on site called Pilot Works which occupied much of the site, part of which became Corporation Street when it was introduced in the 1860-70s. Sections were added and removed from the works over the early 20th century.

Most recently it was occupied by City Centre Clutch, Yello Car & Van Hire, and VMC Bodyshop fronting along Corporation Street. It was on the market for £1.4m and was bought in December.

180 Shalesmoor, Sheffield. Images: CODA Architecture

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds

Backfields looking towards Division Street in 1937. Image: Picture Sheffield

Backfields, a cess-pit of filth, was how it was described in the 1870s. These days, we know it as an unassuming narrow lane running between Division Street and Wellington Street. Once it was rural idyll, the fields behind Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) but by the mid-1800s contained slum housing and workshops.

There were a few unsavoury public houses to satisfy the thirst of the poor and were joined in the 1850s by another one.

It was an ambitious attempt by John Banks to capitalise on the success of ‘The Book of the Age,’ and he called his small hostelry Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, in full, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly,’ was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in serialised form in the United States in 1851-52 and in book form from 1852 onwards. An abolitionist novel, it achieved popularity, particularly among white readers in America’s north, by vividly dramatising the experience of slavery.

The first London edition appeared in 1852 and sold 200,000 copies. “Anything in such universal demand has never been known in the history of literature. Many booksellers aver that they are selling nothing else, the trade for the time being seemingly centred in this one book, which, unlike almost all others, presents equal attractions to both old and young,” reported the Sheffield Independent.

It was a brave move by John Banks, and one that probably raised a few eyebrows.

Very little is known about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and by the 1860s had been let out to another tenant before disappearing.

However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had another claim to fame.

In 1857, a new lodge in connection with the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds – Ashton Unity, was formed at the house of John Banks, under the sign of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

This strange society had been formed on Christmas Day 1826, when several groups came together to create a mutually beneficial society. It came into existence in consequence of the refusal of the officers of the Manchester Unity to permit the opening of an additional lodge in Ashton-Under-Lyne.

The aim of the Order of Ancient Shepherds was “To relieve the sick, bury the dead, and assist each other in all cases of unavoidable distress, so far as in our power lies, and for the promotion of peace and goodwill towards the human race.”

They drew their mythology from biblical sources, emphasising pastoral aspects of mutuality that could be exercised for and by members of the lodge.

The pioneers attached importance to regalia and symbolism. When completing lodge business all members had to wear aprons made of lambskins with the wool on. The Chief Shepherd was to wear a mantle. Guardians were decorated with sheep shears, and to wear broad brimmed hats, and the Minstrel was to carry a harp, an imitation of the Biblical shepherd David.

In 1829 it was designated the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. Loyal referring to the Crown, and Shepherds referring to the nativity of Jesus.

Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. A photograph of typical regalia. Sadly, not in Sheffield, but taken at Springhills, Shotts, about 1896. Image: North Lanarkshire Council

Shepherdry was introduced into Sheffield with the Shepherd’s Care Lodge in 1852. It was followed by the opening of the Sir Colin Campbell Lodge in 1853 and afterwards several other lodges, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opened.

It held its national AGM at the Cutlers’ Hall in 1867 and at the Church Institute in 1886. It survived in Sheffield until 1930 when all the Sheffield District lodges transferred to the City of Leeds District.

Interestingly, the society still exists, and became Shepherds Friendly in the 1990s, now offering Isas, investments, life insurance and income protection.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Backfields – while you were sleeping last night

Backfields, looking from Division Street. Image: DJP/2022

While you were sleeping last night. Backfields, 3am. A forgotten thoroughfare amid 21st century redevelopment. A street with an undesirable history. Our ancestors imperilled this narrow street to crime – stabbings, muggings, and death, and I doubt that Sheffield has another street which suffered so many devastating fires.

In 1872, a Dr Hime expressed his opinion that it was not surprising that there should be so much sickness in the town while there were such places as Backfields and the neighbourhood.

Backfields led from Division Street to Wellington Street, off which were alleys and passageways with access to Coal Pit Lane, and Carver Street. It was an area of dirty, dense, back-to-back housing, and small workshops.

It was a cess-pit of filth, but it hadn’t always been like this.

Once upon a time, Backfields was exactly that. The fields beyond Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street), once the distant boundary of town, was where cows grazed, sheep gambolled, and children played in the meadows.

Cometh the Industrial Revolution, no trace of its rural past existed.

In the same year that Dr Hime pontificated about Backfields, the Sheffield Independent provided a unique account: –

“On the eastern side of a yard there is a privy that must do duty for a considerable number of houses, and it is scarcely equal to the duty. The ashpit is more than full – it is overflowing. It has made an encroachment almost into the middle of the yard, in front of the doors of some of the houses and extends about twenty feet until its further extension laterally is stopped by the water branch.

“It is the same in every yard. Near St. Matthew’s Church there is an ashpit adjoining the street, piled up high beyond the retaining walls, and the rubbish falls onto the footpath leading to the houses. The passages are worthy of exploration. A visit to them will show that the ashpit question, though a grave one, is not the only point affecting the sanitary position in Sheffield. Air, light, ventilation, and crowding have much to do with it, and many of these places ought to be improved off the face of the earth.

“There is a passage, the old entrance to which has been removed by the erection of a privy, and the actual passage left would scarcely admit the entrance to a turtle-fed alderman. But there are other privies, not only as bad, but worse. One could not be seen because the doors were closed. The other could not be seen because the doors could not be closed. But here, as in the other case, a solution has been found. Human necessity is strong in resources; and the depositions that should be made in the privies are made in or thrown into the passage. These premises are stuck over with notifications from the Health Committee enjoining cleanliness on the inhabitants, in circumstances and under conditions where it is impossible to be clean!

“Yet again, in these jennels and passages, there are active business proceedings carried on. In one of them, there is a bakery, where spicy-looking buns were being made for the delectation of young Sheffield, which may be very excellent in their way, though fastidious people would prefer that the materials of their food should not be exposed and manipulated in such unsavoury localities. In another passage, a large tray of pork pies was met ready for the oven. These ‘Melton Mowbrays’ may be all that could be desired; and the givers of picnics will perhaps feel obliged for hints as to the possible sources of their pies and buns, or other delectable confections manufactured over conditions of sweetness that may impart a flavour and improve the appetite.”

It took years for things to improve. A hundred years later, the houses had finally gone while recession claimed industry and commerce. St. Matthews is perhaps the only reminder of our inglorious past.

Sheffield did little to redevelop Backfields and it is only now, with the Heart of the City project, that the area has been embraced. Tower blocks are not long from completion, and people, maybe descendants of those who ate spicy-buns and pork pies, are returning.

But, as somebody recently pointed out to me, are we simply building the slums of the future?    

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


A narrow cobbled lane with a violent past

Penton Street, looking towards Bailey Lane. Image: DJP/2022

I love those Sheffield streets that people struggle to identify with. This is typical of Penton Street, a short, cobbled road that slopes diagonally between Trippet Lane and Bailey Lane. It might serve little purpose nowadays, but if we go back in time, this was a residential street amidst factories.

This street was once a haven for criminals, many living in old houses deemed dangerous, injurious to health, and unfit for human habitation. It was no surprise that violent attacks and street robberies around this narrow, congested street, were not uncommon. There were tales of suicide, domestic abuse, and personal tragedy, within these slums.

To get an idea of what Penton Street was like, the oldest known novel about Sheffield, Put Yourself In His Place, written in 1870 by Charles Reade, a contemporary of Dickens and Elliott, is loosely based on the true story of a London woodcarving-tool maker, James Bacon Addis, who was brought to the town by Ward and Payne, and provided an account of the ‘Sheffield Outrages,’ the battle to protect union membership, often through violent means.  And Penton Street was always at the heart of the unrest.

In 1886, the street was at the centre of a riot at the factory of Ward and Payne, edge tool and sheep shear manufacturers. A crowd of two thousand youths, congregated in Bailey Lane, Trippet Lane, Penton Street, and West Street, and armed with stones, smashed hundreds of panes of glass. The rioters believed that German grinders had arrived to replace workers sacked by the company. In truth, no foreign workers had been employed.

A big fire in 1929 at the factory of F.G. Gill, putty knife manufacturers, threatened to burn down all the houses in Penton Street. People evacuated their homes and hastily removed furniture before the fire was brought under control.

Industry has long gone, as have the houses, but a huge block of student accommodation now lines one side of the street. And, of course, Trippet’s Lounge Bar, formerly the premises of Bowler J. Dewsnap, cutlery manufacturers, occupies the triangle of land on the right.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Streets

Cambridge Street – while you were sleeping last night

Image: David Poole

Cambridge Street at 3am. The changing face of our city centre.

Grosvenor House, home to HSBC, with the reflection of the almost-complete Isaacs Building opposite. Both buildings form part of Sheffield’s Heart of the City development.

Once upon a time, this was the site of Barrasford’s Hippodrome presenting music hall acts and films projected from the Barrascope. It was soon renamed the Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties and was Sheffield’s largest theatre. 

It eventually became the Hippodrome Cinema, demolished in 1963, and the Grosvenor House Hotel and retail outlets built in its place. History likes reinventing itself, and the hotel was itself demolished in 2016-2017.

Hippodrome Theatre opened 23 December 1907 as a Music Hall. Became a permanent cinema on 20 July 1931. In 1948, came under the management of The Tivoli (Sheffield) Ltd. Closed 2 March 1963 and demolished. Image: Maurice Parkin/Picture Sheffield 

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Those glass panels beneath our feet

I was on Trippet Lane the other day, answering a telephone call, when I looked at my feet and realised, I was standing on a piece of history. Beneath were glass panels that were common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More importantly, it tells us that there is a lot more going on underneath our pavements than we can see.

These are pavement lights that were installed to illuminate the space below, usually a basement or cellar. It was a way to lighten spaces where natural light wasn’t available and a way to avoid using gas, oil, and candles. It also indicates that basements often extended underneath the pavement and sometimes beneath the road as well.

The earliest pavement light was developed in America by Edward Rockwell in 1834 using single large round glass lenses set in an iron frame. The lenses often broke and it was Thaddeus Hyatt who corrected the faults with his Hyatt Light of 1854. They had protruding iron knobs, designed to protect the glass, and even if the lenses were broken the panel would still have been safe to walk on.

They first appeared in London in the late 1880s in the form of cast iron frames glazed with cut squares of glass. In time, the glass was replaced with pressed glass prism lenses designed to transmit as much light as possible. It wasn’t long before other towns and cities, including Sheffield, adopted them too.

Pavement lights were extremely popular, but they weren’t without problems. It was the responsibility of shopkeepers to replace broken squares, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to sustain injury after catching their heel in a hole. There were stories of small children getting their foot stuck in them and in World War One, wounded soldiers were reported to have had their crutch caught in them. Discarded cigarettes dropped through a broken panel were also the cause of many a fire below.

Pavement lights waned in popularity with the introduction of the electric light but have made a comeback in recent years.

They are far more common in Sheffield than you probably realise and provide clues that there are underground secrets waiting to be explored.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Streets

Thomas Street – the people are returning

Thomas Street, looking towards Moore Street, with a covered walkway between Cosmos, recently constructed student accommodation.

This was formerly the site of Stokes Tiles, but back in 1892 we would have been looking at a much narrower Thomas Street, with the Noah’s Ark public house evident. The council paid £750 for 113 square yards of freehold land from Tennant Bros for the purpose of widening these streets.

Former back-to-back housing in the area was cleared and made way for industry, but times change, and the people are returning.

In the background is the Moorfoot Building, and Wickes, this land now under ownership of NewRiver, owners of The Moor, and I’m informed will be assigned for further residential development.

Cosmos. New student accommodation situated at the corner of Fitzwilliam Street and Moore Street. The people are returning to Sheffield city centre. Image: DJP/2021

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Grinders Hill – while you were sleeping last night

Grinders Hill. Lonely at 3am. A shortcut for our ancestors… a shortcut for us now.

But it nearly wasn’t.

November 1935. “The City of Sheffield. Notice is hereby given that a certain public highway to wit a footway known as ‘Grinders Hill’ situate in Sheffield and running in a south-westerly direction between certain other public highways known as Paternoster Row and Leadmill Road shall be entirely stopped up as being useless and unnecessary for the public.”

The motion failed, and Grinders Hill is still with us.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.