The old man with the pipe made another impromptu appearance. This time, outside the Town Hall. He looked sad as he rested underneath a lamppost. Good evening, I said. He didn’t answer straightaway. “Aye lad, it is a good evening.” He looked towards the Peace Gardens and sighed. “I must take leave of you lad. Tonight I’m meeting up with my family in the churchyard..” He walked away and I was distracted by the chimes of the Town Hall clock. When I looked back, the old man with the pipe faded in a light mist and was gone. Happy Easter everyone.
Hereford Street’s greatest moment was when Queen Victoria officially opened Sheffield Town Hall in May 1897 and travelled down here on her way to Norfolk Park. It might be hard to believe now, but let your imagination do the rest.
“To stand on The Moor, at the top of Hereford Street, and look down the latter thoroughfare affords the spectator a great amount of pleasure. A scene is presented of bright flags of dainty and artistic colours, fancy streamers of every description, while other kinds of bunting and bannerettes float out gaily in every direction.
“Venetian masts are erected on either side of the street, 15 yards apart, and are surmounted by large gilt spearheads, while banners, shields, and trophies of flags are fixed to each mast. Every alternate mast has a pedestal covered with crimson cloth and gilt ornamentation, and at the summit of each pedestal is a group of real plants.
“Across the street at intervals are fixed canopies of handsome floral work, and streamer flags of harmonious colours and flower baskets are suspended from the centre of each floral canopy, with lines of streamer flags along the street at either side connecting the masts with the whole design.
“The buildings, too, in Hereford Street have been dealt with in the most artistic manner. Flags float out bravely from the tops of the principal works and houses, and on the fronts are displayed handsome shields, backed up with designs of small flags and other similar trophies.
“As the time arrived for the stopping of traffic, the corner where Hereford Street joins the Moor became so blocked with cars, cabs, and buses that the Derbyshire police, who extended from the top of Hereford Street along part of St Mary’s Road were hard put to it to prevent serious accidents.
“People would still insist on leaving the shelter of the barriers and coming across the road, and then, as likely as not, they were stranded amongst the horses and vehicles, who, being unused to the terrible commotion, were almost frantic and the drivers, but for the efforts of the police, could not possibly have helped running down some of these belated wayfarers.
“However, this was soon cleared, the arrival of the 1st Battalion of the Hallamshire Rifles having a great deal to do with the transformation.
“The men were placed eight paces apart and covered the entire length of Hereford Street and part of St Mary’s Road.
“The crowd was very orderly, only a few attempting to elude the vigilant eye of the constables, and those that attempted this being in most cases drunk.
“As the time wore on, however, getting tired, perhaps, and some of them thirsty, occasional rows occurred. People attempted to change their positions and their neighbours’ mild remonstrations gradually developed into what may be styled ‘words,’ and again, in some cases, where the sum was particularly irritating, into blows.
“The few fights, however, that did take place soon raised cries of ‘Police!’ and the guardians of the peace immediately quelled the disorder and left the combatants to sing and shout once more with the rest.
“Several cases of fainting occurred, and it was rather unfortunate that at this point of the route there was no ambulance corps, but the gallantry to the ladies of the rough and ready grinders was quite touching, and these were immediately made room for even in the thickest crushes.
“Of course, skits and jokes passed amongst the members of the crowd, but, as a rule, the language was ‘fit for the Queen.’
“Stands, windows, and roofs were all crowded, and the number of people in the street was, as far as can be judged, above the average.
“The procession passed, the military lined up, and the crowd in one huge migration, made tracks, some for the park, and others in order to get another view, if possible, along South Street, Park.”
Do council officials, working late at Sheffield Town Hall, ever hear strange noises in the stilly night?
Do they listen with bated breath to the sound of prancing horses and the ghostly cries of coachmen?
Or, when all is quiet, does a rich melodious voice, declaiming in grand style, passages from Shakespeare, ever strike their astonished ears?
Or, do council officials ever work late? Or do they work from home now?
If there is any such things as ghosts, Sheffield Town Hall must be peopled with a vast multitude of them.
New Church Street (not to be confused with Church Street, near the cathedral) was demolished about 1890 to provide room for the Town Hall. It lay almost through the middle of the site of the Town Hall, from what is now the (padlocked) main front entrance, to a point in the west wall opposite the Mercure Hotel.
The Cutlers’ Arms can be seen almost in the centre of the picture, with three people near the doorway, and was the terminus for all the Derbyshire coaches.
“It was a great sight to see them coming in from Tideswell, Castleton, Baslow, Bakewell, and other places. Each coach had its name; the only ones I can remember are the ‘Lady Peel’ and the ‘Surprise,’ both of Castleton,” said Ambrose J. Wallis, who owned the photograph in 1931.
“Next to the Cutlers’ Arms were the Old Green Man and the Grapes – three public houses in a row.
“Almost opposite the Cutlers’ Arms was the house of a man who used to engrave memorial plates, one of which was in York Minster.
“His wife kept a theatrical boarding house, where a number of famous actors stayed. The most famous of all was the great Shakespearean actor, Henry Irving.”
At another house, higher up New Church Street, Mr Wallis said, there lived a man called Dunkerley, who was one of the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Sheffield’s third Town Hall was designed by Edward William Mountford, a London architect, and opened in 1897. Its clock and tower, the face of our city, stands at the north-east corner, over 100ft high and topped with a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking.
The tower is built on a bed of concrete, 30ft square, and 25ft thick; the concrete itself resting on solid rock. At ground level the walls are about five feet thick, and when it was built the strong room for the City Accountant was located here. The dome and spire at the top of the tower are covered with copper.
It was always thought that the tower was made of ‘Stoke’ stone from Stoke Hall Quarry, near Grindleford, but restoration work in 2017 revealed that it was from a long-disused quarry at Walkley.
The Town Hall clock was the work of William Potts and Sons, Leeds, clock makers to Queen Victoria, and was constructed to strike the quarters and hours on heavy bells. However, Sheffield Corporation waited for somebody to show their public spirit and provide the bells – something that never happened – and without it the striking parts of the clock were useless.
The frame of the clock was in one solid casing, planed perfectly flat on the top and bottom surfaces. It rested upon iron girders, supported by stone corbels built into the tower wall, and provided a rigid foundation for good time-keeping.
The large main wheels for the hour and quarter parts were 22 inches and 20 inches in diameter, respectively. The hour main wheel had ten steel cams attached for lifting the hammer to strike the large bell, with the quarter wheel having suitable cams in readiness for the ‘phantom’ bells. The large gong wheel was 20 inches in diameter.
There was special arrangement for accurately discharging both the hour and quarter parts, with set dials showing both seconds and minutes, and was known as the double three-legged gravity, the invention of Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, the man behind Big Ben’s clock, with the two seconds pendulum compensated for differences of temperature and heavy cylindrical bob.
There were four dials, each 8ft, 6 inches in diameter, formed of skeleton iron castings filled in with opal glass, originally illuminated at night by gas, with suitable reflectors behind. The hands were made of stout copper, counterpoised inside, and the motion wheels were made of hard brass, the teeth cut out of it. The bevel work was carried by light iron girders placed across the clock room, and the whole clock was enclosed in a neat wooden case to keep it clean.
It was not until 2002 that the Town Hall got bells – but nothing as elaborate as once intended. The chimes that now ring out across the city centre comes from an electronic sound-system providing hourly strikes and Westminster-style quarter chimes.
The clock tower was exposed to Sheffield’s pollution and weather for well over a hundred years and had to be restored at a cost of £86,000 in 2017. The original ironwork which had corroded within the structure was exposed and treated and indent repairs were conducted to the ornate carved capitals. Other masonry was repaired and repointed, as necessary. In addition, new rainwater pipes, asphalt floors and gutters were installed. Suitable fine sandstone providing a good match with the original stone was sourced from local suppliers based in Chesterfield.
Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.
The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.
Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.
Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street
Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.
Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.
Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.
Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.
The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?
Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.
The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.
Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?
We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.
Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.
We walk over them regularly, and might be guilty of not giving them a second glance.
These are the Sheffield Legends, stars that line the pavement outside Sheffield Town Hall.
This is Sheffield’s Walk of Fame, honouring those who have achieved national or international acclaim. As in the Hollywood version, there are plaques with people’s names on them and why they are celebrated.
The idea was first suggested in 2005 when the people of Sheffield were asked who should be honoured after a local resident suggested honouring the footballer Gordon Banks, who grew up in Sheffield.
Nominations are considered by an independent selection board representing various sectors across the city such as the arts, sport, education, media, and business, and chaired by the Lord Mayor.
To date, the inductees are:
Gordon Banks – England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Sean Bean – film and TV actor Joe Cocker – singer Sebastian Coe – Olympic medal winner and President of the International Association of Athletics Federation Derek Dooley – Footballing legend for United and Wednesday Dame Margaret Drabble – internationally respected novelist and critic Dame Jessica Ennis – Olympic Champion, double Outdoor and Indoor World Champion athlete Professor Barry Hancock – OBE, world renowned cancer expert Brendan Ingle – world famous boxing manager and trainer Def Leppard – top-selling rock band Nick Matthew – world squash champion David Mellor – internationally renowned cutlery designer Michael Palin – famous film and television personality Steve Peat – champion downhill mountain biker Helen Sharman – first British astronaut Joe Simpson – renowned mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker Joe Scarborough – one of Sheffield’s finest artists Michael Vaughan – one of this country’s most successful cricket captains Clinton Woods – world champion boxer Grace Clough – Paralympic gold medallist, rowing Tony Foulds – the man who inspired the spectacular flypast to remember those who died in the Mi Amigo wartime plane crash
It is the “garden at the heart of the city”, and yet, the small plot at the corner of Barker’s Pool and Balm Green has never officially been named. It has been here since 1937, but these days most folk barely give it the time of day.
Barker’s Pool Garden, Balm Green Garden and Fountain Square are three of the names that have been attributed to it. However, when J.G. Graves, to whom Sheffield owes so much, attended the opening in 1937, he thought it unnecessary to give a name to the garden, but he had in mind its proximity to the City War Memorial.
“It will, I hope, provide a note of quiet sympathy which will be in harmony with the feelings of those who visit the War Memorial in the spirit of a visit to a sacred place.”
This garden, 400 square yards in size, would never have been created had it not been for the opening of the City Hall in 1932.
The land was owned by the adjacent Grand Hotel, the plot used as a car-park enclosed with advertising hoardings. But to J.G. Graves, it was an “eyesore”, obstructing the view of the splendid new City Hall from the Town Hall and the top of Fargate.
His solution was to negotiate the purchase of the land from the hotel. He paid £25 a square yard and outlined his plans in a letter to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mrs A.E. Longden: –
“When planning the new City Hall, the architect, in order to give due importance and dignity to the elevation, placed the front of the building at some distance from the existing building line.
“This, of course, enhanced the architectural appearance of the Hall, but has had the incidental result of obstructing a view of the Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall corner, as is partially done now by the hoarding which surrounds the intervening plot of vacant land, and if in due course a tall building should be erected on the plot referred to, the possibility of a view of the City Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall would be completely lost.
“I feel it would be a misfortune if, through lack of action at the present time, building developments should proceed which would permanently deprive the city of an impressive architectural and street view at its very centre.
“With this in mind, I have arranged to buy the plot of land in question at its present day market value, with the intention of establishing thereon a formal garden, already designed by an eminent firm expert in this class of work.
“With this explanation I have the pleasure of offering the piece of land as a gift to the city, together with the garden which I propose to have established thereon at my own expense, and with the condition that the garden shall be maintained by the Corporation in as good a state as it will be when it is handed over on completion of the work.”
The gift was a personal one, not connected with the Graves Trust, and duly accepted by Sheffield Corporation.
In 1937, the Grand Hotel announced proposals for extensive alterations and to place their principal entrance on Balm Green. The whole of the corner was now thrown open and the new garden would later adjoin the forecourt to the Grand’s main entrance, running from Barker’s Pool to the building line of the hotel.
To complete the scheme the Grand Hotel management decided to reface the whole of the side of the hotel with a material approximate to the colour of the stone of the City Hall.
The garden had been laid out by “a famous firm of garden landscapers,” railed off from the footpath, with a border of shrubs, crazy paving, a fountain, and a water runway to a lily pond, and various flower beds.
A huge crowd gathered for the official opening on August 3, 1937.
“We shall always be proud of this garden, because it is not only a gift for all time,” said the Lord Mayor. “I hope the garden will become a real garden of remembrance for the future generation, who could thank the beauty of mind and heart which prompted the gift.”
Of course, two years later, Britain went to war with Germany again, the symbolism of the garden perhaps lost on the despairing public. However, the garden has remained, although J.G. Graves’ conditions seem to have been forgotten by subsequent councils.
The fountain was eventually removed, the condition of the gardens fluctuating between mini-restorations, but its current state is a pale shadow of its original glory.
We might do well to remember the terms of J.G. Graves’ gift, although progress often comes into conflict with the past.
In 2019, initial plans were announced by Changing Sheffield action group (formerly Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group) to create a unique space featuring ten large musical instruments and mini-trampolines, although the status of the application is unknown.