This photo reminds me of a story brought to my attention a few years ago by Michael Dolby. It is rather a sweet late night tale.
In 1939, the American jazz pianist and singer, Fats Waller, played his first European concerts with a tour of the Moss Empire’s theatre circuit. One of those dates included a performance at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre on Charles Street.
“I will never forget how on a tour of the English provinces we were playing the Empire Theatre, in Sheffield,” Fats once wrote. “After theatre is our usual time for relaxation and following dinner, I roamed restlessly through the beautiful park there. At dawn the birds awakened, and out of their lively chirpings one short strain stood out. I went back to the hotel, and by ten o’clock that morning, with the aid of some delicious Amontillado sherry, we had finished ‘Honey Hush.’ You see, it’s fifty percent inspiration and fifty percent perspiration.”
The song was co-written by Ed Kirkeby and recorded in New York later that year.
Legend says that the ‘beautiful’ park was the Peace Gardens, laid the year before, in 1938, but known then as St Paul’s Gardens, in recognition of St Paul’s Church that had been demolished.
But there are also suggestions that the park might have been the Botanical Gardens.
I can confirm that Waller played the Sheffield Empire that year, and that he stayed at the Grand Hotel on Leopold Street. Therefore, it seems more than likely that the park was indeed the Peace Gardens, at least that’s what I’d like to believe.
And so, in the middle of the night, when the Peace Gardens are deserted, sit down, listen carefully, and remember this story.
While you were sleeping last night. This is a wet and deserted Earl Way, which lies parallel between The Moor and Eyre Street.
If we go back to Norman times, and the time of Thomas de Furnival, this was thought to have been the site of a large ditch at the edge of Sheffield Deer Park, one of England’s largest deer parks, and spanning a circumference of eight miles in total.
Earl Way is modern compared to most Sheffield roads. It was created in the second half of the twentieth century when this part of the city centre was redeveloped. Prior to this, there were three significant roads in the vicinity.
These were Porter Street, that ran diagonally from Hereford Street, towards Moorhead, and Porter Lane, a narrow road that linked it with Union Lane.
Union Lane once ran from Charles Street, near to the Roebuck Tavern, across Furnival Road (now Furnival Gate) and ended at Jessop Street (where the Moor Market now stands). The only surviving section of Union Lane is behind Derwent House, near The Roebuck (think deer).
In this photograph, it would have run along the left hand side where the former Plug nightclub and Kit-Kat car-park stand. Porter Street would have been to the right.
If we could go back in time, right in the centre of the picture, and in the middle of the road, would have been Porter Street School.
There were two reasons why Earl Way came into being.
Up until the 1930s, this was an area of back-to-back housing and designated for slum clearance. Then came World War Two. German bombs caused extensive damage around The Moor, Porter Street, and Eyre Street, leaving the site to be redeveloped afterwards.
Union Lane disappeared, and Earl Way was built as a link road to Earl Street (seen running across the end of the road here).
And familiar landmarks appeared too, including the Pump Tavern, later demolished to make way for the Moor Market, and Violet May, a record shop, run by a pivotal figure in the development of the music scene in Sheffield.
Perhaps the most dramatic modern building is the Kit-Kat car-park, designed by Broadway Malyan in 2008, and sold for £9m last month by joint owners NewRiver and BRAVO Strategies.
A photograph that will confuse younger generations. Doing an excellent job at imitating the London Underground, this was Charles Street Station, pictured in 1983. This was a theme bar, but such was the authenticity, that Omnia, the online cultural site, includes the image on its London Underground pages. It was incorporated within the Isaacs Building, built by David Isaacs, a wallpaper merchant, in 1905.
Isaacs Building was an example of Edwardian entrepreneurship, the ground floor containing seven shop units with an assembly hall above, its entrance being from Charles Street. The top floor of the building contained offices and several workshops, mostly rented by enterprising tailoring businesses.
The assembly hall was once the Sheffield Trades Club and in the 1970s was converted into a nightclub, its various incarnations being Faces, Raffles, Charlie Parker’s and Freedom. For a time, the old basement was used as Charles Street Station.
The bar was short-lived, and the entire building was demolished in 2020 as part of the Heart of the City redevelopment. Its replacement, modern office-space, with ground-floor retail units, is nearing completion, and is also called Isaacs Building.
A few weeks ago, I was in a bit of a quagmire. I had pages and pages of research notes and needed something to piece them together. I spent hours cross-checking facts, but a vital link was missing. And then I found a letter in an old newspaper that proved to be my eureka moment.
The letter was written in 1933 by Henry Tatton, who solved my mystery in five short paragraphs. I was ecstatic and thought it only right to thank him on my Facebook page.
Sadly, Henry will not have seen my appreciation because he is long-dead. But I could imagine an elderly gentleman, writing at his kitchen table, not knowing how important his words would prove to be almost ninety years later.
And then, I decided to find out a bit more about him. What I found was quite significant.
Sheffield has had fine historians – Robert Eadon Leader, Rev. William Odom, Edward Vickers, Peter Harvey, the list goes on – and the name of Henry Tatton should also be included. He turned out to be a prolific letter writer, each one providing insight into our history.
Henry was born in Sheffield in 1864, the son of Adam and Mary Tatton, and lived at Sheaf Gardens. He was educated at Brunswick Wesleyan Day School and in 1878 was working as a pattern maker to Thomas Steade, iron founder, in Cemetery Road.
He married Susan in 1889 at Townhead Street Baptist Chapel and lived at Lancing Road, off Shoreham Street. In 1898, they had a shop in Matilda Street and, along with his father, an ironmonger’s stall in the Norfolk Market Hall.
It is said that, after moving to 69 Ranby Road in 1919, Henry learnt to draw, and began recording his memories in a series of notebooks. However, I suspect that his talents went back much further when, as a young man, he appears to have studied drawing at the Sheffield Mechanics’ Institute.
His drawings were copied from old newspapers, but many were originals. The reason he gave for his work was his ‘love of his native Sheffield.’ He retired in 1929 and, despite failing eyesight, completed his third notebook in 1931. Six years later, in 1937, the three thick foolscap notebooks were presented to Sheffield City Libraries, where they remain.
One of the factors that makes the books even more interesting were the dated notes of the state of each building when he wrote. He paid particular attention to any prospect of demolition, and this was often the reason for choosing a building to sketch.
In 1939, Henry added to his reminiscences with thirty-six closely-written manuscript pages.
He recalled the time that he saw the last stagecoach come into Sheffield. It was from Chesterfield and stopped at the Travellers’ Rest on The Moor. Shops under the names of Roberts, Atkinsons, and Binns, were just being opened.
After giving close details of shops and other buildings in High Street, Church Street, Fargate, Angel Street – which were then only wide enough to allow the passage of two wagonettes – he told of the suburbs as they were in those days.
The outskirts of town were surrounded by natural beauty, and bounded by Sharrow Lane, Collegiate Crescent, Rock Street, Hyde Park, and Shrewsbury Road.
Ironically, Henry recalls that a fine row of trees was cut down at Highfield, and the resulting public outcry in newspapers against what was considered ‘destruction.’ Yes, history does repeat itself.
He also remembered the days when there was neither ‘telephones nor telegraph’ and ‘hot’ news was collected by hansom cab. Handicap races were run in Hyde Park, and he recalled thrilling races between cabs going to the newspaper offices with the results.
Henry died, almost blind, in 1947, aged eighty-six, and was buried at Norton Cemetery.
There is a rare book, ‘Fine Old Sheffield – An historical walk with Henry Tatton’, edited by Sylvia Anginotti, with meticulous research by Sylvia Jackson, which shaped this article, and the time is right for his notebooks to be reproduced in a book.
All these years later, it seems strange that this post is cheaply imitating what Henry did best. He saw significant changes, but it might be one he could never have imagined – the internet – that reawakens our interest in one of Sheffield’s forgotten men.
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.
I’ve always said that what interests me most about old buildings is not what you get to see, but what you don’t. It’s about those hidden rooms, above and below, that get forgotten over time.
The next time you walk down Fargate, look up, and wonder what happened in those rooms above shops. What secrets do they hold?
And so, I’m delighted that 20-26 Fargate, subject of an earlier post, has thrown up interesting photographs, including a disused lift shaft, going back to the Victorian times of Robert Foster and Sons, milliners and furniture sellers, and a quite unexpected staircase.
Sheffield City Council has submitted a planning application for proposed alterations to 20-26 Fargate. The council bought the building in 2021with the intention of turning it into a cultural hub which supports and offers additional opportunities to use external events space.
The intention is to provide a part community, part commercial offering, which will function as a blueprint and catalyst for further regeneration of Fargate.
The council intends to repair, refurbish, and re-clad the existing building, retaining the existing structure where possible, and ensuring that alterations are kept to a minimum.
It was constructed in the late 1800s as Robert Proctor & Sons, a large drapery and furniture store running from 16-30 Fargate, adjacent to Coles Corner. It survived the 1940 Blitz, although suffered fire damage, and as a result was altered by the 1950s.
After Proctors left, the shop was used by various retailers including Chelsea Girl in the 1970s, and more recently Clinton Cards and KIKO (later Elite Vapes & Phones).
However, by the time the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 the building was standing empty.
20-26 Fargate is a five storey building (6 including the basement level) with a deep footprint that extends back towards Cutlers Hall. It sits mid-way along Fargate and stands taller than its immediate neighbours and benefits from glazing to the rear (north) facade, providing additional daylighting to the floor plates on levels 3 and 4, as well as views across to the cathedral.
A flat roof area presents the potential to bring daylight to the rear of the second floor also using roof lights. The architecture is of a mid-19th century construction with a stone tiled facade above. The fourth storey is set back from the main facade and was constructed later. The building is currently in need of significant refurbishment, to meet current building regulation requirements.
The main architectural intervention has been to introduce a double height glass entrance to provide active frontage along Fargate and to increase visibility into the building.
A new stone feature surround is proposed at ground and first floor level to retain the impression of a single feature entrance and to acknowledge the original historic façade that was later damaged and subsequently remodelled.
During research into the recent story on William Henry Babington, the Sheffield photographer, this grainy image from a copy of The Swimming Magazine in May 1916 came to light.
This intriguing photograph features members of Sheffield Water Rats, an ‘all the year round bathing club’, whose members enjoyed themselves in the “fine open-air pool in Endcliffe Woods, about a couple of miles from the centre of town.”
The Water Rats were an all-male club and to qualify for entry into this select family of ‘rats of the pool’ one had to swim winter and summer in Endcliffe Bathing Pool for a period of six years. The ‘King Rat’ was Mr Walpole Hiller who had started about 1894, although he was surpassed by Mr C Foster who taken his first all-year round dip in 1891.
“How many persons would come down to the pool on a foggy autumn morning almost before it was light, plunge into the water, only to find they had a companion in the way of some poor suicide, and yet turn up the next morning as if nothing had happened?”
A tradition for the Water Rats was to take a plunge on Christmas morning, often reported by local newspapers. The custom was to take a dip at 9.30am and afterwards indulge in mince-pies, rum, and coffee.
“They quickly undressed, posed for a ‘snap’ on the edge of the pool, and then plunged in and swam their morning round, coming out glowing with health to dress leisurely and have their customary ‘constitutional ‘swallow.’ There was no shivering or trembling; they behaved with the aplomb of the summer girl basking in the sunshine on some seashore.” – Sheffield Daily Telegraph – 2 January 1923.
Members became older and more ‘youthful’ ones couldn’t make up the numbers. By 1937, the Water Rats tended to only venture out at Christmas, unlike the newer Spartan Swimming Club that had started taking to the open-air Millhouses Bathing Pool every morning.
Endcliffe Bathing Pool had opened after Sheffield Corporation purchased 20 acres of Endcliffe Wood from the trustees of Robert Younge of Greystones. William Goldring was commissioned to adapt the land for public use in 1886, part of which was converting Endcliffe Wheel mill dam as a place for boys and men to bathe.
However, the bathing pool always attracted unwanted attention due to mud and debris washing into it from the adjacent banking.
“I think it is most disgusting,” said one correspondent in 1896, “the water is almost stagnant, in some parts the floor is quite a foot thick with mud and refuse, whilst in other places there is nothing but glass and stones.”
“This pool would be a source of health-giving pleasure to hundreds of men and boys, were it only made clean and wholesome, and the supply kept free from the rubbish which now pollutes it,” said another in 1904.
“A type of woman, and also girls, whose idea of modesty seems to be at a low ebb, persistently come behind railings on the far bank, and also into the enclosure itself. Many of the men are nearly naked, and some of the boys quite so. A park keeper reports coarse language at times,” reported somebody else in 1909.
Endcliffe Bathing Pool closed for cleaning in 1938 and appears never to have reopened. It was filled in and today is understood to be the site of the children’s’ playground.
May 1850. Water that flowed down an underground sewer in Howard Street had formerly been derived from springs in the neighbourhood. It ran down the hillside and emptied into the River Sheaf near the Pond tilt. All went well until several properties in Eyre Street, at the top of the hill, started emptying waste into the drain. It might not have been an issue had it not been for Thomas Dewsnap of Arundel Works, who discovered that his father had diverted the sewer to a reservoir at the works and used the water to power a steam engine. The reservoir water started giving-off a foul smell and after numerous complaints from neighbours was deemed to be injurious to the health of the neighbourhood.
A few weeks ago, Sheffield councillor Chris Rosling-Josephs, called on developers to be ‘more creative’ and build a 50 storey tower block so the city can have taller buildings than Leeds.
This might well happen, but for the time being the tallest building in Yorkshire is Altus House in Leeds, at 374ft. Sheffield’s tallest building is City Lofts, or St Paul’s Tower, at 331ft.
But the tallest building crown will switch to Sheffield soon.
Work has started on Code Sheffield, three blocks of 12, 17 and 38 storeys costing £100m. Foundations are being dug on the site which borders Rockingham Street, Wellington Street, and Trafalgar Street, and adjacent to Kangaroo Works. Once completed it will be 383ft tall.
It is a significant change for this part of the city centre which was once developed with terraced back-to-back housing and small factories.
The site of Code Sheffield is no different, except that the eastern part of the site was once Mount Tabor Chapel, with a small steel works (Foundling Works or Samuel Buckley Styrian Steel Works) to the south-east along Rockingham Street.
The Chapel was built in 1837-1838 for the Reverend Robert Aitken, a Wesleyan minister. The Wesleyan Reformers purchased the chapel in 1853 and redecorated it as the Mount Tabor Chapel but did not alter the layout. A Sunday School was later built on the land to the west. Both buildings are shown on 1923 and 1935 OS maps and there were plans to improve it in the 1940s, but by the 1950s it had been replaced by the Mount Tabor Printing Works.
The printing works were recorded in the trade directories of 1948 and 1957 as belonging to Saville Press Ltd and Greeting Card Ltd. This building was demolished in 1962-63.
Later buildings on the site included the telephone exchange, which replaced back to back housing, last occupied by the South Yorkshire Housing Association, and Wellington House, which contained Clark and Partners, providers of mobility aids and services.
The One-Stop garage at 210 Rockingham Street was recorded as a garage in 1968 and later as motor radiator repair shop for W.H. Tyas, subsequently occupied by Marston Radiator Services.
All these buildings were cleared in advance of present building work.
However, there is a further twist as to which city will have the tallest building. Plans have already been approved for a 43-storey tower block in Leeds.