Crookes Valley Park

Crookes Valley Park has long been a favourite for residents, workers and students, one of three Crookesmoor Parks, the others being Weston Park and the Ponderosa.

I doubt that many people will realise that this is one of Sheffield’s newest parks, named Crookes Valley Park in 1951 as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme.

Before this, the piece of land beneath Crookes Valley Road had been called the Recreation Ground, and the lake was referred to as the Old Great Dam.

However, the story of this park is fascinating and one that has probably been lost over time.

Our tale starts in 1782, when Joseph Matthewman, together with Messrs. Wheat, Lee and Gunning, of the Sheffield Reservoirs Company, were granted a 99-year lease by the Earl of Surrey to build a new reservoir in the Crookesmoor Valley.

They believed the supply of water to the town was inadequate and turned their attention to the deep valley at Crookesmoor which separated the townships of Sheffield and Nether Hallam, and where the sides of the hillside were abundant with fresh springs. The topography of the land allowed them to pin-up the water at little cost.

The Old Great Dam was completed in February 1785, spread over four acres and contained 21million gallons of water, fed by a small stream in its western corner.

It was later joined by the New Dam, Godfrey Dam, and the Ralph and Misfortune Dams, together with four smaller dams in the Crookesmoor Valley. They were later accompanied by the Hadfield Reservoir at Crookes, built at a height of 600ft above sea level.

Water was conveyed into Sheffield by wooden pipes, 1,100 yards to a working dam at Portobello, and then to a stone cistern at Division Street, then distributed through the streets in the upper part of town. The lower Crookesmoor reservoirs supplied the lower parts via Watery Lane.

The Old Great Dam was thought big enough to supply the town for years, but when the Sheffield Waterworks Company assumed responsibility in 1830, the population had grown from under 10,000 to nearly 50,000, doubling between 1780 to 1810.

The Crookesmoor Dams were no longer able to cope with demand and larger reservoirs were built farther out of town. All the dams, except Old Great Dam, were filled in, with the Town Trustees offering to buy part of its land in 1874 to create a public park or recreation ground.

The scheme failed and it wasn’t until the completion of Crookes Valley Road in 1893 that the idea was resurrected.

Before this time, the valley had been crossed using the Great Dam Road, roughly following the edge of the reservoir, but involved a steep descent.

A new road was required to link Winter Street with the other side of the valley, and a massive embankment was built between the two. The project needed 450,000 loads of material, and to assist, Sheffield Corporation offered a “free tip” whereby “good, hard, dry rubbish” could be taken for the formation of the road. For years afterwards, the area at the end of Winter Street was still referred to as “The Tip.”

In 1905, Sheffield Corporation created the Recreation Ground next to Crookes Valley Road with a shelter, the city’s first municipal bowling green, and tennis courts. However, the Old Great Dam, as well as the privately-owned Dam House beside it, remained untouched.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the Old Great Dam was turned into a boating lake, with thirty rowing boats, and the Dam House converted into the Festival Restaurant, offering “first class meals of a continental standard.” The whole area was renamed Crookes Valley Park.

Nowadays, the lake (as it has become known) is used for fishing, and don’t let anyone fool you that it isn’t deep.

Over the past 235 years, it has claimed hundreds of lives, most unaware of its chilly depths, estimated at between 45 and 60ft.


Dam House

This building has seen a lot of tragedy since it was built in the 1780s, initially as a home for the company secretary to the Sheffield Reservoir Company. Dam House, on Mushroom Lane, was built above the Old Great Dam, better known now as the lake at Crookes Valley Park.

Since 1951, Dam House has been used on-and-off as a bar and restaurant, but for 160 years beforehand it was a large house, owned by the reservoir company, and subsequently the Sheffield Water Works Company.

It’s fair to say that Dam House has witnessed an awful lot of drownings over the years. Suicides have been common, and accidental deaths numerous, whether the result of swimmers, both sober and drunk, misjudging the dam’s 60ft depth, or skaters falling through ice.

And, as we shall see, tragedy hasn’t been confined outdoors.

Let’s appreciate that this was once in rolling countryside, with spectacular views down Crookesmoor Valley, and it was only during the 19th century that the town advanced towards it.

In 1841, Dam House was advertised to let. “Beautifully situate at Crookesmoor, and commanding some of that delightful scenery for which the vicinity of Sheffield is so deservedly famous.”

The house had a spacious entrance hall, dining, drawing and breakfast rooms, and two kitchens, together with a two-stalled stable, coach house and requisite out-offices.

By 1848, it was occupied by William Smith, magistrate for the West Riding, director of the Midland Railway Company, and for many years chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company. A barrister by profession, he was an active friend of the Sheffield General Infirmary and of the Public Hospital and Dispensary (later the Royal Hospital).

Smith died a broken man at Dam House in 1864, shortly after the collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam, at Bradfield, that claimed the lives of 240 people. He’d resigned as chairman of the Sheffield Water Works Company, claiming ill-health, and died of probable heart failure.

It was next occupied by Michael Hunter, Jr., brother of Joseph Hunter, the antiquarian, who headed a cutlery firm and had been a Master Cutler. For 22 years he was a member of Sheffield Town Council, becoming its Mayor in 1881-1882.

He left for Stoke Manor, near Grindleford, in the 1870s, the house passing to James Bartlett, and subsequently to Dr Robert Salmon Hutton, head of a silverware company.

During the early 1920s, Dam House was inhabited by Gilbert Rowe, a civil engineer, who committed suicide by filling a room with gas in 1924.

It was later rented by Mr F.C. Lea, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield nearby. He retired in 1936 and the last occupant appears to have been E.J. Waller, a man with connections to Sheffield Corporation’s Water Department.

Dam House has always looked out upon the Old Great Dam (and at one time separated it from the New Dam behind, later filled in).

In 1893, Sheffield Corporation built Crookes Valley Road, a monumental engineering effort that needed 450,000 loads of material to build up an embankment.

The view from Dam House was thus restricted and the Recreation Ground was built alongside the road, adjacent to the dam, in 1905, with bowling greens and tennis courts.

The Old Great Dam was redundant by this time, and it wasn’t until 1951 that Sheffield Corporation made use of the land as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme, renaming the area Crookes Valley Park.

The dam was turned into a boating lake and Dam House was converted into the Festival Restaurant, complete with furnishings from Heal’s Contracts of Tottenham Court Road, London, and offering “first-class meals of a continental standard.”

Since then, Dam House has had a chequered history, changing ownership several times, and suffered a devastating fire in 1996 that gutted the interior and destroyed most of the roof. It was restored and reopened as a restaurant by Carlton Palmer, the former Sheffield Wednesday footballer.

After closing and standing empty for several years, it was bought by Kamalijit Sangha and Simrun Badh, both from Grenoside, in November 2011, functioning as the Dam House Bar and Restaurant ever since.


Mushroom Lane

This is the story of a narrow road with a magical name.

Mushroom Lane winds up Crookesmoor Valley, originally from St. Stephen’s Church at Netherthorpe (now called The Vine), but now assumes its name further up the hillside. It crosses over Winter Street, and winds between Weston and Crookes Valley Parks, before emerging at Western Bank, near to the museum.

These days, most people barely take notice of the name , and those that do often presume it relates to the growing of mushrooms on the hillside back in ancient times.

However, the tale behind Mushroom Lane is far more interesting than that and begins at a time when this area was simply fields, trees and rolling countryside.

In early days, great tracts of waste or common land lay between villages. This land belonged to no one and was sometimes referred to as “Folkland” – as we see in Fulwood, a corruption of “Folkwood.”

The villagers had free access to this land for grazing purposes, fetching and carrying wood and using it for the benefit of the community. There was no special right to any part because it belonged to all, in the true communal manner.

Under certain conditions, however, it was possible for an enterprising squatter, providing he was a free man and able to quit his Lord’s service, to obtain a tenure on that waste land.

This is how a house called Mushroom Hall came to be built.

In the year 1789, a man called Ben Pinder contrived to build and cover, between sunset and sunrise (that is in a single night), a house, and to boil a pot therein. Once completed, it gave him the right to hold the place under what was known as a Keyhole Tenure.

The house was built of sods, stones, brick-ends and other binding materials, and the springing up of the place in one night naturally led locals to call it Mushroom Hall. As time passed the house was gradually improved, and the track that ran up the hillside to it became known as Mushroom Lane.

It was later bought by Whittington Sowter, landlord of the delightfully named Warmhearthstone public house at Townhead Street in Sheffield Town.

The custom of Keyhole tenure and the boiling of a pot harks back to Pagan times when hearth fires were held sacred.

It wasn’t the boiling of the pot that made the tenancy complete, but rather the lighting of the fire that boiled it. The ever-burning village fire was held to be hallowed, and the kindling and the maintenance of the fire upon real estate was proof of lawful occupation and possession.

And so, Mushroom Hall and Mushroom Lane may sound ridiculous, but were named in quite serious circumstances.

What became of Mushroom Hall?

A far cry from its humble origins, it is now part of 362 Mushroom Lane, owned by the University of Sheffield, and where you will find the Department for Human Communication Sciences.


The tallest building in Yorkshire

Sheffield’s skyline is going to look very different in the coming years. With several high-rise projects in development, the news comes that planning consent has been granted for a £100million scheme that is set to include the tallest building in Yorkshire.

The plans from Code will include three buildings of 12, 17 and 38 storeys, located on a site adjacent to the Vita building between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Trafalgar Street.

At almost 117 metres tall, the main tower would be taller than a 114-metre Hume House scheme currently under construction in Leeds, which is set to become the tallest in the region.

It would also be 16 metres taller than St Paul’s Tower, Sheffield’s current title holder.

The co-living development is aimed at a mixture of students, post-graduates and younger people. It will feature a 24-hour concierge on site and communal space at both the ground level of the main tower and the top floor of the 17-storey block.

A total of 1,230 apartments will be provided, with the majority being studios but also one- and two-bedroom units.

Sheffield City Council’s planning and highways committee voted to approve the plans at a meeting yesterday (28 January).

Planning Officers had recommended approval after noting the quality of the design, and suggesting the building would act as a positive key marker for the ongoing redevelopment of the neighbouring Heart of the City II area.

Work to bring forward the development is set to begin immediately, with Code aiming to be on site to begin construction this summer. It was supported in its application by Howes Percival and Staniforth Architects.


Judy Parfitt

Judy Catherine Claire Parfitt, born in Sheffield in 1935 to Lawrence and Catherine Parfitt, and attended Notre Dame High School for Girls.

She later trained at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts (RADA, darling), graduating in 1953. She made her stage debut the following year with ‘Fools Rush In’ and since then it has been one long flood of theatre, film and television appearances on both sides of the Atlantic.

‘Of regal bearing and imposing stance,’ she hit TV heights with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1980), ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ (1984) and (he says tongue-in-cheek) that stuck-fast classic of ITV3 scheduling, ‘Murder She Wrote’ (1989).

Known to a new generation as Sister Monica Joan, an elderly nun, in the BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’ since 2012.

In her own words, she is an “old tart gainfully employed.”

Buildings Places

Orchard Square

Orchard Square was one of the first new-style retail developments that considered the existing urban landscape.

This was once the site of steelmaker John Brown & Co, who later merged with Thomas Firth & Sons to become Firth Brown.

The shopping centre was designed by Chapman Taylor Partners and completed in 1987, all-but obliterating properties that stood behind the Victorian façade bordering Fargate, Leopold Street and Orchard Street.

It was suggested, but extremely unlikely, that once former England football Emlyn Hughes had cut the ribbon, it was the most expensive retail area per square foot in Britain.

Impressive it was, an open rectangular courtyard, surrounded by new and old buildings, faced in red or yellow bricks with traditional building features like pitched roofs, casements and weather-boarded oriels. Its centrepiece was a square clock tower with chimes and moving figures that attracted hourly crowds.

But Orchard Square never lived up to expectations. Meadowhall sucked the life out of the city centre in 1990 and those shoppers that remained seemed reluctant to wander through the covered arcade linking it from Fargate.

Shops have come and gone, and a 2008 re-development removed the food court and the Stonehouse pub to facilitate a three-level TK Maxx.

The famous clock no longer chimes, and the twirling figures are locked behind closed doors.

As someone commented on social media, “the only thing that performs in this area now is the idiot coming out of The Bessemer across the road.” Quite sad really.


Old Red Lion

One Saturday night, in September 1926, Alfred Henwood finished his pint at the bar of the Old Red Lion on Holly Street and walked out. He returned just after time and said he had left his beer on the counter.

The landlord, Charles Foreman, told Henwood that he had seen him drink his beer. Not satisfied, Henwood picked up another jar of beer, which was not his, and refused to put it down. He told the licensee that if he could not have a pint, he would smash all the glasses. Thereupon he spread his arms around the glasses – five-and-a-half dozen – and every one was smashed.

He claimed in court that it was an accident but was fined £3.

Just another story in the life of an old Sheffield pub.

The Old Red Lion opened in 1822, life and soul for the surrounding houses and small industries. Slum-like flats used to be attached to the property, long demolished and the land vacant ever since.

The Old Red Lion, a William Stones establishment, moved with the times. The locals moved and industry declined but when the City Hall opened in 1934 it became a favourite watering hole.

In the 1980s it was remodelled – knocked through into the property behind – the former works of J.W. Northend, printers, which became a bar known as Barkers (becoming Edwards, later Reflex and now the Slug and Lettuce).

But times are hard now for the Red Lion. A separate property again, it’s nearly ten years since it closed and has been boarded-up ever since. The City Hall clientele prefer the Wetherspoon options at the front, and the Red Lion is stuck at the arse-end of West Street.


Velocity Tower

Things didn’t go to plan with the Velocity Tower, near Moore Street roundabout, at the edge of the city centre.

When it was built it should have been 30-storeys high, (an application for 36-storeys was wisely rejected by planners), but construction halted on the 21st floor, as the firm behind it went into administration. A student block alongside would have reached 18-storeys, containing 41 cluster flats, but only the ground-floor podium was completed.

In 2011 the complex went on the market for £10.5million and was eventually snapped up by Dubai-based Select Group.

A few corners had been cut during the initial build, something that Select have been able to rectify as well as completing the unfinished twenty-first floor.

More importantly, it agreed a deal for a £6.5million Ibis Hotel in the footprint of the proposed student block.

Work is almost completed on the seven-storey building, designed by Whittam Cox Architects, and will provide an extra 126 beds for the city centre. A coffee shop will be created on the ground floor along with the reception and (somewhat scanty) 14 car-parking spaces.

Meanwhile, planning permission remains for the 30-storeys at Velocity Tower, although the developer says there are no plans to extend higher.


Central Library

It’s 85 years since Sheffield Central Library opened, and it is showing its age.

The building was described as an ‘up-to-date wonder’ when it opened its doors in 1934. Its origins went back to 1853 when the city opened its first public library, the same year that the Libraries Act was adopted. The original library started in two small rooms in the Mechanics Institute, from which it grew until the whole of the building was required. There was a further development in 1910, when the Old Music Hall was purchased to start a lending library and reading room.

The site was a fitting one for a library because for 150 years it had been used by cultural, musical and educational bodies, scientific institutions and local trades. The land was formerly in the ownership of Henry Tudor, who built a house and silver plating works surrounded by an extensive garden about the middle of the 18th century. On his death, the estate was split up, part of it to the shareholders of the Music Hall. part of the land used to build a school and the house taken over by the Mechanics Institute.

After demolition, work on the new Central Library began in 1929, to a design by W.G. Davies, built with Portland stone around a steel frame, in Art Deco style, and opened in 1934 by the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother).

The idea was conceived as part of a plan by Patrick Abercrombie to create a civic square. It never materialised, although Tudor Square (named after Henry Tudor) was created alongside in 1991.

The Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums Committee had to spend their entire annual budget of £2,650 on stocking the new library. The total cost of the project was £95,000, including £10,000 from local mail order entrepreneur and philanthropist, J.G. Graves, who also contributed £20,000 for the Graves Art Gallery on the top floor, as well as his art collection.

In the Second World War, a bomb fell on Fitzalan Square nearby and the aftershock caused the library foyer’s marble floor to crack. The crack is still visible today and runs almost the full length of the foyer.

Do we still appreciate the 85-year-old lady?

Probably not. In 2017, Sheffield City Council, horrified at the cost of extensive repairs, announced plans to sell the building to a Chinese developer, which proposed converting the library into a hotel. Thankfully the deal never got off the ground.

Buildings Companies

Banner Cross Hall

In July 1932, the fate of Banner Cross Hall, on Ecclesall Road South, had been in the balance.

The old house had been on the market, subject of many rumours, and people in Sheffield feared that it would be demolished.

However, the announcement that Charles Boot, of Henry Boots and Sons, the famous firm of builders, had purchased the hall, did much to alleviate concerns.

The area of the land was just under four acres, and it was intended to accommodate all the firm’s staff from its original Moore Street premises.

In an interview with the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at his home, Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, Charles Boot (1874-1945) said that certain structural alterations for office purposes had already started.

“The front of the hall will be somewhat altered, but it is not my intention to do anything to destroy the amenities of the district,” he said.

Banner Cross Hall was begun in 1817 for Lieutenant-General William Murray by architect Jeffry Wyatt (afterwards Sir Jeffry Wyatville), who claimed it to be his finest work, and stood on the site of an ancient mansion.

It appears to have got its name from an ancient cross which stood near to the house, and in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) was known as Bannerfield, referred to as Banner Cross in the time of James I (1603).

General Murray had purchased the interests of the Athol family, and after building the hall, retired here with the intention of “spending within its tranquil shades, the evening of an active and honourable life.”

However, he died a year later and General Murray, by his will, gave Banner Cross Hall to his sister, Anne, the wife of the Rev. William Bagshawe.

The Bagshawe’s were a prominent family within Derbyshire and Yorkshire, with estates in Castleton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Ford, Hope, Norton and Wormhill; and in Ecclesall Bierlow, Fulwood and Sheffield.

Banner Cross Hall had remained with the Bagshawe family until going to market.

Tenants of the hall included Douglas Vickers, industrialist and politician, Colonel Henry Kenyon Stephenson, MP and businessman, and David Flather, an engineering firm owner, the hall’s last occupant from 1922 to 1932.

The history of Banner Cross Hall and the names of the distinguished families who occupied it are maintained in the naming of roads in the vicinity, the likes of Tullibardine, Murray, Glenalmond, Blair Athol, and Ford roads.

Eighty-eight years later, Banner Cross Hall is still the headquarters of Henry Boot.