Clergy House – “It was a good thing to shut up a public house and get rid of a licence.”

Clergy House, now The Art House. Image: DJP/2023

We recently looked at St. Matthew’s Church on Carver Street that was built in 1854-1855. Next door is an equally important building that is known today as The Art House, a trading name of St Matthew’s House, a charity set up in 2011 to support people with mental health issues and allow them to engage with the creative arts.

It was originally called Clergy House, built in Tudor Gothic style in 1896 as a home and parish rooms for the Rev. George Campbell Ommanney, vicar of St Matthew’s Church between 1882 and 1936, and two assistant priests.

The old vicarage, as far away as Highfield, was sold in 1884, and for several years the vicar and his clergy lived in seedy rented accommodation at No. 71 Carver Street, close to the church.

“A vicar who is willing to make the sacrifice involved in taking up his abode in such a dingy, insalubrious district at that which contains St. Matthew’s ought at least to live in a comfortable house,” wrote the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1896.

At that time, houses beyond those of the very poorest class were scarce in the central parts of Sheffield. All the large ones had been sacrificed to the demands of commerce.

The parishioners sought to remedy the situation, and Rev. Ommanney was able to secure a freehold site adjoining St. Matthew’s Church at a cost of £900. The site had been a public house – the Stag Inn – allowing the vicar to say, “it was a good thing to shut up a public house and get rid of a licence.”

The amount required to build the new Clergy House was £2000 and the vicar used money from the sale of the old vicarage as well as the interest which had accrued against it. The York Diocesan Church Extension Society subscribed £150, and the Sheffield Church Burgesses gave a similar sum. The vicar contributed £450, and two members of the congregation subscribed £100 each. To make up the balance, the vicar intended to borrow £500 from the trustees of Queen Anne’s Bounty, but further subscriptions flooded in and the crowning gift was a grant of £7000 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It allowed the house to be built debt free.

Clergy House was once the site of a public house. “While the public house existed, men frequently came into the church during the Saturday night prayers under the influence of liquor. These visitors joined in the service in such a peculiar fashion and made so much noise, that occasionally Rev. Ommanney had to stop the service, take off his surplice, and eject them.” Image: DJP/2023

The architect was John Dodsley Webster, and it was built in red brick with stone facings. The basement contained the large parish room, on the ground floor were the drawing room, kitchen, and offices, while the first floor contained sitting room, study, bedroom, and bathroom. Five bedrooms occupied the top floor.

Land at the back, on Backfields, was later bought to add parochial buildings, including a Sunday School.

According to the Art House website, time took its toll on the building and the building deteriorated to an extent that a major refurbishment had to be undertaken. A small group of people from the congregation devised a plan to restore St. Matthew’s House to its former glory, and once again play a part in serving the needs of the local community. The Art House Charity was established in 2011 and spent four years raising the £1.5m needed to refurbish the dilapidated building. A modern extension was added to the rear in 2015.

The building is leased to the charity by St. Matthew’s Church at a peppercorn rent.

Modern extension for The Art House. Image: Our Favourite Places

©2023 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


St Matthew’s Church – “Where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence nearby.”

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/DJP/2022

It was an exceptionally cold evening, and the light was starting to wane, but this building stood out, magnificent against the clear sky, and all the time, a gentle warmth emanated from within its walls.

“I’ve never noticed it before,” said someone who has lived in Sheffield all his life. “When you think about churches in the city centre, you think about Sheffield Cathedral and St Marie’s. I would be hard-pressed to name others.”

I understood what he meant, but there are several churches besides, including this one, for which we will start at the beginning.  

There was once a piece of land extending from Carver Street to Backfields and separated from Division Street by a row of shops known as Division Street market. Houses stood upon this land – some of them notorious dens of vice – but by 1855, these had been cleared and a church built in its place.

In the early years of this century, Carver Street surrendered to change, with most of its historical buildings on its upper section with West Street converted into bars. Nowadays we refer to it as Sheffield’s ‘Party Street.’

Further down the road, where thieves, prostitutes and urchins once scrabbled an existence, life is quieter and simpler, and St Matthew’s Church is still with us.

Late at night, each weekend, Street Pastors congregate here before going out to care for those youngsters who have succumbed to the ‘demon drink.’

The Parish of St Matthew’s was created in 1848 when the original Sheffield parish (now the Anglican Cathedral) was subdivided. Its first Vicar, J.F. Witty, held early services at the National School on Carver Street (now Viper Rooms), but sufficient funds were raised to build a permanent church.

“Since I came to this district, at the invitation of my friend, Rev. T. Sale, Vicar of Sheffield, I have always looked upon it as a missionary appointment – as one calling for more arduous labours than any regular organised district or parish. When I see that there is a population large enough to fully occupy the time of three ministers – that the population is suffering from negligence of years past, and from deep-rooted prejudice and gross ignorance, the alienation of the intellect as well as moral pollution, I see that there is great labour ahead of me.”

The foundation stone was laid in 1854 by H.M. Greaves, of Banner Cross, who was presented with a silver trowel which had on one side a view of the proposed church, and on the other an inscription.

The church was designed by Flockton and Son and was consecrated on 6 June 1855 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave.

It cost £3,297 to build, the main benefactor being snuff-maker Henry Wilson of Westbrook Mill who contributed £1,020. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £200 and the Incorporated Church Building Society gave £250. The rest of the money had to be raised by Witty and his congregation.

St Matthew’s was described as in the perpendicular gothic style of architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and aisles, with a small gallery in the tower at the west end.

It abutted adjoining buildings which meant that it had to be lit solely from windows in the clerestory and those at the west end where an octagonal tower was built – the first in Sheffield – surmounted by a spire of 65 feet, making a total height to the top of the spire 121 ft.

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The West End showing the Goetz & Gwyn Organ installed in 1993. Image/The Church of England

St Matthew’s survived German bombs in World War Two, but many nearby houses were not so fortunate, and those that remained were later demolished. Without a residential congregation, its fortunes dwindled, surviving a fire in 1956 and the threat of demolition to make way for a new road in the 1970s.

Its circumstances have improved with houses and flats returning within parish boundaries, and there have been several restorations since it was built.

“I often think about those who built these old buildings,” said my colleague. “I wonder what they would think to see that their work is still here all these years later.”

I too, think about those people, long dead and forgotten, and it always provides pleasure to seek out those responsible, each with a story to tell.

Mason’s work, James Powell; carpenter’s work, John Dutton and William Heald; plumbers, John Johnstone; slating, Roger Brown; plastering Thomas S. Harrison.

The High Altar. Image: The Church of England
Two members of the congregation, brothers Edwin, 21, and Noel Inman, 18, died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and lived in the Parish of St Matthew’s Carver Street. Image/The Church of England
The Rood – In memory of Father G C Ommanney Parish Priest 1882-1936. Image: The Church of England
The Font. Image/The Church of England

©2023 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.