It was the summer of 1881, and there were a lot of people in Sheffield town centre. They had come to watch Miss Margaret Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, lay the foundation stone of a new Unitarian Memorial Hall on newly constructed Surrey Street.
Margaret Jessop was the fourth daughter of Thomas Jessop (1804-1887), steelmaker, Mayor, and Master Cutler, and founder of the Jessop Hospital for Women.
She deputised for her sick father and laid the corner stone with a handsome silver trowel with ivory handle, upon which was the inscription – “Presented to Miss Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, Sheffield, on the occasion of her laying the corner stone of a Congregational Hall in connection with the Upper Chapel, June 14, 1881.”
The stone also bore an inscription, and in the cavity underneath a bottle was deposited, which contained a parchment setting forth the purposes for which the hall was erected, and the names of the minister, trustees, secretary, architects, clerk of the works, and contractors. Having laid the mortar, she gave the stone a couple of taps with the mallet and declared it well and truly laid.
The hall was completed the following year and called Channing Hall, a name we are familiar with today.
Channing Hall had been commissioned by the Trustees of the Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street and was named after William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the father of American Unitarianism.
At the time, Rev. Eli Fay said: –
“The trustees some years ago commenced to consider their need of a hall for the promotion of the social life of the congregation, and to enable the Sunday school to realise more fully its own ideals. They did not expect from the trustees anything poor and cheap, but he did not expect that they had given them what had been declared to be the finest small auditorium in Yorkshire, and probably the finest in the north of England.”
The building of Channing Hall and the four shops underneath cost £4200, a new caretaker’s house at the rear £460, the division of the old schoolrooms into classrooms £225, and the total cost, together with the site, was about £7000.
Years earlier, the Chapel had bought property on Pepper Alley (near Norfolk Row) as well as building a Minister’s house on land behind. In the 1880s, Sheffield Corporation had sights on the land these stood on, and gave the trustees £3,870 for it, as well as two pieces of land, one of which was used to build the new hall.
After great difficulty, the Chapel also obtained permission from the Court of Chancery to borrow £714 for themselves. But the rest of the money should have come from subscriptions but raised only £1280 from some 35 or 40 persons. It left the Trustees with a deficit and took years for the debt to be cleared.
The architects were Flockton and Gibbs, the style like that of the old chapel – Italian renaissance – only of a more ornate character.
It was 60ft in length, two storeys in height, with six pilasters on each story, the lower being of an Ionic and the upper an Italian treatment of the Corinthian order, surmounted with a bold cornice and balustrade. The space between the pilasters on the lower story was filled with five arches – the entrance being in the centre arch – and those on the upper story were filled with windows, three of which were arched, and sub-divided with more arches.
The walls of the interior, including entrance and staircase passage, were built of coloured glaze brick, the pilasters being of Indian red colour, the surbase of green and brown, panels of cream colour, and borders of white and French grey.
From the impressive winding staircase hall were doors giving access to the chapel, old schools, chapel-keeper’s house, committee room, and congregational hall. The latter, which was the chief part of the building, was considered a work of beauty.
The roof had partly open timbers, and the caps and bases of the pilasters were of the Italian Corinthian order. This was used as a Sunday school as well as a congregational room, and the seating accommodation was for 350 to 400 persons.
The walls were glazed bricks, with surbase of browns and greens, pilasters of Indian red and cream-coloured panels, and with white and French grey. The caps and bases of the pilasters were cement, and of the Italian Corinthian design.
Around the room, at right angles with the beautiful caps surmounting the pilasters, was an inscription which stated that the hall had been erected “for educational and social purposes, and for the same religious aims with which the chapel was founded in the year 1700, and on the same broad basis of a free and open trust.”
The wooden floor was 4½ inches thick, laid on concrete, with the joints filled with white lead, with a slight fall to the sides; the object of this to enable the floor to be washed with a hose pipe.
All these years later, people tend to forget that Channing Hall and the Upper Chapel are tangibly connected. Both venues can be accessed by going through the other.
Little has changed since its construction, except the addition of a lift, and Channing Hall, now Grade II listed, is mainly used as a conference and banqueting suite.
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