J.G. Graves

John George Graves (1866-1945) packed a lot into his 79 years. He was a hard-working businessman, councillor, and cared a lot about his adopted city. A much-travelled man, he knew Europe intimately, and visited America, Egypt, South Africa, India, and Palestine, and spoke fluent French, German and Italian.

Seventy-five years after his death, his name still echoes across Sheffield, and yet, we are guilty of under-estimating the influence he had on the city.

J.G. Graves was born in Lincolnshire, grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, and was educated at Batley Grammar School. When he was 15, he moved to Sheffield to take up apprenticeship with a German watchmaker in Gibraltar Street, and at the age of 20, he started his own watch-making business in town.

He moved to larger premises in Surrey Street where he expanded his business to include jewellery, cutlery and silverware. His decision to sell goods by mail order was pivotal and, through advertising on the back pages of the national press, became incredibly successful.

Graves was one of the first to embrace the idea of selling goods, notably watches, on ‘monthly’ terms, and by 1903 employed 3,000 people with products sold through extensive catalogues.

Graves was first elected to the city council in 1896 as a Liberal member for the old Nether Hallam Ward and retained his seat for six years. In 1905, he was returned to the Council as a member for the Walkley Ward but did not seek re-election in 1908. His third entry to the Council, again for Walkley, was as an Independent councillor in 1916.

Graves went on to serve as Lord Mayor in 1926 and was granted Freedom of the City in 1929.

“Alderman Graves brings to his work unusual gifts of business acumen and a kindly spirit towards the general welfare of the people,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1930. “A fluent, dignified speaker, with originality of thought, he can marshal facts well and present a case strikingly. He always impresses his hearers by his transparent earnestness and sincerity in whatever cause he is pleading. Truly, he is one of the big men of the Council – big in stature and big in vision.”

However, J.G. Graves should be remembered for being Sheffield’s “Fairy Godfather”, probably the city’s most generous benefactor in its history.

When he died at his home, Riverdale House, at Ranmoor, in 1945, newspapers calculated that he had gifted more than £1 million to the city, that amounts to more than £44 million at today’s value.

His first gift to Sheffield, probably Pearl Street playground in 1903, was the start of small projects for children, but these grew in significance with gifts that included Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Barker’s Pool Garden, Concord Park, Graves Art Gallery, Graves Park, Graves Trust Homes, Blacka Moor, and playing fields. He was a generous benefactor to Sheffield University and the Children’s Hospital, gave much of the land forming the green belt around Sheffield, made gifts of land to the National Trust, and at the outbreak of World War Two, made an unconditional gift of £250,000 to the nation.

Graves Art Gallery cost him £20,000 as well as a further £10,000 towards the cost of the Central Library. He had started collecting art in 1899 and throughout his life collected over 3,000 pictures, 700 of which he gave to Sheffield to be displayed in the Graves Gallery.

“It has seemed to me the most natural thing that I should engage in effort and outlay which has for its object the betterment of the city in which my own lot has been cast, and which I love and understand so well.”

Graves had loved the countryside and was a keen cyclist, with one of his ambitions being to provide Sheffield with beautiful open spaces. As well as Concord Park and Graves Park, he provided £10,000 towards the acquisition of Ecclesall Wood and gave much of the land forming the Green Belt around Sheffield.

One such place was Blacka Moor that had been owned by Norton Rural District Council since 1929. The small council was poor and unable to fight off advances from developers and so, in 1933, had approached J.G. Graves as a last resort. He bought the land and duly presented it to the city.

Ethel Haythornthwaite, a prominent environmental campaigner, recalled a conversation she had with Graves at the official opening in 1933.

“Now, after we’ve done all this for you (by ‘we’ he meant the Graves Trust) will you promise to never trouble us again?” I took a deep breath, thought I had better be truthful and said, “Whenever the countryside around Sheffield is in danger, I shall appeal to you.” He looked at me, severely but not unkindly. “Well,” he said, “Now we know.”

After his death, the mail order company was absorbed into Great Universal Stores, but his legacy lives on through The J.G. Graves Charitable Trust, a grant-making body established in 1930 derived from £400,000 of shares of his company.

Today, the Trust is managed by nine trustees, including Adrian Graves, the fourth generation of the family to serve on it, and continues to support projects that relate to the charitable interests of its founder.

These include parks, open spaces, recreation grounds, art galleries and libraries for public use, promotion of education and community projects, and medical, recreational and sporting facilities.

Periodically, the Trust is in a position to make significant contributions including the J.G. Graves of Sheffield Lifeboat (1958), the redesign of Tudor Square (1990), the J.G. Graves Tennis Centre (1991), the J.G. Graves Woodland Discovery Centre (2007) and the purchase of ‘Comfort Blanket’ by Grayson Perry for the City’s art collection in 2016.


Frank Saltfleet

A self portrait in old age. Photograph by View from the Hill

Frank Saltfleet was one of Sheffield’s best-known artists, yet today his work is largely overshadowed by that of his wife, Jean Mitchell.

He was a specialist in watercolour painting, and about 18 months before his death an exhibition of his works was held at the Graves Art Gallery.

Alderman J.G. Graves also presented a group of Frank’s pictures to the city, and in the 1930s were on view at the Mappin Art Gallery.

He was, by profession, a landscape painter, but also keenly interested in music, literature, and drama.

Sheffield During the Coal Strike from Norfolk Park by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Museums Sheffield.

Born in Sheffield in 1860, he was sent to St George’s National School, and when he was about 12-years-old, entered the silver trade to learn the art of close plating, later being apprenticed to a cabinet maker.

Frank attended the Mechanics’ Institute in Surrey Street, where his teacher was Mr Read Turner, a well-known Sheffield artist. Some time later he accepted an offer to advance the necessary funds for six months’ study in art at Antwerp, and with several other young Sheffield artists he went to the Academy of Arts there.

Whirlow Brook Hall by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Peter Wilson Fine Art Auctioneers.

His travels included tours of Italy, the Adriatic, and several visits to Venice.

Frank was quite out of sympathy with the works of ultra-modernists in any art, and his favourite composers were Mozart and Beethoven. The works of Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Marlowe and Greene had an appeal to him.

He had several pictures accepted at the Royal Academy, but they were never hung and on many occasions his work was to be found in local exhibitions. Once or twice he exhibited watercolours at the Cutlers’ Hall.

His tastes lay chiefly in the direction of landscapes and seascapes, and woodland and moorland pictures.

“A land and riverscape artist with more than a local reputation. Some of his best pictures have the atmospheric charm of the not too hazy impressionist school. In social circles Mr Saltfleet sings drolly. He is that strange thing – an artist without the professional pose. He has less ambition than many of his inferiors,” said the Sheffield Independent in 1902.

Frank was well known in Sheffield as an enthusiastic amateur actor, taking part in several local productions.

For many years he was a Freemason, attaining a few honours, the chief of them being that of Past Master of St. Leonard’s Chapter at Tapton Hall.

Frank married twice, and after his death in 1937 was survived by his second wife, who was Miss Jean Mitchell, daughter of Young Mitchell, who was the first Principal at the Sheffield School of Art.

Rowing Boats on a Cobble Landing by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Invaluable.


Bainbridge Building

Good news for the Bainbridge Building on the corner of Norfolk Street and Surrey Street.

The proposed redevelopment of the former Halifax Bank to create a new hotel and restaurant has been given the go-ahead.

Mitchells & Butchers, supported by WYG and Design Coalition, submitted an application to Sheffield City Council at the end of 2019 for the former bank on Surrey Street.

The building, which is not listed, was originally constructed in 1893-1894, with the structure behind the façade rebuilt in 1977-1978. It has remained vacant following the closure of the Halifax Bank in August 2017.

The application covers the conversion of the property to create a restaurant at ground floor and basement levels and a hotel on the upper floors.

The restaurant is set to operate as a Miller & Carter Steakhouse and comprise 187 covers. It will be located within the former banking hall on the ground floor, with additional covers at basement level.

A total of 20 hotel rooms are set to be created on the upper floors, along with a reception area and a manager/night porter office.

It has been estimated that the development would create 62 jobs (29 full-time and 37 part-time positions). The £2.36m conversion and fit-out of the building is expected to support the creation of further roles.

The building was commissioned by Emerson Bainbridge, a mining engineer consultant and philanthropist, following the death of his wife, Jeffie. It was erected as a memorial to her and opened by the Duke and Duchess of Portland in 1894.

The first floor formed a shelter for waifs and strays, and a large suite of offices on the second floor were given to the local branch of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of which Bainbridge was a committee member.

The ground floor consisted of shops that were let out to tenants in order to raise revenue to support the rent-free premises above.


Yorkshire Bank

This is one of the most imposing buildings in Sheffield city centre. The Yorkshire Bank building, in late-Gothic design, with five-storeys and a long curved Holmfirth stone front, stands at the top of Fargate, nudging around the corner into Surrey Street.

With it comes a long history and a few surprises as to its former use.

In the 1880s, when a plot became available at the side of the Montgomery Hall on (New) Surrey Street, the directors of the Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank bought the land to erect a new bank.

It turned to Leeds-based architects Henry Perkin and George Bertram Bulmer who were asked to create a brilliant show of Victorian entrepreneurship.

The corner stones were laid on 18 January 1888 by builders Armitage and Hodgson of Leeds and was completed in the summer of 1889.

The Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank occupied two floors – at ground level was the large banking hall, fitted out in polished wainscot oak with a mosaic-tiled floor, the basement contained the strong-room.

Lord Lascelles, the president of the bank, officially opened it on 25 July 1889.

The remainder of the building was used as a restaurant and first-class hotel, leased by Sheffield Café Company, formed in 1877 as part of a growing movement of temperance houses throughout the country. No drink allowed here.

The Albany Hotel opened in September 1889 with electric light throughout, a restaurant, billiard room, coffee and smoking rooms, private dining rooms as well as 40 bedrooms above.

By the 1920s, the Sheffield Café Company, with multiple cafes and restaurants across the city, was struggling financially and ceased trading in 1922.

Their assets were bought by Sheffield Refreshment Houses, which operated the hotel until the 1950s.

With grander hotels nearby and with dated facilities the Albany Hotel closed in 1958.

The Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank became Yorkshire Bank in 1959 and the old hotel was converted into offices – known as Yorkshire Bank Chambers – after 1965.

The interiors have long altered but the external appearance remains much the same, with carved winged lions, medieval figures, shields and gargoyles on the outside of the building. Gabled dormers, lofty chimneys and a crenelated parapet were sacrificed during the 1960s.


Sheffield Town Hall

This extraordinary photograph was taken by Paul Stinson of Hovaloft Drone Aerographics. It shows the bronze statue of Vulcan on top of Sheffield Town Hall, created in 1896 by artist Mario Raggi.

This muscular male nude has protected the city for 123 years, seeing us through two World Wars, but almost forgotten by people below.

Darcy White and Elizabeth Norman in Public Sculpture of Sheffield and South Yorkshire provide the life story of this undoubtedly cold naked character.

Vulcan, the symbol of Sheffield, has a hammer in his right hand (not seen here), his right foot rests on an anvil and in his left hand, held aloft, he carries three arrows.

The Roman God of the furnace is the patron of all smiths and other craftsmen who depend on fire. He was adopted as a symbol of the city in 1843 and the idea of including a figure as part of the Town Hall design came from the architect, Edward William Mountford.

The figure was modelled from a Life-guardsman and for a long time the original plaster was on show at the Mappin Gallery until it became too badly damaged, due to frequent moving to avoid air raids during World War Two and was broken up and discarded.

Mario Raggi (1821-1907) was born at Carrara, Italy where he learnt to sculpt, although much of his reputation was made in England, where he first exhibited busts at the Royal Academy in 1878 and continued to do so until 1895. Settling in England in 1880, he set up a workshop at Cumberland Market in north London. He was given some major commissions; memorials to Benjamin Disraeli at Parliament Square and Gladstone at Albert Square, Manchester.


Montgomery Hall

Here’s the Montgomery Hall on Surrey Street, known today as a theatre and arts centre, but its heritage tells a very different story. We must go back to the 1880s and the long running saga of the Sheffield Sunday School Union, which had been looking to build a new hall and rooms in the centre of town.

The union was founded in 1812, with the intention of educating working children on Sundays, especially in literacy, and fighting for child labour laws to keep children out of chimneys. By 1884 the union comprised 108 schools, 3,340 teachers and 27,751 scholars. One of its founders was James Montgomery (1771-1854), local poet, journalist and reformer, and the new hall was to be named in his memory.

After first obtaining a site at (New) Church Street in 1873, the land was sold to Sheffield Corporation. Another site was secured at the bottom of West Street, adjoining Holly Lane, but this was also sold on. In 1883, union trustees bought 892 square yards of land between Fargate and (New) Surrey Street from the Corporation at a cost of £4,700.

The foundation stone for the Montgomery Hall was laid in July 1884 by the Right Hon. Anthony John Mundella (1825-1897), MP for Sheffield and president of the Sunday School Union of England and Wales. No sooner had work started, and it was temporarily abandoned, the building not completed until 1886. Built in Domestic Gothic-style at a cost of £15,000, it was designed by Sheffield architect Charles John Innocent (1839-1901), the union’s honorary secretary, and constructed by George Longden and Son.

Once completed, the Montgomery Hall contained a large galleried hall seating 1,000 people and a smaller hall for 350. The front of the building contained several committee and classrooms, a library, reading rooms, a reception room, ante-rooms, cloakrooms, kitchens and caretaker’s accommodation.

A newspaper described the building at the time.

“The front will be a welcome addition to the street architecture of the town. Built entirely of stone, in the centre of the front is the principal entrance, on either side of which are two shops built as a source of maintenance income. At each end of the front is another entrance. Over the shops are large windows which light the committee rooms and classrooms, the hall is at the back. Over each of the entrances an oriel window, with a slight projection, relieves the front and helps make it more prominent, while immediately over the door is a medallion bust of Montgomery.”

And so, the Montgomery Hall thrived, a home to Sunday schools, rented by other religious institutions, later becoming home to community theatre groups, schools and dance classes.

The union later became the Sheffield Christian Education Council with the hall always being used as a theatre, except during World War Two when it was used by the Government.

It was remodelled as a 427-seat auditorium after a devastating fire in 1971 and continues with an art gallery on the first floor and the old library being used as a space for workshops and rehearsals.

There are now plans for a multi-million pound refurbishment to be completed by 2023, concentrating on front of house, a new main frontage, the main auditorium and backstage facilities. Included in the project is the installation of a lift, a concept unheard of when the building was originally designed.


Montgomery Hall

A door that goes unnoticed. This door is to the left of the Montgomery Hall on Surrey Street. The principal entrance is in the centre of the building, on either side of which are two shops, originally built to provide a source of income that could be used to cover maintenance costs for the building. At each end of the front are two doors, this one included, one of five doors leading to staircases to the main hall behind. When the Montgomery Hall was built in 1884-1886, designed by Charles John Innocent, the staircases and corridors were described as being “fireproof”. This is also the entrance to an art gallery on the first floor.


Cabbage Alley

Somewhere underneath Sheffield Town Hall there are likely to be the remains of a dark, narrow, cobbled lane with the sweet-sounding name of Cabbage Alley.

Its existence is almost airbrushed from history, partly because those that used it back in the day didn’t even know that it had a name.

This photograph remains the only image of Cabbage Alley, reproduced in a newspaper in 1931, taken from an old painting by William Topham in 1877, of which its current existence is unknown.

The picture is a view down Cabbage Alley, looking towards the south. In the background can be seen St. Paul’s Church, built in the 1720s and demolished in 1938. In its place we now have the Peace Gardens.

Cabbage Alley ran from New Church Street, both demolished when the Town Hall was built in the 1890s, and Cheney Row, a walkway that survives.

The painting that emerged in 1931 belonged to Mr Ambrose James Wallis, head of Ambrose Wallis and Son, whitesmiths, of Norfolk Lane. His father, who commissioned the artwork, had set up business in Cabbage Alley in 1867 and remained there until about 1889.

“Cabbage Alley was an old-fashioned street even in those days,” he told the Sheffield Daily Independent. “The gutter ran down the centre instead of at the sides.

“A strange thing was that nobody seemed to know its name, and it was not until the notices for us to quit were received, that we learned that we had been living in Cabbage Alley.”

Buildings Sculpture

Bainbridge Building

I bet most of you have never noticed this above a door at the top of Norfolk Street. This carved panel is on the old Halifax Bank at the corner of Surrey Street. The building was commissioned by Emerson Bainbridge, a mining engineer consultant and philanthropist, following the death of his wife, Jeffie.

It was erected as a memorial to her and opened by the Duke and Duchess of Portland in 1894.

The first floor formed a shelter for waifs and strays, and a large suite of offices on the second floor were given to the local branch of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of which Bainbridge was a committee member.

The ground floor consisted of shops that were let out to tenants in order to raise revenue to support the rent-free premises above.

The sculptor is unknown, but the architect was John Dodsley Webster, who also designed the Gladstone Buildings next to the Cathedral.


Bainbridge Building

In 1924, the author J.H. Stainton wrote in The Making of Sheffield, “It is fairly safe to say that practically half the citizens of Sheffield at the present time know nothing of Mr Emerson Bainbridge, yet in his day he was assuredly one of Sheffield’s big men.”

Now, it is probably a fair bet that nobody in the city has ever heard of him.
Yet, at the time of his death in 1911, he was called “a striking personality,” and responsible for Bainbridge Building, the resplendent Victorian building that stands on the corner of Surrey Street and Norfolk Street.

Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (1845-1911) was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne and studied at Edenfield House, Doncaster. Afterwards, he attended Durham University and served time in nearby collieries belonging to the Marquis of Londonderry.

In 1870, Bainbridge became manager of the Sheffield and Tinsley Collieries, later taking charge at Nunnery Colliery on behalf of the Duke of Norfolk, subsequently becoming Managing Director and setting up his own firm of mining consulting engineers.

In 1889, Bainbridge obtained a lease from the Duke of Portland for the “Top Hard”, or “Barnsley Coal”, under land in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. He then founded the Bolsover Colliery Company to take the lease and mine the coal, being the man responsible for developing the town that exists today.

Bainbridge also became Liberal MP for Gainsborough between 1895 and 1900, as well as being a JP for Derbyshire and Ross-shire, where he owned a deer forest at Auchnashellach.

Bainbridge provided money to build the YMCA at the junction of Fargate with Norfolk Row, and in the early 1890s spoke of his ambitions to honour his wife, Eliza Jefferson Armstrong Bainbridge, known as Jeffie, who died in 1882.

“I have for some time been struck with the large number of ill-cared for boys and girls in the streets of Sheffield, who, doubtless only represent a small proportion of the large number who are constantly neglected.

“Beyond this, of course, is the great question of neglected training, in consequence of which many of these children are destined to lives of poverty and crime.

“I propose to erect and establish, at some suitable point in the town of Sheffield, a Children’s Refuge, which I would erect in memory of my late wife, and it might be possible to have her name connected to it.”
Bainbridge was a man of his word.

He purchased a plot of land from Sheffield Corporation at the corner of Norfolk Street and Surrey Street, then employed architect John Dodsworth Webster to create a spectacular new building that would contain the Jeffie Bainbridge Children’s Shelter.

Construction started in 1893 and was completed in 1894, the total cost being almost £10,000.

The ground floor was utilised for shops and part of the first floor for offices, the rents funding the children’s shelter. The rest of the first floor consisted of a large room capable of accommodating 150 children. Here, ill-clad children suffering from cold and hunger were welcome, and be certain of shelter, warmth and cheap food.

The second floor had been placed, rent free, at the disposal of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. There were dormitories for more than twenty juveniles, also rooms for committee meetings and for caretakers and porters.

The Jeffie Bainbridge Children’s Shelter was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Portland on Friday 28 December 1894.

There were five shops underneath, numbered 49-55 Surrey Street, and 104 Norfolk Street. Birds Restaurant, opened by William Bird on a ten-year lease, occupied No.53, although the business collapsed several years later, probably the result of being refused an alcohol licence, something that rankled with the professional men who visited. Next door, Jasper Redfern had a photography shop while William Cole had a piano business at 104 Norfolk Street.

The NSPCC moved upstairs in 1895, but in 1899 Emerson Bainbridge gave them £200 as consideration for removing their shelter to Glossop Road.

The Jeffie Bainbridge Children’s Shelter served over a thousand meals every month to destitute children and appears to have survived until at least 1907. Afterwards, it became a Maternity and Welfare Centre, instigated by the Sheffield Infantile Mortality Committee, where women went for advice and consultations, and to buy dried milk at cost price for bottle-fed babies.

However, the biggest change occurred in 1914, when a portion of the Bainbridge Building was converted into the Halifax Building Society. Most of the shops were taken, with plans created by W.H. Lancashire, Sheffield architects, who clad the exterior in blue and red Aberdeen polished granite, and the interiors with Austrian oak.

In time, the Halifax took the whole building, renting out upper floor offices, culminating in the interior being reconfigured in 1977-1978, when most of Webster’s original features were lost.

The Halifax Bank finally closed in 2017 and the Bainbridge Building has been vacant since.

But let us remember Birds Restaurant, which was unable to serve alcohol to its Victorian customers.

It was recently announced that the pub chain Mitchells & Butlers is opening a branch of its Miller and Carter restaurants, specialising in steaks, in the Bainbridge Building.

There are already Miller and Carter restaurants in the city, off Ecclesall Road South and at Valley Centertainment, the latter of which opened in the summer.