York Street is just a street to many of us, a shortcut between High Street and Hartshead. Apart from its long, recently ended, association with the Star and Telegraph, it hasn’t played a significant role in the city centre’s history.
However, despite having few buildings of architectural importance, York Street can still tell a story.
In 1565, documents state that the property between the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral) passed into new hands and was bounded by the churchyard to the west, and on the east by lands belonging to John Skynner of London.
York Street didn’t exist, the land changing ownership many times, steadily developed towards its High Street frontage.
We now come across an old tavern, sometimes called Morton’s, and at others as The Crown, often used for public meetings (and drinking) by the Town Trustees and the Cutlers’ Company.
John Morton, landlord, had the honour of being a Master Cutler and a victualler. He occupied the chair in 1709-10, and during his year, the Archbishop of York seems to have been entertained at The Crown. In 1721, when the Duke of Norfolk entertained leading inhabitants, a substantial amount of plate and table requisites were lent from this inn.
The Crown’s location is found in property deeds from adjacent properties in 1711 and 1735, bounded by the lands of John Morton westwards, and putting it where the opening to York Street is now.
In 1744, Morton’s widow, announcing her retirement from business, advertised in the Leeds Mercury her desire to let ‘that very good, accustomed inn, known by the sign of the Crown, near the Church Gates, with stabling for twenty-four horses.’
Soon afterwards, the inn appears to have closed and in 1770, Thomas Vennor, a Warwick man, bought the Crown property from the owners of ‘The Great House at the Church Gates,’ and established himself as a mercer.
In 1772, he had ‘lately’ made ‘a new street called York Street, leading from High Street to Hartshead,’ which ran through the ground ‘whereon stood the house of John Morton, over its yard, and beyond to Hartshead across a piece of vacant land purchased from the Broadbents.’
We can fix 1770 as the date York Street was created, possibly as a nod to the Archbishop of York’s historical visit, and it appears on Fairbank’s map of 1771.
Its creation was important because prior to construction pedestrians could only pass from High Street to Hartshead through narrow ‘jennels,’ while wheeled traffic had to negotiate Townhead and travel the full length of Campo Lane to reach it.
In this respect, Robert Eadon Leader, that cherished Sheffield historian, regarded him as a ‘public benefactor,’ something not shared by Vennor’s contemporaries, who failed to support his efforts to become a Town Trustee in 1778.
York Street was a busy thoroughfare, with houses, shops, and offices, lining both sides, but there was a darker characteristic.
In 1868, a resident wrote that “the neighbourhood of York Street is infested with night walkers, who won’t let you pass without receiving the grossest insults imaginable.”
The building of respectable Victorian buildings towards High Street improved its reputation, but in 1922 a correspondent to the Sheffield Telegraph said that it was “in a very bad state of repair, and in wet weather large pools of water collect, with the result that not only is property splashed up with dirt (your beautiful white building is an example), but foot passengers have their clothes ruined by every wheeled vehicle that passes up and down. It is the busiest street for motor traffic in the city, and the footpath the narrowest.”
© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.