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Buildings

Channing Hall – “The finest small auditorium in Yorkshire.”

Channing Hall, Surrey Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

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 sits below a row of commercial properties owned and leased by the chapel. Image: DJP/2022
Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. It is connected by a corridor to Channing Hall. Image: DJP/2022

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 congregational is approached by a winding staircase, at the top of which is an hexagonal stair hall, 16ft in diameter, and which is built with brick walls similar to those used in the construction of the entrance passage. Image: DJP/2022
The Victorian contractors were: – Chambers and Sons, masons and joiners; J.E. Elliott, plumber; Marshall Watson, and Moorwood, iron founders; A. Berrisford, plasterer; Staniforth and Lee, slaters; R.R. Gibbs, heating apparatus. Image: DJP/2022

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.

Hollis Hall, at Harvard University, is thought to contain a photograph of Channing Hall. Sent by Upper Chapel in 1936. Image: DJP/2022
The roof is partly open timbered, the ceiling being of panelled Memel wood, the panels coloured in a light blue and relieved with stencilled patterns in white. Image: DJP/2022

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.

Built in 1881-1882, Channing Hall was designed by Flockton and Gibbs. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Upper Chapel – serenity in the city centre

Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

Once upon a time, this building was on the edge of town, but looked very different to what it does now. And it faced Fargate, not Norfolk Street, as it does now.

Upper Chapel is Sheffield’s oldest Nonconformist chapel. It was built in 1700 and the original brick wall sides still form part of the building.

The congregation was formed by followers of James Fisher, Vicar of Sheffield during the Commonwealth, after he was ejected in 1662 in the Great Ejection, during the restoration of the monarchy, for refusing to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity. Around a tenth of his parishioners followed him in becoming Dissenters, and several more splits ensued, but by the 1690s, the dominant group of non-conformists was led by Timothy Jollie.

Prior to this they probably met for worship in each other’s houses, and the worship grew to such an extent that the faithful few in Sheffield ventured to build a place of worship called New Hall (at the bottom of Snig Hill) – the first Dissenting meeting house in Sheffield.

The congregation grew to such an extent that a bigger chapel was built that faced ‘Farrgate’ and was called New Chapel, the back of it looking across Alsop Fields.

On the death of the Rev. Timothy Jollie in 1714, its members numbered 1,163, the largest group in Yorkshire, and the Trustees of New Chapel appointed the Arian John Wadsworth, causing some dissenters to breakaway and build a new chapel nearby. This was Nether Chapel that gave modern-day Chapel Walk its name.

With two chapels so close to each other, New Chapel became known as Upper Chapel, being farther up the hillside, and in its grounds was the tombstone of Timothy Jollie with the inscription, ‘an eloquent and Evangelical interpreter of the word of God, a man divinely gifted to preach the fundamentals of Christian doctrine.’ The grounds, which form the present day courtyard, were originally used as a burial ground until 1855, when a law was passed preventing further town centre burials.

By the 1840s, Upper Chapel was described as having ‘a dingy aspect externally, and peculiarly inconvenient in the arrangements of the interior.’

In 1847-8 it was completely rebuilt by Sheffield-architect John Frith, a member of the congregation, the style of architecture being ‘Italian, simple and plain in its detail.’

His biggest change was to extend the building to the east and reverse the building to face Norfolk Street.

The principal front, built of cleansed stone, was divided into three compartments, the centre one being composed of an Ionic portico of four columns, over which there were a group of circular-headed windows. It had a slight projection and was surmounted with a pediment. The flanks of the chapel were raised eight feet higher than the former building with architrave moulding, frieze, and cornice, that ran on one level around all the outer walls, with exception of the pediment in the principal front.

The body of the chapel was divided into three compartments by two aisles, commencing at the entrances and terminating on each side of the pulpit and communion table.

A three-sided oval gallery was introduced, the columns supporting it set five feet back from the line of the gallery front and allowing a view of the minister from every part of the chapel.

The interiors were enhanced by later additions and fittings, and according to Pevsner, included pews in1882, the vestry in 1900, and an organ console and central pulpit elevated on Doric columns in 1907, all by Edward Mitchell Gibbs.

From 1890 onwards, 16 stained glass windows were installed, including one re-installation in 2001 of a window found in storage under stairs. Nine of them, all on the ground floor, were designed by Henry Holiday. Further windows were added by Hugh Easton (Liberty and Truth), in 1948, installed either side of the pulpit as replacements for bomb damaged windows.  

Upper Chapel is now a member of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarians. Its trustees still own many freehold properties in Sheffield, and the chapel is connected by staircase to Channing Hall on Surrey Street.

In the courtyard are three sculptures by George Fullard – ‘Running Woman,’ ‘Mother and Child,’ and ‘Angry Woman,’ all sited in 1985.

Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Chapel Walk: “With hedges of honeysuckle and hawthorn; the air fragrant with the scent of new-mown hay.”

The current state of Chapel Walk is in stark contrast to when it was Tucker Alley, leading from Fargate into the rural idyll of Alsop Fields. Photograph: Sheffield Star.

Let us dismiss a legend before we go any further. I cannot find any evidence that bodies are buried beneath Chapel Walk, but there again, nor can I prove that they aren’t. The only connection with the ‘dead’ these days is the number of empty shops and lack of pedestrians.

Since the 1990s, the decline of Chapel Walk is the most remarkable example of degeneration in Sheffield city centre. From being a busy thoroughfare, where people struggled to avoid bumping into each other, it has become a ‘ghost’ street, but one that has the most potential to be impressive again.

Chapel Walk is one of our oldest streets, with origins in medieval times, but its importance surfaces in the 1700s.

At that time, every house on Prior Gate (High Street) had long gardens behind them, backing onto Alsop Fields, a rural and agricultural area sloping down to the River Sheaf.

In 1660, followers of Rev. James Fisher, vicar of Sheffield, broke away from Sheffield Parish Church to form the beginnings of Congregationalism. They met in rooms around the town but in 1700 rented a site that faced ‘Farrgate’ and called it the New Chapel, the back of it looking across Alsop Fields.

On the death of the Rev. Timothy Jollie in 1714, the Trustees of the New Chapel appointed the Arian John Wadsworth, causing some dissenters to breakaway and build a new chapel.

They looked to John Tooker, an early Master Cutler, who lived on ‘Farrgate’ and agreed to sell a piece of garden behind his house for £60 to Elia Wordsworth, a prominent member of the seceding independents, to build a new meeting house.

The chapel, across gardens from New Chapel, was built in 1714 within Tooker’s Yard, access being from Tooker Alley (later Tucker Alley), a narrow thoroughfare, with the conveyance ensuring permanent right of way to the chapel from Fargate and Alsop Fields, and that the passage should never be narrower than two yards. Thereafter, Tucker Alley became known as Chapel Walk.

Only Fargate is familiar in this illustration. Tucker Alley became Chapel Walk. Norfolk Street was built at the edge of Alsop Fields. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

Because of their proximity to each other, New Chapel became the Upper Chapel with the one on Chapel Walk called Nether Chapel.

“One regrets that there is no picture available of the Nether Chapel of those far-off days. We can imagine the little congregation during a long sermon on a hot summer’s day being beguiled by the song of birds coming through the open windows. We can see them, through fancy’s eye, coming out after worship into the strong sunlight and indulging in a friendly chat under the shade of neighbouring trees, and then dispersing to their homes in the vicinity along narrow lanes with hedges of honeysuckle and hawthorn; the air fragrant with the scent  of new-mown hay – the silence broken now and again by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle grazing contentedly in the adjacent fields.”

The chapel was partly destroyed by fire in 1827, and foundations for a New Nether Chapel were laid in May. It cost £4,200 and looked towards Norfolk Street (built at the edge of Alsop Fields) instead of Chapel Walk which had done its duty for 113 years. Dr William Younge sold land fronting Norfolk Street allowing the creation of a new chapel yard.

This illustration shows land purchased for the New Nether Chapel. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.
In 1826, Dr William Younge sold land fronting Norfolk Street for £700 allowing Nether Chapel to be rebuilt and giving them a new frontage. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

Over the next hundred years, Sheffield changed considerably. Gone were those rural delights and solitudes. Nether Chapel now stood in the heart of a city of bricks and mortar. The countryside had been obliterated by factories, workshops, and offices, and Chapel Walk became a popular shopping street.

Chapel Walk was an incredibly busy shopping street during the 1970s. Photograph: Sheffield Star.
In 1931, Sheffield Corporation purchased a portion of the Nether Chapel yard in Norfolk Street for street improvement purposes. An ‘awkward bulge’ was removed bringing the frontage of Victoria Hall (1908), Nether Chapel, and St Marie’s Presbytery, into line. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

In 1963, congregations at Burngreave, Wicker, Queen Street and Nether Chapel resolved to unite and form one church and to build a new chapel in the city centre. Nether Chapel was demolished, and a new Central Congregational Church opened in 1971.

When the United Reformed Church was formed in 1972 from Congregational and Presbyterian denominations the Church became Central United Reformed Church. It was significantly altered in 2000 and stands at the Norfolk Street end of Chapel Walk.

Meanwhile, Chapel Walk has fallen on tough times. Not helped by the Fargate end being shrouded in ‘abandoned’ scaffolding for several years, attempts to regenerate the street have so far failed. However, with the right investment, this slender pedestrian walkway could rise again. Small independent shops?

NOTE:- Upper Chapel was remodelled in the 1840s, turned around to face across fields. It survives in solitude on Norfolk Street.

Norfolk Street end of Chapel Walk in the 1960s. Nether Chapel is on the left, the Victoria Hall is to the right. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings People

Edward Mitchel Gibbs

Edward Mitchel Gibbs (Image: Picture Sheffield)

“If you want to see a monument to this man, look around you.”

Here is a man once described as “one of the makers of Sheffield,” for he was responsible for many of its principal buildings and played a leading part in changing the shape of the city.

His long list of work can be seen around Sheffield today.

In his earlier years, Edward Mitchel Gibbs was architect for the branch libraries at Upperthorpe and Highfield, and later designed the Mappin Art Gallery, St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Telegraph Building, Lodge Moor Hospital, Channing Hall, Glossop Road Baths, Foster’s Building in High Street, and the White Building at Fitzalan Square. He was also responsible for some of the finest shops of the time in High Street and Fargate.

Sheffield Telegraph Building (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

E.M. Gibbs (1847-1935) was born in Sheffield, educated at the Milk Street School, and articled to architects Flockton & Abbott between 1862 to 1868, remaining as principal assistant. He attended classes at Sheffield School of Art and subsequently spent time in London, studying at the Royal Academy Schools and assisting in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse.

Gibbs worked as Superintendent of Works to Archibald Neill of Leeds from 1868 until 1872, when he was taken into partnership by Flockton & Abbott.

He continued in partnership with Thomas James Flockton after the retirement of George Lewslie Abbott in 1875, and the partnership was joined by Flockton’s son, Charles Burrows Flockton, in 1895.

Gibbs became senior partner in 1902 (as Gibbs & Flockton), and the partnership was joined by John Charles Amory Teather in 1908, and Gibbs’ son, Henry Beckett Swift Gibbs, in 1921.

Mappin Art Gallery (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Like all good men, it was only after his death that people appreciated his contribution to the city.

His funeral in December 1935 was held at the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street (in which Gibbs had designed much of its interior) where the Rev. Alfred Hall paid tribute:

“Gibbs’ aim was to make Sheffield beautiful. All his artistic insight and architectural skill were devoted to that end, and, though tastes and fashion had changed, all men would acknowledge that the buildings he conceived and erected were dignified and noble.”

The funeral achieved national attention because Rev. Hall read out a document left by Gibbs:

“Born of Unitarian parents, I was a staunch supporter of the Unitarian precepts for many years, but under the teaching of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer became an agnostic. I hope the Minister, if he accepts the responsibility of conducting my funeral, will do so in the simplest manner possible, remembering that I die an agnostic.”

The clergyman admired his “sterling honesty” after which Gibbs’ remains were taken to City Road for cremation.

During his lifetime Gibbs thought positively and deeply and was a man of definite views. He was afraid that the country might fall into the hands of extremists and had the foresight to see the danger it faced arising out of Germany’s ambitions.

Highfield Library (Image: Picture Sheffield)

But he was not just an architect.

Gibbs had knowledge of property values and was retained by Sheffield Corporation in all cases of arbitration under the Tramways and Street Widening Act of 1897.

He also published essays: ‘The Town Planning of Sheffield’ and ‘The Finance of Housing and Reform of Rating’. In 1895, he presented a scheme for a central railway station in the vicinity of Haymarket. The plans were dismissed, as was his big scheme for housing.

Gibbs’ grand expansion plan was based on garden city principles with radiating main roads linked by a ring road with suburban settlements at its junctions.

Foster’s Building, High Street. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

As well as being a city magistrate, he was a trustee of Woofindin Homes, a director of the Gladstone Buildings Company and a governor of the University of Sheffield, where he was awarded a Master of Arts, and was instrumental in establishing the Department of Architecture.

He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1892 and was also president of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors. Gibbs also succeeded Thomas James Flockton as Consulting Surveyor to the Town Trustees, for which he designed the Fulwood Park estate.

The White Building, Fitzalan Square. (Image: David Poole)

Gibbs was married to Lucy, daughter of a manager at the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, who died a year before him, and lived at Woodcroft, 7 Riverdale Road. On his death he left gross estate of £52,939 (about £3.8 million today).

St John’s Church, Ranmoor. (Image: St John’s Ranmoor)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.