From the archives. The year is 1847, and there was talk of a new public building in Sheffield. People were excited. The town was without a public building worthy of its name and enviously looked to Liverpool with St. George’s Hall, and Birmingham with its noble Town Hall.
Unexpectedly, the architects, Flockton, Lee, and Flockton, off its own back, came up with a design, and presented it to the Town Council. This would have been an ample hall for public meetings, a large room for public dinners or lectures, permanent places for the Town Council, the Bankruptcy Court, the Small Debts Court, the School of Design, and a large Museum.
The Town Council was shocked, flinched at the cost to build it, and dismissed the proposal.
However, the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, a supporter of the scheme, had other ideas. The newspaper published a detailed sketch of the building, along with floor plans, and advocated that it should be built.
The public was divided. Some said it had to be done, others said they would like to see it built because Sheffield would then have had a building unequalled by other towns, but the general feeling was that times were hard, and that it could not be allowed to continue.
It wasn’t built, and if it had been, we can only speculate as to what its future fate might have been. Would it still be standing? What condition would it be in? Might it have been destroyed by German bombers?
Most of us will be surprised as to where it was intended to be.
The site was a plot of sloping land bounded on the north by Bank Street, on the south by Hartshead, on the east by Meetinghouse Lane, and on the west by Figtree Lane. Today, it might seem to have been absurdly in the wrong place, but in the 1840s the area was close to where Sheffield began.
Bank Street wasn’t created until 1792, and was intended to be called Shore Street, named after John Shore, a banker, and this was the name used on leases granted when he cut up his land for building purposes.
In 1793, we find reference to a “new” street in Sheffield called Bank Street, indicating that Shore had just built the town’s first bank here. In effect, the area was a developing financial district, and a public building might not have been so preposterous after all.
“Is the town prepared for so large an undertaking?” asked the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. “Perhaps not, just now; but there are several considerations that may tend to prepare it.
“In the first place, if the town is to build, as build it must ere many years have elapsed, it must look beyond the present. A public building is not made like a coat, to fit exactly when made, and be soon worn out. It should be built for two centuries, or more.
“The question should not be how little will it serve now? But how can we adequately provide for the present and future, combining at once magnitude of conception, liberality of spirit, and wise economy?
“The expense could not fail to be considerable, but spread over thirty or forty years, it would never be felt as a very heavy burden. This is a wide policy of the Wesleyan body, who, when they build a chapel for the next generation as well as for the present, conceive that the payment should be by those who are to enjoy it hereafter, as well as by themselves.”
What would our ancestors have got for their money?
The descent from Hartshead to Bank Street was about 30ft, allowing for two frontages – one to Bank Street, and the other to Hartshead.
It was proposed to make the Bank Street entrance into a large hall for public meetings, affording standing room for 9000, or sitting room for 3000 persons. This hall would have occupied the whole base of the building with a grand staircase leading up to Hartshead.
The entrance hall at Hartshead would have led to a Bankruptcy Court on one side, and a Council Hall on the other. To these rooms would have been private apartments for the Mayor and the Bankruptcy Commissioner. The entrance hall would have led into an Exchange, covered by a glass dome 50ft above. Alongside would have been offices and committee rooms, with a Banqueting Hall at the Bank Street end.
The topmost story would have extended the whole of the building, excepting the Exchange, and would have provided a Museum of Arts, as well as four additional museum spaces.
In connection with the plan, it was intended to open a new street from Hartshead to High Street (along the line of what became Aldine Court) and opening the end of Watson’s Walk into Angel Street. Figtree Lane and Meetinghouse Lane would have been made wide enough for carriages.
“We do not suppose that the Town Council will embark hastily in this measure. They will listen for the public voice.”
The newspaper was correct because it was never built, and had it been so, we might not have had a need for Sheffield Town Hall or City Hall.
I recall visiting a sunbed salon at Leopold Chambers in the 1980s and climbing the huge Victorian staircase. I couldn’t help thinking that the old building was past its best. That was 37 years ago, and a lot has changed. The curved four storey building on the corner of Leopold Street and Church Street is home to a cafe, letting agent and tanning and beauty salon at ground floor level, with student accommodation occupying the floors above.
We looked at Leopold Chambers several weeks ago, built in 1893-1894 as new offices for Webster and Styring, an established firm of solicitors set up by George Edward Webster and Dr Robert Styring.
It was designed by Andrew Francis Watson (1856-1932), designer of many well-known buildings in Sheffield, including the Norfolk Market Hall, the old Fitzwilliam Market, Westminster Bank, High Street, showrooms for Mappin and Webb, and the offices of Messrs Vickers and William Jessops on Brightside Lane.
There are now plans by Ashgate Property Developments to convert the first, second and third floors into two studios, three one-bed and three two-bed apartments.
The plans involve reconfiguring the current units with no external works to the ornate Grade II listed facade and the ground floor retail units are unaffected.
“The building was constructed during the Victorian period and has seen various internal and external alterations and modifications over the years to the present day.
“The building has undergone extensive refurbishment and remodelling since its construction and little or no original features can be found other than the staircase which will remain.”
Complaints about pot-holes always cause a stir. But you might be surprised to know that our roads have long been the subject of contention. The columns of local newspapers have been filled with grumbles going back to Victorian times.
The grievance was the type of material used to surface our streets. As Sheffield grew, the network of roads expanded, and many of the main streets were overlaid with cobbles (water-rounded stones collected from beaches and rivers), irregular flat-shaped stones, or more commonly, slag macadam.
In the 19th century, cobbles were replaced with round or hexagonal wooden setts, probably creosoted Norway pine, that provided a safer surface for horses and wagons. They gave a better grip for horse-shoes and the iron rims on wheels, and reduced the noise of traffic.
The wooden setts, although abundant in supply, proved expensive, and granite setts, squared off by hand, were brought to Sheffield from several locations, including Cornwall, the Channel Islands, and then increasingly from Aberdeen.
Once worked, granite setts were capable of much greater precision of laying and could help construct a far smoother street surface. They lasted for 30 years, hardwood for 15 years, and afterwards could be taken up and redressed.
However, the people of Sheffield objected to granite, complaining that noise generated by horse-drawn traffic was too loud. On West Street, wooden setts had been laid to make it quieter around the Royal Hospital, but ratepayers on the other side, on Division Street and Devonshire Street, protested that noise from granite was “nerve-racking,” “a distinct disgrace to the city,” and “enough to send people to the county asylum.”
There was a bigger drawback. Horses tended to slip on granite causing serious injury, sometimes death, to the animals. It was reason enough for Sir John Bingham, head of the firm of Walker and Hall, to campaign against their use in the 1890s.
Bingham had good reason to dislike granite setts. When driving a high dog cart, one of his horses had slipped and fallen, pitching him out onto his head. He started a crusade and gained support from Reuben Thompson and Joseph Tomlinson, proprietors of Sheffield’s two largest horse-drawn cab and omnibus firms.
“I, like many others, have been injured for life upon these granite setts, and I feel most strongly that where they are laid, they should be properly and regularly roughed. About a year ago, accidents happened on the same day to two of our leading steel manufacturers, Colonel Vickers, and Sir Alexander Wilson, one of them having his horse killed, the other being seriously injured, and will bear deep scars on his forehead so long as he lives, and says will never drive again in Sheffield.”
Bingham re-entered the council to enforce his views and was eventually able to stop granite setts being used on Sheffield’s main streets.
In 1895, he discovered that the stringy bark of a Tasmanian tree could be combined with granite to create a safer, quieter, and more durable road surface. He developed Bingham Patent Paving, first used on Norfolk Street, and then across many of the city’s main streets.
However, by the 1920s, the use of asphalt meant that Sheffield Corporation hadn’t bought any wood or granite setts (or Bingham’s paving) for several years. Asphalt had been created by accident in Kent after tar barrels had fallen onto a road and broken. Ultimately, it was discovered the part of the road covered with tar was found the best, and afterwards the use of tar had spread all over the country.
It resulted in most of Sheffield’s cobbled streets being covered over, a practice that continues to this day using modern techniques.
Thankfully, there are still plenty of granite setts in streets across Sheffield, and some of the wooden setts have even resurfaced in recent years, notably on Hodsgon Street, near the Moore Street roundabout, and on Sackville Road, at Crookes.
At the corner of Church Street and Leopold Street is a building typical of Sheffield’s Victorian architecture.
Leopold Chambers was built in 1893-1894 as new offices for Webster and Styring, an established firm of solicitors set up by George Edward Webster and Dr Robert Styring. The imposing four-storey Renaissance building, in mellow golden sandstone, provided a handsome rounding to the corner, with four shops built beneath the offices.
The architect was Andrew Francis Watson (1856-1932), designer of many well-known buildings in Sheffield, including the Norfolk Market Hall, the old Fitzwilliam Market, Westminster bank, High Street, showrooms for Mappin and Webb, and the offices of Messrs Vickers and William Jessops on Brightside Lane. He was also the architect for the London and Midland Bank in the Sheffield District and responsible for 1-9 High Street that survives as an extension of Lloyds Bank.
A native of Lamport, Northamptonshire, he came to Sheffield in his twenties and eventually went into partnership with Edward Holmes (creating Holmes and Watson, and no apology to Arthur Conan Doyle).
The partnership between Webster and Styring was dissolved after George Webster’s retirement in 1908, and Leopold Chambers (typically blackened by Sheffield’s sooty air) was later taken over by the Bradford Equitable Building Society (later to become Bradford & Bingley).
Following their departure, the offices were sub-divided and more recently converted into student accommodation, with shops at ground level.
The pandemic has claimed another victim. Caffé Nero, a familiar sight at No.2 High Street, won’t be reopening when lockdown restrictions are eased, the retail unit now up to let.
Our thirst for coffee and cakes might not have diminished, but poor trading conditions have forced the London-based chain to rethink its future.
While it maintains a presence in Sheffield, the outlook for one of the city’s Grade II-listed buildings is less certain.
No.2 High Street was the result of High Street widening during the 1890s, one of several Victorian buildings built by esteemed architects Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton.
Described in Pevsner as “one of their more exuberant ‘fin de siècle’ essays,” it is characteristic for its high mansard roof.
Many people think it was built as a bank, and Barclays did occupy it from the early 20th century until recent times, but its history is more elaborate.
The building featured in an 1896 edition of British Architect with a double-plate spread.
“A massive and imposing appearance, with an elaborate scheme of stone carvings and mouldings. There is a suggestion of the easy and graceful style of French architecture.”
It was built for Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings, established in 1775, auctioneers, which had conducted property sales at older premises on High Street, as well as holding horse sales at the Horse Repository on Castle Hill.
In August 1896, No.2 High Street was in the process of construction, farther back from the original street line, the auctioneers temporarily transferring business to the Cutlers’ Hall and premises on Fargate.
The firm was Sheffield’s premier auction house, responsible for the sale of important buildings and used by the Duke of Norfolk to dispose of land and property.
It was completed in 1897, a date stone still evident at the side of the building on Black Swan Walk.
There were two large auction rooms and offices on the ground floor, with a large basement for storage, a strong-room for jewellery and plate, and two separate store-rooms for furniture.
The façade was enriched with four stories of superimposed columns, the lower ones of red Labrador granite, standing upon a grey granite base.
The base supported a handsome cornice with a broad frieze of black granite, on which the name of the firm appeared in raised gilt letters.
The upper pillars were of stone with carved and decorated capitals, and a considerable amount of carving. The external effect was enhanced by a balcony of ornamental ironwork.
The upper portion of the block was let as offices, with special care given to effective ventilation and warming of the auction room with a Blackburn heater and fan, driven by an electric motor.
Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings was made up of four partners, each with interests elsewhere. In 1917, J.J. Greaves and Sons left the partnership and the firm continued trading as Nicholson, Barber and Hastings until the 1950s.
However, Barclays Bank opened a branch here in 1920 and the Estate Mart became a secondary part of the building before closing altogether.
Not much has changed since construction, except for the removal of the balcony railings and the interior completely refurbished for bank use.
After a period as Caffé Nero it now joins a long list of vacant properties in and around High Street and Fargate.
Union Street is not a fashionable road, its role as one of Sheffield’s important thoroughfares, and its ancient connection with Norfolk Street, long diminished.
Post-war redevelopment deprived Union Street of its character, and one of its most important buildings, the shops and offices that made up Cambridge Arcade (with its covered walkway into Pinstone Street) disappeared in the 1970s.
A walk along Union Street today shows that almost all its architecture is from the sixties onwards. All except for one narrow building, a survivor of Sheffield’s Victorian past, sandwiched between unsightly 20th century structures.
However, Livesey-Clegg House, at 44 Union Street, is expected to go the same way as its long-lost neighbours soon.
If plans to create Midcity House, three new tower blocks, up to 25-storeys high, are given the go ahead, then this old building will be demolished.
The last Victorian building to survive on Union Street was built for Thomas Henry Vernon, cork manufacturer, in 1881. His father’s business had originally existed at 2 Union Street at the junction with the old line of Pinstone Street.
Street improvements in 1875 resulted in the creation of Moorhead and comprehensive redevelopment in the area. As part of this, Vernon’s old premises were demolished, with Thomas Henry Vernon succeeding to the business and relocating to Milk Street. When his new premises were built in 1881, he moved to 44 Union Street, and employed about a dozen people.
Vernon died in 1919, the ground floor becoming a small car showroom for Midland Motors, later Moorhead Motors, and the upper floors converted into offices.
The ground floor was taken over by Hardy’s Bakery in the 1970s, and frequently changed hands afterwards, used as a shop and several food takeaways, and is now empty and boarded-up.
While most Sheffield folk were interested in what went on at street level, it is the floors above that provide the real sense of history.
The name above an adjacent door – Livesey-Clegg House – indicates that this was once home to the British Temperance League.
In Victorian times, high levels of alcohol consumption and drunkenness were seen by some as a danger to society’s well-being, leading to poverty, child neglect, immorality, and economic decline. As a result, temperance societies began to be formed in the 1830s to campaign against alcohol.
The British Temperance League, a predominantly northern teetotal and Christian society, was the new name in 1854 for the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance. In 1880 it moved its headquarters from Preston to Union Street in Sheffield, largely due to the influence of the Clegg family.
Successive members of the Clegg family served as chairman of the executive committee: William Johnson Clegg (1826-1895), sometime alderman of Sheffield, and his son Sir (John) Charles Clegg, best known as chairman and president of the Football Association. His brother, Sir William Edwin Clegg, sometime Mayor of Sheffield, was a vice-president.
By the 1890s its finances and prestige were in decline, but the society persevered and by 1938 was looking for new premises.
“Street widening and re-planning will shortly make it necessary for us to vacate the offices in Union Street, of which we have been tenants for more than 50 years,” said Herbert Jones, the secretary. “We have long felt the need of a permanent home for books, pictures, and other treasures of the movement.”
In 1940, the society moved into 44 Union Street and called it Livesey-Clegg House – named after Joseph William Livesey (1794-1884), a temperance campaigner, politician, and social reformer, and Sir John Charles Clegg (1850-1937), chairman and president of Sheffield Wednesday and founder of Sheffield United.
As well as the headquarters of the British Temperance League, its collection of journals, monographs, bound collections of pamphlets and non-textual items, including lantern slides, posters, banners, textiles, and crockery, were housed in Victorian bookcases in a large old-fashioned room that was used as a library.
The BTL merged with the London-based National Temperance League in 1952 to become the British National Temperance League, with the HQ in Sheffield. It remained until 1987 when the historically valuable library was transferred to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston (now known as the Livesey Library after teetotal pioneer Joseph Livesey).
The old offices and library at Livesey-Clegg House were eventually turned into student accommodation.
Alas, the building is not considered to be of architectural importance and will most likely be demolished soon.
No. 9 has stood at the end of Fargate all our lives. It is the tall, detached building standing between Chapel Walk and Black Swan Walk and is in a sorry state.
It is hard to imagine that this building was part of the Victorian renaissance of the old town centre, one that marked the widening of Fargate and set the building line for later High Street improvements.
Plans to widen Fargate were proposed in 1875, but it was not until the late 1880s that work started. Old buildings on the east side were flattened extending back from Fargate for distances varying from 60ft to 240ft.
It would appear that Lot 4, a plot of land containing about 150 square yards on the north side of Chapel Walk and south of a foot road (Black Swan Walk), with a frontage of 19ft to Fargate and 72ft to Chapel Walk, had been the site of the Black Swan Public House.
In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee, £11,160 for the land and demolished the pub.
The freehold was bought in 1888 by A.H. Holland, Provisions Merchant, founded in 1844 by Alwin Hibbard Holland, whose previous shop had been at No. 3 Fargate, one of those flattened for street widening.
Alwin Hibbard Holland had died in 1883, the business continuing through his wife, Eliza, and youngest son, Alwyn Henry Holland. (His eldest son, Kilburn Alwyn Holland, also had a provisions business, but appeared to have played only a small part in the family business).
Eliza Holland played an important role in the success of A.H. Holland, but it was Alwyn (whose story will be covered in a future post) who established the business in new premises at No. 9 Fargate.
Alwyn had been educated at Brampton Schools, Wath upon Dearne, before becoming a pupil, and afterwards, assistant to Sheffield-architect John Dodsley Webster.
After his father’s death, he joined A.H. Holland which he ran with his co-executors, and co-designed the new premises along with Flockton, Gibbs and Flockton.
Thomas James Flockton had negotiated the purchase of the property and acted for Sheffield Corporation in the resale to Alwyn Holland, a fact that did not go unnoticed to sharp-eyed citizens.
Building work started in early 1889, with Sheffield-builder George Longden and Son chosen for the work, but progress was hampered when bricklayers and labourers went on strike demanding more money.
The new shop was eventually completed and opened to an expectant public on 9 November 1889 selling the ‘highest class goods at the lowest possible prices’. As well as the shopfront on Fargate, the premises extended down Chapel Walk occupying Nos. 1 to 15. The firm was awarded prize medals at the London International Exhibition and the International Dairy Show, sufficient for it to become sole agent for Lord Vernon’s Dairy (from Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire).
In 1891, the Rutland Institution occupied rooms overlooking Fargate above the shop. It was named after the Duchess of Rutland, who opened it, and was formed in connection with the Sheffield Gospel Temperance Union.
As well as being a shopkeeper, Alwyn Holland was a watercolour artist and his work was displayed inside the shop, ‘displaying marked originality both as an architect and an artist’.
It might have been Holland’s aspirations as an artist that ultimately led to the downfall of A.H. Holland.
With a sizeable income the firm built new property on adjoining Chapel Walk, renting out eight shops at ground level with a large suite of assembly rooms upstairs, including the Howard Gallery, for high-class art exhibitions, and Holland’s Restaurant.
The gallery opened in 1898 but proved a failure, closing its doors in 1904. By this time, the Rutland Institution had moved out, and the entire upper floor was extended into rooms above No. 9 Fargate and remodelled as tea rooms.
In 1906, a new company was created, Hollands Ltd, to take over the business carried on by Eliza Holland and Alwyn Henry Holland at No. 9 Fargate and Nos. 1 to 15 Chapel Walk, as well as the restaurant business carried on by Alwyn at 17-23 Chapel Walk (and also at Sheffield University Rectory).
Joining Eliza and Alwyn as directors were Smith William Belton, a provisions merchant from Market Harborough, William Whiteley, a Sheffield scissor manufacturer, Richard P. Greenland, Liverpool soap manufacturer, Arthur Neal, Sheffield solicitor, and George Shuttleworth Greening, accountant.
A second grocery and provisions business were established on Whitham Road at Broomhilll, but despite new investment things did not go particularly well for A.H. Holland, and in 1909 the business slipped into voluntary liquidation.
Net losses since the formation of the new company amounted to £3,826 and directors attributed poor performance to deficient continuity of management, shortness of working capital, and consequent loss of business due to the depression in Sheffield.
The following year the freehold of No. 9 Fargate was offered at auction, as was the leasehold portion on Chapel Walk, once home to the Howard Gallery and Holland’s Café.
By the end of the year, No. 9 Fargate was used as an auction house by Arnold, Prince, Bradshaw and Company, and the following year fell into the hands of Sykes and Rhodes, costumiers and furriers, which remained until 1924.
By this time, the building had suffered from Sheffield’s age-old problem of black soot, darkening the stone, making it rather ‘dull-looking’.
However, the building was about to be reinvented with the opening of a shop in Sheffield by one of Britain’s leading tailors.
“A cynic has remarked that one of the reasons why Austin Reed Ltd have opened a shop in Fargate is because the male members of the community in Sheffield need attention in sartorial details.”
The business had been founded by Austin Leonard Reed (great grandfather of Asos founder Nick Robertson) and claimed to be the first menswear store to bring made-to-measure quality to the ready-to-wear market. Its first store was in London’s Fenchurch Street and by 1924 had branches in all the most important towns and cities of England.
“Time is not so long distant when Sheffield relied on its old-established businesses, handed on from father to son, but, with the passing of the war, there came a change, and today, as quickly as premises can be acquired, firms with world-wide reputations are erecting palatial buildings, limited only by the space at their disposal.”
The company spent a small fortune converting the building, the designs drawn up by P.J. Westwood and Emberton, of Adelphi, London, and involved the original builder, George Longden and Son.
Outside included a beautiful marble front erected by Fenning and Co., Hammersmith, made of Italian Bianco del Mare and Belgian Black Marble. The entrance lobbies contained lines of non-slip carborundum inserted into marble paving.
The building consisted of a basement, three sales floors, and an office situated at the top. They were linked by staircases and the lift, a survivor from A.H. Holland days.
The basement was used for dispatching, the ground floor for the tie, collar, and glove department, the first floor was for hats, shirts, and pyjamas, while the second floor formed the ‘new’ tailoring department.
“Inside, everything blends and tones; there is nothing garish to the eye. The ground-work is of oak panelling, staircase, and fittings. On the ground floor, the firm has arranged six windows nicely furnished with parquet beds, the door at the back being glazed with embossed glass to the architect’s design.
“The window lighting – admired by thousands – is worked with x-ray window reflectors, and each window has a special plug for ‘spotlights’ or experimental lighting effects.”
The front of the shop was also illuminated with a ‘Dayanite’ electric sign installed by the Standard Electric Sign Works. This, and the window lighting, was controlled by a revolutionary time switch that allowed them to be switched off on Sundays.
While the outside was impressive, the interior had the latest shop-fittings made of lightly fumed oak, with polished edged frameless mirrors, supplied by George Parnall of Bristol and London.
The coat cabinets worked on an American principle where doors opened and disappeared into the sides of the cabinet, and a large rack, laden with coats on pegs, was drawn out and slowly revolved.
The counters had small reflectors and low-voltage gas-filled lamps, manufactured by G.C. Cuthbert of London, that provided white light and gave a brilliant effect to the goods.
Another innovation was an electric hat cleaner whereby a visiting customer with a hard felt hat could have it cleaned and renovated in three minutes.
Customers were most impressed with Austin Reed’s new payment and receipt system.
When an item was purchased the assistant placed the money, bill and duplicate into a cartridge that was inserted into pneumatic tubes, similar to those used in newspaper offices, that within ‘three second’ had reached the top of the building. The office assistant then placed the receipt and change in the cartridge and the procedure reversed.
Austin Reed also used several local contractors.
Decoration was completed by F. Naylor, of Abbeydale Road, plumbing by George Simpson and Co., from Broomhall Street, electrics by Marsh Bros., of Fargate, and the structural engineers were W.H. Blake and Co., from Queen’s Road.
Austin Reed remained at No. 9 Fargate the 1970s, the building becoming a Salisburys bag shop and subsequently a victim of the relentless ‘chain store shuffle’, its last incumbent being Virgin Media.
As I write, it is a pop-up Christmas store, in darkness due to Covid-19 restrictions, with a sun-tanning parlour above.
Victoria Road, at Broomhall, is built on land that was once attached to the estate of Broom Hall, the manor house, and belonged to the de Ecclesall family, the Wickersleys, and the Jessops, until the death in 1734 of William, Lord Darcy, after which it passed down the female line to the Rev. Wilkinson, Vicar of Sheffield, in the late 18th century.
He died in 1805 and the Broom Hall estate passed to Philip Gell of Hopton, and from him to John Watson of Shirecliffe Hall, who farmed the land for 20 years, and from 1829 split and leased plots for development.
As Sheffield grew, there was an increasing demand for suburban villas to the west of the town where occupants included manufacturers of steel, cutlery, and edge tools.
Victoria Road, named in honour of our Queen, was laid out in 1855, the road curving from Broomhall Road to join Collegiate Crescent. It was a mix of detached and semi-detached properties, the larger houses built at the top end of the road, close to old Broom Hall, with smaller dwellings at the opposite end.
Little has changed since Victorian times, the houses are much the same, except the trees have grown much larger, and the stone walls at the front of each plot still hide what goes on behind.
Back then, this was a road of masters and servants, horse and carriages, gas lamps, grand staircases, busy kitchens, elaborate dining-rooms, lively drawing-rooms, large bedrooms, and fine furniture.
The likes of Daniel Doncaster, William Christopher Leng, and Miss Witham’s Boarding School moved on, to be replaced with new generations of professional people, who lost sons in World War One and witnessed the bombs of World War Two.
But Sheffield continued to grow, Broomhall was at the edge of the encroaching city centre, the affluent people moved farther away, and the area was blighted by nearby dereliction. Prostitutes moved into adjacent streets and the Yorkshire Ripper was caught just up the road.
Nevertheless, Victoria Road maintained its dignity.
And then it all changed for the better.
The Broomhall estate has become one of Sheffield’s hidden secrets, a leafy suburb, with new professionals, and students, and where it is a joy to walk through its streets and marvel at the architecture.
The Wicker Arch is one of Sheffield’s most famous landmarks, and yet, we take it for granted.
It is one of Sheffield’s greatest engineering projects and is a small section of a complex system of 41 arches completed in December 1848. The viaduct is 660 yards-long, and crosses the Don Valley, taking its name from The Wicker which the main arch passes over.
The Wicker Arches were built for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company, extending the railway from an old station at Clay Gardens (Bridgehouses), through the Nursery (Street), across The Wicker, over the River Don, the site of the old Blonk dam, the yard of the Sheaf Works, and the canal. The portion of the viaduct between The Wicker and Effingham Lane had increased width to accommodate the Victoria Station and was about 300 yards in length.
It was the brainchild of John Fowler, the Sheffield-born engineer-in-chief for the railway company, who later designed the Forth Bridge. The arches were made of brick, faced on each side with rows of stone quoins. The piers were massive and described at the time as being “built to withstand a bombardment rather than any pressure from above.”
John Fowler regarded the showpiece of the project as being the arch that crossed over The Wicker and employed Sheffield architects, Weightman and Hadfield, to add ceremony to the design, with construction carried out by Miller, Blackie and Shortridge
It was a wide elliptical arch, 30ft high and 72ft long, with voussoirs, flanked by single 12ft wide round-arched footways, edged by Tuscan pillars, with imposts, key-stones, and hood-moulds. Above each footway arch was a relief panel with a coat of arms. An attached building provided an entrance and staircase to the Victoria Station.
The Wicker Viaduct (as it was known until the 1850s, and later Victoria Station Viaduct) was not without its problems.
Several workmen died during construction, including three men who fell to their death when scaffolding collapsed underneath the right-hand Wicker Arch in 1848.
There were also several archway collapses, including one shortly before its completion, where one of the smaller arches collapsed with a “dull heavy thud.” It was a hazard of Victorian engineering, but nothing like the dramatic collapse of 20 arches at the Rother Viaduct, six miles away, built at the same time.
The project also cost the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway more money than envisaged, and it had to scale back construction to cut losses.
On 12th December 1848, a ceremony was held at the completion of the “great arch,” the final piece of the Wicker Viaduct. It was said that the viaduct contained a greater amount of cubic masonry than any other and was considered the largest piece of masonry ever constructed in Britain.
The Wicker Arch was decorated in banners and those present included Dr Mariano Martin de Bartolomé and Thomas Blake, both directors of the railway company, Thomas Dunn Jeffcock and William Fowler, company land agents, and John Shortridge, the contractor.
As the keystone was lowered into place, Dr Bartolomé acted as chief mason, and gave a brief but animated speech where he stated that “the eastern part of the railway should be characterised for what they had done, rather than for what they had said.”
He complimented the engineer and contractor on the solid character and appearance of the work, and afterwards there were three mighty cheers and “one cheer more” for the success of the line.
Shortly afterwards an engine and two carriages passed over the viaduct for the first time and continued to the junction of the Midland Railway at Beighton.
It is worth mentioning the heraldic carvings on the Wicker Arch, at the time considered by some in the railway company as being unnecessarily expensive and extravagant.
Those on the side of town are the coats of arms of the Duke of Norfolk and of Sheffield. On the other side are the arms of the Earl of Yarborough, chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway, and the seal of the company which were grouped in the arms of Sheffield, Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne, Retford, and Lincoln.
Most of the other arches were later brick infilled and have served as workshops ever since, most now hidden with adjacent buildings.
The main Wicker Arch survived a German bomb that fell during World War Two, and which repairs can still be seen. And who can forget the flood waters that lapped around its piers during the floods of 2007 after the River Don burst its banks causing devastation all around?
The area has changed considerably but the Wicker Arch still imposes itself as it did when first built. Some of the arches were dismantled during electrification, and now it is mainly goods rail traffic that crosses over it.
In 1990 a partnership between Sheffield Development Corporation, Sheffield City Council, British Rail, and supported by English Heritage and the Rail Heritage Trust, restored the arches to their former appearance, although there are concerns about its present condition and preservation.