I love those Sheffield streets that people struggle to identify with. This is typical of Penton Street, a short, cobbled road that slopes diagonally between Trippet Lane and Bailey Lane. It might serve little purpose nowadays, but if we go back in time, this was a residential street amidst factories.
This street was once a haven for criminals, many living in old houses deemed dangerous, injurious to health, and unfit for human habitation. It was no surprise that violent attacks and street robberies around this narrow, congested street, were not uncommon. There were tales of suicide, domestic abuse, and personal tragedy, within these slums.
To get an idea of what Penton Street was like, the oldest known novel about Sheffield, Put Yourself In His Place, written in 1870 by Charles Reade, a contemporary of Dickens and Elliott, is loosely based on the true story of a London woodcarving-tool maker, James Bacon Addis, who was brought to the town by Ward and Payne, and provided an account of the ‘Sheffield Outrages,’ the battle to protect union membership, often through violent means. And Penton Street was always at the heart of the unrest.
In 1886, the street was at the centre of a riot at the factory of Ward and Payne, edge tool and sheep shear manufacturers. A crowd of two thousand youths, congregated in Bailey Lane, Trippet Lane, Penton Street, and West Street, and armed with stones, smashed hundreds of panes of glass. The rioters believed that German grinders had arrived to replace workers sacked by the company. In truth, no foreign workers had been employed.
A big fire in 1929 at the factory of F.G. Gill, putty knife manufacturers, threatened to burn down all the houses in Penton Street. People evacuated their homes and hastily removed furniture before the fire was brought under control.
Industry has long gone, as have the houses, but a huge block of student accommodation now lines one side of the street. And, of course, Trippet’s Lounge Bar, formerly the premises of Bowler J. Dewsnap, cutlery manufacturers, occupies the triangle of land on the right.
The Victorians knew how to build shops. And this is a perfect example of elaborate architecture. It is Boots, on West Street, at its corner with Regent Street. There has been a Boots here since 1890, which makes it one of Sheffield’s oldest shops.
“It was built in Free Renaissance house style, executed in light brown faience, with big Flemish gables, an open parapet, and a cupola on the corner with a dome,” says Pevsner.
Forget the shop, it is what happens at roof level that intrigues me most. How often do people go up there? What secrets lie within that cupola? What will the view from it look like?
Boots was established in 1849 by John Boot, but it was his son, Jesse, who built the company into a household name with stores all over the world. I’ve mentioned before that its first chemist branch outside Nottingham was at Spital Hill, and Sheffield played an important part in its growth.
The building we see is not the original shop. The old store was three storeys high, comprising a commodious shop, with seven large plate-glass windows, on the first floor six stock rooms, and on the second floor, six similar rooms. The site itself was held on an 800 year lease from 1 October 1825.
In 1905, the old store was rebuilt, and Boots took temporary premises opposite for its chemist, while fancy goods were sold from a shop higher up at the corner with Victoria Street.
The new shop opened in 1906 and was designed by Albert Nelson Bromley (1820-1934), whose work in Sheffield had already included a Boots branch in 1904 at Attercliffe. (It also survives, home to Samara Lounge, but for years as the Zeenat Restaurant).
The West Street branch followed the company tradition of purpose-built branches, faced in caramel-coloured glazed terracotta, often with shaped gables or corner turrets. The detailing followed French Renaissance and English Jacobean architecture, often including hybrid sea creatures in its decoration.
A good example of this can be found at Pelham Street, once Boots’ flagship Nottingham store, now occupied by Zara. West Street, although built on a much smaller scale, is a replica, still in original form, except for the disappearance of the corner clock. The terracotta may be Doulton’s Carraraware, which was specified for Boots’ branch in Southend in 1915.
Albert Nelson Bromley, the architect, was born in Stafford, and moved to Nottingham to live with his uncle, architect Frederick Bakewell. He joined his office and became a fellow member of RIBA in 1872. He was on the point of taking up a post in Manchester when he was encouraged to spend time sketching buildings on the continent.
Between 1872-73 he visited 90 towns and cities, including Bruges, Chartres, Heidelberg, Prague, Venice, Siena, Athens, and Constantinople. In ‘Work and Sport: Memories of an Architect’ (1934), he stated that the object of the book was “mainly to reduce to readable proportions his ‘Continental Diary of my Architectural Travels.’
Gifted in the use of the pencil, pen, and brush, he executed watercolours of high artistic merit.
On returning to England, Bromley re-joined his uncle’s practice although their partnership was dissolved in 1876. He became principal architect for Nottingham School Board and did work for Nottingham Tramway Company. But it was his work for Boots that he is best remembered for, a relationship that lasted into the 1920s.
Over a hundred years later, this modern-day Boots is a far cry from its origins, described back in the day as a ‘Chemist, Fine Art Dealer, and Bookseller.’
Special thanks to Kathryn A Morrison for providing historical date about Boots and Albert Nelson Bromley.
Today, a look at a street in Sheffield city centre that was consigned to history long ago.
In 1874, a plan was produced by Sheffield architects, Innocent and Brown, for the laying out of Leopold Street, and the realignment of Church Street and Bow Street (now the bottom-end of West Street).
About this time, land between Orchard Lane, Bow Street, Orchard Street and Balm Green was covered by old houses in two streets, Smith Street and Sands Paviours.
The site was bought by the Sheffield School Board for building the Central Schools and offices. At the same time, Mark Firth founded Firth College, later part of the University of Sheffield, and this was opened by Prince Leopold in 1879.
The removal of old property between Bow Street and Orchard Lane caused the obliteration of the marvellously named Sands Paviours.
But what had once been a pathway across rural land had become a street of slum housing, workshops, shops, and a public house called the Norfolk Arms. And murder and crime were evident on the street.
According to John Daniel Leader, this little court of houses may have derived its name from Samuel Sands, who flourished in the reign of Queen Ann.
By an indenture dated 25 September 1708, Samuel Sands, a Sheffield cutler, conveyed to George Hawke of Leavygreave, yeoman, for the sum of £100, all that messuage, near the Townhead Cross with a smithy, barn, orchard, and garden, lately in the possession of John Hobson; also, a cottage adjoining, lately in the possession of Mary Wilson, to hold the same for ever of the chief Lord or Lords of the fee. The vendor signed his name ‘Samwell Sandes.”
However, there was another suggestion for it being named so.
In other towns there were streets called Sans Paviours (without paving stones), and it might be that because Sandes’ house was here, that he saw the name Sans Paviours elsewhere, and thought it appropriate for his own property.
The mystery was cleared up when the land was bought by the School Board, and the old deeds showed that it had been in the family called Sandes from 1657 to 1727, and that early mention was also made to Sands Croft and Sands Orchard.
Like many old street names that were adapted over the years, Sands Paviours was also referred to as Saint Pavers.
Remember this the next time you relax in Leopold Square. There is history beneath your feet.
We wait with anticipation as to what happens to this redundant building at 43-45 West Street, at its corner with Holly Street. It was built in 1914, the year the First World War started, as shown by a carving in the Ashlar stone, and planning permission has been granted to turn it into a wine bar.
The property has most recently been used as a men’s’ hairdressers and salon and is now vacant.
The good news is that the exterior of the building will be sympathetically restored with the removal of ugly brick infills and floor-to-ceiling glazing at first-floor level.
The interior is remarkably narrow, with the back of the building mostly taken by the derelict former Old Red Lion public house.
Last night, I met an elderly gentleman, who stood smoking a pipe outside the gate to St George’s Church. “It’s a wet night,” he obliged. “Aye, but Mappin Street looks very beautiful in the rain,” I said.
“Nay lad. This is Charlotte Street, and before that it was St George’s Square.” He paused. “I understand why you might be confused,” and pointed his pipe back towards West Street.
“Walk back yonder and look at the white paint on the building at the end. It says ‘Zarlot Street.’ Once upon a time, there was a Pitman Society in Sheffield, and they persuaded the town authorities to allow them to name our streets phonetically. That’s the last reminder, but it’s always been Charlotte Street to us.”
And Charlotte Street became Mappin Street, named after Sir Frederick Mappin, whose building for the University of Sheffield was completed in 1913.
This building on West Street is typical of inter-war buildings. Plain and simple. The excessive cost of construction materials during the 1930s meant structures had to be functional rather than decorative. The substantial use of red-brick was symbolic, and certainly conceived in the architects’ department at the Government’s Office of Works.
Revenue Buildings was built in 1937 for the Inland Revenue to replace nine district offices. In June of that year over 300,000 files of the District Valuer were moved here, as were something like 100,000 files of the Inland Revenue. Once completed, it housed all departments of the Board of Inland Revenue in Sheffield, including Tax Inspectors, Collectors, and Valuation.
It occupied the four upper floors, and the west part of the ground floor was used as motor vehicle and tractor showrooms for Samuel Wilson & Son. Motor vehicle retail appears to have continued until recent times, although this part is now occupied by Players Bar.
The Inland Revenue merged with HM Customs & Excise in 2005 and the site handed over to the Department for Work and Pensions. It later vacated the site (now known as Rockingham House) and most office space became vacant.
The block was sold in 2011 and the new owner granted planning permission in 2019 for conversion and extension of the building for student accommodation. This has been replaced with a new application to convert and extend the property into 162 build-to-rent studio apartments with a modern two-storey roof extension.
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.
Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.
As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873. Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.
Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.
A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square
By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.
The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.
The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”
It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.
Sheffield in 1791. This reproduction was one of David Martin’s Series of Sheffield Sketches, showing what was the appearance of the town from the north side of Broomhall Spring.
The wood called Broomhall Spring extended to Broomhall Park, full of fine old oak trees, with very little underwood, and soft turf like that of a park. The wood was later cut down, the Government wanting oak timber for ship-building.
The spring itself was later referred to as Spring Garden Well, with the inscription “To the public use, by the Rev. James Wilkinson and Phillip Gell, Esq. Freely take – freely communicate. thank God.”
It was at what is now the corner of Gell Street and Conway Street, and it isn’t without coincidence that the names Broomspring Lane, Wilkinson Street and Gell Street emerged.
To the picture itself, and the fields between Broomhall Spring and the churches – the Parish Church, St. James’s and St. Paul’s – are known to us now as West Street, Division Street, and their adjacent thoroughfares.
In another post, we looked at Sir Charles Clifford (1860-1936), proprietor of the Sheffield Telegraph and Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, and on the Council at the University of Sheffield.
Little is known about him nowadays, but his name is familiar with generations across the city.
The Charles Clifford Dental Hospital, on Wellesley Road, was opened in 1953 to provide dental care for people in Sheffield.
Its origins were in the Dental department of the Royal Hospital on West Street, but the facilities became too cramped, and so, in 1935, Sir Charles Clifford bought Broom Bank, an empty house on Glossop Road, for the purpose.
Sir Charles Clifford died in 1936, also leaving more than £77,000 for the “general purpose of the university.” It later emerged that there was a problem with Broom Bank because the site had been earmarked for a new general hospital to replace the Royal Hospital and Royal Infirmary (it subsequently became the Royal Hallamshire Hospital).
The plans had to be abandoned, and war prevented development of the Charles Clifford Dental Hospital (on another site on Wellesley Road) until revived in 1950. In the meantime, Broom Bank was demolished in 1947, a decision criticised by the local press as the loss of a short-term chance to adapt it for the purposes of the hospital.
The foundation stone was laid by Hilary A. Marquand, Minister of Health, in September 1951, and was finally opened by the Duchess of Gloucester in 1953.
When it opened it was “one of the finest dental schools in the country,” with laboratories, teaching rooms, a library and common rooms as well as one floor devoted to general treatment, and a second, with forty dental chairs, for “conservative restoration of teeth and periodontal work.”
The NHS provided most of the funding, but £7,800 of Sir Charles Clifford’s legacy was used to buy equipment. In 1966, the facility was extended, and in 1995 the hospital was absorbed into the Central Sheffield University Hospitals NHS Trust, which merged with the Northern General NHS Trust in 2001 to become Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. A major refurbishment programme that cost £5.3million was completed in 2009 and now includes The School of Dentistry at the University of Sheffield.