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A Glance at Sheffield as it was and is


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It remains for us to stroll through the city, noticing things new and old and making a few comparisons between what is now and what was, say, 150 years ago. If we approach the city by the main road in the valley of the Don, which must always have been the chief entrance from the north-east, that is, by way of Rotherham, we find that the whole of the broad, flat valley between the high lands of the old Sheffield Park and the high lands of Wincobank hill and Pitsmoor, is filled with great works, and streets where workmen live. Bounded on the Park side by the Great Central Railway, this district is scored lengthways by the canal, the River Don, and the Midland Railway. It is the part with smoky chimneys and furnaces, which the passing stranger thinks of, and carries away in his mind, as - Sheffield. And, indeed, it forms the industrial heart of the place, though, to the resident, it seems only one aspect of a most varied, and in many respects beautiful, city.

Yet this very district, which people who only glance and pass away regard with a pretence at horror, was, less than a hundred years ago, a scene of peaceful beauty - of pleasant villages, rural walks, delightful river scenes. In these villages the most respected families lived in their halls. At Darnall lived the Staniforths. Their home is now a political club. At Carbrook lived the Brights. Their hall has now left nothing but a show room for a public-house. At New Hall lived the Fells, with Fell Street to preserve their name, unless we remember that it was the last Mrs. Fell who, in 1797, founded the Royal Infirmary. Joseph Hunter the historian, who deeply distrusted fine writing, grew eloquent about the quiet and romantic riverside footpaths of this region; and in its blackest part, where the atmosphere is such that the school ventilation system adopted depends on keeping the windows closed, the idyllic name is Salmon Pastures, from the inviting purity of the river in distant times. The main street through Attercliffe still keeps the name of Attercliffe Common - all that is left from the Inclosure Acts.

Here stood, for thirty-five years (1792-1827), the gibbet post on which hung the clothes and bones of the last man gibbeted in Sheffield under the cruel laws of those days. His name was Spence Broughton, and his offence was robbing the post-cart of the Rotherham mail bag. Three men were concerned in the robbery. One escaped, and the other, the ringleader, turned King's evidence, swore his comrade's life away, and was pardoned.

A far worse instance of the terrible cruelty of the laws of England at the end of the eighteenth century was seen in the cases of two poor fellows, Sheffield workmen, who were hanged at York, in 1790, for stealing from a fellow-workman on Lady's Bridge, as a joke, a shoulder of mutton. Five of them had been drinking together. One left his shop-mates and bought the mutton. The other four waylaid him, ran off with the mutton, and, for a "lark," had it cooked at a public-house, after telling him where they were taking it. He followed them with the police and had them arrested. One was acquitted; one was transported for life (but afterwards pardoned), and two were hanged. A reprieve was signed, but arrived at York too late. These terrible deeds, done in the name of the law, are mentioned here as milestones on the path of progress. They show how cruel the government of our country could be in the days of the grandfathers of people now living. Every one of English birth should know and honour the name of the man whose life-work was the means of abolishing these fearfully unjust punishments. His name was Sir Samuel Romilly.

The Attercliffe road crosses the Don by Washford Bridge. There is a record of this bridge being built of stone, by the West Riding, in 1672. Previously it had been a wooden bridge. The Wicker, by which the traveller reaches Lady's Bridge and recrosses the Don, has a notable history. It was in ancient times a sort of village green, on which stood the butts where archery was practised, and the maypole that made a centre for spring and summer sports. Here was the Court, or 'Sembly House. Easter was the date for the assembly of the tenants bound to the service of the Lord of the Manor, and here they held their sports and merrymaking.

The Barnsley Road joined the Wicker from Bridgehouscs by what is now Nursery Street. This name comes from the Lord's Nursery Gardens, which occupied the now densely crowded district between the Wicker and Trinity Church. Later, the gardens became a public recreation ground. When the markets were built, and the cattle and pigs that on market-day had occupied what is now Angel Street, the lower part of High Street and Fitzalan Square, were cleared off from the central part of the town, they were penned in the Wicker.

Entering the city from Barnsley, the first public building to attract attention is the Sheffield Union Workhouse, at Fir Vale. It occupies a site of 44 acres, and is as fine an example of this kind of institution as can be found anywhere. Since 1906 the excellent hospital for the sick poor has been managed apart from the workhouse. The arrangements for the upbringing and education of the children who come under the care of the guardians have been made, since 1892, according to a scheme that is known widely as the Sheffield Scattered Homes system. The children are separated into small groups, each occupying a house managed by a foster-mother, and they attend the ordinary schools of the city. They are not recognisable by dress, and the aim is to bring them up under the ordinary conditions of home life. This humane plan, which wholly disconnects the child from the workhouse, will always be associated with the name of Mr. John Wycliffe Wilson, who, for many years, was chairman of the Sheffield Board of Guardians.

(The Ecclesall Union Workhouse, on the other side of the city, was built in 1842-3. Its children are educated through the ordinary schools, and they live in a group of six blocks of houses on the Fulwood side of the upper Porter valley.)

Near the entrance to Firth Park is Page Hall, one of the first of the large houses to be built in the Sheffield suburbs when the town began to be prosperous. It was originally the home of the Broadbents, a family of energetic merchants and, later, bankers. Now, it is used as an Orphanage by the National Union of Teachers.

At the summit of Pitsmoor, a little off the main road, is Shirecliffe Hall, once the seat of the ancient Mounteney family, and a place of feudal independence; and, later, a port of refuge for persecuted Nonconformists. Still later, it belonged to the ancestors of Sir Joseph Banks, the distinguished scientist who accompanied Captain Cook in one of his voyages round the world.

Crossing Lady's Bridge from the Wicker, we have, on the left as we ascend Wain Gate, the site of the old castle smothered under mean buildings. The old name of the street from the Court House to Fitzalan Square, now the Haymarket, was the Bullstake; and part of the Square was the old Swine Market. The Square itself has gained dignity in recent years, especially since the balustraded centre has been ornamented by the fine memorial statue of King Edward VII, and the surrounding buildings have approached more nearly what the architecture of a central square in a great city should be.

Coming into the city from the Penistone direction, the chief public institution noticeable is the Royal Infirmary. It was the first hospital started in Sheffield, and was opened in 1797 with great ceremony. It has a splendid story of usefulness. Now it provides 255 beds.

The fullest extent of the town, on this route, when William Fairbank drew his plan of Sheffield in 1771, was Allen Lane at the junction of Gibraltar Street and Shalesmoor, which then was sketched as a real moor. Westbar Green was at that time the centre of the lower part of the town, and Scotland Street came to a blind end at the edge of the moor. Late into the eighteenth century there was a considerable tanning business carried on by the Raw-sons of Upperthorpe. Crookes, Walkley, Upperthorpe, and Owlerton were villages - the latter having a Lord of the Manor to itself - and Joseph Hunter writes in 1819 of "a knot of new houses forming a considerable village, about a mile from Sheffield, that has been given the name of Philadelphia."

Passing up the broad and commodious High Street from Fitzalan Square, we come to the Church Gates, a point that may be said now to compete with the Town Hall and Fitzalan Square as to which is the central point in Sheffield. Where the Church Gates stand, formerly rose the Town Hall, encroaching on the end of Church Street. Erected in 1700, it stood till 1808. This was also the site of the stocks (till they were removed to Paradise Square), and perhaps of the pillory.

The Cutlers' Hall, a handsome and convenient building, brought up to date in all its interior arrangements, but most difficult to speak in, is the third hall that has been built on the same site. The first was built in 1638, the second in 1726, and the present hall (since enlarged) in 1832. It is quite a storehouse of local history. The New Town Hall, much the finest modern building in the city, suffers architecturally from not being raised to a greater height by an approach of steps. Though it was built much too small for the city's requirements and had to be enlarged, it is, within its too narrow limits, conveniently planned. Its influence on the life of the city has been great. As a meeting-place to which large numbers of the citizens come, at one time or other, for public purposes - now one circle of influence and now another, according to the sympathies of successive Lord Mayors - this centre of civic life has helped to give the people of Sheffield a clearer realisation of what Sheffield as a whole means, to quicken their sense of public duty, and to add dignity and honour to public service. Like the Cutlers' Hall, the Town Hall includes an interesting collection of portraits of local notabilities, some publicly subscribed for, and some presented by themselves.

The Town Hall has no large room for a public meeting, nor is the site extensive enough ever to allow such an addition to be made. Any meeting attended by 2,000 people must be held either in dead spaces like the Corn Exchange or the Drill Hall in Edmund Street - quite unsuited for speech or song - or in two smaller halls in the centre of the city, the Albert Hall, owned by a company, or the Victoria Hall of the Wesleyan Central Mission, on the site of the old Norfolk Street Chapel.

The Albert Hall, holding 2,000 people when full in every part, has a remarkably fine organ. Here, under the choir-mastership of Dr. Henry Coward, a gifted native of Sheffield who began life as a cutler's apprentice, the Sheffield Festival Chorus was developed. It has given splendid interpretations of the finest musical masterpieces, and, through a selection of its members, has been heard in many parts of the world.

The Victoria Hall is now frequently used for concerts and public gatherings. It seats more than 2,000 people with exceptional comfort, and has the great advantage of carrying a speaker's voice in full tone to every seat.

The square space between Leopold Street, Orchard Lane, Holly Street, and Bow Street, is wholly occupied by educational buildings - the Education Offices, Boys' Central Secondary School, Girls' Central Secondary School, Pupil Teachers' Centre, and Bow Street Elementary School. These exceedingly useful buildings tell a story of want of faith and of imaginative foresight. They have been erected one by one to meet temporary requirements, and perforce extended from time to time, till they crowd each other; and the total cost has been very large. Still no one of them meets quite satisfactorily the vast requirements of a continuously growing progressive city. Nowhere else in Sheffield can a better illustration be seen of the difficulty of gauging a generation ahead the needs of a great advancing community like Sheffield. Faith and a prophetic mind might have covered this area with more suitable buildings at a less cost; but nobody can be blamed for a lack of the gift of prophecy.

About the middle of the eighteenth century, the town began to extend from High Street down the slope of the valley towards the River Sheaf and the present site of the Midland Station; and Norfolk Street was made along the upper edge of Alsop Fields, which occupied the whole hillside down to Pond Lane - now Pond Street - and the Sheaf. It was the tenth Duke of Norfolk (who, as Earl of Surrey, became heir to the Sheffield property in 1777), and his energetic agent, Vincent Eyre, who together first gave Sheffield room for growth. Under their management, the streets were cleared of the open market, the slaughter-houses were removed from what is now Fitzalan Square, the new markets were established, and Alsop Fields were laid out for building purposes. Hence came the naming of these streets, from Norfolk family associations - Surrey Street, Arundel Street, Howard Street, Furnival Street, and, right through the middle of the new building estate - Eyre Street.

On the other side of Sheffield Moor, Earl Fitzwilliam was Lord of the Manor of Ecclesall, by inheritance through the Bright family and the Marquis of Rockingham - hence the naming of Fitzwilliam and Rockingham Streets as the town extended in that direction.

The most notable resident on the south of the city towards the end of the eighteenth century was Thomas Holy, who lived in a house lying back from the street just beyond where South Street Chapel now stands. He was one of the earliest and most faithful supporters of John Wesley, and to his house came Wesley when he made what was regarded as a farewell visit to Sheffield in 1786. In 1743, when Charles Wesley first preached in Sheffield, the mob had pulled the little Methodist Chapel down to the very ground, and the magistrates had declined to interfere. Forty-three years afterwards, John Wesley walked down the Moor to Thomas Holy's house, an aged man, leaning on his friend's arm, and crowds followed him; "the windows of the houses were thronged with eager but respectful gazers," and "a vast concourse wept and wailed at the thought of losing him," when he prayed for a blessing on them as they gathered on Mr. Holy's green. So surely do times change for the better!

The present principal roads out of the city to the residential West - West Street and Glossop Road - are of comparatively recent date. The old outlet, with Stanage as its moorland destination, was by Broad Lane, Brook Hill, and Western Bank, which then was a broad country road with the far better name of Hallam Gate. Or you could go by Campo Lane and Trippet Lane, which sent off footpaths, one to Broom Hall, and another to Broomhill, and finished itself as a footpath to Hallam Gate past the hamlet of Leavygreave.

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Pictures for A Glance at Sheffield as it was and is

Carbrook Hall in 1819
Carbrook Hall in 1819 >>>>
THE GENERAL INFIRMARY IN 1819
THE GENERAL INFIRMARY IN 1819 >>>>
Sheffield in 1771
Sheffield in 1771 >>>>
The Cutlers' Hall
The Cutlers' Hall >>>>
THE CENTRAL SECONDARY SCHOOLS
THE CENTRAL SECONDARY SCHOOLS >>>>
JOHN WESLEY
JOHN WESLEY >>>>
Thomas Jessop
Thomas Jessop >>>>

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