Category Archives: Sheffield’s Heritage

Clad in complete steel

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Steel cladding is an admirable and relatively inexpensive way of modernising the façade of a building.  It conceals the original usually without obliterating it.  I’d far rather see a historic frontage, such as the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, clad than stripped of its aesthetic value.

The Bijou Cinema, Derby, lost its elaborate faience façade when it became a furniture showroom in the early 1960s.  The interior, at balcony level at least, survived to become a particularly beautiful curry house, which would have been even more eye-catching if the original cinema frontage had remained intact.

There’s hardly anything left of the auditorium of the former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield, which after it closed in 1958 also became a furniture showroom, and latterly a self-storage unit, yet the rich façade in brick and brown faience survives largely intact behind steel cladding that was installed as late as the 1980s.

Indeed, part of the façade became visible when a gale brought down the corner of the cladding on January 11th 2017.

Though at present barely recognisable , the Don has a particular place in the history of the city’s cinemas.

Sales people working at the furniture showroom were perturbed by manifestations that they couldn’t explain – whirring noises, voices and a figure in an overall wearing cycle clips.

The late Bernard Dore, who had managed the Don Cinema in the 1950s, pointed out that the chief operator, Mr Potter, invariably cycled to West Bar from his home in Ecclesall rather than take the tram, and stored his bike in the projection room.

Furthermore, he habitually wore plus-fours and a tweed jacket covered by an overall.

He had a habit of creeping up behind his junior colleagues and whispering their names to make them jump.

Dan, the manager of Armadillo Storage, showed me what’s left of the cinema structure – an intact staircase and the space that was once the projection room.  He and his colleagues say they haven’t experienced manifestations.

I hope that when the steel cladding has eventually to come down, the façade behind it will be retained.

After all, the Don Picture House is, as far as I know, Sheffield’s only documented haunted cinema.

We never closed

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

I passed the former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, twice a day for nearly thirty years on my way to work without ever taking much notice of it, from a time when it was still a cinema, through years as a bingo club, until eventually it became a carpet showroom.

I wrote a blog article about it and illustrated it with an image dated 1985, when the exterior was largely as designed by the London architect, George Coles.

A couple of years ago the carpet showroom advertised what became the longest-running closing-down sale I can remember.

I got to know the staff, who were unclear about when and indeed whether the closure would take place.

They’re still there, and in the autumn of 2016 the cinema marquee was dismantled and the entire façade covered with elegant steel cladding.

It’s reassuring to know that the owners are investing in the building, so it’s unlikely to be threatened in the near future, which is as well because it’s unlisted and unrecognised as a building of merit.

It was Sheffield’s last pre-war cinema, opening shortly after the start of the Second World War, on September 18th 1939.

George Coles was a highly regarded architect who built numerous cinemas for Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon circuit, such as the Odeons at Muswell Hill and Woolwich.

In Sheffield he was commissioned by the building contractor M J Gleeson to build the Forum, Southey (1938, demolished) and shortly afterwards began work on the Capitol.

Indeed, Coles’ plans for the proposed cinema show that Gleesons intended to name it another Forum, until they thought better of having two cinemas with the same name a little more than a mile apart.

The exterior is an impeccable, restrained version of the Art Deco manner that Odeon favoured, but the interior in contrast is elegant neo-Georgian, with alcoves and statuary and a 36-foot proscenium, much of which remains, apparently, behind immaculate white cladding.

The street-level foyer has been swept away to open up the showroom area, but the upstairs crush lobby (inaccessible to the public) remains as it was in the days of bingo, and the operating box and rewind room are intact though empty of equipment.

Although the building has a secure future for the moment, some day it will change hands, and its considerable architectural merit may not be recognised as a largely intact late-1930s moderne cinema by an architect with a national reputation.

Lacking the protection of listing, the long-term future of the Capitol depends on the vigilance of local observers and the support of national conservation organisations.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the building as worth less than the site, when in fact its historic integrity could be a selling point sometime in years to come.

Kelham Island

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield:  Bessemer Converter

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield: Bessemer Converter

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield:  River Don Engine

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield: River Don Engine

On its course towards Lady’s Bridge in the centre of Sheffield, the River Don splits:  water is taken from the natural course and sent down a mill race, originally built for the town’s medieval corn mill, creating an artificial island that was later named after the town armourer, Kellam Homer, who worked here just before the Civil War.

It has always been an intensively industrial spot, its furnaces, forges and workshops initially powered by water, later by steam.

When Sheffield’s tramways were first electrified in 1899, the Corporation power station was located at Kelham Island, and its buildings now form the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, opened in 1972, telling the story of Sheffield’s industries through displays and exhibits, supplementing the historic sites at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel.

The displays highlight the continuing variety of Sheffield manufactures, from cutlery to liquorice allsorts, exhibiting the fast-disappearing skills of the “little mesters”, and providing a home for England’s largest surviving Bessemer Converter, a working Crossley Gas Engine and the mighty 400-ton, 12,000hp River Don Engine, built by the Sheffield firm of Davy Brothers to roll armour-plate up to fifteen inches thick.

It’s also the home of the Ken Hawley Collection, the result of a lifetime’s assiduous acquisition of tools, archives and moving-image records that saved for posterity the vanishing crafts of the “little mesters” and the larger engineering firms that have disappeared since the Second World War.  Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014) accumulated irreplaceable artefacts through his business connections in the tool trade, and by enlisting historians and engineering enthusiasts over six decades.

Kelham Island is now famous for its beer.  The Fat Cat public house, with its Kelham Island Brewery, is within sight of the museum, and around the corner is the Kelham Island Tavern, a similarly celebrated home of real ale.

The Kelham Island Industrial Museum is a destination in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Mr Shepherd’s Wheel

Shepherd Wheel, Whiteley Woods, Sheffield

Shepherd Wheel, Whiteley Woods, Sheffield

The valley of the River Porter, north-west of Sheffield city-centre, has a succession of water-powered industrial sites in varying degrees of preservation.

It’s easy to explore, because the valley forms part of the fourteen-mile Sheffield Round Walk, and there are bus routes running parallel from Fulwood to Hunters Bar.

A good place to start is Forge Dam, where on the site of a former forge and rolling mill there is a celebrated café which has changed little since at least the 1950s.

Further downstream is the water-powered Shepherd Wheel, a surviving grinding shop (known in Sheffield as a “hull”) for sharpening knife blades, named after the late-eighteenth century tenant.

Because the Sheffield craft trades were highly fragmented, many craftsmen worked for themselves, and were known as the “little mesters”.

The grinders would hire a grindstone on an hourly or daily basis, rather like hairdressers and tattooists rent their chairs nowadays.

They sat aside a saddle, called a “horsing”, bending over the millstone-grit grindstones that spun fast on the power that came from the water wheel.

When you step into either of the two hulls (set opposite each other to take power from the two sides of the waterwheel), it’s easy to sense the dark, cold, damp atmosphere.  Working in such places was not fun.

Indeed, it was frequently lethal.  Undetectable imperfections in the grindstones could at any moment cause an explosion throwing the stone and the grinder sitting astride it right across the building, into the roof or on to the unprotected cogwheels.

“Wet grinding”, where the stone sat in a bath of water so that the dust was converted to a viscous mud, called “swarf”, was less profitable than “dry grinding”, which created so much iron and sandstone dust that grinders rarely lived past their mid-thirties if they persisted in the trade, as many did for lack of choice.

The surrounding stretch of the valley became a public park in 1900, and when Shepherd Wheel closed in 1930 it was left almost entirely intact.

It took many years, however, for the place to be restored.  It first opened to the public in 1962.

It is now vested in the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which also operates the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and the Kelham Island Industrial Museum.

It is open at weekends and bank holidays:  http://www.simt.co.uk/shepherd-wheel-workshop.

Shepherd Wheel is included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Industrial hamlet

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

Sheffield’s Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet museum illustrates the entire history of the city’s traditional metal trades on a single site.

Before the railway came and made possible Sheffield’s heavy steel industry in the East End, the manufacture of cutlery and edge tools took place on the fast-flowing river valleys of the Don Valley, mainly to the north and west of the town itself.  Only with the arrival of steam power did the “little mesters” begin to concentrate their works in town.

The Abbeydale Works can be traced back to at least 1714, perhaps to the “New Wheel” mentioned at the site in 1685.  The present buildings date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and show the full range of processes involved in producing edge-tools using the crucible steel methods developed  by  Benjamin Huntsman in 1742.

The Abbeydale works made scythes in a sequence from the manufacturing of clay crucibles, the furnace, to the forging and grinding, boring and setting of scythe-blades ready for the handle to be fitted elsewhere, laid out logically around a spacious courtyard.

The vernacular buildings, including the workmen’s cottages and the Manager’s House of 1838, all built of local sandstone, sit easily in the wooded landscape, and it’s possible to forget the large millpond behind, holding back a placid-looking, prodigious weight of water that provided power for the works.

The waterwheels, tilt-hammers, blowing-engine and grindstones show that, because materials were simple and technology primitive by modern standards, the high level of precision and workmanship achieved in the trade depended on the skill and physical hardiness of the craftsmen who worked here.

For all its peaceful, rural setting, the site also recollects the “Sheffield Outrages”, a series of terrorist acts by which trade-union members sought to intimidate non-members by sabotage and violence.

In November 1842 an explosion in the middle of the night destroyed the grinding shop and practically immobilised the works, presenting, according to the Sheffield Iris, “a scene that is rarely witnessed in a country not at war”.

The manager, Mr Dyson, had employed two workmen “who, though industrious and efficient workmen, did not belong to the union, and therefore Mr Dyson came under the displeasure of the men who compose the committee appointed by the union”.

Twenty years later, a subsequent tenant, Joshua Tyzack, was shot at:  the fact that the only casualty was his top hat didn’t make the incident any less threatening.

Tyzack, Sons & Turner finally closed the works down in 1933, and two years later the charitable trust set up by the Sheffield philanthropist J G Graves purchased it complete and largely intact.

Indeed, the works briefly resumed during the Second World War.

In 1964 the Council for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities began to investigate and restore the site, and since the 1970s it has been a popular tourist site as well as an invaluable educational resource.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is a destination in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Benjamin Huntsman

Britannia Inn, Worksop Road, Attercliffe Sheffield (2010)

Britannia Inn, Worksop Road, Attercliffe Sheffield (2010)

Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), a Quaker clockmaker from Doncaster, was dissatisfied with the inconsistent quality of the blister steel manufactured in cementation furnaces.  He needed consistent quality in the steel he used for the springs of his timepieces.

He evolved cast steel during the 1740s by melting bars of blister steel in closed fireclay crucibles and went into commercial production in 1751.

Huntsman’s process generated steel of far higher, more consistent quality, but it was expensive.

He moved to the outskirts of Sheffield to be nearer to collieries, first to Handsworth, and then to a larger site at Attercliffe before 1763, by which time he was producing up to ten tons of cast steel a year.

Hunstman did not patent his process and Sheffield cutlers at first refused to use cast steel.  He sold his entire output to French cutlers, and in the face of competition his neighbours surreptitiously spied on his works and stole his expertise.

His business nevertheless prospered and was passed to his son, William Huntsman (1733–1809).

The site of his Attercliffe works was commemorated in the name of the now-demolished Huntsman’s Gardens Schools.

The only remaining reminder on the site now is the cast numerals which form the date 1772 on the Britannia Inn, Worksop Road.

Benjamin Hunstman is buried in the graveyard of Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe.

The Britannia Inn and Huntsman’s grave at Hill Top Chapel are included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

The burning fiery furnace

Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace, Shalesmoor, Sheffield

Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace, Shalesmoor, Sheffield

Standing incongruously in a car-park, the Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace is a precious relic of the origins of Sheffield’s steel industry.

A cementation furnace is a distinctive conical structure, which resembles the bottle-kilns of the Staffordshire potteries and serves a similar function.

Swedish or Spanish bar-iron and charcoal, sandwiched like a layer cake, was heated to a temperature of 1,100-1,200°C in sealed sandstone vessels heated by an external coal fire.

The resulting product was called blister steel and was uneven in quality because the outer blistered surface of each bar was tougher than the core and no two bars were consistent.

The earliest surviving cementation furnace in Britain is the stone-built example at Derwentcote, Tyneside, dating from c1730.

The Sheffield furnace, dating from 1848, is the very last survivor of around 250 such furnaces which dotted the city until the end of the nineteenth century.  It formed part of a group of five in the works of Daniel Doncaster & Sons.

It remains complete, with the hearth and the surrounding flues that directed the heat around the two parallel sandstone chests which contained alternate layers of charcoal and iron, sealed by a crust of “wheelswarf”, that is, debris from blade-grinding combined with sandstone dust.

Each firing produced up to 35 tons of steel.

The blackout mask on top of the conical chimney was added after it was damaged in the Sheffield Blitz.

When the rest of the works was demolished the new landowners, Midland Bank Ltd, now HSBC, fenced it off and restored it.  It’s easily visible from the surrounding streets, and can be inspected more closely by picking up the key from Kelham Island Industrial Museum.

The Doncaster Street cementation furnace is included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Bishop Heaslett

St Alban's Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Alban’s Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew's Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

When I explored the material in Sheffield Archives about the parish of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, I came upon a complete run of parish magazines from before the church was consecrated in 1939 until the mid-1950s.

The bulk of these magazines were edited by the first vicar, Fr (later Canon) Richard Roseveare SSM (1902-1972), charting the sprouting of streets and houses on what had been farmland, the establishment of one of the biggest parishes in the Church of England with three churches and six or seven clergy, and the impact of the Second World War and its aftermath on the initial high hopes and ambitious plans for Parson Cross and St Cecilia’s.

He was a powerful figure, with a finger on the pulse of Sheffield working-class people – he formally opened the Parson Cross Hotel in June 1939 and ended up in the News of the World for his pains – and also a strict Anglo-Catholic who exhorted his parishioners to worship with due decorum.

St Cecilia’s parish started out with high-status helpers.  Lady Mabel Smith, the socialist daughter of the Earl Fitzwilliam, was a strong supporter until her death in 1951, and Mary Jane, Dowager Countess Ferrers, built a house on Halifax Road so she could help in the parish.

When Lady Ferrers died in 1944 her house became the home of Bishop Samuel Heaslett (1875-1947), who was Bishop of South Tokyo from 1921.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 he was given a very hard time by the Japanese authorities, who couldn’t grasp the idea that a Church of England was not a government agency, and after four months’ imprisonment and interrogation he was expelled from Japan.

Back in England Bishop Heaslett was offered a role as Assistant Bishop of Sheffield and came to Parson Cross in 1944.  He returned to Japan with his opposite number, the Bishop of North Tokyo, an American Episcopal Bishop, Charles S Reifsnider, to help the reformation of the Anglican church in Japan, Nippon Seikōkai, in May and June 1946.

The Tokyo cathedral that Bishop Heaslett knew had been obliterated in the bombing of Tokyo towards the end of the war.  A wooden replacement building, St Alban’s Church, opened in 1956, designed by the Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond (1888-1976).  It stands alongside the more substantial St Andrew’s Cathedral (Hisao Kohyama 1996).

Samuel Heaslett is commemorated in Sheffield Cathedral by a wall-tablet, and he appears in the Te Deum window in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

From the pages of dusty old magazines, a memorial tablet, a face in a stained-glass window, fascinating stories emerge of lives lived in times that feel very different from the present day.

Update on St Cecilia’s

St Cecila's Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield:  Cousens organ console (2014)

St Cecila’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield: Cousans organ console (2014)

A couple of years ago I went to some lengths to involve myself in the debate about the future of the practically redundant church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, Sheffield.

I’d seen the demise of a nearby parish church of the same period, St Hilda, Shiregreen, which slipped past the attention of members of the local community who would have wished to find a productive use for the building if they had been alert to the fact that it was threatened.

The latest development over St Cecilia’s is a draft pastoral scheme to appropriate the building for residential purposes and to dispose of its contents – a welcome alternative to the earlier proposal simply to demolish it, because it will, in the words of the Statutory Advisory Committee of the Church Buildings Council, “preserve the external envelope of the church and therefore preserve the townscape presence of the building”.

I researched the parish records held in Sheffield Archives to try to discover why this substantial building, completed in 1939, had presented such intractable problems of maintenance that its decreasing congregation abandoned it in favour of a smaller mission church, St Bernard of Clairvaux, elsewhere in the parish.

It seems that, in common with other buildings of its period, it was designed in the expectation that a large new parish on a vast housing estate could support regular, skilled maintenance.  The architect, Kenneth Mackenzie, did no other church designs, as far as I know.  He was the nephew of the Sheffield industrialist, Albert Reaney Heathcote, who contributed £13,000 towards its construction.

In fact, the Parochial Church Council minutes show that £600-worth of repairs were pending by 1953.  By 1961 the vicar described the building as “jerry-built”, which is perhaps unfair – it’s actually a substantial structure – but mortar was disintegrating from the stonework and plaster regularly fell away from behind the altar.

When I visited the building in 2014 it was like the Marie Celeste.  Although services had ceased three years before, there were vestments hanging in the vestry, hymn-books stacked in their cupboards, and music was still propped on the organ music-stand.

All the internal fittings must go, taking with them much of the history of seventy-seven years of parish life – the Stations of the Cross, given in memory of the Sheffield Coroner, J Kenyon Parker, the rood, the installation of which in 1949 caused a feline spat between the Vicar, Canon Roseveare, and the Chancellor of the Diocese, the reredos designed for Holy Trinity, Bolton (1923), and the huge Cousans organ, provided by the Church Burgesses in 1987 incorporating parts of earlier organs from the churches of St George, Sheffield, and St Luke’s, Crookes.

It’s a blessing that the small, cohesive congregation worshipping at St Bernard’s will be relieved of the responsibility for the much bigger building at St Cecilia’s.  The residents of Chaucer Close, which is in places within yards of the church, won’t have the noise and pollution of a brick-by-brick demolition.

And a fine mid-twentieth century building can survive in a part of Sheffield that has all too few significant pieces of architectural to enliven the sea of houses.

Timbertop

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

When I came to live in north Sheffield in 1973, the pleasantest place to go for a couple of pints in the evening was Timbertop on Shirecliffe Road at the top of a hill looking out across the Lower Don Valley, then still an expanse of smoking steelworks.

Timbertop was the most exciting and innovative of three 1960s public-house designs by the versatile Sheffield practice, Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson.  The others were the Jack in a box, Silkstone Road, Frecheville (1966) and The Domino, Egerton Street (1967, demolished).

Timbertop was commissioned by Bass Charrington (North) Ltd, built in 1969 and opened early in 1970.  It was an adventurous design, taking advantage of its sloping site five hundred feet above sea level.

The load-bearing brick walls support a timber structure, with a roof that presents as a valley on the entrance front and as a pyramid when seen from downhill.

All the service facilities were located in the basement, along with the tenant’s bedrooms;  the tenant’s living accommodation was, unusually, on the ground floor rather than above the public areas.

Customers had a choice of social areas spread over an open-plan split-level space, with a snug at ground level leading to a sunken lounge with a 16ft natural stone fireplace and a chimney breast reaching to the roof, and an upper-level gallery floor with a bar and snack-preparation room.

In harmony with the timber structure, the internal walls were lined with pine, and the ceilings were of cedar wood.

Another interior feature, unusual in Sheffield pubs at the time, was a waterfall.

The building was completed in nine and a half weeks.

The pub was opened by Alderman J W Sterland, who drew the first pint.  As chairman of the city licensing committee, he’d visited a few hostelries in his time and declared it “one of the finest pubs I have seen”.

In later years Timbertop gained an unsavoury reputation and was not the sort of place you’d go for a quiet pint.

There were repeated reports in the local press of “a significant number of incidents on the premises” involving “reports of assaults and drug usage and dealing”.

On one occasion the premises supervisor was attacked when he confronted a customer attempting to serve himself.  Further incidents included a stabbing, paramedics attending a customer who was comatose, assaults involving bottles and “a damaged vehicle with a ‘strong smell of cannabis’”.  The final straw must have come shortly after a shooting that led to a court case in September 2015.

Now the place stands empty, and the chances of it reopening as licensed premises are probably nil.

It’s an exceptional building, in a part of Sheffield that has already lost – or may lose – some of the few landmark structures it ever had – such as the Ritz Cinema (Hadfield & Cawkwell 1937;  demolished 2013) and St Cecilia’s Parish Church (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939;  redundant).