Category Archives: Sheffield’s Heritage

One man, one mester

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

My Sheffield’s Heritage tour-group were honoured to be introduced, by Mike, our guide from the Ken Hawley Collection, to Stan Shaw BEM, who at ninety-one is not exactly the last of Sheffield’s little mesters, simply because in his lifetime he has picked up the craft skills of perhaps a dozen of the specialised traditional Sheffield tradesmen.

Technically, he’s a spring-knife cutler:  all his hand-crafted knives have retractable, spring-loaded blades.

Stan tells his own story in a Sheffield Telegraph article dated March 24th 2016 [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/life-is-still-at-the-sharp-end-for-expert-sheffield-craftsman-in-his-90th-year-1-7813981]:

“When I got to be 14 years of age I wondered – because I’d never done metalwork or woodwork – what am I going to do for a living?  I went on to Rockingham Street and saw Ibbersons and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I have a job, Mr Ibberson?’

“I went upstairs to see him, in a little ante-room, and there were all the knives in glass cases.  I said, ‘I want to make them’.  I don’t know why I said it – I’d never used tools in my life – so he sent for his head cutler and said, ‘This lad wants to make knives.  Will you have him?’

“So I started with him the following morning.  I took to it like a duck to water, like it was made for me.”

 Over the decades he gained the expertise to make high-quality, decorative, practical knives that command premium prices, and since he went self-employed in 1987 he has never looked back.

The old hand-craft skills will die with Stan, because he’s consistently declined to take on the paperwork encumbrances that come with apprentices.  He explains in a 2006 interview [http://www.mylearning.org/metalwork-in-sheffield-/p-833] how modern machine-made knives lack the quality he achieves:

“I was taught the proper way with a skilled man.  You’ve got to have somebody teach the proper way and there are a lot of people trying to learn themselves but they can’t.  They try and make as good a job as they can but they’re limited so there is only one way to learn and that is with skilled people who’ve learnt it from his father and his father before him.”

To buy one of Stan’s knives, stamped “Stan Shaw, Sheffield”, you wouldn’t get much change out of £2,000, and you’d have to collect it – wherever in the world you live – because he doesn’t trust them to the post.

And he has a four-year waiting list.

The only clients who don’t have to wait are his grandchildren, to whom he gives knives on their birthdays and Christmas.

No doubt family members, like such other clients as HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of York and President George H W Bush, have to hand over a coin in return, to prevent the friendship being cut.

The best available account of Stan’s life and work is a downloadable illustrated booklet Stan Shaw and the Art of the Pocket Knife (2016) by the Sheffield industrial historian Geoffrey Tweedale [http://contrib2.wkfinetools.com/tweedaleG/stanShaw/0_img/TWEEDALE-Stan%20Shaw-(12-12-2016).pdf] – an example of a craftsman in words writing about a craftsman in steel, silver, brass, wood, bone, stag-horn, buffalo-horn, abalone, tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl.

Nowt but tools

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Few people have done as much to preserve the living legacy of Sheffield’s industrial crafts as Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014).

Born on the then new Manor Estate, Ken lived almost all his life in the north of the city, the son of a wire-goods manufacturer.

He left school at fourteen, in the middle of the Second World War, and after National Service he worked for a succession of Sheffield businesses until in 1959 he set up his own shop, selling “nowt but tools” for thirty years.  Retirement in 1989 kept him busy for the rest of his life.

On a sales visit to an undertaker in 1950 Ken was intrigued by an unusual brace which he was allowed to take home because it was no longer useful.

From then on, often with the unanswerable words “You’ll not be wanting this, will you?”, Ken amassed a collection of tools, and tools that make tools, ancient and modern, across the entire range of Sheffield’s multifarious specialist crafts – saws, chisels, planes, hammers, trowels, spades, shovels, scythes, files, awls, shears, scissors, knives of all kinds, vices, drills, micrometers, callipers, soldering equipment, drawing equipment, kitchen equipment and surgical equipment that doesn’t bear thinking about.

He was instrumental, as a member of the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, in restoring the historic Wortley Top Forge [http://www.topforge.co.uk], of which he was Custodian for forty years, but his greatest legacy is the collection of tools and associated archives that gradually filled his house, his garage and two garden sheds.

Eventually, Sheffield University offered space for what became the Ken Hawley Collection Trust, which was relocated in 2007 to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, where it formally opened in 2010.

Here, as a separate operation from the Museum, a band of volunteers conserve, research and catalogue the seventy thousand or more artefacts and documents that form the collection.

Ken was intensely proud of his city, “a wonderful place, with all the skills of the different people”, and considered it a privilege to bring together the evidence of its industry at the time when the traditional crafts were dying out.

Without him, we’d know a good deal less about the ingenuity and the sheer skill of Sheffield’s metal workers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijCEeRIdQSo&feature=youtu.be

The Ken Hawley Collection can be viewed whenever the Museum is open, and its volunteers are more than happy to explain the intricacies of the specialist displays:  http://www.hawleytoolcollection.com.

And if you have any spare tools, they might fill a gap in the collection.

 

The spire and the minaret

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

The multicultural, multi-faith nature of the local community, depicted in the Channel 4 documentary Keeping up with the Khans (2016) [http://www.channel4.com/programmes/keeping-up-with-the-khans], has a remarkable architectural expression in the buildings of Trinity Methodist Church, Firvale, Sheffield, which has closed because its congregation felt they could no longer maintain their large, listed building:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/a-120-year-old-sheffield-church-to-close-due-to-cost-of-upkeep-1-8561680.

The church was built in 1899, designed by the Derby architect John Wills (1846-1906), a prolific builder of nonconformist churches and chapels.  The Gothic design is remarkably church-like, with a chancel, an altar and a tall spire that dominates the narrow fork of the junction between Firth Park Road and Owler Lane.

This High-Church Methodist layout, unusual in north Sheffield, is more often found in the affluent south-western suburbs.

The interior, split to provide meeting rooms in 1979-81, still retains its alabaster pulpit and font, and a three-manual Wilcox organ.

The adjacent Sunday School, added in 1907, was sold in 1976 and has become the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, carefully extended with a domed minaret that echoes the Gothic spire at the other end of the complex.

The church itself was put up for sale, with a price of £375,000, early in 2017.

The departure of the Methodists diminishes the symbolism of the two groups of worshippers as neighbours.  It will be interesting to see whether the church is taken over by the Muslim congregation or put to some other use.

Christians and Muslims remain neighbours in the heart of Firvale, however, because the Anglican parish church of St Cuthbert continues its work, with a well-designed community centre leading from the north aisle, opened in 2014:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/community-boost-from-new-sheffield-church-1-6698115.

St Cuthbert’s is a building of quality, dating shortly after the opening of Trinity Methodist Church.  It was built 1901-5, designed by John Dodsley Webster (d 1913) whose many Sheffield buildings included the recently demolished Jessop Hospital for Women.

The diminutive tower of 1959 is an unfortunate addition.  However, the church contains fine stained glass by Archibald Davis (1877-1953) of the Bromsgrove Guild, including a particularly beautiful war-memorial east window depicting the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Whatever happens to the Trinity Methodist Church buildings, the Christians and the Muslims will continue to be neighbours and no doubt will work together for the good of the local community.

St Cuthbert's Church, Firvale, Sheffield:  east window

St Cuthbert’s Church, Firvale, Sheffield: east window

Zion Graveyard

51750-Sheffield-Attercliffe

There’s not a lot left of the vibrant community that existed in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley until the late 1950s.  Two ancient structures – Carbrook Hall and Hill Top Chapel – survive from the seventeenth century.  There are some twentieth-century buildings, such as Banners Department Store and the former Adelphi Cinema.  Other, less prepossessing buildings have become significant simply because they survived – a number of banks and pubs, two Burton’s tailors, a chapel, a swimming baths and a library.

In a corner behind the remaining shops on Attercliffe Road is a historic discovery.

Parallel to the main road runs Zion Lane, a narrow alley still paved with bricks and stone setts.  It takes its name from the former Zion Congregational Church, a place of worship since 1793, the site ultimately occupied by a grand Romanesque chapel with a tower and spire, opened in 1863.

Inevitably, as the houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s the church became unsustainable. The building was sold in 1976 and the church became a furniture store until it burnt down in 1987 and was afterwards demolished.  The Zion Sabbath School across the lane survives as a motor-repair business.

Through all this, in the graveyard behind the church generations of Attercliffe people slept undisturbed.  I photographed it in 1977, and another photographer recorded it in 1994, when it still looked like a burial ground.  Eventually it became a jungle.

The graveyard still belongs to the United Reformed Church, which needs to divest itself of the responsibility.  A sharp-eyed member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, an energetic conservation body operating a couple of miles away, spotted the sale notice, which led to the formation of the Friends of Zion Graveyard who have cleared sufficient clutter to reveal that this place is freighted with historic significance.

Among the graves so far uncovered and identified are Mark Oakes (died September 19, 1856) – assayer, refiner and crucible maker, John Pearson of Hall Carr House (died January 14th 1877) – whose daughter Martha was assistant organist to Zion Church, buried with his wife and sister in an elaborate grave marked with iron posts and railings, and Jonathan Wood (died October 20th 1848), – owner of Wood’s (or Bridge) Foundry, member of the Zion Church choir, and his wife Catherine Wood (died September 12th 1873) – buried with their two infant children in an tomb surrounded by iron railings that were once painted gold, and two other children with the same family names, aged one year and two months, close by.

Most important of all, the Friends have located the family vault of the Read family.

Joseph Read (1774-1837) established the Sheffield Smelting Company (which is still in operation as Thessco Ltd) at Royd’s Mill, Washford Bridge, half a mile away from the Zion Church.  They lived at Wincobank Hall.

One of his daughters, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), was a notable anti-slavery campaigner who with her sister Emily Read was a founder-member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and its successor, the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery.

Another of his daughters, Elizabeth “Eliza” Read (1803-1851), married William Wilson (1800-1866), a nonconformist Radical who was chairman of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery Committee.

Their son, Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was the “stern and uncompromising” Liberal MP for Holmfirth (1885-1912).

His teetotal, non-smoking younger brother, John Wycliffe Wilson JP (1836-1921) became Lord Mayor of Sheffield (1902) on condition that alcohol should be banned at the Town Hall during his term.  As Chairman of Sheffield Board of Guardians he instigated the development of cottage homes for orphaned children.

Henry Joseph Wilson’s son, Cecil Henry Wilson (1864-1945) was Labour MP for Attercliffe (1922-1931 and 1935-1944).

In this nonconformist, Radical, individualistic town, this self-made dynasty is working-class aristocracy and Mary Ann Rawson’s campaigning career entitles her to national recognition.

Their unassuming, long-forgotten burial place deserves to be treasured and celebrated.

It commemorates what made Sheffield.

Chapel of ease

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

It’s no accident that the main road through Attercliffe, the industrial east end of Sheffield, is called Attercliffe Common.

Until 1811 it was indeed agricultural common land, where the highwayman Spence Broughton was gibbeted in 1792 near to the scene of his crime.  His name and the location are commemorated in nearby Broughton Lane.

After the enclosure the salubrious country homes and villas of the valley were overrun by steelworks and housing, so that only their names survive in the street-plan – Attercliffe Old and New Halls, Woodbourn Hall and Chippingham House, though part of the Jacobean Carbrook Hall, with its original panelling, plaster ceilings and ghost, survived and still survives as a public house.

Of similar age to Carbrook Hall is another unlikely survival, Hill Top Chapel, a simple Gothic-survival building of 1629, built ostensibly because the journey to Sheffield parish church, now the Cathedral, was said to be impossible in winter.

It was built by subscription, with contributions from William Spencer of Attercliffe Hall and Stephen Bright (1583-1642) of Carbrook Hall.  His younger brother Rev John Bright (1594/5-1643) was vicar of Sheffield from 1635 until the year of his death.  Both of them, like most influential people in Sheffield, were Puritans.

Stephen Bright’s son, John (1619-1688), was an important figure supporting Parliament in the Civil Wars, and politically astute enough to be awarded a baronetcy at the Restoration.  He retired to Badsworth, near Wakefield.

The Brights’ puritan influence remained in Attercliffe, where a dissenting academy was founded in 1686.

The steelmaker Benjamin Huntsman was buried in the Hill Top graveyard in 1776.

The Hill Top Chapel remained the only Anglican place of worship between Sheffield and Rotherham until a new parish church, Christ Church, Attercliffe, was consecrated in 1826. 

By the 1840s the chapel served only for funerals in the surrounding graveyard. 

After Attercliffe Cemetery opened in 1859 alongside Christ Church, even that function declined, yet the chapel and the graveyard survived amid the grimy industrial works and densely packed streets of terraced housing.

The structure was reduced and substantially rebuilt by John Dodsley Webster in 1909.

The exterior featured in the music video of ‘Sensoria’, by the Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2vCpT1H7u0 – made in 1984, an interesting moment of change in the landscape of the Lower Don Valley.

In the late 1990s Hill Top Chapel accommodated an offshoot of the Nine o’Clock Service [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nine-oclock-church-relaunches-services-1303804.html], which was witnessed by a bemused mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website:  http://shipoffools.com/mystery/1998/026Mystery.html.

The building is now used, appropriately, by a Presbyterian congregation that proudly recalls the building’s Puritan heritage:  http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/about-us/hill-top-chapel.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

The most haunted pub in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Some historians suggest that the fact that Attercliffe is mentioned first in the Domesday Survey of 1086 – “Ateclive & Escaveld” – is an indication that Attercliffe was more significant than Sheffield before the building of the Norman castle.

Certainly there was a manor house belonging to the Blunt family by 1176 and this house was rebuilt in 1462 and became Carbrook Hall.

It was purchased by Thomas Bright, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, in the late-sixteenth century and the surviving stone-built wing was built c1620 for Stephen Bright (1583-1642), bailiff of the Earl of Arundel’s Hallamshire estates from 1622 and later lord of the manor of Ecclesall.

Stephen Bright’s son, Sir John (1619-1688) helped co-ordinate the siege of Sheffield Castle in 1644 from the Hall.

The Brights’ Carbrook estate passed repeatedly through the female line, and it seems that later generations let the building from early in the eighteenth century.

The house was more extensive than the surviving remnant:  it was surveyed by William Fairbank in 1777, and E Blore’s engraving in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire:  the history and topography of the parish of Sheffield in the county of York (1819) shows an elaborate jettied timber wing and other outbuildings.

There remain two elaborate interiors with fine oak panelling and plasterwork, possibly the work of the same craftsmen who decorated the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle.

The lower room has an oak chimney piece dated 1623 with Corinthian columns and strapwork and a depiction of Wisdom trampling on Ignorance, with scrolls containing mottoes.  A very similar fireplace, originally at Norton House, is now preserved at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The stone fireplace in the upper chamber is stone, and instead of columns features unusual caryatids.  In a nearly circular cartouche is an image of the pelican in her piety.

Carbrook Hall became a public house sometime in the nineteenth century – all surviving photographs show it without the timbered wing – and in that guise it became an unlikely survivor of the days when Attercliffe was rural:  http://www.sheffieldcamra.org.uk/2016/10/heritage-pubs-with-dave-pickersgill-carbrook-hall.

In recent times it has traded on a reputation as “the most haunted pub in Sheffield”, giving rise to investigations and reports that lose nothing in the telling:  http://www.project-reveal.com/carbrook-hall-ghosts/4540202323.

In February 2017 the Carbrook Hall closed as a pub, to the distress of CAMRA and local workers.  The new owner, West Street Leisure, has not yet disclosed future plans for the building, beyond saying that its status as a Grade II* listed building will be respected.  Conservationists are concerned that if it stands empty it will be vulnerable to vandalism: [http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/fight-to-protect-historic-haunted-pub-in-sheffield-passes-first-hurdle-1-8539851].

This rare survival, a fragmentary reminder of the days when Attercliffe Common really was common land and Meadowhall was surrounded by meadows, contains one of the finest historic interiors in the city.

I hope it’ll be open for the public to enjoy again very soon.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

Magna

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

When I grew up in the East End of Sheffield in the 1950s the streetscape was dominated, throughout Brightside, Attercliffe and Tinsley, by the forbidding black corrugated-iron sheds that housed the heavy steel industry that enriched Sheffield and Rotherham.

Templeborough, just over the border from the city of Sheffield in the borough of Rotherham, took its name from a Roman fort (erroneously thought by antiquarians to be a temple) dated circa AD54.  From the site on the valley floor the Romans kept an eye on the local Brigantes’ fort on Wincobank hill and, it seems, operated a small ironworks.

Water-powered mills existed at Templeborough and Ickles (named from the Roman Icknield Street) throughout the Middle Ages and up to the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The Phoenix Bessemer Steel Company began making railway rails on the site in 1871 but went bankrupt four years later.  One of the partners, Thomas Hampton, joined Henry Steel and William Peech, businessmen and lifelong friends married to each other’s sisters, in a new enterprise.  Mr Hampton was quickly superseded by the experienced steel manufacturer Edward Tozer:  the new name, Steel, Peech & Tozer, became celebrated in the South Yorkshire steel industry.

In 1897 Steel, Peech & Tozer replaced their Bessemer converters with open-hearth furnaces, and during the First World War erected their melting shop and rolling mills, then the largest in Europe, on the site of the Roman fort.

This great works was amalgamated into the combine United Steel Companies in 1918, briefly nationalised in 1951-3 and again, as part of the British Steel Corporation, in 1967, reprivatized and renationalised and then merged with a Dutch concern to become the private enterprise Corus.

Along with the adjacent Brinsworth Hot Strip Mill, opened in 1957, this huge steelworks achieved high productivity after the original open-hearth furnaces were replaced by electric-arc furnaces.  When the last of these was commissioned in 1965 the works used as much electricity as the entire borough of Rotherham.

As the British steel industry went into steep decline, the Templeborough mill went cold and dark in 1993, until a half-mile stretch of the buildings was converted in 2001 to a science-based educational attraction, Magna, designed by the prestigious architectural practice WilkinsonEyre, in conjunction with engineering consultancies Mott MacDonald and Buro Happold.

Now this huge space, dramatically lit, commemorates the drama and magnificence of the heavy steel industry at its height, with the redundant furnaces reactivated by clever lighting and special effects to reproduce the “Big Melt” as a spectacle.

By this means it’s possible to experience the entire history of steel in Sheffield and Rotherham in sequence from the modest water-powered works at Abbeydale and the Shepherd Wheel, through the interpretive displays at Kelham Island, ending at the haunting space and pyrotechnics of Magna:  https://www.visitmagna.co.uk.

Magna, along with the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, all feature in the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

’Ackydoc

Worksop Road Aqueduct, Sheffield & Tinsley Canal (1977)

Worksop Road Aqueduct, Sheffield & Tinsley Canal (1977)

I’ll journey some distance to hear Mike Spick, the distinguished Sheffield local historian, and indeed I travelled as far as Chesterfield when he gave his Sheffield Canal presentation to the North-East Derbyshire Industrial Archaeological Society.

At the risk of showing disrespect I took issue when Mike referred to the Worksop Road Aqueduct as “T’ackydoc”.  The “t’” may be useful in print, but in Attercliffe dialect it was a pure glottal stop, as in “Weer’s thi dad?”  “Is on ’closet.”

Otherwise I listened to Mike’s presentation with admiration for the accuracy of his account, the richness of his illustrations and his adept use of PowerPoint to animate and explain.

The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, not quite four miles long, climbs from the River Don at Tinsley, very near to the latter-day M1 viaduct and the much-lamented cooling towers that were demolished in 2008, by a flight of eleven (originally twelve) locks to its terminus on the edge of Sheffield city centre.

For over a century before it was built the nearest navigable waterway was the River Don Navigation at Tinsley;  the next nearest was the River Idle at Bawtry, over twenty miles away.

The canal was financially supported and its route along the south side of the Don Valley was directly influenced by the estate of the Duke of Norfolk, the ground-landlord for much of Sheffield.

To please the Duke a branch canal was built to his Tinsley Park collieries.  The course of the Greenland Arm is now Greenland Road, part of the Sheffield ring-road.

Authorised in 1815, four years after Attercliffe Common was enclosed, the Sheffield Canal opened with much celebration in 1819.

It was the first effective means of breaking Sheffield’s physical isolation, surrounded by seven hills.

Its heyday lasted barely twenty years, until the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway opened in 1839, following (as it still does) the north side of the valley.

For thirty years Sheffield passengers and goods headed east to Retford or north to Rotherham in order to travel south to London.  Only in 1870 did the Midland Railway complete its direct line from Chesterfield, the present-day route via Dronfield that to this day is known to railwaymen as the “New Road”.

The canal continued to serve the city under railway ownership well into the twentieth century.  Indeed, a new warehouse was built, for lack of anywhere else to put it, over the quay in 1896 and is known for obvious reasons as the Straddle Warehouse.

The last commercial cargo went down the canal in 1980.  It never became unnavigable but it was practically derelict by the time the opening scene of The Full Monty was filmed near Bacon Lane in 1997.

Now, as part of the regeneration of the Lower Don Valley, the canal has become almost unrecognisably emparked.  The terminal basin is a marina called Victoria Quays, presumably commemorating the defunct Victoria railway station.  The Quays, like the former station, is out on a limb, not easily accessible from the city centre.

There are hotel boats offering an alternative pied-â-terre to the corporate hotels, and a trip-boat offering “cruising for all occasions”, along the surprisingly silvan Attercliffe Cutting, over ’Ackydoc and down the locks to Tinsley.

In fact, it’s an ideal venue for a birthday party.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

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.