Monthly Archives: August 2019

Mr Ashworth’s pet project

Rochdale Town Hall: corbel portrait of William Henry Crossland (1823-1909)
Rochdale Town Hall: corbel portrait of George Leach Ashworth (1823-1873)

When I planned my 2019 Manchester’s Heritage tour I knew I couldn’t include Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall because it’s closed for a five-year refurbishment.

However, there’s more to “Manchester” than Manchester, and a tram-ride away from St Peter’s Square terminates close to  Rochdale Town Hall, smaller, but hardly less magnificent than Manchester Town Hall, with a host of entertaining stories attached to it.

No sooner had the new borough of Rochdale elected its first Corporation in 1856 than a sub-committee began work to provide a suitable town hall.

The committee chairman, George Leach Ashworth (1823-1873), was originally unenthusiastic about the project.

When the Church Commissioners eventually agreed a price for land alongside the River Roch, Ashworth tried unsuccessfully to limit the budget to £15,000, on the grounds that it was “…only requisite that we should have a handsome frontage.”

An architectural competition, stipulating a budget limit of £20,000, was won by the Leeds architect William Henry Crossland (1823-1909), a pupil of the great Gothic Revival architect, George Gilbert Scott.

Despite the budget-limit, Crossland’s initial estimate of £26,510 was repeatedly augmented at the Corporation’s request.  The Great Hall was increased in area to 90ft × 56ft, and the 240ft tower was embellished with an octagonal lantern decorated with carved trumpeting angels and surmounted by a spire supporting a solid wood statue of St George and the Dragon by Earp of London.

Several ancient buildings were demolished and the River Roch culverted to provide the impressive seventy-foot-wide esplanade.

Crossland provided grand public rooms, the Mayor’s suite, administrative offices and, initially, the public library, and the west wing was given to the fire and police departments, together with a court room and ancillary cells and a residence for the Chief Constable.

The building is faced with millstone grit from Blackstone Edge, generously dignified by sculpture.  The fire department, for example, was identified with the phoenix, the salamander, the owl (symbolising watchfulness) and the dog (indicating alarm-raising).  For reasons that are unrecorded, a buttress on the porte-cochère is ornamented with a winged pig.

The interior was no less extravagant.  The entrance hall, designed as a wool-merchants’ exchange though never used as such, has a heraldic Minton tiled floor.  The windows of the vast staircase are filled with lancet windows showing the arms of the counties, towns and ports with which Rochdale traded, together with the technological marvels of the day – the steamship, the railway and the telegraph.

The Great Hall is lit by windows depicting every English monarch from William the Conqueror to William IV, together with Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector;  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are portrayed in the rose windows at each end.  On the eastern wall is Henry Holiday’s fresco of the signing of Magna Carta, and the hammer beams support carved angels, from which originally hung chandeliers.

The magistrates’ retiring room has depictions of nine English figures associated with lawmaking and the English constitution.  The Mayor’s Parlour is decorated with the Garden of the Hesperides, the four seasons, the months of the year and a group of musicians.  The committee room frieze shows animals associated, in one way or another, with primitive clothing, and the walls of the arched council chamber are decorated with a ground of bursting cotton pods and teasels, and panels showing weaving, spinning, textile-printing, the plants used in textile manufacture and the inventions of Kay, Cartwright, Hargreaves and Crompton.

In No 3 Committee Room the corbels show the supporters of the Town Hall scheme, deftly described by Colin Cunningham, in Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1981):  “…the architect wearily toying with a pair of dividers and the mayor clutching his new town hall”.

By the time the Town Hall was completed in 1871, the final cost was £154,755 9s 11d, and the Mayor, G L Ashworth, remarked that “we cannot have beauty without paying for it.”

Dry rot in the spire was being treated when the tower burnt down in 1883.  One local legend declares that the fire was deliberately started by the workmen, who feared for their own safety as they took apart the rotten structure.  Another legend has it that the Rochdale fire brigade, which was stationed at the back of the building, was beaten to the blaze by the Oldham brigade.

The more modest but still impressive 191ft-high replacement was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of Manchester Town Hall, and completed in 1887.

The smartest Starbucks in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield: Oak Room fireplace overmantel

Every old building needs to earn its keep.

It’s pointless to argue for the retention of a historic building, listed or not, without the means to maintain it into the future.

Seventeenth-century Carbrook Hall, for many years a pub in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial east end, closed in 2017, yet another casualty of the inexorable decline of the British public house, and a year later suffered an arson attack that was fortunately arrested before the entire building went up in smoke.

Local historians and CAMRA members hoped it would reopen as licensed premises, but its new owner, the property developer Sean Fogg, applied lateral thinking and leased it to the coffee chain, Starbucks.

Mr Fogg spent £700,000, assisted by Starbucks’ contribution of £400,000, to restore the remaining stone wing of what was a much larger house, enhancing its surroundings, replacing a nondescript twentieth-century service block with a tactful 21st-century drive-in facility, and bringing the three exceptional historic interiors to a high state of preservation.

Walking into the building is a time-warp, because the coffee-shop counter, located where the pub bar used to be, is an up-to-the-minute skinny-latte-and-panini experience.

Turn left and enter the Oak Room, though, and despite the bright lighting and modern furniture, you’re surrounded by high-quality panelled walls and a crisp plaster ceiling that witnessed the discussions about besieging Sheffield Castle during the Civil War nearly four centuries ago.

This was the home of the Puritan Bright family, in those days lost in the spacious meadowlands of the Lower Don Valley. It’s possible that their interior decorators were the craftsmen who worked on the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire.  It’s the oldest building in the valley and has seen no end of changes.

At the opposite end of the ground floor is an ancient kitchen with stone stoves and a bread oven.

A second panelled room upstairs is not yet completed, but will be dedicated to public use when fully restored.

The restoration is meticulous, though the conservationists were disturbed to find that the ancient oak had been peppered by stray darts around the site of the dart board: https://theworldnews.net/gb-news/historic-former-sheffield-pub-damaged-by-stray-darts.

The reopening of Carbrook Hall is a boost to public awareness of the area’s historic heritage.

I’m pleased that we can now end the heritage Bus Rides Round Attercliffe at the oldest building in the Lower Don Valley.

To find out about what’s happening at Carbrook Hall Starbucks, follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StarbucksCarbrookHallSheffield.

There’s still room on top for the Bus Ride Round Attercliffe on the morning of Sunday September 29th.  For details and to book, please click here.

English Institute of Sport Sheffield

English Institute of Sport Sheffield: A Bus Ride Round Attercliffe visit, April 7th 2019

On the popular Bus Ride Round Attercliffe trips that I run in conjunction with South Yorkshire Transport Museum, we regularly make a stop at the English Institute of Sport Sheffield, to show that the Lower Don Valley has begun an astonishing transformation since the demise of the heavy steel industry in the early 1980s.

Designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects, the Institute opened in December 2003, funded by Sport England and managed by SIV Ltd, a Health and Well Being Charity.  It’s newer than the Arena and the demolished Don Valley Stadium which were built for the 1991 World Student Games.  It’s even newer than the nearby IceSheffield, designed by the Building Design Partnership and opened in May 2003.

It has and continues to provide training facilities for an impressive array of champions, including Sheffield-born heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, boxers Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams and the Paralympian table-tennis player Will Bailey, as well as sixty local sports clubs and seventy thousand local school children a year.

The initial cost of the facility was £28 million, and the Institute aims to balance usage at 90% local community to 10% elite athletes.

Our guide, Ryan Ruddiforth, shows Bus Ride passengers, many of whom grew up in Attercliffe after the Second World War, the facilities for boxing, wheelchair basketball and – most impressive of all – the huge 200-metre indoor running track.

I’m looking forward to offering heritage bus-ride experiences to groups from outside Sheffield in 2020, and in the ‘Sheffield’s Industrial Heritage’ tour I plan to take people first of all to Magna, to see the hot, dark, dangerous spaces where workers spent their days in the steel industry and then, for contrast, to EISS to experience the light, clean, air-conditioned spaces in which people exercise and perfect their sport skills in the twenty-first century.

The Valley has come a long way within a lifetime, and I want to present this in as dramatic a way as possible.

The ‘Sheffield’s Industrial Heritage’ bus tours are arranged on an individual basis, and Magna and EISS may not always be available because of major events taking place.  On occasions the Bus Ride may visit other equivalent buildings in the city centre or the Lower Don Valley.  For further details please click here.

For details of the next public Bus Ride Round Attercliffe, please click here.