Losing a landmark

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

I learned from that fountain of useful information and news, the Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter, that the only historic building I can see from my office window is about to disappear.

St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen is an interesting inter-war brick church on a literally outstanding site.  It stands on an abrupt cliff-edge alongside the Flower Estate, itself a notable landmark of early-twentieth century municipal housing [see Ruth Harman & John Minnis, Sheffield (Pevsner Architectural Guides 2004), pp 185-8, http://www.lookingatbuildings.org.uk/cities/sheffield/the-flower-estate.html and http://www.lookingatbuildings.org.uk/cities/sheffield/the-flower-estate/tour-part-2.html].

The church was designed by Leslie Moore (1883-1957) in 1935-8, presumably to serve the council estate and the slightly earlier community down the hill.  Moore made clever use of an extremely steep site, building his nave above a community room, accessible by steep steps built into the hillside.

The interior was high quality:  the white-and-gold classical gallery by the York architect George Pace (1915-1975) supported an eighteenth-century organ case with pipes brought from the blitzed city-centre church of St James.

St Hilda’s was closed, no doubt surplus to requirements, in 2007.

The Newsletter tells the regrettable tale of three arson attacks and some spectacularly energetic vandalism (which I suspect was an attempt at theft of lead organ-pipes).  The only way intruders could penetrate the secured building was to climb on to the roof ridge and then drop down through an access door behind the bell turret.  This is 35 metres above the sloping ground level.

I can’t help thinking that the athleticism and ingenuity behind such burglary would command a healthy wage in a healthy legitimate economy.

Apparently, the Church Commissioners and the Diocese of Sheffield have given up any attempt to save the building and intend it to be demolished.

This is a pity.  The local community is not blessed with public spaces, or indeed social opportunities.  The precipitous plot on which the church stands won’t be easy to redevelop.  The views from the site are magnificent, but any replacement structure will need high-quality design to deserve a place in the landscape.

There’s an obvious argument for mothballing St Hilda’s in the hope of better economic times, sometime in the indefinable future.  But it’s only practical if there’s some guarantee that the local villains won’t keep trashing the place, and possibly killing themselves, in the process.

The saddest fact of all, of course, is that it’s a fine building nobody wants.  It’s not the first time that Sheffield has lost a useful historic building because no-one – owners, city planners, local amenity groups, interested individuals like me – took sufficient notice to appreciate its value [See Rue Britannia].

I can’t imagine why St Hilda’s isn’t listed.  And if you don’t use it, you lose it.

A detailed examination of the challenges facing the Anglican Church in north Sheffield is posted at http://sheffield.anglican.org/attachments/275_Final%20Report.pdf.

The Ancient Monuments Society can be contacted at http://www.ancientmonumentssociety.org.uk.  The Twentieth Century Society, which has a brief to support and conserve buildings dating from after 1914, is at http://www.c20society.org.uk.

One less twentieth-century suburban church makes the others that remain marginally more valuable.

The failed campaign to save St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom.

For details please click here.

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