When the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group visited the historic buildings of Attercliffe in 2010, one of the buildings they couldn’t see – being thirty years too late – was my early alma mater, Huntsman’s Gardens Schools, demolished as part of the Sheffield Development Corporation’s wholesale clearance of parts of the valley in preparation for the World Student Games event in 1981.
The name Huntsman’s Gardens commemorates the schools’ location alongside the Attercliffe works (established 1770) of the inventor of crucible steel, Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776). Round the corner on Worksop Road, the Britannia Inn still carries on its gable the date 1772 in numerals reputedly cast by Huntsman.
The huge school complex was one of the magnificent series of Sheffield School Board structures designed by Charles J Innocent and Thomas Brown from 1871 onwards. Huntsman’s Gardens dated from 1884, and was an impressive example of the so-called Prussian model of building classrooms with glass partitions around a central hall so that the headteacher could supervise teaching and learning across the whole school without patrolling corridors in crepe soles.
Huntsman’s Gardens, like many of the surviving Innocent & Brown schools across Sheffield, was characterised by solid walls, faced in stone, and huge, high windows to make the most of the light in a polluted industrial environment. My memories of school in the 1950s include whole days when the lights remained on in classrooms because the sun couldn’t penetrate the smog.
Most memorable of all, however, especially for a seven-year-old, was the enormous height of the school hall. I don’t ever remember feeling cold, but I’ve no idea how such an enormous space was heated.
In 1980 the building was razed without much comment. If it had somehow survived a couple more decades, it would have presented an interesting challenge for redevelopment – bigger than the Leeds Corn Exchange (now a shopping centre), far more dramatic than any other surviving Victorian school for miles around.
The Victorian Society South Yorkshire group’s publication Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 is obtainable from http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/publications/sheffield-schools.