FRIENDS OF THE OLD TOWN HALL
A new charity devoted to regenerating Sheffield’s Old Town Hall and preserving the heritage of the Castlegate Quarter of the city is to be set up with Heritage Lottery Fund support.
The Friends of the Old Town Hall, who have been campaigning for two years to raise awareness of the poor state of the Old Town Hall in Waingate and to press for its restoration, have been awarded £7,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the setting up of a new charitable trust. The Castlegate Preservation Trust will focus on preserving the heritage of Castlegate as a whole, and as a priority seek to acquire the Old Town Hall and get it back into productive use after 20 years of neglect.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the funding will enable the Friends of the Old Town Hall to get professional advice on its business plan and funding strategy, and to train the trustees of the charity. The Friends have already applied to the Charity Commission to register the new Trust and hope this will be complete before the end of the year. The Trust will aim to preserve whatever of architectural and historical value remains in the area, to help people appreciate the value of the heritage there and to support the local community and its involvement in heritage. It also aims to use restoration work on heritage buildings, and especially the Old Town Hall, as a means of developing the skills and education of local people working on these projects.
‘Castlegate is hugely important in Sheffield’s history’, said Friends’ chair Valerie Bayliss. ‘This is the old town, the place where the city began. It played a big part in Sheffield’s civic and community development and its history deserves to be better-known. People see it as a run-down, unattractive area and maybe don’t realise it contains around 18 listed buildings and structures and another 14 of real heritage value. That’s a wonderful basis for heritage-led regeneration. We are already talking to the City Council and others about developing plans co-operatively. But the Old Town Hall has to be our priority. It’s a grubby, neglected ugly duckling of a place when it should be a swan. And it’s probably the key to getting Castlegate on the move again. We are very grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for giving us the means to take a big step forward’.
Explaining the importance of the HLF support, Fiona Spiers, Head of HLF Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “With increasing threats to our historic buildings it is important for local groups and communities to come together to raise awareness of, and protect our built heritage. This project will give The Friends the opportunity to build their capacity to better manage and protect this historic area of Sheffield.
The Friends of the Old Town Hall have applied to establish the Castlegate Preservation Trust as a charitable incorporated organisation, The Friends’ organisation will continue alongside the Trust, as a campaigning organisation.
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk. @heritagelottery @HLFYandH
One of my favourite people has to be Luke Palfreyman, the son of a hosier, local lad made good. He lived in Queen Chambers close to Fig Tree Lane and Bank Street. His father had a business at the end of Bank Street and Snig Hill, which was around where the Boardwalk or Mucky Duck is now. Luke’s house is a fine big house near Fig Tree lane and Paradise Square. Ideally placed for a short walk to the Town Hall to dispute a case or the market place to collect rents, debts etc or to the grand Tontine Inn across from the Town Hall to discuss Shakespeare or politics. Luke was a Scrivener or Attorney.
He was like many in his era involved in pushing for the abolition of the artificially high price of corn and the trade embargos of countries like the United States which was starving the people and crippling industry as they were unable to sell to many markets or were being undercut by French cutlers etc. Luke was also keen for voting reform. Before reform there was only one MP for the whole of Yorkshire. The new reforms brought Sheffield two new MPs and a lot of new voters.
Before Luke was born his father, also called Luke was jailed in 1796 for 3 months for being disrespectful to two magistrates. The magistrates had previously stated their dislike of Luke senior who had stood bail for the newspaper editor and poet James Montgomery.
Luke Junior was educated at Sheffield at the Grammar School. Luke was a Unitarian and went to the Upper Chapel. The Upper Chapel besides being non-conformist was a place for intellectual debates and science and politics. Perhaps it was this mix that made Luke such a good lawyer. A judge remarked on Lukes ability to argue one case from the management side and another case from the workers side and be able to present the opposing arguments convincingly. When he asked Luke how he did it, Luke just covered both his eyes with sovereigns. In other words as long as he was paid he could do it.
Possibly living so near to Fig Tree Lane (where chartists had their meeting place) and Paradise Squares where most political demonstrations were held was not such a great idea for Luke as he was set upon by demonstrators several times over the years .
About seven o’clock or soon after, Mr. Skidmore, a gentleman in my office, came to the Town Hall and told me he had received an intimation that my house was likely to be attacked. I then went home. When I had been at home about a quarter of an hour, I heard a great noise at a distance from my house, and a sound like the breaking of windows. I ran out of the kitchen into the dining room, & before I could get there my own windows were smashed. I immediately seized a pistol, which I had previously loaded with ball, and went out without my hat. I saw a large mob, extending about 60 yards from my house down the street. on coming out with the pistol in my hand, they gave back. The cries at this time were cries of “go it, go it” and other similar expressions, which appeared to be used for the purpose of urging them on to break the windows. On giving back, the noise rather subsided, and I spoke out very loud. I do not recollect the exact words I made use of, but the purport of them was this :-“As for the windows I should not suffer much for them, as the county would have to pay for them ; but I was sure, that if they were men, and I knew, as I believed to be the fact, that my wife was then lying upon the floor, they would go away. If they did not , they would see that I had the means of defending my house, and should try to do so. When I spoke of Mrs Palfreyman, some of them said let us go away. One voice called out “so much the better, got it again” There was then another volley of stones, other windows were broken, and one stone or brick hit me upon the right arm. It is a good deal contused, and much swollen. I walked backwards to the steps of my house, and got upon them. I then fired the pistol I had in my hand over their heads. Mr Skidmore, who came out of the house with me, also fired a pistol, which was loaded with powder, in a few moments afterwards. On his firing, a great number of persons towards the back of the crowd ran off. Mr. Skidmore then came with another pistol and faced the mob. We faced them for four or five minutes (during which no more stones were thrown) and then there was a cry that the constables were coming. 1832 election riots coroner’s inquest Town Hall.
What it doesn’t say in this abstract was that Luke had no ammunition after his first shot and had to just prime it with powder and anything he could find to load it with. Another account suggests they were around two thousand demonstrators outside his house. It is a sign of Luke’s bravery I think to stand with his clerk pointing pistols at a crowd of several hundred, knowing that if the crowd ignored them, there was really nothing they could do.
After the mob moved on there was several shots heard in the direction of the Town Hall. The alarmed magistrates had brought in the Yeomanry to quell the crowds and five people were shot dead including two boys. The bodies were laid out in the Town Hall and later a coroner was brought in from Wakefield to lead the Inquest on the dead. The Jury brought out a verdict in favour of Yeomanry.
This is to give formal notice that the second Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Old Town Hall will be held at 7.15 pm on Wednesday 16 March at the Friends’ Meeting House, St James’s Street, Sheffield.
Sheffield Shakespeare Club
The first purpose-built playhouse, the Theatre, opened in 1777. A self-selected group of Sheffielders (mostly men, but some women) financed the construction of the building, and there were originally 34 subscribers. Located virtually the same spatial position as the present-day Crucible.
Georgian Theatre was a mix of Theatres and both professional performances in pubs and amateur clubs such as the Spouting clubs. The spouters clubs started around 1780 but started to dwindle around the 1830s, all classes enjoyed amateur theatricals in the Spouters Clubs which were generally held in taverns. As well as crossing social boundaries, the phenomenon crossed and tested boundaries between professional and not-for-profit performers.
A famous play in 1786 called the Apprentice by Arthur Murphy ridiculed the Spouters clubs.
Gargle Would you believe it, Mr. Wingate, I have found your son went three times a week to a Spouting club.
Wingate A spouting club, friend Gargle! what’s a spouting club?
Gargle A meeting of prentices, and clerks, and giddy young men, all intoxicated with plays! and so they meet in public houses and there they repeat speeches. and alarm the neighbourhood with their noise, and think of nothing but of becoming actors.
Wingate You don’t tell me so! a spouting club! zookers! They are all mad!
Reverend Thomas Best, as soon as he arrived in 1817 began an almost one man campaign against “theatrical amusements” He continued to preach an annual sermon for the rest of his life. 47 sermons in all.
“If the amusements of the Theatre dishonour God, or tend to lower our reference for his authority, and lessen our
regard to his will;-and lessen our regard to his will;-if they are directly calculated to confirm and increase man’s natural unconcern respecting the salvation of his soul;-and if they weaken and counteract the influence of the Bible, and encourage opposite principles and a contrary practice; if all this be the direct tendency and actual effect of Theatrical Amusements, then we must come to the conclusion-that they are an “evil,” which we are not to approach, or appear to sanction; it will follow by necessary consequence, that no Christian, acting upon his processed principles, can, and that no professed Christian who desires to act upon his principles, will attend them.”
In 1818 around sixty people got together and formed the Shakespeare Club and met either in the Tontine Inn across from the Old Town Hall or round the corner at the Angel Inn. Both long gone. It is said this was an
act of rebellion against the Reverend Best. Possibly, but the principal organisers of the club were not people who usually were associated as rebels. Many worked in the courts of the Old Town halls as lawyers and magistrates. Others were Surgeons, Merchants, Iron masters and at least a couple of Master Cutlers. Many were not Anglican, but non-conformist from the Upper Chapel, and perhaps that is why they were openly rebellious despite their social position. Although Best was more concerned with the poorer classes his sermons patronised all. The Shakespeare club was not only an act of rebellion but also an attempt of ensuring quality in the theatre. Theatre performances were often “spoiled” by mixing lowbrow popular melodramatic plays with the classic plays. In later years Harvey Teasdale better known for his more bizarre theatrical achievements tried in vain to introduce more of the classical theatre into his programmes but instead ended up playing a man from Manchester who could not speak in a melodrama and a monkey.
“For those who are not sensibly alive to the merits and beauties of Shakespeare, I feel pity . For those who can appreciate him, and yet endeavour to vilify him and destroy him , I feel contempt.”
Mansel (Theatre proprietor) at Shakespeare club 1819.
There is also other attractions to the Shakespeare club than rebellion against the clergyman, which is obvious from the venues they picked, both the Angel and the Tontine were renowned for their good food and their hospitality. And reading the account of their annual meetings there would seem to be a lot of toasting going on. It’s easy to see why the club ran for over 10 years with its mixture of rebelliousness, chance to read Shakespeare, and have a great party each year. The only mystery is to why it stopped. There is no sign in the 1829 newspaper article of enthusiasm dying down.
On Wednesday the members of the Sheffield Shakespeare Club celebrated their eleventh anniversary at the Tontine Inn, under the presidentship of Luke Palfreyman, Esq., supported by G. Reedal and E Barker, Esq., as vice presidents. The Club consists of upwards of 90 members, and about 70 gentlemen , including visitors sat down to dinner.
Sermons on the amusements of the stage. Preached at St. James Church, Sheffield. -by the Rev T Best, A. M 1731 (can be found in Google library , many of Best’s sermons also to be found in Sheffield’s archives)
“A defence of the acted drama in a letter addressed to the Revd Thomas Best MA, of Sheffield” by F B Calvert (now of the Theatres Royal, York and Hull). Hull. 1822.
Proceedings of the Sheffield Shakespeare Club from its commencement in 1819 to January 1829 by a member of the club. printed for the editor , by H. and G. Crookes, Cliff’s court, High Street 1829. (can be found in Google Library)
In the early hours of Thursday morning on the 27th January 1859 Peter Ross was on his way home passing the General Post Office in the Haymarket, when he heard moaning and went to a man’s assistance. The injured man requested him to help him and Ross accordingly helped him up. He found he was covered with blood. Mr. J Marshall , another passer by assisted Ross to carry him into the post office archway. Wilson was taken to the Town Hall and a surgeon called to attend found the man lying in the Town Hall in a very exhausted condition and on examination found that the intestines were protruding from a punctured wound on the right side of the abdomen. just over the region of the liver. Wilson’s clothes were completely saturated with the blood. After the necessary surgical treatment the man was removed to a room in the building where he could be more comfortable but he died during the course of the day.
The newspaper report said that the victim a William Wilson, brass founder, had told police he had been set upon by four men. The police were dubious and felt that it was more likely that someone had taken Wilson’s drunken behaviour for a threat. It was not explained why they drew that conclusion. Perhaps Wilson was known to them as a drunken nuisance.
It was found that about the time a man of gentlemanly appearance was seen near the Post Office with a stick and a
dagger. Further investigations over the weekend by Inspector Sills of the detective force found the man to be George Plant, a traveller for the Soho brewery, who lived at 85 Tom Cross Lane in Brightside. Sills asked Plant to come with him to the Town Hall.
At the Town Hall Sills asked him if he had not, on the previous Wednesday night worn a hat with a round crown. He said he had, and further admitted he had a top coat, and carried a dagger in his hand. Sills then took him before the chief constable Mr. Jackson who asked where the dagger was. Sills went and found the dagger, the hat and the coat, and then told Plant he was charged with stabbing William Wilson who had died from his injuries . His reply was, ” Indeed! then I must see my solicitor” Plant was detained in custody till the next day till the coroners court convened.
George Plant having been duly cautioned made the following statement
Late last Wednesday night I was going home and when I had got down High Street , against Richards Drapers . I met a
man named Wilson rushing out of a passage. He took hold of me and without saying a word knocked me down. I kept him off while I was down with a small stick which I had in my hand. When I got up I said What have you done that for? If you don’t be quiet I will give you something. he replied, I’ll let you see what I have done it for.” During that conversation the two gentleman who have given evidence came up. I said this man has attacked me. While I was saying so he ran round me again and tried again to get hold of me In doing so he made a rush at me and fell upon the knife which I held before me. He screamed out ” Police” and I replied “I will stay until the police come. I stood up in my own defence; it was your own fault .” I then said to the two witnesses . I have only stood in my own defence as you see; I will stop until the police come and go with him. ” They walked away , and I , thinking it was no use staying by myself went direct home. I communicated to my wife what had happened. I had next morning to go to Manchester on Business, and did not hear anything of the occurrence till I saw an account of it on Friday Morning in the Manchester Guardian. I returned from the journey at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday evening. My wife told me that the man was dead. I had been in Mr. Bradley’s service a fortnight. I bought the dagger the day before I entered his service, and carried it with me for protection, having been once stopped on the Barnsley Road. On Monday morning I went to work as usual. I bought the dagger as protection, as I have to travel in country places with money .”
Sills found several witnesses including two who were present when he stabbed William Wilson. George Norton and Joseph Hawksworth. Neither witness saw any evidence of Plant having been knocked to the ground, or heard Wilson threaten Plant, other than try to take the stick and knife off him. Wilson said he had initially mistaken Plant for a friend who was a Cab driver. Norton knew Wilson from when he had worked in the same street, and felt Wilson was sober. Plant told Norton and Hawksworth that he had been stopped. but didn’t suggest he was being robbed . Wilson on being struck appeared stunned and then screamed reeling like a drunken man and then sat down on the causeway. Norton and Hawksworth were not sure whether Wilson had been stabbed or whether it was some sort of hoax designed to draw them in and then demand drink from them. Hawksworth said he had had been stopped in the street several times on all kinds of pretences by people seeking Liquor. Plus it was raining hard and Plant seemed like a gentleman, so they started off home leaving Plant to wait for the police. However soon after Plant overtook them on his way home. Wilson was left lying on the ground bleeding heavily till Ross found him.
PC George Smelter had seen Plant in Hanover-Street earlier on the Wednesday evening on the opposite side of the road with a naked dagger in his hand. He seemed excited to the PC but he wasn’t sure whether he was drunk. Plant had also drawn out his knife earlier to show a Mrs Emma Marples outside Fitzwilliam Inn at the corner of Broomhall Street and Fitzwilliam Street. She was able to pick him out in a line up at the Town Hall.
The Coroner in summing up, referred to the deadly nature of the weapon, but said as the injuries were inflicted during a squabble, the jury could scarcely be justified in returning a verdict of wilful murder. The Jury after deliberating for nearly four hours, found George Plant guilty of the wilful murder of William Wilson.
Plant’s case was transferred to the York assizes where the verdict was guilty of manslaughter. The judge felt that the nature of the weapon meant that Plant should be dealt with severely and sentenced him to transportation to Australia for life. Plant was transported on the 8th March 1860 to Western Australia. He was given a conditional pardon in 1872 and died in Australia in 1884 leaving an Australian wife and 2 children.