Friends of Old Town Hall official statement

Old Town Hall by Chard Remains
Old Town Hall by Chard Remains Photographical

FRIENDS OF THE OLD TOWN HALL

SHEFFIELD

 

THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY AT RISK

 

It’s time to rescue Sheffield’s iconic Old Town Hall, say campaigners who are upset that the building, in Waingate, has been allowed to decay for too long. Empty since the courts moved out in 1996, the Old Town Hall now presents a sorry face to the world: dirty, neglected, unused, unloved.

 

The newly-established Friends of the Old Town Hall say it’s about time the building’s owners took their responsibilities seriously. ‘The Old Town Hall is Grade 2 listed’, says Brian Holmshaw of the Friends’ Group. ‘That means it has special significance as part of the city’s architectural scene and history, and the owners are supposed to take care of it’. Instead, it’s been empty for nearly 20 years. It was bought in 2004 by a London-based property development company.

 

‘We don’t think it’s acceptable for such an important local asset, part of Sheffield’s heritage, to be left to rot’, says Valerie Bayliss, the Friends’ Chair. ‘We’ve asked the owners to meet us to talk about their intentions for the building’s future’.

 

‘The building was listed long before they bought it’, adds Joy Bullivant, also of the Friends.  ‘So they knew what they were taking on. But it’s been left to deteriorate since and we are now very worried about its condition’.

 

The Old Town Hall – also known as the Old Courthouse – was built in stages between 1808 and 1896. It was and is hugely important to the people of Sheffield, playing a central role in their lives over many generations. All the way from being the target of Chartist activity in  the 1830s, and the place where Samuel Holberry was imprisoned, to being a place of refuge for people made homeless by the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, and the location of the subsequent enquiry into compensation – the Old Town Hall has been part of the story. And it’s where Charlie Peace was indicted for murder in 1879, to the sound of a huge crowd that gathered outside in Waingate – the magistrates were so concerned about the crowd that the court sat in a corridor!  The building became purely a courthouse when the current town hall in Pinstone Street was opened in 1896.

 

The Friends of the Old Town Hall has been established to campaign for the restoration of this wonderful and important building and the regeneration of the historic area around it. It is seeking grant funding to commission a professional appraisal of potential new uses for the building. It is working in co-operation with the Friends of Sheffield Castle and other organisations with an interest in the area.

 

The building has already been accepted as one of 10 demonstrator projects in a national programme focusing on neglected buildings that are precious to local communities. The Community Assets in Difficult Ownership (CADO) programme, run by Jericho Road Solutions and Locality, has helped with start-up funding for the group. CADO coordinator Jess Steele said “Sheffield’s Old Town Hall, like too many buildings all over the country, is stuck in ‘delinquent’ ownership that is leaving it to rot. CADO helps communities and local authorities take action in these circumstances.”

http://locality.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/cado/town-hall/

 

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19th century Timeline

Not a comprehensive list but a snapshot of the many stories the Old Town Hall was involved in. IMG_3257_8_9_tonemappedmerged

1808 Town Hall built by Charles Watson

1812 Luddite Riots Lady Ludd

1817 Combination act imprisonment for Trade Union Activities

1820 Yorkshire Rebellion John Blackwell arrested & tried for riotous behaviour

1832 Cholera  Town Hall becomes  control centre to fight contagion

1833 refit of Town Hall by William Fairbanks

1842 Chartist Holberry and others arrested

1843 Town Council elected for first time

1844 Colliery riots Woodhouse arrests made on the Wicker

1850 Tontine Inn demolished along with Castle Barns to make way for New Markets

1854 Sheffield Canal banks burst

1855 Irish Riots Westbar Green

1861 First sitting of County court in Bank Street  as bankruptcy courts

1862 Bodysnatching riot Wardsend cemetery Sexton and Vicar convicted

1864 Sheffield Floods  Town Hall becomes rescue centre and place of refuge for survivors, later enquiry and distribution of compensation

1864 Central Police Station built

1867 Enquiry Royal Commission into  Outrages, Trade Union violence

1867 refit of Town Hall

1879 Charlie Peace arrest

1896 extension built  Town Hall

1897 New Town Hall opened in Pinstone Street

The Old Town Hall, Castle Green

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Where the Town Hall stands was some old Houses, built with no regularity, from this corner to the corner of Castle Green. Castle Street was called True Love Gutter……..Down Waingate was a very hilly Street and a many old houses irregularly built, no Killing Shambles, we cross over the Bridge into the Wicker.” (A description of  the town in my remembrance wrote in the Year 1833)

Built in the Medieval Centre of Sheffield in 1808,  by public subscription,  and contributions from the Town Burghess the building was commissioned to replace Sheffield’s 18thc town hall,  This first structure had stood by the parish church on a site with little prospect for extension.  The new Town Hall built on Town Burghess land was a statement of  civic pride.

Charles Watson, already a prestigious architect, was commissioned to build on Castle Green, literally the area that was the green outside the castle.  Charles Watson  build other Court houses and Town Halls in Yorkshire and  formed a partnership with his former teacher James Piggot Pritchett.  and together they formed almost a monopoly regarding Building in Yorkshire in the early 19th century.

The hall housed the Town Trustees and the Quarter and Petty Sessions, it was a five bay structure opening out onto Castle Street.

old-town-hall

In 1833 the Town Hall is described as a” large square stone edifice, of plain but substantial masonry, surmounted by a cupola and clock; but being much too small for the present size of the town, it is now undergoing considerable alteration and enlargement ;—the interior having too many sub divisions, and there being no galleries in the court-rooms for the accommodation of the crowds of spectators, who wish to witness trials at our quarter sessions

In 1837 they seemed content for a while.

It was considerably enlarged at the cost of the Town Trust, in 1833. The Ground floor consists of a large entrance hall and offices , below which is a watch house used by the Police Commissioners who had their offices here, and hold their meeting in one of the court rooms above where are also held the Quarter and Petty Sessions, the Manor Courts and Public Meetings. The Sessions Hall is one of the largest in the county, and is handsomely fitted up and lighted by an elegant dome. Behind the building is the gaolers house, and under it are cells for the temporary confinement of prisoners, who, after conviction, are generally sent for various periods of time to the Wakefield House of Correction, except for capital offences, when they are conveyed to York, the number of committals for various offence by the sitting magistrates has averaged around 350 per annum.

By 1862 there was again concern at the size of the Town Hall.

“It comprises a large court-room for the holding of the quarter sessions, and a smaller room for the petty sessions, with offices for the Chief Constable, cells for the prisoners, &c. It has, however grown inadequate for the wants of the town.  It is now rarely employed for large political or other town’s meetings, which are commonly held in the Temperance Hall,  Townhead-street.  The offices for the Chief Constable and other members of the police force, &c., are equally inconvenient. It is in fact with the utmost difficulty that the necessary business can be carried on in the building. The cells for the prisoners are worst of all. They are confined partly underground and most unhealthy. It is not unfrequent,    when prisoners are confined  here for any length of time, pending the preliminary inquiry before the magistrates, for them to beg to be removed to to Wakefield House of Correction. in order to escape the discomfort and unhealthiness of the the local prison. At the time we write a project has been set on foot in the Town Council for building a public hall which will provide for the wants of the town. ”  illustrated Guide to Sheffield and Neighbourhood…Pawson and Brailsford 1862

In 1864, Flockton and Abbot built Sheffield’s first purpose built police station and so freed some of the space constrictions within the Town Hall. I’m unsure whether the station built on Castle Green behind the Town Hall was built on the previously mentioned gaoler’s house. But there is a connecting tunnel between the station and the Town Hall

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September 26th 1867 The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.

The Improvements at the Town Hall

Although the improvements at the town hall are by no means in an advanced state, a short description of what they are intended to be may not be unacceptable to our readers. Externally there is but little evidence of what is going on as the old elevation remains, and within there seems to the inexperienced eye little else but confusion and rubbish, the new divisions of the place are however sufficiently marked already to enable the explorer, with a little assistance from the obliging clerk of the works, to form some notion of the arrangements of the courts and the offices. There will be two entrances as before one from Castle street and the other from Waingate, the former being for the public, the latter for the magistrates. The public entrance opens into a short wide passage, leading into a large waiting hall, 53ft 6in. Long by 34ft 6in wide-this width being exclusive of a clear open passage on the right side 9ft 10in wide. This passage is reached from the magisterial entrance in Waingate, and will be shut off from the public by a line of seats fronting the other way. There will also be another row of benches in the line of the iron pillars supporting the upper structure. A piece of the ground area , cut off the waiting hall, on the south and east side- fronting the Castle street and Waingate will be a consulting room for barristers, communicating with a robbing room, which also has another entrance from the hall. Next to this is a room the wont of which has been strongly felt in the old Town Hall – namely a female waiting room. The Rooms on the Waingate side of the hall will be the county treasurer’s office, office of the clerk of indictments and magistrate’s clerk’s office. Out offices for the public conveniences will be placed outside the hall, and reached by a door in the left hand corner from the entrance. Light will be given by windows on the left side, the screens now covering which will be removed by arrangement with Messrs Woolen and Trickett, who occupy the adjacent premises; a compensation will be made to them by allowing them cellarage. The public access to the Court rooms and the other offices above is by a staircase 12ft 6 in wide leading into a wide corridor 20ft high. The staircase will be lighted by a window and the corridor by a skylight and a window at the end. The first door to the left on reaching the landing opens into the large court, the arrangements will be as follows, – there will be a gallery on either side, that from the left hand from the Bench, for the grand jury and also a gallery across  the lower end  (that to the corridor) The Bench will sit at the upper end with the jury at the right hand side and the witnesses at the left, the reporters sitting below the jury box and facing the witnesses. In front of the clerk’s desk, under the Bench , are rows of seats for the barristers and attorneys, and behind those is a standing place for the public. Waiting jurors are accommodated at the right hand of the court, near the entrance first noted. A third entrance to the court similar to the first, also gives access to a staircase leading to the grand jury box. The magistrates have a private staircase leading to the upper part of the court, and also communicating with the retiring room, conveniently placed between the first and second courts. The prisoner’s docks in both courts are so placed as to be reached by the same staircase and a door opens one onto the other. In the large court the dock is on the left hand side, a little below the witness box and just outside it is another door by which to enter the court from the same staircase. Past the three doors on the left hand of the corridor, which open into the first court are two doors giving similar access into the second court, which being smaller, has but one side corridor. In this court, of course, space is not required for waiting jurors and the grand jury. The dimensions of the 2 courts are as follows : Principal court, 53ft 6in by 34ft 6in second court 33ft  6in by 24ft. In order to make space for making the rooms this size a yard has been taken in giving 19ft additional frontage to Waingate. On the right of this corridor is the grand jury room. 30ft 6 in by 25 ft. This room has a communication with a room that will be used as a witnesses’ room when the sessions are being held, and at other times by Mr. Thorpe. The fixtures of the courts and the rooms will be of solid oak. There is no room specially set apart for the sittings of the West Riding justices but it would be a convenient arrangement for the public (though hardly so for the press by the way) if those gentleman were to occupy the grand jury room when it is not otherwise required.  There will be no further rooms save one or two that may be made in the roof, and used perhaps for stores these would be reached by the staircase leading to the clock. A clock tower 10ft 6 inches square will be erected over the entrance to Waingate. It will be about 66ft high from the ground to the centre of the dial, so that the dial will be about 30ft higher than the parapet of the old building. The dial will be 6ft in diameter and the clock has been constructed by Mr. Lomas, of Broad street, Park. The bells will be hung in an open arch. Messrs Flockton and Abbot are the architects, and Mr. Gomersall has been the contract for the building. The old materials have been largely reused in the alterations. And while this plan has greatly retarded the progress of the work, it has materially diminished the cost.

There is no mention of any rooms used for Council purposes other than the County Treasurers Office so perhaps the Council had completely moved out at that point.

Some time after 1878 and before 1896 a substantive extension was built, but by then plans for a new modern Town Hall were being made.

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In 1897 a new considerably larger and grander Town Hall was opened in Pinstone Street which also resulted in finally severing the direct link between the process of law and the council. The old Town Hall was now the Sheffield Crown Court and magistrates court.

The Old Town Hall continued its legal duties in amongst the large market halls and what was then the  commercial heart of the city.

Despite the severe bombing in the area the Old Town Hall and the old shops across Castle Street going up to Fitzalan Square survived too.

Haymarket old shops

 

In the 1990s, these courts moved to new premises, and since at least 1997 the building has been left unused.

In 2007, it was named by the Victorian Society as one of their top ten buildings most at-risk.

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preservation sheffield's heritage