Little Mester’s workshops are unique and therefore a very precious commodity in Sheffield so it is hardly surprising that they’ve often got Grade II listed status. One such example is on a street in the City Centre which you’d have little reason to go down – Garden Street.
Running parallel to Broad Lane (of Fagin’s fame) it runs from the Sytner roundabout and going uphill ends on Solly Street. It is in the Well Meadow Conservation Area which was once teeming with workshops but now sadly nearly all are gone. Nos. 52-56 Garden Street are Grade II listed but looking at them many people would wonder why.
Indeed, in the original listing English Heritage got it wrong and the single storey building part of the site is actually 1950s and not, as they say, a mid 19th century block reduced to a single storey. As the bulk of the block dates back to the early 19th century the middle section, which is built from modern bricks and of numb design, sticks out like a sore thumb as being of no merit. Quite strange. However that section is to be swept away in a new student scheme, so really is no sad loss. The only remnants of the 19th century left are the doorsteps and coal chutes – proof of what once stood there.
The proposed replacement building is to be four storeys high which the Conservation Advisory Group considered to be unacceptable on Garden Street but three storeys would be ok, providing that the block was broken up and sub-divided. This could cause a major problem to the developers as the removal of one storey could just make the scheme unviable and deplete the funds for the restoration of the all important listed sections. This is a common problem on such sites and both sides do have very valid points. Three town-houses and six studio apartments are planned for here with a glass link to the adjacent site and workshop conversions. It is proposed to remove some of the existing render to check the state of the brickwork but if it is too far gone then re-rendering will be the order of the day. A small courtyard with setts is to be created and it is planned to plant trees in it. Could look good, good look twee – let’s see!
Back to the history of the site, William Ibberson was the first recorded tenant here at No. 52 and he was a manufacturer of pocket-knives and penknives. Thomas Lound manufactured knives at No. 56 and both can be traced back to the 1830s/40s. A central yard to the rear of the properties had its own pump and well but it is not known whether the well dates back to the 18th century when all this area was gardens, or was a later addition when housing was introduced here. Many of the early rear ranges of buildings started as housing but were slowly converted to workshops as time went on. One of CAG’s main concerns was that no attempt had been made to link the new proposals with the archaeology of the site and it did not respect the historical development of the area.
Possibly No. 56’s most recent claim to fame was that Stan Shaw, Sheffield’s most famous Little Mester, was working there until relatively recently before moving premises. He moved to Garden Street in 1991 and for a couple of years was still using one of the forges on the site. Now 90 years old he has been in the trade for over 70 years and has been awarded a well deserved British Empire Medal. His fame is world-wide and the long waiting list for his unique knives is quite legendary. To think that nearly 200 years later he was conducting the same processes in the same buildings as his predecessors really is quite amazing and thought provoking.