Students are getting fussier and fussier nowadays and somewhere just to lay their heads down is no longer good enough for them. A prime example of this faddiness can be found in the ‘once upon a time’ student area of Walkley. One of the most prominent buildings in this now sought after suburb is the 1890 Grade II Listed Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Chapel on South Road. Listed in 1986, the ground floor was converted into eleven student ‘pods’ in the ‘90s in a bad scheme which sadly trashed the original interior. It was very short-lived however due to student expectations and has basically been left to rot since 2003 with its only tenants being lots of pigeons.
A fresh scheme has been submitted for eight flats which started off as a very ambitious twenty-four (well it was worth a try) but even this low number will cause serious damage to what’s left of a wonderful interior.
The magnificent Gothic organ which replace the original little American harmonium in 1894 will be lost, as will the gallery with its raked benches, the pulpit with platform and most other internal features. The only survivors will be the cast-iron columns, two staircases and some stained glass windows. To squash more flats in, a mezzanine floor would also be added which would totally destroy the concept of the internal heights.
The Conservation Advisory Group were very unhappy altogether with the plans but did concede that a revised scheme retaining the organ and gallery could be acceptable. Whether this would leave enough profit for the developer however is another matter.
The Primitive Methodist Movement is Sheffield in the 19th century was very strong and by 1881 it boasted twenty-five Chapels. The most well-known of these is probably the Bethel Chapel of 1833 on Cambridge Street which is currently in the news. The Walkley Ebenezer came into being because its predecessor Heavygate Chapel on Heavygate Lane became too small for the burgeoning congregation. In 1888 therefore the plot of land on the corner of Greenhow Street was purchased for the princely sum of £400 and architect William James Taylor designed the new chapel in an Italianate style and to seat 570 worshippers. The style was purposely different to the Anglicans who favoured Neo-Gothic, and it is difficult to believe that in those days there was, for want of a better word, such rivalry.
An interesting aside is that in the 18th century Heavygate Lane was a turnpike road and a heavy gate was placed across the road where tolls were collected. Hence the name, as Michael Caine would say, ‘not lot of people know that’.
The monuments and plaques which exist inside the Chapel and names of benefactors on the external stones bear testimony to the religiousness of this area and there is still a buoyant congregation in the smaller Sunday School and Institute building which is situated to the rear and which was designed in 1904, again by Taylor. Most churches cannot support large congregations anymore and their redundancies are going to become a bigger and bigger problem. This story is very reminiscent of one which we did in The Cruck in 2012 regarding the Grade II Listed Woodhouse Trinity Methodist Church on Chapel Street. The original interior here is far more complete and far superior to the Ebenezer but a scheme for conversion to flats including destruction of the organ and gallery was firmly rejected. Here we are, six years of deterioration later and in a stalemate situation.
Both these magnificent places of worship deserve better, but what is the solution?