Cambridge Street western side historic summary

By J.Robin Hughes

Street history, name and numbering 

In the early 18th century Coalpit Lane was the main southern exit from Sheffield, although it only gave access to the appallingly bad route over the muddy wasteland of Sheffield Moor. It became part of the Sheffield to Derby Turnpike, Sheffield’s first, in 1756, but the route over the Moor remained poor, and the steep drop from the top of the town was treacherous. As late as 1825 the surface of Coalpit Lane was being dug up and deposited on the Moor, along with smithy slack, to make a more even road. By then, Norfolk and Union Streets were available as an alternative, but only with the creation of the new Pinstone Street in the 1880s was there a road worthy of the name connecting the central commercial district with the route south.

The lane was named for the coal deposits nearby. These were generally worked with crude pillar and stall methods, and evidence of these re-emerges regularly. In 1953 construction of the new Roberts Brothers store on the Moor was hampered when old workings had to be grouted to provide foundations, and in 2007 plans were announced to extract the remaining coal from a development site at Furnival Square. In 1857, the Duke of Cambridge visited Sheffield to lay the foundation stone of the Crimean Monument, and it was proposed to replace the name Coalpit Lane with Cambridge Street. This was not acted upon until 1863, the year the monument was finally completed. Even then, the Police Commissioners spent some time seriously considering changing the name to Coalpit Street.

Property numbers originally started at the top of the street on the east side and proceeded sequentially downhill on that side to Moorhead, then uphill on the west side. Between 1837 and 1839 this changed to the current scheme of odd numbers to the east, even numbers to the west, although there was always some fluidity with numbers moving up or down by ones and twos.

Handle trades 

There was a concentration of businesses making handles or dealing in handle materials. In 1832, Joseph Woolhouse writes of crooked handles and bone nogs being dug up in their hundreds during street repairs. The presence of William Wild, dealer in ivory, shell, horn, tip, bone, stag, etc. from 1837, and of James Morton, horn dealer, from 1849, maintains a solid presence for the trade, and in 1856 there are 16 haft cutters in Coalpit Lane, and several in surrounding streets such as Backfields and Burgess Street.

Cutlers’ Hall speculation 

A story that there was an early Cutlers’ Hall in Coalpit Lane, which R E Leader describes as a “popular delusion”, is persistent. There is evidence only for the halls from 1638 on the current site in Church Street. Several stones have been discovered around the city with the Cutlers’ arms, initials and dates, which has led to speculation that they mark the meeting place of the Company of Cutlers. Leader suggests they may indicate the house of someone who served as Master Cutler. However, none of the initials are those of a Master Cutler serving during the year on the stone, so the explanation is not so simple.

A stone dated 1695 with the Cutlers’ arms and the initials S.E. was found during the demolition of the old Barleycorn public house (see “Barleycorn 38” below). In 1927 it was reported that the stone was to be relocated to the Cutlers’ Hall, but in 1932 it is said to be in the bar passage wall at the Barleycorn, and the Company of Cutlers do not have it, so the present whereabouts are unknown.

Another stone with initials that can be read M JM and the date 6/2/1708 (or possibly intended to be read as 1708 and 1726) was reported in 1884 as having been over a mantelpiece in Linley’s sheep shear works. Linley occupied two different premises at different times, and the description of the works being “near the top of Coalpit Lane” suggests that the relevant works might be the earlier one on the Leah’s Yard site, rather than the later one on the Albert Works site. This stone was acquired by the Company of Cutlers in 1925, but was said to have been found during alterations at a house used as a car showroom, which is more likely to be the former Wilson’s carriage and motor works (the Benjamin Huntsman site). The date is immediately after Wilson’s voluntary liquidation. It is therefore not clear where this stone started its life, nor where it went subsequently.

Over a doorway in the surviving front wall of Albert Works is another stone, with the arms and the initials L JS, but no date. This stone is shown over the door of Linley’s sheep shear works in a drawing dated 1877 by Wainman Topham. The artist may have seen the works and the stone in situ, as two years later the building on the site is described as ‘very old’.

Benjamin Huntsman 12-18 

Incorporates the cast iron framework of William Wilson & Son Ltd, carriage builders, built in 1878. Wilson’s had been in Cambridge Street since at least 1862, in other premises at Moorhead. By 1911 they had moved into the motor trade, including motor body building. They went into voluntary liquidation in 1924. In 1960 the premises were still in use by the motor trade, by Gilder’s. This is a possible site of the M JM 6/2/1708 Cutler’s stone discovered in 1925
(see “Cutlers’ Hall speculation” above).

Leah’s Yard 20 

Site of George Linley’s sheep shear works from at least 1822 (and probably 1817 or earlier). One of the unsubstantiated and probably fictitious Cutlers’ Hall sites (see “Cutlers’ Hall speculation” above). Described in 1832 as a large dwelling house with a court in front, Linley occupying part of this. Site occupied by Linley until his death in 1844, and then by his son Edward until at least 1849 (with a French polisher at the same address, described as
“under”), when he is joined by James Morton, horn dealer (and later insurance agent). Ordnance Survey map of 1850 shows that the building fronting Cambridge Street has the same footprint as today, so it may have been created by Morton at this time, although there is no documentary evidence for this. Linley moves out by 1852, leaving Morton the sole occupant.

By 1856 known as “Coalpit Lane Horn Works”, when Morton helps to organise entertainment for veterans and peace festivities following the end of the Crimean War. Steam power is installed by 1861. In 1863, Morton makes significant alterations and auctions the building materials, at the same time as the Sportsman is being rebuilt. In August, a joiner, Frederick Watts, is fatally injured falling 40 feet from a roof, possibly the apex of the roof of the building fronting Cambridge Street. This coincides with the rebuilding of the Sportsman. It is possible that they were planned as a single development.

From October 1864, any significant building work should have an entry in the Planning Registers. None has so far been found for the period 1864-1902, so the changes during 1863 may be when the Leah’s Yard/Sportsman site reaches its present layout.

James Morton dies in April 1870. 1871 directory street listing has no addresses on this site, which is in the hands of Samuel Marriott, executor of James Morton. Attempts to sell or let are made and the site is used for a salvage sale for another horn dealer. John and Henry Morton (James’ brothers) set up in business as horn cutters and dealers in bones, tips, etc., across the road at number 11. The site is eventually taken by Robert Thompson, trading as a haft and scale cutter and presser and dealer in horn and bones, who has relocated from Trafalgar Works. Although building work might be expected, there is no Planning Register evidence for such changes at this time.

By 1875 steam power is on a sufficient scale at the site to warrant employment of an engine tenter Henry Hobson. In 1876 there are five tenants (one making “silver plated fish carvers etc.”, four making knives), and Thompson (scale cutter, horn dealer etc.). The site is still known as Cambridge Street Horn Works, but the same name is also used for John and Henry Morton’s premises at 13-15 Cambridge Street, on the other side of the road. Thompson dies in 1883, but his business carries on under the same name under John George and John Henry Stothard, father and son. Hobson, the engine tenter, is dismissed for drunkenness and insubordination in September 1886, and in July 1887 murders Ada, wife of John Henry Stothard, for which he is hanged in August.

The site is once again offered to let in 1889, 1890 and 1891, when Henry Leah, silver stamper, is one of the 10 occupants. By 1893 the firm of Robert Thompson is no longer listed, although the site is still known as “Horn Works” up to 1897. The number of occupants increases steadily, rising to 23 (including Henry Leah & Sons) in 1911, still including some in the handle trades.

Sportsman 24-26 

In 1821 directory entries imply that the building on the site of the Sportsman is the Stationers’ Arms, predecessor of the current building. The landlord is Peter Dawes. It becomes the Brushmakers’ Arms in 1822, then in 1828 Samuel Hill, saw-maker of Rockingham Lane, moves there, and renames it as the Sportsman. He dies the same year, leaving his widow as landlady. Furniture, beer machine, fixtures and fittings advertised for sale in 1842. Reported as
“harbouring disorderly characters” in 1843 (the landlord John Hall is fined that year and 1844). The Ordnance Survey map of 1850 shows that although the inn building itself is small, the site containing it extends to Backfields, including the southern part of today’s Leah’s Yard site, and contains several dwellings and outbuildings. A new landlord, John Wilson, is there by 1852. When an 800 year lease on the site (dating from 1690) is advertised for sale in 1855, the description and area of 644 square yards is consistent with this extending most of the way to Backfields. Wilson continues as landlord, but in 1863 interior fittings are advertised for auction by his widow Elizabeth, with no reserve “as the house is to be pulled down and rebuilt”, and she moves to the Rubens’ Head in Burgess Street (which is demolished in the 1880s to make way for Pinstone Street, and its licence transferred to the Athol Hotel). This coincides with alterations to the Leah’s Yard site, and this may be when the Leah’s Yard/Sportsman site reaches its present layout (see “Leah’s Yard 20” above).

In November, the Sportsman re-opens under landlord Francis Bower (also trading in Fargate as a whitesmith), who advertises the availability of a 200-seat club room. Offered to let, described as “the Old Sportsman’s Inn”, in 1864, the licence is transferred in 1865, but soon after it is offered to let again, described as “that old licensed house”. Calling it “old” may be a marketing ploy, as the number of different licensees (5 in the 3 years to 1866, and a further 7 by 1881) suggests that the business is struggling.

From 1879 the southern part of the building becomes “dining rooms” or an “eating house”. Emily Darley becomes licensee of the inn in 1881, moving from the Norfolk Hotel which is to be demolished to make way for the widening of Pinstone Street. Arthur Ormerod becomes landlord in 1887 and appears to make the business more successful. Meetings of societies such as the Sheffield Hunt, Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printers and the British United Order of Oddfellows are reported, although Mr Ormerod’s civic awareness comes into question in 1895 when the editor of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph has to inform him that Sheffield has become a city (in 1893, two years earlier). Cephas William Lockwood takes over in 1899. He is a keen angler and promotes many angling competitions during his tenure, which lasts until 1905.

In 1913, the licence transfers to Annie Johnson. The next few years are sad ones for the family. Annie’s son, Private C Johnson, is killed while serving with the York and Lancaster Regiment in May 1916. In April 1917, two children, Edward and Winifred Slack, die in a house fire at Woodseats, while their mother Martha is working at the Sportsman, which she does for no pay, because she is nervous of staying in the house when her husband, Edward, is working nights. The parents are prosecuted by the NSPCC for wilful neglect and fined £5, although the practice of leaving children alone is not unusual at the time, and Martha’s behaviour suggests that she may be a victim of mental illness. In November 1918, Annie’s son Gilbert, soldier in the City Battalion, is also killed. Then in July 1919, Annie herself dies, having suffered a long illness. She is succeeded as landlady by her daughter, Alice.

Albert Works 28 

A range of houses described in 1832 supposed once to have been a single property, Balm House, may have included this site. By 1839 it is occupied by John Hall, knife manufacturer (probably the same as will become landlord of the Sportsman, see above), but the 1852 directory lists nothing between the Sportsman and the Primitive Methodist Chapel, suggesting it was vacant. The same year it is leased to Edward Linley, shear maker, son of George who was previously at the Leah’s Yard site. An 800 year lease from 1690 is advertised for sale in 1857. It is described as having a 32 foot frontage to Coalpit Lane and a carriage entrance on Backfields. By 1859 (the end of the lease) Linley has moved, and in 1860 he is at Odessa Works in Oxford Road (now part of Moore Street).

In 1862, Joseph Linley has set up West End Works at the Coalpit Lane address. In 1863 it is the unnamed premises of Edward Linley, and by 1868 is called Odessa Works. A drawing dated 1877 by Wainman Topham shows an old two-storey building. The site is still called Odessa Works in 1879 and has two additional occupants. In February that year, a fire does £50 of damage to the building, which is said to be very old. Edward Linley dies in December the same year, and during 1880 the site is purchased and redeveloped by Smith Bros., ivory dealers, as the four-storey Albert Works. In 1881 the four occupants include Brook Brothers, platers and bronzers, and the Linley business. A report on another fire in 1882 states that Smith Bros. occupy the ground floor and Brook Bros. the rest. Brook Brothers have building work approved in 1891. By 1901 there are eight occupants, including Brook Brothers, who remain there until at least 1954.

This is a possible site of the MJM 6/2/1708 Cutlers’ stone discovered in 1925 (see “Cutlers’ Hall speculation” above). The LJS Cutlers’ stone is still embedded in the wall, and is thought to have been transferred from the earlier building on the site. There is no Planning Register evidence for building work before 1891, so it is possible that the older buildings remained on site until then. The bombardment of Odessa took place in March 1854, so the name may have been adopted in celebration, then transferred to the new address in 1859, returning later with Edward Linley.

Primitive Methodist Chapel 30 

Primitive Methodism arrived in Sheffield in 1819, but worship was itinerant until it settled in the old chapel on the site where the Bethel Sunday School now stands, some time after 1823. The foundation stone of the existing chapel was laid on 20th July 1835. The site may previously have been part of the range of houses supposed once to have been Balm House, or a former farm house divided into tenements. A contemporary account says that the chapel seats 1,800 and cost £3,000, although a 1901 article puts capacity at 1,000 and the cost at £4,460. In either case, the small, largely poor congregation did a great deal of the work themselves, including demolition and brick dressing, and the chapel represents a heroic faith and determination. A new schoolroom, class rooms and a caretaker’s house were added in 1893, apparently replacing the adjacent Bethel Sunday School. It closed in 1936. In 1938 the extension that covers the former front yard was built for George Binns’ shop, which moved from The Moor. Cole Brothers (by then part of John Lewis) acquired it in 1977.

Bethel Sunday School 32 

The site was previously occupied by an independent chapel built around 1774 by Edward Bennet, sugar refiner. This was used variously by seceders from the Nether Chapel (until 1803), Baptists (until 1814), followers of Johanna Southcott (until 1823) and finally the Primitive Methodists, who used the old chapel as their Sunday School after they built the new chapel in 1835. Simmonite’s academy used the building during the week. By 1851 it was crowded by 300 regular Sunday School attendees, and the present building opened in 1852. Behind the school site from 1839 was Francis Hobson, steel merchant, and the same trade carried on in different hands during and after the building of the new school. In 1893 a new school was built to the rear of the adjacent chapel, and by 1896, the old school building was being used as a warehouse.

Sheffield Metal & Wire Co. 34 

Occupied by William Wild, dealer in ivory, shell, horn, tip, bone, stag, etc. from 1837 to at least 1862. In 1833 Wild was in White Croft and the corresponding address (53 Coalpit lane) is described as “Chapel yards”. A drawing shows an earlier building and the new Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1835, so the building may have been new when Wild moved in. Subsequently it was occupied by a cooperage, a china and glass merchant, and by 1905 the Sheffield Metal & Wire Co. Ltd. There was originally a delivery hatch between the second floor windows, which survived until 1933 but was gone by 1959.

Barleycorn 38 

In 1822, the public house on this site was the Dog & Partridge, landlord Edward Middleton, an amateur gardener, of whom it was said that “If all innkeepers had carried on their business as he did, the present conflict between teetotallers and publicans would not have existed, for there would have been neither drunkards nor total abstainers.” By 1837 it was known as the Barleycorn, and Middleton is also described as a baker, a trade which recurs in the adjacent premises.

In 1863, a crowd watched the procession for the marriage of the Prince of Wales from spaces in front and adjoining. From 1873 to 1876, the landlord was David Sellars, who as well as organising flower shows was huntsman of the Sheffield Hunt. In 1880 a new landlord, Joseph Candow, was fined 40s for permitting gambling, his excuse being that “the men were instructing one another in the game of cribbage.”

The extension of Wellington Street to meet Cambridge Street, planned since 1878, finally took place in 1901. The old Barleycorn was demolished to make way for the existing building. A stone was found with the Cutlers’ arms, the initials S.E., and a date that was initially read as 1625, leading to speculation that the bakehouse had been used for the first Cutlers’ Feast and that the Barleycorn was the site of the first Cutlers’ Hall. Unfortunately for this appealing tale, the date almost certainly reads 1695, although in 1914 the story was still current and was cited during proceedings against the landlord, Joseph Riley, for allowing betting.

In 1922, and until 1926, the landlord was Gus Platts, British and European middleweight boxing champion. Boxers trained under him at a room at the Barleycorn, matches were arranged and charity fundraising organised. He was the right man for the time: in December 1924, George “Ganner” Wheywell, at different times a member of both the Mooney and Garvin gangs, was charged with wounding John Towler outside the Barleycorn, after pouring beer over a barmaid inside. Platts gave evidence that Wheywell had threatened him, and Garvin himself was a witness, albeit reluctantly. Further incidents resulted in Platts warning members of both gangs to stay away. He returned to boxing in 1927.

Subsequent landlords had their own brushes with the law: in 1931, Charles Sutcliffe became the first person in Sheffield to be convicted for driving under the influence; and in 1932 John Cowley was summoned for breaching a licence condition “that there was to be no exhibition of singing, acting, or dancing of an obscene character, offensive to public decency or calculated to incite tumult and disorder.” He was fined £1 relating to the dancing, but it is not recorded what was offensive about it.

J Robin Hughes, October 2019 ,

Amended April 2020

Cambridge Street western side historic summary
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