Underappreciated and overlooked?
Examining the significance of the Old Town Hall’s history, and its role in facilitating Sheffield’s expansion throughout the nineteenth century
Introduction by Valerie Bayliss:
This is the title of a research project carried out for the Friends by Kathryn Webb, a master’s degree student in the history department at Sheffield University. Kathryn has investigated the many pressures on the building through the first hundred years of its life. Taking in information from the Sheffield press of the time, from contemporary histories and directories and more recent analyses of the evolution of buildings serving the municipal and judicial systems, Kathryn documents the way the Old Town Hall evolved – and how it was always too small for the functions that were squeezed into it.
The municipal building which stands on Waingate, commonly known to Sheffield’s residents as the Old Town Hall or the Old Courthouse, was built in 1807-08 to replace the previous town hall, which had proven inconveniently small, with little prospects for extension. The building was financed by the Town Trustees, and constructed by Charles Watson, a prominent architect who also built three other Quarter Sessions buildings in Beverley, Pontefract, and Wakefield, along with a number of other public buildings across Yorkshire.1 The Waingate building served Sheffield as its town hall until the close of the nineteenth century, when the current town hall on Pinstone Street was erected, as a result of public dissatisfaction with the facilities of the Old Town Hall. Following this, the Waingate building assumed the role of Sheffield’s courthouse building for much of the twentieth century. The research I have undertaken documents the development of the Old Town Hall and examines the work of officials, including the Town Trustees and local governing bodies utilising the building; and how they handled the demands of a vastly expanding town.
Throughout the nineteenth century, major towns in the United Kingdom were undergoing vast population growths, and as a result the need for public buildings which oversaw such expansion became paramount. Historians have documented this nineteenth century phenomenon, and Colin Cunningham has observed that the development of large towns often involved, or was immediately followed by the erection of a town hall building.2 Sheffield was not dissimilar to other major towns such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, who all experienced vast growth in the nineteenth century and as a result required a greater volume of municipal buildings to expedite this growth. D.R. Bentley conducted a study of court buildings in Sheffield, and notes that at the beginning of the nineteenth century the town had a population of 45,000, yet oddly did not possess its own Quarter Sessions or Assize Court.3 (Quarter Sessions were local courts which traditionally operated four times a year, trying minor crimes: Assize Courts tried more serious cases which were committed to them by the Quarter Sessions.)
By 1893 the population of Sheffield had leapt to 400,000.4 Historians of the development of Sheffield have noted that its expansion was perhaps even more dramatic than other large towns; Sidney Pollard observed that between 1801 and 1851 while the population of the country doubled, that of Sheffield trebled in size.5 Unsurprisingly, the town required a capable and extensive municipal government to control this rapidly increasing population. Throughout the nineteenth century, public officials attempted to keep up with the ever changing town, with the Old Town Hall acting as the central governing vessel.
The Old Town Hall is an L-shaped building, with entrances on both Castle Street and Waingate. Cunningham observes that this shape of building, facing out onto two streets, was common, as space was becoming increasingly lacking due to the number of municipal buildings springing up in town centres.6 The original 1808 building was the five-bay structure fronting Castle Street, and as the century progressed and accommodation became increasingly insufficient, the building was extended onto Waingate in 1866.
The location of Waingate/Castle Street may seem odd to current Sheffield residents, as this area of the city now is rather run-down and far away from the central hub of Pinstone Street and Fargate. However, at the opening of the nineteenth century this locale was ideal for the placing of a town hall, being in close proximity to the River Sheaf from which the town grew and expanded upwards to the current centre we know. Additionally this area had the most footfall and traffic traversing it, the roads being the busiest thoroughfares in the city. This area of the town was also home to the rapidly expanding markets which were immensely popular with the inhabitants of Sheffield. For those visiting the town, the area provided a number of inns accommodating them, such as the famous Tontine Inn on Haymarket, which stood in the town for 66 years, and was one of the three main coach departure centres for routes all over England.7 From examining maps of Sheffield produced around the time of the Old Town Hall’s construction, it is clear that the location of Waingate was optimal, being in close proximity to public facilities such as the Duke of Norfolk’s Hospital, and the Debtor’s Gaol on King Street, especially ideal for the easy transportation of prisoners from the Town Hall once convicted.8
The previous town hall, which had been in operation since 1700, was torn down in May 1808; and on June 23rd the foundation stone for the Old Town Hall was laid. 9 The Old Town Hall first opened to the public and transacted business from 1810.10 From then, it housed the Quarter Sessions for the West Riding of Yorkshire, which took place quarterly and rotated around different public buildings in the county, including ones in Pontefract, Leeds and Rotherham. The housing of Quarter Sessions in the Old Town Hall was problematic even in its early years, and continued to prove inadequate throughout the nineteenth century. As early as 1812, when the Old Town Hall had only been open for business two years, the public expressed the need for a separate Quarter Sessions Court House to be built, suggesting that the Old Town Hall facilities were proving to be inadequate.
Sheffield newspaper The Iris revealed in March 1812 that the judges at the Quarter Sessions had identified the need for a separate courthouse in Barnsley ‘for the more convenient holding of the Quarter Sessions of the Peace’.11 Although the Quarter Sessions continued to be held at the Old Town Hall for the entirety of the nineteenth century, problems with accommodation cropped up regularly. Included in the Town Burgess records is an acknowledgement of the Old Town Hall as proving unsuitable for the accommodation of the Quarter Sessions as there was nowhere for spectators to watch the Sessions play out.12 Chris Williams, who examined the development of police and crime in Sheffield throughout the mid-nineteenth century, observed how criminal trials increasingly became a spectator sport, and the need to include accommodation for audiences to witness trials became more important throughout the century.13
Once the town of Sheffield was incorporated into the municipal borough, the question of whether Sheffield would be granted its own Quarter Sessions was brought to bear upon local government officials. Prior to incorporation, the Old Town Hall possessed a Quarter Sessions Court, but this was for the use of the Quarter Sessions for the West Riding of Yorkshire, rather than Sheffield’s own local government officials. Consequently, the West Riding judges who made important decisions which decided the fate of Sheffield were often out of touch with what was actually happening in the town, therefore they did not always act in the townspeople’s best interests. Historians have asserted that the Justices of the West Riding represented a largely rural gentry, almost the complete opposite to Sheffield’s largely working-class population.14
The debate over whether to incorporate Sheffield into the municipal borough was tied closely to the question of whether Sheffield should be granted its own Quarter Sessions. Those who campaigned for incorporation asserted that Sheffield was deserving of its own Quarter Sessions, as well as a Recorder (towns which were boroughs often had their own Quarter Sessions, the judge of which was known as the Recorder).15
Alan Smith esq., Lord Wharncliffe, stated that this would place Sheffield on the same footing as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.16 It was the expectations of those who campaigned for Sheffield to be incorporated, that once incorporation came into effect, Sheffield being granted its own Sessions would immediately follow, as had happened in other municipal boroughs. However, when the Borough Council was elected they made no effort to petition for this to come into effect. D. R. Bentley has found that from 1848 two Magistrates sat the Old Town Hall: a Borough Magistrates Court tried cases within Sheffield, and a West Riding court tried cases from the outlying district. The incorporation of the town also granted Sheffield its own Borough Coroner, which was a key step forward as prior to this, coronary inquests had taken place at public houses.17
At a Town Council meeting which took place on 13th April 1844, the possibility of constructing a separate Quarter Sessions court was considered. Officials expressed concern over the cost of such a venture, especially as incorporation had only just come into effect.18. In fact, it was not until 1880 that Sheffield belatedly sought after and was granted its own Sessions, which were held in the Old Town Hall.19 Perhaps if Sheffield had been granted its own Sessions in the mid-nineteenth century, when the town was originally incorporated into the municipal borough, the Old Town Hall would have been more widely used and appreciated by local government officials. Additionally, in having its own Quarter Sessions from the 1840s Sheffield would have enjoyed an elevated status, similar to that of other rapidly growing towns.
Despite the problems with space and the debate over whether to grant Sheffield its own Sessions, which may well have enhanced the status of the Old Town Hall as headquarters for Sheffield Quarter Sessions, the role of the Castle Street building in facilitating the Quarter Sessions was one of its most prominent duties to the people of Sheffield, and indeed the West Riding, throughout the nineteenth century. Other uses for the building which have become apparent from my research include housing the Courts of Requests: these were minor court cases investigating financial disputes, in which commissioners were appointed for hearing cases in which the debt did not exceed £5.
John Holland, who published a book entitled The Picture of Sheffield in 1824, included a section on public buildings which featured the Old Town Hall. He mentions that the Courts of Requests were held every Thursday at the Old Town Hall from 1808, and that they were a valuable means of recovering small debts.20 Along with the Quarter Sessions, the Courts of Requests were another significant meeting accommodated by the Old Town Hall. However, in 1846, the Small Debts Courts Act was passed, which provided for the establishment of county courts in England and Wales. Sheffield was granted its own court in 1847, which was at first housed in the Old Town Hall.
However, yet again space must have been an issue for accommodating the county court, because in 1854 a separate County Court Hall was constructed on Bank Street for the proper housing of these courts. Bentley explains that the arrival of the County Count meant the end of the Courts of Requests, which represented a loss from the Old Town Hall, as these courts had been held weekly at Castle Street since the hall opened for business.21
One responsibility which the Old Town Hall retained for the entirety of its business life was housing Sheffield’s Petty Sessions: these were the lowest tier in the court system trying the most minor cases, which were previously tried at the Quarter Sessions. William White explains that the Petty Sessions were held at the Old Town Hall every Tuesday and Friday until Incorporation, and thereafter were held four days a week or more often when necessary. Therefore, although the Petty Sessions only tried minor criminal cases, the fact that they took place so regularly and were housed solely by the Old Town Hall, shows they were a significant element of day-to-day local governance and integral to the Town Hall’s role.22
The fact that these courts took place more frequently once government officials realised the need for this demonstrates the abilities of the magistrates to keep up with a growing number of petty criminal cases. Moreover, Williams identifies the importance of the 1855 Criminal Justice Act, which broadened the scope of summary jurisdiction to include a number of crimes which would have previously only been tried on indictment.23 This development must have resulted in a larger volume of petty court cases being heard at the Old Town Hall, showing an example of the building being used to its utmost advantage.
As previously mentioned, despite its size, Sheffield was not promoted to an assize town until 1955. Leeds was granted assize town status in 1864; Clare Graham argued that the promotion of towns to assize towns was like a coming of age ceremony, a formal recognition that these places had become local capitals in their own right, and it created pubic confirmation for town hall buildings.24
This was a formality which Sheffield never managed to achieve throughout the nineteenth century. However, there was significant consideration over whether to promote Sheffield to an assize town in 1862. To house the new Assize Court, the Council proposed to erect a new courthouse at the site of the Old Town Hall, with an estimated cost of £30,000. The Bill which proposed the construction of such a court required that the outlying districts of the West Riding contribute to the funding, however the reaction from these districts was one of outrage. Doncaster Council, in particular, were scandalised that they should have to pay for the cost of a new building in Sheffield. The districts threatened to oppose the Bill unless this clause was dropped. By the time Sheffield Town Council backed down on enforcing the clause, the government decided it was no longer willing to make Sheffield an Assize town.25
Consequently, the Old Town Hall lost out on a considerable extension which would have brought much legal business to the town, and would have elevated the status to be on a level with other major towns such as Leeds and Liverpool, who enjoyed their promotion to assize status in the nineteenth century.
Aside from court hearings, the Old Town Hall was utilised for meetings discussing public order and the policing of the town. Prior to the establishment of the Town Council in 1843, the Town Trustees who financed the building and upkeep of the Old Town Hall supervised Sheffield’s police force, firefighters, road maintenance, and water supply. The Improvement Commission was founded in 1818, who were based in the Old Town Hall and had the responsibility of overseeing the police force. The Commissioners’ job was to fulfil the clauses of the Act, which read ‘An Act for cleansing, lighting, watching, and otherwise improving the town of Sheffield’.26 John Holland’s brief description of the interior of the Old Town Hall includes a description of the second floor of the building, containing a spacious court room, used for sessions and by Police Commissioners.27
Additionally, William White’s index of the West Riding published in 1837 contains a section on Sheffield, and a summary of the interior of the Old Town Hall; in which White describes how the ground floor included a watch-house used by Police Commissioners, and the Commissioners’ meetings were held in one of the courtrooms upstairs.28 White explains how attendants of Commissioners’ meetings included the Town Trustees, the Masters and Wardens of the Cutlers’ Company, and around 100 other gentlemen, and they had the responsibility of electing a treasurer, clerk, surveyor, collector, twenty day-police men, sixty watchmen, a watch-house keeper and a number of other officers. 29
Judging by the sheer numbers of people who attended Commissioners’ meetings, the Old Town Hall’s facilities must have been extensive enough to accommodate such large meetings, at least up until incorporation; from then, Improvement Commission meetings took place in the Cutlers’ Hall. White explains in a directory of Sheffield and Rotherham, published in 1845, that at the time he was writing, municipal officials were contemplating the necessity of a separate Council Hall for the accommodation of such meetings. This consideration implies that both the Old Town Hall and the Cutlers’ Hall were proving inadequate accommodations for the growing body of Improvement Commissioners; clearly the town’s public buildings were struggling to keep up with the ever expanding municipal officials.
White does tell us, however, that although the police force and nightly watchmen were placed under the management of the Town Council, the police office remained inside the Old Town Hall.30 After the incorporation of Sheffield into the municipal borough, an agreement was drawn up between the Old Town Hall and the Corporation concerning the letting of rooms in the Town Hall. In the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1844, this agreement was discussed, and it was stated that the Sessions hall would be let to the mayor as and when it was required; and the police office let to the Police Commissioners for 5s. a year.31
Examples such as these demonstrate that although the police force were managed by the Town Council from the date of incorporation, the Old Town Hall still facilitated many public meetings by providing leases to the Council. The Town Council meetings themselves also took place in the Cutlers’ Hall following their election. The possibility of housing Town Council meetings in the Old Town Hall was proposed in 1844: ‘the large Session room in the Town Hall, if properly heated, could be a most convenient place’. This suggestion however was followed by ‘Of all the places, however… there is none in their opinion so eligible in every respect, as the elegant and spacious room in which the town council… now assemble’, referring to the Cutlers’ Hall.32
There is evidence to suggest that the Improvement Commission were at times insufficient in the maintenance of the town’s policing and public order. For example, Chris Williams explains how the 1833 Lighting and Watching Act was financed through taking £200 a year from the overseers of the poor. He argues that these funds could have paid for four or five policemen, yet there is no evidence for this kind of provision being made.33
This implies that the Improvement Commissioners were struggling to maintain control over a town which was growing rapidly and becoming increasingly difficult to police. Also the fact that they could have used their funds to facilitate more effective governance of Sheffield, and failed to do so, also rings true with the Old Town Hall: the accommodation of the Old Town Hall was available for use for municipalities, yet not utilised to its full advantage. Interestingly, Williams also argues that a party within the Improvement Commission intervened in the debate over incorporation of Sheffield; systematically blocking all reform, until incorporation was the only viable option. He suggests a potential explanation for this could be that the West Riding Bench did not trust the town to police itself, therefore chose to deliberately take over the policing of Sheffield.34
In terms of the architectural structure of the Old Town Hall, and how the building was extended and modified throughout the nineteenth century, public perceptions of the Old Town Hall seem to generally describe it as a plain and substantial building, but with no elements of architectural beauty. For example, John Holland describes the Old Town Hall as ‘a large square building of plain architecture’, which pales in comparison to the grand buildings which could be found in other major town centres.35
This disapproval of the Old Town Hall’s grandeur was exemplified when Sheffield’s current Town Hall, on Pinstone Street, was constructed in the last few years of the nineteenth century. Colin Cunningham comments on the building of the new Town Hall as being constructed in a town which ‘previously had little public architecture to recommend it’, reflecting on the simple features of the Old Town Hall.36
Though the building itself was rather unremarkable, the Old Town Hall was certainly at the centre of municipal activity throughout the nineteenth century. Additionally, William White notes the grandeur of the Sessions Hall, proclaiming it to be one of the largest in the country, and ‘handsomely fitted up’. 37
As a result of growing municipal groups, and their need for more extensive accommodation, many changes were made to the building over the course of its life as a town hall. Researchers into these extensions have identified that major alterations were made to the building in 1833 and 1866. As for the 1833 extensions, little is known about the physical changes made to the building. William White explains that the building was ‘considerably enlarged’, and these modifications were financed by the Old Town Hall.
The 1866 extensions are more extensively documented by contemporary observers and users of the Old Town Hall: famous Sheffield architects Flockton and Abbott carried out the work on the building, which was seen by the people of the town as not just a commodity but a necessity, as the building had become impossibly small. Pawson and Brailsford’s Illustrated Guide to Sheffield, published in 1862, stated when referring to the Old Town Hall that ‘it is in fact with the utmost difficulty that that the necessary business can be carried on in the building’, and that the Waingate building had become ‘perfectly inadequate for the wants of the town’.38
At the time of extension the Town Trust had leased some parts of the building to the Town Council, and it was the Council who engineered the enlarging and remodelling of the Hall. The 1866 work to the building extended it onto Waingate, creating the L-shape which the building remains to be today, and significantly enlarging the space occupied by the Hall. In the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1867, the extensions were summarised: explaining that the idea behind having two separate entrances was so the public could access the building through the original Castle Street entrance, whereas the new Waingate entrance would be for the use of magistrates only.
The Waingate entrance was shielded from public eyes by a line of iron pillars. The Independent also states that there were no provisions being made for a separate room assigned to Judges of the West Riding, rather that they would continue to use the grand jury room when it was not occupied. The fact that no provision was made for such a significant group, who often met at the Old Town Hall, demonstrates the incapability of municipal officials to accommodate appropriately for the users of the building.39
These alterations also included the erection of a clock tower over the Waingate entrance, constructed from earlier parts of the building which had been demolished. The clock face itself was made by T.C. Lomas. It is also noteworthy that in 1859 a drinking fountain, the first of its kind in Sheffield, was inserted into the wall facing Castle Street.40
Additionally, David Dewar notes some additional extensions which were made after the 1866 alterations. He explains that the Grand Jury Room was extended in 1879 at an estimated cost of between £200-300, and in 1894, a new court was created (no. 2 court) along with a room for witnesses and the grand jury, a Stipendiary Magistrates Room, Justices Clerk Room, Magistrates Room, and additional rooms in the basement for policemen and prisoners. He tells us that the new court was named Norfolk Court, after the Duke of Norfolk, who was the present Lord Mayor of Sheffield.41
Pawson and Brailsford’s description of the 1866 extensions explains that the Town Council’s alterations included a central passage, separating one side which contained rooms for the Town Trustees and the Warrant Officers, and on the other side were two ‘well-ventilated, well-arranged courts’ designed specifically for the Quarter and Petty Sessions. They add that a private staircase was also constructed between the prisoners’ docks and the cells underneath. They estimate the overall cost of the 1866 extensions at £1000.42 Interestingly, Colin Cunningham observes that the Sheffield firm Flockton and Gibbs claimed a patent on the idea of separate passages, meaning that this architecture was unique to the Old Town Hall.43
Pawson and Brailsford also include a survey of the Sheffield Police Offices, which were built during the years 1864-66 on Castle Green, adjacent to Castle Street. According to their Illustrated Guide, the Police Offices contained seventeen cells for the detention of prisoners, and were light and dry due to being above ground. They confirm that including the underground cells present at the Old Town Hall, between them the buildings could accommodate seventy prisoners.44
As part of the 1866 extensions, an underground passage was constructed to connect the Old Town Hall and police offices for the easy transportation of prisoners. The underground cells at the Old Town Hall were notorious throughout the nineteenth century for their damp, unsanitary conditions. Often when town hall buildings and prison cells were combined, it made architectural sense for cells to be beneath ground level, so that prisoners had direct access to the dock from beneath the court. However when it came to the health and safety of those detained, the Old Town Hall’s prison cells were famous for their extremely poor conditions; so much so that allegedly, many prisoners would beg to be transferred to the Wakefield House of Correction to escape the cells at Sheffield.45
The ventilation of the prison cells was an issue which municipalities struggled with, until 1883, when the Watch-Sub Committee addressed the problem by introducing a gas engine to the cells which renewed the air inside them four times an hour. The gas engine was replaced by an electric motor, which remained in operation in the cells until the 1950s.46
In terms of criminal activity in Sheffield, Chris Williams explains that there was considerable concern over crime rates in Sheffield particularly in the mid-nineteenth century, and that these concerns were discussed in radical circles, local newspapers, and the Supervisory Board. However crime in Sheffield was not particularly high in comparison to other rapidly growing nineteenth century towns; it was a common conception that crime was in proportion to the density of the population.47
There were a number of instances of riotous behaviour, during which the Old Town Hall and those who made regular use of the building, were affected in some way. For example, during the 1832 Election Riots violence was directed towards the Tontine Inn as that was where the election results were revealed. The special constables were called upon to quell the rioters who marched down to the Town Hall. Chris Williams describes how the Justices of the Peace ordered the constables to fire into the crowd, which resulted in the killing of five protestors. Shortly after, Hugh Parker arrived from the Town Hall and ordered the troops to stop firing. Williams explains how the riot and violence that played out on the streets by citizens was considerably overshadowed by the needless deaths instigated by the police.48
Additionally, violence rooted in Chartist activity broke out in 1839, when a crowd gathered around the Town Hall, attempting to force their way in through the gates, and stones were thrown at the building. An account of the event in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent retells how Luke Palfreyman, esq., pleaded with the crowd to go home and spare the magistrates from having to resort to violence. The newspaper describes how at some point attempts were made to drag Mr Palfreyman into the crowd, and his warning was not heeded, as bricks were thrown against the window of the entrance hall to the Town Hall. In the immediate aftermath, it was found that several policemen had received injuries from having stones thrown at them, and between 70 and 80 arrests were made and offenders were lodged in prison, some of whom were guarded by dragoons armed with cutlasses. The Independent praises the magistrates for successfully keeping the peace.49
These mob-like instances of mass violence were not regularly documented, although examples such as this demonstrate that the Old Town Hall was often at the centre of public and political grievances, and its governing bodies struggled to maintain order at times.
Not only was the Old Town Hall responsible for the trying and convicting of criminals, it was also the place in which those convicted were detained until they were sent either for further trial, for example at an outlying Assize Court, or for imprisonment at the Wakefield House of Correction. As already mentioned, there were problems with the conditions and sanitation of the Old Town Hall prison cells. The journey prisoners took from Castle Street to Wakefield was made by foot in 1810, travelling out of Sheffield onto Pye Bank Road all chained up together. George Hampshire, in his students’ guide to the history of Sheffield, tells us how the town’s residents would turn out to witness prisoners marching to Wakefield.50
This suggests that this journey was sensationalised and almost trivialised by the residents of Sheffield – R.E. Leader tells us how ‘I’ll send thee up Pye Bank’ was a local threat made to commit people to the Wakefield prison.51 By the 1830s the journey was no longer made on foot but by open coach, during which the prisoners were still chained together, and those who waved them off would often walk alongside the coach to ‘throw them a tobacco or some other luxury’.52
Hampshire also tells us of a successful gaol break which occurred in 1833; during which twenty-six convicts were chained together in the Old Town Hall cells ready to be transported to Wakefield the following morning. It is thought that they broke open a box of tools and smashed their irons, fleeing the building before morning.53 Clare Graham tells us how increasingly during the nineteenth century, imprisonment was becoming the preferred method of punishment, overtaking transportation and execution.54
Although the role of the Old Town Hall in the detaining process was only a temporary measure before they were transported to their permanent prison, this was an instrumental role nonetheless, and one that the administrators worked to improve over the nineteenth century. This is shown by the development of the Sheffield Police Offices, which shared the accommodation of prisoners, and efforts to modify the prison cells, such as improving air ventilation.
Colin Cunningham’s investigation into Victorian and Edwardian town halls affirms that the determinant of a town hall building’s success is whether it is a statement of civic pride, a symbol known to by all the townspeople and to visitors encountering the town for the first time. He explains that town halls had to represent the history of the town, as well as its current status, wealth and urban pride.55
In my research I have explored whether these characteristics were embodied by the Old Town Hall, and concluded that the building’s inability to tick these boxes resulted in it being deemed unfit for the accommodation of a town hall, thus the decision was eventually made to construct a new site that would be suited to this role. The issue many municipal buildings had in this era is identified by Clare Graham, who explains that many buildings took on multiple roles, not just accommodating town hall business but also housing court cases and police offices. Graham argues that this amalgamation of municipal activity into one building had its obvious conveniences, allowing these different administrative groups to meet regularly; yet she identifies that this setup created confusion in identity for these types of buildings. They were given names like County Hall and Shire Hall, which were used interchangeably, and prevented them from achieving landmark status in their towns. Graham elaborates on this by comparing it to the status of courthouses, which was considerably enhanced throughout the nineteenth century. Courtrooms were especially busy throughout this period, and as a result of this it made practical sense for them to move into their own accommodation rather than sharing with other municipalities, and subsequently develop their own distinctive image.56
In terms of public perceptions of the Old Town Hall, and whether it created its own strong identity, much of the discussion around Sheffield developing a sense of civic pride pinpoints the catalyst of this being the construction of the current town hall, rather than encouraged by the Waingate town hall. Alfred H. Fletcher notes, referring to the building of the new town hall, ‘it is probable that the enterprise of the corporation in erecting a Town hall worthy the name will stimulate private individuals to build more wisely than have done in the past’ and in reference to the Old Town Hall, claims ‘the architectural beauties were not very pronounced and the term Town Hall was quite a misnomer’. He alludes to late nineteenth century expansions and attempts to tackle problems such as the ventilation of prison cells, but states that these efforts did not rescue the inefficiency of the Old Town Hall or decrease the need for a new town hall building: ‘long before they were commenced the public had become heartily tired of the inconvenience to which they were subjected’. They also resolve that the construction of a new town hall is something which should have taken place long before the 1890s, and states that ‘long before [the construction of the current town hall began] the public had become heartily tired of the inconvenience to which they were subjected’.57
Studies into the developing status of Sheffield suggest that the town was slow to develop a sense of civic pride. In the Society volume of The History of Sheffield, they illustrate this by stating that the foundation stone for the town hall was not laid until 1891; implying that Sheffield’s civic consciousness was founded on the construction of the Pinstone Street town hall, and completely ignores the presence of the Old Town Hall for almost a century prior to this.58
Cunningham expands on this by telling us that there had been demands for a large hall to accommodate multiple municipalities in Sheffield since 1847, and that architects Flockton, Lee and Flockton had even drawn up floor plans this early for such a building. Clearly, if complains were being made this early on and the need for a more accommodating public space was identified, the Old Town Hall did not fulfil the requirements identified by Colin Cunningham.
Furthermore, Cunningham also identifies the importance of the architectural presence of a town hall, not just as a centre of administrative activity, but as a feature of the townscape. He discusses how many town hall buildings featured clock towers, which were practically necessary due to the majority of people not owning watches, but also enhanced the architectural superiority of buildings, and provided a focal point of identification, standing out amongst other public buildings. As we have already discussed, part of the 1866 extensions to the Old Town Hall included the construction of a clock tower over the Waingate entrance, which must have entered into the conscious of the townspeople as an intrinsic feature of their town hall, and is present in many of the contemporary illustrations of the building. Cunningham writes about the popularity of large, elaborate clock towers, and explains how smaller towns had to settle for less elaborate structures, much like the clock tower at the Old Town Hall. Just like the building itself, the clock tower aspired to greatness but could not compete with the superior structures of other towns.59
Also, with Sheffield being granted city status in 1893, they needed somewhere grand to illustrate this, and the plain, simple building of the Old Town Hall was sadly not the ideal candidate.
As we have seen, the Old Town Hall was instrumental to local government facilities throughout the nineteenth century, particularly by housing the West Riding Quarter Sessions, as well as Sheffield’s Petty Sessions and Courts of Requests. The building also housed the Improvement Commission and Police Commissioners, and managed outbursts of riotous behaviour, detaining criminals in prison cells for trying and sending to houses of correction or local assize courts. Despite the efforts of the Town Trustees and local governing officials, the Old Town Hall unfortunately could not keep up with the growth of Sheffield, which increased in population and status dramatically from the Old Town Hall’s construction to the end of the century.
When Sheffield was incorporated into the municipal borough in 1844 the town’s status was enhanced to compete with other prolific northern towns, but the Waingate town hall was left behind in the process; the Town Council took over the supervision of the Improvement Commissioners and the police force, which were from then on housed at the Cutlers’ Hall, and the new Borough Council failed to secure Sheffield its own Quarter Session Court until 1880. Additionally, Sheffield being granted a city by royal charter in 1893, a formal recognition of its growth and influence throughout the century, coupled with plans being in motion for decades prior to this to create a new building to house all of the municipalities in one space, left the Old Town Hall sadly redundant.
© Kathryn Webb 2016
1. Clare Graham, Ordering Law: The Architectural and Social History of the English Law Court to 1914 (Abingdon, 2003) p. 138
2. Collin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls (Abingdon, 1981) p. 174
3. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield: A History (Sheffield, 1995) p.4
4. Ibid, p. 7
5. Sidney Pollard, A History of Labour in Sheffield (Liverpool, 1959) p. 9
6. Colin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls, p. 124
7. Sheffield City Council, Picture Sheffield, ‘The Tontine Inn, Haymarket’ <http://www.picturesheffield.com/frontend.php?keywords=Ref_No_increment;EQUALS;s07062&pos=2&action=zoom> [accessed 2/4/16]
8. Sheffield City Council, Maps of Sheffield and South Yorkshire c. 1607-1833, 1808 Sheffield by W and J Fairbank <http://www.picturesheffield.com/maps.php?file=018> [accessed 20/4/2016] (Old Town Hall described as Town Hall Sessions House and Prisons)
9. William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of the West-Riding of Yorkshire, with the City of York and Port of Hull (Sheffield, 1837) p. 56
10. David Dewar: Hallamshire: A district from ancient times embracing the parishes of Sheffield, Handsworth, Ecclesfield with the chapelry of Bradfield: a note on its Justices’ Courts, Justices and Clerks.(Sheffield, 1975) p. 45
11. The Iris, Tuesday 10th March 1812
12. Town Burgess records MD 4062, Papers relating to New Town Hall or Court House, Sheffield Archives
13. Chris Williams, ‘Police and Crime in Sheffield, 1818-1874’ PhD thesis (Unversity of Sheffield, 2000) p. 28
14. Clyde Binfield et al (eds.) The History of Sheffield 1843-1993, Volume 1: Politics (Sheffield, 1993) p. 17
15. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield, p. 2
16. The Iris, Tuesday 17th July 1832
17. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield, p. 6
18. The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, April 13th 1844
19. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield p. 7
20. John Holland, The Picture of Sheffield; or an Historical and Descriptive View of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York.(Sheffield, 1824) p. 83
21. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield, p. 6
22. William White, General directory of the town and borough of Sheffield: with Rotherham, Chesterfield, and all the parishes, townships, villages, and hamlets within a circuit of twelve miles round the capital of Hallamshire (Sheffield, 1845) p. 18
23. Chris Williams, ‘Police and Crime in Sheffield, 1818-1874’ p. 241
24. Clare Graham, Ordering Law, p. 98
25. D. R. Bentley, Courts and Courthouses in Sheffield, p. 6
26. John Holland, The Picture of Sheffield, p. 78
27. Ibid, p. 158
28. William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of the West-Riding of Yorkshire, with the City of York and Port of Hull (Sheffield, 1837) p. 93
29. Ibid, p. 59
30. William White, General directory of the town and borough of Sheffield: with Rotherham, Chesterfield, and all the parishes, townships, villages, and hamlets within a circuit of twelve miles round the capital of Hallamshire (Sheffield, 1845), p. 20
31. The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, May 11th, 1844
33. Chris Williams, ‘Police and Crime in Sheffield, 1818-1874’, p. 71
34. Ibid, p. 109
35. John Holland, The Picture of Sheffield, p. 158
36. Colin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls, p. 53
37. William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of the West-Riding of Yorkshire (1837) p. 93
38. Pawson and Brailsford, Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and Neighbourhood (Sheffield, 1862) p. 62
39. The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, September 26th 1867
40. ‘The First Town Halls’, compiled by the staff of the Local Studies Library.
41. David Dewar, Hallamshire: A district from ancient times embracing the parishes of Sheffield, Handworth, Ecclesfield with the chapelry of Bradfield (Sheffield, 1975) , pp. 45-6
42. Pawson and Brailsford, The Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and the Surrounding District (Sheffield, 1879) p. 88
43. Colin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls, p. 29
44. Pawson and Brailsford, The Illustrated Guide (1879) p. 92
45. Pawson and Brailsford, Illustrated Guide (1862) p. 63
46. David Dewar, Halllamshire, p. 46
47. Chris Williams, ‘Numbering crimes and measuring space: policing Sheffield in the mid-nineteenth century, Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 50.1 (2003) p. 1
48. Chris Williams, ‘Police and Crime in Sheffield’, p. 124
49. Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 17th August, 1839
50. George Hampshire, A Students Guide to the History of Sheffield in D. R. Bentley, Courts and court-houses in Sheffield, p. 11
51. R. E. Leader, Eighteenth Century Sheffield, in Courts and Court-houses in Sheffield, p. 11
52. Sheffield Independent, June 17 1905, in Courts and court-houses in Sheffield, p. 11
53. George Hampshire, A Students Guide to the History of Sheffield in Courts and court-houses in Sheffield, p. 12
56. Clare Graham, Ordering Law, p. 110
57. Alfred H. Fletcher, Description of the Sheffield Town Hall (Sheffield, 1897) pp. 11-13
58. Clyde Binfield et al (eds.) The History of Sheffield 1843-1993, Volume 2: Society (Sheffield, 1993) p. 31
59. Colin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls, p. 174
John Baldwin, The Urban Criminal: A Study in Sheffield (London, 1976)
D. R. Bentley, Courts and Court-Houses in Sheffield: A History (Sheffield, 1995)
Clyde Binfield et al (eds.) The History of Sheffield 1843-1993, Volume 1: Politics (Sheffield, 1993)
Clyde Binfield et al (eds.) The History of Sheffield 1843-1993, Volume 2: Society (Sheffield, 1993)
Kenneth D. Brown, Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850-1914 (Cambridge, 1991)
Collin Cunningham, Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls (Abingdon, 1981)
David Dewar: Hallamshire: A district from ancient times embracing the parishes of Sheffield, Handsworth, Ecclesfield with the chapelry of Bradfield: a note on its Justices’ Courts, Justices and Clerks.(Sheffield, 1975)
Alfred H. Fletcher, Description of the Sheffield Town Hall (Sheffield, 1897)
Clare Graham, Ordering Law: The Architectural and Social History of the English Law Court to 1914 (Abingdon, 2003)
Friends of the Old Town Hall Blog <https://friendsofothsheffield.wordpress.com/> [accessed 20/4/2016]
Friends of the Old Town Hall Newsletters
John Holland, The Picture of Sheffield; or an Historical and Descriptive View of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York.(Sheffield, 1824)
Pawson and Brailsford, Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and Neighbourhood (Sheffield, 1862)
Pawson and Brailsford, The Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and the Surrounding District (Sheffield, 1879)
Sidney Pollard, A History of Labour in Sheffield (Liverpool, 1959) p. 9
Sheffield City Council, Picture Sheffield, ‘The Tontine Inn, Haymarket’ <http://www.picturesheffield.com/frontend.php?keywords=Ref_No_increment;EQUALS;s07062&pos=2&action=zoom> [accessed 2/4/16]
Sheffield City Council, Maps of Sheffield and South Yorkshire c. 1607-1833, 1808 Sheffield by W and J Fairbank <http://www.picturesheffield.com/maps.php?file=018> [accessed 20/4/2016] (Old Town Hall described as Town Hall Sessions House and Prisons)
Town Burgess records MD 4062, Papers relating to New Town Hall or Court House, Sheffield Archives
William White, General directory of the town and borough of Sheffield: with Rotherham, Chesterfield, and all the parishes, townships, villages, and hamlets within a circuit of twelve miles round the capital of Hallamshire (Sheffield, 1845)
William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of the West-Riding of Yorkshire, with the City of York and Port of Hull (Sheffield, 1837)
Chris Williams, ‘Numbering crimes and measuring space: policing Sheffield in the mid-nineteenth century, Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 50.1 (2003)
Chris Williams, ‘Police and Crime in Sheffield, 1818-1874’ PhD thesis (Unversity of Sheffield, 2000)
Copies of The Iris, Sheffield and Rotherham Independent and Mercury, examined at the University of Sheffield Western Bank Library’s Special Collections
‘The First Town Halls’, compiled by the staff of the Local Studies Library.