Why Sheffield Needs its Heritage Buildings

Meersbrook Hall, originally family home, then Ruskin Museum, now offices for Sheffield Parks

Meersbrook Hall, originally family home, then Ruskin Museum, now offices for Sheffield Parks

At present we have no councillor who is designated with heritage as their specific responsibility, nor has it been discussed in the recent Sheffield Green Commission. Something that is a little ironic given that the councillor present, Jayne Dunn is a Cabinet Member for Environment and recycling. Recycling isn’t only about glass bottles and newspapers. Buildings can be recycled too.

Grenoside Reading Room former school, library, now community hall

Grenoside Reading Room former school, library, now community hall

Our heritage is one of the great assets in our city.  It is what makes Sheffield unique.  Shiny new buildings may seem the best way to indicate a modern progressive city, but this is an outdated concept.  Modern thinking has realised there is an economic advantage in utilising a city historic buildings.  Researchers have found  that innovation, new products, new services  and, new economic growth – flourish best in cities possessing a good stock of historic, distinctive buildings. This is why organisations like the World Bank are encouraging investment in heritage. Sheffield has over 1’000 listed buildings.


Old Queens Head Pond Hill, originally a refreshment station for Castle occupants, then laundry and back to being refreshment station ie pub.

People prefer shopping in an area with character. As more shopping is done online and large retailers are finding it hard to be viable on the high street, research indicates that shoppers are seeking a “Grand Day Out” with leisure, catering and retailing found together. Experts agree there needs to be more special retail hubs like the Sharrow Antique Quarter, and the Devonshire Quarter who have a strong historic character and a mix of retail, living accommodation, creative industry and leisure.

Totley Manor now part of Hallam University

Totley Manor now part of Hallam University

Modern conference organisers look for cities with a distinctive character. Universities attract students not purely for their   academic status, but also the environment students work and live in. It is surely no coincidence that both Universities own a substantial number of listed buildings?

Sheffield industries no longer trek down to London to Trade Fairs to look for the

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

big bulk buyers. The Internet has produced a different way of doing business. Companies are getting relatively small   orders per customer but from a larger number of customers. The need is to produce a strong creative hub within the city because there is often a wide geographical gap between designers and manufacturers. For Sheffield to compete it needs to create a desirable environment for talented people to select Sheffield as the place to live and work.

Manor Lodge Yorkshire's fastest growing museum & part of Manor regeneration

Manor Lodge Yorkshire’s fastest growing museum & part of Manor regeneration

Older buildings are greener and adaptable and create an atmosphere that encourages creativity. Businesses based in listed buildings are highly productive and make an estimated annual contribution to UK GDP of £47billion and employ approximately 1.4 million people. Heritage is one of the biggest drivers of the UK’s tourism industry, which has estimated to be approximately £85.6 billion. Rather than being a drag on productivity, listed buildings attract businesses in the most productive sectors of the economy.

In Dublin they found that after refurbishing two historic areas that new Hi tech industries moved in. Research has found that knowledge based industries like working in historic buildings. In Poland the industrial town of Lodz redeveloped an old cotton mill mixing residential, retail, cultural and heritage creating 3,500 jobs. In the UK Glasgow by including historic buildings in their regeneration policies they have significantly improved both their image and their economy.

The Castlegate district could be an exciting change in thinking where heritage and modern development

The Old Town Hall Waingate scene of Chartist riots, refuge from Sheffield Floods etc.

The Old Town Hall Waingate scene of Chartist riots, refuge from Sheffield Floods etc.

are seen as complimentary. The green corridor, the castle ruins and park, and the renovation of the Old Town Hall, could create a place where people want to live, work, shop, and spend their leisure time. This is the birthplace of Sheffield, and its buildings tell Sheffield’s story. It is important that the area is developed sensitively. Not lose its heritage amongst high rise buildings.

Sheffield needs to embrace modern thinking, and to form a strong partnership between Business, Council, and Community. The old attitude of measuring progress by demolishing the old and replacing with new in a belief that this makes a city marketable needs to change. At present there is no obvious Council strategy re conservation of heritage and urban re-development. The danger is that we will lose assets we cannot replace, and any marketing advantage we have as a unique historic city.


Worldwide there has become an emphasis on investment in Cultural  Heritage UNESCO,  The World Bank, and the  EU  sees heritage investment as part of the  agenda for inclusive green growth and sustainable development. Heritage investment promotes an efficient model of built assets and land, maximising the benefits of adaptively reusing assets that could otherwise be neglected or underutilized.

  1. Competitive.

A city’s Heritage is a strong selling point. It makes a city distinctive.  When there is fierce competition throughout the world a city’s uniqueness  gives it the edge. Research find  that innovation, new products, new services  and, new economic growth – flourish best in cities possessing a good stock of historic, distinctive buildings

  1. Green

To restore an old building is much lower carbon foot print than demolishing an old building and replacing it with a new one. Reusing built assets and regenerating underutilized land in central locations is very much a worldwide agenda

  1. Adaptability.

Older buildings are suitable for a huge variety of business use. They have character and colour, so creating the distinctive leisure quarters of cities and an atmosphere that fosters creativity.

  1. Generates Income

Across the UK, the businesses based in listed buildings are highly productive and make an estimated annual contribution to UK GDP of £47billion and employ approximately 1.4 million people. Culture and heritage are the biggest drivers of the UK’s tourism industry, which was estimated to be worth approximately £85.6 b in 2006, with over 32.6 m overseas visitors in 2007.

  1. Good for the Community

Heritage anchors people to their roots builds self-esteem, and restores dignity. Identity matters to all vibrant cities and all people.  UNESCO, the World Bank and the EU all believe this is an important factor in making a city livable.

Lyceum Theatre. Rescued from demolition by the public. Award winning productions

Lyceum Theatre. Rescued from demolition by the public. Award winning productions


Heritage and Tourism Bibliography

Cultural heritage contributes to sustainable growth through merging modernity and tradition, and through a creative combination of the legacy of the past with innovative ideas aimed at shaping the future. Heritage is thus seen as a resource, which not only preserves historic memory but, if used creatively, can also bring various social and economic benefits to a variety of stakeholders. It raises the profile of places making them more competitive in the contemporary world, and serves as a source of inspiration for the contemporary arts and creative industries

Oxford economics The Economic impact of the UK Heritage Tourism economy by Kareen El Beyrouty Andrew Tessler May 2013

http://www.visitbritain.org/insightsandstatistics/visitoreconomyfacts/ 2014

The Contribution of Arts and Culture to the National Economy an analysis of the macroeconomic contribution of the arts and culture and of some of their indirect contributions through spillover effects felt in the wider economy. CEBR making business sense…Report for Arts Council England and the National Museums Director’s  Council May 2013

EU Tourism industry sub-sectors Country report United Kingdom March 2014

The Social and economic Value of Cultural Heritage; literature review by Cornelia Dumcke and Mikhail Gnedovsky EENC Paper July 2013

Measuring economic impact of CCls policies How to justify investment in cultural and creative assets April 2012 K A European Affairs EU

Cultural Heritage as a socio-economic development factor Archimedes Action to regenerate cities and help innovative Mediterranean Economic Development Enhancing Sustainability

The Economics of Uniqueness Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage assets for sustainable development Edited by Guido Licciardi and Rana Armitahmasebi Urban Development Series, The World Bank

The Changing Face of the High Street : Decline and Revival A review of retail and town centre issues in historic areas June 2013

Beyond Retail Redefining the shape and purpose of town centres. November 2013 Taskforce and Hark Group

Unlocking town centre retail developments GVA May 2012

http://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en.reports.1662 The Purple Pound. Volume and Value of Accessible Tourism in England 2014

New opportunities for the Tourism Market: Senior Tourism and Accessible Tourism. Elisa Alen, Trinidad Dominguez and Nieves Losada University of Vigo Spain.     www.intechopen.com








Portland Works. cutlery works with workshops. Now community owned. Birthplace of Stainless Steel Cutlery

Portland Works. cutlery works with workshops. Now community owned. Birthplace of Stainless Steel Cutlery


Ruskin Museum at Meersbrook Hall

Ruskin Museum SheffieldOn April 15th 189O the New Ruskin Museum was opened by a silver key by the Earl of Carlisle.
“Certain it is that the many precious things into which the master of St. George’s Guild would fain educate our people in the love of beauty and of art, will be displayed at Meersbrook as they have never been displayed before; and opportunities for their profitable study will be afforded such as were utterly impossible in the confined and inaccessible building in Walkley.”  (The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent April 5th 1890)
Not only were the contents of Walkley transferred to this Georgian House but 160 drawings from a failed museum at Bewdley that were on loan, and a collection of minerals and drawings formerly given to the Town Clerk’s care. So a much larger collection than Walkley. The Papers blithely say how good the delay has been in that they acquired the use of Meersbrook House.
” A few years’ waiting has placed at the disposal of the Corporation, in Meersbrook House, a building so well adapted as a home for the museum. Free from the disadvantage of an intrusive newness, it has nevertheless after a few structural alterations, ample light and space.”
Meersbrook Hall Ruskin 1895-page-0Four rooms were given over to the Ruskin collection or really five in that two rooms were knocked into one to make a gallery, one for the collection of the minerals, one as Library and print room and finally a room for the attendant. The walls were adorned with quotes from Ruskin, “All things are noble in proportion to their fullness of life” and “Pleasant wonder is no loss of time” and “Nothing that is great is easy.”
“The Museum contained specimens, copies, casts, etc., selected
by John Ruskin, paintings, engravings, drawings, illuminated work , sculpture, and crystallised gems and precious stones.Things interesting in natural history, or in legend, were used as drawing copies, to train the “hand and Eye.”
Ruskin always drew a sharp distinction between central Museums, which should be store-houses for the 11046362_414825548685639_7067766445662807871_n
research of specialists or advanced students, and local Museums, which should be for “simple persons.” It is not quite evident what classification Meersbrook Ruskin Museum came into but given the level of visitors it certainly was popular. But Ruskin didn’t want it to be a Sunday school for children or a place of entertainment. He felt everything should be laid out carefully and thoroughly explained but not overcrowded and the items on show should be rotated and sometimes the layout changed for a special exhibition. Ruskin’s ideas of museums is more in line with our modern thinking I think
” There must be “no superabundance and no disorder”; the purpose of the place is to give “an example of perfect order of elegance,” containing “nothing crowded, nothing unnecessary, nothing puzzling”
“The Lecture Room is well filled when the Curator discourses on various branches of art of science illustrated in the Museum. The Curator also expounds the objects in the Museum on the occasion of regular visits paid by children from the elementary schools under the regulations of the Board of Education. The Ruskin Societies in Manchester and Liverpool and other large cities visit it, and it is a meeting-place for the “circles” of a vigorous Ruskin Club in Sheffield itself. The fame of the Ruskin Museum has spread to other lands, and the present Curator was recently invited to lecture upon it (in connexion with a People’s Museum to be11083622_414824945352366_2736416367731422545_nestablished at Berlin) at a Museums Conference held in Mannheim; an illustrated report on the Ruskin Museum was published in Berlin at the same time.”

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Plan of projected park land prior to purchase

By the time of the opening of the Meersbrook Museum Ruskin was elderly and frail. He had not had a hand in writing the catalogue of the items or much involvement in the layout or the placing of the items. He was even too ill to join in the opening ceremony.
The story behind the Ruskin museum in Meersbrook Park was much more complex than a simple transfer of the collection from an over-crowded Walkley Museum to a larger Georgian Hall. Even the buying of Meersbrook Park and the buildings within it were not without controversy and indeed scandal. They had been discussing buying the Park since 1874. It was not until 1886 they celebrated the buying of the park at the Red Lion for the grand price of £7’500 for 37 acres. The original park was going to be bigger, but the price per acre was twice what the Council paid for Endcliffe Park and Hillsborough. Even after the Park was bought and the Ruskin Collection moved in a huge Fraud case erupted concerning the Land trust that had sold the estate.
DSCF2480There had been plans to build houses across the whole estate and demolish the Tudor Farmhouse at the top. Many pleaded for the Park to be bought while others felt that this was purely to make the surrounding land and buildings more valuable. That was the Duke of Norfolk’s purpose when he created Norfolk Park from part of the old deer park. Why should tax payers pay to line landowners and developers pockets? What saved Meersbrook Park was the increasing enthusiasm for Soccer and of course Ruskin.

Even before Meersbrook estate became a public park soccer matches had been played there. The argument made was that they needed a park to play football in. Weston Park was too small and Norfolk Park was not owned by the Corporation so every match they wanted to play there meant that they had to ask the Duke permission. But what to do with the old Hall and Bishops House at the top?
Ruskin had founded his Museum in 1875 in Walkley in a cottage. His purpose was to inspire the local DSCF9415
artisans. In 1885 they built a further extension but Ruskin collection was continually increasing and the space was getting tighter and tighter. It outgrew the accommodation, and the question arose, what to do with the additional objects.

Ruskin declined to have them merged in any general museum at Sheffield. He proposed to build a museum of his own, either at Sheffield or elsewhere, and he had plans drawn for the building. Sheffield didn’t want to lose the Museum and started putting up suggestions of suitable buildings Ruskin could use.

In 1880, Ruskin used a letter in Fors Clavigera to ask the public to help him realize plans for a new building. He had in mind ‘a working man’s Bodleian Library’, asking the architect E. R. Robson to produce preliminary designs. It was initially proposed that ‘the building should be of red brick, faced with the marbles of Derbyshire’ Robson objected that ‘neither Derbyshire nor any other marbles would stand in our climate’, and argued for granite instead. Robson quoted an estimated cost of £5000.

Although several sites for the new museum were considered, a piece of land on the Endcliffe Hall estate was the focus of attention. However, by the end of 1883 everything seemed to be in good train. A public meeting was held at Sheffield; the sum of £5000 was guaranteed and an acre of land was promised at Endcliffe Gardens; and an appeal for subscriptions However problems arose. The trade Unions felt that Endcliffe was too far from their work so they would find great difficulty getting to the Museum. The Council were concerned that Ruskin would not gift the objects to them but insisted that they remain in the St George’s Guild’s ownership. The Guild was set up by Ruskin as trustees for the collection. The reason for the Council’s concern was that they felt it was a lot to ask of them to spend money on a purpose built museum if the collection could be removed at any time.

In 1885 Ruskin announced his scheme of building a museum at Bewdley, and he invited public subscriptions for the purpose.. No response, however, was forthcoming.

In 1886 the Corporation had purchased the Meersbrook estate of forty acres, and they suggested that Ruskin should transfer the Walkley Museum to the house in this Park. He had not, however, as yet abandoned all hope of receiving help to build a new museum of his own, and he declined the Corporation’s offer; though, he generously offered to present any museum which should be established at Meersbrook both with drawings and with minerals.

Presently, however, failing health and vanishing hopes wrought a change, and in 1889 it was definitely decided that St. George’s Museum should be moved from Walkley to Meersbrook. The Guild on its part agreed to lend the contents of the Museum to the Corporation for a period of twenty years; the Corporation agreed to provide suitable accommodation, and to defray all the costs of maintenance. The Trustees of the Guild are members of the Museum Committee. The house in Meersbrook Park was suitably decorated and arranged; and the collections were transferred.

But not everything in the garden was lovely, a year after the Collection was transferred, despite all the refurbishment, the roof needed major repairs at a cost of £6’000. William White the curator appealed in 1892 to the Companions for extra funds to support the new museum. Mrs Talbot, one of the other Guild Companions, who had given a lot of property to the Guild, had opposed the move to Meersbrook on the grounds that Ruskin had wanted the Guild museum to be a small but choice collection, and blocked funding. And for some reason White also fell out with John Ruskin. By 1899 White was feeling attacked from all sides.

“My detractors take no interest whatever in Mr. Ruskin, nor in the Museum – only in trying to prop up and patch up the worn-out old structure which is impossible to keep weather-proof – and never have.”
White was sacked soon after that letter and a new Curator appointed.
It is not known whether the repairs issues were solved as I could not find any accounts of requests for repairs in the Museum and Parks committee meetings.

As far as the public were concerned the museum was a great success with visitor numbers averaging 45’000 visitors and 600 students per annum. But despite these numbers the Council was not happy and in several meetings discussed moving the collection to a more central place. This despite Ruskin constantly saying before he died that he wished the collection to be in a natural setting and away from the worst of the industrial smog.

With the advent of the Second World War there was concern about the collections safety and the contents Bombing Map Blitz
were removed to a community hall on the Chatsworth Estate for the duration of the war. It is not certain what the hall was used for during the war though there is some hint that the lower rooms were used as social rooms for RAF personnel. In 1940 for 2 nights Sheffield was subject to severe bombing. Bombing in and around Meersbrook Park was particularly heavy, but, despite a bomb falling 50 yards from the House, and several in nearby streets, the House emerged unscathed.The collection returned to the Hall and fond memories are expressed from those who remember it.

“My neighbour Myra grew up opposite Ruskin Museum and remembers the big peacock in the foyer as you went in, the Museum Keeper who always wore a uniform, very smart and imposing with shiny buttons and he always wore white gloves. Out front were benches with flowerbeds in front of them and the playground was almost next to it just up the hill a bit, she doesn’t know why they moved it from amongst the trees. So her mum could sit on a bench whilst the children played. She used to put one foot on the grass and wait for Mr Abel or “Lanky” (could be another park keeper or Mr Abel) to chase her off.

Inside all she remembers is the MAGICAL staircase with the beautiful coloured window. She says she doesn’t remember upstairs or any particular exhibits apart from the peacock which she was told was the last surviving peacock of the ones that used to roam around the rhododendron bushes (now flowerbeds) on the slope in front of the house and that they stuffed it cos it was the last one.”
DSCF9430  “A woman in her 80’s remembers Mr Gough the museum curator, who was a friend of her dad. At Meersbrook Bank school in those days they didn’t provide school dinners so after they’d had their sandwiches at school the children used to spend half an hour in the park, often in the museum. She went to school with Hazel and Jean, who were Mr Abel’s daughters who lived in the Hall.”

After the war the arguments went on about moving the collection. In the 1950s the roof needed substantial repairs and the collection was removed into storage. The collection was relocated to the University of Reading, with the intention of being housed in a new museum. This never materialised and the collection was returned to Sheffield. In 1985 a new Ruskin Gallery opened on Norfolk Street in the city centre.
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent April 5th 1890
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent April 15th 1890 page 5
The Aberdeen Journal Thursday October 4th 1883
The Times Thursday March 1st 1883
The Times Saturday June 3rd 1882
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent Tuesday Oct 19th 1886 page 3
The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent Saturday June 5th, 1886
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent Wednesday, June 9th, 1875
The Western Times Exeter Friday March 8th 1895
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Wednesday, July 29th, 1874
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Saturday, July 18th, 1874
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent Thursday July 9th 1874
Sheffield and Rotherham Saturday May 30th 1874
Complete Works by Ruskin, John, 1819-1900; Cook, Edward Tyas, Sir, 1857-1919, ed;Wedderburn, Alexander Dundas Oligvy, 1857-, joint ed Published 1903
St George’s Guild Minute Book 1879-1927 Sheffield Archives
Minutes of the Sheffield Art Galleries and Ruskin Museum subcommittee 1942-1953 CA-L/1/8/3 Sheffield Archives
List of properties damaged by enemy action 1940 CA 10/5 Sheffield Archives