Samuel Shore, the quiet reformer (1738-1828)

Samuel Shore by Chantry

believed to be of Samuel Shore by Francis Chantrey

Samuel Shore was one of the 18th century’s influential reformers. Yet it would appear from his obituary that few knew the extent of his involvement.  .

The Shore family appear to have started on their road to being Sheffield’s wealthiest family by being quarry men and stone masons. Three Shore brothers are mentioned in a document as demolishing the stonework of Sheffield Castle. A descendent of one of those brothers appears in documents as  owning the first cementation works in Sheffield in 1700. Samuel’s father married a rich heiress from Liverpool.  By the time Samuel Shore was born in 1738 the Shores were one of the richest family in Sheffield.

DSCF2672The Shore family were founder members of the Upper Chapel built to house  dissenters who split from the established church. At the time of its building in 1700 they called themselves Presbyterians but over the years their beliefs changed to what became known as Unitarian.  Unitarian beliefs were not tolerated and Unitarians along with Catholics were unable to worship.

Education for dissenters was problematic as they were banned from the Universities so Samuel was sent first to a French College in London which taught science, and then to a college in Brunswick in Hannover for three years.  In 1759 Samuel married the heiress Urith Offley and with that marriage gained possession of the Norton Estate.

In 1761 Samuel  became Sheriff of Derbyshire and  a local magistrate. The posts were unusual in that under the law non conformists such as Samuel were refused entry to the Universities, politics and government posts due to what was called the test act. Samuel did not take the test yet became Sheriff.

The Test act excluded from public office (both military and civil) all those who refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and  refused to receive the communion according to the rites of the Church of England. Those who would not conform were also barred from the Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Samuel now had position and status that most manufacturers in the North did not have, or most dissenters either. Samuel Shore knew London well, was multi-lingual, and with a keen interest in science.  As a Unitarian Samuel was forbidden by law the right to worship.   Samuel began a fight to change the law, bring about electoral reform and establish equal rights for all under the law. This was dangerous talk in Britain. It could be construed as treason. But Samuel was gaining respect throughout Yorkshire and beyond.

One good friend was Joseph Priestley. Priestley had tried unsuccessfully  for a job in the Upper Chapel but had been turned down.  A lifetime relationship formed between them with Priestley dedicating one of his religious books to Samuel.  Priestley’s research led to the discovery of oxygen but Joseph Priestley’s radical views would eventually lead him into trouble with the government.

In 1774  Shore backed their mutual friend  the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey to set up a Unitarian Chapel in Essex street London. At the opening ceremony Priestley, Shore, and Benjamin  Franklyn are among the guests. Though Unitarian chapels were illegal at the time Samuel Shore was friends with the Attorney General who turned a blind eye to it. Through the chapel Samuel Shore was to meet William  Smith from Clapham, and in 1779 they formed a committee to fight for the abolition of the Test Act.  At about that time   Benjamin Franklyn having met Thomas Paine, the great radical writer and inventor offered him sanctuary in the USA.  It is not known if Paine and Shore’s paths crossed in London but they shared a number of mutual friends so it seems likely he at least knew of Paine before Paine became famous or infamous for his republican views.

In 1775 Samuel Shore’s sister married Thomas Walker a cotton mill owner from Manchester. Thomas Walker was very much a radical thinker with strong  links to the Lunar Society in Birmingham  Samuel had many links including  Rev Samuel Blythe junior, from Bishops House, who had sold off the Blythe’s lands in Norton to the Shores, and Benjamin Roebuck in 1759  to go to  Birmingham and set up a meeting house. In 1780 Joseph Priestley shared the pastoral responsibility with Blythe who was growing  blind. In the same year Samuel Shore. supported by Major Cartwright, he became chair of the Yorkshire Association.

Cartwright called for annually-elected parliaments, equally-sized constituencies and manhood suffrage. Cartwright recognised  manhood suffrage would involve enfranchising the lower orders, recognising that those without landed property had a right to a vote.  Cartwright also called for the abolition of under-populated rotten boroughs and their replacement as constituencies by more populous parishes. He also believed that  open polling should be replaced by the secret ballot. In order to achieve these democratic reforms, he suggested that a campaign of petitioning be launched so that the force of popular feeling be brought to bear on the corrupt, self-interested ruling order.

William Wilberforce became an Independent MP for Hull and bought a pew in the Essex Chapel and joined the Yorkshire Association. .   In April 1780  Samuels friend Cartwright  also helped establish the Society for Constitutional Information, which Samuel became vice chairman of.   Granville Sharp joined the organisation. Other members included John Horne TookeJohn ThelwallGranville SharpJosiah Wedgwood, and William Smith.    William Smith became MP for Sudbury in Suffolk in 1784 the same year that the Yorkshire Association financially backed  William Wilberforce’s campaign to  become MP for Yorkshire.

Clapham was steadily becoming famous for evangelism and Methodism.  It is not known when Samuel changed his London address to Clapham but gradually his links with Clapham were more evident. The Clapham Sect became known as the heart of the anti slavery campaigns led by Methodist Selina Hastings otherwise known as the Countess of Huntingdon.  In 1773 , Phillis Wheatley 20 years old became famous when her first  book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published, by  Selina Hastings,  In publishing it, Wheatley became the first African American  woman and first U.S. slave to publish a book of poems.  Selina introduced Phillis  to high society where  she proved that the common belief that Africans were somehow inferior and could not be educated was undoubtedly false.

Samuel’s motives for being in so many committees for constitutional change is obvious. As a Unitarian and from a Northern manufacturing family there was very little opportunity for him to obtain high offices. There were no MPs for Sheffield. In 1736 there were around 7’000 inhabitants. By 1801 there were 60’000. Those eligible to vote for a Yorkshire MP were few and also meant a long  journey to vote in York.   But equally strong was the drive to make all men equal under the law with the right to worship how they chose.

As chair at a Midland  dissenters  meeting  Samuel Shore was to say.

It is not the province of the Civil magistrates to direct, or to interfere with the religious opinions or practices of any members of the State, provided their conduct be not injurious to others. 

That all the subjects of the State, conducting themselves in an equally peaceable Manner, are equally entitled not only to Protection in the possession of their civil rights, but also to any civil honours or emoluments, which are accessible to other subjects without any regard to their religion or practices.  

Desiring nothing for ourselves but the same equal and liberal treatment , to which we think all other persons in a similar situation, are equally entitled,  it is our earnest wish that an equal participation in all civil privileges may be obtained for Dissenters of every description, to whom nothing  can be objected, besides their religious opinions or practices , and who can give that security for their Civil allegiance which the state ought to require.

  That the protestant Dissenters of this country,  have always had reason to complain of unjust treatment  ie being disqualified to hold offices of Civil Trust or Power, though their behaviour has ever been peaceable, and loyal, and though they can even boast peculiar merit, as friends to the present government.

That it becomes Dissenters, as Men feeling their own disgraceful situation and the opprobrium which that reflects upon the country, to adopt every constitutional method of procuring the redress of their grievances and thus retrieve the honour of the nation.”

In 1786, Shore was a member of the Application Committee that applied to Parliament for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act and when that motion was defeated, he resigned from his post of High Sheriff in protest

Also in 1786 a young printer called Joseph Gales moved to Sheffield to take over the newspaper. The previous paper had been a local paper and not a very large circulation. Joseph had a vision of a more radical paper, which Samuel was keen to encourage, persuading William Wilberforce to support the paper as that meant the paper was exempt from tax.

In 1787 Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and William Dillwyn formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Influential figures such as John WesleyJosiah WedgwoodJames Ramsay, and William Smith gave their support to the campaign. Despite pressure from members of the Clapham set Wilberforce held back joining till 1789. Suggestions were made that petitions should be raised across the country.

Samuel and his friends and relatives set up branches of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery across the country. Joseph Gales support with the rising popularity of his paper proved invaluable to publicising their cause.

In Samuel’s personal life after seven years as a widow  Samuel married Lydia Flower from Clapham and moved into Meersbrook Hall.


Meersbrook Hall, Meersbrook Park

In 1788 Samuel Shore as chairman of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery together with Rev Willkinson, John and William Shore, Mr Tudor, and Mr Watkinson (master cutler) and a Dr. Sutcliffe set up a committee to organise a petition.  Copies of the petition for people to sign were set up at Tontine Inn, the Cutlers Hall, and John and William Shore’s bank.

In thus endeavouring to rescue thousands of their innocent  and unoffending Fellow-Creatures  (innocent and unoffending at least to the Natives of this Country) from the miseries that are the necessary attendants upon such a commerce, your petitioners are, as men, influenced by the feelings of humanity; as members of a free  community, by the true principles of just and equal liberty; and as Christians, by a desire to act consistently with the Spirit of that most excellent religion, which does not confine good will and benevolent actions to a small part of the globe, or to any particular description , or complexion of men, but extends them to the whole human race.  

Your Petitioners therefore, humbly solicit this honourable house to proceed to a full and thorough investigation of this important subject: and if the most weighty and urgent reasons cannot be opposed to those advanced by your petitioners; and if those who are more immediately concerned in the question, cannot prove the Slave Trade from Africa to be agreeable to the dictates of humanity, conformable to just ideas of Liberty, and consistent with the precepts of religion, that then this honourable house will take such steps as in their wisdom may be deemed necessary, for the abolition of that inhuman and disgraceful traffic“.

The petitions strengthened William Smith and William Wilberforce’s hand to speak against the abolition of slavery.  In Gales Paper and elsewhere the pressure for boycotting sugar from slave plantations gained momentum. Many abolitionists were also campaigning for reform. Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and William Smith had all visited Revolutionary France. Samuel’s Brother in Law had strong links to the new French Government. The ideas of a more equal society were understandably exciting to many in Britain.

The government was getting exceedingly nervous, not helped by the publication of Paine’s Rights of Man, putting forth republican views, and the rise of the Corresponding Societies (more political societies for change) Samuel Shore had helped Joseph Gales set one up at the Free Masons Hall in Paradise Square. The new Corresponding societies were seen as radicalizing the “riff-raff” Many Unitarians including William Smith openly praised the Revolution.  Joseph Priestley said :-

The glorious revolutions in America & France have propagated truths which will never be extinguished for Truth is like a spark of Fire which flyeth up in the face of those who attempt to tread it out.”

However the fire that happened was in Joseph’s house,  meeting house, and all his scientific notes and equipment burning in Birmingham lit by a mob who stormed the homes of dissenters. Samuel called for calm in Sheffield but a celebration of the revolution took a violent turn when many of the towns people attacked the debtors prison letting the inmates out, and smashed the windows and furniture of the Duke of Norfolk’s agents house and then as the army presence swelled up went on the rampage at Broomhall  home of the Vicar Wilkinson, smashing windows and furniture and books and attempting to set fire to the House. Having failed to do so they set fire to six of his hay ricks. But the protest in Sheffield was not really about revolution but attacking those they deemed responsible for enclosing Common land.

The corresponding societies were enthused by Thomas Paines Rights of Man and helped publish special cheaper versions so all could read it. A million copies were sold.  The corresponding societies were not however preaching violence but what they saw was a return to constitutional rights.

 That it is no less the Right than the Duty of every Citizen, to keep a watchful eye on the Government of his Country; that the Laws, by being multiplied, do not degenerate into Oppression; and that those who are entrusted with the Government, do not substitute Private Interest for Public Advantage.

 That the People of Great Britain are not effectually represented in Parliament.

That in Consequence of a partial, unequal, and therefore inadequate Representation, together with the corrupt Method in which Representatives are elected; oppressive Taxes, unjust Laws, restrictions of Liberty, and wasting of the Public Money, have ensued.

That the only Remedy to those Evils is a fair, equal, and impartial Representation of the People in Parliament.

That a fair, equal, and impartial Representation can never take Place, until all partial Privileges are abolished.

That this Society do express their Abhorrence of Tumult and Violence, and that, as they aim at Reform, not Anarchy, Reason, Firmness, and Unanimity are the only Arms they themselves will employ, or persuade their Fellow-Citizens to exert, against Abuse of Power                 

In 1792 Thomas Paine escaped to France having been warned that the government were planning his arrest.   A trial was held in his absence. The government  argued that Paine’s work inflamed the populace and distributed radical ideas to those without the experience to understand them.  Paine was found guilty. The verdict was seen by the government as legitimising their repression of radicalism.

In April 1793 Gales chaired an open meeting in Sheffield on parliamentary reform. At the meeting it was decided to start a petition in support of universal suffrage. Gales eventually presented Parliament with a petition signed by 8,000 people from Sheffield. By May 1794 the Sheffield Register was selling over 2,000 copies a week. Such a large circulation was extremely unusual for a provincial newspaper in the 18th century. Sheffield was now seen as the most radical town in Britain.

The government was also worried about the growth and tactics of the parliamentary reform movement in Sheffield. At a large meeting of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information, chaired by Henry Redhead Yorke, a resolution was passed that abandoned the policy of petitioning Parliament. William Pitt and his government feared that this meant that reformers in Sheffield would now resort to violence.

In 1794  Thomas Walker was prosecuted for treasonable conspiracy. Although the  treason charge against Walker was dropped he was brought to trial on a seditious conspiracy charge in 1794 in Lancaster together with ten defendants but the evidence was proved to be falsified  and they all walked free.

The authorities started arresting members of the Corresponding Societies. Thomas MuirThomas Fyshe PalmerWilliam SkirvingJoseph Gerrald and Maurice Margarot were found guilty of sedition and were sentenced to between seven and fourteen years transportation. Thomas HardyJohn Horne Tooke and John Thelwall were tried with treason but the charges failed to stick and they were released

Joseph Gales wrote articles in the Sheffield Register attacking the arrest of reformers. He also mounted a campaign against the suspension of habeas corpus. Gales was now considered a dangerous man and was charged with conspiracy. Aware that he would not receive a fair trial, Gales decided to flee the country. After publishing the last edition of the Sheffield Register on 27th June, 1794, Gales escaped to Germany. It is not known what Samuel Shore felt about Gales. Many have said that Shore was not a republican which was true, but what we do know that it was Shore money that was paid to Gales wife to allow them to escape to America.

In 1807 the aged Samuel Shore formed a Committee to support Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton who stood for the West Riding as a Whig.  With the Corresponding societies now illegal Samuel formed a new group called the Friends of Reform in 1810 which held a dinner for Samuel’s old friend John Cartwright in 1812.

In 1813 William Smith finally managed to have an act passed that  allowed for toleration of Unitarians worship. William Smith visited Meersbrook a number of times. No doubt as Samuel was now in his 70s the journey to London was becoming too much.  However there are signs that Samuel had not lost his campaigning spirit.

In 1819 Samuel Shore appears as Chairman at a meeting to protest at the Massacre at Peterloo  when the cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Mr Rawson from Wardsend addressed the crowd

“Gentlemen, I have always been accustomed to consider it to be an inalienable  and an indisputable  right of the people to meet for a redress of grievances, and that too without any restriction in point of numbers. There are some who may object  to public meetings, alleging that they counteract, by their very violence, the cause which they are intended to support. This was not the opinion of our ancestors: if it had been so -where should we have been now? – in a state similar to that of Spain or Portugal. When our ancestors felt themselves aggrieved, they petitioned, addressed, fought, bled, and died for their liberties; and, dying, bequeathed us this right of meeting together on all matters as an heir-loom, to be preserved to our latest posterity, uncontaminated and unimpaired.” 

In 1824 Samuel Shore was seen in the news again at a meeting in the Town Hall as President of the Sheffield auxiliary  branch of the Anti-slavery society.

Sadly Samuel never saw the Great Reform Act which gave 2 MPs to Sheffield in 1832 or the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1833 as he died in 1828 at the age of 90 at Meersbrook Hall.

His obituary states

” Activity of body, no less than activity and energy of mind belonged to Mr. Shore. He enjoyed through his long life an enviable state of health and that eveness and elasticity of spirit which belongs peculiarly to those who are in constant action, and who have the hope which religion gives. He sunk very gradually into the tomb. He was truly a green old age.”



Trees are Heritage Too.

A ‘sustainable city’ is organized so as to enable all its citizens to meet their own needs and to enhance their well-being without damaging the natural world or endangering the living conditions of other people, now or in the future. (Girardet 1999)Ecclesall Woods

Once Rustlings Road was farmland.  The Victorians and Edwardian that built much of our tree-lined roads could have easily left out the trees, and said there is plenty parks and woodlands,  but they knew the importance of greening up the streets.  Although Sheffield was undoubtedly a smoke filled, polluted place, the city fathers were well aware that there needed to be more greenery and more clean open spaces.  That is why Sheffield at the moment has a bigger number of trees lining our streets than  other cities,  but that is surely not a good reason for being blasé about such things?

 photo from Picture Sheffield

Rustlings Road old photo from Picture Sheffield

Sheffield is lucky that the history and the geography of the area has resulted in the preservation of so many ancient woodlands and the determination of people like Mark Firth who donated and pushed the council to buy land for public parks. Even though, with the opening of Endcliffe parks one writer to the paper said that “perhaps we have enough parks now” the wise people of Sheffield continued in making parks that everyone could have access to.  But at the same time they planted the trees and continued to do so for over 50 years so for instance at the bottom of  Meersbrook Park are the Victorian trees and at the top is  the Hollythorpe estate where Laver Brothers planted trees  when they built the housing estate in the 1930s. And so it is throughout a large part of the city .

view from Top of Meersbrook Park

view from Top of Meersbrook Park

“One tree that shades your home in the city will also save fossil fuel, cutting CO2 buildup as much as 15 forest trees.”

We are the city of the great outdoors despite the awful traffic and the steep hills. Sheffield is also the city with the lowest crime rate and down as the happiest. It is now all under threat. Our way of life. Our happiness and the Livability in our city and that which makes Sheffield Sheffield.

In a 2001 study in Chicago there were dramatically fewer occurrences of crime against both people and property in apartment buildings surrounded by trees and greenery than in nearby identical apartments that were surrounded by barren land. Buildings with high levels of greenery had  56 percent fewer violent crimes.  Greenery lowers crime  greenery helps people to relax and renew, reducing aggression.

Rivelin Valley

As the trees decrease in Sheffield there is also the fact that studies have found that tree cover can keep a city cooler by up to  12°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves. In Los Angeles they found a correlation between a rise in average temperatures in 14c,  and the decline in tree coverage.

“Higher temperatures react more with sunlight and car exhaust fumes to produce the poisonous gas ozone. This can reach dangerous levels in some larger cities. Some people are worried that this problem will increase, with other cities around the country creating their own heat islands as they develop their business and residential areas.”  (BBC)

Old photo Dore Picture Sheffield

Old photo Dore Picture Sheffield

“Urban greenspace, from street trees, to private gardens, to city parks, provides vital ecosystem services which become even more critical under climate change. The creative use  of the green infrastructure is one of the most promising opportunities for adaptation as it provides other social, economic and environmental benefits. It is essential that the green infrastructure is strategically planned. This needs to be reflected in relevant policies and practice from the national to the local and neighbourhood level. The planning system is crucial in ensuring adaptation to climate change via the green infrastructure, but other policies, plans and programmes are also important .” (Manchester University)

“A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma”

Research in the UK on the impact of installing a kerbside line of young birch trees demonstrated more than 50% reductions in measured Particulate Matter (PM) levels inside those houses screened by the temporary tree line. The researchers concluded that “the efficacy of roadside trees for mitigation of PM health hazard might be seriously underestimated in some current atmospheric models.”  (Lancaster University)

Trees can intercept between 7 percent and 22 percent of storm water runoff from impermeable surfaces.”

There has been many natural floods in Sheffield too.

There has been many natural floods in Sheffield too.

Track Sheffield’s history and there is a long history of flooding in the city over 250 years at least. It has lessened in some areas. Rustlings Road was so called because of the marshy area round the Porter. There is still a tendency to flood round there. How much worse would it be if the trees who feed on the little tributaries that once ran into the Porter are removed ?

But even if there wasn’t the pollution and flooding issues in Sheffield there are other issues both environmental and historic.  These are historic streets built by our city fathers in a bid to improve the city and create houses with pleasant streets to walk in. Take the trees away and you remove a historic vista, and 100 year old trees that will take a 100 years to bring back that view  if the saplings actually survive the first few years.

Ecclesall Woods


Manchester University ‘ADAPTATION STRATEGIES FOR CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT’ Draft final report to the National Steering Group John Handley and Jeremy Carter November 2006  How Trees can retain Storm water Runoff$FILE/eng-casefortrees.pdf

Barbara A. Maher , Imad A. M. Ahmed , Brian Davison , Vassil Karloukovski , and Robert Clarke Centre for Environmental Magnetism & Palaeomagnetism, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University; Impact of Roadside Tree Lines on Indoor Concentrations of Traffic-Derived Particulate Matter;

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