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The History of Bishopsholme, Sheffield

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This article first appeared in the transactions of The Hunter Archaeological Society and is reproduced here by kind permission of the Society



The history of Bishopsholme, the See House of the Diocese of Sheffield, is necessarily barely more than the history of Norwood, for the house has too recently become the residence of the Bishop- and he the first Bishop of Sheffield- to have made any real history as such; nor, even as Norwood, is there very much of general interest to say about it ; but it seems to me that, seeing that the place has now assumed some importance, it would be well, while there is someone still living who knows something about it, to place on record such history as it possesses.

The deeds of title to the property do not date back beyond the year 1719; the late Mr. Arthur Jackson, however, who took a great interest in the history of local families, informed me in 1893, when I was preparing a history of my own family for private circulation, that a Wm. Rawson, of Upperthorpe and Norwood, bequeathed in 1553 his lands at Norwood to his widow and then to his second son, James, whose son, grandson and great-grandson continued to hold them until 1666, when they were sold.

Into whose hands they then passed does not appear, but by deed dated 6th February, 1719, a newly-erected messuage called "Norwood" and two other dwelling-houses there, and the several closes adjoining called "The Croft," "The Paradise," "The New Lands" and "The Well Fields," containing 21a. 1r. 0p., were conveyed by the trustees and heir of one Wm. Taylor, late of Sheffield, Mercer, to one John Grammar, of Pledwick, parish of Sandall, Gentleman, and on the 21st April following Grammar was admitted to two messuages and 9 acres of copyhold land at Norwood; thus we have no precise date for the erection of the house.

I refer of course only to the central portion, but if one can do so without doing violence to the words "newly-erected" used in the deed of 1719 I am inclined to assign the date to somewhere about the close of the seventeenth century- if it is safe to judge from the style and character of the front entrance door, with its semi-circular stone steps and arched canopy, and which resembles that at Whitley Hall, Ecclesfield, which bears date 1683.

In 1723 the property was conveyed by Grammar's widow to one Robert Scholler, of Rowsley, Derbyshire, Gentleman, and he was admitted to a messuage called "Norwood'' and 9 acres of land.

Towards the close of 1740 the property was conveyed by Scholler and his wife to Smithson Green and Thomas Walton, and shortly afterwards Scholler and his wife surrendered Norwood and 9 acres of copyhold land in the possession of Thomas Walton to the use of the said Thomas Walton and Smithson Green.

In 1769 Norwood Hall and land containing 21a. 2r. 12p. were leased by Wm. Walton, of Hathersage, Gentleman, to Samuel Glanville, of Sheffield. In 1775 Glanville assigned the lease to my great-grandfather James Wheat, who two years later bought the reversion from Walton's assignees in bankruptcy.

Walton is understood to have been formerly a naval man, who perhaps thought he could do better in the trade of Sheffield. If so, his venture appears to have been an unhappy one. To judge from pictures of the house and grounds, one of them, dated 1773, showing a semi-circular embattled wall in front of the house, and other embellishments which are credited to him, he must also have been a man of considerable eccentricity of habit.

The vane surmounting the pigeon cote in the stable yard bears the date 1763, and it is to be assumed that this marks the date of the erection of the stable buildings. My great-grandfather made considerable alterations in the grounds- removing Walton's semi-circular embattled wall and substituting a sunk fence, to separate the garden from the adjoining fields, or "park" as it came to be called, though he does not appear to have meddled much with the house itself- and left the property to trustees for sale with a power or right of pre-emption, under which it was bought by his eldest son, my great uncle James, who, on his death in 1855, left it to his brother, my grandfather John Wheat, who died in 1868, having by his will entailed the property.

The last of my great-aunts died at Norwood in 1865, and in April 1866, my late father went to live there, and, in order to accommodate his large and increasing family, immediately commenced to build. The result was the most striking feature of the house- the dining room- with bedroom over, now used as the Bishop's Library.

Then followed various additions and improvements on the north side of the house, besides new kitchen and service premises, later on a pantry adjoining; and lastly, the new drawing room on the east side, opening out of the old one; and the Bishop, or I ought more correctly to say the Ecclesiastical Authority, has lately made some further minor improvements, in order better to suit the house to its present purpose.

The latest addition under our regime was the purchase in 1885 from the Duke of Norfolk of a few acres of land, chiefly wood, along the bottom or southern and western boundaries of the property.

The glass houses at Norwood were put up by my great uncle, Henry Wheat, who died in 1852, and who, when his hunting days were over, became an ardent orchid grower; and the noble copper or purple beech on the lawn in front of the house, which, however, has long since seen its best days, is understood to have been planted in his boyhood days by my great uncle, the Rev. Carlos Coney Wheat, the venerable Vicar of Timberland, Lincs., who died in 1877.

There used to be a large painting on panel of Norwood in its earliest days, which we considered so hideous that it was generally hidden away. What value- if any- it possessed I do not know, but I understood my brother to say that on his leaving the place he had handed it to Mr, W. T. Freemantle, who had destined it for High Hazels, and I merely mention this as I have no idea what actually became of this painting, and questions might arise which would otherwise find no answer as to what it represented and as to its origin.

The following particulars, taken from the statements of fact in a Case far the opinion of Counsel, should not be omitted from a historical survey of Norwood. It appears that the riots which had occurred in 1780 and 1788 were repeated in an aggravated form towards the end of July, 1791; what exactly was the cause of these riots does not appear, but the anger of the mob against my great-grandfather, James Wheat, is sufficiently explained by the fact that he was concerned in the passing of a Cutlers Act, which appears to have been an unpopular measure, at least among the lower orders.

But this was not all; probably the principal and immediate cause of the anger of the mob against Mr. Wheat lay in the fact that he had recently been professionally concerned in the passing of a number of Acts for inclosing commons and waste grounds in the neighbourhood: and at this very time the Sheffield Inclosure, probably the most important of all, was in progress, the mob evidently regarded this as a curtail¬ment of their rights, even as they would in the present day; at any rate it appears that:

“previous to the 27th July, 1791, there appeared alarming symptoms of a riotous disposition in the lower classes in Sheffield which induced several of the principal inhabitants to request Government to send a military force there. In consequence of this request two troops of light horse from Nottingham arrived about noon on the above date; and were accompanied into the town by great numbers of disorderly people, who loudly expressed their dissatisfaction and contempt of the smallness of this military force.

About 8 o'c. p.m. the mob, who had been very riotous during the whole of the afternoon at the Tontine, the head-quarters of the military, violently assaulted the Bailiff of the Liberty of Hallamshire, who had then arrested a debtor whom he was conducting to the gaol, and rescued the prisoner.

Not content with this outrage they proceeded to attack the gaol, the doors and windows of which, and the dwelling-house adjoining, they entirely demolished; and they also liberated the prisoners. The mob would most probably have set the house on fire but for the timely arrival of the military.

Whilst this outrage was committing at the gaol, another party had proceeded in a large body to the house of the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, at Broomhall, about a mile distant from Sheffield; they broke the windows and doors of this house, and set fire to the furniture, as also to the haystacks, which were entirely consumed.

They then returned to Sheffield, repeatedly crying out all in a mind, "To the lord's house," meaning the Duke of Norfolk's house: this house, then occupied by his Grace's Steward, they attacked and broke the windows and doors, and perhaps would have done greater mischief had they not been disturbed and dispersed for that evening by the military.

The next morning many of the justices of the Peace for the West Riding met at Sheffield, and as the populace assembled in large crowds, the Riot Act was read.

This had not the effect intended, but as a great number of the inhabitants, who were appointed and sworn constables, and the military, paraded the town the whole of the day, the mob was kept in awe, so that no mischief was done in the town.

Between 11 and 12 o'clock at night intelligence was received at Sheffield that the barn of Mr. Wheat, at Norwood, distant about two miles from Sheffield, was on fire; many of the inhabitants set off to the assistance of the family and, by their efforts, part of the buildings were preserved, but the barn, with its contents, was destroyed, by which Mr. Wheat sustained a loss of £200 or £300.

By some means intelligence had been given during the day to Mr. Wheat that his house would be attempted in the evening; this induced him, with his family, to leave the house, but he hired several persons to guard the house. These persons paraded in turns round the house and barns (which are about 50 yards from the house).

Between 11 and 12 o'clock at night one of the guard observed smoke issuing from the barn; he immediately gave the alarm to those within the house, and on their arrival the flames-burst-out, and they were surprised to hear shouts in the adjoining wood. Probably there were many rioters in the adjoining woods, and they had detached one or two of their body to set fire to the barn, which they might do without detection, as the night was dark, and the wood is within ten yards of the barn.

And that there were a number of persons in the wood appears from their shouting when the fire blazed out. And when the gentlemen who went to the assistance of Mr. Wheat were going through these woods they heard repeated shouts and hallooing, which induced them to detach a party into the woods to discover the persons.

Late in the evening of this day a neighbour, going home on the turnpike which leads to Norwood, overtook six or eight men, who seemed to be conversing just where the footpath turns from the turnpike to Norwood through the woods, about a mile from the house.

The conversation he overheard was, `Shall we go th' high or low road?' `High by G-, lads,' and they immediately walked off by the footpath. This outrage happened on the night after the fire at Mr. Wilkinson's, and during the actual continuance of the riots of Sheffield."

Mr. Wheat supposed that, under these circumstances, he was entitled to recover from the hundred or some other persons the damage he had sustained. Whether he did so or not does not appear, but Counsel's Opinion was favourable to this supposition.

From April, 1866, to the date of his death, my late father, John James Wheat, occupied the property as tenant for life under the Settlement made by his father; on his death in December, 1915, my elder brother, James Clifton Wheat, came into possession as heir of entail.

He never intended to keep it; indeed, it looked like being a "white elephant," and so it was so far as he was concerned and he was prepared to part with it on the easiest of terms, and so, having in vain offered it to the Sheffield Corporation for laying out as a Garden City, it found a purchaser in Mr. C. E. Vickers, of the Manor House, Ecclesall, who bought it chiefly as a speculation.

Mr. Vickers was more fortunate with the Local Authority, who had suddenly developed a Housing mania, and he soon sold it to the Sheffield Corporation at a very enhanced price.

The ultimate fate of the house itself now seemed to hang in the balance; either it would share the fate of Weston, High Hazels, Hillsborough, &c., and become a Museum or perhaps an Institution of some sort, or it would be pulled down as interfering with the "layout" of some building scheme; but the fates decided otherwise.

One day, Mr. Vickers took Archdeacon Gresford Jones to Norwood, and he was so struck with the amenities of the place that, on his return to Sheffield, he imparted his enthusiasm for it to the Bishop, who himself paid it a visit. Now here was a place which at once struck the Bishop's fancy. Dr. and Mrs. Burrows had felt cramped at Oakholme, already known as Bishopsholme; what they required was a house with larger rooms and a dozen or so bedrooms for the entertainment of Ordination Candidates, &c., and they soon made up their minds that, if possible, Norwood should become their new Bishopsholme, and this was eventually brought about, the house and a sufficient quantity of land being rescued from the Corporation.

Such is the history of Norwood so, far as I know it; the history of Bishopsholme is in the making, though, for reasons which I will give presently, I saw the old place pass out of the family almost without a regret; I could not have wished for it a better fate.

Though difficult of access, the place has certain obvious advantages: it stands high, and we used to like, on a fine Sunday afternoon, when there was not too much smoke arising from the Don Valley, to stand on the lawn and look at the tower of Treeton Church standing out from among the trees six miles away in the middle distance, and as far again beyond that, on the far horizon, the Church of Laughton- en-le-Morthen.

It was a beautiful residential property fifty years ago, but it had quite lost its place in my heart long before it passed out of the family: we always regarded the planting of the Sheffield Union buildings at Fir Vale-almost a little town in itself- as the commencement of the ruin of Norwood, and this was speedily followed by the opening up of the Firvale and Firth Park Estates, with an enormous increase of industrial population.

Then came the smoke from Grimesthorpe and Brightside in ever increasing volume. The trees stood it for long, but at last they succumbed- most of all I regretted the loss of the noble and venerable oaks- some of them centuries old, which adorned the "Park."

I admit I contributed to their downfall, and fine exercise it was on a Saturday afternoon in winter; with a long-handled, long-bladed felling axe, ringing on timber as hard as iron and as sound as a bell; but what matter, once they had lost their glorious foliage, and lived no more; under the circum¬stances it was no act of vandalism, and I only regarded it as the prelude to our own departure, which I knew would not be long delayed.

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[thanks for posting this history- my grandmother, aunt and mother worked at Bishopsholme until almost its last days. As a youngster I roamed every inch of it. I remember the long demolished outbuildings which gave way to Busk Meadows flats. I also recal the old gardens including the greenhouse area which still had camelias growing in its ruins. There was a magnificent beech tree I loved and a specimen willow. The copper beech was on its last legs even in the 1950s.

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[thanks for posting this history- my grandmother, aunt and mother worked at Bishopsholme until almost its last days. As a youngster I roamed every inch of it. I remember the long demolished outbuildings which gave way to Busk Meadows flats. I also recal the old gardens including the greenhouse area which still had camelias growing in its ruins. There was a magnificent beech tree I loved and a specimen willow. The copper beech was on its last legs even in the 1950s.

hi Gloops, and welcome to the forum. Thanks for your information, it's always good to hear first hand accounts!

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Guest RichardClarke

It may have been several years gone but I dont suppose you have a link to the origional The Hunter Archaeological Society artlice. I cant seem to find it myself and conducting a report on the Busk Meadows Park for my Landscape Architecture course here at Sheffield University. Any help would be both intersting and helpful!

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Hi Richard, we're always pleased to help. The reference to the original is

Wheat, John B. The History of Bishopholme, Sheffield, in The Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, Volume 2, 1920-24, page 365

It is available in the Local Studies Library.

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Guest Maggie Faley

I remember the derelict house and the local kids saying it was haunted. My younger brother and I used to walk past it to go fishing at what we all called the 7 ponds, (somewhere around where the Timber Tops now stands).

looking back I vaguely remember being there and some kids telling us they lived there. So now I think was it a children’s home before being demolished or maybe they were ghosts?  Well it is Halloween!  This was aprox. 1968 ish.

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