Castlegate Festival image with Vulcan illustration

Castlegate Festival 2020
A Celebration of Castlegate’s Past, Present and Future

Welcome to the fourth Castlegate Festival! This year's Castlegate Festival occurs at a most testing time for cites across the world and for Sheffield city centre in particular. Almost all businesses and communities are battling to return to some kind of stability and normality as the epidemic continues to impose constraints and concerns at short notice. 

Yet even so regeneration in Castlegate has made some great progress over the last twelve months as new ventures continue to open or be started, and the transformation of the riverside by Grey to Green is revealed. So despite all the challenges there is still much to celebrate in Castlegate, past present and especially future.          

Photo of Old Town Hall Sheffield
Photo through Kommune window
Photo of Grey to Green Scheme

They Lived in Castlegate – the stories behind the plaques

Castlegate is Sheffield’s oldest quarter with at almost 1000 years of history, but much of this is not well known. As people return to the quarter to live, work and have fun often in regenerated older buildings,  this history is being rediscovered. 

Building on 2019’s revival of historic street names this years Castlegate Festival gives you the opportunity to learn more about a few of the notable people who lived, worked or had fun in the area over the last 400 years, by following a trail of ‘Blue Plaques’ (see map below).

1. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland &  France - imprisoned Sheffield Castle 1570-84

Mary was committed into the charge of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and Sheffield’s Lord of the Manor because he was a leading figure at the court of Elizabeth 1st queen of England and was also one of the most wealthy individuals in the north of England at the time. As a Catholic with claims to the throne of England as well as Scotland she was considered highly dangerous and her 14 years of confinement mainly at Sheffield Castle, (formerly on this site) Manor Lodge or Chatsworth were constantly surrounded by plots and conspiracies to free her, the last of which led to her execution. However she had the last word in the end as when Elizabeth died childless it was Mary’s son James who became the next king of England and Scotland! 

2. George Talbot c1522 –1590, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, Jailer of Mary Queen of Scots

George Talbot was a fabulously wealthy Tudor aristocrat who despite his title considered Sheffield and its castle as his home. He inherited huge estates and many houses and castles in South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, from which he built an early industrial empire including iron, coal and shipping, run mainly from his principal residence in Sheffield. He was also a trusted figure at the court of Elizabeth 1st being appointed to many diplomatic and military roles including Earl Marshall of England –essentially head of the army - and was also entrusted with the huge responsibility and expense of keeping in captivity Mary Queen of Scots (and formerly Queen of France) along with her considerable court, at Sheffield Castle and his other secure houses and castles for 14 long years. During this time is formidable wife, Bess of Hardwick, became convinced he had fallen for Mary, who was famously attractive, and their marriage fell apart until they lived seperate lives, he with his housekeeper at Handsworth.

3. Tommy Youdan c1816-76, Theatrical Impressario and sponsor of the World’s first football cup

Thomas Youdan was a larger than life figure in the world of popular entertainment in Victorian Sheffield, much of which was centred around the Castlegate and West Bar area. He ran a succession  of theatres specialising in melodrama, spectacular scenary, animals and other exhibits. His first flagship theatre, the Surrey Music Hall on West Bar burnt to the ground in 1865 (after a show called the Great Fire of London went seriously wrong). Not deterred he bought the Adelphi Circus on Exchange St and renamed it the Alexandra,  hosting most of the best known music hall acts as well as equestrian shows.He also served for six years as a City Councillor, engaged in many charitable activities and perhaps most famously, sponsored the first recorded multi-team football competition in the world – the Youdan Cup, still played for today in Sheffield.  

4. Pablo Fanque c1810-71 Uk’s First Black Circus Master

Pablo Fanque (born William Darby 30 March was born in 1810 at Norwich. He was an outstanding equestrian performer and the first recorded non-white British circus owner in Britain. His circus was popular in Victorian Britain, particularly in the industrial north, for 30 years, in a period that is regarded as the golden age of the circus.

Pablo Fanque was a leading innovator in the management and promotion of circus, employing his own architect and graphic artists to present his touring shows. He married a Sheffield woman and both performed in and staged many seasons of shows at Sheffield, particularly around the Castlegate area including Sheffied Fairground on Blonk St and the Alexandra theatre on Exchange St. Since the late 20th century, Pablo Fanque has been best known from being mentioned in The Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) which was inspired by one of his posters.

5. Bess of Hardwick 1527-1608, Countess of Shrewsbury, Successful Tudor business woman

Bess came from an obscure Derbyshire family to become one of the most successful independent wormen of Tudor England. She did so by marrying and outliving a succession of four husbands each more wealthy than the last, and then ensuring that she held onto her own property and investments. As well as living at Sheffield Castle (formerly on this site) and Manor Lodge she went on build Chatsworth & Hardwick Halls, and established a powerful family of her own living to a great age for her times and maintaining control of her life to the end. 

6. Henry Seebohm 1832-1895, Quaker Steelmaster, Explorer & Ornithologist

Henry Seebohm came from one of the many German families who had settled in Bradford a generation before and who in this case belonged to the Quaker protestant faith. He teamed up with another German immigrant to set up Seebohm and Diechstahl’s steelworks between the Wicker and the River Don. His Quaker roots were an influence in the way he treated his workforce who were among the first to be allowed paid holidays, and he was linked to the Rowntrees of York, well-known Quaker chocolate-makers and  philanthropists. But his most lasting achievements were arguably in his passion for bird watching and exploration, notably to Siberia, which he regularly pursued and wrote up in a series of travel and ornithology books, including one of the first comprehensive  books of British birds. His collection of birds eggs became the basis of that in the Natural History Museum. After the death of its two founders and during the First World War, the firm changed its name to Arthur Balfour after its then MD because its German name attracted hostility and suspicion.

Today nothing is left of Seebohm’s riverside steelworks but his books and collections live on.

7. Benjamin Blonk 1747-1813 Scissor maker, cutler, Steam power pioneer 

Benjamin Blonk was a Sheffield steel, tool and scissor maker who operated a prominent factory – the Wicker Tilt a water-powered steel forge and grinding shop just downstream of Ladys Bridge. His name is also associated with the introduction of steam powered grinding and with Blonk Bridge although it was actually built some time after his death. The Blonk family were engaged with scissor-making  for several generations and it is believed that they may have been one of a number of Huguenot families – C17th French Protestant refugees from religious persecution - who were welcomed for their skills and resettled in Sheffield.Their original name may have been Blanc – White in French.  

8. Lizzie - ‘Tommy Ward’s Elephant’ Beast of Burden World War 1

With many of its cart-horses commandeered by the army for the war effort, Thomas W Ward, famous scrap, coal and machine dealers of Sheffield, acquired a trio of circus animals – an elephant and two dromedaries - from a travelling circus menagerie who wintered in one of the Wicker arches. They were uses to haul heavy loads such as machinery and steel and became a familiar and popular site on the streets of Sheffield. They were housed in this multi-storey stable block built for railway horses. Lizzie was renowned for a mischievous sense of humour, stealing pies from shop windows and occasionally upsetting loads she didn’t like. Its not yet known how long she lived after her wartime service, nor what happened to the dromedaries.

9. Ella Gasking OBE 1891–1966 M M.D. Batchelor’s Foods - Mushy Pea Pioneer 

William Batchelor (1861 – 1913) was a tea dealer in Sheffield, originally from a modest Lincolnshire background and a strict Primitive Methodist. Batchelor opened a factory for the manufacture and sale of dried peas in the basement of the Primitive Methodist chapel on Stanley Street, off Wicker in 1899. The busines had grown to employ 50 people when Batchelor died in 1913. With his sons at war, and his wife an invalid, if was left to his 22 year old daughter, Ella Hudson Gasking (1891 – 1966), to run the company as managing director. This she did extremely successfully. Gasking was a warm and friendly woman and a hard worker but had no business training. She later commented, “I myself never even dreamed of being a business woman… I took over because I had to”.

Following the end of the First World War, Gasking was assisted in management by her two brothers, Maurice and Frederick  Batchelor.

Dried peas in cartons were popular but the peas had to be soaked overnight before use. Ella went to the USA to study US canning methods, and returned in 1930 to set up a pea canning factory in the empty former Bryars multi-storey stables, at Ladys Bridge. The canned “processed” (or mushy) peas were an immediate success, such that within a few years she needed to relocate to a much larger factory at Wadsley. Batchelor’s went on to  have the highest sales of canned and dried peas in the world. Turnover was just under £1 million. Ella was awarded the OBE.

Today, Batchelor’s still has a major trade in tinned peas, but is perhaps best known for its convenience foods such as Cup-A-Soup and Super Noodles. Campbells Soups, made famous by 60s pop-artist Andy Warhol, were for a time marketed as Batchelors in the UK.

10. Henry Bryars b.1853, Horse Vet, Dog Rescuer, Edwardian Developer

Henry Bryars was a successful vetinary surgeon, animal breeder, race horse owner and property developer who has left us one of the most distinctive groups of buildings in the city situated on Ladys Bridge, Blonk St and the River Don. One of his most successful business projects was to be awared contracts to stable and care for the large number of cart-horses belonging to railway companies in Sheffield, many of which were concentrated around Wicker. On the basis of this, in 1899 he instigated an ambitious multi-use development comprising a four storey stable block with a farriers and sick bays on the groundfloor and stables above  reached by ramps instead of stairs. To this were added stables for his own race-horses, a house and surgery for himself, two blocks of shops with flats over and a home for stray dogs in the basement! The buildings by noted Sheffield architects Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton are clad in shiny glazed  brown brick throughout in a unique style with hints of medieval northern Europe. 

With Bryars’ death and the end of horse transport his business wound up and the stable building has passed through several further uses including the birth place of the Mushy Pea and a famous furniture emporium Hancock and Lants. It was nearly demolished in the 1980s for a road scheme. In its most recent refurbishment it has been cleaned and converted to flats and a shop,  showing the ongoing resilience of many of Castlegate’s buildings.  

11. Charlie Peace 1832-79, Notorious Sheffield burglar, Escapologist & Murderer

Charlie Peace was born in the Millsands area of Sheffield and like many others began his working life as a child in the steelworks. He suffered a serious industrial injury which left him unable to pursue this form of work and eventually turned to crime, becoming a professional burglar travelling widely and becoming adept at disguise and escape as well as the use of guns. After killing a policeman in Manchester, he fled back to his native Sheffield, where he settled for a time in Bannerdale, becoming obsessed with his neighbour's wife, eventually shooting her husband dead at their house. Escaping again to London, he carried out many more burglaries while apparently living as a respectable family man, before being caught in the prosperous suburb of Blackheath, wounding the policeman who arrested him. He was then linked to the Sheffield murder, returned to Sheffield,held and arraigned at the Sheffield Court on Castle St. He was later taken and tried at Leeds Assizes. Found guilty, he was hanged at Armley Prison. 

Bizzarely his violent and colourful life story has fascinated subsequent generations and has inspired authors , comic book writers and film producers to write many stories about his fictional exploits, often portraying him as a cheerful rogue.

12. Arthur Davy 1838-1902, Baker, Grocer, Tea Merchant

Arthur Davy founded a business which grew into Davy’s Bakeries & Cafes – Sheffield’s answer to Greggs from the Victorian era until the late C20th. He started as a wholesale grocer and tea merchant in the Bridgehouses area but expanded into groceries, baked  goods, cooked meats and cafes with premises all over Sheffield including Fargate (now WH Smith) , the Moor and two buildings on Haymarket . One was the Mikado Café and bakery of 1904  on the corner in an unusual Arts and Crafts style by local architects Flockton Gibbs (also responsible for Henry Bryars Stables and parts of the Old Town Hall). Perhaps surprisingly the bakers ovens were on the top floor, with products passing down through other floors for finishing, packing and sales. The Mikado Café later moved up the hill to occupy a stylish Art Deco building which is still there. A much larger bakery was built on Paternoster Row but closed in the 1980s to be replaced by the National Centre for Popular Music, now Hallam University’s Student Union. The company was acquired in 1974 and all its shops and bakeries closed. 

The original 1904 Davys Café and Bakery has recently been converted to apartments by developers Uown under the name of The Old Bakery bringing people back to live right in the heart of Sheffield’s ‘Old Town’.

The Castlegate Vision

Castlegate, Sheffield’s historic heart, is now taking on a new and exciting role. 

The quarter, which over the last twenty years lost much of its traditional retail and social function and has suffered from a poor  environment, is now on the way to becoming the exciting, distinctive new focus for tech and creative start-up businesses, a place to live once more and an addition to the city’s visitor attractions. 

This is being driven by supporting new ventures, improving public spaces in an imaginative and sustainable way and rediscovering Castlegate’s fascinating  history,  This includes finding new uses for its many historic buildings and celebrating its townscape, waterways, excellent accessibility and offering new opportunities for innovative developments. 

The vision is shaped, guided and delivered by a partnership bringing together arts, voluntary and charitable organisations, the two Universities, large and small entrepreneurs and developers and the Council with a strong emphasis on innovation and experiment.

Heritage Open Days Virtual Tours 

Visit Ladys Bridge today on one of our virtual tours and more tours to follow next week.

Medieval Lady’s Bridge and Wicker Tilt via canoe – explore the hidden history beneath Sheffield’s oldest bridge

Old Town Hall – explore the atmospheric Georgian and Victorian Courtrooms, Judges Rooms, cells and stylish 1950s extensions – all soon to be refurbished 

Sheffield's Grey to Green scheme - explore the latest phase of this amazing project that opens in Castlegate this week, the envy of many cities 

Terminal Warehouse – discover Georgian and Victorian canal architecture and machinery ingeniously converted to modern design studios and unique living spaces

Castlegate's Old Street Names

Trueloves Gutter Street Sign

Trueloves Gutter (Castle St/Exchange St)

Perhaps disappointingly the name seems to have come from a family called the Trueloves who lived on either Castle St or Exchange St. The Gutter part probably reflects that most streets in old Sheffield doubled up as drains, which were flushed periodically by opening the Barkers Pool reservoir, removing debris, dead cats and worse to the Don at Ladys Bridge!

Under The Water Street Sign

Under the Water (Bridge St)

What is now Bridge St was once at a somewhat lower level with steps up to Ladys Bridge and was frequently flooded by the Don – hence the name

Isle Street Sign

The Isle (Estelli Parade)

The millrace or goyt for the Town Corn Mill which formed what became known as the Kelham Island actually ran right into the town rejoining the Don just above the Wicker Weir. So this area was referred to as ‘The Isle’ or sometimes confusingly ‘The Isle of Wight’!

Chandlers Row Street Sign

Chandlers Row (Castlegate West)

For over 200 years the land now known as Castlegate was occupied by slaughter houses and related processes. One of the most important would have been the candle-makers or chandlers.

Castle Orchard Street Sign

Castle Orchard (Castlegate)

The area now occupied by Castlegate and Exchange St was once the orchard supplying  Sheffield Castle which would have dominated the area on the opposite bank of the River Sheaf.

Sergeants Walk Street Sign

Sergeants Walk (North Bank)

This probably referred to the favourite walk of the soldiers who garrisoned the castle although some lawyers were sometimes also known as ‘serjeant’

Water Street Street Sign

Water Street (Magistrates Court Forecourt)

What is now the forecourt of the Magistrates Court was once a narrow lane leading down to the Don at Bridge St.

Nags Head Yard

Nags Head Yard/ Shemeld Croft (Commercial St)

Commercial Street is really a ramp built by the Midland Railway Company in 1870 to allow better access to their new Midland Station. Its construction required the demolition of a number  of narrow mediaeval lanes mostly named after inns or pubs of which Nags Head Yard was obviously one.

Shemeld is an old Sheffield family name and crofts were old courtyards which became notorious slums in the Victorian period.

Canal Bridge Street Sign

Canal Bridge (Exchange St)

When the Sheffield Canal was opened in 1819 it was as the motorway of its age, opening a relatively rapid route for goods and people to Rotherham, Doncaster and the sea, via the Humber Estuary. A new bridge was built over the Sheaf to connect with the Canal Basin. Later the Corn Exchange was built on the right bank of the Sheaf and the Sheaf culverted over to create a new market place, hence the change of name to Exchange St. However this required the demolition of Tennants Brewery which was moved to a site next to Ladys Bridge  but confusingly  was named Exchange Brewery. This name survives in the name adopted by the redevelopment of the site as ‘Exchange Riverside’

Shambles Lane Street Sign

Shambles Lane (off Exchange St)

When Sheffield Castle was demolished at the end of the C17th Civil War the markets which must have clustered around its outer walls gradually took over the site, with the butchers being particularly prominent. Shambles was the name given to streets where the butchers had their stalls, most famously at York.

Castle Fold Street Sign

Castle Folds (Exchange St)

This name has been applied to various lanes around the Castle including Exchange St . It is now attached to the loading bay at the rear of Wilkos which seems a bit sad! However if you look at the big stone wall which forms the back of Wilkos you are apparently looking at stonework salvaged from the Victorian Norfolk Market Hall which stood on the same site.

Pudding Lane Street Sign

Pudding Lane (King Street)

Pudding was an old word for offal – hence ‘black pudding’ – reflecting the fact that King St has been associated with butchers and markets for many hundreds of years, including the Fitzallan Market. The street is believed to have been renamed to the more respectable-sounding King Streey in honour of the coronation of either George II or III.

Castlegate Festival artwork footer