Burngreave Messenger.
Issue 40 April 2004

History of Ellesmere Green

by Bernadette Lamb

Last month’s feature (A fond farewell) on Ken Clarke’s retirement, and proposals that perhaps a market could be held, have focused attention on what has come to be known locally as ‘Ellesmere Green’. Contrary to what some recent arrivals believe, this is not the last vestige of some ancient village green; in fact in historical terms the ‘Green’ is very modern indeed.

Until the beginning of the 19th Century the area between the Wicker and the Toll Bar was occupied mainly by orchards and market gardens. With the coming of the railway and its station on the Wicker, industry began to spread into the Don Valley and the suburb of Burngreave took shape in 1837 and Burngreave Road was built to give easier access to the Turnpike Road at Pitsmoor. Residential terraces on Spital Hill and villas on the new road began to be built, while the lower slopes became covered in closely packed back-to-backs to house the factory workers.

Congregational Church

The first big development came in 1855 when the Wicker Congregational Church was built on the triangular plot made by Burngreave and Ellesmere Roads and Gower Street. The fine Gothic Church and Sunday Schools were a world away from the humble origins in a room on the Wicker where premises were shared with a midden and a performing bear.

The Vestry Hall

Changes in local government paved the way for this area to become an important civic centre. In 1864 the Vestry Hall was built to serve the Brightside Bierlow as offices for the collection of rates and registry. The 1902 Directory lists George H Wilkinson as “collector of the general district rate” and Lawrence A Morley Registrar for “the sub-district of West Brightside.” In its long life, the Vestry Hall has been a venue for dances, election meetings, wedding receptions and concerts. It has served as a Polling Station, a Community Centre, Sports Hall and even in hard times a soup kitchen besieged by bare foot children.

Brightside Library

In 1872 the area was further enlightened by the opening of the (then) Brightside Library, the first purpose-built library outside of the City Centre. Originally the books were locked up and you had to choose from a catalogue. In the reading room the newspapers were also chained. Older residents may remember the spiral staircase which gave access to the staff quarters. It was eagerly watched by local youths hoping for a glimpse of a trim ankle! Some may also remember when newspapers had the racing news blacked out to discourage gambling.

Commercial Centre

To complete the ‘official’ content of the area, Burngreave enjoyed the services of two Police Stations; the West Riding Constabulary at 9–11 Burngreave Road and the City Police at number 24. This was a thriving shopping centre where every conceivable want could be satisfied. I don’t know if there is a connection between the eight butcher’s shops and the seven surgeons in the area, but all were doubtless busy. The number of shops grew in line with housing development, culminating in the opening of the Brightside and Carbrook Co-op on the corner of Gower Street and Grimesthorpe Road. It had the lot – butchers, grocers, drapery, ladies and children’s wear. Gower Street was much narrower then; the old Wicker Congs’ towered over the surrounding buildings: the famous Nan Wong Chinese Laundry next to the Library, Burgon’s grocers and Matlock’s butchers, where old Fred Matlock was still working at 82 and remembered taking the meat out on a sledge in the terrible Winter of 1947.

On Ellesmere Road, Ken Clarke’s original ‘Corner news’ was a tiny wedge shape building. The more modern aspect of his present shop (formerly the Bendix Laundrette) can be attributed to a World War II bomb. Next door was Walter Wild’s fish shop. With no shop front all the fish was laid out on a huge marble slab. Going the other way was Hymans Household Furnishers, Arthur’s Butchers, Myers Bakers, Middletons Hardware, The Post Office (still thankfully with us) and TSB. The picture is rounded off with John Heath (serving the community for over a hundred years), the shell of the old Albion public house and, at the top of Hallcarr Street, was Bailey’s the old fashioned grocers where they sliced your bacon exactly to your liking.

In 1970 the ‘Wicker Congs’ came down in a cloud of dust, the processions for Whit Sings are no more and the Boys Brigade Band is silent. And in its place is the Green.
While The Vestry Hall perilously awaits a re-invention, should we ask; “Where do we go from here?”


Wicker Congregational Church on what is now Ellesmere Green (Ellesemere Road and All Saints Church in the distance).

Wicker Congregational Church on what is now Ellesmere Green (Ellesemere Road and All Saints Church in the distance).

Ellesmere Road shops. The building on the corner later became the TSB bank.

Ellesmere Road shops. The building on the corner later became the TSB bank.

Shop next to the Vestry Hall on Gower Street.

Shop next to the Vestry Hall on Gower Street.

All photos © & courtesy of Sheffield Libraries
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Index for Issue 39 March 2004.