Friday, October 20, 2017

Sheffield’s rich pub heritage revealed in newly-listed documents at City Archives

As part of a cataloguing drive at Sheffield City Archives, aiming to make a backlog of previously unlisted material publicly accessible, a large collection of some 60 boxes of over 740 files of Sheffield Magistrates Court licensing records has recently been catalogued. The result is to reveal a wealth of fascinating history concerning hundreds of pubs and on-licensed premises in Sheffield dating back to the late-nineteenth century.
For many decades, up until c.2005, it appears that Sheffield Magistrates Court kept a licensing file for each pub and on-licensed premises in Sheffield. As well as recording historical details of the licence holders of each premises, the files included architectural plans (detailing proposed alterations and improvements for each premises submitted for the approval of the licensing section of the Magistrates Court). The earliest plan of a Sheffield pub in the collection dates back to 1888, and the latest plans are dated 2005, so the plans span a period of almost 120 years.


The records were transferred to Sheffield City Archives almost 10 years ago where, up until the recent cataloguing project undertaken by staff there, the files remained unlisted with the true significance of their contents unknown.

The cataloguing project has unearthed lost original plans of pubs (including detailed floor plans and exquisite watercolour elevations) by local Sheffield architects, dating back to the late Victorian/Edwardian era, including: Flockton, Gibbs and Flockton of St James Row, Holmes and Watson of St James Chambers, James R. Wigfull of 14 Parade Chambers, J. P. Earle of Norfolk Row, W. H. Lancashire and Son of Hartshead, Edmund Winder of Corn Exchange Chambers and Alfred Appleby of 66 Surrey Street (amongst others).

The architectural plans transport us back to the old ‘Coaching Inn’ days of many of the pubs when they provided accommodation to travellers arriving or passing through Sheffield in horse-drawn coaches. The plans detail the various ancillary buildings which could be found outside the main pub premises including carriage and coach houses, stables, pig sties, manure pits, ash pits, hay lofts, pigeon lofts, coal houses, privies, wash houses, etc.. In terms of interior detail of the main pub buildings themselves, the plans show the size and positioning of dram shops, bottle stores, beer cellars, billiard and bagatelle rooms, smoke rooms, tap rooms, club rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.
Alongside the plans, some of the licensing files also include occasional correspondence from the architects which can reveal intriguing information. For example, a file for the Royal Oak Hotel (now the Beer Engine) on Cemetery Road, Sheffield, includes a letter from the architect, J. P. Earle of Norfolk Row, Sheffield, dated 19 May 1898, enclosing his plans of the pub and explaining the reason for the proposed renovations at the premises: to enable meetings to be more easily accommodated there for up to 400 druids! In the letter, Earle informed the magistrates:
“As there are some 400 Druids hold their meetings at this house, the old club room was much too small and inconvenient. The proprietors, under these circumstances, now ask the magistrates consent to add to the club room, the space that was previously a store room…”
Since this collection of Magistrates Court licensing records comprises files for on-licensed premises (rather than exclusively pubs) it also includes architectural plans (dating back to the late 1960s onwards) for Sheffield’s legendary lost nightclubs such as Fiesta, Josephine’s, Roxy’s,  Sinatra’s, Tiffany’s, etc.
With the decline of the traditional British pub industry in recent years, many of the pubs which feature in the collection have since closed. However, the newly catalogued plans and licensing information at Sheffield City Archives ensures that the memory and spirit of these pubs will live on, allowing us to re-imagine them as they stood in their heyday at the heart of the community, thronging with thirsty steelworkers, weary stage-coach travellers and even congregating druids!
Full details of this catalogued collection of licensing files can be found on Sheffield City Archives online catalogue (series reference: MC/20/5):
The original records can be consulted at Sheffield City Archives (52 Shoreham Street) on any Monday, Tuesday or Saturday (when the archives’ searchroom is open to the public).