Chapter 1 – The Newbould Family & Meadow Bank Avenue
The Newbould Family and Meadow Bank Avenue
In February 1896, Sheffield surveyors Fowler and Marshall produced a beautiful plan showing the development potential of the Meadow Bank Estate in Sharrow. It was to be built on land owned by Miss Elizabeth Newbould and entry to the estate would be from Cherry Tree Road. The most notable feature of the planned development would be the large, central ‘pleasure ground’ (complete with formal flower beds) designated for the sole use of residents.
The road itself was to be surrounded by a wide, tree-lined pavement and all building development would be governed by a ‘Model Deed’. This meant that all those purchasing land were bound by strict stipulations relating to the type of houses, their value and usage. Miss Newbould retained ownership of the pleasure ground, road and footpaths and agreed for her part to maintain them for the benefit of all residents. Existing and future owners of the plots covenanted to maintain their house frontages (through annual payments) and also to keep their homes as private houses. This is how Meadow Bank Avenue came into existence, but there is far more to the history of the Meadow Bank Avenue estate and its community.
February 1896 plan
What might come as a surprise is that another plan for Meadow Bank Avenue had been proposed earlier in 1896 and this was far less ambitious. It took the form of a modest crescent, looping from the top of Machon Bank to the lower end of Cherry Tree Road.
First suggested plan 1896
We don’t know why Elizabeth chose the more ambitious plan; it was not a common model of development in Sheffield. Certainly she stood to gain more financially if the second plan could be brought to fruition, because it made much better use of the whole plot of land and would accommodate more housing. There might perhaps have been other factors influencing her. By the 1880’s she was living in Leamington Spa, in Clarendon Avenue and then Dale Street. Both of these addresses are very close to Beauchamp and Clarendon Squares – elegant, private spaces with central greens. It might be a coincidence but it could be that Elizabeth wanted to create something special in Nether Edge, having enjoyed the squares in Leamington Spa.
1905 OS Map of Leamington Spa
A great debt is owed to Elizabeth Newbould for her visionary plan, particularly as much of the development that was taking place in Sheffield and other industrial cities in the late nineteenth century was rapid, unplanned and often unattractive. As Sheffield spread into the valleys and hills that surrounded the city centre, jerry-built houses were constructed at high density. The developers were often criticised in local newspapers and public lectures but it was difficult to stop them once land had been purchased.
One effective and practical solution was for individuals or groups to set up Land Societies. It’s important to understand how these functioned because they had a major impact on Nether Edge. These early building societies bought up plots of land in the threatened suburbs of the south and south west of the city and imposed building constraints on any future development. The constraints related to a range of things, including, for example, building materials, height, windows and restrictions on usage. The Montgomery Land Society, founded in 1861, was a good example. It was set up to purchase a large piece of land through its trustees. This was then to be divided amongst the Society’s members and sold as small plots, which would be paid for in instalments. In this way people of moderate means could become freehold landowners. George Wostenholm was also active in controlling developments within land that he controlled in Nether Edge from the 1850s, restricting any type of commercial or industrial activity ‘deemed offensive to the neighbourhood’. He also banned public houses, bowling greens, tea gardens and other places of amusement from the Kenwood estate.
Elizabeth Newbould’s family was very involved in the land society movement. She had grown up in a house named ‘Sharrow Bank’, which occupied the south corner of Cherry Tree Road and Psalter Lane, across the road from where St Andrew’s Church now stands. The house fell into disrepair in the late twentieth century and was demolished some years ago. It was replaced by a small housing development, but ‘Sharrow Bank’ had been a very handsome house when it was bought by the Newboulds in 1820. It occupied a large plot of land stretching back to Clifford Road and Henry Newbould and his wife Mary (nee Williamson) had plenty of space in which to bring up their four children. Elizabeth’s older brother, William, married and had six children. Another brother, Henry, died in his thirties. Elizabeth and her twin brother, John (born in 1823), remained single all their lives. John became a lawyer with a practice in Paradise Square and was Auditor of the Sheffield Law Society until he died in 1880. After John’s death, Elizabeth left ‘Sharrow Bank’ and Sheffield, moving to Leamington Spa to live with her cousin Samuel. Her remaining older brother William died in 1886.
The Newbould’s were prosperous business people. Henry, Elizabeth’s father, was initially in the family firm of Sanderson and Newbould, manufacturers of machine tools. He also had an interest in acquiring property. This funded the family’s gracious lifestyle at ‘Sharrow Bank’. The grounds contained a carriage house and three large greenhouses – space for their collection of camellias and azaleas. There was a good library and fine wine cellars, expensive furniture and beautiful silver and glassware. We know all this because, when the house contents were sold, the sale took seven days and the sale catalogue detailed hundreds of items for auction. The Newboulds had influential neighbours; George Wostenholm had begun to build ‘Kenwood Park’ in 1844, and he went on to develop the tree-lined avenues of Kenwood that we know and love today. Just along the lane from ‘Sharrow Bank’, Sir John Brown’s home ‘Shirle Hill’ was grand enough to be visited by the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in 1868.
Sharrow Bank – home of Elizabeth Newbould
As a member of the Montgomery Land Society, Elizabeth’s brother John Newbould bought plots of land in the Nether Edge area. Elizabeth could see the results of covenants and the constraints that could be brought to bear on developers; the good stone houses with gardens and gated roads. There were, by that time, other covenanted gated communities in places like Endcliffe, Ranmoor and Collegiate Crescent, of which the family would have been aware. Elizabeth inherited a great deal of property and land from her father (on his death in 1871) and from her brother John in 1880. There was a Chancery Court case to agree a settlement to the family of her deceased brother, William, and this matter was finally concluded in 1895, when Elizabeth was assigned all property in the Township of Sheffield, Brightside, Upper Hallam, Attercliffe- cum-Darnall, Ecclesall Bierlow, the Parish of Heeley, Township of Stannington and the Parish of Ecclesfield. Locally it meant that she owned land from Psalter Lane to Lyndhurst Road, Edgedale Road, Edge Bank and Cherry Tree Farm and the fields beyond it. It was this last parcel of land which would become Meadow Bank Avenue in 1896. Elizabeth covenanted all of her land; an action that was in keeping with the informed and educated spirit of her neighbours. It meant that there were restrictions on both the builders and the purchasers of houses on her land.
It is to Elizabeth that we owe our special environment and her vision is an important strand in the history of Meadow Bank Avenue, but there are other factors to consider too. Much of Sheffield was still very rural until the middle of the nineteenth century. Areas like Nether Edge were characterised by small farmsteads, smithies and workshops, where traditional small-scale industry and farming operated side by side. This sketch shows a farm on Machon Bank Road in 1878. We can’t be absolutely sure but this may well be Cherry Tree Farm which stood at the top of Machon Bank before the building of the Avenue.
Sketch of Machon Bank Farm 1878
Sheffield was essentially a working class city; it wasn’t a grand commercial centre with an impressive civic centre. Large-scale production of steel and metal goods in large factories was a relatively late development and the city’s poor transport networks meant it was somewhat cut off from other centres.
Our city’s tradition was one of smaller scale production and specialised, highly-skilled craftsmanship. Then the boom time came in the mid nineteenth century and much larger works were built along the river valleys. The population grew from 65,275 in 1821 to 110,891 in 1841, then more than doubled again by 1877 to reach 282,130. This explains why there was so much pressure to build cheap housing for the working classes.
The people who were fighting to save the suburbs were mostly ‘self-made’ men who amassed fortunes and wanted to enjoy the fruits of their labour away from the smoke of their enterprises. The list of individuals serving on the Municipal Council between 1843 and 1893 is a list of people knowledgeable in all aspects of metal work, and trades and professions to service that dominating interest. It is worth noting that few people were listed as ‘Gentlemen’. The land societies, and people like Elizabeth Newbould, were building for these successful Sheffield folk – not for the very rich, but for the ‘rich enough’.
You might want to look at the maps section of the website to see how the city was changing during this time. In 1807 Fairbanks surveyed Sheffield and a simplified, modern interpretation of the survey illustrates how sparsely populated Nether Edge was at that time. Only a few farms, smithies and crofts occupied the lower end of Cherry Tree Road. Similarly, the 1840 Ordnance Survey map shows a Nether Edge still characterised by small enterprises, with just a few larger houses. By 1892/3 this was beginning to change. The 1893 OS map features a new workhouse, chapel, public house and several new or planned areas of housing.
Cherry Tree and Machon Bank before Meadow Bank Avenue
Before we look at the building of Meadow Bank Avenue we need to understand a little more about Cherry Tree and its immediate surroundings at that time. Cattle grazed in the nearby fields around Cherry Tree Hill when Elizabeth was growing up at ‘Sharrow Bank’ and the old Cherry Tree Lane was little more than a narrow farm track. If she walked along it she would have passed the fields belonging to Mary Naw on her right and the Ludlam’s smithy on her left. Beyond that lay Cherry Tree Farm, a very peaceful farmstead and, facing it on the other side of the lane, Wisteria Cottage, built in 1765 by Robert Bagshawe, a scythesmith. Scythemaking was very common in the neighbourhood with several smithies operating along Machon Bank.
Cherry Tree Farm 1905
Cherry Tree Farm had been built in 1673 by Robert Savage, a cutler. Beside it was Thomas Ludlam’s house, which dated from 1658. The fields belonging to Cherry Tree Farm were the Mow Meadow Bank, The Great Croft, The Little Croft, North Lower Close and South Lower Close. There was also a small plot on the other side of Cherry Tree Lane which was part of Dobbin Croft. The farm was passed down through the descendants of Robert Savage until it was bought by Samuel Greaves of Greystones in 1818 – and his descendants sold it to John Newbould, who bequeathed it to his twin sister Elizabeth. It was these fields which were developed into Meadow Bank Avenue.
In 1896, when the Fowler and Marshall plan for the Meadow Bank Avenue estate was drawn, Cherry Tree Farm still stood on the corner of Machon Bank and Cherry Tree Road. The farmstead wasn’t demolished for another decade, after part of the Avenue had already been built. We have some interesting evidence of the farm’s structure and layout. Its last tenants were Mr Christopher Ibbotson and his family. The gateway into the farmyard was on Cherry Tree Road and the entrance to the farmhouse was in Machon Bank, opposite the Union Hotel. The house was built in 1673 and demolished in 1907. At some time in its history it had been used as a tithe barn in connection with a priory on Priory Road. A descendant of the last tenant reported that the internal rooms were partitioned with oak and the outside walls were three feet thick.
The lovely picture of the farm, taken in 1905, shows Mr Ibbotson in front of a well-kept house with a productive vegetable garden. The gable of the Union Hotel can just be seen on the left.
Just before it was pulled down Miss Edith Leader visited the old farm to record historical details for her Father. This is the text of her letter;
279, Glossop Road,
July 30th 1907.
My Dearest Father,
I have been spending the morning, between thunder showers, in sketching the old house at Machon Bank and though the weather interfered a good deal and I am afraid the perspective is not absolutely correct, it gives a better idea of it than the picture in the Telegraph. It stands at the corner of Machon Bank Road and Cherry Tree Road, as you will see with its back to Cherry tree Road and facing east – down the hill at any rate. From the rough plan you will see the relationship of stables and living house. I could not get in and it looked very dirty, but both rooms were panelled, one up to the ceiling, the other half way: the woodwork is painted so I could not see if it was anything but deal. They are very small rooms, and I don’t know what is behind – kitchens I suppose.
In the gable bonding to the barn there are two windows and a door and it looks as if lately it had been a separate cottage. The letters and figures TL 1658 in the barn gable are very large, and are simply sunk in the masonry- and on the other corresponding gable facing Machon Bank Road are the letters G I. I looked to see if it could be the upstroke of an L but there was no sign of the foot. They are sunk too. The stable is a very large place with giant beams across, it is not ceiled but goes straight up to the roof. There is a separate building like another barn, which has a dripstone built into a brick gable, the window is blocked up. This does not appear in the photograph but I have put it in my picture.
It was very tiresome of it to rain, but a very nice workman came and found me sheltering under a big door into the stable and took me into the barn. If there is anything more you would like to know I can easily go again. I am sorry I did not ask the man if he could let me into the house. He says it was inhabited until about a year ago.
Please thank Mother for her long letter, just received. I will write tomorrow in answer.
It has cleared up into a lovely sunny afternoon.
With much love,
I am ever,
Your loving daughter,
Edith E. Leader
We also know that it was demolished by the firm of Abbott and Bannister who subsequently built houses at the top of Machon Bank as well as on Meadow Bank Avenue. They discovered a cast iron fireplace support bearing the date 1669 during the demolition and this was sent to Weston Park Museum. In September 1908 they also clarified the initials on the building. The date stone on the farm house was R.S. 1673; the lettering on the barn gable fronting Meadow Bank Avenue was T.L. 1658 and the gable end fronting Machon Bank read G.L. No date was found behind the lean-to addition to the farm.
We have another photograph that was taken during the course of demolition in 1907, possibly by Mr Abbott.
This was provided by Mrs Vera Toothill, the aunt of Sheila Marshall, who lived with her husband Philip at number 29 Meadow Bank Avenue from 1959-1982. Vera was born in 1897, the daughter of Mr Abbott, the local builder mentioned above. Every night the firm’s horses would be led up through Nether Edge to graze on the fields of Cherry Tree Farm. Vera would ride on the horses as they were led by the workmen, who would then take her back to her parents’ house on Machon Bank. Vera died in her 99th year in 1996. When she sent the photograph to Sheila and Philip in 1982 it was accompanied by this little note:
Just a short note to send the photo. I think I am about the only person in Sheffield to remember Cherry Tree Farm. It is all so long ago, eighty years or so, and the country lanes and quiet life seems never to have been’
Chapter 2 – Building the Avenue
BUILDING THE AVENUE
This section of the website examines the relatively slow process of constructing the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate. It concentrates on the physical elements of the Avenue rather than its early residents; they will be the subject of another chapter. The process of selling the plots and building the 50 houses which now make up Meadow Bank Avenue has been divided into three phases; 1896–1908, 1909–1920 and 1921–1936. However, before we examine the first phase of building the Estate it’s important to understand the significance of Elizabeth Newbould’s final land acquisition, Edge Bank. We’ll also acknowledge other local developments which had an impact on Nether Edge, the Avenue and its residents.
I. Edge Bank and its links to the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate
In 1886, when Elizabeth inherited the land on which Meadow Bank Avenue would later be built, it did not provide any access to Machon Bank, but in 1894 she acted to change this. She purchased more land, acquiring the whole of Edge Bank at a cost of £1,800 from Henry Elvidge, who had inherited it just five years earlier from his father Samuel Elvidge, a farmer by occupation. For much of the nineteenth century, however, Edge Bank had been owned and developed by the Boot family. The Boots made a significant contribution to Nether Edge and to our own community, not least because they built and established the Union Hotel, a facility still greatly enjoyed by many Avenue residents.
The Union Hotel and hansom cab rank c.1900
The Boot Family of Edge Bank
Edge Bank was owned by the Boot family until 1867 and in 1837 Charles and Joseph Boot, stonemasons and builders by trade, had built the stone cottages, numbers 1,2,3,4 and 5, which still stand on Edge Bank (pictured below). Charles, his wife Sarah and 8 children lived in one of the cottages for the rest of his life; he died in 1867 at the age of 62 having retired some years earlier. His wife Sarah continued to live in the Edge Bank cottage, although she changed her name to Boote, perhaps an early sign of gentrification in Nether Edge.
In 1849 the Boots had built the Union Hotel and the two stone houses either side of it. The Union would have had a steady trade from the workmen building the new Ecclesall and Bierlow workhouse (now the gated Nether Edge estate on Union Road), which was started in 1841. Union was another name for workhouse at that time, hence the naming of the road and the pub. Joseph became the first landlord of the new pub, a job he did for thirty years whilst continuing to work as a stonemason and quarry owner. He moved from Edge Bank to live at the Union with his wife and 7 children. By late 1871 he had left the pub to live at 11 Union Road, where he died in 1880. Four years earlier (1876) he too had opted for the more refined surname of Boote.
It was the cousins of the Edge Bank Boots who were to start the more famous Sheffield firm of Henry Boot. In 1886 Henry started the building firm at the age of 35. They built large houses, cinemas and pubs in the city and some of the ceremonial arches that were erected for Queen Victoria’s visit to Sheffield in 1897. The Applied Sciences Building at the University of Sheffield was another major project and during the First World War the company won contracts to construct army camps.
It is recorded in the West Riding Registry that Elizabeth purchased 2940 square yards of land on Edge Bank and the five messes or dwelling houses already built on it. At the time these were occupied by Mrs Needham, W.S.Playle, William Knight, John Baggalley and Mrs Stables.
Miss Newbould’s Purchase of Edge Bank 1894
This important acquisition would give her frontage onto Machon Bank Road and Montgomery Road and the following year, in 1895, Elizabeth applied to the Corporation for permission to build a new roadway connecting the lower end of Meadow Bank Avenue to the old Edge Bank track down to Machon Bank Road. Edge Bank was already gated at the bottom of the slope before the extension was built at the top to join it to the new Avenue.
The Plan for the New Road linking the Avenue to Edge Bank 1895
On the Fowler and Marshall 1896 Plan (see Chapter 1 of The Avenue Story) illustrating the capabilities of the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate, the new roadway was clearly shown in place. The extension is still visible today as the cobbled section of Edge Bank. It gave Avenue residents better access to the shops and services of Nether Edge and, perhaps more importantly, provided a short-cut to the trams. This would become a strongly-emphasised benefit when land and houses on Meadow Bank Avenue came up for sale.
Nether Edge Trams and Transport to Work
Initially transport into the city centre from the new suburb of Nether Edge would have been by hansom cab or horse tramway. Horse trams were privately owned services, developed after the passing of the Tramways Act of 1870. They gave customers a more comfortable ride than the older horse bus service but they were relatively expensive, especially for lower paid workers. As the city grew it became clear that a more efficient, cheaper transport system was needed. When the lease ran out for the old Sheffield Tramways Company in 1896 the Corporation stepped in to develop a municipal service.
From September 1896 a new electric tram service, operated by Sheffield Corporation, ran between the city centre and Nether Edge terminus; it was the first electric tram line to be opened in the city, marking the beginning of an important new transport network. A depot and tram shed were built on the site of what is now Sainsbury’s supermarket.
The new electric trams were quicker, smoother and coped better with the hills and bad weather. They were also very cheap – the fare was just one old penny (equivalent to 0.42p) for two and a half miles. The Nether Edge tramline lasted until 1934, when it was closed because of the narrowness of the roads; by that time cars and trams were competing for space.
Nether Edge Tram Terminus c. 1900
II. The First Phase of Building Meadow Bank Avenue, 1896 -1909
House building began in 1896 very soon after the first plots of land had been sold. We have good sources of information on early land sales and house construction at the end of the nineteenth century but there is one very significant gap in our knowledge of the building of Meadow Bank Avenue; we don’t know who constructed its infrastructure. Fowler and Marshall were Elizabeth’s surveyors, so it is probable that they would have been responsible for determining the size and shape of the Pleasure Ground, the width of the pavements and roadway and other aspects, such as the positioning of the sewers and the prescribed building line. All of these are shown on the plan contained within the Deed of Mutual Covenants (see Chapter 1), but who built the beautiful walls, steps and entrances around the green? The quality of stonemasonry was high and all of these features were clearly in place at an early stage. We can see them on this postcard photograph of the Avenue dated 1906:
The Avenue in 1906 ; houses 49 and 51 at the end of the Pleasure Ground and numbers 30 – 42 to the right (south side)
Although the flower beds illustrated on the original 1896 sale plan had not materialised, the green was flourishing and good enough for a game of tennis. By this time the lime trees were also well-established, their trunks protected by metal supports.
It might be that the walls around the green were built by Bannister and Abbott. They were very local and had strong connections with the land to be developed (see Chapter 1; section on Cherry Tree Farm). They were also early developers of plots of land on both the Avenue and Machon Bank Road – but we have no definite proof that they built the walls. Other local builders such as the Boot family or Henry and Robert Brumby might have undertaken the work. As explained earlier in this chapter, the Boot family were builders and stonemasons and they would have had easy access to the materials required for building the walls because they owned a quarry at Brincliffe Edge. We also know that between 1897 and 1900 the Brumby’s held contracts with Elizabeth Newbould; they were busy building Ladysmith Avenue and Edgebrook Road on land owned by her.
Whatever the origin of the Avenue infrastructure we know for certain that, on the 31st August 1896, John Wortley and Sleigh Bush bought the first plot of land at the far end of the Pleasure Ground. Joshua Wortley and Sons were Elizabeth’s accountants and Bush was an auctioneer. Another accountant, Henry Belk, is also listed as having purchased a plot of 702 square yards at the other end of the new development. This was recorded two days later on 2nd September 1896. Henry was a partner in the local firm of Oakes, Belk and Skinner, Stockbrokers and Accountants.
Wortley, Bush and Belk each signed the first Deed of Mutual Covenants. Compliance with the terms of this important document would be a condition imposed on all future purchasers and residents of the Avenue. The Deed had been carefully drafted by Elizabeth’s solicitors, Henry and Alfred Maxwell and it bore the same date as the first purchase, 31st August 1896. A copy of the original Deed of Mutual Covenants can be accessed here. It is not an easy read, especially in its original handwritten format, so we are very grateful to Nick Waite for his clear explanation of its key points.
When we started to accumulate material for the Meadow Bank Avenue History project in 1996, Nick (a Sheffield solicitor and former resident of number 33) very kindly reviewed all of the legal documents relating to the development of the Avenue. Extracts from his overview of the Avenue’s Legal Framework are included in the rest of this chapter, beginning with the Deed, which still remains in place;
The Deed of Mutual Covenants
Objectives of the Deed:
1. To control the development of the individual plots.
2. To provide a mechanism for the maintenance of the pleasure ground, road and footpaths.
3. To ensure that the necessary finance was available.
These objectives were achieved by the ‘covenants’ given by each party. (A covenant is a signed and sealed, legally-binding promise; anyone defaulting on a covenant can, if necessary, be sued.)
Miss Newbould, and her ‘successors in title’ (those who purchased the Estate from her) covenanted to lay out and maintain the roads, footpaths, sewers and pleasure ground until they were adopted by the local authority. She also covenanted to permit the Purchasers to use the same in connection with their own use and occupation of the individual plots, provided the Purchasers played their part in the arrangement.
The Purchasers’ side of the bargain was as follows; firstly to pay their contributions to Miss Newbould to cover her expenditure on the maintenance, and secondly to pay any contribution required either by her or the local authority, if and when the Estate was adopted. The method of apportioning the payments was to be levied in proportion to the frontage length of the land of each Purchaser.
Having set out the basic structure for maintenance and payment, the Deed then provided mutual covenants and the actual and future Purchasers, by which each promised to observe and uphold Stipulations set out in a schedule to the Deed. The Stipulations are rules which govern the size, value, appearance, position and fencing of the houses to be built.
- Size: No buildings to be built other than detached or semi-detached houses, not exceeding 2 storeys in height viewed from the road, together with stabling, conservatories, greenhouses, offices and outbuildings to be used with the house.
- Value: Houses were to be worth over £600 for a detached and £900 for each pair of semi-detached.
- Appearance: All buildings had to be cased externally with rock-faced stone, except the upper part which could be half-timbered, pebble-dashed or hung with tiles, subject to approval.
- Position: All buildings were to be set back to the building line shown on the plan, except for porches and bay windows and the land between the building line and the road was only to be used as an ornamental pleasure ground. No window, light, door or other opening was to be made in any building, wall or fence erected on the boundary with another property.
- No building was to be used as a boarding or other type of school or other than a private dwelling, or uses ancillary to a dwelling house. No trade, manufacture, business or profession of any kind should be set up; the only exceptions were the professions of ‘Physician or Surgeon’ and more unusually, but only with Miss Newbould’s written consent ‘any business of an agricultural or gardening nature’
Wortley and Bush’s plot was the first sale. They paid £792 and the plot was a sizeable 3380 square yards. The first houses on Meadow Bank Avenue, numbers 49 and 51, were completed on it by September 1897. The two handsome semi-detached residences stood proudly at the end of the Pleasure Ground, but Wortley and Bush were in no hurry to add to them. The rest of their plot would remain undeveloped for almost forty years, until numbers 45, 47 and 47a were built on it.
Between September 1896 and 31st May 1900 other plots were sold to Ada Lydia Havenhand, Elizabeth Broomhead, and George Smith. It is perhaps surprising that some of the named purchasers were women but it was common then for business owners to put land and houses in the names of their wives or sisters. This safeguarded the property because the Bankruptcy Laws at that time meant that they could lose their homes if the business ran into financial difficulties. The order of building during this first phase of Avenue development was as follows:
1897: The Broomhead plot, comprising 797 square yards, was situated near the top of the Avenue on the left hand (north) side. In 1897, 3 Meadow Bank Avenue was built here.
1897-98: Numbers 22 and 24 were built for Miss Havenhand. The plot, bought in March 1897, was 904 square yards and the two homes were occupied by the Havenhands at number 24 and the Westons at number 22.
1899-1900: George Smith bought a plot of 716 square yards in April 1899, on which one detached house was built; this was number 34.
1900: Henry Belk’s land at the entrance to the Avenue (adjoining Miss Broomhead’s), plus an additional strip of 161 square yards, purchased by builders James and Fred Lee in April 1900, became the site of two semi-detached houses with frontages on Cherry Tree Road . Numbers 75 and 77 were completed by 1901.
1900-1902: Ten semi-detached Victorian villas were built on the south side of the Avenue; numbers 26 to 42. The builders were a Mr Fletcher of Chesterfield (26-32) and Mr Finch of Hull (36-42). The quality of Mr Fletcher’s Meadow Bank Avenue villas may have been an issue. Local records show that building inspectors made 64 visits to inspect the houses and drains of numbers 26-32 before they were finally approved.
1900 – 1902: Numbers 18 and 20 were also started by Fletcher in 1900. He couldn’t however finish the job; construction was taken over by the mortgagees and the houses had to be completed by Hancock and Son.
These tall houses with their decorated pointed gables and stone mullioned bay windows were a popular style in Sheffield’s new suburbs at the end of the nineteenth century. The photograph below was taken in 1907 by Wallace Evans Heaton, resident of number 36. You can read more about Wallace Heaton in the Biographies section of the website.
34-42 Meadow Bank Avenue in 1907
If you look back at the February 1896 Fowler and Marshall Plan for Meadow Bank Avenue (see Chapter 1) you’ll notice that it envisaged a development of detached houses, but we can see from this first phase of development that land purchasers and builders were actually building more semi-detached homes. This might have been a way of maximising the return on their investment, or perhaps it reflected the economic status of their potential purchasers, the ‘rich enough’ small business owners and professionals who were setting up home in the new suburb of Nether Edge. It wasn’t uncommon for one purchaser to buy both of the semis and rent out one or both of the houses. We know that this happened on the Avenue, for example with numbers 40 and 42. ‘Buy to let’ is not a new trend; it was thriving in the late 19th century.
The Redevelopment of the Cherry Tree Farm site 1907-1909
After the demolition of Cherry Tree Farm in 1907, the land on which it had stood began to be developed. This plot was purchased from Miss Newbould by Bannister and Abbott, but because it was not designated as part of the original Meadow Bank Avenue Estate in 1896 it is not covered by Avenue documents relating to the period 1896-1909.
Bannister and Abbott made full use of the land’s potential. On the Avenue, they began building what would later become number 12 in September 1908. This was followed by numbers 10 and 8, which were completed in 1910 and 1911 respectively. All three of these detached Bannister and Abbott houses were constructed in the Arts and Crafts style; they are mentioned in Pevsner’s Buildings of England. There is an interesting family story behind the building of these homes which you can discover by reading Philip Marshall’s account in the Oral Histories section of the website.
Behind these distinctive houses Bannister and Abbott had constructed more modest terraced properties, at the top of Machon Bank Road opposite the Union Inn. This development reflected the growing popularity of Nether Edge as an attractive suburb. On May 1st 1907 the firm applied to build four houses on Machon Bank Road but just a year later in May 1908 they reapplied to build nine. All were completed by August 1909.
The end house of this new, well-built terrace had a distinctive round ‘tower’ and this would become a shop, owned by local decorator, W. W. Axe. The photograph below shows his shop, with its fashionable arts and crafts lettering and display of wallpapers. Note also the children by the gate. This was probably taken c1915, by which time 8 Meadow Bank Avenue had been built to the left of the shop.
Mr Axe’s shop at the top of Machon Bank Road c 1915
Mr Axe and his sons continued their business for many decades. They had premises on Cherry Tree Common (opposite the Union where the sheltered housing now stands), which were sketched by L.F. and T.M Flett in 1971. The sketches appear in Joan Flett’s book, Cherry Tree Hill and the Newbould Legacy, published by the Nether Edge Neighbourhood Group in 1999.
The first flurry of house building activity on her Meadow Bank Estate must have looked promising for Elizabeth Newbould but it’s clear that after 1900, with the exception of the Cherry Tree Farm land, there was a distinct lack of interest in buying the remaining plots.
The south side of the Estate was partially developed but, apart from the houses near the entrance to the Avenue, virtually the whole of the land on the north side remained unsold, along with three sections of the south side, mostly at the lower end of the Avenue. It wasn’t until 1909 that a second phase of developing the Estate commenced and this would have significant consequences for the Avenue’s future. Before we look at this second phase of development in more detail it might be helpful to have some understanding of these consequences. Nick Waite summed up the situation as follows:
“In August 1896 the whole development had been planned, the legal framework established and the first plots ‘Pre-sold’. The something happened, or rather did not happen, which Miss Newbould cannot have expected: in strictly commercial terms, the development was not a success. A modern developer might hope to complete an estate of 50 houses in a couple of years, or perhaps longer if he hit a recession: between 1890 and 1914 thousands of houses in scores of streets were completed and occupied in Sheffield. Yet it would be almost 40 years before Meadow Bank Avenue was complete, and by Miss Newbould’s death in 1909, after 13 years ‘on the market’, only about 17* of the houses had been completed. This slow pace of development had, or at least contributed to, three important consequences for the legal status and history of the Estate.” (*note: the 1909 sale plan shows 19 houses in place but perhaps not all were completed).
In Nick’s opinion, the three consequences of the slow pace of development were:
1. It could be the main reason why Meadow Bank Avenue remains private.
It may come as a surprise to learn that Elizabeth Newbould never stipulated that Meadow Bank Avenue would always be a private road, only that the Pleasure Ground should be for the private use of residents and their guests. Most roads created via the same model of development were adopted by the local authority within a few years of completion. The Avenue however remained (until the 1930’s) an uncompleted development, with an unmade road and a Pleasure Ground which would be expensive for the local authority to maintain. By then the residents had developed a way of managing things for themselves and wanted to protect the private status of the Estate, so it was never adopted.
2. Leaseholding became common on the Estate.
This was because slow land sales prompted ‘special offers’ to encourage purchasers. In Sheffield this was frequently achieved by selling plots (either singly or in blocks) on very long leases, reserving for the original freehold owners a fixed annual ground rent. This enabled them to significantly reduce the price of the plots because they were guaranteed a reasonable return. The ground rents seem small now but c£8 per year would have been substantial in 1909 and the cost of buying a plot might be reduced by £200. At a time when a sizeable house could be completed for £700 this was an attractive saving.
3. A new landowner entered the scene.
The third consequence of the slow development was what happened following Elizabeth Newbould’s death in April 1909, the disposal of her land and the emergence of an important new figure, Mr John Deakin. He was a Sheffield manufacturer, living at 85 Osborne Road and he bought 5 plots of land on Meadow Bank Avenue and Edge Bank at the auction sale for the disposal of Elizabeth Newbould’s land holdings. He quickly developed his plots and would also, in 1920, make a very significant change: he conveyed the road, footpaths and pleasure ground to Charles Wyril Nixon, a solicitor who had bought 10 Meadow Bank Avenue. Deakin was living in Scarborough by this time, so may have found it difficult to manage the Estate at a distance. Whatever his reason, Avenue residents have been responsible for managing the Estate ever since Deakin conveyed the responsibility to Nixon. From this point onwards, in Nick Waite’s words, “..the Estate was effectively a self-governing department, operating within the covenants and stipulations in the 1896 Deed and the individual leases of some of the houses… After the Deed of 1896, and the death of Miss Newbould and sale of her properties in 1909, this (1920) is the third and perhaps most significant date in the legal history of the Estate.”
We’ll come back to the arrangements for managing the Estate in a later chapter but at this point let’s return to the events of 1909 and the second phase of building the Estate.
III. The Second Phase of Building the Avenue 1909-1920
Elizabeth Newbould died in April 1909. The auction sale to dispose of her estate took place just three months later, on July 6th 1909. It was a big sale and included ‘Sharrow Mount’ (the former family home described in Chapter 1), ‘Meadow Bank House’, land and properties on Osborne Road, Machon Bank Road, Cherry Tree Road, Kingfield Road, St Andrew’s Road, Lyndhurst Road, Chelsea Road and in Attercliffe. There were also 5 cottages and adjoining land on Edge Bank and 6 separate lots on Meadow Bank Avenue.
We have an original copy of the 1909 Sale Catalogue and this is the front cover.
The coloured plan below clearly identifies the plots for sale on the Avenue. It also shows us the houses that had already been built between 1896 and 1909. Within the Catalogue there is very detailed information about the covenants and stipulations contained in the Model Deed.
Sale plan 1909 showing lots on Meadow Bank Avenue and Edge Bank
The Meadow Bank Avenue Estate lots, which had remained unsold for so long, were all purchased on the day of the sale. John Deakin bought all the remaining land on the north side of the Estate by acquiring lots 3, 4 and 5. Significantly, under the terms of the sale, Lot 5 conveyed to the purchaser the roads, Pleasure Ground and footpaths. Under the terms of the Deed of Mutual Covenants this responsibility had been Elizabeth Newbould’s since 1896.
On the south side of the Avenue Deakin also purchased two vacant lots, numbers 6 and 8, and lot 7 containing 1,040 square yards of leasehold land which was already developed. Houses 40 and 42 had been built there.
There was another important lot for sale that day – Lot 9, the land and cottages of Edge Bank. This amounted to 2610 square yards and was bought by Thomas William Sorby, a Sheffield Iron Merchant. It was clear from the sale particulars that Edge Bank residents would have access to the Avenue road and footpaths, although there was no mention of the Pleasure Ground. The Custodian of the Avenue (Deakin) would have access to, and responsibility for, the pathway down Edge Bank. This was for the purpose of maintaining the Avenue sewers running under Edge Bank (these are marked on the Sale Catalogue map). The footpath down to Nether Edge also had to be maintained for Meadow Bank Avenue residents to access the shops and trams.
Summary of Deakin’s 1909 purchases
- Lot 3: 3,290 square yards. This would become the site of numbers 5-15 but not all of the houses were built at the same time.
- Lot 4: 5,073 square yards was developed into houses 17-31.
- Lot 5: 5,275 square yards became numbers 33-43. This lot also conveyed to Deakin Miss Newbould’s responsibilities for managing the roads, footpaths, sewers and pleasure ground
- Lot 6: 1,026 square yards was developed into houses 14 and 16.
- Lot 8: 3,230 square yards. This would be developed into houses 44-54, but not until after 1920. Building was interrupted by World War One and the depression of the 1920
Deakin soon began to develop his newly-acquired plots. On the North side, E.Hart of Arundel Lane applied to build twenty houses on lots 3, 4 and 5 and White’s Directories show that numbers 5,25,27,29,31, 33,35, 37,39,41 and 43 were built and occupied between 1910 and 1917. The style of these homes was different from Avenue homes constructed in the first phase of building. Typical of the early Edwardian period, they had rendered or pebble-dashed external walls and plainer features inside. For example, the fireplaces and the woodwork on the staircases and skirting boards tended to be less elaborate than the Victorian villas. The designs incorporated attractive stained glass windows and door panels, many of which still remain.
Postcard showing the North Side of Meadow Bank Avenue c 1930, houses 17 – 39
Many of the north side houses also had large rear gardens, which stretched down to the boundaries of Meadow Bank House, Kenwood Park and land owned by Miss Rundle.
On the south side of the Avenue, Deakin’s Lot 8 became the site for a pair of semi-detached homes numbers 14 and 16. These houses were built by Bannister in 1915, completing the line of houses on the upper end of the Avenue. Although less obviously built in the Arts and Crafts style of the earlier Bannister and Abbott houses, numbers 14 and 16 sit comfortably alongside them. They are the only two semi-detached houses on the Avenue built to this particular design.
IV. The Third Phase of Building the Avenue, 1920 – 1936
The remaining houses, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17,19, 21 and 23 on the north side; numbers 44 – 54 on the south side and 45, 47 and 47a at the end of the Avenue would all be built between 1920 and the mid 1930’s.
Houses 17 and 19 were built in 1922. This was another example of a pair of semi-detached houses being bought by one family. The parents lived in one house and their daughter in the other. 21 and 23 were built around the same time; number 23 is pictured below.
The detached house at number 7, and adjacent semis 9 and 11 were constructed during the early 1930s. Three very similar properties, numbers 45, 47 and 47a, were built at the lower end of the Pleasure Ground in 1935, on the remaining section of Wortley and Bush’s land; the very first Avenue plot sold in 1896. The houses were built by Mr George Jackson and were the subject of some debate according to the Minutes of the Avenue Committee Meeting held in March 1935. Members noted that permission to build three houses was being applied for, rather than two as originally envisaged. An investigation of the Covenant, revealed no grounds for opposing the proposal so one detached house and two semis were built. This explains why there is a 47a as well as a number 47.
The very last house to be constructed was number 15, which was completed on the remaining vacant piece of land (originally part of lot 3) in 1936. We have copies of the architect’s plans and the original bill for the completed house. It cost £878 0s 2d, but it appears from the receipt that the builder generously discounted the two pennies!
Number 15: The last house to be built on Meadow Bank Avenue in 1936
There has never been a number 13 Meadow Bank Avenue. This is very common on residential roads because of the superstition surrounding the ‘unlucky’ number.
Numbers 52 and 54 were the first of the remaining plots to be built upon on the south side; both were occupied by 1922. The picture below shows the houses with their wooden railings. These mirrored the railings on the walls of the Edwardian villas on the opposite side of the Avenue.
52 and 54 Meadow Bank Avenue in the 1920s
Houses 44 and 46 were completed in 1929 in the vacant plot visible in the photograph above. These 3 bedroom, semi-detached houses had large bay windows and an oriel window in the small bedroom above the front door; a common feature in the late 1920s and early 1930s. To the rear of both houses was a small coal store because, unlike the Victorian villas next to them and most other houses on the Avenue, these houses had no cellars or basements. The remaining vacant land on the south side would be filled by another pair of semi-detached houses, numbers 48 and 50. They too were constructed in typical 1930s style.
Later developments; garages, extensions and conversions
Unlike many of the larger properties constructed in Nether Edge at the same time, none of the houses on the Avenue were built with space for coach houses. This reflected the economic status of the people who lived here. By the 1920s and 30s some residents began to own motor cars and this eventually led to the building of garages where space permitted, for example near the top of the Avenue. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s, however, that some of the Victorian villas on the south side had garages built into their basements.
In the period since the 1970s, many of the houses have been extended, by building conservatories or by converting roof areas and basements into additional living space. Despite these changes, the integrity of the Avenue has been preserved. We owe a great deal to the Deed of Mutual Covenants and the stipulations which have protected the usage, the building lines and the quality and style of the houses which make up our community.
Chapter 3 – Managing the Avenue Estate
Managing the Avenue Estate.
The purpose of this chapter is to explain how Meadow Bank Avenue has been managed and protected over the decades since it was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The fact that it remains a self-governing private estate makes it a special place to live and, for most of its history, the community of Avenue residents has been actively involved in the governance process.
Since 1896, the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate has been privately managed by its developers and residents. The systems for self-management have changed over the decades as have the titles of those who have undertaken the task. The different systems provide the structure for this chapter and can be simplified as follows;
• Sole Custodian, 1896-1934
• Custodian supported by an Advisory Committee, 1934-1962
• Joint Trustees , 1962-2013
• Company Directors, 2013 to present.
The primary responsibility has always been to look after the fabric of the Estate – the road, pathways (including Edge Bank), trees and Pleasure Ground or Green, dealing with contractors and other outside partners to carry out these tasks. The work is funded via financial contributions levied from each household and it is the duty of those who manage the Estate to calculate and collect the agreed charge for each property on an annual basis. A bank account also has to be maintained and annual accounts prepared.
A second responsibility is to uphold the 1896 Deed of Mutual Covenants, ensuring compliance and dealing with any potential infringements. They have a duty to maintain the private nature of the Estate and fulfil the duties of ownership, for example public liability, insurance and relations with outside authorities. Avenue Minute Books (dating from 1934) provide a record of how this has been done. They also reveal some interesting examples of ‘social policing’ and various interventions in support of maintaining the Model Deed. Some of these will be looked at in a later chapter but first we need to explore in more depth the ways in which the Avenue has been managed and maintained since 1896.
I. 1896 – 1934: Management by Custodian
The previous chapter explained how Elizabeth Newbould’s custodial responsibility for managing the roadway, pavements and Pleasure Ground of Meadow Bank Avenue (a duty she had fulfilled since 1896) was passed to John Deakin, when he purchased most of the Avenue’s remaining undeveloped plots of land in 1909. Deakin subsequently left Sheffield and in 1920 transferred the role of Custodian to solicitor Charles Nixon, the owner of No.10.
When Charles Nixon died in 1929 his widow assumed the responsibilities of Custodian. By 1934, however, Mrs Nixon and a solicitor’s clerk named Widdowson, acting as the executors of Mr Nixon’s estate, were asking to be relieved of the custodial duties. We don’t know how actively or effectively the Avenue had been looked after during the period 1909-1934 because, as far as we are aware, there are no surviving written records. From 1934, however, we have an archive of minute books, papers and annual accounts which detail the way in which the Avenue has been cared for and protected by its residents. These resources have been used to compile this chapter.
In accordance with the Model Deed of Mutual Covenants, the practice of levying a small annual charge for the maintenance of the Estate was in operation throughout this period. The Deed specified that the charge was calculated on a fixed Accounting Period ‘the year ending on the Thirty First of December next preceeding’ and payment by householders had to be made ‘on or within twenty one days after demand thereof’. It is probable that, at least until 1909, the collection and management of the charge was handled by Elizabeth Newbould’s Accountant, John Wortley. The money was used to pay for gardeners to maintain the Pleasure Ground and trees and for small repairs to the roadway and pavements.
II. Management by Custodian and Advisory Committee 1934 – 1962
By the Autumn of 1934 almost all of the building plots had been developed and the houses occupied, but a potential crisis was looming and this would bring significant changes to the future management of the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate. On the 7th November 1934 a letter was drafted by Mr Percy J. Meneer, a solicitor and owner of No. 25, and Mr Ernest Swinscoe, owner of No. 30. It invited all residents to a meeting in ‘the ballroom’ of 12 Meadow Bank Avenue, the home of Mr Truelove. A replacement, or replacements, had to be found for the late Mr Nixon to take over the role of ‘Custodian’ and the need was particularly urgent because the road had deteriorated into a state of serious disrepair. One of the early postcards of the Avenue, dating from c1930, clearly shows the rough surface of the roadway at that time. There was no hard top surface to the road and the growing number of cars owned by residents and their visitors was causing it to erode.
As the letter below demonstrates, the deteriorating condition of the road was a problem which, if not addressed, could threaten the future status of the Estate:
Letter to Residents, November 1934
The sentence ‘There is grave danger of the Sheffield Corporation intervening by exercising their statutory powers’, is very interesting. It shows that there was genuine anxiety that the road might be adopted by the local authority – a move that would end the Avenue’s private status. The original Deed of Mutual Covenants of 1896, drafted by Elizabeth Newbould’s legal advisors, had envisaged and made provision for such a takeover of the Avenue’s infrastructure and maintenance by the local authority, should it become necessary. Although the statutory adoption of privately developed roads was a process that had become very common across the city’s suburbs, it was clear that this certainly wasn’t an outcome desired by the Estate’s residents. The meeting was to be a turning point because, from this time onwards, the Estate’s management and maintenance would be undertaken by a Committee of residents rather than a single Custodian.
The legal history and management processes of the Avenue become much clearer from this point. At the meeting Bernard Sanderson (owner of No. 35) agreed to have the Estate conveyed to him – but he would not be solely responsible for looking after its infrastructure. It was decided that he would be a Custodian supported by a small Advisory Committee of other residents and they would jointly make decisions.
The new Estate Committee held its inaugural meeting at Mr Sanderson’s house on November 27th. The first members were Messrs. P.J. Menneer, F. Marshall (Chairman), E. Swinscoe, C.E. Truelove, J.O. Vessey, C. Whittaker and B. Sanderson (Custodian). The official Minute Book was begun and records of the Estate’s management have been kept ever since. The first few years of the Minutes illustrate how the Committee operated and the tasks that it carried out.
Maintenance of the Estate was the Committee’s main responsibility and one of the early changes suggested by Mr Sanderson was the idea of ‘creating a fund for the ordinary management expenses of the Estate in order to remove the necessity of Mr Sanderson providing the money during each year’. It might come as a surprise to learn that one resident paid all the everyday running costs for the upkeep of the Avenue out of his own pocket – only recouping the money at the end of the year.
The costs incurred by Mr Sanderson were those associated with maintaining the Green, pruning the trees and generally keeping things neat and tidy. In addition there were expenses such as the Public Liability Insurance policy, which cost £1.0.0 per year, and other small expenses. These were all documented at year end and residents were recharged a portion of the costs according to the length of the frontage of their property (or properties). As can be seen from the Upkeep Account Summary below, the expenditure for 1934 was £26. 15. 5 and the contribution rate was 4d per foot – less than 2p per foot in modern currency.
Mr Sanderson’s suggestion was discussed by the Committee members and it was noted in the minutes (dated 18/12/1934) that, ‘whilst recognising the desirability of creating such a fund it was not deemed of such importance as to justify the cost and trouble of revising the Model Deed, but that owners who were willing to do so should be asked to deposit the sum of £1.0.0 for that purpose’: 35 out of the 42 home owners did agree to pay the £1 deposit the following year. The residents also agreed to pay their share of the bill for resurfacing the road. (see Chapter 4)
The charges for general expenditure were levied in accordance with the Indenture of 1896 which stated that; ‘ house purchasers had use of the roads, footpaths and Pleasure Ground on condition that they pay to the Custodian/Trustees, on or within 21 days after demand, such sums of money as should certify to be a fair proportion (according to frontage) of money expended during the year ending 31st December’.
Meadow Bank Avenue Upkeep Expenditure for the year ended 31st December 1934
By August 1935, only one resident had failed to pay the annual charge and her share of the bill for renewing the roadway. Despite several increasingly-irritated letters from Mr Sanderson the debt still stood, so the minutes from 28/8/1935 record that a solicitor was instructed, ‘to take such steps as he deemed advisable to enforce payment of the sum due (£10.4.3).’
From 1934 until July 1939 the Committee met very regularly, documenting their discussions and decisions in handwritten notes. The members’ role in maintaining the Avenue infrastructure during this period is covered in Chapter 4. From 1940 until April 1951 only the typed annual statements of accounts and expenditure are pasted into the Minute Book.
Upholding the Model Deed and Protecting the Avenue in 1939
The Minutes of the Avenue Estate Committee’s meeting on July 20th 1939 make reference to what would be a very significant intervention by the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate Committee. The action of the Committee effectively protected the Avenue for years to come. We have some original letters in the archive which explain in more detail what happened and how the Model Deed was upheld.
On the 17th July 1939, the City Engineer R. Nicholas drafted a letter to Custodian Bernard Sanderson. It was a notification that the Plans Sub-Committee was considering an application by the owner of No. 40, Mr George Harold Simpson, for permission to convert the house into two flats. Mr Nicholas wrote;
..‘in view of the fact that no other houses in Meadow Bank Avenue have been so converted I have been asked to communicate with you in order to ascertain the views of the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate Committee’.
A Committee meeting was quickly convened for the 20th July and the next day Mr Menneer (a solicitor and owner of No.25) sent a lengthy reply to Mr Nicholas, capturing the views of the members. The original letter is very faded but the text reads as follows;
‘We are to inform you that the Committee are unanimously of the opinion that the conversion of any house on the Meadow Bank Avenue estate would be detrimental to the general interests of the residents in the Avenue and the members of the Committee have satisfied themselves that their views are representative of the general body of residents. They instruct us to say that they will vigorously oppose any conversion into flats of any house on the estate and to express the hope that the Sheffield Corporation and the various committees interested will not accede to any such application.’
The letter set out five reasons for opposing the planned conversion,
- It began by quoting text from the 1896 Model Deed, setting out the constraints on usage imposed by the restrictive covenants, notably that properties should be private dwelling houses. It then went on to make the following points;
- That the fact that an owner of a house on the estate is not successful in letting the house on the terms he requires is no sufficient reason for dealing with it in a manner contrary to the restrictive covenants imposed.
- That such conversion into flats will inevitably seriously depreciate both the capital and annual values of all other properties in the Avenue.
- That the large preponderance of the properties in the Avenue are occupied by the owners.
- That the residents have always taken great interest in the preservation and maintenance of the common grounds of the Estate, engaging the services of a gardener as required for the purposes of the green and the topping and lopping of the trees and general upkeep of the roadway.
Planning Committees worked quickly in those days. On the 4th August 1939 Mr Nicholas responded, saying that the Special and Visiting Section of the Highway Committee had, on the 31st July, looked again at the application and had decided not to approve it. The decision was an important one for the Avenue. In the post-war period many of the larger houses in Nether Edge were converted into flats and bedsits, a trend which had a major impact on the appearance of both properties and streets. Fortunately Meadow Bank Avenue remained protected.
The advent of war in 1939 probably caused the initial break in the Committee’s meetings but there is no explanation of the post-war gap from 1945 until 1951. Reassuringly, when the remaining members of the original Committee, Messrs. Menneer, Swinscoe, Truelove and Sanderson, eventually reconvened on April 10th 1951, they began their proceedings by confirming that the minutes of the meeting held on July 20th 1939 were an accurate record – a remarkable feat of collective memory after a 12 year gap!
By 1951 the Estate Committee had lost its Chairman, Mr Fred Marshall, (he had died in 1941) and it also needed to replace members who had left the Avenue. Another meeting of residents was organised for 1st May 1951. The meeting took place at the Church Rooms, ‘Shirley’ on Psalter Lane and 28 households were represented. They approved three new Committee members, Mr Harold Kirkby (No.15), Mr John A. Smith (No.38) and Mr Laurence Smith (No. 44). As in 1934, the main business for discussion was once again the poor state of the road and a plan for improvement.
In 1953, after completing almost twenty years in the role of Custodian, Bernard Sanderson conveyed the Estate to John Arthur Smith, who undertook the responsibilities for the next seven years before leaving the Avenue in 1960. It was then conveyed to Frank Leslie Ashley, resident of No. 32. By this time there were also four Committee members; Douglas H. Williams (No.43), Mark Barber (No.27), Ronald B. Tobey (No.10) and Derek J. Walters (No.35). All had expressed their willingness to serve and had been approved in June 1958.
III. 1962 – 2013: From Sole Custodian to Joint Trustees
Leslie Ashley’s short term of office does not appear to have been a very happy one because in November 1962 he told the Advisory Committee that he would not be prepared to continue to act as sole Trustee (Custodian) of the Estate. From 1952 onwards, home owners had been paying a maintenance deposit of £4 per year, replacing the old system under which the Custodian had paid for all maintenance costs, only reclaiming them at the end of the year. It is clear from the minutes of 1961-2 that Leslie Ashley had struggled to collect deposits from some residents. This may have influenced his decision to end his role as Sole Custodian.He wrote to residents the following March stating;
‘Over the past two years I have become aware that, under present conditions, it is not possible for one man to make decisions acceptable to all the owners. May I suggest that FOUR JOINT TRUSTEES should be appointed, by popular vote. This is in order, as far as both the Trustee Act 1925 and our Deed of Mutual Covenants are concerned’ He added that, ‘If the owners wish, I am willing to receive nominations (ladies or gentlemen) from which the owners may elect the Trustees’.
This was a significant move because from this point onwards the Avenue Committee members would all have equal status and Mr Ashley’s suggestion of an elected body of Trustees was taken up; from then on Avenue residents would vote for their representatives.
The new group of successfully elected representatives comprised;
Hugh Greenshields – 24 votes
Ronald Tobey – 25 votes
Jim Swindells – 24 votes
Harold Kirkby – 20 votes
Eight households abstained from voting.
For the first time they were described as the ‘new Trustees’. We don’t know why the term of Trustee was introduced in 1963 because there was no change to the Trust Deed and no new responsibilities were assumed. In 1996 solicitor Nick Waite, who served as an Avenue Trustee in the 1970s, wrote about the change as follows;
‘It seems likely that the word Trustee was chosen, and has certainly been interpreted by successive Trustees ever since, to express the view that they should act only in the interests of residents and to preserve whatever the residents perceive as the valuable aspects of the community.’
The Treasurer of the Estate, Ronald Tobey, died in 1972, and the wishes of the three surviving Trustees (Messrs. Greenshields, Swindells and Kirkby) also to resign from their duties led to a further small refinement in the governance of the Estate, namely a move to a system of electing Trustees on a fixed term basis. In a letter of October 1972 circulated to all households, Hugh Greenshields explained that,
‘the present Trustees have approached a number of residents and have ascertained that several would be willing to serve – if duly elected.’
We don’t know how these willing residents were identified as suitable candidates but, as the letter below shows, there were eight candidates for the four positions of Trustee. All of them were men. Each household was entitled to one ballot paper.
Initially the returns were slow, so residents were issued with a postcard reminder at the end of October 1972 and a deadline for voting was set for 7th December. By then 36 ballot papers had been returned and 14 households had abstained.
The result of the election was not clear cut. Three Trustees, Barry Craven, Nick Waite and Philip Marshall, were duly elected but three others, Messrs. Kemp, Pearson and Williams, tied for the fourth vacancy. Votes were checked by an external independent source (a Sheffield Accountant) but the result remained unchanged, so a pragmatic decision was taken in January 1973 to have 6 Trustees instead of 4 and to share the workload to make it more manageable. The tasks were devolved as follows;
Nick Waite Chairman/Secretary Philip Marshall Treasurer Barry Craven Maintenance of Green/Roadway Mr Pearson and Mr Kemp The Annual Bonfire Mr Williams The Christmas Tree and Carol Singing
The division of roles shows that the Trustees had absorbed additional social functions by this stage, although these were nothing to do with their legal functions. There were many more children living on the Avenue by the 1970s and the bonfire, carol singing and summer party (from 1977) all became part of the informal social life of the Avenue. They have continued ever since but are now organised by other volunteers and informal social committees. (For more information on this see Chapter 5.)
Elections have taken place ever since 1962. The first woman to be elected was Jennie Henderson (No. 35) in 1984, 18 years after Mr Ashley had proposed inviting both ‘ladies and gentlemen’ to stand for election. Once elected, Trustees could opt to serve for a single four-year term or a maximum of two terms. A staggered system of replacing two Trustees every two years was adopted from 2000 to ensure continuity. The full list of Avenue residents who have served as Trustees is included below.
1962-1972 Ronald Tobey, Hugh Greenshields, Harold Kirkby, Jim Swindells
1972-1976 Barry Craven, Philip Marshall, Nick Waite, R J P Kemp, H W Pearson, B Williams
1976-1980 Barry Craven, Philip Marshall, Nick Waite, Bob Young
1980-1984 Philip Allison, Martin Cowell, Alan Foster, Bob Young.
1984-1988 Jennie Henderson, Alan Foster, Chris Walker, George Kirkpatrick
1988-1992 Elizabeth Cousley, George Kirkpatrick, Alan Phillips, Peter Vaughan
1992-1996 Elizabeth Cousley, Sue Curtis, Alex Pettifer, Peter Vaughan
1996-2000 John Austin, Vincent Green, Gill Redfearn, Barbara Ward
2000-2002 John Austin, Vincent Green, Alison Bloxham, David Levine
2002-2004 Alison Bloxham, David Levine, Piers Proctor, Hilary Taylor-Firth
2004-2006 Piers Proctor, Hilary Taylor-Firth, Michael Bayley, Sue Wormald
2006-2008 Michael Bayley, Sue Wormald, Gordon Macnair, Roger Mayblin
2008-2010 Gordon Macnair, Roger Mayblin, Dave Kirkup, Lyn Bonnett
2010-2012 Lyn Bonnett, Dave Kirkup, Garth Lawrence, Sandra Pettifer
2012-2014 Robert Wormald, Sandra Pettifer, Gordon Macnair,
2014-2016 Robert Wormald, Amanda Drake, John Bartlett, Ian France
The degree to which the selected/elected representatives have consulted with other Avenue residents has varied considerably over the last eighty years. Broadly speaking, consultation and communication has increased with the passing of time. Until 1934 most decisions were taken by a single individual, the Custodian. After that, the Advisory Committee generally took decisions without any wider discussion. It was only when major expenditure was required that the residents received any communication other than the annual statement of Avenue accounts.
The Trustees now consult on all major changes, issue regular newsletters (a practice introduced in 1996), and all residents are invited to an Annual General Meeting, the first of which was held in 1998. At the AGM the Chairman’s report for the previous year is presented, there is a review of the financial position and feedback from the Social Committee on the year’s events. Future developments are discussed and the AGM also provides a forum in which residents are able to raise any issues of concern such as crime, anti-social behaviour and parking.
IV. 2013: The development of the Company – Trustees become Directors
This section of Chapter 3 explains the most recent changes in the Avenue’s governance arrangements, which took during the period 2010-2013, culminating in the formal incorporation of Meadow Bank Avenue Estate Limited at Companies House on 14th June 2013.
At the January 2010 Annual General Meeting, residents agreed to an investigation of a more formal management system for the Meadow Bank Avenue Estate. There had been a number of concerns on the part of the Trustees and it was recognised that the work undertaken by Trustees, and their responsibility for managing the finances associated with that work, had become increasingly complex with the passage of time. Three main issues were causing concern;
- The lack of accountability of the Trustees
- The informal nature of procedures, which relied largely on goodwill, common sense and good luck
- The personal financial exposure of the elected Trustees who, since 1963, had assumed collective ownership of the communal parts of the Estate.
The investigation was undertaken by Gordon Macnair (No. 40) and in September 2010, after extensive research, a Discussion Paper was circulated to all residents of the Avenue and Edge Bank. This identified the issues and options for future governance arrangements.
Options considered ranged from establishing the Estate as a Charity, a Formal Trust, a Limited Liability Partnership, Company Limited by Share Issue, Community Interest Company, Industrial and Provident Society and Company Limited by Guarantee. Each was carefully appraised, resulting in the opinion that a Company Limited by Guarantee appeared to be the most appropriate model for the future governance of the Avenue.
The details of such a proposal would need to be worked up but the Trustees’ intent was to make the change a technical one, while preserving and strengthening the cooperative nature of management of the Avenue. Transition to Company status would also increase the openness and accountability of the Trustees to the Avenue’s residents.
A simple table format was used to illustrate what would change and what would remain the same under the proposed new arrangements;
Changes Stays the same Work through written rules, drawing on good practice, eg from charity websites Rules written to reflect largely what we do now Processes and procedures written down in a simple framework Actual processes of management and maintenance continue as now Trustee-Directors’ accountability to residents becomes formalised through the membership process Directors (formerly the Trustees) work for the general good of the Avenue Election of Trustees-Directors by members is required Directors (formerly the Trustees) will be drawn from the Avenue. Four year cycle continues MBA Covenant transfers to the Company as the new owner of the central space – Green, roads and pathways Unchanged text of the Covenant between owners (now the Company) of the central space and householders Non-profit written into the Articles Non profit making Remove unlimited personal liability of the Trustees Still need public liability insurance
The Discussion Paper examined whether, under the proposed new Company arrangements, there would be adequate safeguards against bad things happening, for example a deterioration of the common space, undesirable building development or Directors’ failure to submit annual returns leading to penalties under Company Law. It was felt that the move to the new Company would strengthen the formal links between Directors and Company Members (Residents) and improve accountability by writing specific requirements into the company governing documents.
The suggested benefits of the proposed new Company were summarised as follows;
- It would help to structure the ways in which Trustees work, increasing openness and transparency to residents
- Trustees as Directors would be formally accountable to the residents as Members, thereby increasing accountability to residents.
- It would make contracting with outside bodies easier because this would be done by the Company rather than an individual Trustee.
- There would be no need to re-register ownership of the Avenue to new Trustees every four years. Company Director registration can be done online.
- It would completely remove a risk to Trustees that they would be held personally liable for accidents arising to third parties on Avenue property.
The response to the consultation paper was very positive; 36 households replied, all supporting the broad approach of a move to a Company Limited by Guarantee. Of these, 6 households offered further help with the transition and were recruited into a ‘sounding board’ process.
In January 2012 the AGM continued the discussion on the standing of Edge Bank relative to the Avenue, with Trustees reporting that research showed there was evidence to suggest that ownership of Edge Bank rested with the Trustees. In view of this, Articles were drafted so as to allow discretion on including Edge Bank households as members of the company. This would also give them the same rights and responsibilities as Avenue members.
On the 14th June 2013 Meadow Bank Avenue Estate Limited was formally incorporated at Companies House. Membership was agreed to cover all Avenue households with one vote per household. In the same month each household was invited to join. By the time the first Company AGM took place in January 4014 all of the Company’s formal processes had been set up, including its Articles and supporting Rules and 47 households had become members. The same AGM decided to invite households from Edge Bank to join the Company, however by the 2015 AGM no household from Edge Bank had chosen to do so. Membership by Avenue households had risen to 49.
A separate issue that had been touched on at the January 2012 AGM was the question of moving to a uniform annual charge for each household. This would replace the system of individual charges calculated on the basis of house frontage measurements, which had been in place since Herbert Heap’s survey in 1934, when money needed to be raised to fund the renewal of the roadway. The AGM decided that this change would be better done once the new Company was up and running.
There followed another extensive consultation on this issue and in January 2015 the results were presented to the AGM. There was overwhelming support for the proposal to levy Avenue charges on a single flat rate basis per household.
The Avenue’s first Company Directors have managed a very important change in the Estate’s history. One of their early decisions was to establish an Avenue website. This hosts the Company’s records, minutes of meetings and legal documents. The website also houses material from the Estate archive, enabling us to publicly record (for the first time in its history) the story of the Estate’s governance.
Chapter 4 – Maintaining the Estate
Maintaining the Estate
In this next chapter we look back through the Avenue archives to see how the Custodians, Trustees and Directors have maintained the infrastructure of the Estate . What have been the main issues? Who has looked after our beautiful Green and trees and what have been the significant changes to the fabric of the Estate since 1896? These are some of the questions that we’ll be trying to answer in the course of the chapter. In Chapter 3 we saw how the Avenue had remained private for 120 years through the efforts of its custodians and residents. An important part of that process was the annual physical ‘closure’ of the Estate.
I. Protecting the Private Status of the Avenue; the Annual Closure of the Gates
The annual closure of the Estate was required to maintain the legality of its private status; the practice remained a constant from 1896 until 1997 and was another responsibility of the Custodian/Trustees. For many decades it was done by closing the original wooden gates at the top of the Avenue for one full day each year. The gates no longer exist but can be seen in this early postcard of the Avenue, as can the wooden notice (fixed to the first tree on the left) stating the Avenue’s private status.
A barrier was also placed at the bottom of Edge Bank to mark the other boundary of the Estate. Only residents and their visitors were allowed access to the Avenue and Edge Bank on these days; the general public had to take a different route. Mrs Evelyn Hodgson, who lived at 7 Edge Bank from 1920 until 1945, had very clear memories of closure days when she was interviewed for the archive in 1996. Walter Moorhouse (her Father) used to put a rope across the stumps at the bottom of Edge Bank, with a notice reading ‘Road Closed’.
Another former resident, born at 77 Cherry Tree Road in 1915, remembered his role on gate closure days in the 1920s. He told us that children were quick to volunteer for duty; the gates would be opened and a hand held out for a penny tip. This was seen as a good way of supplementing pocket money! Those who didn’t tip on the way in found themselves having to get out of their cars to open the gates for themselves on their exit from the Avenue.
Some of the earlier Avenue residents were perhaps too draconian in enforcing the Private Road status at times other than closure days, earning the estate a reputation for being unwelcoming and exclusive. At either end of the Green there were also wooden notices reading;
‘These roads and grounds are strictly private for the use of residents and their visitors only. The public must not trespass over them. By order of the Trustees.’
Non-residents, especially children, would be challenged and turned back if they had no legitimate reason for being on the Avenue. A number of contributors to our ‘Lived Experience’ interviews told us how intimidated they had been (as children) by the threat of being stopped and questioned.
Closure dates were carefully recorded in the Minute Book. It is notable that even though the Advisory Committee ceased to meet between July 1939 and April 1951, the annual gate closure continued to be observed and dates were recorded in the book. Until the 1960s closure day usually took place on a Sunday in late December, seemingly as close as possible to the end of the calendar year. Manning the gates during the later stages of the day must have been a chilly, bleak task.
The old wooden gates had been painted and repaired repeatedly over the decades. In 1960 new gates had been installed, the old ones having been damaged by a colliding tradesman’s vehicle. By the late 1970s the gates had become very dilapidated and could no longer be closed so easily but access was still restricted to residents and their visitors. The photograph below shows the open gates after heavy snow in the winter of 1979.
Closure dates by this time had become more flexible and took place in the warmer months. They were still an important date in the Avenue calendar; the task of manning the entrances was shared by teams of willing volunteers and the children joined in too. Rotas were drafted showing residents’ names and ‘shift’ timings.
In 1981 the Trustees decided that the original gates needed either extensive repair or replacement. It was agreed that quotations for the work needed to be obtained, ‘including a price for a new gate, perhaps of a different design.’ But it proved difficult to secure any quotations for the repair and repainting of the gates and by January 1984 they were in an even worse state, due to storm damage during the winter. It was decided in June of that year that residents should be canvassed ‘with regard to replacing the gates to the Avenue’. By the time the Trustees met again on 14th October 1984 the minutes record that two suggestions were being considered;
i) a design similar to the present form, quoted by Mr A Taylor-Firth at an estimated cost of £800-£1000. (Alan Taylor-Firth lived at no. 28)
ii) standard ‘hardwood’ gates at an estimated cost of £500.
‘In the light of the costs, it was agreed to seek the views of all residents when the annual accounts are rendered’.
In March 1985 Trustee George Kirkpatrick reported that the poll of residents showed that all those who had responded were in favour of retaining a formal entrance to the Avenue. Most people cited the importance of maintaining both the appearance and the character of the Avenue at its entry point. They wanted gate posts of some type but the estimate of £1000 for replacement gates was considered excessive by several residents.
Peter Vaughan (an architect by profession and resident of no.15) was asked by the Trustees to design a pair of stone gate posts. The design needed to be in keeping with the character of the Avenue and Peter’s design was based on Victorian gateposts found locally in Nether Edge. The new posts would be 6 feet high and 2 feet square, built of ‘roughstone’ with a coping to match.
The minutes record that Peter was also asked to produce a detailed plan for posts with a single bar gate with a securing system, possibly to be installed in two stages. Stage 1 would see the erection of the posts with the facility to hang gates. In stage 2 the gates would be added with securing posts and a padlock if residents felt this to be desirable. The design drawing for the gateposts is shown below;
Initially the Trustees envisaged that the posts would contain an inset for metal notices bearing the phrase ‘Private Road’. In 1986 this last part of the design was changed. It was agreed that the metal notices should bear the words ‘Meadow Bank Avenue’ and a ‘Private No Public Access’ statement would be added to the local authority’s road signs.
The carving of the stone was carried out by Barnsley Council’s Conservation Workshop, a Manpower Services Commission funded training scheme to provide unemployed people with skills to work as stonemasons. The Trustees and Peter Vaughan met one lunch time in Barnsley to finalise the design before work began.
In June 1986 a group of male residents removed the old wooden gates and posts, dug out the holes for the new stone posts and laid the concrete foundations. As the photographs taken at the time demonstrate, there were plenty of interested onlookers and the children had fun jumping into the holes!
Construction of the new posts was undertaken by staff from the Conservation Workshop as a private commission. The total cost of the project including materials, labour and metal signs, was just under £500. That same year the trainees were also contracted by the Trustees to repair the walls and entrances of the Green.
Gate ‘closure’ continued long after the original gates at the top of the Avenue were removed and replaced by the current stone gateposts, but the practice ceased in 1997,when it was established by the Trustees that there was no legal necessity for it to continue; the Avenue would remain private with or without an annual gate closure. This was announced by the Trustees in the very first Avenue Bulletin of 1996;
‘We have decided to adopt a simple procedure under the Highways Act 1980, whereby a statutory declaration is made and a plan lodged with the Council which ensures the continued ‘private status’ of the Avenue for a period of six years, renewable. This means that there is no longer any legal requirement to shut the gates on an annual basis. Of course, if residents wish to keep up the tradition for social reasons, then please feel free to arrange this.’
From time to time it has been suggested that perhaps the Avenue might have more substantial and secure entrances but there has never been a majority of residents in favour of making it a formal gated community.
The picture below shows the current entrance to the Avenue with the stone gateposts in place.
II. Resurfacing and Repairing the Road and Pavements 1935-2015
In the late nineteenth century most suburban roads were constructed of loose layers of stone, gravel and sand. The surface would be stabilised by adding water to the top layer of sand to form a binder capable of supporting horse-drawn traffic. In the case of Meadow Bank Avenue, the roadway almost certainly had this type of construction. The pavements were rather more durable, with an asphalt top layer, which was more like our modern tarmac. This is mentioned in the 1909 Land Sale document (see Chapter 2), because it would be the responsibility of the Avenue’s Custodian, the purchaser of Lot 5 in the Sale, to maintain the footpaths in good condition for the use of residents.
For almost forty years after the first houses were built the road surface of the Avenue remained very rough. There was no strong top layer to the road, perhaps a reflection of the slow process of selling and developing the building plots between 1896 and the 1920s. At first the only traffic on the Avenue would have been private horse-drawn carriages, hansom cabs and the occasional tradesman’s delivery vehicle. Even in the early 1920s few households would have owned a car, but by the 1930s things were different and the road was eroding as a result. Driving etiquette was also a concern and in March 1935 the Advisory Committee had ‘a general discussion about the use of the road by motor vehicles’. It was agreed that;
‘a suggestion should be made to all owners and residents that motor vehicles should be driven slowly round the Avenue, keeping to the left round the Green and parking vehicles near the footpath, and that owners and residents be asked to assist in this as far as possible. A notice ‘Drive Slowly’ is to be erected at the entrance gates and a band of red reflectors fixed round the tree in the roadway near the Green to serve as a reminder of this request’.
Residents who drove too fast would receive a visit from the Custodian or a member of the Advisory Committee and their names were recorded in the Minutes. Tradesmen and delivery drivers who offended would also receive a telephoned complaint, as evidenced by this extract from the Minutes of 1939;
‘Mr Swinscoe raised a protest against the speed at which the vans of Messrs R Orme and Co Ltd. were driven round the Green. Mr Sanderson promised to write to the firm concerned on the subject. A similar course is to be taken regarding a similar complaint against Mr David Peters (a son of a resident).’
Following the Ballroom Meeting of November 1934, (covered in Chapter 3), the new Advisory Committee immediately began planning the resurfacing of the road. A separate account was created to cover the cost of renewing the roadway. This reflected the much higher level of expenditure that would be required because of the very poor state of the road surface. It would have been by far the most significant and costly project undertaken by the Estate’s Custodian since the original development of the Avenue in 1896.
Surveyor Herbert Heap was tasked with drafting an accurate plan of measured frontages of each property so that residents’ contributions could be calculated. Each house frontage was carefully measured, to arrive at a total length of 1660 feet and 11 inches – later amended to 1660 feet and 10 inches. He also obtained estimates from four different contractors for the renewal of the roadway. Once these had been considered by the Committee, John Hadfield and Son were awarded the contract. This was on condition that Mount Sorrel chippings should be used for the top dressing, giving the road a much stronger, more durable surface.
The cost of resurfacing the Avenue roadway in 1935 was £414.12.8 and renewal of ‘the footway down to Machon Bank’ (Edge Bank) cost £20.14.6. In addition, Mr Benjamin Priestley was employed to fix a handrail down Edge Bank at a cost of £9.5.0 and general repairs to the wall of the Pleasure Ground cost £7.10.0. When all of the building costs had been taken into account and Mr Heap’s fee for planning and supervising the whole process had been added in, the grand total was £496.15.0. Residents funded the bill at a recharge of 6 shillings (30p) per foot of frontage.
The new Edge Bank handrail c.1935
The new surface lasted until 1951, by which time several sections had been dug up and replaced (not necessarily to the satisfaction of the Committee) by Sheffield Corporation and utilities companies. In particular the laying of telephone cables had disrupted the top surface in several places. The Committee decided that the road needed top-spraying and tarring. Hadfield and Son were again asked to undertake the work of making good the condition of the road and Mr Priestley was tasked with repairing the Edge Bank handrail. Residents were asked to pay £6 each and repairs took place in the Autumn of 1952 at a cost of around £300.
The pavements were kept in a reasonable state of repair by patching and making good the worn areas and other sections disrupted by the installation of telephone cables. In 1934 the princely sum of £3.3.8.was spent on repairing the footpaths. Three years later the cost had risen to £10.13.9, when the footway to Edge Bank had to be resurfaced. It was recorded that £4.11.8.of the cost was recovered from the Telephone Dept. of Her Majesty’s Post Office. Generally the expenditure on pavement repairs seems to have remained very modest, at around £6 per year, throughout the 1940s and ‘50s.
Further work on the road was undertaken in 1966 but it wasn’t until 1977 that the road was fully resurfaced for the third time. On that occasion the contract was awarded to Sheffield City Council and the charge for the work was £1,263. The minutes of a Trustees’ meeting on October 12th of that year recorded that the work had been completed ‘with no real disagreement apart from four residents who had objected to the speed ramps’. This was the first time that ‘sleeping policeman’ had been placed across the road. They were introduced as a safety measure, designed to slow down the speed of cars and motorcycles and safeguard the children playing on the Avenue. The first speed bumps were quite high and could catch drivers and cyclists unaware. Several more residents complained and so in 1984 the Trustees painted a yellow line on each bump to make them more visible.
As time has passed and the expenses associated with repairing and resurfacing the pavements and road have increased, a new system has developed to spread the cost over a number of years. This was first discussed by the Trustees in July 1974, when they decided that the footpaths needed to be resurfaced. The preferred quotation for the work was submitted by Clugstone Asphalt Ltd., they calculated that it would cost £1,369 for the Avenue paths and £317 for Edge Bank. The Trustees anticipated that some residents might be unwilling or unable to pay their share of the bill at short notice but agreed that the work was long overdue. Aware that the Avenue bank account ‘would be bound to be overdrawn’, it was decided that the Chair of Trustees should pay a visit to the Bank Manager, to obtain overdraft facilities of up to £1000.
There was considerable opposition to the proposed pavement resurfacing and the Trustees had to meet with a group of residents who felt that the work was an unnecessary expense. They also made it clear that they wanted more consultation on key decisions, objecting to the established approach of decision-making by the elected committee of Trustees. Fortunately the issues were resolved after further discussions and the work went ahead as planned, but (not surprisingly) the issue of building up funds to spread the cost of future infrastructure renewal wasn’t pursued.
Another surface redressing of the road was completed by Sheffield Metropolitan District Council in 1985, at an estimated cost of £1,800. That same year resealing of the pavements was costed at £60 per square metre, reflecting the level of inflation that had occurred since the late 1970s. Further repairs to the road were undertaken in 1992, at a cost of £80 per household.
A contingency fund was proposed again in February 1999 to generate funding for major works. The Trustees informed residents that complete renewal of the pavements would be much more expensive than the 1992 road resurfacing; the cost to each household would be nearly £1000. The issues were debated at length at the 4th AGM in 2000. As this was such a substantial amount the Trustees canvassed residents to ascertain the level of support for the work. The outcome was that 68% of households were in favour, but this was insufficient to proceed with resurfacing in a single year. Under the terms of the Covenant, all households must agree before major decisions can be made. It was agreed, therefore, that the cost would be spread by undertaking the work over a three year period between 2008 and 2010. All of the pavements and the Edge Bank footpaths were completely resurfaced. The work included restoration of all the original kerbstones and the stone setts in the gullies at the side of the road. The final cost was £45,000.
The most recent road resurfacing took place in 2013: the total cost was just over £44,000. The photographs below show the equipment used to take up the old road surface.
III. Maintaining the Walls Around the Green
The walls around the Green have been enjoyed by residents for many decades. We perhaps take them for granted but they serve a wide variety of purposes. Adults sit on them to chat or watch their children playing on the Green; young children love to walk and run along the top of the walls or hide behind them when playing games; older children and teenagers jump the gaps, kick balls against the walls and socialise on the steps, and people passing through sometimes pause for a while, sit on the walls and admire the view of the Avenue.
The quality of stonemasonry is very high and it seems likely that the walls remained in good condition for many years after their construction at the end of the nineteenth century. The first mention of maintenance in the minutes refers to minor repairs to the wall in 1935, when the road was fully resurfaced. By 1961, however, they were urgently in need of more substantial attention. The notes of the Custodian, Mr Ashley, recorded;
‘The stonework near the two entrances to the Green was found to be in a very dangerous condition. A thorough job has been made by taking down the wall at certain points and rebuilding it’.
The bill for the work was £26.4.8d. There are no other records of the wall needing repair until 1984, when some of the coping stones had to be re-set. This time the cost was much higher at £180.
Since then there have been occasional repairs to weathered sections but it was not until late 2015 that a full and thorough re-pointing of the whole wall was undertaken. All of the work was done by hand by skilled craftsmen, restoring the wall to its former glory.
IV. The Green and the Trees
This section of Chapter 4 traces the history of caring for and maintaining the Green and the Avenue trees, paying tribute to some of the people who have maintained our outdoor space.
The Green is undoubtedly one of our most important assets as residents of Meadow Bank Avenue. It creates a wonderful feeling of space and light in an urban setting and provides a place for our community to meet, play and socialise throughout the year. It is, as Elizabeth Newbould intended it to be from the outset, a true Pleasure Ground. Long before the Avenue had been fully developed, its value as an open space for the enjoyment of residents was visible in postcards like the one below, which dates from 1906.
The use of the Green by Avenue residents and its vital role in the development of community events and activities will be covered in greater detail in Chapter 5.
The lime trees which circle the Avenue were also part of Elizabeth’s vision and we are fortunate that they too have been well cared for and maintained by the Estate’s Custodians and Trustees. Mature ash and elm trees already occupied the upper end of the enclosed green space and another tree, an oak, stood in the road just beyond the boundary wall of the Pleasure Ground. The grass was well kept and was regularly mown, as evidenced by its use for games of tennis. The Estate must have had a Gardener from the outset to maintain this level of appearance.
The first set of handwritten minutes and recorded expenditure in our archive date from 1934. These show that Mr George Kitchen, Gardener to the Estate, was paid £12.6.0 for the year’s work of mowing the Green, pruning the trees and cleaning the road and gullies. He earned a further £2.10.0 that year for re-turfing parts of the Green. In August of the following year the Committee decided that;
‘Messrs Brooke Bray and Co. should be asked to submit a suggestion for the periodical cutting and rolling of the Pleasure Green, with their tender for the cost of their suggestions’.
We don’t know what their suggestions were but the contract for rolling the Green was awarded to John Hadfield and Son (the company that resurfaced the roadway in 1935) and their remuneration was £2.8.0. in 1935. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 might have resulted in a dramatic change to the Green. At the July 1939 meeting of the Advisory Committee members considered a proposal from Mr J F Drabble, a judge who lived at number 36, who;
‘had put forward a suggestion that Air Raid Precaution trenches should be created on the Pleasure Green. The Committee decided that, as a large majority of the houses included basements or cellars equally suitable for the purpose, they saw no reason for diverting the Pleasure Green from its present functions.’
Mr Kitchen continued to undertake the tasks of mowing the grass, pruning the trees and cleaning the Estate’s gullies and roadways throughout the War. By 1946 his annual payment had risen to £36.2.0, but he was finding the work hard and was no longer in good health. His contribution to the Estate was recognised by the Custodian, Bernard Sanderson when he wrote to residents in December 1946;
‘The passage of time has again left a mark on the Avenue. Owing to advancing years and illness, our old friend, ‘George’ Kitchen, has terminated his services with us. I cannot say how many years he has served us (he was in charge when I took over my duties in 1934) but I have many times heard the older residents pay tribute to his work and skill. Acting on Mr Kitchen’s suggestion, I have appointed Mr Horace Vallé, to take over the duties from 1st January 1947.’
Horace Vallé and his father Harry Vallé were experienced gardeners. The family had come to Sheffield as immigrants from Italy and in 1889 had a nursery in Sharrow Vale Road, close to Wilson’s Snuff Mill. Harry had been Gardener to Mr Stephenson, a famous theatrical agent and impresario, who owned Meadow Bank House. The Vallé family had lived for some time in the Lodge House of Meadow Bank House. Unfortunately nothing remains of the main house as it was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War.
The Vallé’s worked for several other clients in Nether Edge, maintaining the gardens and tennis courts of the large houses, including Kenwood Hall. Horace also maintained the grass courts of the Brentwood Lawn Tennis Club.
When we began collecting material for the Avenue History in 1996, their unusual surname enabled us to trace the next generation of the Vallé family. Horace’s son Billy provided us with a wonderful photograph of his father, taken in 1937. It shows Horace at work on his horse-drawn mower in the grounds of Kenwood Hall, at that time a private residence but now a hotel. Billy also told us that Horace had lived in a cottage near the Snuff Mill and owned a large wooden cart and a shire horse.
Horace looked after Meadow Bank Avenue from 1947 until the mid 1950s. The trees were pruned back every year but the grass was cut far less frequently than it is now. He would bring his one horse mowing machine and, because the opening at the top of the Green was too narrow to pass through, he would ‘park’ the horse and dray by the side wall and then harness the horse to the mower. The long cut grass would then be raked into large heaps and loaded onto the cart. Billy said that his father was a good friend of Bob Cundy, landlord of The Union at that time; Horace probably welcomed a pint after a hard day’s gardening.
As well as maintaining the Green and the trees, Horace Vallé supplied residents with plants for their gardens, including privet for hedges, laburnums, cherry trees and lilacs. His negotiated rate of pay must have been higher than George Kitchen’s because he earned £53.7.6. in 1947, rising to £66.11.6. in 1950. In 1951 he was paid £120.14.0, suggesting that he had undertaken much more work for the Estate that year.
Apart from the horse-drawn mowing, all of the maintenance was done with basic hand tools. It wasn’t until March 1953 that the Avenue Advisory Committee considered the radical idea of purchasing a motor mower to help with the maintenance of the Green. This is recorded in the Minutes;
‘The question of the advisability of obtaining a motor mower for use on the Green was discussed. Some doubt having been expressed on the surface of the Green being suitable for such an expensive machine. Mr Kirkby offered to make some enquiries of a contractor who undertakes this kind of work’.
Despite these reservations, a Rotorscythe mower was bought at a cost of £31.0.0. After Mr Vallé stopped working for the Estate the contract for maintenance was awarded to a company, ‘Garden Facilities’, but by 1961 their services were becoming ‘increasingly unsatisfactory, until from mid-July they ceased to attend’. A new gardener, Mr Alan Rodgers, took up the work for a monthly fee of £12.10.0 per month, working from April to October and mowing the grass every week. Unfortunately for Mr Rodgers the Committee soon became dissatisfied with his work and by 1964 the Minutes record that he was being summoned to account for the deteriorating maintenance of the trees, Green and road. He blamed it on ‘labour difficulties and promised an immediate improvement and closer personal supervision of the employees sent to the Avenue’
The firm of J Philip Smith was contracted to do the main mowing, pruning and pollarding work during the 1970s. Their charges for 1980 were £7.70 per weekly mowing of the Green. The Green has been re-seeded, re-turfed and patched as required over the years. Some of this has been done by contractors but the Trustees’ minutes record that working parties of residents have also maintained the Green by forking, aerating and seeding roped-off sections. As the number of children increased during the 1970s,’80s and ‘90s, damage to the turf from football, rounders and other games often needed to be repaired.
In 1980 Mr Walter Osborn, retired caretaker of Abbeydale School and resident of number 48, took on the important task of maintaining the paths and gutters of the Estate. Walter took his responsibilities very seriously and could be seen on a daily basis keeping the Avenue in good order. His sudden death in the autumn of 1983 came as a shock to many and was recorded in the Minutes; ‘The Trustees expressed their regret of the passing of Mr Osborn, who had been so willing and efficiently responsible for maintaining the verges and general tidiness of the Avenue.’
During the 1980s and 90s, Garden Care Plus, a company owned by Karl Collins, was maintaining the Green and carrying out the pruning and pollarding of the trees. In 1985 Pete Clarke took on the work previously done by Walter Osborn and continued to maintain the Avenue for almost two decades. Pete also began maintaining Edge Bank in 1988 because it had become very neglected and he helped several residents with garden maintenance, particularly hedge-cutting. Dave Tether succeeded Pete, becoming Handyman for the Avenue in October 2004 and he continues to do this work very thoroughly.
Another important contributor to upkeep of the Estate has been Carl Coates, an Avenue resident since the 1970s. For many years he supervised and organised the maintenance work and supported the Avenue Handymen. Carl also kept a particularly close eye on the gulleys and drains, mindful of the perennial tendency for blocked drains to cause flooding at the lower end of the Avenue. He stood down from the role in 2008 and his contribution was gratefully acknowledged by the Trustees, on behalf of all residents, at the AGM of that year.
Spring bulbs have been a lovely addition to the Green in the period since 1981, when the first ones were planted around the small trees on the Green and on the north bank. A further batch of 250 mixed daffodils, narcissus and crocus bulbs were planted in 1983 and the practice has continued over the years so that we now enjoy a lovely display of flowers each Spring.
V. Maintaining the Avenue Trees
The lime trees around the Avenue have been kept in shape by regular pruning and pollarding. The original iron protection cages around their trunks have been removed from all of the trees, apart from one at the entrance to the Avenue; as the tree’s trunk has grown it has expanded through its protective cage. Looking back over a century of photographs we can see that the limes have remained almost the same height and width throughout this time, unlike the huge limes on many other Nether Edge roads.
The practice of radical pruning/pollarding the limes every third year was established by the early gardeners who looked after the Estate. The look of the trees post-pollarding can be quite brutal but they quickly recover once the branches begin to sprout. A few limes have been felled to ease access into garages or to improve street lighting but most remain healthy. The cost of keeping the lime trees pruned has risen steadily. For example, in 1980 pruning cost £2.25 per tree but this had risen to £5.50 per tree in 1982, when the cost for pruning all 68 trees amounted to £374. By 2008 the fee for pollarding the limes was £1525.15.
The importance of the trees to the look of the estate was commemorated in 1996 when residents celebrated the centenary of Meadow Bank Avenue. Ceramic mugs were commissioned and the trees featured heavily in the design.
In 1997, in their Annual Bulletin, the Trustees proposed a more radical approach to tree management. They wrote:
‘The Trustees are committed to maintaining and improving the estate for the benefit of all residents. As part of that commitment, we are actively reviewing the management of the many trees on the Avenue. In consultation with tree experts, we are planning a comprehensive long-term pollarding, pruning, renewal and replacement programme to ensure the continued health of the trees into the next century. You may have seen the recent article in Edge *, which supports such a strategy. As a first step, it is our intention to remove those lime trees which cover the street lights and reduce the security on the Avenue. Residents outside whose houses these trees are will be notified and their agreement sought.
In the longer term, we will consider thinning the limes round the pavements, and increasing the number of trees actually situated on the green. We will ensure that all changes are carefully planned, carried out sensitively and made with an eye to the future well-being of the estate and its residents.’
* Note: The article referred to was The Highway Trees of Nether Edge by Dan Lewis. It appeared in the September 1997 issue of NENG Newsletter. The author proposed a 10-20 year plan to renew the suburb’s trees, many of which were already over 100 years old.
Although there had been consultation with residents by the Trustees, there remained considerable opposition to the idea of removing some of the Avenue lime trees. A few were felled but the proposal to remove even more and replace them with other specimens was not pursued.
As well as the limes the Avenue has some beautiful trees on the Green and these have changed over time. Some of the original mature trees have had to be removed but new planting has also taken place. The old oak which had stood in the road beyond the top (west) end of the Green was taken down in 1980 because it had become unsafe. The photograph below, taken in 1974, shows the oak in healthier times. The following year an elm from the same end of the Green also had to be felled because of disease. The cost of removing the two was £265.80 and the Trustees replaced the elm with a small red oak, now a healthy and substantial tree. The west end is still dominated by two large ash trees. A small Mountain Ash was planted more recently.
The old oak tree in the road 1974
For eighty years there were no large trees at the eastern end of the Green, as the photograph below, taken in 1968, shows.
This changed in the late 1970s. The Avenue marked the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 with a full day and evening of celebrations. Voluntary donations had funded the event and there was a small cash surplus. This was used to purchase and plant some new trees to enhance the attractiveness of the Green at its eastern end. Angela Waite (resident of No.33) led the initiative and it was agreed that two traditional English varieties, a horse chestnut and copper beech, would be selected. A large group of residents helped Angela with the task of digging and planting the saplings. The photographs below show the saplings soon after planting and in 2015.
VI. Dogs on the Avenue
Pet dogs are a frequent sight on the Green, often enjoying a game of ‘fetch’ or playing enthusiastically alongside the Avenue children. Many non-residents also bring their dogs through the Avenue as part of a daily walk. These days, the vast majority of dog owners are very mindful of the need to control their animals but this wasn’t always the case. During the 1980s the Avenue minutes recorded a growing concern amongst residents that the Estate was being used by too many dog owners, many of whom were failing to clear up after their pets. In October 1981 a petition signed by a large number of residents was submitted to the Trustees;
‘This complained about the number of dogs which were being allowed to foul the grass and the pavements and road. Some of these dogs belonged to our own residents whilst others are being brought into the Avenue. It was agreed that some definite action must be sought’.
Unfortunately the problem of dog fouling continued without much sign of improvement, despite the best efforts of one enterprising Avenue resident, who developed a product to deal with the embarrassment of dog ‘accidents’. The advertisement below appeared in the Sheffield Morning Telegraph in 1983.
In 1987 it was again recorded that, ‘Numerous complaints had been received concerning fouling of the Green and footpaths by dogs’.
Around this time there were many children living on the Avenue; by 1991 there were 81 children under the age of 16. The Green was, not surprisingly a very busy play space, so the issue of dog mess was a real nuisance and a genuine concern. A statement was included with the annual accounts, requesting dog owners to be more considerate in the control of their animals. Public health leaflets warning of the hazards associated with dog fouling, particularly Toxocara infection, were circulated to all residents. Visiting dog-walkers using the Avenue were challenged if their dogs were seen fouling the Green.
Fortunately, public awareness improved and the problem reduced, particularly after the introduction of the Dog Fouling Act in 1996. This made it a criminal offence for dog owners to allow their pets to foul a public space and fail to clear it up. The Green and the Avenue pavements then became much cleaner than they had been in the past.
Chapter 5 – The Social Development of the Avenue – Early Years, 1896-1914
The Social Development of Meadow Bank Avenue in the Early Years, 1896-1914
Meadow Bank Avenue is an unusually close community, with a general sense of belonging, a calendar of social events and well developed relationships between households. Anyone reflecting on this might assume that it was always so, that the Avenue was purposely built and developed to establish and nurture such a community spirit and that the current climate can be traced clearly back to the early years of its formation. But to what extent was this the case? How close was the community in those early years between the building of the first houses at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the social milestone of the First World War?
It is difficult to be definitive about this. There are no Avenue Minutes for this period, as the governance of the Avenue was in the hands of individual Custodians, first Elizabeth Newbould from 1896-1909 and then Charles Nixon, a Solicitor and resident of 10 Meadow Bank Avenue. Nor do we have recollections from people alive at the time, biographies to consult, contemporary histories or documentary evidence in the newspapers. This atmospheric photograph of ladies in Edwardian dress playing tennis on the central Green, or Pleasure Ground, suggests a serene, close community with significant social interaction. But this relies more on the imagination of the observer than it does on hard evidence.
We have to resort to less direct sources and build our speculation on these; the contextual material of the time, census information on the inhabitants, information on the wider community and interpretation of indirect clues. This is perfectly valid. Any society or community can only be understood in relation to its context. The early inhabitants of the Avenue did not live in a vacuum any more than we do today. They, as we, must have been influenced, informed and affected by the times in which they lived; the development of the Avenue as a community was shaped by the external context.
II The General Context
So what was that context during that period of our focus between the Salisbury Government of 1895 and the Great War of 1914-18 at international, national and local levels? Perhaps the first thing to remind ourselves of is the febrile nature of that period.
Internationally the high tide of British imperialism was beginning to ebb. The Boer War of 1899-1901 gave a sharp shock to national confidence. Subsequent imperial rivalries were increasingly manifested in political tensions and an expensive arms race. Concerns were being felt about the industrial position of Great Britain, as the industries of Germany and the USA in particular threatened, leading to lively debates on such issues as trade protection and imperial preference. Interestingly, Professor Ripper (owner and sometime resident of houses 41 and 43), was a member of the Moseley Commission, which visited the United States in 1903. Its specific purpose was to look at the provision of technical education in that country and the lessons that could be learned for Britain.
Professor William Ripper
Nationally, many previously held ‘truths’ were being challenged and the whole fabric of established society was under question. The suffrage movement, constitutional crises, widespread industrial action and the rise of the Labour Party were all undermining the assumed foundations of Victorian confidence and stability. This was the age of the Suffragettes, threatened civil war in Ireland, widespread strikes and the siege of Sydney Street.
More locally in Sheffield itself, the period was characterised by fierce political rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties, with the added complications of a nascent Labour party steadily encroaching on their territory. The issues under debate included concerns about a rapidly rising population and the resulting pressure being put upon the housing supply, in a city already recognisably deficient in the quantity and quality of its housing stock. Intense debate ran through the period in terms of how to address the issues consequent on this: sanitation, public health and town planning. All of this was compounded by the uncertain economic situation, with periodic boom and bust in the economy as a whole and in key Sheffield industries in particular. What we do not know is what the politics of the inhabitants of the Avenue were. During the period the Ecclesall ward tended to return Conservative representatives, but the ward covered a much bigger area than Nether Edge, let alone the Avenue.
All of this is very contextual and perhaps difficult to relate directly to the Avenue. But the manifestations of these issues would inevitably have filtered down to the everyday lives of the inhabitants of Sheffield, Nether Edge and the early residents of the Avenue and must, in however small a way, have influenced their attitude to living on the Avenue and their view of others who lived there.
The supply and sale prices of houses, for example, would have governed who moved on to the Avenue. Even more important was the level of rents. This was a time after all when less than 10% of houses in Sheffield were owner-occupied. While this percentage seems to have been much higher on the Avenue, a number of houses were built and used as rental properties. Indeed several residents of those early years were multiple owners, occupying one house while renting out others. One example was the Havenhand family at number 24, who also owned and rented out number 22. (For more details of house ownership/rental see Chapter 2 of The Avenue Story: Building the Avenue)
The social tensions of the time and the recognisably different agendas and ambitions of different groups in society, allied to the pressure on land as the population grew and expanded certainly affected Nether Edge. The local concerns around the impact of the tram system and the ease by which less salubrious people could make their way to Nether Edge, widespread before the turn of the century, had eased off somewhat by the time the Avenue was developed but still surfaced now and again in the local press. A letter written to the Sheffield Evening Telegraph in 1908 poured scorn on those people in Nether Edge who live in semi-detached houses, protesting about tramcars running through from Hillsborough and the contamination brought by the residents from that area.
The uncertainty regarding employment and employment prospects must have been another consideration with so many in Nether Edge and on the Avenue, engaged in some form or other in the steel industry, and this at a time when the welfare system, and support available through it, was in its infancy. This must have been brought home continually with the existence on the doorstep of the Nether Edge Workhouse on Union Road which, at the start of the 20th century, still housed around 1,000 inmates and supported several hundred more people through outdoor relief.
Even something as distant as the international dimension would have a local impact, for example in the business brought to the city through its predominance as an arms producer, or in the attitudes to foreign born inhabitants, which hardened in the lead up to the Great War. We cannot say if this was exhibited on the Avenue. There were a t least two residents of German descent on the Avenue at this time; artists Albert Carl Christian Jahn and his brother Francis H. Aloysius Jahn rented number 51 from 1905 – c1910. They were born in England to a German father, but we don’t know how they were viewed and treated by their fellow Avenue inhabitants. (see Biographies section of the website for more information about the Jahns)
The early residents of the Avenue did not live in a vacuum, in a world bounded by the dimensions of the Avenue. Individuals and families must surely have been influenced to varying degrees by the external context. Perhaps we can gain more insight into how they might have been affected by exploring their backgrounds and circumstances. To do this it seems useful to turn our attention to the specific social environment within which the Avenue was conceived, designed and built
III The Local Context
What do we know of the local social context? When it was developed in the 1890’s Meadow Bank Avenue lay very clearly at the centre of recognisably differing social communities within Nether Edge.
The undeveloped, pastoral site lay in the middle of what was a wider area of large, open farmland at the heart of what we call Nether Edge, bounded by Machon Bank and Kenwood, Rundle, Montgomery and Kingfield roads. There were odd reminders of the previous rural landscape in and around the site such as Cherry Tree Farm and cottages, and the cluster of cottages at the corner of the site on Edge Bank but, other than these isolated examples, the site was largely empty. (see Chapter 1 of The Avenue Story and the Maps section of the website Gallery). Surrounding this square of open land were areas within Nether Edge that were socially distinct from each other.
To the south, on the slope leading up to Brincliffe Edge, were the detached and semi-detached villas of the Montgomery Land Society, bounded by the Edge itself, Union Road and Nether Edge Road. This estate was laid out in the 1850’s and developed largely between the 1860’s and the 1880’s by speculative builders and enterprising individuals. These were houses intended for the better off artisan classes and were consequently governed by strict covenants. These set down conditions relating to the size and nature of the houses, their permitted usage, the gardens, distance from the road and so on. This was to maintain standards befitting the targeted class of occupant. At the turn of the century this influence still held. The houses were populated by the recognisably better off middle classes; engineers, merchants, manufacturers and small business owners. Most had servants or live in employees.
Montgomery Land Society roads
To the east of Meadow Bank Avenue, between Montgomery Road and Empire Road and down to Abbeydale Road, were newly-built terraced houses. Here were clerks, travellers, metalworkers and the occasional manager. A few houses had a servant but this was much less common than in the Land Society houses. Squeezed within these large distinctive areas of the Land Society and Kenwood were infills, usually of even higher density, with the occupations of their inhabitants reflecting this. Violet Bank, built on what had been the grounds of Violet Bank House, was designed to house working class occupants; cab drivers, drapers assistants, cashiers and grocers assistants. In these houses there were no servants – but there was a large proportion of rented apartments, as evidenced in advertisements in the local press, asking for and offering accommodation.
Terraced roads to the east and infills around Violet Bank
To the north and west of the Avenue, between the upper stretches of Brincliffe Edge and Psalter Lane, the landscape changed dramatically. Here were large dwellings set in extensive and often ornamented grounds. The odd cluster of larger villas on Williamson Road, Kenwood Road and Clifford Road broke up this pattern here and there, but by and large this was a thinly developed area of substantial properties. Often these housed the scions of established, successful families well known on the Sheffield social scene. The days of the great barons, such as Wostenholm at ‘Kenwood’, and Brown at ‘Shirley House’, may have passed but there were still representatives of families associated with the success of Sheffield industry; the Tyzacks at ‘Shirley House’, the Ward brewing family at ‘Shirley’. Often these people were or had been holders of public office. John Eaton at ‘Sharrow Bank’ was a local Councillor and a member of the Board of Guardians during this period. Styring, slightly on the edges of the area at ‘Brincliffe Towers’, had been Lord Mayor. Sir Charles Skelton, successful manufacturer of spades and ex-mayor was living only yards from what would become the entrance to Meadow Bank Avenue in ‘Meadow Bank House’. In this part of Nether Edge were substantial households with several servants and a very different way of life from those in Land Society houses, let alone those on Violet Bank and Machon Bank.
The substantial houses to the north and west
Nether Edge was, therefore, in the early years of the 20th century made up of an interesting social mix. It was probably no different from other areas of suburbanisation planted on a previously rural landscape, but interesting nevertheless both in terms of the physical impact and also the social dynamics of the area. Meadow Bank Avenue sat solidly in the centre of this mix. It was a matter of metres from Sir Charles Skelton, living in relative splendour just outside the entrance to Meadow Bank Avenue, to the gardeners, cordwainers and spring knife cutlers living on Machon Bank, or the file cutters, bricklayers and corset maker in the courts of Cherry Tree Common. If this did not highlight to residents and potential occupants the social gradations of the area, then the existence of the Workhouse must have driven the point home. Even if the inmates were largely invisible behind its stone walls, there must have been an awareness of those seeking outdoor relief as they queued to receive it. We know that this situation was in the consciousness of local people. When the Workhouse extended its offices across Union Road, the sale of the land specified that there should be ‘no bringing of the inmates thereon or therein’.
Ecclesall and Bierlow Workhouse
The social diversity in Nether Edge raises interesting questions about the extent to which these different social classes mixed, and if so how. It seems unlikely that the well to do to the north of Nether Edge would readily interact with, or even encounter, the inhabitants of other parts of Nether Edge. Their natural route into town would presumably be Cemetery Road. Also, it is likely that these people saw themselves as residents of Ecclesall or Sharrow rather than Nether Edge. Certainly in references to them they seem to have considered themselves as such. Francis Bedford, High Bailiff of Yorkshire, described his residence as ‘Kenwood Road, Sharrow’. Similarly Joshua Wortley, a prominent city accountant advertised himself as living at ‘Kingfield, Sharrow’.
Conversely the wider population of Nether Edge in their everyday lives would presumably be aware of the big houses and well-known names, and would surely pass the big gates and sweeping drives. Perhaps on odd occasions they would catch a glimpse of the carriages which took these people back and forth. As to those not living in the big houses, it seems probable that the interaction of different classes might have been more frequent and informal as they encountered each other at the recently built shops or on the electric trams, which had done so much to stimulate development in the area. It seems unlikely however that there would be much social interaction across the classes.
IV The Social Makeup of the Avenue
What does all this mean in terms of the social development of Meadow Bank Avenue? Presumably those building, purchasing or renting in the early years would have had some awareness of the social nuances at play. Indeed, even before the first occupants arrived it is interesting to speculate on the extent to which these dynamics and tensions influenced Elizabeth Newbould, when she came to decide how to develop the Avenue. In the manner of the period, she was not personally responsible for building the houses, leaving that to developers who bought the plots of land, but in respect of the overall layout and the covenant she imposed on the development, she was instrumental in determining its character –and she had choices. The topography of the plot lent itself just as easily to high density housing as to the villa style she specified. Interestingly, she had developed houses of a very different style elsewhere in Nether Edge, for example on Barkers Road, Edgebrook Road and Ladysmith Avenue.
Looking at the areas adjoining Meadow Bank it is quickly apparent that the style of the Avenue was more closely aligned to the affluent areas to the north and west than to the higher density houses to the east. It was certainly different from those immediately adjacent on Violet Bank and Machon Bank. This was a conscious decision and an active choice by Miss Newbould. What was it that influenced her? Was she consciously protecting the ambience of the Cherry Tree area where she still held property? Did she feel a sense of obligation to the people who had been her neighbours when she lived in relative splendour in ‘Sharrow Bank’, close to Psalter Lane? Alternatively, as a developer, was she merely judging the market and calculating that the chosen style would most likely give her the best return on her investment?
Whatever the reason, the alignment of the Avenue very much connects it into the more genteel, prosperous houses of the north, than to the denser houses to the south and east. It offers its face to the detached houses of ‘Prior Bank’, ‘Kingfield House’ and ‘Meadow Bank House’ and turns its back on Machon Bank and Violet Bank. Similarly the gated entrance and the intended, though never completed, Pleasure Gardens designed for the centre of the Green, carry a message that was surely inclined towards the grander houses sitting immediately outside the Avenue’s entrance. Shirl Hill and other local houses also had private ‘pleasure grounds’ at this time.
The original plan illustrating the Pleasure Ground also shows that the intention in 1896 was for an estate of substantial detached houses, rather than the semi-detached villas which eventually dominated when the Estate was completed. Exit the gates and the early inhabitants would immediately be confronted by the walled grounds of ‘Prior Bank’ and ‘Kingfield House’, a real statement of association, especially if The Union Hotel and the adjacent cluster of courts and cottages of Cherry Tree could be ignored.
At the lower, western end of the Avenue, the connecting passage down Edge Bank (which Elizabeth Newbould had constructed) was a pedestrian thoroughfare with limited access to and from the Avenue and the shops and trams of Nether Edge. Was this a conscious attempt to make a statement of intent rather than drive a road that way, something that was presumably possible, if difficult?
In thinking about all this, we come back to the question of how much this sense of place and status entered the consciousness of the early inhabitants of the Avenue? It seems highly unlikely that they could be unaware but to what extent did it colour their decision to move onto the Avenue, as owners or renters? How might it have affected their behaviour once resident on the Avenue and to what extent did it encourage a sense of community? Which way did their eyes turn when considering their place in Nether Edge and their relationship with their neighbours? Census information from 1901 and 1911 and annual copies of Kelly’s and White’s local trade directories help us to address some of these questions.
V The Early Inhabitants of the Avenue 1896-1914
The pre First World War inhabitants of the Avenue did not all arrive at the same time. As documented in Chapter 2 of the Avenue Story, the building of the Avenue occurred in phases, with new residents arriving throughout the period. Not surprisingly, different households stayed for varying lengths of time, not least since a number of houses on the Avenue were rented rather than owned, as was the custom of the time. All of this would have affected the development of a sense of community in the early years.
For some, moving to the Avenue proved to be a permanent, long term commitment. Among those households who arrived in the initial phases of development were some who stayed for twenty years or more. These included the Havenhands (24), the Smith household (34) and the Dentons (26). Others who arrived in the years just before the First World War also became long standing residents. Some of these families were still on the Avenue in the 1930’s and 1940’s; these included the Caws (36), the Nixons (10) and the Atkins (27).
In contrast there were households whose names appear fleetingly and disappear with little obvious trace of their stay; examples were the Parry family (12), the Jahn brothers (51) and the Westons (22). In between were those who stayed long enough to become part of the community but perhaps not long enough to be considered part of the informal establishment that goes with length of residence such as the Brownills who lived at number 41 for a few years before moving on.
Overall there does seem to be a high percentage of people who became long term residents on the Avenue. If communities grow organically then clearly the length of time living on the Avenue would be a factor, not only in developing a sense of community but perhaps also in the perceived status of people relative to each other.
Other than length of domicile what other characteristics distinguished these early inhabitants which might have encouraged or undermined a sense of community?
The Occupations of Avenue Residents
Occupationally the residents of the Avenue did seem to share a common position in the social ranking and often a shared background. A good number had a background or made a living in the metal trades, which so underpinned the prosperity of the City. Living on the Avenue at various times in this period were people with senior positions in file manufacture, silversmithing, brass founding and scythemaking. They included Albert Scott Davy (49) a Metallurgical Chemist, George Caws (36) the Manager of a Saw and File Works, William Wigfull (20) owner of silversmiths Lee and Wigfull Ltd. and Ernest Longden (51) the Manager of a Steel Works. Builders too feature frequently John Brownill (41), George Smith (34), and Joseph Smith (57) and Thomas Parry (12) a Buildings Materials Factor.
Another sizable group came from the professions; Ralph Foxon (49) a Chartered Accountant, Charles Nixon (10 ) and George Simpson (40) both Solicitors, William Ripper (43) Professor of Engineering at the University. Others came from the merchant sector; Ernest Baker (77 Cherry Tree) was a Merchant Tailor, Thomas Broomhead (3) a ‘retired Grocer’, Robert Hanbidge (30) a General Outfitter.
An upwardly mobile Avenue
The Avenue therefore had a wide range of occupations represented. What was common was a sense that these were successful people in their fields. In nearly every case they were classified in the census returns as employers rather than workers. Here were people who seemed to have done well.
William Havenhand offers a good example. According to the census of 1911 he was a ‘commercial traveller’ but his background suggests this signified a trade representative rather than the small scale salesperson we might think of today. His father was originally a scythemaker from Eckington. By 1911 he, the father, was in some contractual arrangement with the Tyzack works and employed over 100 people there. It seems likely that the Avenue Havenhand could well have been representing his father’s firm. Certainly he was of sufficient means to purchase several houses on the Avenue, as well as employing at least one servant. Eventually he became a Director of a Tyzack company.
Others went on to even more significant careers : Professor Ripper became a renowned figure in Educational circles, Wallace Heaton (36) became a society photographer in London with connections to the Royal family, the Jahn brothers (51) well known in the artistic world. (More detail on these individuals can be found in the Biographies section of the website.)
Wallace Heaton at his shop in Bond Street, London
Several inhabitants were connected into the more established families of Nether Edge : Ralph Foxon for example, seems at one time to have been solicitor to Elizabeth Newbould. Clearly the typical inhabitant of the Avenue was of some consequence, even if not members of the seriously wealthy middle classes. If not quite of the establishment, a number were closely associated with it. Thomas Smith (18) was Clerk to the Poor Law Guardians, and Ernest Baker (77 Cherry Tree) held a similar position. Ernest Wheatley, a cutlery manufacturer (39) was also an Acting Consul to Peru.
On the other hand this similarity of economic ‘class’ did disguise differences in social origin. Cornthwaite (32) seems to have started life as file grinder and was the son of a file grinder. This at a time when file grinders were notoriously short lived. Nixon on the other hand was the son of a successful ‘gentleman’ who at one time lived in ‘Audrey Cottage’ on Union Road. Ernest Baker (77 Cherry Tree) had started life as a shop assistant. Conversely, William Mylan (42) was the son of a surgeon, born in Calcutta.
Nevertheless the evidence suggests a high ratio of people who were comfortable and, consciously or otherwise, upwardly mobile. An indication of this are the houses in which early inhabitants previously lived; the Bakers had come from Carterknowle Road, the Caws from Crookes and the Cornthwaites from Wath Road. All suggest that a move onto the Avenue was a step up in house size and possibly status. There was a shared story in terms of geographical origin. Over half of the early inhabitants were Sheffield born. While others came from different parts of the United Kingdom, the number with local origins seems high, given the rate at which the city was growing and attracting people from other regions.
Composition of Households
If there were apparent similarities in wealth and social class there were equally obvious differences in the makeup of the household units. All were family units to one extent or other, but this ranged from newlyweds in their thirties like William and Ethel Mylan (42), to retired people in their late seventies, for example Mary Ann Hallatt, aged 79 in 1911, mother-in law of George Smith (34).
In terms of offspring, the Havenhands and Dentons each had one mature daughter, the Harrisons two teenage children and the Simpsons a young son. The Smith household on the other hand comprised husband and wife, two daughters, mother-in law, sister in-law and sister all living in number 34. This was perhaps an indication of pre-welfare times, when families expected to look after their dependents. From the Census returns (1901 and 1911)there do not appear to have been many young people on the Avenue, although any children at boarding school when the Census was taken would have been excluded.
This mixed profile was reinforced by others who came later in the period. The Longdens had no children, the Nixons were an apparently childless married couple living with her Mother, the Davy family comprised Albert as head of the household with two sisters and a brother, and the Ripper household was that of a widower living with his late wife’s sister and two nieces. This may indicate that those with younger families were either those who came early or those who stayed temporarily before moving on. The Heatons at number 36 would be an example of the latter; they had a young daughter and son but had left the Avenue by 1909.
Three other distinct groups are worth considering in this review of the social makeup of the Avenue: Edge Bank, the Women of the Avenue and the Servants.
The Residents of Edge Bank
The overall social profile of the Avenue is interesting compared with that of Edge Bank. This offshoot of the Avenue of course pre-dated it, having been built much earlier. How the inhabitants of Edge Bank were seen by the new arrivals is hard to say, not least because this small cluster of dwellings reflected the wider, mixed profile of Nether Edge.
Built around the 1840’s this small complex of dwellings comprised one large house and several smaller cottages. Number 1 was of some substance and the households within reflected this. In 1901 it was occupied by John Hunt a ‘cutlery manufacturer’ and employer, along with his wife Sarah, four single daughters aged between 15 and 31, a son, also named John and described as a cutlery manufacturer and employer, and one servant Clara Webster aged 40. In 1911 the same house was occupied, at least on the census night, by only 2 people: William Dixon, a retired mechanical engineer aged 72 and his daughter, Amelia Dorcas Dixon, a teacher. Both had been born in Northern Ireland. (for more about the Dixons see Brian Ellis’s recollections in the ‘Lived Experience’ section of the website)
The occupants of the cottages differed significantly from the large house, in terms of occupation and household profile. Here were coachmen, clerks and gardeners, often taking in boarders. Interestingly many of the women in these cottages, unlike those on the Avenue, were clearly working for a living as dressmakers, seamstresses and typists.
How would the residents of the Avenue have viewed these people? Those in the large house could perhaps have held their own socially on the Avenue, but those in the cottages were from a recognisably different social milieu. It seems unlikely these would have been seen or treated as equal members of the community, even if the Covenant did give them access through the Avenue. It is pure speculation but it is difficult to imagine, given the mores of the time, these draymen and seamstresses mixing with the Avenue residents, or sharing the Green with them. The residents of Edge Bank made no financial contribution to the costs of maintaining the Estate probably because Elizabeth Newbould, having bought all of the Edge Bank properties and land in 1894, drove a passageway through it for the benefit of Avenue residents. This cut across rights of way and to some extent invaded the privacy of the Edge Bank inhabitants.
The Women of the Avenue
What do we mean by this term? It does not include all of the Avenue’s female residents – the young girls, daughters and nieces or the servants, but rather the mature women who had a place of some significance within Avenue households.
This group is more difficult to investigate. At this time women’s rights and status were quite limited, and significantly different from the contemporary scene. Women did not have the vote, they invariably took their husbands’ names on marriage and divorce was a rarity. Indeed it was only a few years before the Avenue was built that the Married Women’s Property Act (1882) gave them the right to their share of the assets of the couple. Before this their property was still considered as ultimately belonging to the husband. One consequence of this is that their backgrounds are more difficult to trace. Their names, unlike their husbands but very much like the lower orders, were not included in the Directories published at the time; their status as housewives and relative lack of involvement in active social or political causes, means that references in the press are limited. Further, lacking maiden names, their backgrounds are difficult to trace from the census returns. So what do we know?
The information on the census returns does tell us some things. We know for example that it was extremely unusual for their occupations to be classified as anything other than ‘wives’. There were exceptions. Elsie Ann Baker, wife of Samuel, a Merchant Tailor, (77 Cherry Tree) was described in the 1911 census, as ‘Assisting in Business’, as was their 19 year old daughter. Other mature unmarried women living on the Avenue also worked: Florence Brownill, sister of John (41) was a Head Teacher, while Eleanor Smith and Florence Hallatt, sister and sister-in- law respectively of George Smith (34) were School Mistresses. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Smith did not work. Others on the Avenue not married were either widows, for example Catherine Candlish, living with her daughter and son-in-law, Charles and Elizabeth Nixon, or simply described as single, like Alice Rowbotham living with the Caws at number 36.
The age range of these women was considerable. Over the period in question the women of the Avenue were born anywhere between the 1850’s and the 1890’s with a fairly even spread across the decades. This is a wide enough range to suggest interaction across the ages would be affected. Most of those married were close in age to their husbands, with the majority born within five years of each other. No child brides here. Similarly common were the geographical origins. Most of these women were local to Sheffield and had married Sheffield men. There were a few from other parts of Yorkshire, one or two from wider parts of the UK and a Cornthwaite daughter-in-law and sister originally from Norway. By and large the women of the Avenue in this period were locals who had married locals.
Mrs Ethel Heaton, with John and Marjorie
It would be easy to imagine from this a group of housebound and invisible women. However this lack of visibility may perhaps disguise a more significant position than at first appears. Many Victorian and Edwardian women of the middle class engaged in charitable work for churches and charities. Social functions and entertaining at home, for example teas parties and soirees, were an important part of daily life. Status at this time was partly evidenced by the size of the house, the number of servants employed and the ability not to have to work.
Further there are a number of examples of women on the Avenue who owned the houses occupied by themselves and their husbands, for example Ada Havenhand and Elizabeth Broomhead. This was often done to protect the family home against the failure of their husbands’ business interests. If a business went bankrupt and the house was in the man’s name it would be requisitioned and could be sold to pay off debts.
Punch Cartoon of Edwardian tea party;
These formed a sizeable and distinctive group in their own right. The census returns show that there were very few houses on the Avenue at this time which did not employ at least one servant. Some had more than one, for example the Brownhills (41) employed a servant and a nurse, the Simpsons (40), a cook and a housemaid. These records show only those residing in the houses; there may well have been other servants employed on a day basis. The number of servants’ bells in Avenue houses that existed until recently, and still exist in some cases, is testimony to the fact that having a servant was expected.
Who were these people? They were described in a variety of ways, often in terms that implied a wide range of duties, for example General Servant, General Domestic, Housekeeper and Domestic with the odd specialist role such as Cook. They were exclusively female, perhaps not surprisingly as male servants tended to hold more specialist occupations in larger houses as butlers or grooms for example. All were single or widowed. Again this is not surprising as the Avenue houses were not large enough to warrant the employment of servant families. Most came from the Sheffield area or nearby, for example Chesterfield, Worksop and Renishaw. A few came from further afield. Ada Laverack, servant to builder JF Smith (57), came originally from Darlington. Gertrude Martin, servant to Albert Davy (49) from Islington.
Their circumstances differed. Ages ranged from 15 to 47 although most were in their twenties. Many we might assume were simply following an occupation that constituted the single largest female workgroup in the country before the War. It is estimated for example that it was an, ‘accepted part of family life for the middle and upper class households’ (‘Life Below Stairs’ by Pamela Horn, 2010, Amberley Publishing) to have at least one servant. The backgrounds of others suggest that they might have had little choice but to take on the role of servant. Annie Hodgson, servant to the Mylan family (42) according to the 1911 Census was, ten years earlier, an inmate of Ecclesall Workhouse. Mary Hinchliff, by 1911 a widow, serving the Wigfull household (20), had at the time of the previous census been married to a livery stable foreman in Chesterfield, with two daughters and two sons. There is no record of where those children had been accommodated or even if they were still alive.
What role would these people have played in the social side of the Avenue? Again we can only speculate. Accounts of the lives of servants at this time suggest it would be very limited. Pay would be small, hours long. Visitors would be discouraged or forbidden. Room furnishings would be basic. The recently unearthed post cards sent to Florry Harding, serving the Smith family at number 18, hint at the conditions experienced by these women, though of course they would be written in the knowledge that the employer would be reading them. (Read more about Florry Harding’s life in the Biographies section).
It seems likely that these servants would know of others’ existence, perhaps they would socialise on the odd afternoons they were allowed off, although it is hard to see where this might have taken place in Nether Edge. For the most part however they would be expected to be both visible and invisible. Their visible presence reflected the social standing of the families they worked for, yet they were often largely invisible in their everyday interaction, both with the families they served and the communities in which they worked.
This situation was already starting to erode in the years immediately before the War as people left domestic service for factory jobs, as the National Insurance Act of 1911 made servants more expensive and social attitudes became less deferential. This perhaps explains the apparent transitory nature of these servants on the Avenue. The evidence we have suggests that servants did not stay with families for long periods. Of all the identifiable servants in the 1901 census, none were still with their families by the time of the 1911 census. Florry Harding is again an example of this. We can assume that, despite this shift in the attitudes of the servant class and their employers, for most of this early period of the Avenue’s history, the old norms would have applied to those who worked here.
What does all this tell us about the social cohesion of the Avenue in this period and the extent to which it was a vibrant community as well as a shared space?
Clearly there were factors that might tend to bring these people together. These include;
- The enclosed and private physical environment. It is worth noting, however, that for much of this early phase it must have resembled a building site, with individual plots being developed.
- A sense of common social standing, heightened by the proximate existence of recognisably different social classes in the area.
- A high level of home ownership compared to the city average.
- A limited range of occupations, with a high proportion of business owners and many who had risen up the classes during their careers
On the other hand other factors might well have inhibited close social interaction:
- The organic development of the Avenue and the different times people moved into it.
- The lack of involvement in the governance of the Avenue which at this time was managed externally by a Custodian.
- The varied makeup of the households, with different ages and circumstances.
- Late Victorian and Edwardian social mores, which would discourage more intimate relationships than is currently the case.
- And for those who were wary of becoming too intimate with neighbours, there were ample alternative opportunities to mix and network in the clubs, political organisations, social organisations and churches. There were fewer of these options in Nether Edge than in the City but they did exist. We know, for example, that several householders from the Avenue joined the Nether Edge Bowling Club in the years leading up to the First World War.
On balance we might surmise a slowly developing sense of an Avenue community. Perhaps a polite acknowledgement as people passed each other and the occasional example of a closer relationship between individuals or families with shared interests, views or forms of worship. It seems highly unlikely that there would be communal events, social gatherings of any significance, convivial evenings in The Union, Green gatherings or celebrations of significant dates.
Perhaps one day a diary or journal might come to light that proves or disproves these ideas. For the moment we are obliged to use our imagination and speculate whether the photograph of Edwardian ladies playing tennis on the Green suggests a healthy and active social dynamic or simply a posed image designed to suggest a situation which did not actually exist. The fact that the tennis court is marked out on the grass might suggest that it was an activity that took place more than once.
What we do know is that the onset of the First World War presaged a significant shift in the history of the Avenue.