IT was one of the biggest and most ambitious civic projects ever undertaken in Sheffield; a scheme so huge it would change the face and life of the city forever.
Plans announced in 1870 would eventually see some 64 major public buildings – described as “like castles” – go up in almost every suburb.
They would cost close to £1 million and an estimated 500,000 people have passed regularly through their doors since.
“And yet when we think of Sheffield’s architectural treasures we often overlook them,” says Valerie Bayliss.
“It’s a great shame because not only were they designed to inspire us, there’s an argument it’s the finest collection of such buildings anywhere in the country.”
So, what are they?
None other than the city’s very first state schools built in the 40 years following the 1870 Education Act which made schooling compulsory for the first time ever.
Today, 46 still survive with 28 in such good condition they are still schools.
No other city in the country outside London has so many. Manchester has only nine of such original institutions still standing.
“Almost all of us have one on our doorstep,” says Valerie, chairman of The Victorian Society’s South Yorkshire Regional Group. “But I don’t always think we appreciate what gems they are.”
It is something the society is seeking to put right. It has just released a delightful new book which charts all 64 of those schools built between 1870 and the start of World War One in 1914.
Above all else, Building Schools For Sheffield 1870-1914 shows how quick the city was to embrace universal education (21 schools went up in just 10 years) and how much emphasis was placed in making the buildings inspiring and often beautiful places.
As Liberal MP David Chadwick noted in 1875: “The School Board have persuaded the ratepayers of Sheffield to tolerate the extravagance of spending £100,000 in the building of schools as substantial as castles.”
Valerie, of Muskoka Avenue, Bents Green, says: “It’s not been easy researching them all but we felt this was an important part of the city’s history which we should be proud of and which needed rediscovering.
“You’ve got to remember in 1870 there was no compulsory education, no state schools.
“To go from that to 21 by 1880 was civic construction on a scale which is unimaginable today – and yet all the schools are incredibly well designed. That’s why so many remain in use today.”
A little of that history then?
Schools existed in Sheffield long before 1870 but these tended to be charity, church, voluntary or fee-paying institutions.
When the 1870 education Act was passed, promising universal education, this Liberal-run city was very much in full support.
The government’s announcement that elected city school boards would be formed to roll out the new system and new schools was greeted with enthusiasm. Prominent citizens voted on to that first board included steel magnates Mark Firth, Charles Doncaster and Sir John Brown as well as draper Skelton Cole of Cole Brothers fame.
“They brought an energy to the whole process that really helped Sheffield hit the ground running,” says Valerie.
“An interesting fact is that the first school in the entire country to be built after the act was passed was Newhall in Attercliffe. Unfortunately for the board’s pride, strikes delayed its opening so it wasn’t the first to welcome children.”
Land was chosen in prominent positions where the building would inspire the importance of education in children, perhaps the best example being Pye Bank Board School which overlooks the city from its position in Andover Street.
And the designs – drawn up by various city architects, notably 32-year-old Charles Innocent – were grand for the same reason.
“Substantial requirements were laid down by central government as to how the buildings should be,” explains Valerie. “It included the layout, cost and technical specifications which all new schools had to adhere to but it didn’t mention style.
“Charles Innocent had a clear view on how he thought the buildings should look and his predominant style was English Domestic Gothic.”
This meant castle-like bell turrets, ornamental stone carvings, arched windows and multi-storeys.
“How well they functioned, on the other hand, was something of a debate” notes Valerie.
“One early inspector noted that although the buildings were handsome, they were so full of drafts he had to wear a hat for the full visit.
“One wonders what effect the cold would have had on the occupants.
“But the fact many are still schools shows something was done right.”
Building Schools For Sheffield 1870-1914 by The Victorian Society is released through ALD Print and is available from book shops and at www.victoriansociety.org uk now.
Sheffield Schools 1870-1914
Newhall, Sanderson Street (demolished early 1970s).
Broomhill, Beech Hill Road (still a school).
Netherthorpe, Netherthorpe Street (still a school).
Philadelphia, West Don Street (demolished early 1970s).
Attercliffe, Baldwin Street (demolished 1950).
Carbrook, Attercliffe Common (hotel).
Crookesmoor, Oxford Street (community building).
Lowfield, London Road (still a school)
Walkley, Greaves Street (part school, part apartments).
Darnall, Darnall Road (youth centre).
Park, Norwich Street, (demolished 1967).
Grimesthorpe, East Marshal Road (council building).
Pye Bank, Andover Street (empty).
Springfield, Broomspring Lane (still a school).
Norton, Mundella Place (still a school).
Manor, Manor Lane (part converted, part still a school).
Fulwood, David Lane (council building).
Langsett Road, Burton Street (community foundation building).
School Board Offices, Leopold Street (hotel).
Central Schools, Orchard Lane (restaurants).
Heeley Bank, Heeley Bank Road (derelict).
Brightside, Jenkin Road (still a school).
Woodside, Rutland Road (demolished 1967).
Beighton, School Road (still a school).
Burgoyne Road, Burgoyne Road (apartments).
Duchess Road, Duchess Road (demolished 1982).
Huntsman’s Gardens, Attercliffe, (demolished early 1980s).
Hillsborough, Parkside Road (still a school).
Wincobank, Newman Road (still a school).
Intake, Mansfield Road (still a school).
Sharrow Lane, South View Road (community centre).
Owler Lane, Owler Lane (demolished in 1990).
Abbeydale, Abbeydale Road (still a school).
Neepsend, Hoyland Road (demolished 1958).
Heeley, Anns Road (derelict).
Carlisle Street, Carlisle Street (demolished unknown date).
Woodbourn Road, Woodbourn Road (Pakistani Centre).
Hunter’s Bar, Sharrow Vale Road (still a school).
Firshill, Barnsley Road (still a school).
Meersbrook Bank, Derbyshire Lane (still a school).
Bole Hill, Bole Hill Road (commercial units).
Coleridge Road, now Tinsley Park Road, (empty).
Gleadless, Hollinsend Road (still a school).
Woodhouse East, Station Road (adult training centre).
Pomona Street, Pomona Street (still a school).
Upperthorpe, Daniel Hill (demolished 1990).
Woodhouse West, Station Road (demolished date uknown).
Western Road, Western Road (still a school).
Morley Street, Morley Street (still a school).
Meersbrook Bank, Derbyshire Lane (still a school).
Norton Lees, Argyle Close (still a school).
Bradway, Bradway Road (still a school).
Ranmoor, Fulwood Road (still a school).
Greystones, Tullibardine Road (still a school).
Hammerton Street, Ouseburn Road (being restored as an educational building).
Malin Bridge, Dykes Lane (still a school).
Woodseats, Chesterfield Road (still a school).
Carterknowle, Carterknowle Road (still a school).
Wadsley Bridge, Penistone Road North (demolished 1997).
Highfields Special School, Sitwell Road (youth centre).
Lydgate Lane, Lydgate Lane (still a school).
Salmon Pastures, Warren Street (demolished 1998).
Whitby Road, Fisher Lane (still a school).
High Wincobank, Bracken Road (demolished mid-1990s).