It was a neighbourhood reputed for its drunkenness, idleness and immorality, so some joked the priests would fit right in.
St Vincent’s Presbytery – an imposing red-brick, four-story building where 14 churchmen once lived – was built in Solly Street, slap bang in the middle of Sheffield’s Irish slums, in 1878. It was the headquarters of a Roman Catholic mission to minister to England’s poor.
Now, the historic importance of the building – today surrounded not by slums but student flats (and, therefore, probably still close to drunkenness and idleness) – has been officially recognised. English Heritage has awarded it Grade II listed protected status.
“It’s a magnificent place,” says Howard Greaves, vice-chairman of the Hallamshire Historic Building Society as he shows The Diary round. “Imagine this going up when it was all tightly-packed, over-crowded tenements here. It couldn’t help but inspire the neighbours.”
The presbytery – renamed Provincial House and converted to offices in 1983 – was purpose-built by the Duke of Norfolk at a cost of £11,000. It was designed in classical Italian style and was described by architectural guide Pevsner as ‘of considerable refinement’. It included its own chapel and servants quarters.
“The great thing is that, although there was some conversion when the priests moved out in the 1980s, the original features are largely intact,” says Howard, of Abbeydale.
That means ornamental brickwork remains outside, while within it’s all arches and decorative carvings. “It’s lovely,” nods receptionist Michelle Milnes. “Not everyone can say they have an office in a priest’s bedroom”
The new protected status doesn’t necessarily prevent the owners, Hartshead Square Developments, from making changes. In fact, there’s talk of it being turned into apartments.
But it does mean that alterations shouldn’t drastically change the structure or key features.
Not that it always works that way, of course.
The Edwardian wing of the Jessop Hospital also had Grade II listed status when Sheffield University legally knocked it down last summer.
“After the debacle with that,” says Howard, “it’s nice to have a victory by getting the presbytery listed. It’s important that, as a city, we look after our buildings like this because their numbers are fast dwindling.”