The Diary: Hall’s baize of glory

Rick Allen, chair of Walkley Community Centre, in Fir Street, Walkley, is pictured in the snooker hall, which has been in business more than 100 years.
Rick Allen, chair of Walkley Community Centre, in Fir Street, Walkley, is pictured in the snooker hall, which has been in business more than 100 years.
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IT is a game famed – or should that be framed? – for inspiring passions.

“If I had to make the choice between staying married and playing snooker,” Ray Reardon once noted, “snooker would win.”

Wives of Walkley, watch out.

For here, Sheffield’s oldest snooker hall – an Edwardian roof-top room where the sound of clicking balls and a sense of misspent youth has gone hand in hand since 1909 – has been refurbished and relaunched.

The venue, above Walkley Community Centre in Fir Street, will now open for seven days a week (opposed to just one) for the first time in 15 years. It has been redecorated, and a stunning stained glass window – a memorial piece to Walkley’s World War One fallen – is to undergo a £5,000 restoration.

“Snooker players tend to like the dark, though,” says Rick Allan, the man behind the transformation. “So we have the curtains shut a lot.”

It’s dark when your diarist arrives – at 2pm. Yet what is clear as daylight is that this under-used resource is, in a city famous for snooker, not just a place for the potty but a genuine historic gem.

Four stunning full-size tables date back to the early 20th century, while dark mahogany scoreboards from the same era hang on the walls. But for the big screen TV and electric lights it could almost be 1909.

“It is a historic gem, exactly,” says Rick, chairman of the community centre which runs the facility. “In terms of hard economics it’s difficult to make this place work. It would be far easier for the community centre to sell off the tables and turn the room into a multi-use space. But this is a part of Walkley’s heritage.”

That heritage, then?

The building originally opened in 1909 as Walkley New Reform Club, a place offering alternative recreation for young men otherwise tempted by the ale house. Downstairs were reading rooms and lecture area complete with drama and orchestra facilities; out back was a garden and bowling green; and upstairs was this snooker hall.

The club flourished until the Fifties when it shut. It was reopened as a community centre, with the snooker room in act, in 1974.

“The tale goes they came upstairs, pulled the sheets off the tables and could more or less start using them again,” says Rick, a 46-year-old entertainer of Hadfield Street.

Yet, while the community centre remained an ongoing success, customers of (and volunteers to staff) the hall dwindled. It was shut for all but one evening a week during the ’90s.

And it’s stayed that way until this new relaunch.

“You have a facility like this, it should be open all the time,” says Brett Barker, who will manage the hall. “I genuinely think the BBC should be doing broadcasts from here during the World Championships.”

The pair now promise not to ‘rest’ until people are ‘queuing’ to use the place for those (14)7 days a week.

“Getting it buzzing is the aim,” says Brett, 40, of Studfield Road, Wisewood. “We want it as busy as it was back at the start of the last century.”

Visit www.firstreet.org.uk for opening times.