This article first appeared in the transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society and is reproduced here by kind permission of the Society.
By W. F. NORTHEND, A.R.C.A., F.S.A.
The Old Queen’s Head Hotel, or, to give it its more ancient title, the Hall-in-the-Ponds, in Pond Hill, the oldest domestic building in Sheffield, has recently weathered another serious crisis in its long life; for it seemed most in danger of demolition owing to its situation on the site of the proposed Corporation bus station, when in 1949 its present tenants, John Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery Company Limited, obtained a ten years’ extension of their lease on the premises from the owners of the property, the Sheffield Corporation.
As a condition of this extension, the lessees were required by the Sheffield Licensing Authorities to make extensive alterations to the interior of the building, and also agreed, though this was not a condition of the lease, to renovate the exterior, which was in a sad state of neglect.
There have been many conjectures as to the age of the building, but as there is nothing to guide us other than what is visible in the structure itself, we will content ourselves with the broad statement that it is probably fifteenth century, although some authorities believe it dates back to the fourteenth.
The earliest documentary mention of it so far known is in an inventory of its contents made for George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1582, [The Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. XXX, p.260] when the extent and richness of the goods recorded would seem to preclude the house at that time from being either the castle wash-house or bakehouse as it is variously stated to have been.
An extract from an account book in the Duke of Norfolk’s Estate Office dated 17th July, 1770, refers to “an old house in the Ponds formerly the Wash-house to Sheffd Manr” [H.A.S. Transactions, Vol. IV, p.281]
It is possible that after the Hall was let to tenants its status declined and that some time previous to 1706, when the Manor House was abandoned by the 8th Duke of Norfolk, the ducal washing may have been done by a tenant at the Hall-in-the-Ponds, but the above extract which appears to be the first mention of it is at least 64 years later than it could have been so in fact, and could only have been traditional at the time it was recorded.
Hunter refers to it and Josiah Fairbank, in his Field-book No. clv, page 49, in a survey of Pond Well Hill dated 7th August, 1820, records it as “Mary, Queen.of Scots’ wash-house”. [The Fairbanks of Sheffield, 1688 to 1848, by T. Walter Hall, Hon. M.A., F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S., Sheffield, 1932, p.154]
Between the year 1582 and Harrison’s Survey of the Manor of Sheffield [An Exact and Perfect Survey and View of the Manor of Sheffield and other Lands, by John Harrison 1637. Transcribed and edited by James George Ronksley. M.A., with an introduction by R.E.Leader, B.A.]
in 1637, the Hall ceased to be an adjunct of the Castle and was let to tenants.
The rents paid by these tenants suggest that the building was more extensive then than it is now and what appears to be the Hall-in-the-Ponds in Gosling’s plan of Sheffield in 1736 has two wings in L formation. If that was so, then the wing running parallel to Pond Hill had disappeared before the date of the engraving in Hunter’s Hallamshire in 1819.
Since this latter date, the gable end of the building fronting on Pond Hill appears to have been set back about five feet to widen the road.
When the recent alterations were commenced the building had been in poor condition for many years. The main timbers on the exterior had been covered over with planks of deal and the spaces between plastered over.
The carved heads on the exterior had on them successive coats of whitewash of many years standing, so that the detail of the carving was quite obliterated.
The plans for the alterations provided for the whole of the ground floor being extended to public use, the tenants’ living quarters being transferred upstairs.
Work on the interior was put in hand first, revealing several interesting features which had been hidden and forgotten for many years. The first of these consisted of two tiny mullioned windows in an original timber and plaster partition wall facing the foot of the stairs leading from the first to the second floor. The timbers of this wall were oak uprights, four inches square, spaced at intervals averaging about nine inches, with solid plaster fillings in between about three inches thick, anchored in semi-circular grooves running up the sides of the upright timbers.
The two little windows were let into adjacent plaster panels and were themselves made of plaster and are illustrated in Fig. 7. They might have been inserted when the public-house was built to allow a little light to the foot of the stairs on the first floor.
The second feature disclosed was a stone fireplace, probably contemporary with the original building, in a room on the right of the main entrance from Pond Hill. This had been hidden by a more modern cast iron grate with side hobs.
During the alterations the writer took Mr. B.H.St. John O’Neil, M.A., F.S.A., His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, to see the work in progress and on entering this room they were horrified to find a workman just beginning to reface the old stonework, and Mr. O’Neil was able to stop him at once from doing any further harm.
During excavations for a new cellar under part of the present music-room, the tapering top of a circular stone well shaft was disclosed which at some time in the past had been filled in; this was cut down to the new floor level and covered over. Two old clay pipes were found in a chimney.
When the interior work was well on the way various probings were conducted to test the state of the exterior of the building. The upright main timbers on the west front had been originally mortised into a heavy oak beam just below present ground level. This base had almost completely rotted away, so the fragments that remained were taken out and a foundation of concrete was put in to support this wall.
The deal boards were taken off the original main timbers and then a portion of plaster taken from the wall of the first floor which revealed another layer of a much earlier character.
When this was stripped away the original oak half-timber walling was revealed with uprights about four or five inches square with solid plaster fillings anchored in grooves as in the partition wall previously described. When the whole of this wall had been stripped it was found that the timbers were in sufficiently good condition to leave them exposed and to repair the plaster filling between them.
The carved heads presented a problem of some uncertainty, for the many layers of whitewash on them amounted to quite one-eighth of an inch in thickness.
Preliminary probings failed to show any sign of original painting under the whitewash, but when the carvings were eventually cleaned, here and there were found slight traces of a bright blue pigment which it was not possible to preserve.
The carved head in the gable was taken down and placed in the entrance hall in a similar position to that it would have occupied originally.
An interesting strip of carved scroll-work was found on the west exterior underneath the main floor beam of the first floor; this extended between the outer extremes of the two windows on the ground floor.
The main beam between these two points is mortised at intervals of about one foot, and the two features taken together suggest that originally a long window filled the space now occupied by the door and the two ground floor windows on this side of the house.
The carved strip (Fig. 8) has been left in its original position but the windows and the door are new, replacing others which were not contemporary with the original building.
Another feature of interest on this front is the suggestion of a doorway in the bay nearest to the road, behind which was a small chute.
The roof and chimneys are modern and little has been done to them beyond minor repairs. The first floor windows have not been altered and date back only to about the middle of last century, but the outer wall of the yard has been taken down so that an uninterrupted view of the house may now be obtained from the road. The open space is to be used as a car park for the use of hotel patrons.
The plans which accompany this article were adapted from those kindly supplied by the Brewery Company’s chief architect, Mr, B. Wilson, L.R.LB.A., F.R.LC.S., and show the arrangement of the building on the ground and first floors immediately before the present alterations and as it now stands.
The history of the Hall-in-the-Ponds remains as elusive as ever and nothing further has been discovered that would add to our very slight knowledge of the early origins or uses of the building; but it might perhaps be useful in later years to record what we can trace of its more recent history, going backwards from the present time.
The title deeds of the property now in the possession of the Corporation .of Sheffield date back only to the year 1818 and consist mainly of conveyances and mortgages. We are indebted to the Town Clerk, Mr. John Heys, for permission to study these.
The records of the Sheffield Licensing Magistrates commence in 1872, when the hotel contained one bar, one parlour, one taproom, one kitchen, three bedrooms, one yard and one stable. Our thanks are due to Mr. Leslie M. Pugh, the Licensing Magistrates’ Clerk, for permission to peruse these.
The Corporation bought the property from Tennant Brothers Ltd. on 28th November, 1935, and leased it the following year to John Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery Company Ltd.
Tennant Brothers had it from Thomas Berry & Co. Ltd., llth July, 1924, who had held it from 1884, when they acquired it from Truswell’s Brewery Co. Ltd., the latter firm being in possession in 1872, when the Licensing Authorities’ records began.
Turning to the Directories of Sheffield, it appears that, in 1864, James Pilley, a nail and rivet maker, was licensee of the Queen’s Head Hotel in Pond Hill, as he was in 1860 and 1856, but in 1852 the Queen’s Head does not appear in the directory and James Pilley has a beerhouse at 2 Pond Hill, also occupied by Joshua Ogden, butter dealer and mason.
In 1841, Pilley and his beerhouse are at 2 River Street, but in 1837 neither James Pilley nor the hotel are mentioned.
At the present time 3 River Lane is occupied by the more modern part of the Old Queen’s Head, the postal address of the hotel being 40 Pond Hill.
Between 1847 and 1818 Thomas Battey figures prominently in the documents included in the title deeds of the property. He is recorded in the 1841 directory as a cart owner of Court 40, Pond Hill, and again in 1837; he died in or before 1847 as is indicated by a Conveyance dated 9th December, 1847, from Francis Hoole, solicitor, to John Matte, of property late belonging to Thomas Battey, deceased.
The 1841 directory names a John Mate, whitesmith and braziers’ tools, &c., manufacturer of 18 River Street.
On 21st December, 1818, Thomas Battey and his trustee leased the property from Thomas Rawson, Esq., of Thomas Rawson & Co., brewers, Pond Street, one of the oldest breweries in Sheffield, now incorporated in Duncan Gilmour & Co. Ltd., but we must not assume that the old Hall was a public house at the time it was in the possession of Thomas Rawson; indeed the meagre evidence outlined above would appear to suggest that it became the Queen’s Head Hotel shortly prior to 1856, but that it, or the River Lane part of it, was a beer-house as early as 1841.
Referring to the engraving of the Hall-in-the-Ponds in Hunter’s Hallamshire, lst edition, 1819, p. 193, 2 River Lane would be the building on the left of the picture. Note that the chimney nearest the gable of the larger building, the Hall, is set back some distance from the gable wall, whereas at the present time the two are almost flush.
Since 1819, one bay of the Hall has been cut down and the gable rebuilt at the position occupied by the carved female head in Hunter’s view.
2 River Lane has also been rebuilt flush with the new gable end of the Hall. This female head now occupies the position marked No. 4 on the plan, whilst No. 5 was taken down from the gable in the present alterations and placed in this new position in the entrance hall of the hotel. This head is not shown in Hunter’s view and was probably on the west side of the building apposite to the female head, that is at the present north-west corner of the building.
It is probable that the cutting back of the gable, the building of the modern part of the hotel and its becoming a public-house all took place together about one hundred years ago and in this connexion it is interesting to note that the large stones with which the ground floor of the gable is built are very similar in character to those used in the approach road to the Royal Victoria Railway Station, which was opened on 15th September, 1851.
We assume that the hotel derived its title from the crowned female head, No. 1 on the plan, although the “Queen’s Head” is a popular name for inns all over the country, and there were other houses of that name in Sheffield.
The directory of 1841 records one in Castle Street and another in Sheaf Street, but the Pond Hill house is not so named until just previous to 1856.
The alternative title to Pond Hill of Pond Well Hill is recorded in William Fairbank’s plan of Sheffield dated 1771, as well as in Josiah Fairbank’s survey of 1820 referred to previously.
In Gosling’s plan of 1736 the street, although shown, is simply recorded “Ponds”, but a well is indicated at the south corner of the junction of Pond Hill and Pond Lane (now Pond Street), from which the alternative title was no doubt derived.
It may also be noted that Pond Well Hill in Fairbanks’ plan ran on the west from the junction of Sycamore Street and Slaughter House Lane, crossing Pond Lane or Street and terminating on the east at a footbridge crossing the River Sheaf.
A further point of interest is that in Fairbank’s survey of Pond Hill in 1820, what is now River Lane is there recorded as Sheaf Street, probably in error.
In conclusion, we express our thanks to the Directors of Messrs. John Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery Company Limited for the public spirit they have shown in preserving this ancient building for Sheffield, and to Mr. T. Barker, the Manager of the Sheffield Branch of the Company, for his ready co-operation at all times during the renovations. In addition to the acknowledgments made earlier in this article, we would particularly record our thanks to Mr. C. H. Lea for the excellent photographs taken specially to illustrate it.
Kindly supplied by Peter Bayliss