Once upon a time, in medieval England, there were deer parks that stretched across the country. These enclosed areas were bounded by a ditch with a wooden, stone, or brick wall to keep the deer in. To establish a deer park a royal licence was required, and they quickly became status symbols for the lord of the manor. At the end of the 15th century there were about 2000 deer parks with most having a range of about one to two miles. One of the biggest was Sheffield Deer Park, spanning a circumference of eight miles, 2500 acres, established in Norman times by Thomas de Furnival, but is believed to have Anglo-Saxon origins. At its zenith it contained about three thousand deer (mainly fallow) and some of the largest oak trees ever recorded in England
According to Friends of Manor Lodge, which provided much of this information, Sheffield Deer Park was a Baronial Castle Park, with the castle located at the edge of the park and extended away like a large balloon. It was referred to as ‘Ye Greate Park,’ and was a place of recreation, somewhere to ride, joust, practise archery, to fish and to boat, and to engage in falconry. It is thought by most scholars that it was not primarily for hunting, but to provide food for the lord of the manor. The deer were often chased, but the ‘drive’ or ‘bow and stable’ method was used which involved driving the deer into nets or towards archers. The deer were pickled for the winter, because fresh meat was unavailable between November and April.
A forgotten part in Sheffield’s history. Sheffield Deer Park was one of the largest in England. Even now, deer are sometimes seen in parts of the old park, and people are shocked to see them. But this was once their habitat. “Sheffield Park commenced below the Castle entrance where the Park gates were situated and followed a northerly direction tracing the river Don before turning eastwards towards Attercliffe. After several miles, it ceased following the river Don and turned in a southwards direction tracing a line close to and parallel with what is now the modern Sheffield Parkway. “On reaching Bowden Housted woods at Darnall, it then turned in a westerly direction following the Car Brook and parallel to what is now the modern Sheffield Ring Road (Prince of Wales Road). On reaching its highest point at what is now called Manor Top, we come across the other main gates, called the Intake gate. Entry through here (private by invitation only) would have led direct to the Park gate. It followed a line parallel to the present City Road and was a superb walnut avenue of trees creating a major landmark in the town.
“From the Intake gate, the edge of the park continued in a southerly direction until reaching what is now referred to as Gleadless Valley and a wooded area called Buck Wood (named Berrysforth Wood in earlier times.) “This is the most southerly point and then continuing through Buck Wood in a westerly direction we reach Heeley and then on to the outer reaches of the town (as it was then) through to the present Bramall Lane, The Moor, Union Street, Norfolk Street and finishing at the starting point of the Park Gate.”
The Manor Lodge was at the heart of the Deer Park, and it was said that it was possible to travel under the avenue of walnut trees that stretched from the Lodge to the Castle without getting wet. Sheffield Deer Park provided food in days when most of the land was unenclosed. Deer lived, and thrived, upon the land, but it was said that most of Sheffield’s shops were supplied with venison stolen from the park.
There is a curious record that the Earl of Shrewsbury, who once had a thousand fallow deer in Sheffield Park, graciously allowed ‘a holiday once every year to the apron-men or smiths of the parish, when a number of bucks were turned into a meadow near town, and the men were sent into it to kill and carry away as many as they could with their hands, and would sometimes slaughter about twenty, on which they feasted. Money was given to them for wine. Such is said to have been the origin of the famous Cutlers’ Feast, but it was not until 1624 that the Cutlers’ Company of Hallamshire was incorporated by an act passed ‘for the good order and government of the makers of knives, sickles, shears, scissors, and other cutlery ware.’
From around the 16th century and into the seventeenth century it ceased to be totally a deer park. Large parts were converted into pasture and arable land with tenants renting strips of land to grow crops. Isolated farmsteads sprang up with other parts for quarrying and a coal mine. By 1637, Harrison’s survey indicated 1,200 deer in total with the deer park only about 40% of its original size. “The common people would trespass this park and were allowed certain privileges of coming and going but insisted on taking more. In 1692, the Duke of Norfolk, then Lord of the Manor, brought an action against certain people because of their use of a road between Intacke and Parke Hill and then into Sheffield, pretending that it was a public highway.” It was a problem that recurred over the centuries.
In 1822, Michael Ellison, Agent to the Duke of Norfolk placed an advertisement in local newspapers warning locals after tenants complained that people had been going over their lands in pursuit of game, or other idle purposes, and had thrown down walls and fences. “That, with a view to preventing the continuance of such Trespasses, proper Persons have been appointed for the purpose of detecting those who may commit them after this Notice, and all Persons so detected will be proceeded against in the manner prescribed by the Law.” In 1913, the deer park had long disappeared, and Thomas Wilder gave a lecture in Sheffield:- “The venerable trees of the Park had gone to build the country’s ‘wooden walls,’ to make charcoal for the melting of iron and steel, to supply ‘kidds of wood’ to the town bakery on Baker’s Hill, and their very roots had been grubbed up for fuel for the blast furnaces. The numerous streams and fishponds had disappeared into the wastes, gobbs and grafs of the ancient coal and ironstone workings with which the Park was honeycombed.”
What made the deer park so special were the thousands of veteran oak trees with some listed in John Evelyn’s 18th-century book ‘Silva.’ Several were mentioned, including the great oak tree situated in the Conduit plain, located above City Road Cemetery in modern times. This tree, its arms stretching 45 feet or more from the trunk, could shelter more than 250 horses under its foliage and there were many other trees with similar magnitude. All these years later, there is still evidence of the old deer park. Norfolk Park, Buck Wood, Manor Fields Park, and other wooded areas are all remnants of the deer park, and small sections of the wall remain in the most unlikely places. One of the most unusual sections, virtually unnoticed, is at Manor Top, where old stonework can be seen under a later brick one, beside the road opposite the TA Centre.
Manor Lodge survives and was a ‘standing’ or ‘prospect house’ from which the park could be viewed. An inventory of 1582 suggests that the Hall in the Ponds (The Queen’s Head) was a park banqueting house. “This great house stood near the middle of Sheffield Park; part of it is very ancient; but one part being brick, with stone corners, is not older than 1500. The Duke of Norfolk, in 1609, destroyed it. This is the place where Cardinal Wolsey, that proud Prelate, when under house arrest for high treason, took the fatal draught whereof he died at Leicester Abbey; and here also Mary Queen of Scots was kept prisoner at large more than sixteen years.” – Extract from a manuscript, written in 1647. If you discount the Manor Lodge itself there were at least 4 lodges, plus a hunting stand.
There’s nothing left of any of them, but some later became farms, the most obvious being Park Farm at Gleadless. And there is evidence of the old ‘Intacke gate’ that stood at the entrance to the park. This would have been near where the stretch of wall remains at Manor Top. Old wooden gates were replaced with stone ones in 1685 and were later bought by Burrows Trippet from the Duke of Norfolk who moved them to his farmhouse where they stand to this day at Richmond.
2022 David Poole (All Rights Reserved) /Sheffield.net