RETRO: Rooted in Sheffield’s history

Botanical Gardens, Sheffield
Botanical Gardens, Sheffield

Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens were so popular in 1856 that small cards were issued allowing residents to enter.

The pink cards were embossed with leather and gave the named family permission to visit as many times as they pleased for one year.

Botanical Gardens, Sheffield - 20th July 1970

Botanical Gardens, Sheffield - 20th July 1970

Of course, we can all wander in and out as we please today – and perhaps we take its long history for granted?

One of the biggest challenges was restoring the flower pavilions after World War II, as we reported on January 7, 1947: “Many difficulties are being encountered in efforts to restore the blitz-damaged glass pavilions in the Botanical Gardens.

“These pavilions, which in pre-war years housed many rare tropical plants, were among the most distinctive features of the park.

“They were designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the designer of Crystal Palace and the Orangery at Chatsworth House, and were considered to be very fine examples of conservatories.

“They were seriously damaged during the blitz in Sheffield in December, 1940, when virtually all the glass was broken.

“During the war it was obviously impossible to do anything about repairing the pavilions and most of the rare tropical plants died from exposure.

“At the end of the war, when there was at last the possibility of getting supplies of glass, the pavilions were inspected with a view to repair.

“It was then found that the metal framework was so badly corroded by the weather that the pavilions would need rebuilding.”

Then there have been numerous thefts over the decades, including 10 cast-iron flower urns, each “more than a hundred-weight”, which disappeared in 1969. They were cast in the 1830s specifically for the gardens which opened in 1833, and were then valued at £40 each – although described as priceless to Sheffield. Just two were left behind.

Over the years it has also housed an unusual range of Sheffield treasures.

It was 1951 when the gardens welcomed two brass muzzle-loader guns, originally brought to defend Sheffield from invasion by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops in the 1745 rebellion. In the same year thegardens were formally handed over to the city corporation by the Town Trust over a 99-year lease at a nominal rent of 1s a year.

Peter Pan landed in the Botanical Gardens in 1953 when the statue, bequeathed to the city by the former chairman of the Sheffield Telegraph, Sir Charles Clifford, arrived.

Then in 1961 the gardens became home to the city’s first aviary, including a red macaw, pairs of cardinals, white Java sparrows, pileated finches, crimson crown weavers, purple glossy starlings, Peking robins, parrakeets and golden pheasants.

Regularly described as Sheffield’s Kew Gardens, the Botanical Gardens are still a historical gem in the city’s crown.