Appeal for residents to share their photos of Graves Park in bygone era

Over fifty years ago, residents living near Graves Park, then called the Norton Park estate, may have heard a bell toll each day.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 11:33 am
Updated Thursday, 15th August 2019, 1:02 am
Rose Garden cafe in Graves Park, Sheffield. Taken by Ian Rotherham

The bell was used by park rangers to warn people that the park was about the close, and would have been a memorable noise for people who lived in the area at the time.

If you are one of the residents who would remember the bell toll, researchers at Sheffield Hallam University would like to hear from you.

Alongside the South Yorkshire Biodiversity Research Group, members of the university are working with the ‘Friends of Graves Park’ on their Heritage Lottery-funded project to help rediscover the ancient historic landscape of the park.

The Friends of Graves Park around the old oak

Professor Ian Rotherham, of the Department of the Natural and Built Environment at the university, said: “The landscape of ‘encapsulated countryside’ here in Norton holds clear evidence of at least three phases of ‘parks’ before the modern-day corporation public park of the 1920s until today.

“However, there is a key missing link for which we need your help. Close-by the Rose Garden Café on the high point of Summerhouse Wood, was an ancient building called ‘Summerhouse’ and which survived until its demolition by Sheffield Council in the early 1970s.

“We believe that may even have been a possibly Tudor hunting tower for the old deer parks alongside the now Hemsworth Road.

“Up until its demolition the park keepers used to toll the bell to warn park users that the park was closing. After this the gates would be locked, and you were not allowed in.

Rose Garden cafe in Graves Park, Sheffield. Close-up photo by Ian Rotherham

“Local people who used the park may remember the tolling of the bell, and if you do, then we need to hear from you.”

Graves Park, which us Sheffield’s largest public open space, was gifted to the people of Sheffield by major bequests of that great philanthropist Alderman J.G. Graves in the 1920s.

Led by volunteers with professional support, the aim of the project is to uncover the history, heritage, and archaeology of the Norton Park Estate and its historic stately homes, past and present.

Volunteers will find out about the history, heritage and archaeology of the landscape, the medieval park and the designed landscape of the 1700s to 1900s and identify the boundaries, buildings and trackways, the park areas, the old field systems and the prehistoric features.

The site of Summerhouse by the old oak tree and near Rose Garden cafe in Graves Park, Sheffield. Photo by Ian Rotherham.

Ian said: “Research which I began way back in the 1980s, with archaeologist Clive Hart, is now coming to fruition, and observations and discoveries of landscape archaeology that I made about 2013 are proving very exciting indeed.

“These include possible prehistoric features such as what may be an ancient burial site known as a barrow, a major and ancient bank running north-south across much of the park, and ancient woods full of botanical ‘indicator flowers’ and even medieval charcoal hearths. The latter are from the old industries of the ancient woods of times past.

“The present research is helping confirm what were previously hunches and even led to the rediscovery of a very early medieval deer park that we can now date back to the 1200s.”

Ian and the rest of the team are appealing to the public to dig out their old photos and see if they have any photos of the park, particularly the Summerhouse.

The site of Summerhouse near Rose Garden cafe in Graves Park, Sheffield. Photo by Ian Rotherham.

He said: “Pictures of the Summerhouse building would be really useful. Many people used the Rose Garden and the café and would have taken pictures there or thereabouts – and if so, we would like to see them.

“Please search your old boxes of photographs and the rest and let us know.”

Ian added: “This work with tens of volunteers from across the region will enable us to drill deep into the history and help us protect and conserve the amazing heritage for future generations.

“Graves Park is presently an under-appreciated gem which can become the jewel in the crown of Sheffield's urban green spaces.”

The park’s website, www.gravespark.org, states that, at 248 acres including the Animal Farm, Graves Park is the largest park in Sheffield, incorporating open parkland and Cobnar, Waterfall and Summerhouse woods.

The park also has children’s play areas and facilities for tennis, bowls, miniature golf, cycling, and orienteering, as well as football pitches, lakes and the rare animal breeds centre.

The Friends of Graves Park said: “We are very grateful to National Lottery Players, who have made this project possible.”

If you have any photos or memories you would like to share, please contact Ian on i.d.rotherham@shu.ac.uk or via info@hallamec.plus.com or by postto Professor Ian Rotherham, Department of the Natural and Built Environment, Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Pond Street, Sheffield , S1 1WBOr, alternatively, please telephone Christine Handley on 0114 2724227.