Old Town Hall stands at the heart of city’s first centre

The Old Town Hall stands on Sheffield Castle’s Green. It was unnecessary to dig a moat on two sides of the mound, for the rivers Sheaf and Don provided good defences.

However to complete the moat a ditch would be dug along the lines of what are now Waingate and Exchange Street, thereby allowing the two rivers to flow round the castle.

Previous archaeological surveys show that the moat, perhaps 35 ft wide at original ground level, splays inwards to18ft in the first 10-20 ft of depth.

Below, vertical rock-cut walls carry it to depths between 30 ft and 40 ft.

Several roads around the castle site, such as Castle Folds, Waingate and Exchange Street, appear to have developed along the courses of the former castle ditches.

Waingate appears to follow the line of the castle’s western defences.

Properties along Waingate were described as being ‘in the ditch’ in early 19th-century leases.

A berm or pathway may have been present along the edge of the west ditch prior to the mid-17th century.

This appears to have followed the present-day eastern frontage of Waingate.

Although the buildings on Castle Green post-date the initial Old Town Hall building, there is clear evidence of buildings on that site since the 15th century and it was certainly occupied before then.

Two documents in Sheffield’s archives list properties on Castle Green which belonged to the Church Burgesses (later to become Town Trust).

The ground at the bottom of Waingate was called Under-the-Water and the bridge, Lady’s Bridge, was approached by a flight of steps.

Under-the-Water was the low ground at the bottom of Castle Green and Water Lane, where Bridge Street has supplanted what was only a footpath.

“The little bridge near unto the Ladye Bridge” is often mentioned. Sometimes it is “the Iytle brydg at the foot of Castel Grene”.

It was not until 1784 that there was any access for wheeled traffic from the south- west side of Lady’s Bridge.

The main entrance to Sheffield, for everything on wheels, from the direction of Rotherham, was on the south-east side of the Don, and over the narrower Sheaf, at the bottom of Dixon Lane.

By the 18th century, with Sheffield Castle long gone, most of the properties in Castle Green and Waingate seemed to belong to the Town Trust.

Records show a mix of tenants: a publisher who wrote and published songs and religious literature but also published for the Town Trust; a cutler; several pubs, a tea merchant, the post office and a cementation works.

The expansion of industry and trade due to Bolsover and Huntsman innovations in steel-making, and the increase in population, created a demand for better hotels and better and bigger markets.

In 1793 the grand Tontine Hotel was opened on the corner of Dixon Lane.

There are still some buildings in Dixon Lane and the Haymarket, and one in Fitzalan Square, from that time.

It is quite possible that the Town Trust looked on the removal of their facilities to Castle Green as part of the regeneration of the castle area as well as loosening the trust’s ties with the Church and moving towards Sheffield becoming a corporation.

The trust allocated 684 yards of ground for the new Town Hall.

This meant displacing several businesses but no doubt the trust counted on the loss being made up by the rise in demand for their other properties and subsequent rise in rents.

lFriends of the Old Town Hall are campaigning to take over the building, which is now in a sad state of disrepair, ands raise the money to restore it.

The annual meeting of the Friends of the Old Town Hall will be held at 7.15 pm on Monday, March 26 at the Friends’ Meeting House, St James’s Street, Sheffield.

At the meeting, directors of Portland Works will talk about how they raised the money to restore the old works and bring into community hands through a community shares issue.

To contact the group, email fothsheffield@gmail.com