Monday, 31 January 2022

Around Moorgate Street in Rotherham

 
The blue plaque at Ivy Cottage

Finishing my brief investigation of the former Alma Road Board School, where I was very curious about the provenance of the sandstone used for the walling, I continued up Alma Road to the crossroads on top of a ridge of the Mexborough Rock, which runs to Whiston Crossroads throughthe area known as Moorgate.
 
Moorgate Road runs through an affluent leafy suburb of Rotherham, with much of its length being lined with large Rotherham Red sandstone houses, which are set in big gardens with substantial hedges and are generally difficult to see close up.
 
The Conservation Area and listed buildings around Moorgate Street

Turning left and heading down the hill towards High Street and Rotherham Minster, I have always thought that this is the most interesting part of Rotherham, which is quite rightly at the centre of the Rotherham town centre Conservation Area.
 
General principles behind the listing of buildings

Over the years, I have encountered very many historic buildings at work and for leisure throughout the UK and, possessing a good appreciation of historic architecture and the rationale behind the statutory protection of buildings, I have often wondered why certain buildings are not listed.
 
The Building Stones of Rotherham

In Rotherham, I have to say that since contributing to the Building Stones of Rotherham by Mike Clark (1995), in which many buildings now included in the Local List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest were highlighted, I have only seen what could be described as great neglect – in respect of both its architectural and geological heritage.
 
Buildings on Grove Road

This is not time or the place to debate the perceived failures in Rotherham’s Town and Country Planning process – which for me includes Corporation Street, Forge Island, High Street and Boston Park – and I am just highlighting a few of the stone built buildings in the town that I consider to have architectural value.
 
The Jamiat Ahl-E-Hadith mosque

The Unitarian Church of Our Father (1878), now the Jamiat Ahl-E-Hadith mosque, was originally built to the design of Flockton and Gibbs – which evolved from the architectural practice that designed the Burngreave Cemetery chapels and Christ Church in Sheffield. It replaced the still existing Downs Row Chapel building - now in private ownership - which dates to 1706 and is sited less than 100 metres away across Moorgate Street.
 
The Downs Row Chapel

Both of these buildings should be listed in my opinion and a good case could probably be made for various others on and around Moorgate Street. Certainly, in other places, buildings that to my eye have lesser architectural merit have been listed, even if only for group value and the use of the locally distinctive Rotherham Red sandstone, which is now unavailable, is a good reason for this.
 
Various buildings on Moorgate Street

The Grade II Listed former Talbot Lane Methodist Church is an anomaly, with respect to the building stones used in Rotherham and, as with the Alma Road Board School, has similar thin planar bedded walling stone that would not look out of place in Sheffield.
 
Talbot Lane Methodist Church

Built in 1903 to the design of Morley and Son of Bradford, the walling stone is also not dissimilar to other sandstones that I have encountered in the northern parts of Barnsley and West Yorkshire and it is possible that the architects chose stone that they were familiar with.
 
The Blue Coat public house

Off Moorgate Street, the Blue Coat public house is Grade II Listed and is the best historic building on The Crofts, where all of the buildings in my opinion contribute significantly to the character of this part of Rotherham.
 
Various buildings on The Crofts

Before I could complete my planned task of photographing the buildings on High Street and the former board schools on Doncaster Road and St. Leonard’s Road, it started to rain heavily and my brief exploration of Rotherham finished abruptly at Ivy Cottage. This was built in 1634 as part of the the town workhouse and, although once listed, was subjected to modern alterations in the C20 that led to its removal from the Statutory List.
 
Ivy Cottage
 

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Alma Road Board School in Rotherham

 
A detail of the Alma Road Board School in Rotherham

Since visiting my first Sheffield Board School in Walkley, in the last week of February 2021, I had visited more than 20 others in a period of less than three months, including those forming the central complex centred on Leopold Street.
 
Building Schools for Sheffield

Based on the information provided in Building Schools for Sheffield and reinforced by the short article on the Sheffield Area Geology Trust website, as well as my own observations, I think that Crawshaw Sandstone has been used for the walling stone in most of these schools.
 
At the Leopold Street buildings, however, Crosland Hill sandstone from the Rough Rock near Huddersfield is the principal building stone and, at the Wincobank and Pye Bank board schools, I think that other sandstones have been used.
 
A general view from Alma Road
 
For my next excursion, on the Sunday after I had briefly surveyed the building stones at Burngreave Cemetery and Christ Church, I decided to investigate the few remaining schools that were commissioned by the Rotherham United School Board - starting at Alma Road.
 
A general view from Alma Road

An internet search has revealed very little about the board schools in Rotherham, but the Local List of Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest, produced by Rotherham District Civic Society states that Joseph Platts of Rawmarsh designed the extension and caretaker’s house, built in 1907 and probably the original 1896 school too.
 
A detail of the Alma Road elevation

The most obvious architectural features of the original school building are the steeply pitched roofs, with gables being ornamented with finials, trefoils, scrolls, kneelers and prominent keystones used for the window arches.
 
A view along the east elevation of the 1896 school building

Many of the design elements look similar to those used in the Sheffield Board Schools, which include herringbone masonry set within recessed arches with voussoirs and these are continued in the school extension, with some gables being in the Dutch style.
 
A general view of the 1907 extension

The vast majority of the historic stone buildings in Rotherham are built in the locally distinctive Rotherham Red sandstone - a variety of the Mexborough Rock – with the walling stone for the remainder typically containing prominent iron staining and Liesegang rings, which is a feature of the stone quarried from most of the Coal Measures in South Yorkshire.
 
The rear elevation of the 1907 extension

I didn’t study the stonework closely, but the walling stone is not like anything that I have seen in Rotherham and I don’t think that it would look out of place in Sheffield, where Crawshaw Sandstone was favoured – very often with Stoke Hall stone for the dressings.
 
The north elevation of the 1896 school building

Joseph Platts was certainly familiar with Stoke Hall stone, which he used in the Masbrough Equitable Pioneers Society Building on Westgate, completed in 1909. Although I have no evidence to support this, it does make me wonder if he was influenced by the choice of materials used for the Sheffield Board Schools.
 
A detail of the walling stone
 

The Pye Bank Board School

 
The Sheffield School Board crest depicting Minerva

My brief exploration of Burngreave had, to date, provided several points of interest – including the architecture, monuments and a potential educational resource at Burngreave Cemetery – and the use of coarse, gritty sandstone for the headstops at Christ Church.
 
A panoramic view towards Walkley and Wadsley

The next stop on my walk was the Grade 2 Listed former Pye Bank Board School, set on an escarpment of Silkstone Rock that overlooks the Upper Don Valley, with panoramic views that extend from Netherthorpe to Walkley, Malin Bridge and Wadsley in the north-west of Sheffield.
 
The original school on Andover Street

Built in 1875 to a design by Innocent & Brown, the year after Grimesthorpe Board School, it was the 13th Sheffield Board School by the architectural practice and there is no sign of the extravagant designs being kept in check by the Sheffield School Board.
 
The Andover Street elevation
 
As with very many of their other schools, its design has been tailored to fit its hill top location and would have been clearly visible from some distance away, with the original Andover Street elevation looking more like a church than a school in scale.
 
Trademark Innocent and Brown details on the Andover Street elevation
 
The projecting central part of this elevation contains all of the trademark features of CJ Innocent's work, which include herringbone masonry set into recessed arches, the Sheffield School Board name and date in raised lettering on a band course and the board crest, with the head of Minerva and symbols of the city set into a quatrefoil.
 
The caretaker's house

A caretaker’s house was added in 1877, with an extension added in 1884 by CJ Innocent, when he was working as a sole practitioner after the death of his partner, Thomas Brown. The later buildings are very simple in style and without ornament, which perhaps reflects the fact that the design contracts were now won by open competition.
 
A general view

I didn’t look at the stonework in any detail on this occasion and only took a few general record photos for the British Listed Buildings website photo challenge; however, looking at these photos, my first impression is that Crawshaw Sandstone has not been used for the walling here.
 
A general view of an 1884 extension

Except for the Newman Road school in Wincobank and the Central Schools on Leopold Street in Sheffield city centre, all of the board schools that I had seen to date are built in a medium grained, uniformly buff coloured sandstone with well defined planar bedding; however, at Pye Bank Board School, the rock-faced sandstone is quite massive and light brown with intermittent iron staining. 
 
A general view of the 1884 extensions

Without documentary evidence, reference buildings and extensive rock exposures to examine, this just highlights the difficulties of correctly identifying and matching stones in Sheffield’s historic buildings that may need to be restored – especially when certain architectural elements, such as the columns on the Andover Street frontage, are made of the now unavailable Red Mansfield stone.
 
Red Mansfield stone columns on the Andover Street elevation
 

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Christ Church on Pitsmoor Road

 
A headstop carved in gritty sandstone

Continuing my exploration of the area around Burngreave in Sheffield, I headed up Christ Church Road to Pitsmoor Road, where I wanted to see if I could take some photos of the large early C19 houses for the British Listed Buildings website.
 
A boundary wall on Pitsmoor Road

Of the two houses that I could see from the main road, No. 253 is built in sandstone ashlar that has marked iron staining in places, with the development of Liesegang rings, whose provenance I couldn’t determine; however it is noticeably different to the flaggy sandstone used to build the boundary wall that fronts this group of houses.
 
The 1855 Ordnance Survey map of Burngreave

On the 1855 Ordnance Map, three quarries to the south-east and east are all set on the Parkgate Rock, which would seem to be the preferred source of better quality building stone in this part of Sheffield; however, although the Silkstone Rock is also nearby, the boundary walling looks very much like the Greenmoor Rock, which occurs a few hundred metres to the west.
 
A general view of Christ Church

Crossing over the road to Christ Church, it is immediately apparent that its boundary walls are built with a sandstone that is more massive and has been worked into larger blocks, which are much more regular in shape and size.
 
A detail of a window at Christ Church

Christ Church was built in 1850 to the design of Flockton and Son, who were also responsible for the chapels and lodges at Burngreave Cemetery, which was built 10 years later and the medium grained sandstone used for the walling and the coarse gritty sandstones used for the dressings have distinct similarities.
 
A detail of sandstones used at Christ Church

The generally cross-bedded walling stone also has distinct iron staining and Liesegang rings, like the late Georgian house at No. 253 but, in places, there is well defined planar bedding that is reminiscent of the Crawshaw Sandstone.
 
Gritty sandstone used for headstops

Some of the gritty sandstones contain a significant content of feldspar, which is susceptible to weathering and many of the headstops display weathering of the details, which is not generally seen when the sandstone is composed essentially of quartz grains that are cemented with silica.
 
A detail of a weathered headstop

The Chatsworth Grit and Loxley Edge Rock in Sheffield possess these characteristics, which makes me think that although the railways had began to bring much better quality stone from Derbyshire and West Yorkshire, local architects were still inclined to use these local gritty sandstones for the dressings.
 
The tower at Christ church

Without documentary evidence to support my observations, I can only make an educated guess on the provenance of the various sandstones that I could see here, including those used for the extension in 1985, which are obviously quite different to the original building stones.
 
A view of Christ Church showing the 1985 extension
 

Education in Burngreave Cemetery

 
A weathered headstone in Burngreave Cemetery

When working in the building restoration industry in London, I encountered very many different building stones – limestones, sandstones, granites, marbles and slates – and it seemed natural as a geologist to develop specialist stone matching skills, when presented with an architect’s specification that states: “All materials used for repairs shall match the existing”.
 
London Illustrated Geological Walks by Dr. Eric Robinson

I don’t know if it is different now, but at the time there was no university or college courses to learn these practical skills and I just used a Natural Stone Directory, various Building Research Establishment Reports and various city building stone guides, particularly Dr. Eric Robinson’s London Illustrated Geological Walks, to develop an eye for the subject.
 
The Triton Stone Library

For the work I was doing, this was an essential practical skill but such building stone trails, including those used in cemeteries and churchyards, have since been considered as a valuable educational resource for teaching the basics of geology – for schools and various adult groups.
 
The Building Stones of Rotherham

In South Yorkshire, I have made significant contributions to such guides in Rotherham and Sheffield and have led ‘urban geology’ walks with the Sheffield U3A Geology Group in Leeds and Sheffield and I have had a good look at the Sheffield General Cemetery, where there is a long established geological trail that is used often for guided walks.
 
The Sheffield General Cemetery Geological Trail

Having had a quick look at the various stones used for the lodges and chapels in Burngreave Cemetery, I noted the use of at least two sandstones and, in the war memorial and Commonwealth War Graves, Portland limestone.
 
A large memorial made of dolerite

When continuing my walk back down to the main entrance, I could hardly miss the various stones used in the private memorials along the way, which could be used for educational purposes. Firstly, a large complex memorial with four columns topped by a dome and urn, which is made of black dolerite – a basic igneous rock of intermediate grain size that is composed mainly of the minerals pyroxene and plagioclase feldspar.
 
A detail of dolerite

Without even searching them out, I came across three different granites, where quartz, alkali feldspar and the micas, biotite and muscovite, can be seen and if I had made the effort, I would have found several more – as well as white Carrara marble, which was widely used for angels and other figurative sculptures.
 
Various granite memorials

The older part of the cemetery that I saw is occupied by traditional Victorian headstones, made from slabs of the Brincliffe Edge Rock, the local variety of Greenmoor Rock, which developed a great reputation for its monumental quality.
 
Victorian headstones made of Brincliffe Edge Rock

The very fine grain of the Brincliffe Edge Rock made it very suitable for letter cutting, with a range of calligraphic styles and other shallow relief sculptural work, most of which are still in very good condition after more than a hundred years, although usually blackened.
 
A detail of a Victorian headstone
 
Occasionally, the headstones are seen to have failed spectacularly, with the surface of the headstone having delaminated along the bedding planes, which has led to the complete loss of the inscriptions, but also reveals a fresh surface of the sandstone.
 
Delamination on a headstone
 
This part of the grounds was originally set out on part of the ancient oak woodlands of Burn Greave Wood, where a small group of sessile oaks with its carpet of bluebells has been retained and, although ivy is a big problem here, it provides a habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna, which adds to its educational value.
 
Headstones covered in ivy