Whirlow Brook Hall – resurgence, at last!


Sometimes it happens that a building is barely noticed by the public; it might have obvious charm and yet is poorly sited; it can be architecturally interesting, yet is overshadowed by a much more famous structure. For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be any logic attached to a building’s lack of popularity. Whirlow Brook Hall is just such a place. I have often visited with my family, as it is only 4 miles from the bustling city center of Sheffield, ‘the Steel City’, yet is on the Yorkshire/Derbyshire border, set in a tranquil estate, off the A625 Sheffield to Hathersage road on the edge of the Peak District National Park.

The attached farm, formerly tenanted in the traditional manner, is now operated as a Charitable Trust by Sheffield City Council, and is visited by underprivileged children from the inner city as well as the young disabled and those with special needs; short residential courses are available for those who qualify, so they can mix with the sheep, cows, goats, poultry, pigs, horses and ponies and get a taste of country life and farming!

Just beyond the farm boundaries lies Whirlow Brook Hall. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many of the Sheffield nouveau riche sought to move upwind of the city’s polluted atmosphere (that their own industrial activities had caused), and looked to build on land to the west, on the beautiful Derbyshire border not far from the Peak District. Thus, Percy Fawcett purchased around 40 acres of land on a rising plot, overlooking Ecclesall Woods just off the Hathersage road; this property was next door to one owned by his brother. What was described as a ‘family manor house’ in local sandstone with castellated parapets was built, with wide windows, and a large terrace looking south towards Abbeydale and the woods. The main entrance door is of light oak, constructed in a contemporary style, of ‘tongue and groove’ panels with heavy, black iron door furniture, including strap hinges. The stone arch surrounding the door is accented by an inset line of rectangular blue/grey blocks of basalt.

In 1920, Sir Walter Benton-Jones, 2nd Baronet Jones of Treeton, and Lady Jones, took possession of the house. Sir Walter was Managing Director of Rother Vale Collieries, near Rotherham, and also had banking and other business interests in Yorkshire. Lady Lily (who liked to be called ‘Madge’) and he were both passionate gardeners and they, and their garden staff of six, began to transform the 39 acre estate into a horticultural gem. Lady Lily died in 1938, and I think it was this that caused Sir Walter to sell the house, soon after. I don’t think he could bear to be in that garden. The buyer was a consortium of the Town Trustees, Graves Charitable Trust and Sheffield Corporation, and the price was £15,000 (today’s price – £630,000, or around $980,000!).

Following the Second World War, during which Sheffield had been heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe on occasion, Sheffield City Council decided to open the Whirlow Brook estate as a public park. This was done in 1951, and the Lodge (at the entrance to the estate) bears a sign, ‘Whirlow Brook Park – This park, which covers 39 acres, was officially opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman J. W. Bridgland, in June, 1951’. There are deciduous and coniferous trees, wetlands and a lake, lawns with formal flower beds, rock gardens and much more. The house was leased to a commercial tenant as an event venue, and was licensed for civil marriages, which was fine in theory, but there was a conflict. Half of the front of the house had been converted into a cafe for the general public, which meant that there could be no private events scheduled before 5pm on any day, and this particularly hurt the ‘wedding trade’ as well as any potential business meetings, as privacy could not be assured. Consequently, the cafe was closed in 2010, and the company concerned gave up its tenancy of the Hall.

Fortunately for all concerned, a company called Saxon Hotels Ltd (who run the nearby Mosborough Hall as a meeting venue) were named as the new tenant in 2013. They are solving the ‘public catering’ problem, by building a new cafe in the park, away from the Hall, so that the building can be refurbished and optimized as a sophisticated wedding, social and business conference venue, with various size ‘spaces’ on offer, the largest of which is the ‘Garden Room & Terrace’. Saxon Hotels already have a reputation for running this type of operation locally, and they also plan to host ‘Garden Parties’ in the grounds for the general public, with lawn darts, giant chess, giant Jenga, croquet, lawn boules and laser clay pigeon shooting. Catering for these affairs will consist of an ‘afternoon tea’ with optional champagne! The Hall will open for business in 2013, and the Park will remain open during the refurbishment.

I think that I may – appropriately – borrow the motto of the city of Portland, Maine, with regard to Whirlow Brook Hall – ‘Resurgam’

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