Bishops’ House was built in 1554, during the short but turbulent reign of Mary Tudor (1553 to 1558) and appears to be the last surviving building from that era in the tiny village of Norton Lees. Norton Lees was a village in the parish of Norton which included a large part of what is now southern Sheffield, and at the edges of the valleys cut by the Sheaf and its tributary the Meers Brook. Norton in the sixteenth century was the principal scythe making community in the North of England. These are a few brief notes about the area.
Maps covering individual areas such as Woodseats, Heeley and Norton in the 1720s and 1740s show a completely rural area with the land divided into fields for agriculture and only the beginnings of any nucleated settlement.
A map of the parish of Heeley from 1796 and one of Norton from 1804-05 shows this rural landscape, divided by fields and a few areas of woodland with here and there a few small scattered communities. Before the modern street layout, Heeley was no more than a group of extended farms, divided into Heeley, Upper Heeley and Heeley Green. Norton Lees was a small community around Bishops House. There was more occupation where modern Gleadless lies and the beginnings of Woodseats. The major difference is that the modern Chesterfield Road was laid out in 1757 as a turnpike road from Sheffield to Chesterfield, replacing the old coach route from Sheffield to Derby which ran up from Heeley, through where Meersbrook Park now lies and out through Graves Park.
An 1845map shows the landscape in the middle of the nineteenth century. Little has changed. A few field boundaries have moved and a few farm tracks have become minor roads. But things were about to change. The Midland Railway was driven through the Sheaf Valley, opening in 1870. Soon after that, in 1872, the first streets of modern Heeley were laid out and then the remainder of the familiar streets of Heeley slowly covered the agricultural land. Meersbrook Park opened in 1887 and by the 1890s the streets were covering the area bordering the new park. Heeley railway station was expanded from two to four platforms in September 1902. But most of the area was still rural and many of the fields that had been in use for hundreds of years were still farmed.
By the 1920s much of what we regard as Heeley, Norton, Meersbrook and Woodseats had been laid out as streets. Very little of the old rural landscape remained. In 1929 the three cottages next to Bishop’s House were demolished. Two big houses close to Bishops House, The Hollies and Thorpe House, were demolished by the early 1930s to make way for the Thorpe House estate, built in 1934.
During the Second World War Sheffield was bombed in December 1940, hundreds of bombs landing in our area. Many local people were homeless and Anns Road Church in Heeley helped to give temporary shelter.
With the building boom of the post war years more streets were laid out. But change wasn’t always one-way. The Meersbrook was culverted in the early 1960s and Heeley railway Station was closed in 1968. In 1977 four streets in Heeley were demolished to make way for the Heeley Bypass. As we know this was never built and instead Heeley City Farm has occupied the land since 1981. In 1988 Sainsbury’s Homebase was built on the old quarry site on Chesterfield Road. The old Heeley railway sidings, once occupied by Greshams Timber Yard, was built over as Heeley Retail Park.
The earliest reference to Sheffield’s population that I have been able to find dates from 1571 when it was estimated at only 833 in the township with a total of 1,676 in the parish. By 1672 the township’s population had risen to 2,311 with 4,685 in the parish.
There were no accurate population statistics before 1801 when the first Census was held. However for Sheffield the enumerations carried out by ‘twenty four of the most sufficient inhabitants’ in 1615 and by a house to house survey in 1736, as well as estimates based on the poll tax returns of 1692, the parish registers and other sources allow us to go back another two hundred years, remembering that an absolute precision cannot be claimed. At the beginning of the 17th century the population of the parish of Sheffield – an extensive area including several villages and hamlets – was estimated at 3,000 of which perhaps 2,200 lived in the town itself. By the end of that century the population had risen to 5,000 of whom fewer than 3,500 lived in the town proper. By 1700 Sheffield was still little more than the largest of a group of villages clustering in the valleys of South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire. The survey of 1736 puts the population of the town at about 10,000 [9,695 on Gosling’s map and 10,120 according to Hunter]. By 1750 it may have exceeded 12,000 while that of the parish as a whole has been estimated at 20,000. At the beginning of the 19th century nearly 46,000 people were enumerated in the Parish of whom nearly 31,500 lived in Sheffield Township and about 35,000 may be estimated to have lived in the urban, built up area.’ But in Sheffield the Industrial Revolution had produced massive change and the population had risen to 135,000 by 1841 and to 220,000 by 1861.
There are several water-driven mills along the Sheaf and one on the Meers Brook, in our area. Some of them provide evidence of the early industrialisation along the Sheaf valley.
Skargell or Bartin Wheel dates from 1631 and was marked as empty by 1850. The building date of Ecclesall Mill, also called Millhouses Corn Mill is unknown and it is first mentioned in 1529 and was still in working order after the Second World War. Moscar Wheel dates from the 15th century and is the oldest known wheel on the Sheaf, and in fact on all Sheffield’s rivers. It was noted as empty by 1891. New Mill or Norton Forge or Hammer Wheel has an uncertain origin date. In 1513 there is a record of a ‘New Milne’ leased to John Blythe of Norton for sixty years. It was recorded as empty in 1891. Smithy Wood or Cliffefield or Garlick Wheel dates from at least 1709 and seems to have gone out of use by 1849 with the collapse of the Parker Shore Bank. Little London Wheel was in use by 1720 and continued in use to the mid 1950s. Heeley Corn Mill was first recorded late in the 16th century and probably went out of use by the 1870s. The first record of Heeley Wheel is from 1581 and it was unoccupied by 1863. Heeley Tilt was occupied in 1747and may have been in use as late as 1896.
Along the Meers Brook, Blyth Mill or Blyth Wheel was recorded as early as 1650 with a final mention in 1739 or 1740.
Construction of the Midland railway into Sheffield began in 1864 following parliamentary approval, and over a thousand recently built houses on the approach to Sheffield were compulsorily purchased and then demolished. By August 1867 work on the Bradway Tunnel was progressing. Stations were built at Dronfield, Abbey Houses, Ecclesall and Heeley. The railway opened in February 1870. Heeley Station originally had two platforms. It was widened with four platforms replacing the original two between July and September 1902. The station stayed open for another six decades, finally closing in June 1968 following the Beeching cuts to the railway system. Today all that can be seen from Chesterfield Road is a weed choked and blocked entrance just south of Heeley Bridge. For railway enthusiasts some exact dates are:
Heeley Station was opened on 01/02/1870.
Heeley North Junction to Sheffield South Junction – Down Slow Line opened 04/05/1902. Up Slow Line opened 11/05/1902.
Heeley Up Main Line and platform replaced by new ones 27/07/1902.
Heeley Down Main Line and platform replaced by new ones 28/09/1902.
Heeley Carriage Sidings to Heeley North Junction up and down slow lines [up side] opened on 08/03/1903.
The first horse drawn trams ran from Lady’s Bridge to Attercliffe in 1873. The line from Moorhead to Nether Edge and Heeley opened in 1877. Tram sheds in Albert Road were opened in 1878. The last of the horse drawn tramcars ran in 1902. The last electric tram ran in October 1960.
The plaque on Heeley Bridge says that the current bridge was built about 1869. There has been a river crossing at this same place, traceable on the 1904, 1896, 1863, 1855, 1835 and 1796 maps. However, some time after 1756 the road south from Sheffield is shown crossing the Sheaf some 50 to 60 m to the west and then continuing south across the bottom of the current Gleadless Road. Before that (i.e. before 1756) the Sheaf crossing was about where Well Road meets London Road.
Evidence for a river crossing at Heeley existing as early as 1650 comes from an edition of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated Tues. 30/08/1864. On p 3 a correspondent quotes from the notes of his four times great grandfather Stephen Fox, who records repairs to the bridge between October and December 1650.
Stephen R Batty (1984) Rail Centres: Sheffield. ISBN 0 7110 1366 7
John Gough (1986) The Midland Railway – A chronology. p 51 University of Leicester. ISBN 0 9511310 0 1. In the Local Studies Library, Sheffield.
Howard Smith (2003) The Sheffield and Chesterfield to Derby Roads. West Bar Printing Services. ISBN 0-9521541-5-3
J Edward Vickers (1992) A popular History of Sheffield p 56. Applebaum bookshop.