Set in a quiet corner of Meersbrook Park, Meersbrook Hall is once again open to the public, having housed Council Offices for the last 60 years. The Park is surrounded by 19th century streets of terraced houses which give virtually no clue to the past.
The Parkers and Gothams
The land at Meersbrook belonged to the Gotham family in mediaeval times. When the male line died out in the 14th Century Elizabeth Gotham married Thomas Parker and they took ownership of Lees Hall and its estates. There were three major landowners in the area: the Parkers with land bordering the Sheaf, the Blythes who lived in Bishops House and the Foljambes.
Meersbrook Hall is thought to be built on land which belonged to the Parkers. It is difficult to ascertain when the first notable building was built but it is thought it was a farm house of reasonable size, probably with associated barn and farm buildings nearby.
The earliest documentary evidence of a building at Meersbrook Hall are the notes of William Fairbank, of alterations he made to an existing building in 1759 when Benjamin Roebuck bought the estate.
Benjamin Roebuck 1759 – 1778
Benjamin Roebuck was one of five brothers who founded the Carron Iron Foundary in Ayrshire. He was a pupil of Samuel Blythe at Bishop’s House. Benjamin Roebuck was a steel supplier to the scythe smithies and then became a banker.
A plan of the estate made by (the second) William Fairfax in 1770 shows the house – a single building – and a walled garden directly in front of it. It is not known whether this garden was ever constructed as the present Walled Garden is up the hill, away from the Hall. The estate which Roebuck bought included fishponds, an orchard, and possibly a walled garden next to the house. The plan also shows the Derby-Sheffield road running directly alongside the house and garden.
The bank collapsed in 1778 and Roebuck had to sell his estate.
The Shores 1778 – ?
Benjamin Roebuck sold his estate to Samuel Shore in c 1778. The Shore Family were also involved in banking. They had another estate at Norton, which they lost, retaining only the Hall at Meersbrook. In 1819 the Hall was extended and the arched entrance was added by (the third)William Fairbank. Samuel Shore died in 1828 leaving the house to his three daughters. Upon the death of the sisters the estate at Meersbrook was rented to a lawyer, before it was eventually sold to Sheffield Corporation in 1886.
Sheffield Corporation – public ownership
The Shores had joined up with a development agency and were selling parts of the estate for housing. They had plans to sell what is now the park, leaving just a small garden around the Hall, and demolishing Bishop’s House entirely.
There was pressure from the public to create more parkland for recreation. Football was becoming increasingly popular and there was great demand for pitches. In 1886 the park was bought by Sheffield Corporation for £7500. The sale was celebrated in the Red Lion on Chesterfield Road.
Meersbrook Hall housed the Ruskin Collection from 1890 to 1953. Although Ruskin initially declined the offer of housing the Collection at Meersbrook he changed his mind by 1889 when his health was failing. The Collection continues to be owned by the Guild of St George, which was founded by Ruskin in the 1870s to promote social justice.
The Museum was comprised of: a picture gallery, a print room, a library, a minerals and sculpture room and a lecture room. The walls were adorned with quotes from Ruskin, “All things are noble in proportion to their fullness of life” and “Pleasant wonder is no loss of time” and “Nothing that is great is easy.”
The museum was a great success with visitor numbers averaging 45’000 visitors and 600 students per annum. But despite these numbers the Council was not happy and in several meetings discussed moving the collection to a more central place. This despite Ruskin constantly saying before he died that he wished the collection to be in a natural setting and away from the worst of the industrial smog. In the 1950s the roof needed substantial repairs and the collection was removed into storage. In 1985 a new Ruskin Gallery opened on Norfolk Street in the city centre, before it was moved again to its current location in the Millennium Galleries.
Since 1954 the Hall has been home to Sheffield’s Parks and Countryside department with no public access. On 28th April 2016 the Parks’ staff moved to offices in Sheffield City Centre. The Friends of Meersbrook Hall and Heeley Development Trust received the keys to the building on 3rd May 2016 ready to start work on the next chapter.