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Burngreave Vestry Hall

Black and white cartoon of children waiting for food outside Burngreave Vestry Hall in 1879
A cartoon from the London Illustrated News in 1879, showing children queuing for food at the Vestry Hall in Burngreave during a period of economic decline © Picture Sheffield, Sheffield Libraries

Colour photograph of the exterior of Burngreave Vestry Hall in the 1980s
Burngreave Vestry Hall in the 1980s before closure © Picture Sheffield, Sheffield Libraries

Situated just above Ellesmere Green on Burngreave Road, the Vestry Hall is a prominent building in the heart of Burngreave. It was built in 1846 to accommodate the Brightside Bierlow Vestry which was the organisation responsible for administering the Poor Law in this part of Sheffield. ('bierlow' is a local word meaning ward or township). This was at a time when the population of the area was starting to grow rapidly and there was need for a large meeting hall. There are no records of the hall's architects or builders but it is recognised as a good example of Jacobean architecture. The rather grand front façade, resembling a small mansion, was designed to impress upon residents that it was a place of importance with a secular purpose, quite separate from the church. It is now a Grade II listed building.

Over the years Burngreave Vestry Hall performed similar functions to those of the town hall. It contained offices and a meeting space for public officials who delivered municipal services in the area. It served as a soup kitchen in times of hardship and economic decline. It became the local registry office, a polling station and also the centre from which rate collection was organised. In the 1900s it housed a branch of the Sheffield Savings Bank and the hall was used for political meetings (described as 'very lively with lots of heckling'). During the Second World War it became an emergency feeding station and gas mask distribution centre. After the war, it became much more of a community centre and was a popular venue for wedding receptions and even church services. During the 1970s and '80s it was used by many local community groups for youth clubs, concerts, dance displays and even church services. By the 1990s, however, a leaking roof and serious structural problems in the foundations had been discovered and the building finally closed its doors in 1997.

Before the hall's closure, a group of local activists formed a trust and tried unsuccessfully to raise enough funds for it's renovation. The hall continued to decay and for several years it remained shuttered and empty, with little prospect of renewal. However in 2006 work started on renovating the hall in order to create a community education centre. This is part of a programme of regeneration for the area, funded by Burngreave New Deal for Communities. Hopefully the hall will open in the autumn of 2007 and will once again play a vital part in the life of the local community.

You can read other stories about the Vestry Hall in Courtship and weddings (Marion Graham) and At home and family life (Hilda Dawson).