Pisgah House is a Grade II listed residence constructed in the 1820’s, tucked away in a quiet backwater (Pisgah House Road) at the top end of Hoole Rd. It is next door to the Etruria House Hotel, which is also a listed building. Pisgah House has a fine 2-story coach house which is itself a listed building
The rear garden of Pisgah House is part of the Botanic Garden on the Tapton Experimental Gardens site. It houses a significant portion of the plant collection. When the Tapton site is redeveloped, whatever public open space remains on the site will adjoin Pisgah House’s garden. To see clearly how these elements fit together, you can download a diagram of the entire site here.
What is it?
Founded in 1951, this botanic garden contains more than 2000 species of plants and has provided an experimental centre for Sheffield University’s department of plant sciences. The garden is established in grounds that form part of the historic landscape around Hallamgate House (built circa 1780, now demolished), Tapton Elms (now renamed Hadow House) and Pisgah House (the oldest listed residence still standing in Broomhill). The garden contains a number of built structures including a ha-ha, a Victorian walled ornamental garden and a pond, in addition to many fine mature trees. The University want to sell the site to developers who plan to demolish many of the existing structures and build a housing estate upon it, along with a larger development on the site of the Tapton Halls of Residence on the adjoining land.
Where is it?
Main entrance is at number 26 Taptonville Road, towards the top end of Taptonville Road, but the garden also has a second entrance from Hoole Road to the rear. The total land area of the garden is around 1 hectare (2.5 acres). Few people in the community know about it because it has rarely been open to the public. This photogallery gives some impression of what is behind that wall, the real thing is even better…
Why save it?
It occupies such a sensitive site in the heart of our conservation area, and has importance as part of the historic landscape pre-dating (and contemporary with) the development of Broomhill;
It provides amenity for the surrounding houses, and an important habitat for birds, bats, rare newts and other wildlife, in addition to its unique plant collection;
Broomhill is desperately short of public green space and the loss of such a good potential public garden in the centre of our community would be a tragic missed opportunity;
Broomhill has suffered many detrimental changes to our local environment as a result of University expansion: surely the University could give something back by working with the community to conserve this garden?
The land in question was originally the garden of Tapton Elms, a fine house now owned by the University of Sheffield that was built by Alderman John Hobson and his wife Thyrza in 1853. Alderman Hobson and his wife had several children. Their second child, called Albert, who continued to live at Tapton Elms after his parents died, was awarded a knighthood around the turn of the century. He also served as Lord Mayor, Master Cutler and president of the Chamber of Commerce nationally and locally, and sat on the council of Sheffield University.
The general lay-out of the ‘Secret Garden’, as it is known , from old maps. There was an informal lawned area immediately in front of the house and a formal walled garden beyond that. Many of the original features of the walled garden still remain. The residents of Broomhall proposal, which was supported by the 1750 people who signed a petition, is to re-create the original gardens and open them as a small public park?.
This would showcase the time when Sheffield was becoming one of the industrial powerhouses of the world and some of the foundations for the city we have today were laid. Among the legacies of that time are the houses and gardens built by successful businessmen (in the days before Ferraris and helicopters), at least partly to show off their wealth. Re-creating the gardens The residents of Broomhall propose would place Tapton Elms once again in its original garden setting. It is proposed that the house itself should be converted into apartments, and The residents of Broomhall have no objection to that.
John Hobson, who might he be then?
John Hobson was in fact responsible for the development of much of Taptonville Road, where these gardens are situated, and it was the view up the road that prompted John Betjeman to describe Broomhill as ‘the prettiest suburb in England’ back in the 1960s.
Another reason for the proposal is that Broomhill is identified in the current Unitary Development Plan as being extremely short of public open space. Restoring the gardens of Tapton Elms would also address that problem to some extent. We see no other opportunity to do so, given that Broomhill is so densely developed now and almost all land of any size is also owned by the University.
The residants of Broomhall have no general objection to the proposed development on the northern part of the site accessed from Crookes Road. There are concerns from local residents about privacy and over-looking, but The residents of Broomhall generally welcome the redevelopment of Tapton Hall of Residence.
However, they disagree very strongly with almost every aspect of the planning officer’s report where it deals with the southern part of the site, known as the experimental gardens. It ignores or dismisses without proper justification important planning reasons why this part of the site should not be developed.
Here a few examples.
Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE5 says: ‘Designs should take full advantage of the site’s natural and built features’. The proposals for the experimental gardens would destroy one of only three walled gardens in Sheffield – this one dating back some 150 years – as well as a line of trees that are marked on a map dated 1893 and have for many years been a major feature of this street. The recent appraisal of the Broomhill Conservation Area carried out by the City Council specifically notes the need to preserve the vistas that were one of the main reasons why the conservation area was declared in the first place.
Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE15 says the City Council will preserve or enhance buildings and areas of special architectural or historic interest that are an important part of Sheffield’s heritage and will not permit developments in these places. According to the officer’s report, this policy would be met by demolishing the walled garden that used to belong to one of the city’s most prominent citizens and felling a stand of 100 year old trees.
Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy BE21 relates to historic parks and gardens. Because the application area does not contain a listed historic park or garden the officer’s report describes this section of Sheffield Unitary Development Plan policy as ‘not relevant’. The walled garden of Tapton Elms is not listed now – largely because so few people have known of its existence — but the Sheffield Conservation Advisory Group has recommended that it should be listed and eminent figures such as the Professor of Landscape History at Sheffield Hallam University supports this view. But it is not listed – so according to the officer’s report it is justifiable to destroy it. A remarkable conclusion!
The residents of Broomhall walked round the Tapton site with several members of this Planning Board on a grey October day. The trees were losing their leaves. Some of the plant beds in the experimental gardens had already been stripped. The glass houses and laboratories, never attractive, are looking at their worst. It would be easy to think that anything would be more attractive than what is there now.
From Lyceum Theatre 30 years ago.
They was reminded of the Lyceum Theatre 30 years ago, then owned by a private company. It was run down and seemed to have no future. The owners wanted to demolish it, so they could sell the site to a developer. It is hard to believe now, but the City Council supported demolition. Today the Lyceum Theatre is a focal point in Sheffield, giving pleasure to tens of thousands of people every year and recognised as an important asset for the city.
The same for Aizlewood’s Mill on Nursery Street. Some 20 years ago Mike Bower former council leader for Labour showed some people round the building, which had been abandoned. It was derelict (could be where we get the urban exploration bug from). A dead cat was lying on a pile of old sacks on the top floor. Rain was coming through the roof. No-one else was interested in it. The easiest course would have been to knock it down and clear the site. But Mike Bower and others saw the potential, got some funding and today it is an interesting and useful part of Sheffield’s heritage.
The walled garden of Tapton Elms
Could be the same. But instead the applicants Miller Homes was proposing to build 22 houses on there. Elsewhere on the site there would be 69 apartments and 24 houses – The Broomhill residents have no objection to these. But for the sake of 22 more houses, the applicants wanted to destroy the garden and fell the trees next to it.
You might well wonder if we, the Broomhill residents, could be trusted to realise that potential. BANG are one of the oldest community associations in the city – they have been in existence for 35 years. Smaller communities in Broomhall and Whirlow have successful restored larger areas of land than we are talking about, and they have done so without spending large sums of money. Less than £50,000 in both cases have transformed Lynwood and Whinfell gardens for the benefit of Sheffield citizens, from Endcliff Park to Western Park The Botanical Gardens and Norfolk Park it has been community’s that have seen there regeneration, re introduceing them to the next generation of working class these places was built for. So, unlike the Miller Homes application, the proposal meets the requirements of the Sheffield Unitary Development Plan, would add to Sheffield’s cultural heritage and is a practical, achievable project.