MEMORIES OF SPRING HOUSE and CROOKES SHEFFIELD by Herbert Gregory Slater
(transcribed by John Slater)
John' grandfather was named was Herbert Gregory Slater and he lived from 1892-1978. He was the last one
in John's line of the family to have a major part in the family firm "Herbert M. Slater Ltd" once of 105, Arundel Street. His major hobby was watercolour painting
(a couple of his are apparently on display at the Sheffield City Museum until December
2nd 2002) and he was president of the Heeley Art Club and the Sheffield Society of Artists during his lifetime.
These recollections were recorded around 1970.
MEMORIES - A SELECTION
"Besides being interested in the cutlery trade my grandfather (Warrington Slater) was also a speculator, a very successful speculator at that period. He built houses, he built hundreds of houses, in fact he built, more or less, the whole of Crookes at that period (I think this might be exaggerating -
Transcriber's Note). All the houses on Crookes Road and the branches there from, Sackville Road, Northfield Road, and all around that district were all built by my grandfather.
He had a very simple system, he used to build a row of houses and then mortgage them for as much as he could get, and with the money (and other money that he put to it) he'd build another row of houses and so on and so forth, so that eventually he finished up with a tremendous lot of houses and also a tremendous lot of mortgages, and finally, of course, this led to his downfall because when the South African war started the mortgagees got in a panic, money was very, very tight, they all called the mortgages in and nobody else would take them up and so the old chap was ruined, bankrupt.....
He (Warrington Slater) bought all the land round Dore and Totley where Dore and Totley Station is now and right over to where the Totley Tunnel starts, which, of course, now has become a most very select neighbourhood, with some very nice houses built on it....
He also bought a mansion in School road, it was called Spring House, a big old-fashioned stone-built house situated facing the top of Conduit Road and on the corner of Western Road and School Road, and it composed the whole of the land where there are very many houses built on now. It had a high wall, it must have been at least ten feet or probably more, round, and a sort of wicket gate let into it to get into the garden. It had large rooms and upstairs was more like a rabbit warren as regards cupboards and room and lofts and all manner of things and we, as children, we used to have a terrific time playing hide and seek etc. Round about it, it had a lovely garden, they used to grow figs, grapes and all manner of things in the greenhouses. They had a gardener, and it was a real nice job....
As I mentioned before there was a very high, about ten feet high, stone wall around the ... on the side of the road. And through this there was a very nice large door at the back of which there was a sort of arch had been made of stones and ferns were growing in these. So that, as you went through, the door opened and you went into the garden, it looked as if you were going, more or less, into a cave. Well, now, there was a nice winding path, about five feet wide, I suppose, gravel path that wound round and led to the entrance hall. Now, the entrance hall wasn't at the front of the house but had been sort of built on the side ... at about perhaps fifteen feet behind the frontage and, of course, there was a nice entrance and led into a hall.
Now, the actual facade of the house was composed... it was all built of stone and it was composed of two very large stone bay windows with, of course, about a six or seven foot space in between them. It had a lot of ivy growing on the wall and that was that. On the inside there were the two principal rooms, the dining room and the breakfast room, several smaller rooms, cloakrooms and what not, and a very large kitchen at the back. There was also a room which he'd had altered and made into a bathroom. This was the first bathroom I ever saw. The bath itself, it was on the ground floor, of course... The bath itself was sunk in the ground, I rather think it was made of marble and it was round and, I should say, about four/five feet across, diameter, with a very large tap. That was for cold water, of course, and the hot water that was used had to be carried, I presume, in buckets or kettles or whatever... what not. It filled, put so much cold water in and put hot water, boiling water, in till it got to the required temperature when, of course, you had your bath.
Well the kitchen was a square, probably eighteen feet square, I should imagine, and there was a, what they call, I think, a Yorkshire range, which composed of ovens and a fire in the centre. And at the side of the fire there was a sort of cast iron boiler with a tap in front and, of course, this boiler had water connected. And when it was hot and you wanted some hot water you just turned on the tap - there you were.
Now there was... I remember... a range of bells. Now these bells were like what you might call on the lines of a muffin bell and each one had a coiled spring and it was connected with a wire to the various rooms. And when the cord was pulled, this was, of course, a, very often, a sort of very twisted velvet, very elaborate affair, when it was pulled, these bells, of course, the jerk caused them to ring.
... I know there was a very nice staircase leading up to the upstairs and there were innumerable small rooms and passages and various cupboards and things where we used to play hide and seek...In those days Christmas was the great outstanding thing of the year. And everyone who could afford it, of course, who could manage it, made a great deal of Christmas. I have very vivid recollections of the festivities that we used to have at Spring House at this time.
First of all, we used to gather any time after about half past ten or eleven in the morning. Everyone in the family, choose where they happen to live or where they were at the time, had to come to see the old man at Christmas. Nothing, no excuses were allowed, so that you could guarantee to see all your relations, at any rate, at that period. ...My particular job, I always remember this, when dinner was ready I was in the kitchen with a broom, a broom handle in my hand, and underneath these bells that I described earlier on, this row of bells. And at a signal from my grandfather I had to walk from one end of these bells to the other crashing them with this stick, and making every bell ring and making a most terrific row, no doubt, which, of course, was the signal for everyone to troop down for their dinner.
There was a very large dining table. It must have been very, very big indeed. It was a, as I remember, a mahogany one with several leaves extending to enable us, at least twenty of us to sit down for the meal...The table literally groaned with food, the weight of it, including a huge turkey and all different kinds of jellies and various things that one has at these times. My father was always given the job of carving the turkey as he was supposed to be a special type of carver, having been a traveller and very often carving at the travellers' dinners at the hotels. I know we all had crackers and dunce caps on and various forms of amusement. In fact, everything was done for the children - to give us all a jolly good time.
After the dinner we all went through to the drawing room and there, in one of the corners, was a huge Christmas tree, probably about, I should imagine, ten feet high, covered with all kinds of various gadgets one puts on a Christmas tree. Lights, various things, flags. And at the bottom a heap of parcels so that everyone got a very nice present. I always remember one year, to my great consternation, everybody had their presents except me and there was no present for me and I was just beginning to wonder what was going to happen.
And my grandfather said, "Oh," he said, "You come with me, young man." And he took me into another room and there was a most beautiful rocking horse. It was like the actual horse, had pony skin on it. It was a proper skin horse, just like a real one. As far as I was concerned it was a real horse. And, of course, that put everything right. It was at one of these gatherings, somewhere about nineteen hundred and two, I should imagine, when I was introduced to the first new exotic fruit that had just come in, and that was the tomato... These were quite new at that time, just been either discovered or grown somewhere, and they were eaten,at the beginning, when I first remember them, they were eaten with sugar."
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