A Trip to Bishop's House in Sheffield

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If I had to pick a favourite period of history, it would be the 16th century

I just adore the shambles in York: seeing the timber frames leaning over me every time I wander down the cobbled streets lifts my heart. So, all things considered, it's remarkable that I haven't ever visited our own version of Tudor architecture, nestled in the steel city of Sheffield.

Bishop's house can be found on Norton Lees Lane, at the bottom of Meersbrook Park. It's an easy drive and, if you didn't know it was already there, it would be easy to miss. Unlike so many of the grand historical manor houses in the country, Bishop's House hides in plain, unassuming, sight amongst the modern semi-suburban scenery. Neat squares of grass and pathways frame the roads and  tower blocks of flats rise up in the background. When we visited we pulled up next to one of the countless scruffy allotments that are dotted across Sheffield. Bishop's house presses up to the park edge: a strange relic that is both out of place and yet firmly rooted into it's environment. There is no build up - no gated protection. No pomp or pagentry but for a small sign. You literally walk off the road wander up to a building that has been sat in this corner of Sheffield for the last 500 years.

The understatement of Bishop's house is a large part of it's charm, yet in it's construction it was a grand status symbol. At the time of being built, the park and houses would have instead been covered by fields, so it is thought that Bishop's house was built to act as a small manor house for a minor gentry or for a prosperous Yeoman. It was begun in 1500, it is thought, and there is some legend around how the house gained it's name, though no one has yet been able to support the story. It was thought that a pair of brothers lived in the house for a time who later became bishops: Geoffrey Blythe became the bishop of Lichfield/Coverntry and John Blythe became the bishop of Salisbury. 
While we can't support the evidence of this, there is evidence for the Blythe family having residence in the house some 127 years after it's construction started. In 1627 William Blythe lived in the house. It was thought that he was a farmer that was very successful in the scythe making trade which fourished in Sheffield at this time.
Following the Civil War William's son - a Parliamentarian - also lived there. He was one of two officers responsible for organising the destruction of Sheffield castle in 1648. A minister named Samuel was the last Blythe to reside in the building.
Bishop's house gradually fell into decline until 1886, when the house was given to the Coorperation when Meersbrook Park was created. Previously it had been surrounded by outbuildings, but these were soon demolished. In 1976 the house was opened as a museum.

As a museum Bishop's House is a little underwhelming, but as an example of Tudor architecture and as a living breathing example of Sheffield's lesser-known history, it is a treasure. As you walk across misshapen oak floorboards and wind your way through the cosy rooms of the house, it is easy to fall in love with the building. Display boards proudly show off the work that the Friends of Bishop's House do with schools, where children can come in for talks and to dress up as tudors. In what seems to be a trend in Museums Sheffield properties, there is also a display of farmyard taxidermy that would have charmed me as a kid.

While the main aim of the building is to soak in the architecture, if you look in the display cabinets the house does hold some real treasures. I particularly enjoyed the displays of stunning embroidered gloves worn by a wealthy Sheffield resident, and the examples of stump work embroidery. These are mirrored by a wall display of more modern naive embroidery that charmingly depicts a historical scene in bright vivid colours.

 In addition to the general material history in the place, display boards also give you further insight into the history of Early Modern Sheffield as a whole. For example, a board tells about how law and order was upheld in the town which inspires a rather interesting comparison to our modern ASBOs in use today. It reads:

'No manner of any person or persona shal at any tyme after nyne of the clock until three of the clock in the morninge use walkinge or takinge in towne street whereby it shalbe anoyeance to those that be honest men and householders in the said towne.'

Even in a time before an official police force, in 1554 Sheffield formed the Town Burgesses. These people administered public affairs in the town and employed people to enforce local laws. In addition, the town also paid for a street cleaner and a bellman to patrol the town in the night.

Overall, Bishop's House has a very local feel, and one has to to be charmed by it's character. As a building it is a stunning survivor worthy of respect, and a opening into a time of Sheffield's history which is often overshadowed by its industrial fame in the Victorian era.

If you'd like to visit, you can find bishop's house on Norton Lees Lane, S8 9BE in Sheffield.
And, if you'd like to become a member of the Friends of Bishop's House  you can click here for more info.

-Pictures taken by me in March 2014, filters courtesy of instagram
- Peeks at the Past in Sheffield and the Surrounding Area by Ann Beedham
- Bishop's House Website

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