Whirlow Brook Park borders the Limb Brook, a small stream but an important border, which once separated the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria and was the county boundary between Yorkshire and Derbyshire. It is also the ecclesiastical border between Canterbury and York and the parishes of Ecclesall and Dore. The name Whirlow is said to mean a boundary mound. (See Shirley Frost’s book ‘Whirlow – a history of an ancient Sheffield hamlet’, ISBN 978-0901100269.)
The land was originally owned by the Duke of Devonshire, 5 acres of which were bought in 1908 by Percy Fawcett a great grandson of James Dixon, the founder of James Dixons and Sons a major Sheffield manufacturer of pewterware, Britannia metal, silverware and electroplated nickel silver. Percy built Whirlow Brook House and in 1913 bought 8 more acres, constructed the drive and built the lodge at the main entrance. The rockery and ponds were installed and the garden laid out as it remains today.
From the house, the view down the garden included an open stretch of water, a mill pond, built to store water for the Whirlow Mill lower down the valley. Originally a corn mill, by 1802 saws and later scythes were manufactured there. By 1935 the mill was no longer used and now lies derelict on the far side of Ecclesall Road South. Near the entrance to the garden in the curve of the road was a pub, the Whirlow Bridge Inn, built around 1846. It was demolished in the 1930s and a pair of semidetached houses now stand in its place. To the right of the houses, strata of rock are visible and were marked on the 1854 Ordinance Survey map as flagstone quarries.
Percy Fawcett was born in Sheffield in 1871, educated at King’s College, London, and trained as a mechanical engineer. He was employed initially at Laycock’s Victoria Street Works before being appointed chief engineer at Thomas Firth and Sons in 1897. His work there included directing the building of large extensions to their works and the Tinsley works were also erected. For his services during WW1 in reorganizing the works and increasing productivity, Percy Fawcett was awarded the O.B.E. in 1920.
Percy lived at Whirlow Brook with his wife Dora and three children, Alfred, Enid and Kathleen, from 1909 before moving to Dore Moor House in 1919. Whirlow Brook was sold to his sister Lily Marguerite, known as ‘Madge’, and her husband Walter Benton Jones. Madge was a keen gardener and is thought to have added the rose garden as well as many of the plants and trees. Walter Benton Jones, the son of a baronet, was educated at Repton School and Trinity College Cambridge. He was a prominent industrialist with numerous interests and directorships in mining, steel and banking. In 1915 he had succeeded his father as managing director of Rother Vale Collieries which owned mines around Treeton near Rotherham.
Walter and Madge had 3 children, Pamela, Peter and Rachel, who grew up at Whirlow Brook. In 1936, on the death of his father, Walter inherited the baronetcy and the family estate at Irnham Hall, including a 2000-acre farm and the local pub. Sadly Madge died just two years later and according to her wishes, was buried, in the garden of Whirlow Brook. In the 1940s Sir Walter Benton Jones decided to relocate to Irnham and in 1946 Whirlow Brook was sold to Sheffield City Council thanks to generous donations from the J G Graves Trust and the Town Trustees.
Before its opening as a public park, changes were made to the garden to make it suitable for visitors. The body of Lady Madge Benton Jones was disinterred and she now lies beside Sir Walter in the churchyard at Irnham. Paths and drains were laid, the drive was strengthened, the tennis court made into a car park and a shelter built with toilets. The house was altered to make a café downstairs and two flats on the first floor, one for the manager of the cafe, one for the head gardener.
For many years the house was leased to catering businesses on condition that they ran it as a café. In 2013, when Fretwell Downing declined the lease, Saxon Hotels took it on. The Hall is currently run by Vine Hotels as a wedding and conference venue but the requirement to provide a café hasn’t been enforced. In 2023 the shelter in the garden was repurposed to make a café and toilets.
In its early years the garden was well cared for by Sheffield City Council but cutbacks led to less resources being available for its maintenance. Although the lawns continued to be looked after, the higher maintenance areas became neglected. In 2011 the gardening group of Sheffield U3A took responsibility for the rockery and lily pond to a design and planting plan produced by Sheffield City Council parks department. In 2021 at the 70th anniversary of the opening of the park and the 10th anniversary of the Commemorative Garden, a new shelter was opened by Lady Madge’s great, grandson, Sir Jamie Benton Jones and the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Gail Smith. In June 2021 Sir Jamie agreed to be a patron of the Friends of Whirlow Brook, a newly formed group committed to restore and develop the rest of the park. Prior to being contacted Sir Jamie had no knowledge of his family links to Whirlow Brook and there are no records of it at Irnham only two oil portraits of Sir Walter and Lady Madge.
We have prepared a folded leaflet on a Heritage Trail with eight featured waypoints as shown on the map. Copies of the leaflet, images from which are shown below, are available during our events. We would like to express our sincere thanks to the Renwick family who have so generously shared their family photos and allowed us to use them for this trail.