History

Whirlow Brook House had two owners before it was acquired by Sheffield Corporation in 1946.

It was built in 1906 for Percy Fawcett, on land owned by his father James Dixon Fawcett, co-owner of James Dixons the Sheffield Silversmiths. (For information about James Dixon Fawcett please see Pauline Bell’s ‘A rare and special collection’.) James lived at nearby Whirlow Court and owned some of the adjoining land, part of the Standhills estate. When James died his elder son Alfred inherited Whirlow Court and gave his brother Percy some land on the Standhills estate on which to build a ‘gentleman’s residence’. He called it ‘Whirlow Brook’.

Whirlow Brook Hall

The site borders the Limb Brook, which once separated the ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, and is also the dividing line between the ecclesiastical provinces of Canterbury and York. The name Whirlow probably means ‘boundary mound’. (See Shirley Frost’s book ‘Whirlow – a history of an ancient Sheffield hamlet’, ISBN ‏‎ 978-0901100269.)

Percy and his wife moved to Dore Moor House, Newfield Lane in 1920. They sold (or gave) Whirlow Brook to Percy’s young sister Lily (known as Madge) and brother-in-law, Walter Benton Jones. Walter was the son of a baronet and chairman/managing director of the United Steels Company in Sheffield. He was also a director of Westminster Bank. Newspaper records show that he was often called to give speeches about the economy or the state of manufacturing.

Madge was a keen gardener and in the late 1920s she is thought to have involved the RHS in the design of the garden. She is responsible for the shrubberies, rock garden and lily pond that currently form a commemorative garden, maintained by members of Sheffield u3a. It is believed that the rock garden was constructed by Backhouse of York. Walter and Madge are said to have employed six gardeners, one of whom lived in the gatehouse and another in a ‘cottage’ adjoining the House.

Sheffield u3a Commemorative Garden

There was a pub on the crescent by the main entrance (where now a pair of semi-detached stone cottages stands) which was part of the estate. Madge’s name was on the deeds which suggests that Whirlow Brook was in her name rather than her husband’s.

Walter succeeded to the baronetcy in 1936 but sadly Madge died two years later in 1938. She was buried in the garden. Sir Walter continued to own the property but having succeeded to the baronetcy he decided to relocate to the family estate, to Irnham Hall Grantham. In 1946 he sold the house, together with 39 acres of land, to a consortium of the Town Trustees and the JG Graves Charitable Trust for £15,000. They then presented it to Sheffield Corporation on the understanding that it was to be used as a public park with all necessary amenities. Work was undertaken to create a drain to the main sewer at Whirlow Bridge, to upgrade the drive, build a shelter with toilets and to renovate the house as living quarters for park staff together with a cafe to be operated by the Civic Restaurants Department. The body of Lady Madge Benton Jones had to be disinterred and she now lies beside Sir Walter in the churchyard at Irnham. The park was formally opened in June 1951.

Lady Madge Benton Jones

Walter and Madge had three children. We have traced the baronetcy down to the fifth baronet, Sir Jamie Benton Jones, who, with his mother Lady Margaret, runs the estate at Irnham Hall, including a 2000 acre farm and the local pub. Sir Jamie visited Whirlow Brook for the first time in June and has agreed to be a patron of Friends of Whirlow Brook Park. There are no records at Irnham, only two oil portraits if Sir Walter and Lady Madge.

The 70th anniversary of the opening was celebrated, together with the 10th anniversary of the Su3a Commemorative Garden, the opening of a new shelter in that garden and the launch of the Friends of Whirlow Brook Park, at an event in the Park in June 2021. Guests included our Patron Sir Jamie Benton Jones, and the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Gail Smith. The above portrait of Lady Madge was on display. Click here to view a video of the event, made by the Sheffield u3a Video Group.

Opening of new shelter

The large scale Ordinance Survey maps for 1899 and 1924 show the site before and after the Hall was built. Note the mill-pond (shown on the earlier map), the inn on the part of the old road that is now the crescent, the pre-existing houses Whirlow Hall, Whirlow Grange, Whirlow House and Whirlow Court, the Rough Standhills and Bole Hill Plantations and the role of the Limb Brook as a boundary.

The house was leased for many years to Fretwell Downing, the catering business, who managed events there and also ran the cafe. At some point the name was changed to Whirlowbrook Hall, presumably for marketing purposes! The operation struggled to break even and in 2013 they decided not to renew the lease. It was subsequently leased to Saxon Hotels as a wedding and conference venue on the understanding that a cafe would be provided within five years. This requirement has proved difficult to enforce.

The gardens continued to be well-maintained for nearly fifty years, until from the mid-nineties local authority budget cuts forced the Parks Department to reduce its spending year on year. The lawns and flower beds continued to be looked after but the rock garden, being high-maintenance, took an especially hard hit.

In 2010 Sheffield u3a offered to restore the area around the rock garden and lily pond to a design and planting plan produced by SCC Parks department. This Friends Group has been established in order to restore and develop the remainder of the park.