The History of the RSPCA Sheffield Branch

Alliance Chambers George Street now the NSPCC. Site of the first meeting in 1873.On the 1st October 1873, at the Alliance Chambers, George Street, Sheffield, the first Committee meeting of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) took place. Seven gentlemen formed the first Committee. The Chief Constable Mr Jackson was invited to join the Committee and accepted. A suitable candidate from the Constabulary was selected to be the first Inspector for the Branch, named as Joseph Cooper, who commenced his duties on the 13th November 1873. The wages of Inspector Cooper were paid for by the Society of £1/10s (£1.50p) per week, and in 1875 a second Inspector was appointed. In 1874 a Ladies Committee was formed to provide much needed funds from collections, etc. Some of the proceeds bought horse troughs which were placed around the town centre. A new trough paid for by the Society was erected in the Wicker and monitored on the 13th Feb 1879 from 6am to 6pm. The secretary reported that the number of animals drinking at the Wicker trough was 215. A record was again taken on the 18th resulting in 238 during the same hours. A large proportion of the animals were horses. This averaged about a horse every three minutes, making one think of the volume of horse drawn vehicles there were around Sheffield at that time, and how many horses did not stop there for a drink. The main reason for the formation of the Society was to tackle the cruelty to horses being overworked. One of the first recorded cases by the Society in 1874 was as follows;

"That Mr Binney, the Society's Solicitor, be instructed to appear against Patrick Malloy and another, on the charge of unmercifully beating a horse in the Infirmary grounds until the horse dropped down dead in the shafts."

"Also against a Blacksmith charged with putting out a horse's eye with a blow from a stick. In each case the Committee are of the opinion that a committment to prison should be pressed for without the option of a fine."

In those days the Committee had the power to recommend custodial sentences. Animals being transported by railway were subject to poor travelling conditions, and what few health and safety standards did exist the railway company paid scant regard. This reflects on the case below. From December 1875;

"A case of gross cruelty in sending a large number of live poultry from Ireland, crowded into too small a crate, has come under the notice of this Society. On the arrival of the crate at Sheffield Station a number of fowls were found to be dead, and the remainder were in a shocking condition. They did not appear to have had either food or water on the journey tho' they had been two days on the way. The Committee believe that this custom prevails to a very large extent over the whole of the country."

Letters were sent to all Societies against cruelty to animals.

But it had to be mentioned that the Cabmen of Sheffield seem to be very well revered, as they were mentioned in the Sheffield Independent Newspaper report on the AGM of 1877 at the Cutler's Hall, when the Reverend Blakeney ( Committee Member) spoke;

"I must say on behalf of the Cabdrivers of Sheffield that the people might congratulate themselves upon having so well and kindly disposed of set of men. I did not know of any other town in which the Cabdrivers took such good care of their horses and in which the whip was so used unnecessary."

Disaster struck the Society on December 14th 1892 with the death of Mr Benjamin Cartledge. He had for more than nineteen years acted as Honorary Veterinary Surgeon to the Society and taken a very active share in the work. More information on The Benjamin Cartledge Horse Trough.

The First Dogs Home

The Dogs Home Lady's Bridge. Mr J H Bryars name above the left door, and above the right door the weathered Dogs Home sign can still clearly be seen after over 100 years.As yet no permanent home for domestic animals, but all that was about to change. At the Committee meeting 18th Oct 1898, it was suggested by Miss Jane Barker of the Ladies Committee that a dogs home should be established in connection with the Society. (Miss Barker also founded the Cats Shelter the year before at Gell Street). The Dogs Home in the 1890's were at premises in Pond Street, conducted by the Police and maintained by the Watch Committee.

To adapt the Dogs Home for the Society, including a lethal chamber, would cost another £80 to £100. But a Mr J H Bryers Veterinary Surgeon of Blonk Street offered to build a Dogs Home for the Society upon his vacant land at Lady's Bridge. The Home for Lost Dogs at Lady's Bridge was opened on Thursday 26th July 1900 when the dogs in the old premises at Pond Street were removed to the new home. The lethal chamber was the last item to be fitted. A description of the lethal chamber operation was as follows;

Friday Oct 19th at 7.30pm. Present were; Colin Smith (Sec), H Shelly Barker (Committee), Dr Robertson (Medical Officer of Health). Mr Bryers attended with his assistant Mr Yates, and Mr Chapman of Messrs Lancashire & Son, the manufacturer of the lethal chamber. "Three dogs were placed in it. It was then charged with coal gas passed through a strong solution of anaesthetics. The dogs did not apparently notice the introduction of the gas for two or three minutes after they were placed in the chamber, they then began to become restless, and in another three minutes were all lying down unconscious and apparently without suffering. Some slight signs of life were apparent for two to three minutes more, the whole process taking about nine minutes. The dogs were then taken out and examined, there being no signs of life".

First Dogs Home Lady's Bridge, the original kennels can be seen above the water level of the River Don.

As soon as the Dogs Home opened problems started immediately with damp in the new premises, plus the heating system was totally inadequate. The floors never dried out effectively and the dogs were laid in wet conditions. Attempts were made to improve the problems at quite an expense but the close proximity to the River Don was the big drawback.So as early as 1906, new premises were being sought after and it wasn't until 1912 that a site at Bower Springs was offered by the Council. The plans and tenders for the new dogs home were submitted, and James Fidler Ltd won the contract to build two main blocks of kennels and yards for £876. The new premises at Spring Street were in use by late 1914. The Duchess of Portland agreed to officially open the new Dogs Home whenever that would have been in 1915 (no date is recorded) but the site was in full swing by early Spring. Termination of the Home For Lost Dogs at Lady's Bridge was completed on the 29th Sept 1914.

Affilliation with the Royal Society

After twice previously being asked to join with the Royal Society in 1895 and 1912, the Branch decided in 1917 to take the plunge. So we were now officially the RSPCA Sheffield Branch, but still remained independent and more importantly we still are! The Inspectors were now replaced by the RSPCA Headquarters in London and not, as in the past, by the recommendation of the Chief Constable. But the Chief Constable still worked very closely with the Branch up to the 1950's.

The first addition to Spring Street came in 1930 when the house on the corner of Bower Springs came up for lease. This option was taken up and the house was converted into a caretaker's flat. The house would eventually be altered to the Clinic, plus caretaker's flat, in the 1990's until final demolition in 2005.

On the 18th Aug 1938 an event of some importance took place when our first Clinic for Sick Animals of the Poor was formally opened at 116 Devonshire Street. Veterinary Surgeons very kindly gave their services. Advice and assistance was given free.

Horses Rest Home

In 1933 the Committee, realizing the necessity for providing for poor and decrepit horses a period of complete rest, arranged with the owners of Owlet Farm, Dore, for any such horses to be sent there for a short period of rest and recuperation. Two horses were sent to this moorland farm for a few weeks, and there is every reason to believe that they have benefited by this welcome rest. Nothing was mentioned about the Home until 1949........

Under the Will of the late Mr Benjamin Wilson, the Society came into the possession of a small farm at Bamford, standing in about 26 acres of land. Following discussions with Headquarters, it was decided that the Sheffield Branch would make use of this handsome bequest as a Rest Home for Horses, and subsequently a Mr Howe was appointed to be caretaker at the Home. Everything seemed to be going well as by 1954 the Home had fully justified itself and the Branch placed on record its appreciation and work done by the Manager Mr Howe. Towards the end of the year a Mr J C Darley purchased five horses and one foal at a local auction, thus saving them from being sold to the horse slaughterers. All six were well cared for at the Home, and Mr Darley was commended for his compassion. But by 1955 towards the end of the year, arrangements had to be made to close down the home on instructions from Headquarters.

The accommodation had been below the standards required. Negotiations were proceeding with a view to building new stables and re-opening the Home, but by 1956 on instructions from the Council in London's Headquarters the Home had to close down permanently. The accounts showed that the funds here in Sheffield could not sustain the costs of maintaining the Home. So it was with great regret that the Committee had to accept the decision of Headquarters and close Bamford. But on the plus side all the horses were found very suitable and happy homes by the Inspectors.

The New Animal Shelter Rebuild 1961

In 1959 the Society was left a £12,000 legacy by the late Mrs Florence Wilkinson. It was decided that as two of the blocks of kennels and destruction rooms were very old and in urgent need of repair, these should be modernised. In 1960 the cost of the new premises was in the region of £20,000, so more money was needed, and Mrs Collier (Sec) organised a £5,000 appeal to be spread over two years to be devoted entirely to the new premises. This appeal would be known as The New "Noah's Ark Appeal". Early in May 1961 the old premises were demolished except one existing block of kennels, and re-building of the new premises commenced early in June. In 1961 the Noah's Ark Appeal raised £2,700. The appeal for £5000 was completed in record time, and that on the 26th March 1963 the Lord Mayor handed to the Chief Secretary, representing the RSPCA Council, a cheque for £5,000 which was donated by animal lovers in Sheffield. The cost of the new Spring Street Shelter was some £30,000 The remaining amount being made up by a grant from Headquarters. Also from the Branch funds entire new equipment totalling some £3,400.

On what should have been a joyous start to 1962 was clouded over by the sudden death in March of Mr D J Haggie. Mr Haggie had been connected with the RSPCA since 1923, and Branch Chairman since 1943. He had, since the commencement of the re-building of Spring Street, taken a very active part in the new project, and unfortunately passed away before the Shelter was completed.

1st June 1962. A lovely day cool clear blue skies and some sunshine, and at 3.00pm the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress Alderman and Mrs P C J T Kirkman arrived, along with many other official guests from the City. Also attending were RSPCA representatives from HQ and the Branch President, the Dowager Viscountess Galway, who presided at the opening. The opening was performed by the Countess of Scarborough. Crowds of people thronged Spring Street and were escorted around the new centre, and great interest, praise, and appreciation were expressed by all.

The official opening of the new Shelter Spring Street 1st June 1962.

But just to remind people that the unpleasant life still continued as it always had and unfortunately always will do. Here are two Court Cases from the Inspectors report from 1963;

A crane driver who used a live cat to bait a greyhound was fined £10 with £6-15s costs. (£6.75p)

A steel worker who destroyed six kittens in an improper manner by throwing them into a furnace, was fined £10 with £9-9s costs. (9.45p)

Recession then steady progress

In 1976 the Branch acquired its first charity shop at Crookes, and this was to prove a valuable source of income, and it needed to be because of the ever looming recession on the horizon. Indeed the 1970's, and well into the 80's, the recession was not only biting hard into the finances of the Branch but Sheffield itself. With the devastation of the steel, engineering, and cutlery industries making thousands of workers redundant. This was to have a serious knock on effect for the Branch which would make a relentless consecutive number of losses during these years. In 1981 the then Chairman Miss Littlewood mentioned the fact that financially the year had been difficult, and the "great surplus" often mentioned by members of the public to collectors, has been replaced by a deficit! "Without legacies our Society would now cease to exist in four months." Also many RSPCA Inspectors had been made redundant. Just to use 1981 as a yardstick, the inflation and recession throughout the year had some bearing on the deficit of £4,371.

1983. The introduction of the Neutering Fund. This would allow people on low incomes to benefit.

1984. The long overdue new Cattery was officially opened at a cost of £12,000. Offices were added above the kennels and that would be the final alteration to the animal side of the Shelter until closure in 2005.

1992. The Branch introduced microchipping to all animals re-homed from the shelter and are permanently recorded as part of a national database.

1994. Saw the formation of the Animal Welfare Clinic at 153/155 London Road. The Clinic opened its doors to the public in January 1995. Several staff moved from the Spring Street Shelter to work in the Clinic. The Clinic carried out low cost spaying and neutering operations on behalf of the Doncaster and Sheffield Branches, as well as providing an invaluable welfare service. The Clinic also provided vaccinations and microchipping for animals re-homed by the two RSPCA Branches and those whose owners were in receipt of benefits. The Clinic carried out some 2,200 spaying and neutering operations in the first full year. In addition, 4,000 animals were vaccinated. The Branch contributed some £42,000 towards the cost of the Clinic in 1995. In March 1999 the Clinic transferred its operations from London Road premises to Spring Street.

The old caretakers house at Spring Street, part of which was converted into a Clinic in 1999.

The End of Spring Street

The year 2000 was the centenary of the presence of a Dogs Home at the Sheffield Branch, the first being opened at Lady's Bridge in 1900. Then on to Spring Street in 1915. A lot had been achieved over the century to improve the conditions of the animals, with legislation finally culminating with the Animal Welfare Bill making it much easier for the Inspectorate to achieve convictions. The year 2000 also brought the news via the Sheffield City Council that the proposed new ring road would go straight through our premises, and in 2002 it was confirmed that we would have to move to a new site.

The bulldozers move in to demolish the old caretakers house and Clinic, September 2005.

A New Dawn

It would take far too long to include all the trials and tribulations of moving from Spring Street to the new Animal Centre, but just to include, as you can see from the picture above, demolition began in 2005 and shortly after, with the Shelter being ever more isolated with the encroachment of the roadworks, the public were slowly dwindling in numbers as access became more difficult. A decision was made to close the Shelter as we were no longer viable, and on the 14th October the doors at Spring Street finally closed to the public after 90 Years. But we still remained in situ as an administration centre until we moved to the new Animal Centre in 2008.

The new Animal Centre Woodbourn Road opened its doors to the public in November 2008 at a cost of over £5 million. But we still need around another £1million to complete the building of the Animal Centre. Still to be built when funds allow will be a small animals unit for rabbits gerbils etc, an aviary, plus larger Clinic. On top of that we have to find between £1,600 to £2000 every day just to keep going. So lots of continuous fund raising to be done. Thank you for your interest.

Peter D Smith (TRUSTEE)
Pete sadly died in November 2013. His contribution to the Branch, research into its history, discovery and restoration of the horse trough and ongoing support over the years were so greatly appreciated. He is missed by all who knew him.