Monochrome mysteries of Bishop’s House with Dr Emma Wells

in Sheffield

Burrowed among the bustling suburban sprawl of the city of Sheffield, this timber-framed marvel is in fact the city’s best-preserved example of this type of vernacular-built structure. The building is known colloquially as Bishops’ House and sited at the edge of Meersbrook Park. It is difficult to imagine that it once sat in the centre of a great swathe of fertile green land in what was, in fact, a hamlet belonging then to Derbyshire. Sheffield was just then a small town some two miles away. In actuality, the land was the very reason for its construction as a former farm.

Thought to date from the early 16th century, it is alleged that two members of the Blythe family were prominent local bishops who resided in the house around the turn of that century: Geoffrey Blythe (died c.1530) was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and John (died 1499) was Bishop of Salisbury. Hence the name stuck but there is little evidence for the house ever being their residence.

Contrary to this often-spun yarn, recent dendrochronological dating of the timbers has concluded that the house was built from wood felled in 1553 and likely was constructed a year following for around fifty years in total, so is far from contemporary with the Blythe bishops. Furthermore, documentary accounts record the first known resident as William Blythe, a farmer and scythe manufacturer, who occupied the house in 1627. And yet, its origins go back several centuries beyond, to 1377, when the land upon which the house stands was bequeathed to John de Blythe by William Chaworth.

Throughout the 18th century, the house passed out of ownership of the Blythe family, with other families residing there following. In the 1880s, its proprietorship passed to Sheffield City Council around the time the surrounding estate became a park and various park employees lived in the house until 1974. It is now a Grade II* listed building and has been open as a museum since 1976.

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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