W. J. Hale: The Work of a Sheffield Architect

When we talk about architects, we generally concentrate on those with a national reputation, on those architects who, by their innovative approach, moved the art of architecture itself forward. But this can be misleading as such architects form a tiny proportion of the architects in the profession. In the provincial towns and cities of England, thousands of architects practised, their work often limited to the immediate locality and virtually unknown outside it.

Local architects were important in Sheffield as, prior to the middle of the twentieth century, only a handful of buildings were designed by architects from outside the city. The large local practices associated with the Flocktons and the Hadfields did much of the prestigious work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries while C. J. Innocent and Hemsoll & Paterson produced some distinctive work. However, few other local architects produced work of sufficient originality to enable it to be immediately identifiable, in the way that we can recognise a house by Shaw or Voysey or a church by Butterfield or Pearson.

Click to enlarge
Architects, W.J. Hale

An important exception was William John Hale (1862-1929) whose body of work, although small, has a quality that makes it stand out from the merely competent. Hale took elements of the fashionable Arts and CraftsGlossary Term and Art NouveauGlossary Term styles and tailored them to conservative Sheffield tastes, producing buildings that were efficient, distinctive and attractive.

Further Reading: This account owes much to N. D. Wilson, 'Sane, if Unheroic': The Work of William John Hale (1862-1929) Wesleyan Methodist and Architect. Miscellany 1, The Chapel Society 1998 pp. 51-73.

Hale was active on his own account from 1896 until his death in 1929 although no works by him are traceable between 1909 and 1919, possibly due to ill-health or other business interests. His career provides a good illustration as to how patronage operated within the profession. Brought up a Wesleyan and a circuit steward at Fulwood Wesley chapel, he served his articles with Innocent & Brown (the architects of Sheffield's earliest Board Schools) which brought him contacts with local Congregationalists (Innocent was an active member). His marriage to Edith Toothill brought him further contacts, her father being a property developer and her brothers estate agents. A cousin was Secretary of the Sheffield Society of Incorporated Accountants. All were Wesleyans. Hale therefore was well placed through family, religious and business connections to secure work.

His known works include a number of Nonconformist churches, four board schools, industrial premises for Samuel Osborn & Co. and three houses. The most striking of the churches are probably those in the Crookes area of Sheffield; Crookes Congregational, Wesley Hall and St Lukes Wesleyan Church but also the major Victoria Hall, the centre of Sheffield Methodism. Hale's move to a more overtly modern style in the 1920s is to be seen at Banner Cross and Bents Green Methodist churches. Few of his churches retain their original interiors intact; those that have not been converted for other uses have been extensively reordered. His schools at Bolehills, Hammerton Street and Lydgate Lane are also worth seeing. Of his houses, Tainby built for his own occupation, displays his well mannered restraint. His work, which encompasses GothicGlossary Term, RenaissanceGlossary Term, BaroqueGlossary Term, Arts and CraftsGlossary Term and Art NouveauGlossary Term styles is testimony to his view that good architecture does not "lie in pinning one's faith to any particular style to the exclusion of all else but rather in admitting that there is good in all".


Alternative Terms-
Replaced with-
Short Description-
Long Description-
Term Language-