Right at the very edge of Meersbrook Park stands Bishops' House, a small, slightly squint, half-timbered building. Coming up the hill through the park and seeing it nestled in the trees you can picture it in its heyday, when Captain William Blythe of the parliamentary army took timber and plaster from Sheffield Castle to improve his home. The Blythes owned the land and the buildings for centuries, farming the land and making scythes till Samuel Blythe died suddenly in 1735. In the 1750s the family sold up. After being rented to various farmers it was sold off when Meersbrook Park was created and became a home for park employees.
The house gets its name from John and Geoffrey Blythe, two brothers who were most probably born on this land and who both went on to be bishops – John became Bishop of Salisbury and chaplain to Henry V11 and Geoffrey became Henry V11’s diplomatic envoy and Bishop of Coventry and Litchfield. After the Wars of the Roses, the upstart Tudors became monarchs and put people of lower rank that they could trust in positions of power. Bishop John Blythe went on to ordain another person of lower rank who was to become the most influential churchman in the land, Cardinal Wolsey.
The charm of Bishops' House is partly its size, which is that of an average family home. Much of the old period furniture helps visitors to imagine what family life may have been like in the 16th or 17th century. You can stand in the parlour and imagine the chatter as they sat at the table eating their main meal of the day, or in the bedroom and picture the mother in bed with the baby in the cradle. This is no stately home with servants. This is a home our ancestors might have lived in.
It is a quirky house – like many old houses – with strange marks on the timber and other oddities. The fine plasterwork over the fireplaces is a surprise in a house of this size, but most probably came from Sheffield Castle. I can’t help thinking that it might have been some sort of trophy for Captain William Blythe, who had besieged the Castle and then helped demolish it. When the house became a museum the curators obviously responded to its oddities with some of the objects they put in, such as Oliver Cromwell’s death mask. And the kind of events held at Bishops' House also reflect that. Traditional Korean music, English folksongs, poetry and songs of the 1970s, medieval apothecaries, and traditional crafts – the variety is endless.
Although the house is open to all at the weekends, it is often open in the evenings for history talks or music. Unfortunately because of its age and eccentricities the upstairs is not accessible to wheelchair users but many of the activities are held downstairs.
Bishops' House will reopen to the public on Sunday 4 July. It plans to open only on Sundays throughout July, returning to both Saturdays and Sundays from August. Check its website for more details.
- Words by
- Joyce Bullivant
- Featured in
- Sheffield museum & gallery reopenings