St Vincents parish tells the story of not just of a Sheffield parish but of simular parishes in the main towns and cities of this country at the same period. It is a sharp reminder to us today of the origins of so many of our large city parishes in the lives of the poor often destitute immigrants of those years. In the midst of growing Victorian affluence the immigrant community lived in povety and degregation.
Starting as a small mission in Solly street the parish of St Vincent's grew. Not only was it a place of worship but over the years it would become a mainstay of the community. It would in time provide education, at first it was very basic to try and discipline the wild and unruly children but with the help of the Catholic Clergy it evolved.
Within a few weeks of the mission opening there was a steady increase both in children attending the School and people attending mass.
Just over two years when the building started on the Church it had been a struggle to raise funds but in December 1855 they had enough money and the work began.
The Church was officially opened on the 15th december 1856 " The feast of the Immaculate Conception ". The Sheffield telegraph reported " The opening of the new Catholic Church in White Croft took place yesterday morning. the attendance was very numerous. The new Church completed a series of edifices completed within the last two to three years in this neighbourhood for the education and religious instruction of the poorer Catholics who are very numerous in the White Croft and the surrounding locality".
In early 1857 the Supervisor General paid his first visit to Sheffield and was so impressed with the work of the mission he agreed to Father Burke's request for the services of the 'Sisters of Charity'.
In August 1857 four Sisters arrived; they moved in to 151 Solly Street, this was the first convent established by the Sisters of Charity in England.
The Sisters quickly started caring for the poor, the sick and the homeless of all denominations in the neighbourhood. Despite being met with verbal insults and missiles thrown at them, they carried on with their duties and gradually were accepted.
At the begining of the 1900s not much had changed in the area surrounding St Vincent's Church. the houses were still overcrowded, most of the properties housed seven or more people, lodgers were taken in to help pay the rent.
One in four children died before the age of one year, the parish had the highest death rate in Sheffield. Not really suprising when you consider the amount of people living in close proximity. the houses were back to back, they were packed closely together around a series of Courts, the entrance being a narrow passage which restricted the circulation of air and the flow of natural light, these things contributed to the health problems along with poor sanitry conditions and disease.
1920 saw the division of St Vincent's parish with the creation of the Sacred Heart parish in the Hillsborough area of the city. The area around the church was still mostly slum housing. The Great Depression in the UK caused great hardship in the parish, it eventually resulted in a programme of slum clearances which began in 1929. Many acres of old properties were demolished in the parish and the residents moved to more spacious housing in the suburbs. The slum clearences continued up to 1938 when they were suspended because of the imminence of war.
World War 2
The first Sheffield Blitz raid by the German bombers on the night of December 12/13th 1940 resulted in the destruction of the original 1853 chapel when a parachute mine landed on the roof. The original girls school was also destroyed and every window in the church was blown out destroying some valuable stained glass windows. The newer part of the church from 1911 escaped serious damage.
Post War and Present Day
Vigorous fund raising enabled much re-building to be done on the damaged church in the 1950's this included a new chapel, replacement roofs and new entrance porch, organ loft and choir gallery.
Due to the war damage and continuing slum clearances in the post war St Vincent's area, the church lost much of it's congregation as the district was rebuilt as a business area. In 1998 it closed as a place of worship and is in need of some renovation with much of the land round the church used for car parking. The interier of the church is currenlty used for storing furniture for the Vincent's charity which recycles old furnature and redistributes it to the city's poorer and more vulnerable people. The church is now within the St Vincent's Quarter of Sheffield which is undergoing slow rejuvenation. Sheffield City Council area looking at new ways that the St Vincent's group of building can be used inconjunction with the owners and the local community, and at the end of 2004 announced the St Vincent's Action Plan, this includes :
The creation of a new public green space around or adjacent to a reused St Vincent's church complex taking advantage of it's dramatic topography and views, providing a focus for new housing, business and community facilities.