“ Address: 40 Pond Hill / Sheffield / South Yorkshire / S1 2BD / Telephone: 0114 2798383 „
The Old Queens Head Pub is the oldest surviving domestic building in the city of Sheffield and occupies a central location sandwiched between the modern interchange bus terminal and the Ponds Forge Leisure Complex. The use of this building as a pub only dates back to 1840 but the building itself was built in 1475. Since I used to live less than a five-minute walk from here it is a place that I used to drink in fairly regularly and I have visited it many times over the years. It is also a place that I have always found to be very intriguing, even as a young child. THE HISTORY It is believed that the original use of this building was as a washhouse for Sheffield Castle, which formerly stood on the adjacent site that is now occupied by the Sheffield markets. In fact there is a documented reference to this place in which it is called "The hawle in the pondes" where it is referred to as the Castle's washhouse. Its location close to the river and on the road leading to Lady's Bridge and Sheffield Castle would have made it ideal for this purpose. The first detailed documentation of this building is not however until 1582 when it is listed in an inventory compiled for the estate of George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. This building is still referred to at this date as "The hawle in the pondes" and the inventory details all of the furnishings that existed in the building. It is thought that the use of the building had changed by then to a banqueting hall which would have been used by the people of the estate that hunted wildfowl on the nearby ponds that were located only a few hundred yards from here where the River Porter joins the River Sheaf. These ponds no longer exist and their remnants are buried beneath the city centre streets but their existence lives on in the names of these local streets (Pond Hill, Pond Street) and the Ponds Forge Leisure Centre. By 1800 the building was being used as a residence and in 1840 it was licensed to sell Ale. Later that year it became known as the Old Queens Head due to its connections with Queen Mary, Mary Queen of Scots. THE MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS CONNECTION Queen Mary of Scotland was the second cousin of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England but unlike Elizabeth, Mary was a Roman Catholic. This was at a time when Catholicism was feared in England and many thought that Mary would stake a claim to the English Throne aided by the Catholic Countries of Spain and France. These fears intensified when Mary married Francis, the Dauphin of France, and heir to the French Throne. Mary married Frances when she was just sixteen and within a year she became the Queen of France, and her new Husband became King, but then in 1560 Frances died leaving Mary a widow at just eighteen. Mary returned to Scotland and in 1565 married Lord Darnley, himself related to Queen Elizabeth 1 and a potential claimant to the English Throne. Lord Darnley was murdered soon afterwards and Mary became Queen of Scotland, but Mary was suspected of her Husband's murder and the powerful Protestant faction drove her from the Scottish Throne, leaving her only Son to take her place as James VI of Scotland. In 1568 Mary escaped to England with her supporters but when Elizabeth was advised of the potential threat she posed to the English Throne she had her captured and her movements were restricted. On the 4th February 1569 she was sent to Sheffield and handed over to the custody of George, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, where she remained under his watchful eye on his Estate for the next 14 years. During this period she spent much of her time imprisoned in Sheffield Castle but whilst she was there her supporters plotted her escape. This escape culminated in the building of a secret underground tunnel which was to eventually connect Sheffield Castle with Manor Castle (a couple of kilmetres away). This tunnel passed directly beneath the "The hawle in the pondes" and there was a secret passage into this tunnel from inside the building which still exists there today. In 1583 Mary escaped from Sheffield Castle with her supporters and initially took refuge in the "The hawle in the pondes" before escaping further down the tunnel to Manor Castle where she found her freedom. Once a free Woman she quickly plotted to win the English Throne but her plans were thwarted and on 8th February 1587 when she was captured and eventually executed in Northamptonshire. THE PRESENT DAY PUB From the outside the Old Queens Head Pub is a very impressive looking building constructed of black framed timber .In fact today it looks almost exactly the same as it would have looked when it was first built. In 1952 this building became one of the first buildings in Sheffield to be granted Grade 11 listed status thus ensuring its survival for future generations. This Grade 11 status was in hindsight quite fortunate since the Old Queens Head now sits uncomfortably right in the heart of the city centre and would have likely fell victim to the developers had it not been given such status. In fact when the new Interchange Bus Station was built a few years ago the location of the Old Queens Head severely restricted the plans but since it could not be touched the Interchange was forced to have a notch cut out of it around this building. Inside the pub the interior retains much of its outer charm and although it is of modern appearance it is still within keeping with its character. There is a large bar positioned centrally in the middle of pub in a position where it can serve the customers from the two rooms. These two rooms are the "Lounge" and the "Snug." The Lounge is fully carpeted with tables and chairs around the edge of the room and some more comfortable seating in the corners. This is the place where most of the food is served. The "Snug" has a much plainer more basic appearance to it with a wooden floor and in the days when smoking was allowed in such places as this there was always a thick, smoky atmosphere. The chairs here are of plastic and the tables much more basic. THE BEER & FOOD This is not a particularly cheap place within the City Centre for Drinks and there are rarely any promotions, but despite this the Pub is still a popular place with a large mixed clientele that ranges from the Bus Drivers that have finished their shifts to Shoppers and the normal casual drinkers. The bar sells a wide range of different draught beers, lagers and ciders. The current range includes: Fosters, McEwans, Kronenbourg, John Smiths Smooth, Boddingtons Magnet, Stones, although there is little choice for the Real Ale drinker other than Stones and Magnet. A pint of Fosters currently costs £2.85 (3.9) which compares with just £1.95 ( 2.8) a pint in the Penny Black Pub directly across the road. Pub meals are served daily between 11am - 7pm and snacks are available at the Bar all of the time, including a limited supply of sandwiches after 7pm when the Meals have finished. I haven't actually eaten in here so I am unable to comment on the quality of the food but I have seen the Meals and the portions do look to be of a decent size. Typical meals on the menu include fish & chips, lasagne and shepherds pie. THE FACILITIES There is a beer garden outside with wooden tables and benches, and during the summer this area can sometimes be a real sun trap. There is easy wheelchair access through the main front doors and since both bar rooms are on ground level there should be few problems for disabled visitors. The toilets, including disabled toilets are located just inside the doorway. There is a large function room upstairs which is available for hire free of charge for weddings, birthdays, or other meetings etc. and children are welcome in this room. This function room can accommodate 40 - 50 people. Due to its close proximity to the bus station it is easily accessible by bus and there is also a taxi rank directly outside. It is however a difficult area for car parking although there are a few limited on street parking spaces with meters on the road outside. CONCLUSION The Old Queens Head is a fascinating place to visit and to have a quick drink surrounded by all of its history. One of my fond school memories also includes this place when I was far too young to drink alcohol. I remembering visiting here when I was about 10 years old and we were taken down into the cellars and shown the entrance to the tunnel. The tunnel itself is now blocked at the end for safely reasons although it was opened up for historical research purposes and a TV Documentary was made about it a few years ago, and it is believed to still be largely intact. As a final note, the Old Queens Head is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain and it has several resident ghosts so just remember when you are having your pint you may not be alone.
The Old Queens Head is over 500 years old making it the oldest commercial building in Sheffield. Take in the history while enjoying one of the many variety of beers, lagers and spirits or a traditional pub meal.