Sheffield’s Pub Heritage – The Brown Bear

The Brown Bear (109 Norfolk Street, S1 2JE) is one of the oldest pubs in Sheffield city centre. It is a square-set Georgian building, with a fine pediment above the single door, with the public bar to the right and the lounge to the left. The pub features walls covered with theatre posters from the nearby Crucible and Lyceum Theatres and is one of five Samuel Smith pubs in Sheffield.

brown bear ext1

97–117 Norfolk Street (including the Brown Bear) was grade II listed in 1972.  It was built late 1700’s to 1875, predating most of the buildings in the surrounding area (which include the Town Hall). There has been a pub on the site for over 200 years. It was probably named after the bear baiting pit which was in the botanical gardens. The pit closed in the 1870s when a curious child got too near and was killed by the two resident bears.

In the 1920’s, the Brown Bear had a game called ” bumble puppy, ” a version of the centuries old game of ‘Trou Madame,’ which is still played in Belgium and France.  Played on a raised board, balls were rolled down a sloping top towards nine numbered arches.

The Brown Bear was bought by Sheffield Corporation in the 1930’s. The pub survived the Sheffield blitz and planners in the 50s and 60s. In 1981, when the lease was up for renewal, a stipulation was included that the character of the pub could not be altered. The winning bidder was John Smiths who had been lease holders since 1955. The pub was in the first CAMRA Good Beer Guide (1974). However, it was erroneously named, the ‘Brown Bull.’

About ten years ago, the premises were taken over by Samuel Smith. There was an extensive facelift soon after: a rare example of a typical 18th.Century Sheffield house being restored to how it used to look.

Dave Pickersgill

Heritage, Pubs
Andy Cullen

About Andy Cullen

Andy has been actively involved in CAMRA since the early 2000s after being recruited to sit on a National Younger Members Task Group. Since then he has held roles on the branch committee including Secretary, Membership Secretary, Magazine Editor, Chair and now Social Secretary. Andy has also been involved with the Steel City Beer & Cider Festival almost every year since becoming active in the branch.

2 comments

  1. A friend a I went to this pub quite often, mostly on Sunday nights, when not with other friends on a pub crawl in the 80s. Loved it.

  2. This article is interesting and informative but if the pub was named after the bear baiting pit, what was it called before the pit came into being as it is possibly older than the pit? Does anyone know?

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