The Parish of St Matthew’s has a colourful and rich history.
In 1882, Father George Campbell Ommaney became the vicar of St Matthew’s, remaining at the church for 54 years until his death in 1936. He was a leading light of the Anglo-Catholic movement, and converted St Matthew’s into a focal point for teaching and practice of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England. Known as the ‘People’s Priest’ during his time at St Matthew’s, he chose to live in the back-to-back housing nearby, and believed that people deserved beautiful churches to worship God. Fr Ommaney is recorded in many national publications and has been written about locally as a renowned local character for his tireless efforts to serve the people. The memoirs of Fr Ommaney were compiled and edited by F. G. Belton and are published in the book Ommanney of Sheffield. The Hanging Rood in the St Matthew’s was dedicated in his memory.
The church, described as “a neat building with a graceful spire,” cost £3,297 to build. The main benefactor was the snuff-maker Mr. Henry Wilson of Westbrook Mill who contributed £1,020. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £200 and the Incorporated Church Building Society gave £250. The rest of the money was raised by Witty, who was still asking for subscriptions for the last £200 in November 1856. In its early years, the church had seating for 731, as the building was situated in a highly populated district of slum housing.
The Grade II listed church was built in 1855 to serve the newly established parish that was made from the communities of the inner city of Sheffield. The Parish of St Matthew’s was founded in 1848 when the original Sheffield parish (now the Anglican Cathedral) was subdivided into smaller parts. The first Vicar, J. F. Witty, conducted the early services in a school on Carver Street. Within a few years, sufficient funds were raised to build a permanent place of worship. Land was purchased on Carver Street for £600 and the foundation stone for the church was laid on 1 June 1854 with the construction being carried out by Flockton & Son. The building was consecrated on 6 June 1855 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave.
St Matthew’s remained unharmed throughout World War II, although there were casualties throughout the parish. Many buildings in the immediate vicinity were affected during the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940.
In August 1956, parts of the church were damaged by fire including the organ and the Lady Chapel, which had only just been restored. In the 1960s, many houses in the parish were demolished and replaced by shops and businesses, leaving the church without a residential congregation. Sheffield City Centre underwent a programme of urban renewal in the 1970s and St Matthew’s was faced with closure by the proposal to build a major road in the area, but the plans were changed. The parish has continued to grow since the 1980s with many new houses and flats being built within the parish boundaries. In 1982, the church’s two function rooms were upgraded, and in 2000, the church received a major restoration externally and internally with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The interior of St Matthew’s is embellished with some fine architectural detail such as copper panelling from the Arts & Crafts Movement on the High Altar, font, pulpit, chancel gates and choir stalls. The Reredos depicting the Adoration and High Altar have a significant write-up in the Pevsner series. Craftsmen and artists include Sedding, Longden, Wilson, Westlake and the Tory Brothers. The organ was built in 1992 by local firm Martin Goetze & Dominic Gywnn Ltd. It is based on the work of the famous German-born British organ builder, Bernard Smith (c.1630-1708).
Many distinguished incumbents have served the church after Fr Ommanney including: Frs Morgan, Cooke, Simpson, Preece, Longworth, Fisher, Wakeley & Griffiths. The present incumbent is Fr Grant Naylor SSC.
The population of the City Centre has been increasing since the 1990s and there are now over 7,500 residing within our small yet populous parish. A square-mile in the city centre, we are home to the Moor shopping precinct and Moor Market, The Devonshire Quarter, nightlife and restaurants on West Street and Division Street, in addition to a variety of independent local businesses and part of the University of Sheffield.