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Sheffield Telephone Exchange

A sketch of Sheffield Telephone Exchange taken shortly after completion in March 1927. The building survives as Steel City House, at the bottom of West Street, the subject of a recent £10million office conversion.

The triangular building was designed by Henry Edward Treharne Rees (1871-1937), of His Majesty’s Office of Works and Public Buildings, with construction starting in 1921 on a site that had been empty for years, and had “formed the forum for keen agitators among the unemployed.”

Now classed as Art Deco, but at the time described as being a “modern adaptation of Renaissance-style, harmonising with existing buildings in the area.”

It was built with 40,000 cubic feet of Portland stone, the rough blocks conveyed from Dorset with final sawing and dressing done in Sheffield. The floors were made of reinforced concrete with about 40 tons of reinforcing rods used in the construction.

With rounded corners, massive Doric columns supported a semi-circular portico to the main entrance at the corner of West Street and Pinfold Street.

The five-storied building was built by Henry Boot and Sons, based on Moore Street, which claimed to be Britain’s biggest builder, with a yearly output of £1.7million.

The iron and steelwork were by Manchester-based Lambourne and Company, constructional engineers, the cause of much disappointment to local steel companies which tendered for the contract.

The sole contractor for the installation of electric lighting was Marsh Brothers, which had showrooms on Fargate and works at Edmund Road.

The extensive plumbing and glazing work were in the hands of M. Newman and Son, of Union Street, and the installation of “regency” metal windows and ornamental cast ironwork completed by Williams & Williams of Chester.

The House of Sage – Frederick Sage and Company, of London and Leeds – executed the bronze metal and teak shop-fronts, entrances to the offices and the main entrance.

The electric lifts were installed by William Wadsworth and Sons, Bolton and London, which had installed lifts in several other Government departments.

Marble and terrazzo paving, crafted by Italian experts, were supplied by Hodkin & Jones of Queen’s Road, and interior painting and decoration was undertaken by Smiths (Decorators), with a showroom in Fitzalan Square.

However, the most important contract was reserved for Siemens Brothers, Woolwich, which designed and supplied the whole of the automated telephone exchange equipment, comprising nine exchanges across Sheffield.

Soon after construction, Martin’s Bank became an anchor tenant, moving from Leopold Street, taking over the main entrance between West Street and Pinfold Street.

It spent a small fortune decking the new bank with Cuban mahogany, the floors with polished maple and borders of oak and jarrah, a dark coloured Australian wood.

The telephone exchange operated until the 1960s when a bigger facility was built at Eldon House on Wellington Street. Martin’s Bank later became Barclays until its eventual closure.