Buildings Companies

Cole Brothers

There was a time, not that long ago, when this department store at Barker’s Pool was scheduled for demolition.

The ill-fated Sevenstone retail project earmarked shiny new premises for John Lewis on the site of the old fire station on Wellington Street. When that scheme stumbled, replaced with the more sympathetic Heart of the City II development, John Lewis said they were staying put.

For the modernists amongst us, it was a welcome reprieve for a building that was constructed between 1961-1965 for Cole Brothers, renamed John Lewis in 2002.

The land on which it stands was once site of the Albert Hall, destroyed by fire in 1937. There was talk of a new Gaumont Cinema in its place, but it never materialised. After World War Two, Sheffield Corporation bought the plot for proposed new law courts, but again these never happened, the land subsequently acquired by Cole Brothers.

The design was conceived by Yorke, Rosenberg & Mardall, an architectural company set up in 1944 by Francis Reginald Stevens Yorke (1906-1962), an Englishman, Eugene Rosenberg (1907-1990), born in Slovakia, practising in Prague before World War Two, and Finnish-born Cyril Mardall (1909-1994).

The practice attracted talent from around the world, including David Allford (1927-1997), Sheffield-born, a graduate of the University of Sheffield and lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter.

Allford, who went on to become chairman, had a hand in Gatwick Airport, several large hospitals including St. Thomas’ in London and Hull Royal Infirmary, numerous comprehensive schools and offices, Warwick University, and Cole Brothers department store in his home city.

Built by Trollope & Colls (later Trafalgar House Construction), the store is clad in the architects’ hallmark white tiles with panels of brown mosaic to the window bays. The surface was inspired by Le Corbusier’s use of tiles on the entrance drum of the Armée de Salut (1929) in Paris, and the General Pensions Institute (1929-1934) in Prague, designed by Havlicek and Karel Honzik, and worked on by Eugene Rosenberg.

Rectangular in design, it was the replacement for Cole Brothers’ old premises on the corner of Fargate and Church Street (celebrated in Richard Hawley’s song ‘Coles Corner’), outdated and sold for £1million in 1962.

Spread across five floors, the new Cole Brothers store contained sixty departments, with access to each level from a multi-ramp carpark, accommodating 400 cars.

Innovative as the design may have been, the carpark became notorious for suicides, many people jumping from the building’s top deck, up until the time wire fencing was erected.

These days, the department store is looking rather tired, the white tiles in need of a deep-clean and counting the days to its restoration.