No. 35 George Street

No. 35 George Street, located between High Street and Norfolk Street, isn’t that old compared to some of our buildings. Built in 1913-1914, this Grade II-listed structure might look a little lost these days.

It was built as the Yorkshire and Derbyshire office for the Alliance Insurance Company, established by Nathan Meyer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore in 1824, to rival Lloyds of London.

The George Street site had originally been the workplace of the Sheffield Fire Insurance Company, with offices on the upper floors and the town fire engine, small enough to be drawn up narrow passages, housed below.

The business transferred to the Alliance Insurance Company in 1864, but by the start of the twentieth century the offices were too small.

The insurance company moved into an adjoining building that once formed part of the Athenaeum Club, and the old building was demolished.

Its demise wasn’t without controversy. Then, like now, there were those who mourned the loss of an old building. However, the company offered to keep the whole of the top balustrade, comprising pillars with urns bearing the Sheffield coat-of-arms.

During construction, there were those that criticised the plan.

“Most of the property at the High Street and Norfolk Street ends of George Street is old, and if it had been made into a good wide street, its rateable value would also have increased. The ‘dog’s hind leg’, half-way along, is still to be perpetrated – a danger to traffic, and a perpetual monument to our Corporation’s ineptitude.”

That ‘dog’s hind leg’ still exists, but the finished offices, designed by Goddard & Co, were well-received.

“It is one of the most elegant, though, unfortunately one of the least prominently situated of Sheffield’s new buildings. Romanesque in design, and built of white stone, it is one of those buildings which are completely deceptive as to size. It gives the impression of consisting merely of one large hall, instead of which one finds on entering not only a main hall (56ft x 26ft), without counting a large annexe, but an extensive suite of offices in three floors. One reason for the deception is that the site extends through into Mulberry Street, where there is considerable frontage.”

And this deception still exists. Take a walk under the adjacent covered roadway into Mulberry Street, and you can see that there is a lot more to the building than meets the eye. It was clever use of fitting a prestigious building into a tiny site.

“Artistically designed as is the exterior of the building, the interior is even more so. The large hall is elegantly panelled in oak up to the ceiling, which is richly ornamented, and the annexe is lighted by a glass dome. The appointments of the board room are in keeping with those of the large hall, and all the offices are handsomely fitted and furnished, while the walls of the stairways and corridors are lined with tiles of a pretty design.”

How much of the original interior survives is uncertain, the Portland stone exterior has weathered, but the building retains its dignity.

The Alliance Insurance Company remained here until the second part of the twentieth century, merging with the Sun Insurance Company in 1959, and finally amalgamating with the Royal Insurance Company to form Royal Sun Alliance in 1996.

No. 35 George Street was later used by Midland Bank as an administrative facility, and is today occupied by the NSPCC as its Sheffield Service Centre.

Before you go, look closely at this photograph, taking note of the two stone urns, as well as the well-worn Sheffield coat-of-arms within the pediment. These are the only survivors from the long-demolished Sheffield Fire Insurance Company building… and I bet you never knew that!