Isaacs Building

I hope I wasn’t the only one caught unaware when the Heart of the City II project announced that Block C was going to be called Isaacs House, named after Edwardian-era paper-hangings merchant David Isaacs.

The new block will sit on a triangular piece of land bordering Pinstone Street, Charles Street and Cambridge Street. The Victorian fronts on Pinstone Street – including the Pepper Pot façade – will be retained with new workspaces, prime retail and leisure space constructed behind.

David Isaacs (born 1873) was the son of Lewis Isaacs, a wallpaper merchant, and his wife Mary, both Russian-British subjects, and influential members of Sheffield’s Jewish community.

The family wallpaper business was established at 94 The Wicker, later opening a second shop at No. 4 St. Paul’s Parade, in the town centre.

In 1904, David Isaacs, now heading the business, commissioned a new building on a wedge-shaped plot cornering Charles Street and Cambridge Street. The Isaac’s Building contained new showroom premises for Isaacs – The Wallpaper People, on the corner, opposite The Hippodrome theatre on Cambridge Street.

Isaacs Building was an example of Edwardian entrepreneurship, the ground floor containing seven shop units with an assembly hall above, its entrance being from Charles Street. The top floor of the building contained offices and several workshops, mostly rented by enterprising tailoring businesses.

The wallpaper shop opened in 1905, a newspaper advertisement declaring that “Isaacs, The Great Wallpaper People, begs to announce that they have opened their new premises, Isaacs Building, Charles Street, with the cheapest, largest and best variety of paper hangings in the world.” The shop advertised a wide range of paper hangings – raised papers, engrain papers, plain papers, gilt papers, varnish papers, sanitary papers and pulp papers.

The Independent Labour Party quickly established a base within the assembly rooms and, along with the nearby Athol Hotel, the area became a hub of political activity. As well as offices for the ILP, the building was also home to the ILP club and the ILP-supporting Sheffield Guardian newspaper.

For the first few years Isaacs Building regularly advertised shops suitable for a hairdresser, milliner, chemist or sweet shop. The assembly hall, originally known as Stanton Hall, became regular home to the Sheffield Ethical Society, while other meeting rooms were known as the Central Rooms.

In 1911, the ILP rooms were taken over by Sheffield Trades Hall, a business that survived until 1930. It was regularly targeted by the police, believing that illegal drinking and gambling were taking place inside, and making several prosecutions.

It appears that Isaacs Wallpaper on Charles Street wasn’t the success it intended to be. Its proximity to St Paul’s Parade might have been the reason, and in 1908 the shop was closed, the business transferred to another new shop at 17 King Street… advertisements using the tagline “Waiting to be Hung.” In the shop’s place, Isaacs opened an auction mart “open to receive goods of every description.” By 1910, the shop at The Wicker had also closed.

In 1930, it was announced that Sheffield Trades Hall Ltd had gone into liquidation, a development that cost David Isaacs dearly. The following year he was declared bankrupt, the freeholds of Isaacs Building, approximately 346 yards long, being offered at auction. The properties were sold in lots – Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 Upper Charles Street (No.6 being Sheffield Trades Hall), and Nos.35,37, 39 and 41 Cambridge Street – all fetching £8,350.

For the next 88 years the property, no longer referred to as Isaacs Building, was occupied by numerous businesses. In time, the old assembly hall was converted into a nightclub, its various incarnations being Faces, Raffles, Charlie Parkers and Freedom, and for a time part of the old basement being used as Charles Street Underground, a faithful reproduction of a London Underground station.

As I write, the building still stands, long boarded-up and the only evidence of recent occupancy being a chicken takeaway where Isaacs Wallpaper shop once stood. But not for much longer, with demolition scheduled in the next few weeks.