Prudential Assurance Building

I think this is one of the finest looking buildings in Sheffield. Also, special because it was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, responsible for Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

Looking into the history of the Prudential Assurance Building also reveals one of those ‘I never knew that’ moments – the fact that for twelve months, at least, part of it was used as a hotel.

The Prudential Assurance Building is an imposing Grade II-listed property built in 1896 on Pinstone Street adjoining what was then St Paul’s churchyard (now the Peace Gardens). It was the latest in a series of constructions that appeared around the country, designed by Alfred Waterhouse and Son, London, for Prudential Assurance.

Often built in red brick with a granite plinth and the company’s favoured terracotta dressings from J.C. Edwards of Ruabon, these handsome Renaissance-Revival buildings were to be seen in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Leicester, Dundee and Nottingham. The exception was Edinburgh, where the authorities objected to the use of terracotta and insisted on stone instead.

This was boom-time for the insurance industry. At the end of 1896, Prudential Assurance had twelve million policies in force within its industrial division – one third of the population of Great Britain – with a further 500,000 policies taken out at its ‘ordinary’ division. These generated a combined income of £7million and assets worth £27million.

The cost of the building and land in Sheffield was £25,000, a large sum but easily affordable for the company. The shape of the land also posed a problem resulting in the absence of corridors throughout.

The building contract was given to the Sheffield firm of George Longden and Son, work starting in 1896 and completed the following year.

There were two entrances.

On the left, a door led into the main offices, designed to impress the visitor, elegantly fitted and decorated. There was a glaced faciene from the Bormantoft Works and the fittings were Spanish mahogany and American walnut.

To the right, there was a staircase and lift leading downwards to a spacious restaurant tenanted by Mr William Bird, and upwards to offices (subsequently let off) and to a billiard and other rooms connected with the restaurant. A shop to the right of the door (still there) also formed part of Mr Bird’s tenancy.

William Bird, caterer and refreshment house-keeper had opened Bird’s Restaurant on (New) Surrey Street in 1895 (in part of the building most recently used by Halifax Bank). He took out a lease in the Prudential Assurance Building and, as well as opening another restaurant, created thirty bedrooms above, as well as coffee, billiard, sitting and commercial rooms – all under the guise of Bird’s Hotel.

The hotel lasted just twelve months, and in 1898 William Bird executed a deed of assignment, meaning he had to give up the property and contents for non-payment of rent to the Prudential company.

His restaurant on Surrey Street also collapsed in 1901 when receivers were called in.

In modern times, Prudential Assurance vacated the building, its ground floor converted into a shop for Laura Ashley, and latterly turned into Costa Coffee.