It’s hard to believe that in 1913, this Grade II-listed building, opposite the cathedral, was “considered to be one of the finest banking halls in the country.”
Over a century later, banking has gone down the pan, and No. 17 Church Street has been an empty shell since 2007. The only sign of life these days is a Tesco Express that occupies part of it.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank was founded in 1836 with small premises at Hartshead. Two years later, the bank moved to this brand new building, designed by Samuel Worth. It originally had five bays with four giant Ionic columns between plain pilasters and was half the size of the structure we see today.
By 1878, the premises were inadequate to meet the needs of the business. The banking hall was considered too narrow, lacking in height, and the clerks obliged to work in a narrow passageway.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank turned to Henry Dent Lomas (1818-1901), an architect on Norfolk Row, to add an extension to its left-hand-side, land previously occupied by an old rope works and wire shop.
Lomas’ task was easy, duplicating the original building, creating an imposing façade of eight giant Ionic columns on a plinth, with plain frieze and cornice, anthemion panels over the doors at either end and Greek Key above the lower windows. He also added the Renaissance gateway to the left, a different design, as an entrance to buildings behind.
However, the interiors proved much more exciting for the architect.
The banking room was doubled in size, the walls decorated with pilasters and an entablature of the Corinthian order. The ceiling was formed into coffers by beams enriched with mouldings.
In the centre was a dome, 19 feet in diameter, rising to a height of 10 feet, the upper part of which contained the principal outlet for foul air, the bank receiving ample light from eleven large and eleven smaller windows.
The ceilings and walls were painted in simple harmonious colourings and the pilasters in an imitation of marble. The floor was laid in Maw’s tessellated tiles, reviving a tradition that had gone out of fashion a hundred years or more before.
The banking hall was kitted out with fittings made of Spanish mahogany and included two managers’ rooms in which to receive customers.
A staircase was built leading to a new boardroom, complete with Corinthian pilasters between the windows, retiring rooms, lavatories and offices.
In the basement, vaults were created for storing old books, along with a refreshment room and toilets for the clerks.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, the last bank in Sheffield to issue bank notes, was absorbed by the London City and Midland Bank in 1913. It subsequently became Midland Bank in 1923, eventually becoming part of HSBC in 1999.
As banks reduced the number of branches, the Church Street bank closed twelve years ago, with Tesco taking part of Lomas’ late Victorian extension.
Looking in a sorry state, the former banking hall is currently being advertised as suitable to let as a bar, restaurant or retail opportunity.
Unfortunately, city centre demographics have changed, leisure and retail have long abandoned the Cathedral Quarter, making it hard to see how this grand old building will be developed.