The Ruskin Building

This attractive building at 97-101 Norfolk Street is known as the Ruskin Building. However, this was once the premises of one of the country’s leading wine merchants. Mr J.T. Gunn, a Sheffield merchant, originally opened a store at 47 Norfolk Street for the sale of Sicilian produce. Wines and fruits from Sicily were attracting considerable attention in Georgian times so Gunn went directly to producers in Italy for supplies, and early in 1829 shipped his first cargo of produce from Palermo to Goole onboard a freight ship called the Cythia. His relation,

Alexander Hay, entered into the partnership in 1849 , and in 1871, his son, Captain Charles H. Gilbert Hay (1850-1925), took over the management and expanded the firm’s connections abroad in America, West Africa, Russia and the Far East. In 1876, Hay and Son, wine merchants, commissioned Sheffield architects Flockton & Abbott to construct new premises, the building we see today.

Captain Hay regularly visited wine-producing districts and carefully selected the best vintages, imported back home and distributed throughout the country. As well as being present on Norfolk Street, Hay and Son also opened premises on London Road, Deepcar, Eckington and Tinsley, as well as opening an office at Glasgow in 1905.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph visited Norfolk Street in 1925 and reported that there were “thousands and thousands of bottles stowed away, three rows deep in some places, and leaving but a narrow pathway.”

Hay and Son continued until 1970 after which the building was vacant for a time. It was restored in 1985 when it became home to the Ruskin Gallery, displaying minerals, paintings, ornithological prints, drawings, manuscripts and architectural plaster casts, assembled by John Ruskin (1819-1900), the Victorian art critic, draughtsman, watercolourist, social thinker and philanthropist. The museum closed in 2002 and is now located at the Millennium Gallery.

These days the building survives as offices, ironically its biggest tenant being Hays Recruitment, with no connection to the wine merchant.