Britannia Printing Works

Photograph by Google Streetview

Here’s a building we regularly pass and never give it a second glance.  This is the NHS Central Health Clinic at the corner of Norfolk Street and Mulberry Street, a structure that has seen better days.

However, most of us will be unaware that this building once had a very different function.

It was built in 1865 for Pawson and Brailsford, once a famous high-class printing firm in Sheffield.

We’ve featured Pawson and Brailsford before, in connection with Parade Chambers, built in 1883-1885 (and still standing) on High Street, near to the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral).

The company was founded in 1855 by Henry Pawson and Joseph Brailsford, both former newspaper men. Pawson had joined the reporting staff of the Leeds Intelligencer, moving to the Sheffield Mercury and later becoming editor of the Sheffield Times. Brailsford had been associated with the Sheffield Independent.

The two opened their first printing and stationary shop at Britannia Printing Works on Castle Street, later moving to these new premises on Mulberry Street.

Also called Britannia Printing Works, the new manufacturing facility was designed by Frith Brothers and Jenkinson, architects, of East Parade.

However, the construction of the Britannia Printing Works wasn’t without its problems and subject of an interesting court case.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In March 1865, Pawson and Brailsford bought property in Mulberry Street, to the junction of Norfolk Street. Opposite were the new building of the Sheffield Club, and the Mulberry Tavern, an ancient public house. In July, the company proceeded to pull down part of the property, consisting of old workshops, about 24ft in height, occupied by Rhodes and Beardshaw, silver-platers, and a shop at the corner of Norfolk Street, occupied by Mr Shaw, tailor.

The new offices for Pawson and Brailsford extended to four-storeys high, about 50ft, and were set back 5ft, allowing for road widening at the Norfolk Street end of Mulberry Street.

Building work started in the first week of July and continued until 14 November when Pawson and Brailsford received a letter from Mr Unwin, a solicitor, threatening to apply for an injunction from the Court of Chancery to stop construction work.

The letter was sent on behalf of Mrs Senior, owner of the Mulberry Tavern, who claimed £500 in damages due to loss of light caused by the new building, and the devaluation of her property.

Failing to obtain a satisfactory response from the owners, the claim was filed on the 5 December, by which time the building had reached its full height, and before it went to a hearing on 21 December, the building was ready for its roof. The case wasn’t argued, but Pawson and Brailsford were ordered to progress carefully, with an intimation that if work proceeded it would be at their own risk.

Attempts were made to settle the case, but Mrs Senior adhered to her demands for £500, although at one stage had indicated she might be willing to settle for £250.

Pawson and Brailsford maintained that they hadn’t harmed the value of the Mulberry Tavern but had enhanced it instead. They offered to pay Mrs Senior £1,000 for the public house, a £200 profit on what her late husband had paid for it and offered to guarantee her possession by giving her a lease. However, she declined to sell for not less than £1,300.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The case stood over until November 1866 when it came up for hearing before Vice-Chancellor Sir Page Wood.

Mrs Senior claimed that she was compelled to light up the Mulberry Tavern with gas during the daytime, a claim refuted by Pawson and Brailsford. According to her testimony, the sunshine only came on her property ten minutes a day as against 7-8 hours before. She also provided several witnesses, including George Lawton, a corn miller, and Mr R. Bunby, corn dealer, both providing convincing evidence that it “was no longer possible to see samples of corn,” when conducting business inside the inn.

Mulberry Tavern. Demolished in the 1960s. Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In the end, Sir Page Wood said there was no answer to say, as the defendants did, that the plaintiff’s property was increased in value by their building, and that she was entitled to all the additional value given to her property by recent improvements in the town. It was clear from the evidence that she had suffered material damage from interference with the ancient light.

However, considering that Mrs Senior had been given notice in April of what Pawson and Brailsford intended, Sir Page pointed out that it had taken her until December, when the new building was nearly completed, to make a claim, and that there was no case for the building to be pulled down.

Sir Page ordered that Pawson and Brailsford pay compensation, decided by the Chief Clerk, and to pay costs of the suit and the inquiry.

Pawson and Brailsford, on finding that a decision wouldn’t be made straightaway, now offered to give Mrs Senior £1,300 for the Mulberry Tavern, the figure she had originally suggested, and a lease on the property. She now, however, refused to sell, and would accept no settlement except payment of damages.

The company offered Mrs Senior £250 in damages, and she demanded £300, but ultimately the settlement was made at £275.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

With peace restored, Pawson and Brailsford completed the building and when business increased the property was considerably enlarged in 1870, taking the top stories of offices at the corner of Norfolk Street, together with rooms at the top of Alliance Chambers.

The ground floor was used as paper stores, warehouse, packing room and counting house. On the first floor, letterpress printing and wood engraving were undertaken, with lithographic printing and copper plate engraving carried out on the second floor. The top storey was used for book-binding and storage of completed work, with machinery used for rolling, cutting, paging, blocking and ruling.

The basement was occupied by Mr Favell, wine merchant, along with a portion containing steam engines and boilers to work the machinery throughout the building.

The Britannia Printing Works looks less grand than the day it was built, particularly the roof space, probably the result of a series of unfortunate fires.

Shortly after completion, a fire started when a workman thrust a lit pipe into a drawer to avoid being found smoking. And in 1881, a significant fire destroyed the upper floor, and caused considerable damage to floors below. Another blaze, in 1903, caused even greater destruction, once again obliterating the top floor, as well as destroying the roof.

Photograph by the British Newspaper Archive

Rebuilt on each occasion, Pawson and Brailsford refurbished the building in 1930, transferring the stationary department from its High Street premises and creating “a new and commodious showroom and sales shop.”

The new shop had entrances from Norfolk Street and Mulberry Street, both allowing access into “beautifully fitted” departments.

“Since the days when a spike file and an old ledger, a stool and an old-fashioned desk were the principal furniture of a counting house, there has been a wonderful development in office equipment. Desks, filing and card index cabinets, steel furniture, loose-leaf and account books, ruled sheets and forms, safes, cash boxes, calculators, commercial, legal, technical and Government publications, form a few of the items stocked.”

Pawson and Brailsford also made a speciality of drawing office materials, and architects and surveyors were able to source all kinds of instruments, and the motorist wasn’t forgotten either, agents by special appointment for Government Ordnance Survey Maps.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

By the 1960s, the building had transferred to another Sheffield institution, Wilks Brothers and Company, ironmongers, founded in 1744, who remained until 1972.

In March 1974, approval was granted to the Maternity and Child Welfare Centre for the rental of the Wilks Building as replacement premises for ones at Orchard Place (now the site of Orchard Square).

The building was converted, including the removal of shop windows on Norfolk Street and obliterating all traces of its previous history.

The NHS facility opened in April 1974, known as the Central Health Clinic, offering advice on contraception, pregnancy, sexual health and sexuality. It is now used as a health centre.

Photograph by Google Streetview