What would our Victorian ancestors think of Sheffield now?
A tree grows out of the roof of this building on Church Street, a sad reminder that over a century since it was built, we’re guilty of turning our backs on impressive architecture.
Times change, and Church Street with its impressive collection of beautiful buildings, has suffered more than most.
In fact, Church Street possesses the finest empty buildings anywhere.
Barely a glance is given to the Sheffield Estate Salesrooms and Auction Mart, built in 1896 for William Bush and Sons.
William Bush was an enterprising individual who started his working life with Schofield and Son, a firm of auctioneers, and subsequently bought the company. He later entered partnership with Charles Dixon (Dixon and Bush) and when this dissolved in 1867 he practised alone.
William Bush traded on East Parade and was joined by his eldest son, George Frederick Bush, in 1884, and by another son, Frank Sleigh Bush, in 1895. Never a public figure, he became Sheffield’s oldest auctioneer, as well as a director of William Stones, the Cannon Brewery.
Such was the success of William Bush and Sons that in 1895 he commissioned the architect Thomas Henry Jenkinson to build a new salesroom on Church Street.
Built in Italian style of the 16th century period, the outside walls had a surface of red brick pleasantly relieved with Yorkshire stone dressings.
It was constructed by Ash, Son, and Biggin, a large building, covering 6,400 square ft with a frontage of 80ft on Church Street.
When completed in 1896, it was an inspiring if not different approach to Victorian architecture, sandwiched between the more imposing Gladstone Building and Cairn’s Chambers (built at almost the same time). However, the auction house interior was typical of the day.
Entering from Church Street through folding oak doors, the visitor found themselves in a bright vestibule with mosaic floor. To the right was the cashier’s office and to the left a telephone room. Through a passage past the cashier’s office were the private rooms of the principals of the firm.
The vestibule reached a well-lit, lofty corridor, constructed to double as a picture gallery, its walls, as in other parts, lined with Austrian wainscot oak installed by Johnson and Appleyard.
Leading off the corridor on either side were two large salesrooms. The right one was the general salesroom and on the left the estate mart. Both rooms took advantage of the best lighting and acoustics under dome-shaped roofs.
The handles on the doors were Italian bronze, representing a dragon’s head, by Charles Green, the artist and modeller.
At the end of the corridor, running at right angles with it, was another salesroom used for the sale of shrubs, trees, and plants, and used as a warehouse for the reception of goods.
A hydraulic lift took goods from the basement, where there were large storerooms fitted out to be salesrooms if required, and a fireproof strong room.
William Bush died in 1903, the business continued by both sons, but the popularity of salesrooms had started to wane in the new century.
George Frederick Bush left the business, and it became Frank Bush and Company, subsequently Bush and Company.
It might be that overheads connected with the building’s construction obliged Frank to look for tenants.
In December 1913, Lloyd’s Bank opened its Church Street branch here, the Bush auctions functioning in the remainder of the building. However, by the 1920s it had been renamed Lloyd’s Bank Chambers, and Bush and Company had relocated to Orchard Place.
Sadly, Frank Sleigh Bush was declared bankrupt in 1927, his reasons being “a change of business premises, slump in trade, illness, and lack of capital.”
The old salesrooms faded into memory, the ground floor sub-divided into shops, but Lloyd’s Bank remained until its recent departure to Parade Chambers on High Street.
Today, the ground floor units are empty, only Amplifon occupies what was the old vestibule, with little sign of life in the offices above, and with post-pandemic uncertainty, it looks like a long road back to glory.
There is a question that intrigues me more than anything.
How much, if anything at all, remains of the old auction house interiors?
© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.