St James House, on Vicar Lane, may be an unassuming 11-storey office block. However, we shouldn’t forget that this 1960s construction plays an important part in Sheffield’s history.
The miners’ strike of 1984–85 turned out to be one of the bitterest fights in British history. The industrial action was to shut down the British coal industry in an attempt to prevent colliery closures. It was led by Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) against the National Coal Board (NCB), a government agency. Opposition to the strike was led by Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who wanted to reduce the power of the trade unions.
Long-based in London, Scargill decided to move his headquarters to Sheffield ahead of the strike, and in 1983 chose St James House as temporary accommodation until custom-built offices were built on Holly Street. It had been completely refurbished, and the NUM occupied floors from eight to eleven, and half of the seventh floor for storage. Ironically, these floors had previously been used by the NCB pensions and insurance department.
In ‘Britain’s Civil War over Coal: An Insider’s View’ by David Feickert, he says that Arthur Scargill designed the office layout himself and his managerial views were firmly stamped on the design. “It was an office design straight out of the 1950s, but Arthur defended it rigorously.”
It was here that Scargill fought to the bitter end, and created the biggest news stories of the day. (I don’t need repeat what happened, neither do I need to report on the rights or wrongs. We’re looking at a building, after all).
The NUM vacated St James House in 1988, moving to brand-new offices on Holly Street (designed by Malcolm Lister in 1983, and now home to Grant Thornton, Pitcher & Piano, and Turtle Bay), and stayed four years before relocating to Barnsley.
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