42-46 Fargate – where a Green Dragon once stood

42-46 Fargate. Image: DJP/2022

I have a memory from the 1970s of an old building on Fargate being demolished, and seeing a huge gap, and then the construction of a new one. When looking at 42-46 Fargate, I found I was correct. But the memory also plays tricks. Because I have no recollection of the replacement building also being demolished in the 1990s and substituted with what we see today.

This story starts in 1868 when Robert Henry Ramsden opened a shop in Barker’s Pool as a hat and cap dealer. He had no business experience but established himself  with a reputation for the quality of his goods, and the reasonable prices at which he sold them.

He only allowed cash transactions, and avoided bookkeeping , and by not incurring loss by bad debts, he could afford to sell his goods at a lower rate of profit. He styled himself as ‘The Reasonable Hatter’ and later his advertisements declared that ‘Cash is King.’

He became very successful and opened other shops across Sheffield and Rotherham, and added boots and shoes, and other goods, to his stock.

When important improvements were taking place on Fargate, he purchased a large plot of land, on which was a portion of the old Green Dragon Hotel. Here, he built new shops in which to carry on a portion of his business with a ‘Grand and Sumptuous Hotel.’

The new Green Dragon Hotel was built in 1884, from designs by Thomas Jenkinson, architect, East Parade. Ramsden held the hotel in his name, but it was managed by his son Samuel.

Green Dragon Hotel. Drawing from 1884. Image: BNA

Mr Ramsden’s hat shop was to the right, and the boot and shoe shop to the left, the windows of which extended some way down the passage in the centre, which led to the hotel.

All the floors were laid with encaustic tiles, at the entrance to the hotel being a dragon rampant, with the words ‘Green Dragon Hotel’ beneath. To the right in the passage was the luncheon bar, and to the left a second-class bar, at the end being the smoke room.

The walls and panelled ceilings of these rooms, as well as the passages, were covered with Lincrusta Waltona, with painted decorations. Around the rooms, mirrors were arranged, the seating being upholstered in maroon velvet and lit with massive brass gas chandeliers and brackets manufactured by John Horton and Sons, Sheffield.

The bar was to the right of the smoke room, and the kitchens beyond.

The billiard room, on the first floor, contained two Cox and Yeaman’s tables. A corridor on each side contained a cloakroom, as well as other rooms, leading to the grand dining hall which was 40ft long and 18ft wide, capable of serving 80 people. It was also lined with Lincrusta Waltona, of a handsome figured design with bronze enrichments, the panelled ceiling being painted and gilded. The fittings were mahogany, ebony, and gold, and the mirrors were lit with two massive 6-light brass chandeliers.

Fargate including No 58, former premises of Hartley Brothers, Exchange Gateway, No 56, J. Preston, Nos 54-46, William John N. Smith, Milliner, No 44, Green Dragon Hotel (later became Winchester House), No 40, Davy’s Buildings. Image: Picture Sheffield

On the floor above were club rooms, sitting rooms, bedrooms, store rooms, bathroom, housemaids’ rooms, and lavatories. In the basement were extensive cellars for the storage of wine and beer. A lift ran from the cellar to the top floor, and each room was equipped with electric bells and speaking tubes.

The walls of the hotel were such a thickness that air shafts ran from top to bottom, allowing ventilation for each room, and to conduct bad air into the drains, instead of being carried from the base of the building to the premises above.

All doors to the principal rooms were panelled with elegant cut plate glass with a dragon rampant device.

The hotel aimed to provide the public with refreshments of every description, from a 3d. sandwich or pie, to an elaborate eight or ten-course dinner; and from a glass of beer or bottle of mineral water, to the most costly wines of the best vintages.

Ramsden adopted the same business principle as his other businesses. This was the cash system, allowing him to offer the best at the lowest possible prices.

He died in 1922, aged 82, at 8 Herbert Road, Nether Edge, but his trustees relinquished the licence, and the building and contents of the hotel were auctioned in July 1925.

It was adapted to become Winchester House, the former hotel rooms becoming offices and studios.

The Winchester Restaurant was operated by the Little Tea Shop Company but failed in 1928. And there were several important names that had offices within, including John J. Jubb, accountants, and the Sheffield College of Voice Training.

They were joined in the 1930s by Yates and Henderson (Photographers), the Christadelphian Room, the Sheffield School of Operatic, Classical, and Ballroom Dancing, but its largest tenant became the Berlitz School of Languages, with its name displayed across the front of the building.

Fargate looking towards High Street and Kemsley House in 1937. Fargate including No 42/46, Winchester House and No 38/40, Arthur Davy and Sons, Provision Dealers, Davy’s Building (now WH Smith), left. Image: Picture Sheffield

During the 1950s and 1960s, Winchester House became offices for the Provincial Insurance Company, founded by Sir James Scott in Manchester in 1903.

Provincial Insurance Company, Winchester House. c1960. Image: Picture Sheffield

The two shops at the front changed hands several times and some are worth mentioning, including Maison Sonia at No. 46 in the 1930s, later becoming Paige Gowns and Lovell’s Confectioners at No.48.

However, by the 1960s the building was in serious decline. Most of the offices were empty, with no inclination to find new tenants. Worst of all, the building had become dangerous, with masonry crumbling from above, and it was boarded up at ground level to prevent serious injury to passers-by.

Fargate, the scaffolding on Winchester House being due to masonry falling off the building. Next door is the Golden Egg cafe and coffee shop, May 1971. Image: Picture Sheffield
Upper levels of Winchester House, 1971. Image: Picture Sheffield

Inevitably, it was demolished and replaced with a standard 1970s design. It contained a large shop at ground level, occupied by Dolcis, with modern offices above.

It never fitted in with adjacent Victorian architecture, and was itself demolished in 1996-97, replaced with the present building, and occupied by New Look until its closure.

Now, like the rest of Fargate, it is in limbo, occupied by a short-term let, but its offices are empty. It is for sale with an asking price of around £800K, with potential to extend the upper parts.

But while it waits the renaissance of Fargate, remember the site’s rich history, and of what came before.

No. 42 Fargate, formerly Dolcis shoe shop awaiting demolition in 1996. Image: Picture Sheffield

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.