Some buildings are built to endure. Others are less fortunate.
By rights, No. 19 Shrewsbury Road should not be here… but it is, the sole survivor of what became a 19th century terraced street. It is bordered by Turner Hill, a throwback to sloping cobblestone streets, and Granville Lane running behind.
The latter were probably laid out during the industrial expansion of Sheffield, and only 19 Shrewsbury Road, or the Old Sweet Factory as it became known, still stands.
To most people travelling up and down Shrewsbury Road it looks like a single storey building. However, a walk around the back shows it is two storeys high with a 4.4metre difference between the upper level entrance on Shrewsbury Road and the lower level yard entrance serving the rear of the property.
The area between Pond Hill and Shrewsbury Road had once been a wood, and when this building was erected as a Sunday school for a non-conformist chapel in 1836, it probably stood in semi-rural surroundings overlooking the Sheaf Valley.
Industrialisation changed the area, as did the construction of Midland Station down the slope in 1870, and the building was used as a brush factory.
By the mid-1890s the property was occupied by Charles Green, the considerably underrated sculptor and modeller, and subject of a separate post.
It caught fire in 1911 and most of the interior was destroyed, as were priceless works of art, including those by Francis Chantrey, that Green had collected.
Charles Green died in 1916 and it subsequently passed to Alfred Grindrod and Company, heating and ventilation engineers, a firm established in 1899, and which consolidated at its other premises on Charles Street in 1924.
By 1940, Samuel H. Walker had set up his sweet manufacturing business here. When he died, the business passed to his son and daughter, Harold, and Gladys. It was worked by Harold and Gladys’ husband, George Frederick Kay, while Gladys sold the sweets from a stall in the Norfolk Market Hall.
Many people will remember it was also a sweet shop, popular with students from nearby Granville College.
The business closed due to a compulsory purchase order in 1984, its fate unknown, but the building probably survived due to its Grade II listing two years later.
Sadly, the abandoned building fell into poor state of repair and a haunt for drug addicts.
In 1998 it was acquired by South Yorkshire Buildings Preservation Trust which embarked on a three year programme to restore the property.
It was let to Manchester Methodists Housing Association and Sheffield City Council before being sold in 2005.
Five years later it sold for £150,000 and was converted to residential use in 2012.
Charles Green (1836-1916) had reasonable acquaintance of old Sheffield buildings and landmarks, and his knowledge of Sheffield craftsmen was remarkable. But throughout his life he lamented the fact that they weren’t valued.
“The citizens of Sheffield have little idea of the beautiful works that are now being produced by its native sculptors in other towns, where they have gone for lack of encouragement at home.”
The same could be said for Charles Green, sculptor, modeller, and designer, whose reputation faded after his death.
Today, his name barely registers in the art world, yet his work was patronised by the likes of the Duke of Portland, Baron Rothschild, and Indian Rajahs. After the Boer War he designed and modelled monuments for the battlefields of South Africa.
Charles Green was born at Brampton, Chesterfield, the son of William Green, who became a fender maker at Sheffield’s Green Lane Works. He was educated at St. George’s School, Hallam Street, and showed great aptitude for art with a love of drawing and modelling at the expense of his lessons. He went to Sheffield School of Art aged 11, becoming a pupil of Young Mitchell, and was apprenticed to Edwin Smith, sculptor, and learnt how to model and carve with marble.
During his apprenticeship he carved a bust of Rev. Thomas Sutton for Sheffield Parish Church (now Cathedral) and that of Sir Robert Hadfield for the Cutlers’ Hall.
Green set up his own business and drifted away from sculpture, designing, and modelling ornamental cast-iron on a large scale. He designed fountains, gateways, mantelpieces, ceilings, decorative silver, and metalwork.
Perhaps his finest work was a cabinet commissioned for the Duke of Portland at a cost of £1,100. It seems the Duke changed his mind, but the ebony and bronze cabinet, representing the four seasons, the four elements, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the globe, merited exhibition in London and Paris.
“I had the spirit within me to make this cabinet as a monument to my father who was so fond of flowers.”
His studio was at North Church Street, later relocating to Bank Street, and ending up at 19 Shrewsbury Road, opposite his home at No.18, a listed building that survives. (It subsequently became Samuel Walker’s sweet factory).
Charles Green married the daughter of Dr Wright Wilson, and had four daughters, one of which, Florence, also became an artist, modeller, and designer.
Before the Society of Artists was formed, local artists met at his studio in North Church Street as far back as 1859, he being one of the first members of the society. He was invited by John Ruskin to attend the first meeting of the Ruskin Museum, and the Sheffield Art and Crafts Guild was formed at 18 Shrewsbury Road in 1894, he being the first master.
He also wrote Artist’s Rambles In and Around Sheffield for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent.
Charles Green was a lifelong collector of works, and at his studio on Shrewsbury Road, he had a large library, priceless antiques, and prints.
Amongst these were two original models by Francis Chantrey, one was a plaster cast of Sir Walter Scott, and the other, an early model of Rob Roy, thought to have been the only one. He also had several masks taken after death of Lord Brougham, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, and others.
Sadly, one August evening in 1911, Green was heating wax in his studio, when it boiled over, a sheet of flame enveloping him in fire. He managed to rip off his apron, but flames spread to the whole property.
The Chantrey busts were lost, as were pieces of carved oak, old oak chairs, pencil drawings, and sketches by Thomas Creswick, Alfred Stevens, William Ellis, E. Stirling Howard, and Robert Baden-Powell. Amongst his huge collection of books lost were a first edition of Rhodes’ Peak Scenery and early editions of Ebenezer Elliott, and first editions of James Montgomery.
“The scene after the fire was a particularly distressing one. Near the entrance was a ruined China cheese dish, huge enough to take a stilton cheese, obviously of high value. All around were prints and frames and statues of beautiful design, hopelessly wrecked, whilst the valuable library, too, was utterly destroyed.”
Green died at No. 18, High Bank, Shrewsbury Road, in April 1916.
“The last of the arts craftsmen of the type that won for Sheffield its proud pre-eminence, associated with Alfred Stevens, Godfrey Sykes, Henry Hoyles, Hugh Stannas, William Ellis, James Gamble, Reuben Townroe, and Robert Glassby. He also enjoyed the friendship of Ruskin, Onslow Ford, Tom Taylor, and James Orrock.”
One of Green’s last unfinished works was a bronze bust of conductor Dr Henry Coward, presented to him by the Sheffield Musical Union, and completed by his daughter. He had also made a Florentine bronze tablet for the Hunter Archaeological Society, with various panels with portraits of the Earl of Surrey, Mary Queen of Scots, Cardinal Wolsey, Chaucer, and Joseph Hunter.
Some of Green’s work survives in private collections but an internet search reveals extraordinarily little. However, we can still see some of his work in Sheffield, including the Lord Mayor’s Chain of Office (which he designed aged 21), and some of the ceilings in the Cutlers’ Hall.
But where did that prized ebony and bronze cabinet go?
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?
This bronze statue of Mercury has stood on top of the portico of the Telegraph Building on High Street since about 1915.
Mercury, Roman god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves, is shown as a nude male figure with wings both side on his hat, and on the outside of his ankles. He carries in his left hand a caduceus, an elaborate winged staff. The statue appears to be about to take off, his toes barely touching the base and his right arm extended with fingers pointing skyward.
But where did the statue come from?
The bronze statue is said to be much earlier, re-sited here when the Sheffield Telegraph built new offices on High Street between 1913-1915.
A few searches are quite specific that the statue was acquired by the Electric Telegraph Company in 1856 to decorate new premises for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at the opening to The Shambles. (This is now the site of KFC at the junction of High Street and Haymarket).
Furthermore, it is suggested that the bronze sculpture occupied one of two niches, one on either side of the front elevation of the upper story, the figure of Mercury to the left and Vulcan to the right.
It is said that the Mercury sculpture was moved to the Telegraph Building in 1915, while the Vulcan statue was lost.
Old illustrations of the Electric Telegraph Building clearly show the statues, but at this point the authenticity of the sculpture on the 1915 building comes into question.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph may or may not have had offices at the Shambles, and it is well documented that its early offices were on the site of High Street and Aldine Court, long since vacated by the newspaper.
Further inspection identifies the Electric Telegraph Building on The Shambles as being the Fitzalan Market Hall, that looked up the slopes of High Street and King Street.
In 1856, an account of the opening of the Exchange, News Room, and Telegraph Office was published in the Sheffield Independent:
“This building which has been erected from the designs of Messrs Weightman, Hadfield, and Goldie, by the Duke of Norfolk, terminate the pile of buildings occupying the façade towards the Old Haymarket. On the ground floor it was necessary to retain the old-established wine vaults of Samuel Younge and Co, and to provide shops for fish salesmen in the lower part of the market. The Exchange Room occupies the first floor. The room is entered by folding doors. At the end of the room opposite the entrance is a small apartment fitted up by the Telegraph Company in which the subscribers may write and dispatch their messages to all parts of the globe accessible to this rapid mode of communication.”
There were lengthy descriptions of the interior and finally “Over the market entrances are two niches with figures carved in stone by Messrs Lane and Lewis of Birmingham representing Mercury and Vulcan – typical at once of the wonder-working telegraph and the staple trade of Sheffield.”
From this account we can identify that both sculptures were made of stone and still present when the Fitzalan Market Hall (or Fitzwilliam Chambers as the offices became known) was demolished in the 1930s.
This makes the Mercury atop the Telegraph Building a bit of an unknown.
The design is based on the work of Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), better known as Giambologna, noted for his command of sculptural composition, producing figures that were pleasing to view from all positions.
The bronze figure is identical to one on top of the dome above HSBC in Doncaster’s High Street, built in 1896-1897 for the York and County Bank (and according to historians, the sculpture also dating to 1856).
I suspect the origin of the Mercury sculpture on the Telegraph Building lies closer to home and is later in design.
The building was designed by Gibbs, Flockton & Teather and constructed by George Longden and Son in 1915. Both Sheffield firms worked with Frank Tory, responsible for much of the city’s fine stone artwork, but also known to have worked in bronze.
Is it possible that Frank Tory was the man behind the sculpture we see today?
It also leaves another question unanswered.
What happened to the two stone Lane and Lewis statues?
Maybe someone, somewhere, has two fine statues of Mercury and Vulcan in their garden.
The next time you walk up High Street, look at this English Renaissance-style building at its corner with York Street. The official address is 1-9 York Street and causes confusion because it is an extension of Lloyd’s Bank, occupying the ground floor of Parade Chambers, next door.
It is dwarfed by its neighbour, a five-storey Tudor-Gothic block, built by Pawson and Brailsford in 1885, and looks out of proportion, but, as we shall see, there is a reason why it looks this way.
In 1892, Pawson and Brailsford snapped up a large area of land around Parade Chambers, including the corner plot that had once been a music shop for Alderman William Stacey and as a draper, for Edward Butcher, whose family had lived and traded here for generations.
At the close of the 19th century the building was long-neglected, but the land it stood on, fronting High Street, was extremely valuable. The plot went to auction and was bought for £12,000 by the directors of London and Midland Bank.
It commissioned Sheffield architect Andrew Francis Watson, of Holmes and Watson, to build a new and commodious bank to replace its Fargate branch, opened in 1889, but three years later, deemed inadequate for its growing business.
However, there was a delay in construction because of unsuccessful consultation with the bank’s neighbour on the opposite corner of York Street. This was due to the privileges of ‘ancient lights.’
It was an old restriction that said that A, an owner of property on one side of a narrow central street, was refused permission to raise his building by B, the owner of the property opposite. As was often the case, no amount of money would tempt him to give up his rights to the lights.
Watson made clever use of the site, but the best that could be done, according to the Sheffield Independent, was a “disfigurement, through want of height, to what ought to have been a very fine street.”
Construction began in 1894, built by Fred Ives of Shipley, the materials on the façade being polished black Labrador granite for the base, and red Swedish granite for the pilasters. The stone in the upper part of the building was from Varley’s Huddersfield quarries, thought to be the best to cope with Sheffield’s acidic atmosphere.
The entrance to the bank had a carved panel over the doorway, with heraldic shields representing the arms of some of the towns and cities where the company had offices and banks. A lobby, lined with modelled tiled faience, led to folding walnut doors.
The banking house, about 56ft by 28ft, and 18ft high, was lined with polished walnut dido, and above that with Pavanazza and Sienna marbles (supplied by Pattinson of Manchester), with a richly modelled frieze, panelled ceilings, and cornice, with local traditional work of the Jacobean period put into the design.
The fixtures, fittings, counters, and screens were made of elaborately carved American walnut, by Johnson and Appleyard, while the public floor was of marble mosaic, the rest being in red wooden blocks.
Particularly impressive was a fireplace and chimneypiece with carved walnut overmantel and clock case.
The bank occupied the ground floor and basement (with strong rooms), books and cash conveyed from the counters using a tramway system to a lift. The basement bullion room was designed with a passage all around it to avoid mining from surrounding property or the street.
The manager’s office, occupied by Mr H.M. Elliott, looked out onto High Street, was lined with Tynecastle tapestry, and approached through a private inquiry box.
On the first floor were eight offices to let, accessed from York Street by a staircase, while the second floor, still visible from the street, contained the caretaker’s residence.
The London and Midland Bank cost £9,000 to build and opened in September 1895.
In 1913, the London, City and Midland Bank (as it had become) amalgamated with the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank on Church Street and rebranded as Midland Bank in 1923 (now HSBC).
In 1931, Midland Bank transferred its business from High Street to Market Place (now Banker’s Draft), and with the old Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank on Church Street, the presence of three banks close to one other was considered unnecessary.
The building was immediately bought by the adjoining National Provincial Bank as an extension, later becoming NatWest, and is now occupied by Lloyd’s Bank. Its interior became one, with only the exterior providing any clues to its history.
The pandemic has claimed another victim. Caffé Nero, a familiar sight at No.2 High Street, won’t be reopening when lockdown restrictions are eased, the retail unit now up to let.
Our thirst for coffee and cakes might not have diminished, but poor trading conditions have forced the London-based chain to rethink its future.
While it maintains a presence in Sheffield, the outlook for one of the city’s Grade II-listed buildings is less certain.
No.2 High Street was the result of High Street widening during the 1890s, one of several Victorian buildings built by esteemed architects Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton.
Described in Pevsner as “one of their more exuberant ‘fin de siècle’ essays,” it is characteristic for its high mansard roof.
Many people think it was built as a bank, and Barclays did occupy it from the early 20th century until recent times, but its history is more elaborate.
The building featured in an 1896 edition of British Architect with a double-plate spread.
“A massive and imposing appearance, with an elaborate scheme of stone carvings and mouldings. There is a suggestion of the easy and graceful style of French architecture.”
It was built for Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings, established in 1775, auctioneers, which had conducted property sales at older premises on High Street, as well as holding horse sales at the Horse Repository on Castle Hill.
In August 1896, No.2 High Street was in the process of construction, farther back from the original street line, the auctioneers temporarily transferring business to the Cutlers’ Hall and premises on Fargate.
The firm was Sheffield’s premier auction house, responsible for the sale of important buildings and used by the Duke of Norfolk to dispose of land and property.
It was completed in 1897, a date stone still evident at the side of the building on Black Swan Walk.
There were two large auction rooms and offices on the ground floor, with a large basement for storage, a strong-room for jewellery and plate, and two separate store-rooms for furniture.
The façade was enriched with four stories of superimposed columns, the lower ones of red Labrador granite, standing upon a grey granite base.
The base supported a handsome cornice with a broad frieze of black granite, on which the name of the firm appeared in raised gilt letters.
The upper pillars were of stone with carved and decorated capitals, and a considerable amount of carving. The external effect was enhanced by a balcony of ornamental ironwork.
The upper portion of the block was let as offices, with special care given to effective ventilation and warming of the auction room with a Blackburn heater and fan, driven by an electric motor.
Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings was made up of four partners, each with interests elsewhere. In 1917, J.J. Greaves and Sons left the partnership and the firm continued trading as Nicholson, Barber and Hastings until the 1950s.
However, Barclays Bank opened a branch here in 1920 and the Estate Mart became a secondary part of the building before closing altogether.
Not much has changed since construction, except for the removal of the balcony railings and the interior completely refurbished for bank use.
After a period as Caffé Nero it now joins a long list of vacant properties in and around High Street and Fargate.
In 1570, the accounts of Sheffield Parish Church show that a stone cross in its grounds was pulled down and sold to George Tynker. Made of sandstone, the Anglo-Saxon cross vanished, its whereabouts unknown, until it resurfaced in the early 1800s, hollowed out and missing its horizontal beam, used as a quenching trough at a cutler’s workshop in the Park district.
At some point, in the late 18th or early 19th century, the cross-shaft was spotted by William Staniforth, a surgeon, who gave it to his son, John, of Westbourne, on Whitham Road, Broomhill.
John Staniforth, a solicitor, used the old cross as a garden ornament and an old map showed its position, but designated it a ‘stone coffin.’
He died in 1848, the ornament remaining in the garden, but subsequently became the property of his son, John Walter Staniforth, a merchant, who in later years moved it to his garden at Fairholme, on Oakholme Road.
It seems the old stone trough, remembered by Sheffield folk, came with provenance.
The 153cm high statuary had on its main face an archer kneeling at the foot of a vine scroll, with vine scroll decoration on two sides. It was recognised as being part of a free-standing cross that played an important part in the Anglo-Saxon Christian Church.
This one was believed to have originated in Derbyshire and stood on the site of the future Sheffield Parish Church (eventually to become Sheffield Cathedral) before being removed in 1570. A replica was thought to have been cast in 1876.
John Walter Staniforth died in 1904 and his widow, Gertrude, donated the garden trough to the British Museum in 1924.
In 1939, Dr A.C.E. Jones, Provost of Sheffield Cathedral, mounted an unsuccessful campaign to have the cross returned and given a permanent home inside the Cathedral or within its grounds.
‘Anglian Cross from Sheffield’ has remained at the British Museum ever since, but briefly returned to the city for an exhibition at the Cathedral in 1991 and was later exhibited in Mumbai and New Delhi.
The replica is owned by Museums Sheffield at the Mappin Art Gallery, and the Sheffield Cross is celebrated in statuary high-up between two windows within Sheffield Cathedral, displayed in its original whole form.
Although one of the oldest streets, Fargate hardly appears to have cut a conspicuous figure in Sheffield history. It boasts no long roll of distinguished residents, and no catalogue of inspiring buildings.
It was never part of Sheffield’s business district, but reinvented itself to become one of the best shopping streets in Sheffield, the result of street widening in the 1880s.
By the 1920s, Fargate was entering its golden period, described as the ‘street of many windows,’ with pavements packed with shoppers.
“There is a charm about it at all times, early in the morning when trams are disgorging their hundreds of workers, and a few hours later when limousines, jaunty sports models, and cheery old-timers, stream through the centre of Sheffield one after another. It is the happy hunting ground of all shoppers, whether of the leisured class who saunter up and down between the hours of 11am and 1pm, or the busy housewife who finds that afternoons are more convenient and joins the crowd always to be found – especially on Saturday.”
Fargate became Sheffield’s first pedestrianised street in the 1970s and missed a trick. It was perfect for open-air café culture, but it never materialised. Fargate struggled to charm and was at its best when the pop-up Christmas market appeared.
Then, along came Meadowhall, the internet, pandemic, and lockdowns.
Sheffield’s ‘best’ street is in trouble, empty of workers and shoppers, and vacant shop units growing by the week. All this might change with plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield to change Fargate and High Street into a ‘high-quality place to live, work, and socialise.’
Finally, the mystery of how it came to be called Fargate.
The road was obviously a ‘far gate’ with historians suggesting it was the farthest gate from Sheffield Castle. However, digging into the archives there might be a more plausible explanation.
Back in the 1600s, travellers heading towards the Parish Church (now the Cathedral) crossed a cornfield (Paradise Square) and entered a gate at the corner of what is now the corner of Campo Lane and Paradise Street. The other gate was called the ‘Far Gate,’ at what is now the High Street corner of the Cathedral forecourt, hence the name Fargate.
I am reminded that back in the eighties, an old man told me that one night in the 1950s he watched a horse and carriage pass down this lonely dead-end street and stop outside the building to the right. Its passengers dismounted and disappeared through a doorway. The carriage moved off and vanished into thin air. The man dared himself to wander down the lane. All the property was in darkness, locked-up for the night, and where the carriage disappeared stood only a high brick wall.
Today, I waited for someone at the opening to this lane, known as Black Swan Walk, when a mother and child walked past. The small boy looked down the desolate lane and said to his mother, “I want to see the horses.” She laughed and dragged him about his business.
In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee of the Black Swan public house, £11,600 for his land, and demolished the pub to allow for the widening of Fargate. The freehold was sold to Alwyn Henry Holland, provisions merchant, who built No. 9 Fargate, a narrow shop, still standing, and sadly empty, in between Black Swan Walk and Chapel Walk.
In later years, Holland bought adjoining land on Chapel Walk and built eight shops in English Renaissance style with the Howard Gallery above. Access to the art gallery was from Chapel Walk, with a carriage entrance around the back in Black Swan Yard. Alas, it was a dead end, and a turntable was assembled at the end of the lane that allowed carriages to be spun around and head back the way they came.
Wander down here today, and you will see that the outline of this turntable survives in concrete, with an old mechanism rusting away in a corner.
That story from the 1980s might have been the roguish imagination of an old man, long dead, but a lot of history remains in our forgotten streets.
We are coming up to the time when some of Sheffield’s modernist buildings are commemorating fiftieth birthdays. One such is Redvers House, recently renamed Redvers Tower, built in 1971 on Union Street, by Newman Doncaster Associates.
The 11-storey tower, built on a 3-storey podium, is almost invisible to locals, yet has seemingly dominated the skyline forever.
It is doubtless unloved, notwithstanding its long association as offices for Sheffield City Council’s Social Services departments, perhaps harbouring unpleasant memories within its walls.
Redvers House was opened in 1972 by Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Social Services, a man who served under four Conservative Prime Ministers – Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, and Margaret Thatcher.
At ground level, we are more familiar with its retail space fronting Furnival Gate, one-time showroom for Allied Carpets, later as a Curry’s electrical store, and now for Nisbets, Europe’s largest catering equipment supplier.
The older of us might remember its copper-tinted glass, set within bright white tiles that blinded under the light of a summer sun. The windows were lost during a £7 million major refurbishment in 2005.
According to reliable sources, Redvers House was owned by the council which put it up for sale for nearly £7 million in October 2014, when staff relocated offices to the Moorfoot Building.
It was bought by private rental specialist Make Space, part of the Minton Group, in June 2015, and reconfigured at a cost of £6.2 million to become high-end student accommodation with studio apartments and communal areas.
In 2019, the newly-relaunched Redvers Tower attracted widespread publicity when it was named in the Top Ten Most Instagrammable Student Accommodation properties in the UK, the plush interiors perfecting fine city views.
Alas, the budget did not stretch to cleaning those problematic white tiles, echoing a similar quandary facing John Lewis in Barker’s Pool.
Just one question remains. Does anybody know how it came to be called Redvers House?