Categories
Streets

West Street

Let’s talk about West Street, a haven for bars, restaurants and takeaways, a road that has changed considerably since the 1990s.

However, a look back in history suggests that there were attempts during the 1920s to make West Street one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares.

In 1929, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph made the following observation: –

“West Street seems intent upon coming into line with other busy shopping centres in the city, and of acquiring the same prestige. Many new shop premises have opened, and recently the removal of a length of hoarding revealed an array of smart, single-fronted shops.

“Such signs are distinctly encouraging, for although many roads radiate from the hub of Sheffield – High Street and Fargate – yet, West Street, with its width and fine approach, appears to be the natural outlet and extension of the shopping centre of the city.

“There are other reasons why the street should continue to develop. It is the main approach to many important public buildings, such as the Royal Hospital, the Edgar Allen Institute, Jessop Hospital, Children’s Hospital, the Applied Science Department of the University in St. George’s Square, Weston Park, Mappin Art Gallery, Western Bank Buildings of the University, and Glossop Road Baths.

“Hundreds of persons daily pass and repass along West Street, on their way to and from these buildings, and motorists going to Derbyshire also make great use of this route out of the city.

“Despite the fact that West Street is served by an excellent service of Corporation tramcars and motor-buses which run to a number of outlying residential districts, it has to be admitted that the road has not, hitherto, enjoyed the prosperity that would appear to be its right.

“It should always be borne in mind that West Street has been developed by private enterprise, Sheffield Corporation do not now possess a single square yard in this street, but there was a period when they owned a considerable area of freehold land there.

“When this was in their possession, the Corporation did not do anything to encourage traders by building new shops, and otherwise improving the amenities of the highway, but simply erected hoardings around the land, making it an unsightly blot in the neighbourhood.”

An interesting look at the past that also throws up some noteworthy observations.

Take, for instance, the fact that all premises built had to be three storeys, or over, and conform with the adjacent property.

Gone were the days of narrow, mean streets, with high crooked houses, each one with a dark and dismal “basement,” and of low, badly lit shops, with small window space. In their place were wide, low windows and a spaciousness about the new properties.

And we also discover that Sheffield Corporation, at one time, considered building a square in West Street, about 5,200 square yards in size, the plan later abandoned as being too costly.

The shopping centre that was promised never really materialised, although there were several specialist and prestige shops. But West Street did eventually thrive.

As the decades rolled on, the University of Sheffield expanded, with West Street becoming the gateway between the city centre and campus buildings. It soon became obvious that the street’s traditional public houses would become popular with students – once described as the “West Street Run” – a turn of events that eventually created the trendy bars that we see today.

And, of course, city living became popular again, particularly along West Street, with numerous new-build apartments, alas creating conflict between those living in them, and the businesses that brought prosperity in the first place.

Categories
Companies

Binghams

It’s been a long battle, but one seemingly won by a name famous in Sheffield. The potted meat wars dates to the time when every small butcher in the city produced its own version of this very Yorkshire delicacy.

As trends changed, and pre-packaging came to the fore, a handful of Sheffield-based companies survived, though most fell by the wayside, to leave us with Binghams and Sutherlands.

While Sutherlands takes a large chunk of the market, the undoubted winner turned out to be Binghams, producing about 15,000 individual cartons everyday that go out to most of the major supermarkets.

The company’s history starts with the birth of Charles Bingham in 1893, who along with his brother Walter, started trading in yeast and meat, selling products from push bikes during the early 1900s.

In 1914, despite going to fight for the Yorkshire Regiment in World War One, Charles started producing and selling Binghams Beef Spread from his Sheffield home, a recipe still used today.

By 1934, the business had become so successful that Charles built a purpose built factory in Western Road, Crookes, which is still home of the Binghams brand.

Having seen off competitors and fighting for his country again during World War Two, Charles guided the business up until 1969, when he sold the business to Samworth Brothers.

Under the Samworth Brothers wing, Binghams Food became a subsidiary of Pork Farms, although the business maintained its own identity and brand. In the early 1970s, Pork Farms was sold to Northern Dairies, which was to become Northern Foods.

In February 2007, venture capitalist company Vision Capital bought out a significant share of Northern Foods’ business, which included Pork Farms and Binghams Food, and not long after, businessman Peter Moon received a call asking if he would be interested in purchasing the business.

Moon had worked for Binghams Food as general manager in the 1980s, and with his wife Stella, jumped at the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the business.

Despite employing about twenty people, the manufacturing process is geared up for mass production.

The different areas of the factory are dotted around the courtyard where Charles Bingham used to house his stable of cars – the old garage since converted into packaging operations.

The butcher works alone, slicing and cutting the beef according to the production schedule. While there may be a common misconception that potted beef is made from any cut of beef, Binghams Food favours beef flank to ensure quality in their product.

The beef is cooked overnight before it’s removed and sieved into separate pans for stock and meat. Then the meat is transferred to the mincer, along with seasoning, before it’s put through a hydrogenator. The temperature is checked to ensure it is still above 85°C before the product is deposited into pots. The retail cartons then go into the pasteurising oven before moving into the blast chiller to bring the temperature of the cartons down as quickly as possible.

An operator checks every single pot by hand for a correct seal before it is passed on to be sleeved by hand. Due to the space within the factory, a packing machine cannot be installed so all the cartons are sleeved by hand.

These days it’s not just about potted beef spread. Along with the familiar beef and beef and tomato spreads, there are now modern-day favourites like potted pulled pork, BBQ pork spread, and fajita beef spread.

Categories
Buildings

When Sheffield’s black buildings got cleaned

A question often asked. When did Sheffield’s stone buildings suddenly became clean, removing memories of a time when they were gloomy and dark places to look at?

People of the younger generation will probably not understand what I’m on about here. I refer to Sheffield’s black buildings, largely forgotten, and thankfully no more.

Let’s go back to 1859 and find a clue from a newspaper correspondent as to why our old buildings turned black.

“On recently approaching Sheffield by rail, from Rotherham, after an absence of many years, I was forcibly reminded of all that I had ever heard strangers say of ‘black Sheffield’ – so murky seemed the whole atmosphere, so abundantly were tall chimneys belching forth their sooty contents, so thoroughly dyed with smoke were the outer walls of every workshop and factory within view as the train passed along, and even the line of the railway itself so thickly strewn – with the dark ashes from many smithy and furnace.”

During Victorian times, the industrial revolution depended entirely on coal, and the industries that established Sheffield as an important manufacturing hub created a toxic atmosphere. It was said that a hundred tons of soot fell on the town each year, and with it came a sulphurous smog.

Sulphuric and nitric acids in the air attacked everything, the soot steadily turning the town black, and deceiving children into thinking that Sheffield’s buildings had been built with dark granite.

For decades, the town (subsequently a city) achieved a notorious reputation, one that still lingers with our southern neighbours, who couldn’t resist having a dig at “Smoky Sheffield.”

It wasn’t a problem unique to the city.

A 1930 survey revealed those places suffering the worst air pollution, and Sheffield didn’t even feature in the top ten. Newcastle-on-Tyne was the dirtiest town in the kingdom. Liverpool came second and even London fared worse.

However, it didn’t stop George Orwell from writing that “Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World.”

When the City Hall was built in 1932, it was visited by Sir John Martin Harvey, an English stage actor, who wondered whether Sheffield City Council would have an initiative to keep its exterior clean.

“Civic authorities have not always had the imagination to appreciate the beauty of a fine, clean building. I wonder what the Sheffield City Hall will be like in ten years’ time, if the exterior is not kept free from grime. Let Sheffield take the lead in this matter. Liverpool possesses one of Europe’s finest buildings in St. George’s Hall, but nobody looks at it twice, because the outside is dirty.”

The ”Current Topics” column in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph concurred but thought it a hopeless cause.

“We agree entirely with Sir John’s contention that if possible, the exterior of the building should be kept clean, but the question is – how is it to be done?

“One of these days we shall abolish smoke and then it will be easy enough, but alas! One fears that before that day dawns the creamy delicacy of the City Hall will have faded into a dirty grey.

“There was a time when the Town Hall was good to look at, but now it is encrusted with the carbon deposits of forty years.”

That day eventually arrived.

In 1956, the Clean Air Act established “smokeless zones” in which only smokeless fuels could be burned. In less than twenty years the air became cleaner, the sun appeared above Sheffield again, and by 1972 the whole of the city had become a smokeless zone.

However, the damage from 150 years of black soot had left Sheffield a blackened mess, but it meant that at last something might be done to remove the grime.

During the 1970s and 1980s, a programme of stone cleaning occurred across Britain. London was most prominent, but also Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Glasgow and Edinburgh, represented the main body of cities tackling the problem.

The clean-up process was an operation that was gradual and therefore unnoticed by Sheffield’s residents.

The surfaces of buildings were sand blasted, the result of a pressurised flow of sand and water that cleaned the surface and restored it to something like its original appearance. Interestingly, when the Bainbridge Building (former Halifax Bank) was being cleaned on Surrey Street, workmen discovered stone carvings that had been lost and forgotten.

Don’t presume that the exercise was simply a case of aesthetics and enhancement of a building’s appearance.

Sand blasting was extremely expensive, and the cost of reviving public buildings had to be met by the council (ensuring that many of Sheffield’s dirty buildings were only cleaned as and when needed, a programme that lasted well into this century).

Other buildings, including banks, offices, shops, theatres and hotels, were cleaned using private funds.

The filth was also removed to protect the building fabric from decay, the cleaning process also identifying faults connected with care and maintenance, but also improving its character for many years to come.

And there we have it.

Categories
Buildings

Tiger Works

Tiger Works has become a mainstay of West Street’s nightlife, establishing itself as a modern bar within an old building. It’s been open nearly ten years now, lasting much longer than previous uses as a fitness centre, Indian restaurant, nightclub and a Tequila bar.

Officially known as 136-138 West Street, the three-storey building is dated at 1884, with the name “Tiger Works” incised on a narrow but ornate façade at the front. And you can’t fail to notice the two carved tigers that sit above ground floor level.

It doesn’t take you long to realise that the bar adopted the name of the former factory, but its unique moniker has long puzzled locals. The clue REALLY does rest with the carved lions.

You might be surprised to learn that this was the second Tiger Works built in Sheffield.

The first Tiger Works belonged to Joseph Tingle Deakin, a Britannica metals manufacturer, who set up a factory at Green Lane, Kelham Island, in 1860, going into partnership with Henry Ecroyd, Ernest George Reuss and John Bottomley.

Deakin, Ecroyd and Company, were manufacturers of steel files, tools, saws, springs and table cutlery, its trademark consisting of a tiger, standing upon an arrow, with the word “Tiger” underneath. It was no surprise that the factory was named after its hallmark.

The partnership was dissolved in 1874, Deakin and Reuss continuing the business as Deakin Reuss and Company, establishing links with the Spanish and South American cutlery trade and exporting general hardware.

In 1884, the firm relocated to these new premises at West Street, although there is evidence that it had been operating on the site two years before. And it was here that the distinctive carved tigers appeared and have remained ever since.

Joseph Deakin died in 1896, by which time the company had changed its name to Deakin and Sons.

Despite the relatively small frontage, Tiger Works was deceivingly large, with an entrance to the factory through a cart entrance (now forming the main entrance to today’s bar), into a small courtyard surrounded by workshops.

The company moved out after Deakin’s death, with John Townroe and Sons, electro-platers, taking over No. 138 West Street in 1898, sharing with John Scholey, mark manufacturers, who occupied No. 136.

Scholey’s lease was subsequently taken over by J.G. Graves, the famous Sheffield mail order company, which used Tiger Works to sell jewellery, cameras, electro-plate musical instruments, clocks, phonographs and records.

Between 1910 and 1914 , Willie and Emile Viener, electro plate manufacturers, had taken over No. 136, and after they vacated, this section of the building was regularly offered to rent.

John Townroe and Sons, famous for its chromium stainless plating, remained until the 1940s, when it was taken over by the Aurora Gear and Engineering Company.

With various uses for the building ever since, it is somewhat remarkable that the “Tiger Works” name survives, in a very different manner, to that first created 160 years ago.

Categories
Places

Into the Megatron (1)

Most of us known about Megatron, a Victorian-engineered labyrinth of storm drains with cathedral-like brick archways and interconnected dark tunnels to contain the overflow of water. (Although officially, the Megatron is one huge chamber further up the network).

Seemingly forgotten for years, this complex system of underground waterways, gained worldwide attention when it was “rediscovered,” becoming a favourite for urban explorers, and even attracting guided tours.

The misconception is that these subterranean drainage channels were built in the mid-1800s, an effort to channel the huge flow of water from Sheffield’s three main rivers – the Don, Sheaf and Porter, but the real story is very different.

Let’s start with the Porter Brook, with its source on Burbage Moor, descending into Sheffield before disappearing into culverts in the city centre. During the late 19th century, sections of the Porter were covered over, partly because the water supply was so poor and had become a sewer, but also to allow for the construction of factories above.

The Porter Brook joins the River Sheaf, the river that gave Sheffield its name, in the Sheaf Valley at a location that becomes evident later.

The Sheaf Valley had historically been prone to severe flooding, the areas around Pond Street and Ponds Forge, particularly susceptible when the River Sheaf burst its banks, and rendering much of the land unusable.

The River Sheaf flows through Sheffield, joining the mighty River Don at Blonk Street Bridge, near to where old Castle Markets stood, and the site of long-lost Sheffield Castle.

Our story really begins with the arrival of the Midland Railway Company, connecting Sheffield with London, which had blundered on its original route, inconveniencing passengers to change at Rotherham Masborough Station and take a branch line to The Wicker.

By the late 1850s, the company made proposals to rectify the matter, bringing the direct line into Sheffield. The site chosen for the new railway station caused disbelief as it was in the valley through which the River Sheaf flowed.

In the 1860s, after gaining Parliamentary consent, land was cleared on a site that was bounded east by Granville Street, on the west by Pond Lane, at north by Harmer Lane, and south by Turner Street.

The platforms were to be built where the River Sheaf flowed, and so the whole distance of the river between Harmer Lane and Turner Street was spanned by three arches and then covered over. The Porter Brook was spanned with two arches, also enclosed, and a portion of the nearby Bamforth Dam (now Sheaf Square) was filled in.

“For months and months past, seeming chaos has reigned in Granville Street and the region adjoining. Thick-booted, muddy-smocked navvies have laboured along in dust and mud, fine weather and wet, pulling down houses and the foundations on which they stood, tearing up banks, blasting rocks, making huge caverns which they said were to serve for tunnels, heaping up and then carting away great mounds of earth. The lines of the rails will run over the bed of the River Sheaf, which is degraded to the condition of a sewer. The work is being undertaken by Messrs. Chadwick and Thurwall for £20,000.”

The Midland Station, now Sheffield Station, opened in 1870, its passengers forgetting that the River Sheaf flowed under their feet (now Platforms 5-8), before emerging again after Harmer Lane.

It was a huge success and by the late 1890s the Midland Railway Company was planning the expansion of the station, and the widening of the tracks.

In 1899, the land in front of the station was cleared and between 1900-1903 its facade was built further forward and surrounding land used for railway business.

The River Sheaf, between Suffolk Road and the Midland Station was arched over and covered, as was a section running underneath Sheaf Street towards Commercial Street. A little-known stream, Pond Brook, between Station Road and Harmer Lane was also diverted through another large culvert.

More importantly, the confluence of the Porter Brook and Sheaf was also covered and is now underneath the south end of Platform 5, close to where Platform 2A is. Thank you to Phil Jones, who volunteers for the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust, for explaining that today there is a large square wooden access cover, exactly over the confluence.

As to who funded what, is a matter of debate, but it is likely that the “sewer” system, as the River Sheaf was ingloriously relegated to, was funded and built by Sheffield Corporation.

And so, the first parts of the underground maze were completed, and hereon becomes something of mystery.

Categories
Places

Into the Megatron (2)

We’ve already looked at the building of Sheffield’s underground tunnel system around Sheffield Station and the ingenious method of “hiding” the Porter Brook and River Sheaf. (Available to read on a separate post).

In this post, we move on from Sheffield Station (formerly Midland Station), which had doubled in size in the first few years of the twentieth century, and resulted in long stretches of the River Sheaf bidding farewell to the light of day.

After the Midland Station, the River Sheaf emerged briefly at a weir, as it does now, close to what is now the Digital Campus.

It then flowed through further culverts under the Electric Light Works (now the front of Ponds Forge International Sports Centre). The river then streamed under Commercial Street and beneath what was once the site of Sheaf Market (now the Travelodge).

Onwards it flowed under Castlefolds Markets, until being freed at Exchange Street and flowing open-air until meeting the River Don at its confluence near Blonk Street. (Remember that the River Sheaf once ran alongside Sheffield Castle).

As elaborate as the underground tunnels were underneath Sheaf Valley , the most spectacular part of the network lay underneath Exchange Street, now known as the “Megatron Chamber” – “something excellent and impressive” – a massive arched brick-lined cathedral that dwarfed any man who stood inside.

The reason for the Megatron has been provided by Heather Smith and Phil Jones from the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust. It seems that the giant Megatron arch was built for a very specific purpose, to carry heavy old trams across the river on Exchange Street, which rises slowly up the hill, and get them into the city.”

From the Megatron, the River Sheaf flowed out into the open-air, past the old Alexandria Theatre. This last section was culverted over in 1916 after the demolition of the theatre, another massive scheme that allowed the eventual construction of Castle Market above, the rebuilding of Blonk Street and a tunnel entrance that allowed the Sheaf to flow straight into the Don.

The underground system of tunnels is Victorian engineering at its best.

The arched roofs were built with three layers of brick, strong enough to resist the huge torrents of water that the Porter Brook and River Sheaf threw at them during times of high flood.

Alas, as good as the system is, it has failed on occasions, with stories of the old Sheaf Markets flooding at high water, and then there was the memorable Sheffield flood of 2007 when Sheffield Station found its tracks underwater for several days.

A poignant reminder from the River Sheaf that it is still around.

Mostly, the tunnels are accessible to walk through, but should never be entered without permission and expert supervision.

Underneath Sheffield Station the sound of trains can be heard rumbling overhead, and in the lower reaches, bats skim the surface of the Sheaf with fish evident.

As part of the Returning Rivers to the City Scheme, Sheffield City Council is considering reopening the last few yards of the River Sheaf from the Megatron to the River Don, in a park to be called Sheaf Field.

Categories
Places

Sheaf Field Park

We’ve already had a look at the series of culverts and tunnels that hide the River Sheaf underneath Sheffield city centre.

The last part of the river to be covered was the stretch from the Megatron, underneath Exchange Street, towards the confluence of the River Don at Blonk Street Bridge.

This was covered in 1916 after the demolition of the Alexandria Theatre, another massive scheme that allowed the eventual construction of Castle Market above, the rebuilding of Blonk Street and a tunnel entrance that allowed the Sheaf to flow straight into the Don.

Following the demolition of Castle Market in 2015, Sheffield City Council announced that a park would be created between Castlegate and Exchange Street.

Alas, four years down the line, the plans are still on the table, but the council is committed to delivering the project.

Sheffield Council wants to take the roof off the underground culvert, which the river currently runs through and is in a poor state of repair, and bring the waterway back into the open, surrounded by grass, flowers, trees, seating and other landscaping. The aim is to make the area more attractive to visitors, bring in new investment and reduce the risk of flooding.

The scheme would also complement the proposed Castlegate development on the site of the former market, which the council and its partners are still pursuing, and which will feature the exposed ruins of Sheffield Castle.

The park has the working title of Sheaf Field.

A waterside meadow and an elevated viewpoint would be created at the waterside and low stone walls built overlooking the river. The weir within the Sheaf culvert will be lowered, and the river channel remodelled, to improve natural habitats.

The plans also involve using way markers or pavement art to follow the River Sheaf’s course where it remains in a tunnel under Castle Square, Sheaf Street, the railway station and through Granville Square. Also, temporary art installations and ‘interactive sound experiences’ could be set up in the Megatron.

In 2019, the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust was set up to promote and support the deculverting and improve the environment of the River Sheaf and Porter Brook. The group’s founders aim to open the waterways and are trying to recruit as many members as possible to help make that happen. One of their hopes is to make sure that Sheaf Field comes to fruition.

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Buildings

Arts Tower

For fifty-five years, the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower has dominated the Sheffield skyline.

This was once the city’s tallest building at 78metres, built in a commanding position on high ground, eventually eclipsed by St. Paul’s Tower in 2011.

A Building for Arts was first discussed in 1953, with designs submitted by architects Gollins, Melvin, Ward and Partners, and it went through several radical changes before the University’s planning group chose a “cube of steel, glass and concrete.”

Thirteen storeys were originally planned, with six more added, including two floors in which additional funding had to be found because the University Grants Committee refused to underwrite it.

“Every time the planning group for the building met, the height went up by two storeys.”

It finally reached nineteen storeys (although a further two can be found underground) and became the tallest university building in the country.

Construction started in 1961, the foundations built on solid rock thirty feet beneath the surface and was topped-out in October 1964.

The University moved in during the summer of 1965, with accommodation for 18 departments and 160 staff. The Architecture Department occupied the top floors (as it still does), because “it gave them a very good view over Sheffield to see all the town planning that was going on.”

The Arts Tower was officially opened by the Queen Mother in June 1966, where she was made an honorary Doctor of Music, and memorably described the structure as “the tower of light and learning.”

The tower was built with a concrete frame, exposed at ground level by sixteen columns, and sheathed with glass-curtain walling, long being subject of speculation that it was based on the Seagram Building in New York City, as well as the CIS Tower and New Century House in Manchester, although no documentary evidence supports any of these theories.

It was connected at first-floor level with the Library (built 1955-1959) and originally had a wide bridge between fountains over a shallow pool in front of the building, but this was drained and covered over due to strong down-drafts, resulting in people getting soaked when entering and leaving the building.

In 2009, the Arts Tower underwent major renovation, the interiors being reorganised, and a new façade added.

Being as tall as it is, stories have persisted about the tower’s sway in strong winds – this turns out to be true, reported as being “slight but measurable” on windy days.

And, of course, we cannot fail to mention the famous Paternoster lift, subject to a separate post.

“Like the big wheel in a fairground,” this was a revolutionary solution to save space (there was only room for four lift shafts), designed to speed up movement of students and staff between floors.

Thirty-eight cars continuously circulate allowing people to step on and off at each level and is now said to be the largest surviving Paternoster lift still in use in the UK.

Categories
Buildings

Arts Tower

In another post, we’ve looked at the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower, arguably one of the city’s iconic buildings. It was built during the 1960s, designed by Gollins, Melvin, Ward and Partners – a cube of steel, glass and concrete – and at 78metres high is the tallest university building in Britain.

The design only allowed for four lift shafts, including two high-speed lifts primarily to the top floors, and two paternoster lifts, a revolutionary system as few had been built and none the size of Sheffield.

The paternoster was introduced to speed up movement of students and staff between floors. It has no doors and moves continuously without stopping at floor level, and is only one of two left in the country, certainly the tallest operational lift of its kind in Europe.

It was originally installed by the Schindler Lift Company, and comprises 38 two-person cars, travelling the full 22-storeys of the building. A journey between floors takes 13 seconds and allows 76 people to move at any one time.

The paternoster system was designed in the 1860s by Peter Ellis, a Liverpool architect, and gets its name from its resemblance to rosary prayer beads and is Latin for “Our Father,” which opens The Lord’s Prayer.

The paternoster lift was popular in Europe during the early and mid-twentieth century, but production was halted in the 1970s after a series of accidents.

The Arts Tower paternosters were completely rewired in 2009, with new controls and additional lighting. The gearbox and sprockets were recut, wooden guides replaced where necessary, and new safety features were introduced.

And so, to the mischief caused by students on the paternosters.

In the early days, and no doubt still applicable, second- and third-year students liked to scare freshers by emerging from the top of the shaft doing a handstand to prove that the cars turned right over (which they didn’t).

The trip wire on each compartment can easily be triggered by mischief-makers, resulting in the paternosters stopping completely.

There is a story from the 1960s, whereby George Porter, Professor of Physical Chemistry, and his wife, were attending a tea party hosted by the Vice-Chancellor on the thirteenth floor.

“We travelled smoothly in the new wondrous Paternoster lift until, as our heads appeared above the thirteenth floor, we were able to see our host receiving the guests. As he turned to greet us the lift stopped, leaving us about neck level to the floor. The Vice-Chancellor immediately joined us, though necessarily at a higher level, and during the twenty minutes which passed before the lift could be started again, graciously served us tea on the floor.”

Categories
Buildings

Wharncliffe House

According to Historic England, which gave Wharncliffe House a Grade II listing in 1995, this is a town house built for the Earl of Wharncliffe about 1885.

However, in this post we’re going to challenge these facts, although the Bank Street building does have a definite link to the Wharncliffe family.

Bank Street wasn’t created until 1792, and was intended to be called Shore Street, named after John Shore, a banker, and this was the name used on leases granted when he cut up his land for building purposes.

In 1793, we find reference to a “new” street in Sheffield called Bank Street, indicating that Shore had just built the town’s first bank here.

Wharncliffe House, or more correctly Wharncliffe Chambers, was described as a new building on Bank Street in 1874, probably built for John Henry Wood (1830-1914), a mining engineer and landowner, who had offices here, the building later forming part of his estate.

The original structure was of traditional brickwork, three-storeys and described as Italianate. (It had the misfortune of having an insensitive fourth storey added in 1980).

The central doorcase was decorated with masks, brackets and garlands, while bearded heads formed two keystones of two windows either side and on the left return, all below a deep bracketed cornice. Wrought iron railings were added to the little balconies over the doorway.

John Henry Wood was born at Burton-on-Trent and came to Sheffield in his youth. With the object of learning mining engineering, he became a pupil of John Jeffcock, and later went into business with Vincent Charles Stuart Wortley Corbett, a relative of the Earl of Wharncliffe.

For forty-six years, Wood was mineral agent and waterworks engineer to the Wortley family, retiring in 1907, and having the honour of serving under three heads at Wortley Hall, including the 1st and 2nd Earls of Wharncliffe, and was responsible for building the reservoir at Wortley.

He died in 1914, the 2nd Earl of Wharncliffe offering condolences to his son, Reginald Barritt Wood.

“Your father did the most valuable work for my family estate, and besides the regret I feel for his death, I have a very strong sense of gratitude for all he did.”

After John Henry Wood’s death, Wharncliffe Chambers, “the finest suite of offices in the city,” was put up for sale, advertisements describing a basement, lavatories, W.C.’s and cellars, as well as a suite of offices that were let, “in the best professional part of Sheffield, and always occupied by high-class tenants.”

Wharncliffe Chambers sold for £6,200, falling into different owners, but always retaining its use as offices for architects, solicitors and professionals.

In 1921, it was renamed Wharncliffe House, creating confusion amongst historians, and unsurprisingly linking it to the Earl of Wharncliffe’s London house of the same name on Curzon Street, Mayfair, sold to Lord Crewe in 1899 and renamed Crewe House.

This century, Wharncliffe House was acquired by the Mandale group, which restored the building, painting it all-white, and turning the offices into apartments in 2017.

The ground floor became Foundry Coffee Roasters, a coffee house, later taken over by Cassinelli’s, an Italian-inspired eatery.

And so, did the Earl of Wharncliffe build Wharncliffe House, and did he use it as a townhouse?

Probably not.

Based on this evidence, it was likely called Wharncliffe Chambers as a compliment to the Wharncliffe estate, to which John Henry Wood had very close connections.