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Buildings

Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza

(Image: David Poole)

In 1860, James Radley, founder of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, suggested to architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield that Sheffield required a first-class hotel. “Merchants from America, the Continent, and elsewhere, have frequently returned to Manchester and Liverpool, instead of remaining in the town.”

This spurred the Sheffield architect into action, enlisting local businessmen, and choosing a site next to the Victoria Station.

The Duke of Norfolk supported the scheme, but not wishing to be a speculator, gave a £1,000 donation. Encouraged by this, about forty shareholders invested, and the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was founded.

However, once plans were made public, there was a negative response from the public.

“An hotel let us have by all means, but pray don’t build it where the first visit will most assuredly be the last.”

This reflected the proposed location of the hotel close to the railway, rolling-mills, forges, and factories, all of which belched gases and smoke from chimneys.

There were also concerns that the “putrid water beneath it,” would make it a most uncomfortable place. A reference to the polluted waters of the River Don.

And there were cries that the site was too far away from the town centre where it might have been more sensible to build a new hotel.

It later emerged that a rival consortium had planned to build a large hotel in the town, with a suggestion that negative press had originated here.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company granted the site next to the Victoria Station on favourable terms. Nevertheless, there were obstacles to be overcome, not least the fact that the land had previously been the site of a dam, and subsequently the solid foundations for the hotel ended up costing the company £1,500.

As a director, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, designed the new hotel and work started in 1861.

The first board meeting of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company was held in the boardroom at Victoria Station in February 1862. Those attending were Charles Atkinson (chairman), John Brown (mayor), William Frederick Dixon, Thomas R. Parker, Henry Wilkinson, John Jobson Smith (M, S and L Railway Company) , Michael Joseph Ellison, Frederick Thorpe Mappin, James Willis Dixon, Francis Hoole, John Hobson, Robert Younge, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, and Bernard Wake (law clerk).

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

With work underway, the company looked for somebody to take over management of the hotel. With the help of James Radley, who had committed £500 to the project, the company appointed George Meyer, proprietor of the Queen’s Hotel at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, built for the London and North Western Railway Company.

The Victoria Hotel consisted of a front and two-wings. It rose four storeys above the entrance to the Victoria Station with a basement.

A covered passage was built from the station platform to the north wing, leading into a lobby which ran through the building. From this were all the various trappings of a fine hotel – coffee rooms, two sitting rooms either side of the main entrance, dining room, assembly room, bar, and smoking room.

The staircases and corridors, illuminated with gas lamps, were built of stone.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The fifty bedrooms on the first, second and third floors occupied the front and outer portions of the building, in addition to servants’ apartments and ten sitting rooms. There were two water closets on each floor as well as a communal bathroom. Luggage was conveyed to each floor using a hoist. The first floor bedrooms and sitting rooms were furnished with mahogany, the second and third floor rooms kitted out at lesser cost.

The kitchen was built behind the front portion of the hotel and contained two stoves and two plate-heaters. The basement extended underneath the kitchen. Half of this was occupied with servants’ rooms and the remainder used as a wines and spirits cellar. A passage with iron bar gates ran through the cellar with perforated zinc windows for ventilation.

(Image: Eventbrite)

George Meyer brought with him a considerable sum of money used to furnish the Victoria Hotel.

“I learned a lesson some years ago from the Emperor of the French. It was said that when Queen Victoria visited, she found all the rooms fitted up so much like those of her own palace that she had difficulty in realising that she was not at home. I hope that this will be just the feeling which all would experience who visited the Victoria Hotel.”

He spent about £15,000 on furnishings. The dining room had chandeliers and silver gas brackets with richly decorated walls. Splendid services of pottery and glass were manufactured in Staffordshire and silver-plate supplied by James Dixon and Sons.

The Victoria Hotel opened on July 28th, 1862. At the invitation of Meyer, a number of leading gentlemen and their families were invited to visit and a sumptuous déjeuner was prepared for them.

“The whole establishment has about it an air of comfort and elegance, and we may add of cleanliness, which in the midst of our smoky atmosphere will not be maintained without considerable exertion.”

(Image: David Poole)

An official inauguration ceremony took place in September 1862 when leading gentry and manufacturers were invited to a banquet “with a profusion of the good things of this world, and adorned with silver-plated epergnes, fruit and flowers, presenting a scene of almost Eastern luxuriousness.”

Despite the misgivings about its location the Victoria Hotel was a success. It was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1875 and hereon it was called the Royal Victoria Hotel.

Shareholders got their money back with a little over 3 per cent interest and hardly a share changed hands while under ownership of the Sheffield Victoria Hotel Company.

Their 24th annual general meeting in 1889 was their last because by negotiation the hotel had practically passed into ownership of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway.

“In the hands of the railway company the hotel will continue to be that great boom to the town which it had been from the outset.”

George Meyer had died in 1873, and his wife chose to retire.

It was the railway company’s first venture into hotel management setting a precedent for the Great Central Railway’s (as it became) later hotels at Nottingham and Marylebone.

The Royal Victoria Hotel was enlarged in 1898, later passing to London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and on nationalisation was owned by British Transport Hotels.

When the Victoria Station closed in 1970 the hotel might have gone the same way. However, it was sold in 1972 and for a long time was called the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn.

Most of the station’s buildings were demolished by 1989 allowing a new extension to be built and connecting to the main hotel by a covered passageway much the same way as passengers used to leave the platform.

The hotel and the retaining wall and approach ramp of the old railway station were Grade II listed in 1995 and in March 2019 the hotel was rebranded as the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza.

(Image: IHG Hotels and Resorts)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

The William Mitchell abstract relief

(Image: Patrick Crowley)

A photograph for posterity by follower Patrick Crowley. The William Mitchell abstract reliefs are today being removed from Barker’s Pool House on Burgess Street.

Installed in May 1972 the ten panels were commissioned as part of the office and supermarket development. They were constructed in the latter period of Mitchell’s first phase of practising in Britain, following his work as design consultant with London County Council.

“A minor example from a cycle of works produced in Faircrete, a new form of concrete developed at the John Laing Research and Development headquarters.”

It has an Egyptian appearance, a characteristic of his work, first evident in an office building entrance mural for London’s Barbican, in the early sixties.

William Mitchell (born 1925) subsequently left Britain, returning in the 1990s to work with Mohammed Al Fayed of Harrods.

Ironically, he died in January with the fate of his Sheffield work still undecided. It will now be restored and incorporated somewhere in the Heart of the City II development.

(Image: Reddit)
Categories
Buildings People Sculpture

Victoria Station Memorial

The original memorial outside Victoria Station. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In our investigations into the Victoria Station one structure appeared on old photographs that deserved further investigation.

This was an elegant memorial that stood at the entrance of the railway station. The classical portico, with colonnade, contained nine columns with the names of workers of the Great Central Railway who died in World War One.

The names of 1,304 men were inscribed on tablets of French marble, and the memorial was unveiled by Earl Haig on Wednesday 9th August 1922. He had commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war.

Sheffield had been chosen for the memorial because it was the centre of the railway’s operations. About 8,000 people turned up for the ceremony, including hundreds of relatives of the fallen.

Haig inspected a guard of honour composed of over 200 ex-servicemen employees who had gained decorations for gallantry in the field.

“The day will come when we in our turn will have passed on, but these stones will still stand as evidence of the splendid sacrifice and glorious achievement of the 1,300 brave and gallant men whose names they bear.”

The ceremony was presided by Lord Faringdon, chairman of the Great Central Railway, who said the memorial had been subscribed by no fewer than 3,000 shareholders and servants of the company as far afield as Canada, India, Australia, and Africa. He pointed out that over 10,000 employees had gone to war.

Canon Houghton dedicated the memorial, after which wreaths of remembrance were laid, and the service closed with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.

They would have been forgiven that the future of the memorial was secured. However, within two years the marble had crumbled, and some names were already illegible.

In 1925, the London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which had absorbed the Great Central Railway, graciously replaced the tablets with Kupron bronze plaques. The memorial stood on its own until 1938 when LNER improved the station, extending the booking hall, so that the memorial became its eastern wall. (I presume the memorial was reversed and the tablets were relocated inside).

It remained until the Victoria Station’s closure in 1970 and might have been lost with subsequent demolition.

Remains of the memorial before demolition in 1980. The plaques had been removed to the underneath of Wicker Arch. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

A handful of survivors campaigned for it to be saved and the bronze tablets were re-erected (somewhat hidden) underneath Wicker Arch, where it was rededicated in November 1971. The magnificent portico, in which they had stood, was sadly lost).

The decline of The Wicker is well publicised, and the memorial suffered from neglect and vandalism. Various locations were suggested as an alternative site, but it was the owners of the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn (the former Victoria Station railway hotel) that offered it a permanent home.

The memorial plaques underneath Wicker Arch. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

With support of the hotel, sponsors and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Great Central Railway Society organised rescue of the plaques and relocation to its new home, almost on the site of the original memorial.

It was rededicated on Remembrance Day 2008 and remains outside the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza. A Roll of Honour for all the men listed, collated by the Great Central Railway Society, can be found inside the hotel.

(Images: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Victoria Station: “Prosperity to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, and the Grimsby Docks.”

Image: Picture Sheffield

There is a photograph from January 1970 that shows a train driver, sitting in reflective mood on a bench at Sheffield’s Victoria Station. He was waiting to take out one of the last passenger trains from Sheffield Victoria to Manchester.

Once it had departed the lights went out and darkness descended on a railway station once considered the city’s ‘pride and joy’.

An eventual victim of cuts initiated by Dr Beeching, almost nothing remains today, but if you know where to look, and use a bit of imagination, you can see where once Sheffield folk hopped on a train across the Pennines and down to London’s Marylebone and King’s Cross stations.

Image: Picture Sheffield

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway was engineered by Joseph Locke and opened in 1845, the line originally terminating at Bridgehouses Station (the site on waste land above the lower end of Derek Dooley Way).

In 1847, it merged with two other railway companies to form the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, prompting an extension of the line and construction of a new railway station about 1km to the east.

It was developed by Sheffield-born John Fowler, engineer-in-chief, and included a 40ft-high, 750-yard long, viaduct over The Wicker (Wicker Arches) and was completed in 1847-1848. The new Victoria Station opened on September 15th, 1851.

The railway station was opened for the convenience of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, the Great Northern, and the south traffic of the Midland Company. It occupied a space between Wicker Arches to the canal, crossing the river, the site of the old Blonk Dam, the cattle market, and fairground, and the back of Sheaf Works.

Image: Picture Sheffield

Built on arches by Miller, Blackie and Shortridge, it rose 40ft above the level of The Wicker, the station fronting south-west with prominent views of the Corn Exchange, the New Market Hall, and canal warehouses.

The approaches to the station and the platforms were the work of John and Amos Ridal, and the station buildings were erected by Robert Tomlinson Carlisle, the builder of Beighton Viaduct and the New Market Hall.

It was not the magnificent station envisaged by Fowler. The architects, Weightman, Hadfield and Goldie, were asked to reduce costs, probably the result of high expenditure engineering the approach to the station.

The front of the Victoria Station was destitute of ornament, being simple in architectural character. It was approached from Blonk Street by a straight incline, built upon the arches, 50ft wide, 220-yards long, and rose at a rate of 1 in 30. As the road approached the station it opened out into an extended area.

The station consisted of a centre and wings, the latter being extended with a high fence wall, with gateways for the exit of arriving passengers, and beyond these, on each side, covered by stands for horse-drawn cabs.

The length of the masonry front was 400ft, built of rock-faced Greenmoor stone, with chiselled beds and joints, and facings of ashlar stone from Wadsley.

A covered veranda, with glazed roof supported by iron brackets, extended the whole length of the centre building, to allow carriages to set people down under cover.

The entrance, or waiting hall, was 50ft by 30ft, and 25ft high, having an enclosed office for booking clerks. Tickets were issued at three windows. At the centre, first-class passengers of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway got their tickets, and on the right-hand side, second and third class passengers got theirs. The left-hand window was for Great Northern passengers.

Image: Picture Sheffield

In the eastern wing were refreshment and waiting rooms, public conveniences, parcels office, and on the chamber floor the station master’s house. The refreshment rooms were rented by Mr Moyes, the landlord of the Great Northern Hotel at Lincoln.

In the western wing were the telegraph and station master’s office, rooms for lamps and porters, guards etc., and the engineer’s office. Above these were the boardroom and other offices.

Having passed through the booking office and reaching the platform, the passengers were greeted with ample light and a conveniently arranged station.

The platforms were covered with a light roof of iron and glass, 83ft wide and 400ft long, regarded as one of the “first fruits of the Crystal Palace.” It was the work of Fox, Henderson and Company, a ridge and furrow roof, with Paxton gutters, designed to carry away rain and condensation underneath (used for water closets and urinals), and the centre of the roof was raised to permit a line of ventilation.

The roof was not supported by pillars, but its principals were set 25ft apart, resting on the inner wall of the station buildings on one side, and a lofty wall on the other. The glass was strong crown glass, about the thickness of ordinary pottery, and extended to an area of 34,600 sq. ft.

Through the station ran four lines of rails – two for passenger trains and two for spare carriages. Two other lines were laid outside the north-eastern wall for goods traffic.

The exits were closed by sliding gates, opened only when a train arrived and thus preventing ‘idlers’ entering the platforms, which themselves were divided by iron railings through which only passengers with tickets could pass.

With the building of Victoria Station, the Bridgehouses Station was converted into a goods, cattle and minerals station that operated until the 1960s.

Victoria Station decked out for the visit of the Prince of Wales to open Firth Park in 1875. Image: Picture Sheffield

The Victoria Station opened on Monday September 15th, 1851. Although not fully completed, the station was elaborately decorated with flags, some bearing loyal inscriptions, others wishing good wishes for the prosperity of the railway and docks, while others were simple decorative banners.

The first train to leave the station was an early morning service with 500 passengers bound for Hull and Grimsby. About 9am, a pleasure train with 2000 travellers set off for Worksop, and in the early afternoon a special train left for London. Combined with local services the station was a scene of bustling activity, soon tested by the presence at the same time of two through trains and two Eckington trains sharing the same platforms.

With formalities out of the way, and the Victoria Station left to its daily business, Robert Tomlinson Carlisle, the builder responsible for the station buildings, entertained 500 of his men at the New Market Hall.

His workers were treated to a substantial dinner of beef and ham provided by Mrs Outram of the Black Swan in Snig Hill.

The ceremony was attended by John Fowler, engineer-in-chief, the man responsible for the massive project.

Robert Tomlinson Carlisle gave a toast to “The Queen, Prince Albert, Albert – Prince of Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family; Prosperity to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, and the Grimsby Docks; Success to the Sheffield Markets, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Yarborough.”

Charles Anderson Worsley Anderson-Pelham, 2nd Earl of Yarborough, former MP, was the chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway. His Lincolnshire estate was adjacent to the line and had been responsible for the development of the track through the county, especially its extension to Grimsby Docks

The Victoria Station was a success and received a new roof spanning main line platforms in 1867. Three years later the Midland Railway opened the Midland Station and it received its first real competition. Victoria was enlarged by Logan and Hemingway in 1874 and received a new frontage in 1908.

Image: Picture Sheffield

The Great Central Railway came into being when the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway changed its name in 1897, anticipating the opening in 1899 of its London Extension. Interestingly, for a short time afterwards Victoria Station was renamed Great Central Station but as was often the case, old names refused to go away, and it reverted to its original name. The Great Central Railway was later grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway.

In 1948 the railways were nationalised, and it brought wholesale change to the network, as governments committed to the elimination of steam traction in favour of diesel and electric power.

After World War Two, the Victoria track was the first main line in the UK to be electrified, reaching Victoria Station by 1954.

Image: Picture Sheffield

Over time, with the growth of the road haulage sector, passengers replaced freight (especially coal transport) as the railways’ main source of income, and Victoria’s glory period was in the 1950s.

The Manchester London Road to London Marylebone service, via Victoria Station, used the Great Central Line. Other expresses ran to King’s Cross over the East Coast main line, and The Master Cutler, The Sheffield Pullman and The South Yorkshireman all served the station.

However, by the end of the decade expresses to Marylebone had either been cut or re-routed to King’s Cross and by the mid-1960s many local and express services had been transferred to the Midland Station. It left Victoria with just one hourly Manchester service and the daily Liverpool-Harwich ‘Continental’.

Percy Williamson. The last Station Master. Image: Picture Sheffield
Image: Picture Sheffield

The Beeching Report of 1963 resulted in the closure of a third of the rail network and originally favoured closing Midland Station. However, in the ensuing years Victoria Station became the chosen casualty instead, the Hope Valley line between Sheffield Midland Station and Manchester preferred because it served more communities. There was a suggestion that the cost of upgrading Victoria’s obsolete electric line was too expensive, but there were also suggestions that politics decided its fate. After much wrangling, and a two-year enquiry, passenger services were withdrawn from Victoria Station on January 5th, 1970.

Image: Picture Sheffield

Goods traffic still ran through the station but all tracks (except one that still exists nearby) were lifted in 1983, and the station buildings demolished in 1989 to make way for extensions to the nearby Royal Victoria Hotel.

Image: Disused Stations

Perhaps we should mention HS2. The long-running saga of Britain’s next generation railway originally had plans for a station at Meadowhall, but Sheffield City Council wanted a city centre location.

For a brief time, it seemed that Victoria Station might have been resurrected but alas, once again, its old rival, the Midland Station (now Sheffield Station), became the preferred option instead.

And so, to the present. Much of the site of Victoria Station’s former  buildings and platforms is now lost under modern hotel buildings and car-parks. However, the elegant sloping approach to the Crowne Plaza Royal Victoria hotel remains much the same as it did when the station existed.

Image: Signal Boxes
Image: Nigel Thompson

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings People

A church in Madrid with Sheffield connections

St George’s Anglican Church in Madrid. Built in 1926

It might be out of the question now, but if you get chance to visit Spain’s capital city there is a Sheffield connection.

The answer lies in a tablet over the south door of St George’s Anglican Church, on the corner of Calle Núñez de Balboa and Calle Hermosilla in the barrio Salamanca district of Madrid.

It reads:

“To the memory of William Edgar Allen. Born March 30th, 1837. Died January 28th, 1915. By whose generosity, this church was completed A.D. 1925.”

William Edgar Allen is a familiar name in Sheffield history. In 1868, he founded the firm of Edgar Allen and Co, Imperial Steel Works, at Tinsley. Taking advantage of his knowledge of continental firms, he soon obtained extensive orders for foreign arsenals, dockyards, and railway companies.

Besides other donations, Allen gave, in 1909, the Edgar Allen Library to the University of Sheffield, contributed £10,000 to Sheffield hospitals, and founded, in 1911, the Edgar Allen Institute (in Gell Street) for Medico-Mechanical treatment, the first institution of its kind in this country. It proved especially beneficial during the First World War; a great number of soldiers having recovered the use of their limbs through the effectiveness of the treatment.

In 1913, Edgar Allen, staying in Madrid, asked Edward Mitchel Gibbs, the famous Sheffield architect at Gibbs, Flockton and Teather, to visit the Spanish city and draw up plans for a Protestant Church.

The church, in Early English-style was to have seated 150 people, funded entirely by Edgar Allen. Unfortunately, the estimates for the building amounted to £10,300, a larger amount than Edgar Allen had anticipated, and the plan was abandoned.

However, at the suggestion of the architect, Edgar Allen, who was in failing health, bequeathed a legacy of £6,000 for a new church to be built.

Edgar Allen died at Whirlow House two years later, and his bequest was put towards the building of St George’s Church, the church of the British embassy, completed in 1925.

Spain was a Roman Catholic country, and rules as to the building of churches other than those of the Roman Catholic communion, were strict. Because St George’s was built on the premises of the British Legation, such restrictions did not apply.

“The workmanship and material of the church throughout were the best, and everything was in excellent taste.”

St George’s was designed by the Spanish architect Teodoro de Anasagasti, who blended elements of the Spanish Romanesque style (cruciform plan, semi-circular apse, bell tower, tiled roof) and the characteristic brick-and-stone construction of the uniquely Spanish “Mudéjar” tradition with specifically Anglican forms.

The chaplain of the church was the Rev. Francis Symes-Thompson, who received a grant of £250 per annum from the Foreign Office.

St George’s Madrid

William Edgar Allen (1837-1915), Founder of the Edgar Allen Institute. (Image: Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/ArtUK)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings People

Edward Mitchel Gibbs

Edward Mitchel Gibbs (Image: Picture Sheffield)

“If you want to see a monument to this man, look around you.”

Here is a man once described as “one of the makers of Sheffield,” for he was responsible for many of its principal buildings and played a leading part in changing the shape of the city.

His long list of work can be seen around Sheffield today.

In his earlier years, Edward Mitchel Gibbs was architect for the branch libraries at Upperthorpe and Highfield, and later designed the Mappin Art Gallery, St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Telegraph Building, Lodge Moor Hospital, Channing Hall, Glossop Road Baths, Foster’s Building in High Street, and the White Building at Fitzalan Square. He was also responsible for some of the finest shops of the time in High Street and Fargate.

Sheffield Telegraph Building (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

E.M. Gibbs (1847-1935) was born in Sheffield, educated at the Milk Street School, and articled to architects Flockton & Abbott between 1862 to 1868, remaining as principal assistant. He attended classes at Sheffield School of Art and subsequently spent time in London, studying at the Royal Academy Schools and assisting in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse.

Gibbs worked as Superintendent of Works to Archibald Neill of Leeds from 1868 until 1872, when he was taken into partnership by Flockton & Abbott.

He continued in partnership with Thomas James Flockton after the retirement of George Lewslie Abbott in 1875, and the partnership was joined by Flockton’s son, Charles Burrows Flockton, in 1895.

Gibbs became senior partner in 1902 (as Gibbs & Flockton), and the partnership was joined by John Charles Amory Teather in 1908, and Gibbs’ son, Henry Beckett Swift Gibbs, in 1921.

Mappin Art Gallery (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Like all good men, it was only after his death that people appreciated his contribution to the city.

His funeral in December 1935 was held at the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street (in which Gibbs had designed much of its interior) where the Rev. Alfred Hall paid tribute:

“Gibbs’ aim was to make Sheffield beautiful. All his artistic insight and architectural skill were devoted to that end, and, though tastes and fashion had changed, all men would acknowledge that the buildings he conceived and erected were dignified and noble.”

The funeral achieved national attention because Rev. Hall read out a document left by Gibbs:

“Born of Unitarian parents, I was a staunch supporter of the Unitarian precepts for many years, but under the teaching of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer became an agnostic. I hope the Minister, if he accepts the responsibility of conducting my funeral, will do so in the simplest manner possible, remembering that I die an agnostic.”

The clergyman admired his “sterling honesty” after which Gibbs’ remains were taken to City Road for cremation.

During his lifetime Gibbs thought positively and deeply and was a man of definite views. He was afraid that the country might fall into the hands of extremists and had the foresight to see the danger it faced arising out of Germany’s ambitions.

Highfield Library (Image: Picture Sheffield)

But he was not just an architect.

Gibbs had knowledge of property values and was retained by Sheffield Corporation in all cases of arbitration under the Tramways and Street Widening Act of 1897.

He also published essays: ‘The Town Planning of Sheffield’ and ‘The Finance of Housing and Reform of Rating’. In 1895, he presented a scheme for a central railway station in the vicinity of Haymarket. The plans were dismissed, as was his big scheme for housing.

Gibbs’ grand expansion plan was based on garden city principles with radiating main roads linked by a ring road with suburban settlements at its junctions.

Foster’s Building, High Street. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

As well as being a city magistrate, he was a trustee of Woofindin Homes, a director of the Gladstone Buildings Company and a governor of the University of Sheffield, where he was awarded a Master of Arts, and was instrumental in establishing the Department of Architecture.

He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1892 and was also president of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors. Gibbs also succeeded Thomas James Flockton as Consulting Surveyor to the Town Trustees, for which he designed the Fulwood Park estate.

The White Building, Fitzalan Square. (Image: David Poole)

Gibbs was married to Lucy, daughter of a manager at the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, who died a year before him, and lived at Woodcroft, 7 Riverdale Road. On his death he left gross estate of £52,939 (about £3.8 million today).

St John’s Church, Ranmoor. (Image: St John’s Ranmoor)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Barclays Bank: The grand building that we lost

The one that got away. I bet only a handful of people will remember this building and it might have been one of Sheffield’s finest had it survived. But it didn’t, and you’ll be surprised to learn what stands in its place today.

This was a bank that stood at the corner of Commercial Street and Fitzalan Square, demolished in the late sixties/early seventies to allow for road widening. Nowadays, its location is buried under the road section of Commercial Street, the Supertram tracks alongside following the course of the original road.

(Image: Google)

We can trace the building back to 1879, built for the Midland Banking Company (not to be confused with the Midland Bank, that 20th century institution). Its architect was Salmon Linton Swann whose office was on George Street.

It might have been this building that caused the downfall of the Midland Banking Company.

In 1878, the bank bought The King’s Arms in Commercial Street for £20,000, a portion of the public house demolished to make way for the new building.

The bank invited architects to submit plans. Thirteen architects competed for the design from Sheffield, Rotherham, Stamford, and Nottingham.

The directors awarded the prize to Swann, and the building contract to George Chambers and Son, a Sheffield construction company.

“The building will be of an imposing and handsome appearance, and the arrangements will tend to give privacy and facilitate easy and direct communication with the manager without passing through the bank room or incumbering the principal or main entrance with all the work of the bank.”

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

Its erection was well underway but a tragic accident in December 1879 halted progress and had devastating consequences for the reputations of those involved.

Just before Christmas, a whole length of projecting cornice, about 50ft above ground, fell and crashed through a wooden awning below. A workman, Thomas Moclar, fell to his death with it, and several workmen were seriously injured.

There was an air of complacency from Salmon Swann, who failed to attend the initial inquest and instead sent a letter. “I consider my presence or services not required, as I expect it will be a pure accident and one easily understood.”

The Coroner disagreed and ordered him to attend a few days later.

The jury found Swann censurable for not allowing sufficient tail weight to the cornice, and Chambers blameable for not calling the architect’s attention to such deficiency. However, they found the negligence insufficient to render them criminally culpable and that Thomas Moclar’s death had been an accident.

Construction was halted for a while, and progress hampered by having to rebuild the damaged section. By 1881, the bank was nearing completion and William Derry, a manager at the Huddersfield branch, was brought in to oversee its opening.

However, Derry arrived in difficult circumstances. Shortly before it opened, the Midland Banking Company realised that it was in financial difficulty. Believing it had ‘outgrown its resources’ a rescue was needed, and it came in the form of the Birmingham, Dudley and District Banking Company which amalgamated with it.

The bank opened under its new name, and quickly established a reputation in the city.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The height of the building was 70ft, the building preceding the development of Fitzalan Square, and cost about £17,000 to build.

The architecture was adopted from ‘a free treatment of the classic order’, built with Huddersfield stone fronts and brick backs, having bold fluted columns along the front, with moulded bases and carved capitals dividing the wall spaces into panels, relieved by plate glass windows.

At the principal corner of the parapet was an ornamental stone tower with an ornamented panel bearing the Sheffield coat of arms, surmounted by the carved dome, supporting a moulded canopy and finial.

Internally, the wall spaces were divided into panels by means of moulded pilasters, in Parian cement, the panels fitted with the large windows. Those along the blank walls were fitted with silver-plated glass, which added a lustre of light.

The whole was surmounted by a moulded and enriched cornice, from which sprang a deep cove, relieved by a diaper work, supporting a moulded and panelled ceiling, from the centre of which was the dome, filled in with stained glass.

From the centre of the dome a ventilating sunflower fan was suspended to extract air from the bank, and to light the space below.

The whole of the bank floor was constructed with fireproof flooring covered with tiles.

The bank was heated with Perkins’ patent hot water apparatus, the pipes obscured by perforated iron skirting running around the walls.

The whole of the Commercial Street frontage was used as offices for the manager and waiting rooms, which were divided from the bank room with mahogany glazed screens, 10ft high, and covered with light glazed roofs, introducing Tobin’s principle of ventilating tubes for fresh air.

The remainder of the floor was divided and sub-divided by desks and counters, with the rear east wall fitted up with safes. Seats and desks were appropriated for the public under the windows.

Quite unusual for the building was an entrance to a basement (9ft high) in Commercial Street. This was used as a caretaker’s apartment, complete with sitting room, scullery, and bedrooms. There was also a dining room for clerks, two strong fireproof rooms, the hollow walls lined with white glazed bricks, to store ledgers, a bullion room, and toilets. The floor was laid with wood block flooring laid on a bed of concrete, thought more suitable to prevent damp and vermin. Below the basement was the boiler room, coal cellar, and a place to store ashes and dust.

The bank merged with the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Banking Company in 1889 to become Birmingham, District and Counties Bank, eventually becoming United Counties Bank in 1907.

In the same year, a fire almost destroyed the dome after a spark in the built-in chimney set fire to woodwork. It was threatened until firemen managed to haul hoses up to a height of 70ft to extinguish the flames.

United Counties Bank was bought by Barclays Bank in 1916, a name long-associated with the building until its sad demolition.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Institute of Arts (Sheffield General Post Office)

(Image: David Poole)

In a previous post we looked at the history of the General Post Office in Sheffield city centre. From humble beginnings on High Street, via Angel Street, Market Place, and Haymarket, the central post office ended up in Fitzalan Square.

However, the building now occupied by Sheffield Hallam University, was a long time coming.

In the first years of the twentieth century the Post Office acknowledged that facilities at the top of Haymarket had become too small.

By 1897, red-brick offices in Flat Street had opened and by 1900 all that remained at Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

In fact, the Post Office had been buying up land around its Flat Street offices. By 1903, it had a triangular piece of land of one acre stretching from Fitzalan Square to Pond Hill.

(Image: David Poole)

The Post Office submitted plans to Sheffield Corporation for a building fronting Fitzalan Square, but the councillors were less than impressed. In 1907 it sent a delegation to see Lord Granard, who represented the Post Office in the House of Lords, to ask for a better building, including a finer elevation, than the one proposed.

Newspapers had been full of stories about a new post office and the people of Sheffield had started to think that the building might never get built.

However, the visit to London appeared to work and later that year plans were released by the Post Office for a new building in Fitzalan Square adjoining the existing Flat Street offices.

(Image: David Poole)

Work started in 1908, coinciding with Fitzalan Square improvement works, and an immense crane, 70ft high and with a jib 95ft long, dominated the skyline.

It was designed by Walter Pott, an architect who had started work with HM Office of Works in 1896 working in the London and Leeds offices.

The design was a modern adaptation of the Renaissance and allowed an additional storey over the wing in Flat Street.

Plan of Sheffield Post Office in 1909. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The principal front in Fitzalan Square was three storeys high, with a central portion having columns the full height of the two lower floors, these finished with carved Ionic caps and heavily moulded cornice and balustrade, which continued around the other fronts.

The front of Flat Street was treated in a similar manner but without the columns, and the corner with Fitzalan Square was rounded to accommodate a main staircase leading to the upper floors and finished with a dome.

The two principal entrances were in the wings of this portion, giving access to the public office, inquiry office, and Postmaster’s office. The upper parts of these were finished with heavy pediments.

Post boxes were at the base of the corner, with a large bracket clock (paid for by the council) above.

A sketch by Walter Pott of Sheffield Post Office in 1909. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The main post room, for the sale of stamps and postal orders, was 64ft long and 45ft wide, lit with windows back and front, and lined to a height of 8ft with marble, with a mosaic floor. Adjoining was a public telephone office with ‘silence boxes’ to allow messages to be sent without interference or risk of transactions being overheard.

The Postmaster, the Chief Clerk and writing staff, as well as the sectional engineer, were accommodated on the first floor immediately over the public office and front entrances, and on the floor above was the telephone switch-room and message-room. The basement was used for batteries and engineers’ equipment.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The Flat Street wing was set apart on the lower floors for retiring rooms for staff, for the messengers’ delivery room, and for storerooms. The first floor was entirely occupied by an instrument room.

The lower part of the site was in Little Pond Street, a much-needed extension to the existing sorting office, and for the provision of yards for loading and unloading mail and the storage of handcarts.

The new post office was designed throughout to meet modern sanitary requirements as regards light and ventilation, and the walls and passages occupied by staff were faced with glazed bricks. Four boilers, 146 radiators, and 1½ miles of heating pipe was installed by the Brightside Foundry and Engineering Co.

The building had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater portion was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

Although history books give a date of 1910 for the building, it came into use without fuss during the summer of 1909. “The staff simply left their posts in one building and walked over to the incomparably better equipped accommodation across the Square.”

It remained in operation until 1999 and remained empty for several years, a ‘building at risk’, until rescued by Sheffield Hallam University which opened it as the Institute of Arts in 2016.

(Image: AxisArchitecture)
(Image: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.

There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.

The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.

In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).

A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.

The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.

Sheffield Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.

While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.

In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.

These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.

The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.

In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.

And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

The White Building

The White Building in Fitzalan Square. The old offices have been converted into apartments. (Image: David Poole)

This is probably one of Sheffield’s best-loved buildings. A glance through social media shows positive words about the White Building in Fitzalan Square, and yet little appears to be known about it.

The building is Grade II listed by Historic England, more so for the ten carved friezes that adorn its fascia, but its simple past, as shops and offices, means it is largely forgotten.

(Image: David Poole)

The White Building was built in 1908, named after the white faience used to dress it, quite different from the stone used in other buildings of the time. This material was used because it was ‘self-cleaning’, an antidote against the soot that clung to our city centre buildings in the past. (Another example, still seen today, was the Telegraph Building on High Street).

However, it would not look out of place on a typical Parisian street and comes into its own on a bright sunny day.

The White Building seen shortly after completion in 1908. This was one of several new buildings built at the same time as the square was ornamentalised. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

It was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, of Flockton and Gibbs, who built and owned the building. No surprise then that its construction came the same time that Fitzalan Square was about to be rebuilt. Gibbs, as a member of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors, had consulted on plans for the square, and no doubt saw an opportunity to cash in on future success.

The White Building was built of four storeys with a raised attic storey in the centre. The use of French windows with balconies on the first and third floors provided welcome relief to the usual designs for commercial buildings.

The building was accessed by an arcaded ground floor, the entrance, still with its original name plaque, recessed behind one of the plain elliptical arches.

It is above these five arches that the ten friezes can be seen. These were created by Alfred Herbert Tory and William Frank Tory, the brothers using real workers as models, before sending away the designs to be cast as hollow tiles (the moulding was done with terracotta tiles in Leeds).

With thanks to Darcy White and Elizabeth Norman ‘The Sheffield Trades’ are as follows:-

“A Silversmith (with a blowpipe): a Chaser: an Engineer: a File Cutter; a Steel Roller: a Cutler: a Grinder (using a flat-stick): a Hand Forger; a Buffer; and a Steel crucible teemer (with sweat rag in mouth).”

The Tory brothers made five each, casting their initials beneath their work, although these have weathered badly and are now difficult to read.

After the White Building opened, its ‘first class shops and offices’ were in huge demand and proceeded to be so until the decline of Fitzalan Square in the 1970s and 1980s. It was altered in the late twentieth century, including the removal of decorative rooftop urns, but remains pretty much as it did when first built.

These days the old offices have been converted into apartments and the ground floor shops await the revival of Fitzalan Square.

The King Edward VII Memorial with the White Building in the background. (Image: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.