Cole Brothers

Our younger readers might not be acquainted with Cole Brothers, but for generations this name was recognisable across Sheffield.

Better known now as John Lewis, the beginning of this department store goes back to 1847, when John Cole, silk mercer and hosier, opened a shop at No.4 Fargate. He was later joined by his brothers, Thomas and Skelton Cole.

The shop expanded along Fargate and around the corner into Church Street, the main block rebuilt in 1869 with two extra storeys added. Later, the premises of Thomas Watson and Sons, grocers, were procured, and the bookshop occupied by Thomas Widdison was added in 1892.

To accommodate its growing business, works and stables were acquired at Pinfold Street in 1861, later enlarged by the addition of the old Canterbury Music Hall in 1889.

Skelton Cole died in 1896, John Cole two years after in 1898, the same year that Cole Brothers became a limited company.

The Pinfold Street works were soon inadequate and subsequently sold, with new premises on Norfolk Street bought from Harrison Brothers and Howson in 1901.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two Cole sons – Thomas and Thomas Skelton – were in charge, leading the store through a period of change.

In 1909, the first women were employed in the shop and offices, its first motor delivery van was obtained in 1911, and the first cash registers were installed during 1916.

The Cole family were fervent Methodists and instilled disciplines within the business. Up to World War One, it was daily practice for staff to say prayers before trading began, but change was about to come.

‘The London shop invasion begins,’ said one Sheffield newspaper when it was announced that Cole Brothers had been sold to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the exalted storeowner, in October 1919.

The glitzy American, immortalised recently by ITV’s Mr Selfridge, had already acquired a dozen department stores across Britain, including shops in Liverpool, Leeds, Watford, St. Albans, Peterborough and Windsor.

The addition of Cole Brothers to Selfridge Provincial Stores was a surprise, and one that promised to bring the department store new riches. The London house had been modelled on American lines and was described as supplying anything, from a needle to a haystack.

Thomas Cole and Thomas Skelton Cole retired from the business, but the family retained an interest with the appointment of Arthur U. Cole and Maurice Cole as directors.

Almost immediately, the shop premises were extended and restructured, Harry Gordon Selfridge’s drama and flair embraced by his son, Harry Gordon Selfridge Jr, the man tasked to manage the provincial stores.

Newspaper advertisements were lavish, publicising Cole Brothers as ‘One of the Selfridge stores,’ and consequently increasing sales.

The golden age of Cole Brothers lasted until 1940, when war and loss of family control over Selfridges, caused Harry Gordon Selfridge Jr, to return to the United States. The Selfridge Provincial Stores were sold to the John Lewis Partnership, which rather abruptly found itself 15 stores better off overnight.

While many Sheffield department stores suffered during the Sheffield Blitz, Cole Brothers survived unscathed, remaining at Fargate and Church Street until the 1960s when it was announced that it was moving to a new shop as its old premises were outdated.

A site was bought from Sheffield Corporation at Barker’s Pool, once occupied by the Albert Hall until destroyed by fire in 1937, and at one time earmarked as new law courts.

Designed by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, the white-tiled building was opened on 17 December 1963. Spread across five floors, the new Cole Brothers store contained sixty departments, with access to each level from a multi-ramp carpark, accommodating 400 cars.

In 1974, offices were moved into Barker’s Pool House, later connected by a landmark bridge, and a warehouse was opened at Tinsley. The store also moved its sport and toy departments to a site in Cambridge Street in 1977-1978.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a decline in Cole Brothers fortunes, not helped by the opening of Meadowhall, but a refurbishment and ensuing rebrand to John Lewis reversed its fortunes.

Alas, retail is suffering now, with department stores particularly hurting, and despite reassurances there is an air of uncertainty over John Lewis’ future in Sheffield city centre.

Buildings Companies

Cole Brothers

There was a time, not that long ago, when this department store at Barker’s Pool was scheduled for demolition.

The ill-fated Sevenstone retail project earmarked shiny new premises for John Lewis on the site of the old fire station on Wellington Street. When that scheme stumbled, replaced with the more sympathetic Heart of the City II development, John Lewis said they were staying put.

For the modernists amongst us, it was a welcome reprieve for a building that was constructed between 1961-1965 for Cole Brothers, renamed John Lewis in 2002.

The land on which it stands was once site of the Albert Hall, destroyed by fire in 1937. There was talk of a new Gaumont Cinema in its place, but it never materialised. After World War Two, Sheffield Corporation bought the plot for proposed new law courts, but again these never happened, the land subsequently acquired by Cole Brothers.

The design was conceived by Yorke, Rosenberg & Mardall, an architectural company set up in 1944 by Francis Reginald Stevens Yorke (1906-1962), an Englishman, Eugene Rosenberg (1907-1990), born in Slovakia, practising in Prague before World War Two, and Finnish-born Cyril Mardall (1909-1994).

The practice attracted talent from around the world, including David Allford (1927-1997), Sheffield-born, a graduate of the University of Sheffield and lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter.

Allford, who went on to become chairman, had a hand in Gatwick Airport, several large hospitals including St. Thomas’ in London and Hull Royal Infirmary, numerous comprehensive schools and offices, Warwick University, and Cole Brothers department store in his home city.

Built by Trollope & Colls (later Trafalgar House Construction), the store is clad in the architects’ hallmark white tiles with panels of brown mosaic to the window bays. The surface was inspired by Le Corbusier’s use of tiles on the entrance drum of the Armée de Salut (1929) in Paris, and the General Pensions Institute (1929-1934) in Prague, designed by Havlicek and Karel Honzik, and worked on by Eugene Rosenberg.

Rectangular in design, it was the replacement for Cole Brothers’ old premises on the corner of Fargate and Church Street (celebrated in Richard Hawley’s song ‘Coles Corner’), outdated and sold for £1million in 1962.

Spread across five floors, the new Cole Brothers store contained sixty departments, with access to each level from a multi-ramp carpark, accommodating 400 cars.

Innovative as the design may have been, the carpark became notorious for suicides, many people jumping from the building’s top deck, up until the time wire fencing was erected.

These days, the department store is looking rather tired, the white tiles in need of a deep-clean and counting the days to its restoration.

Companies People

Cole Brothers

It was August 1930, Cole Brothers at the corner of Fargate and Church Street, had been part of Selfridge Provincial Stores (owned by Harry Gordon Selfridge) for ten years.

There was excitement with news that Miss Amy Johnson’s aeroplane, a Gypsy Moth called ‘Johnnie’, was travelling overnight by lorry to go on display in Cole Brothers shop window.

The plane had been presented to her in Hyde Park, London, by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation, and was a replica of the ‘Jason’ machine in which Amy Johnson had made her epoch-making flight to Australia. She intended to use the aeroplane for pleasure flying.

It had been funded by the Daily Sketch, with the help of readers of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, and had been on view at Selfridges in London.

‘Johnnie’ was displayed at Cole Brothers for one week, creating enjoyment for the huge crowds that gathered in front of the store.

But there had already been an Amy Johnson connection with Sheffield.

She graduated from Sheffield University in 1925 having studied Latin, French and Economics. She then became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia after buying a single engine De Havilland Gypsy Moth aircraft naming it ‘Jason’.

Amy Johnson died in 1941 after a plane she was flying crashed into the Thames Estuary.


Westfield Health

A flashback to July 1921, and plentiful support had been given to the “Penny in the Pound” scheme for aiding Sheffield voluntary hospitals.

The Sheffield Hospitals Council had launched the scheme to support the city’s four hospitals: The Royal, The Royal Infirmary, The Children’s and Jessop Hospital for Women during the aftermath of World War One, when accommodation was short and no means to modernise or re-equip wards.

Whereby for every pound of an employee’s pay, a penny would contribute to the hospital’s finances in return for free hospital treatment, and employers would contribute a third of any money raised.

There were few who were not willing to recognise their responsibility to the hospitals.

Merchants, tailors, painters, brewers, wheelwrights, printers and many other trades had heard about the scheme.

The Sheffield Law Society had recommended the scheme to its members, and 96 per cent of staff of the Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-operative Society had agreed to pay contributions.

The Tramways and Motor committee, the Electric Supply committee, and the Sheffield Water committee, had each agreed to pay the employers’ portion of the scheme and the Parks men had shown sympathetic interest.

“Penny in the Pound” was dropped when the NHS came into being in 1948, but the Sheffield Hospitals Council survived by introducing innovative new schemes.

And what became of the Sheffield Hospitals Council?

It was renamed the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme in 1974, and as Westfield Health, has become one of Britain’s biggest Health Cash Plan providers. It moved to bigger premises at Charter Row in 2016.


Westfield Health

“Are you in the Westfield?” A question often asked at our Sheffield hospitals. But what do you know about the history of the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme?

It’s an institution, now nationwide, and its origins can be traced to July 1919, founded as the Sheffield Consultative and Advisory Hospitals Council, later shortened to The Sheffield Hospitals Council.

Its formation was to support Sheffield’s four hospitals: The Royal, The Royal Infirmary, The Children’s and Jessop Hospital for Women during the aftermath of World War One.

The war had crippled finances at Sheffield’s hospitals, with accommodation short and no means to modernise or re-equip wards.

The honorary medical staff at the hospitals suggested that a Joint Council should be formed, principally to tackle the financial difficulties after the war. They put their views into writing, produced a document to present to members of the Board and asked that a Joint Council should be set up to put the finances of the hospitals on a sound basis and to make the people of Sheffield, hospital health conscious.

The Sheffield Hospitals Council stepped in with the “Penny in the Pound” scheme, devised by businessman Fred Osborn, whereby for every pound of an employee’s pay, a penny would contribute to the hospital’s finances in return for free hospital treatment, and employers would contribute a third of any money raised.

The scheme was launched in April 1921, raising almost a million pounds for hospitals in the first six years, proving to be one of the largest and most successful in the country.

It quickly caught the imagination of the city’s biggest firms, trade unions and principal employers’ associations.

For 25 years it raised nearly five million pounds, surviving the Great Depression of the 1930s, when local people still contributed to the scheme from their wages.

During World War Two the scheme continued to support the hospitals, funding a new maternity unit at Jessop’s Hospital for Women after it suffered during a heavy air raid.

It also provided two ambulances in 1942 which transported patients to the city’s hospitals, and to and from nursing homes, travelling a total of 191,788 miles.

As well as delivering 9,000 Christmas Gifts each year, it also donated Easter eggs to patients in the Sheffield Voluntary Hospitals.

On 5th July 1948, the NHS was born with the aspiration to make healthcare available to all, regardless of a person’s wealth.

The NHS threatened the viability of the Sheffield Hospital’s Council, and although contributions fell, it closed the “Penny in the Pound” scheme and launched a “Special Purposes Fund,” providing amenities that weren’t covered by the NHS to patients and hospital staff.

In 1951, the NHS was struggling and introduced charges for prescriptions, dental services, and glasses, with the Sheffield Hospital’s Council creating an extended scheme of general benefits, becoming the innovator of the Health Cash Plan.

It was also the same year that the “Hospital Cinema Service” was launched, providing patients at the city’s hospitals with a cinema, showing full-length feature films, newsreels and shorts to help raise spirits for patients.

On 14th October 1965, the organisation established the Sheffield and District Hospitals Services Charitable Fund, donating annual funds for the purchase and repairs of equipment in hospitals, since donating over £15million to local and national hospitals and charities supporting people’s health and wellbeing.

More change was on the horizon. Due to the rapid expansion of the contributory scheme, it moved into a purpose-built office called Westfield House in 1973, followed by a change of name in 1974 to become the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme.

In 1999, Westfield became pioneers of the corporate paid Health Cash Plan, whereby employers rewarded employees with cashback on essential healthcare and access to health and wellbeing services.

The scheme launched in 2000 and has since become one of Britain’s biggest providers.

Westfield Health moved to bigger offices on Charter Row in August 2016, and celebrated its centenary last year.



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.


Top Shop

It appears that Topshop in Sheffield has come the full circle.

The news that Topshop and Topman is closing on Fargate could end a long-time association with Sheffield city centre. According to a recently submitted planning application, Nos. 33-35 Fargate, look to be falling into Superdrug hands.

The irony is that Topshop was founded in Sheffield in 1964, a brand extension of the Peter Robinson department store, then situated at the corner of Castle Square (now occupied by easyHotel).

Peter Robinson was a women’s fashion chain, founded in 1873, that had become part of Burton’s in 1946.

It opened as Peter Robinson’s Top Shop, a youth brand, selling fashion by young British designers such as Polly Peck, Mary Quant, Gerald McCann, Mark Russell and Stirling Cooper.

The Top Shop name was later used for a large standalone store on Oxford Street, London, and expanded into further Peter Robinson branches at Ealing, Norwich and Bristol.

It wasn’t until 1973 that Top Shop was split from Peter Robinson, focusing on the 13-24 age groups, leaving the department store to concentrate on the over 25s.

The Top Shop (later Topshop) brand flourished, subsequently becoming part of Phillip Green’s Arcadia Group, with 500 shops worldwide, of which 300 were in the UK.

Alas, by the end of the 1970s, the Peter Robinson name had all but disappeared.

In Sheffield, C&A had absorbed the former Peter Robinson shop, and when it pulled out of the UK, the unit transferred to Primark.

However, as we well know, times have been difficult for Phillip Green. Last year, the Arcadia Group went through a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with a significant number of stores closing.

Buildings Companies

Banner Cross Hall

In July 1932, the fate of Banner Cross Hall, on Ecclesall Road South, had been in the balance.

The old house had been on the market, subject of many rumours, and people in Sheffield feared that it would be demolished.

However, the announcement that Charles Boot, of Henry Boots and Sons, the famous firm of builders, had purchased the hall, did much to alleviate concerns.

The area of the land was just under four acres, and it was intended to accommodate all the firm’s staff from its original Moore Street premises.

In an interview with the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at his home, Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, Charles Boot (1874-1945) said that certain structural alterations for office purposes had already started.

“The front of the hall will be somewhat altered, but it is not my intention to do anything to destroy the amenities of the district,” he said.

Banner Cross Hall was begun in 1817 for Lieutenant-General William Murray by architect Jeffry Wyatt (afterwards Sir Jeffry Wyatville), who claimed it to be his finest work, and stood on the site of an ancient mansion.

It appears to have got its name from an ancient cross which stood near to the house, and in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) was known as Bannerfield, referred to as Banner Cross in the time of James I (1603).

General Murray had purchased the interests of the Athol family, and after building the hall, retired here with the intention of “spending within its tranquil shades, the evening of an active and honourable life.”

However, he died a year later and General Murray, by his will, gave Banner Cross Hall to his sister, Anne, the wife of the Rev. William Bagshawe.

The Bagshawe’s were a prominent family within Derbyshire and Yorkshire, with estates in Castleton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Ford, Hope, Norton and Wormhill; and in Ecclesall Bierlow, Fulwood and Sheffield.

Banner Cross Hall had remained with the Bagshawe family until going to market.

Tenants of the hall included Douglas Vickers, industrialist and politician, Colonel Henry Kenyon Stephenson, MP and businessman, and David Flather, an engineering firm owner, the hall’s last occupant from 1922 to 1932.

The history of Banner Cross Hall and the names of the distinguished families who occupied it are maintained in the naming of roads in the vicinity, the likes of Tullibardine, Murray, Glenalmond, Blair Athol, and Ford roads.

Eighty-eight years later, Banner Cross Hall is still the headquarters of Henry Boot.

Companies People

Henry Boot

When Henry Boot died in 1931, he was described as the founder of a world-famous Sheffield firm. The company was only 45-years-old at the time, and surprisingly Henry Boot is going strong, still a respected construction and property development business.

Henry Boot was born in 1851 at Heeley, his father being a landowner and farmer, and was apprenticed as a joiner with a builder on Division Street. He spent thirty-three years learning his trade before launching out on his own in 1886.

Henry Boot was based on Moore Street, and moved into large scale public works and housing projects, and the growth of the firm makes romantic history.

During World War One, the firm carried out enormous Government contracts at a time of great difficulty.

The firm built a major part of Catterick Camp, in North Yorkshire, with accommodation for an Army Corps, and so substantial was the work that it was retained as a permanent training centre.

An urgent demand for an aerodrome at Manston, on the Isle of Thanet, also resulted in the firm getting the contract, construction completed in record time.

Other important war work included the Tees naval base, the famous Calshot seaplane station, Chepstow Military Hospital and the American Army Rest Camp and Hospital at Southampton.

Afterwards, the company set up an office in Paris and, in conjunction with the French Government, administered contracts for the reconstruction of devastated towns and villages.

Its Athens office also secured a £10million contract for irrigation work with the Greek Government (a project that lasted until 1952).

Henry Boot was also a prolific house builder, constructing over 80,000 homes in the inter-war period, over 50,000 of these for local authorities, and about 1,000 on the Manor estate in Sheffield.

Henry retired before the war, succeeded as chairman by his eldest son, Charles Boot, of Thornbridge Hall, at Great Longstone. Although Henry retained an active part, it was Charles that built the business into one of Britain’s major construction companies.

Henry Boot had two other sons, William and Edward, and seven daughters, two of whom had married and lived in British Columbia.