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Buildings Places

Orchard Square

Orchard Square was one of the first new-style retail developments that considered the existing urban landscape.

This was once the site of steelmaker John Brown & Co, who later merged with Thomas Firth & Sons to become Firth Brown.

The shopping centre was designed by Chapman Taylor Partners and completed in 1987, all-but obliterating properties that stood behind the Victorian façade bordering Fargate, Leopold Street and Orchard Street.

It was suggested, but extremely unlikely, that once former England football Emlyn Hughes had cut the ribbon, it was the most expensive retail area per square foot in Britain.

Impressive it was, an open rectangular courtyard, surrounded by new and old buildings, faced in red or yellow bricks with traditional building features like pitched roofs, casements and weather-boarded oriels. Its centrepiece was a square clock tower with chimes and moving figures that attracted hourly crowds.

But Orchard Square never lived up to expectations. Meadowhall sucked the life out of the city centre in 1990 and those shoppers that remained seemed reluctant to wander through the covered arcade linking it from Fargate.

Shops have come and gone, and a 2008 re-development removed the food court and the Stonehouse pub to facilitate a three-level TK Maxx.

The famous clock no longer chimes, and the twirling figures are locked behind closed doors.

As someone commented on social media, “the only thing that performs in this area now is the idiot coming out of The Bessemer across the road.” Quite sad really.

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Buildings

Old Red Lion

One Saturday night, in September 1926, Alfred Henwood finished his pint at the bar of the Old Red Lion on Holly Street and walked out. He returned just after time and said he had left his beer on the counter.

The landlord, Charles Foreman, told Henwood that he had seen him drink his beer. Not satisfied, Henwood picked up another jar of beer, which was not his, and refused to put it down. He told the licensee that if he could not have a pint, he would smash all the glasses. Thereupon he spread his arms around the glasses – five-and-a-half dozen – and every one was smashed.

He claimed in court that it was an accident but was fined £3.

Just another story in the life of an old Sheffield pub.

The Old Red Lion opened in 1822, life and soul for the surrounding houses and small industries. Slum-like flats used to be attached to the property, long demolished and the land vacant ever since.

The Old Red Lion, a William Stones establishment, moved with the times. The locals moved and industry declined but when the City Hall opened in 1934 it became a favourite watering hole.

In the 1980s it was remodelled – knocked through into the property behind – the former works of J.W. Northend, printers, which became a bar known as Barkers (becoming Edwards, later Reflex and now the Slug and Lettuce).

But times are hard now for the Red Lion. A separate property again, it’s nearly ten years since it closed and has been boarded-up ever since. The City Hall clientele prefer the Wetherspoon options at the front, and the Red Lion is stuck at the arse-end of West Street.

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Buildings

Velocity Tower

Things didn’t go to plan with the Velocity Tower, near Moore Street roundabout, at the edge of the city centre.

When it was built it should have been 30-storeys high, (an application for 36-storeys was wisely rejected by planners), but construction halted on the 21st floor, as the firm behind it went into administration. A student block alongside would have reached 18-storeys, containing 41 cluster flats, but only the ground-floor podium was completed.

In 2011 the complex went on the market for £10.5million and was eventually snapped up by Dubai-based Select Group.

A few corners had been cut during the initial build, something that Select have been able to rectify as well as completing the unfinished twenty-first floor.

More importantly, it agreed a deal for a £6.5million Ibis Hotel in the footprint of the proposed student block.

Work is almost completed on the seven-storey building, designed by Whittam Cox Architects, and will provide an extra 126 beds for the city centre. A coffee shop will be created on the ground floor along with the reception and (somewhat scanty) 14 car-parking spaces.

Meanwhile, planning permission remains for the 30-storeys at Velocity Tower, although the developer says there are no plans to extend higher.

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Buildings

Central Library

It’s 85 years since Sheffield Central Library opened, and it is showing its age.

The building was described as an ‘up-to-date wonder’ when it opened its doors in 1934. Its origins went back to 1853 when the city opened its first public library, the same year that the Libraries Act was adopted. The original library started in two small rooms in the Mechanics Institute, from which it grew until the whole of the building was required. There was a further development in 1910, when the Old Music Hall was purchased to start a lending library and reading room.

The site was a fitting one for a library because for 150 years it had been used by cultural, musical and educational bodies, scientific institutions and local trades. The land was formerly in the ownership of Henry Tudor, who built a house and silver plating works surrounded by an extensive garden about the middle of the 18th century. On his death, the estate was split up, part of it to the shareholders of the Music Hall. part of the land used to build a school and the house taken over by the Mechanics Institute.

After demolition, work on the new Central Library began in 1929, to a design by W.G. Davies, built with Portland stone around a steel frame, in Art Deco style, and opened in 1934 by the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother).

The idea was conceived as part of a plan by Patrick Abercrombie to create a civic square. It never materialised, although Tudor Square (named after Henry Tudor) was created alongside in 1991.

The Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums Committee had to spend their entire annual budget of £2,650 on stocking the new library. The total cost of the project was £95,000, including £10,000 from local mail order entrepreneur and philanthropist, J.G. Graves, who also contributed £20,000 for the Graves Art Gallery on the top floor, as well as his art collection.

In the Second World War, a bomb fell on Fitzalan Square nearby and the aftershock caused the library foyer’s marble floor to crack. The crack is still visible today and runs almost the full length of the foyer.

Do we still appreciate the 85-year-old lady?

Probably not. In 2017, Sheffield City Council, horrified at the cost of extensive repairs, announced plans to sell the building to a Chinese developer, which proposed converting the library into a hotel. Thankfully the deal never got off the ground.

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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.

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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.

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SHEFFIELDER

Random notes on the Steelopolis. This isn’t just a history page. It’s about appreciating everything around us – the buildings, people, products and events that shaped the City of Sheffield. It’s about taking notice of what is around you now, and observing the things that will become history for our descendants. To contact, please use the facebook link at the bottom of the page.

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People

Alastair Burnet

Sir James William Alexander Burnet (1928-2012) was born in Sheffield, the son of a Scottish engineer.

He was educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read history.

To many of a generation he was simply Alastair Burnet, the suave ITV news reader once described as “the booster rocket that put ITN into orbit.”

He joined ITN in 1963 as its political editor, but left after two years to become editor of The Economist and later the Daily Express.

On July 3 1967, with Andrew Gardiner sitting beside him, he launched the first ‘News at Ten’ bulletin with the words “Good evening. The railway freight strike has been called off.”

It was the beginning of a television institution.

He retired in 1991, disappeared from our screens, and died seven years ago at a nursing home in Kensington.

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Buildings

Sheffield City Hall

Once upon a time, back in 1932, a war of words existed between Sheffield City Council and the local ex-servicemen’s Association (embracing 20,000 members) concerning the name to be attached to the new Civic Hall.

The councillors wanted it to become Sheffield City Hall, the ex-servicemen preferred Sheffield Memorial Hall.

Such was the level of feeling that the ex-servicemen wrote to King George V hoping to bring the matter to his attention.

The reply when it came offered no solution. “I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that the matter has been laid before the King, but the Secretary of State regrets he was unable to advise His Majesty to issue any commands thereon.”

When it opened in September 1932, the canvas covers above the front doors were removed to reveal it would be called Sheffield City Hall, its crowning glory being the large Oval Hall inside.

However, by means of compromise, the smaller half-moon hall at the back was called the Memorial Hall, more famous now as being weekend home to the Last Laugh Comedy Club.

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Buildings

Sheffield Water Works Company

We’ve never mastered the art of saying, “Let’s go for a pint at the Sheffield Water Works Company.”

The chiefs at J.D. Wetherspoon will cringe as we insist on calling it by its previous name, Lloyds No. 1. One of the few occasions where you can hop, skip and jump between two ‘Spoons’ pubs.

A lot of history behind this building. Palazzo-style, a rarity in Sheffield, designed by Flockton and Abbott in 1867 for the Sheffield Waterworks Company.

The sculptured heads of Greek and Roman water gods are above the ground-floor windows.

The Grade II listed building was later the home of the hugely successful Graves Mail Order Empire… the Amazon of the Edwardian period. It was founded by John George Graves, whose many gifts to the city included Graves Park and Graves Art Gallery.