We have covered this building before, but as always happens, new material surfaces.
Take a close look at this sketch from 1884. It looks different these days but stands proudly as ever. This is 38-40 Fargate, erected in 1881-1882 for Arthur Davy, and described at the time as the largest retail provision store in Great Britain. Since the 1970s, it has been occupied by WH Smith.
It was erected because of Sheffield Corporation’s Street Widening Programme of the late 1800s that encompassed Pinstone Street, Fargate, and later, High Street. In modern terms, this might be considered to have been Sheffield’s original Heart of the City redevelopment.
Before this, Fargate was much narrower, the street line on the north side extending much further forward into what is today’s pedestrian precinct. In fact, there was a ‘pinch-point’ in front of old shops that previously occupied the site. When these were demolished, Arthur Davy’s building was built much further back along a straight line of new buildings, most of which survive.
We also know which shops were demolished to make way for the new building. These were R. Goodson, a mantle shop (formerly E. Moses), a vacant unit (they even had empty shops then), E. Scott, feather bed warehouse, and George Bradley, watch and clockmaker.
Pevsner describes John Dodsley Webster’s design for the new building as ‘economic handling of a late Gothic style, with carved animal heads advertising hams, potted meats and pork pies for which it was famous.’ Look carefully, these are still visible above WH Smith today.
Where stationary, magazines, and books, line the interior today, we must use our imagination as to what it used to look like.
The ground floor sales shop was 75ft long and 40ft wide, lined with Minton’s White Tiles. On the right was a counter for the sale of hams, bacon, butter, cheese, eggs, and tinned goods. On the left was the counter for pork, polonies, sausages, pork, veal and ham pies, brawn, pork, and lard. There was also a room in which to hang 50 pigs, 4000 hams, 2000 sides of bacon, besides a considerable number of polonies and sausages.
An entrance via Exchange Gateway (the small lane that exists to the left) led to a slaughterhouse, where Royal Pigs were killed, the carcases lowered through a trap door into a room below, where they were opened and dressed, and hung upon rails at the back of the shop.
Another room held the bakehouse where the crust for pork pies was made and baked in two Jennison Smokeless 2-Deckers, capable of baking 12cwt of pies per day.
It’s hard to believe, but where many of us remember WH Smith’s record department, this used to be where sausages and polonies were made, as well as the curing of ham and bacon. These were conveyed to the shop above by hydraulic lift.
In later years, the upper floors also became Davy’s Victoria Café, used for light refreshments, luncheons and afternoon teas.
Sadly, Davy’s closed in 1972, and converted into WH Smith, complete with a flat canopy outside that has long-since been removed. In recent years, the shop had to close for a significant period, temporarily relocating to Pinstone Street, after roof supports failed and had to be replaced.
See the previous post about Arthur Davy here
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