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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

Crucible Theatre

Photograph by Sportsmatik

It is hard to believe that next year, the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield’s architectural upstart, will be fifty-years-old. It has been a long journey, with plenty of ups and downs, but survives with its reputation intact.

The Crucible Theatre was built as a replacement for the Sheffield Playhouse on Townhead Street, home to the Sheffield Repertory Company, whose origins went back to 1919.

Photograph of Sheffield Playhouse by Flying Pig

Colin George was appointed Artistic Director of Sheffield Playhouse in 1965, and did not grasp that its hand-to-mouth existence was going to be turned upside down.

“One sunny spring day in 1966, I was one of a deputation from the Playhouse Theatre who went to the Town Hall to ask the Council for a subsidy to run the theatre. We were ushered into the main Council Chamber, empty but for a formidable northern lady seated at one end, on her Lord Mayor’s throne – Alderman Grace Tebbutt. We sat in front of her, naughty schoolchildren in front of the headmistress. She looked at us for a minute and then dropped her thunderbolt. ‘Nah then. Where do you want your new theatre?’ To those of us working at the Playhouse it was quite unexpected. ‘You probably want an island site,’ she continued forcefully, and with a wave of her hand effortlessly destroyed Norfolk Street.”

A new Sheffield Theatre Trust and Building Committee was created, an architect was appointed, and plans were made to create a new conventional theatre with its proscenium arch and using a large forestage.

Had these plans progressed, the history of Sheffield theatre would have been quite different. The cat-amongst-the-pigeons was Sir  William Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971), an English director instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival theatre in Ontario and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In October 1967, Guthrie arrived in Sheffield to talk about theatre. Hearing of plans, he spoke to the Trust and excited them enough to send Colin George and David Brayshaw, a local solicitor appointed as administrative director, to visit America to see and report on thrust or promontory stages.

They spent ten days in Minneapolis, Stratford, Ontario, and New York, and reported back that Sheffield should have a thrust stage. The Trust agreed, and the cries of derision began.

Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis (top) and Stratford Festival, Ontario (below)

Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles (“The theatre is a freak. It will be blacklisted by all reputable dramatists”), by councillors at public meetings (“I’m not going to pay to see Hamlet’s backside”), and in the media, the modernists won the day.

There was also the problem of  giving the new theatre a name. The Star ran a competition and ‘The Adelphi’ won, named after the famous hotel and public house that had stood on the site, but in the end, Hilary Young, who worked at the Playhouse, suggested the Crucible, a nod to Sheffield’s industrial past.

Photograph of Colin George by The Guardian

The Crucible was designed by Renton Howard Wood Associates, the project architects being Nicholas Thompson and Robin Beynon.

However, we must not forget the part played by Tanya Moiseiwitsch (1914-2003), regarded as one of the foremost British designers in twentieth century theatre, an innovative designer of costumes, sets and stages, and responsible for the look of over two hundred productions in Britain, Canada and the United States.

Moiseiwitsch had worked closely with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and was the principal designer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis from 1963–1966, and again designed a thrust stage like that she had designed (and in 1962 modified) in Stratford, Ontario.

Returning to England in the 1970s, she designed plays both for the National Theatre and the West End, but her last legacy was designing the stage for the Crucible Theatre. The whole of the stage (18ft wide-28ft deep) was mounted on steel stanchions and beams provided flexibility to adapt it for different productions.

Photograph by Sheffield Theatres
Photograph by Sheffield Star
Photograph by Sheffield Theatres

Construction started in October 1969, the work undertaken by Gleesons, and was completed in November 1971. It cost almost £1 million to build, £650,000 contributed by Sheffield City Council and the Arts Council, and £260,000 raised by the New Sheffield Theatre Trust as the public contribution to the theatre.

In Spring 1971, it was decided that Colin George would direct Peer Gynt to open the Crucible, followed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s Aeschylus Trilogy, The House of Atreus. However, in July news came through that Guthrie had died, and the opening schedule was hastily rearranged.

Photograph by Building Design
Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Crucible Theatre, principally made of reinforced concrete, opened on November 9, 1971, with Fanfare, a production devised in three parts. The first was ‘Children’s Theatre’ in which 34 children were involved. The centre piece was Ian McKellen playing the Old Actor in Chekhov’s Swan Song and the last part was rumbustious Music Hall.

And so, the futuristic theatre with its twinkly ceiling lights, orange auditorium seats (provided by Race Furniture of London), and gaudy foyer carpets, started its journey.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

Once deemed a ‘white elephant’ due to low audiences, it steadily gained a reputation, along with the Lyceum Theatre, as the best production theatre outside London. With far more full houses than not, the long list of success is remarkable – The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night, Chicago (the European premiere, no less), The Wiz (British premiere), Funny Girl, Brassed Off, Fiddler on the Roof, Hamlet, Othello, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… the list goes on, and it was once called the ‘National Theatre of the North’. And, of course, there is the snooker.

The Crucible Theatre was Grade II listed in 2007, considered of national importance in the history of theatre design, ahead of a £15 million refurbishment that included a new roof and the Adelphi Room extension to the front. Ironically, during the construction of the extension the cellars to the old Adelphi Hotel were discovered and some of its foundations used to support the new build.

Colin George left the Crucible Theatre in 1974, but returned to appear in a production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters in 2011. His ambition to write the history of the theatre was never fulfilled, but as one newspaper reported on his death in 2016, his legacy stands in Tudor Square.

Photograph by Hire Space
The Adelphi Hotel. Photograph by Picture Sheffield
Photograph by FDA Design
Photograph by Our Favourite Places