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Buildings Sculpture

The mystery of Mercury

The sculpture of Mercury stands proudly above the portico of the Sheffield Telegraph Building on High Street. It is one of two statues of Mercury in the city centre, the other being on top of the Lyceum Theatre. (Image: David Poole)

Here is a mystery.

This bronze statue of Mercury has stood on top of the portico of the Telegraph Building on High Street since about 1915.

Mercury, Roman god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves, is shown as a nude male figure with wings both side on his hat, and on the outside of his ankles. He carries in his left hand a caduceus, an elaborate winged staff. The statue appears to be about to take off, his toes barely touching the base and his right arm extended with fingers pointing skyward.

But where did the statue come from?

An artist impression from 1913 of the Sheffield Telegraph Building at High Street. The sculpture of Mercury sits above the portico at the corner with York Street. The portico was the entrance to the offices and counting-house which occupied the whole of the ground floor. Most recently occupied by a building society, the corner unit has planning permission to become a restaurant. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The bronze statue is said to be much earlier, re-sited here when the Sheffield Telegraph built new offices on High Street between 1913-1915.

A few searches are quite specific that the statue was acquired by the Electric Telegraph Company in 1856 to decorate new premises for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at the opening to The Shambles. (This is now the site of KFC at the junction of High Street and Haymarket).

The Electric Telegraph Company office seen about 1856. The statues of Mercury (left) and Vulcan (right) can be seen in the niches at the upper level. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Furthermore, it is suggested that the bronze sculpture occupied one of two niches, one on either side of the front elevation of the upper story, the figure of Mercury to the left and Vulcan to the right.

It is said that the Mercury sculpture was moved to the Telegraph Building in 1915, while the Vulcan statue was lost.

Old illustrations of the Electric Telegraph Building clearly show the statues, but at this point the authenticity of the sculpture on the 1915 building comes into question.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph may or may not have had offices at the Shambles, and it is well documented that its early offices were on the site of High Street and Aldine Court, long since vacated by the newspaper.

Further inspection identifies the Electric Telegraph Building on The Shambles as being the Fitzalan Market Hall, that looked up the slopes of High Street and King Street.

Fitzalan Chambers in 1918. Blackened by Sheffield’s smoky atmosphere, the Mercury and Vulcan statues are clearly evident three years after the construction of the Telegraph Building on High Street. The De Bears Schools specialised in shorthand, typewriting, correspondence, and business training. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In 1856, an account of the opening of the Exchange, News Room, and Telegraph Office was published in the Sheffield Independent:

“This building which has been erected from the designs of Messrs Weightman, Hadfield, and Goldie, by the Duke of Norfolk, terminate the pile of buildings occupying the façade towards the Old Haymarket. On the ground floor it was necessary to retain the old-established wine vaults of Samuel Younge and Co, and to provide shops for fish salesmen in the lower part of the market. The Exchange Room occupies the first floor. The room is entered by folding doors. At the end of the room opposite the entrance is a small apartment fitted up by the Telegraph Company in which the subscribers may write and dispatch their messages to all parts of the globe accessible to this rapid mode of communication.”

There were lengthy descriptions of the interior and finally “Over the market entrances are two niches with figures carved in stone by Messrs Lane and Lewis of Birmingham representing Mercury and Vulcan – typical at once of the wonder-working telegraph and the staple trade of Sheffield.”

From this account we can identify that both sculptures were made of stone and still present when the Fitzalan Market Hall (or Fitzwilliam Chambers as the offices became known) was demolished in the 1930s.

Fitzalan Chambers prior to demolition in the 1930s. The whereabouts of the statues of Mercury and Vulcan is unknown. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

This makes the Mercury atop the Telegraph Building a bit of an unknown.

The design is based on the work of Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), better known as Giambologna, noted for his command of sculptural composition, producing figures that were pleasing to view from all positions.

The bronze figure is identical to one on top of the dome above HSBC in Doncaster’s High Street, built in 1896-1897 for the York and County Bank (and according to historians, the sculpture also dating to 1856).

I suspect the origin of the Mercury sculpture on the Telegraph Building lies closer to home and is later in design.

The building was designed by Gibbs, Flockton & Teather and constructed by George Longden and Son in 1915. Both Sheffield firms worked with Frank Tory, responsible for much of the city’s fine stone artwork, but also known to have worked in bronze.

Is it possible that Frank Tory was the man behind the sculpture we see today?

It also leaves another question unanswered.

What happened to the two stone Lane and Lewis statues?

Maybe someone, somewhere, has two fine statues of Mercury and Vulcan in their garden.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies People

Sheffield Telegraph

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1855, soon after the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, that had set newspaper prices at 5d to 7d, a dour down-at-heel Scotsman called Mr Benson turned up in Sheffield. After looking the town over, he called at the offices of Joseph Pearce Jnr, a printer and bookseller on High Street, and told him that he had people in London and Manchester who proposed starting a newspaper in Sheffield.

Joseph Pearce was convinced, and Benson recruited shop canvassers from street corners to obtain subscribers at 1s 6d for a month’s issues. The campaign netted a small fortune, and the next day Mr Benson arrived at the office wearing a brand new hat a new pair of wellingtons.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

The first issue of the four-page Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared on June 8, 1855, distributed by Benson’s messengers on the back of a wheelbarrow.

Ten days later, Mr Benson, the comic-faced Scot disappeared and was never heard of again. His promised capital was so far behind him that it never caught up.

A man sent to London to telegraph back news milked from the national papers found himself out of pocket, and unable to ask for help, because Benson had failed to mention his colleague back in Sheffield. On his last night in London, the representative of the ‘country’s first great provincial daily’ had to split his journey home.

Joseph Pearce, left with the fallout, met his obligations to initial subscribers and decided to carry on. He arranged to take Reuter dispatches from the Crimean War, a story that was filling everybody’s minds, and sales started to grow.

There were already several weekly newspapers in Sheffield, all of which ignored this ‘upstart’, but when Sheffield writers gathered around the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it burst this bubble of complacency, and one of them, the Sheffield Independent, was forced to publish daily as well.

Despite the rising popularity of the paper, published at 8am every day, it was a financial struggle for Joseph Pearce, and after nine years he decided to make way for younger blood.

Photograph of Editor’s office by Picture Sheffield

In 1864, Frederick Clifford and William Christopher Leng arrived, the latter becoming editor, and relocating to Aldine Court, off High Street.

Under these two, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aimed to popularise the Conservative Party cause amongst the working class, and Leng’s trenchancy and personal courage during the trade union outrages in the 1860s enhanced the newspaper’s prestige.

By 1898 it was selling 1.25 million copies a week, along with its sister publications, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, with articles and serialised fiction, and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

In 1900, Winston Churchill became South African war correspondent for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, as well as the Morning Post, and the January issue carried his story in four columns of his capture by the Boers.

Photograph by Prime Location

Between 1913 and 1916, a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments at Aldine Court, was built. Constructed in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, and still dominates High Street today. (It was eventually replaced with modern buildings on York Street).

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Clifford-Leng ownership ended in 1925, bought by Allied Newspapers, controlled by William Ewart Berry, Gomer Berry and Sir Edward Mauger Iliffe, which had been systematically buying up provincial newspapers, though chairmanship was retained by Frederick Clifford’s son, Charles, who actively shared management of the paper until his death in 1936.

Sir Charles Clifford had arrived in 1878 and ten years later was instrumental in the purchase of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph’s rival, the Evening Star, a name familiar to us now as the Sheffield Star.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1931, Allied Newspapers bought the rival Sheffield Independent, printing both separately, but both papers started losing ground to the national press and at one time the loss of both seemed possible.

The Allied Newspapers partnership was dissolved in 1937, each partner needing a raft of holdings to pass onto their heirs, with James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, taking control of the Sheffield operation, briefly dropping the word ‘Daily’ from Sheffield Telegraph, and amalgamating it with the Sheffield Independent in 1938 to become the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent, with a broader policy embracing the fundamental principles of both newspapers.

During the first years of World War Two, Kemsley Newspapers, as it had been renamed by Lord Kemsley, became the Telegraph and Independent, commanding world correspondents of Kemsley newspapers, and across the British Isles.

The newspaper eventually became the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent, subsequently the Sheffield Telegraph, and was bought by Roy Herbert Thompson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, in 1959.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1965, it was briefly renamed the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, then the Morning Telegraph, continuing a long tradition of producing excellent news correspondents .

Notable staff across its history have included Sir Harold Evans, who was later Public Relations Officer to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and head of ITV News; author Peter Tinniswood; novelists John Harris and J.L. Hodson; cartoonists Ralph Whitworth and J. F. Horrabin; critics George Linstead and E. F. Watling; sports writers John Motson, the BBC football commentator, Lawrence Hunter, Peter Keeling, Peter Cooper, Frank Taylor (who later survived the Munich Air crash of 1958), and Keith Farnsworth.

Other editorial staff members have included Keith Graves, who was later with the BBC and Sky TV as a much-travelled reporter; Peter Harvey, a long-serving feature writer who was awarded the MBE in 2002; Geoffrey L. Baylis, who in later years was honoured for services to journalism in New Zealand; Barry Lloyd-Jones, Brian Stevenson and Clive Jones, who were news editors; Leslie F. Daniells and Frazer Wright were long serving industrial reporters; Alf Dow, a news editor who was later the company’s first training officer, and ended his career in public relations at Newton Chambers; Richard Gregory, who became a leading figure at Yorkshire Television and was later chairman of the Yorkshire Bank; George Hopkinson; Jean Rook, who was later a women’s writer with the Daily Express; and Will Wyatt.

Photograph by Hold the Front Page

The Morning Telegraph was sold (along with The Star) to United Newspapers in the 1970s, ceasing production in 1986.

The collapse of the newspaper was attributed to moves by estate agents to move advertising away from the highly-popular Saturday edition, and set up what turned out to be an unsuccessful rival property guide.

In 1989, the Sheffield Telegraph was relaunched as a weekly and continues to this day, although now under ownership of JPI Media, formerly the ill-fated Johnston Press.