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Buildings

Harris Leon Brown and the one o’clock time signal

H.L. Brown is situated in Yorkshire House at 2 Barker’s Pool. Sheffield. The time signal can be seen in the first floor central window. Image: DJP/2022

It confuses many people but is a reliable reminder to others. I’m referring to the one o’clock time signal that blasts out daily from above H.L. Brown at Barker’s Pool.

Today it’s a quirky tradition, and a reminder of a time when the concept of time was a bit fuzzier.

The origin of the time signal goes back to 1874, when in Angel Street, Harris Leon Brown fixed and maintained a ‘Greenwich time ball’ – that was placed on a flagstaff outside his premises, and which by an electric current fell at exactly 1p.m., Greenwich mean-time.

Back then, – different towns tended to keep different times, and thus Greenwich Mean Time was established.

Back in Sheffield, the 1 o’clock Time Signal became a handy way for city workers to mark the end of their lunch breaks, though its position above the watchmaker was used to ensure that his timepieces were accurate.

The equipment was admired for two years, but electric signals in the open air were affected by the weather and its failure to ‘drop’ on several occasions caused it to be removed.

In 1876, he entered into an agreement with the Government to supply him daily for three years with the correct time. A wire connected his shop in Angel Street with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and at one o’clock every day the ball dropped with remarkable precision as the sixtieth part of a second.

In his window, Harris Brown displayed several English keyless chronometer watches, especially adapted for pocket timekeepers. All of these were regulated by the time ball placed outside his shop door.

In 1891, a ‘Greenwich mean time flashing signal and time bell’ was installed in the window of H.L. Brown at new premises at 71 Market Place. It was a synchronised clock with flashing signal and bell, showing mean time daily at 1p.m. and was unaffected by rain or snow.

The clock was 14 inches in diameter, and on either side were two open circles, about half the size of the clock dial.

The one on the left contained a ‘flashing signal’ – a disc of metal painted red, and finely balanced on a pivot. Throughout the day this disc remained with its edge towards the front and was almost invisible. But precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon (GMT) the electric current arrived, giving the disc a quarter revolution, and causing it to reveal its full face, and fill up the open circle, remaining in that position for two seconds.

Simultaneously, the time bell fixed in the open dial to the right of the large clock was struck, so that the electric current made its arrival known both to sight and sound.

To obtain this equipment, H.L. Brown had to enter a five year agreement with the Post Office and pay a large yearly subscription. They were the only watch manufacturer to receive this direct signal. He stated that one of the reasons for installing the equipment was because he had sold many watches from the Government observatory at Kew, and which were guaranteed to keep exact time.

By visiting the Market Place any day at one o’clock, he said that users could ascertain if their watch was ‘on time’ as accurately as by a visit to London.

H.L. Brown later moved to 65 Market Place, and along with it went his equipment. It was bombed in 1940 and the shop moved to 70 Fargate at the corner with Leopold Street.

The time signal was subsequently replaced with a siren, and this was relocated to its current position at Barker’s Pool when H.L. Brown’s Fargate shop was demolished in 1986 for the construction of Orchard Square.

Above the entrance, there’s a small black and white sign proclaiming “1 o’clock time signal” and alongside it, the siren that you hear each and every day. Image: Sheffield Star

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Companies People

Harris Leon Brown – a Polish refugee who made Sheffield his home

Harris Leon Brown came to England from Poland with an introduction to Alfred Beckett & Sons. He started by travelling around as a watch maker. Image: H.L. Brown

This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.

Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.

He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.

When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.

But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.

Harris Leon Brown (1843-1917), diamond merchant, jeweller and horologist of Poland and Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.

With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.

H.L. Brown, 71 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown

Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).

In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.

In 1896, H.L. Brown moved to 65 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown
In the 1930s, H.L. Brown was modernised. Image: H.L. Brown
While searching for photographs of London’s Regent Street, this image from 1910 appeared and shows H.L. Brown at 90 and 90A. Image: Getty Images

Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.

During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.

He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.

H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices  for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.

The jewelled key presented to King Edward VII at the opening of the University of Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield
Newspaper advertisement from 1907. Image: British Newspaper Archive

In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.

When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917.  He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.

At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”

His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.

He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.

In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.

In 1940, the Sheffield shop was destroyed in the Blitz and business moved to 70 Fargate. Image: H.L. Brown

During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.

Town Hall Square in 1967 looking towards Fargate and Leopold Street, Goodwin Fountain, foreground, and No 70, H.L. Brown and Son Ltd. Image: Picture Sheffield

James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.

In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.

Today,  H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).

H.L. Brown at 2 Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, in 2022. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings

Kings Tower – Revised plans for city centre high-rise

News of what could become Sheffield’s tallest building, and it’s a development that has featured on this page before.

Revised plans have been lodged for King’s Tower, a 40-storey tower in the city centre.

CJS7 Ltd (trading as Oppidan Life) and SFGE Properties Ltd have applied to Sheffield City Council for development on the site at the junction of High Street, Angel Street, and Arundel Gate, previously occupied by part of the city’s Primark store.

Planning permission was granted in December 2020 for a 39-storey development featuring 206 apartments. However, new plans seek full planning permission for the demolition of the existing building and construction of a new 40-storey tower. It would now comprise 428 co-living units and 33 studio apartments.

Shared facilities would include workspaces, cycle store, private meeting and dining rooms, cinema/presentation rooms, gym, bar and lounges. Roof terraces and balconies would be provided where possible.

The site is of little architectural value, much of its history lost underneath twentieth century developments.

It is the site of the ancient market adjacent to Sheffield Castle, first established as the result of a Royal Charter of 1296. The market stall and buildings that occupied the site were demolished in 1786 to make way for the construction of the Fitzalan Market (also known as ‘The Shambles’).

Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 when the new Castle Hill Market opened, and a new shop was constructed on the corner of Angel Street for Montague Burton, of Burton Menswear, in 1932.

The Burton building was badly damaged during the Sheffield Blitz of 1940, and stood as an empty shell for many years

It was eventually demolished and replaced by a new steel-framed building, clad in concrete and tile panels, and opened in 1962 as a Peter Robinson department store.

From 1974, the adjacent C&A store absorbed the upper floors of Peter Robinson, while furniture retailer Waring & Gillow occupied the ground floor.

After C&A vacated in the 1990s, it became Primark until it relocated to The Moor in 2016, leaving the old department store empty.

If it is completed it would become Sheffield’s tallest building, a claim that will shortly pass from St Paul’s Tower to Code Sheffield (on the site which borders Rockingham Street, Wellington Street, and Trafalgar Street, and adjacent to Kangaroo Works), at 38 storeys and 383ft tall.

In the meantime, planning is also sought for the temporary display of an illuminated building wrap advertisement around the facing elevations of the existing building for a period of 12 months whilst pre-enabling works take place.

The advertisement will principally display signage relating to the new development – King’s Tower – highlighting the positive change and regeneration the area will experience on completion of the landmark development.

See also King’s Tower

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings Companies

Castle House: From the Co-op to Hollywood in 80 languages

Castle House designed by George S Hay, Chief Architect for CWS, with interior design by Stanley Layland, interior designer for CWS. Reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl granite tiles and veneers, grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass, and brick. Photograph: DJP/2019

Ever wondered who creates the subtitles for Hollywood movies from the likes of Disney, HBO, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Viacom, and Netflix?

Look no further than Sheffield company, Zoo Digital, established in 2001 by Stuart Green and Ian Stewart of Gremlin Interactive. In 2003 it had a worldwide smash with the first interactive DVD game, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? Afterwards, it developed new tech and started subtitling, dubbing, cloud operations and streaming.

Zoo Digital creates subtitles and dubbing voiceovers in 80 languages for Hollywood films shown around the world. But unlike rivals based in studios shuttered by the pandemic, its cloud-based tech can be used anywhere. The firm has 7,000 freelance voice artists and translators who mostly work from home. It also has offices in London, Dubai, and Hollywood, with total global staffing at more than 270.

Recently, it completed a strategic investment in Istanbul-based media company ARES Media to grow ZOO’s services for Turkish content.

Zoo Digital posted posted a 64% increase in revenue for the six months ended 30th September 2021. Photograph: Insider Media

Based on St Mary’s Gate, it’s now moving all its 160 Sheffield-based workers into the former Co-op department store on Angel Street. It joins another top city tech firm, WANdisco, which made the building home in October 2019. Castle House is also home to popular food hall Kommune and a Barclays tech accelerator.

Grade II listed Castle House was designed by George S. Hay, chief architect for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, for the Brightside & Carbrook. It was built between 1959 and 1964 before closing in 2007.

ZOO operates from production facilities in the key entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, London, Turkey and UAE and has a development and production centre in Sheffield. Photograph: Netflix

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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People Places Streets

Pound’s Park: a belated tribute to a fire chief

Pound’s Park, named after the man responsible for creating Sheffield’s first fire brigade. The former John Lewis store is seen at bottom-left. Cambridge Street is already being developed as a cultural centre. (Sheffield City Council)

The Heart of the City II programme moves forward, and this artist impression shows Pound’s Park, a new public space that will be created on the site of the demolished Wellington Street fire station.

It will be on the western side of the Heart of the City masterplan, located between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street, and will create another green space in the city centre, as well as creating children’s’ play areas, water features, and a new bus interchange.

The Park will also provide an accessible new home for the William Mitchell frieze, which was removed from Barker’s Pool House a few months ago in preparation for the construction of the new Radisson Blu hotel on Pinstone Street.

A lot has been written about Pound’s Park, but I’d like to focus on the man it is named after.

John Charles Pound (1834 -1918) was the city’s first Fire Superintendent, and responsible for laying the foundations of our modern fire service.

He was born at Sittingbourne in Kent and served for eight years  in the Navy and Mercantile Marine Service, and as a man-of-war took part in operations in the Crimea.

Leaving the sea, he joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in its earliest days. He was engaged at the memorable Tooley Street fire in 1861, where his chief, Captain Braidwood, was killed by a falling wall just minutes after Pound had been talking to him. (It was referred to as ‘the greatest fire since the Great Fire of London,’ and occurred at Cotton Wharf where many warehouses were situated. It attracted a crowd of more than 30,000 spectators).

“This was in the early days of fire brigade work, and long before the extinguishing of fires had been the object of practical and scientific studies. The Metropolitan firemen learnt engineering by travelling on locomotives and receiving instruction from engine drivers. The scheme had been adopted by Captain Braidwood, and John Pound was one of those who familiarised himself in engineering. When proficient he was appointed to a responsible position on one of the brigade’s river floats.”

He applied for a position at Nottingham and was appointed as engineer of the first steam fire engine, staying two years before coming to Sheffield in 1869 to form the Corporation’s first fire brigade. The decision of the Corporation to take over and run the Fire Brigade was brought to a head by a series of large fires between 1865 and 1869.

John Charles Pound (1834-1918). Sheffield Fire Superintendent between 1869 and 1895. (Picture Sheffield)

Pound established the fire brigade over 26 years, with trained firemen, and the introduction of the best firefighting appliances. His biggest fires included Portland Street Confectionery Works (George Bassett and Co) and at G. H. Hovey and Sons (drapers and house furnishers) in Angel Street in the winter of 1893 in which six large shops were destroyed.

Superintendent Pound was injured at the Park Club fire, on Bernard Street, in February 1895 when he fell against a kerbstone whilst handling a jet. His injuries were at first thought to be bruising of the ribs, but later he suffered difficulty in breathing. He retired from the Fire Brigade shortly afterwards.

“He may now begin to feel the need of rest and relief from being in a state of incessant preparedness, and the Micawbian attitude of ‘waiting for something to turn up,’ and the good wishes of the citizens will follow him in retirement.”

John Charles Pound died from influenza at his home on Tullibardine Road in 1918. His coffin was shrouded in the Union Jack and conveyed on a horse-drawn fire brigade tender, with Indian Mutiny veterans, firemen and police taking part in the cortege. He was buried at Sheffield General Cemetery.

A fitting tribute that Sheffield’s first fire officer should be honoured with a park, and on the site of a former fire station.

Pound’s Park will be the latest addition to Sheffield City Council’s plans to create green spaces in the city centre. (Sheffield City Council)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

King’s Tower

A dramatic change to the High Street. King’s Tower, a 39-storey tower block, that has been granted planning permission.

Prepare for a major new addition to the Sheffield skyline, and its location may come as a surprise.

King’s Tower, at 51-57 High Street, will be a 39-storey tower, comprising 206 apartments, with space for a ground floor commercial unit, drinking establishment or hot food takeaway.

It is probably the first regeneration step for one of the most unkempt parts of the city centre.

King’s Tower will be a significant change to the High Street.

The building will be on the site of what many of us know as the former Primark building, and even further back, the one-time Peter Robinson department store.

When the wrecking balls arrive, there will likely be cries of contempt, but in the eyes of planners, the existing building has no architectural value.

In fact, when researching this post, it was discovered that it was always meant to be a temporary structure, even though it’s lasted almost sixty years.

King’s Tower will be on the site of the ancient market adjacent to Sheffield Castle, first established as the result of a Royal Charter of 1296. The market stall and buildings that occupied the site were demolished in 1786 to make way for the construction of the Fitzalan Market (also known as ‘The Shambles’), which underwent improvement about 1855.

Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 when the new Castle Hill Market opened, and a new shop was constructed on the corner of Angel Street for Montague Burton, of Burton Menswear, in 1932. The shop occupied the lower floors while the upper tiers were home to the City Billiard Hall and ‘The City’ Roller Skating Rink.

The grand-looking Burton Building, built at the corner of High Street and Angel Street in 1932. A billiard hall and roller-skating rink occupied the upper floors. (Image: Sheffield Telegraph)

The Burton building was badly-damaged during the Sheffield Blitz of 1940, and stood as an empty shell for many years, its replacement held up by funding and lack of building materials. By the 1950s, Sheffield Corporation insisted that plans for an alternative building would only be granted if it were of ‘temporary character, and not as before,’ because it had plans for a new roundabout intersecting Angel Street, High Street and what would become Arundel Gate.

After being badly damaged by German bombs in 1940, the Burton Building remained empty for many years. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

It was eventually demolished and replaced by a new steel-framed building, clad in concrete and tile panels, and opened in 1962 as a Peter Robinson department store. The chain store had been founded in 1833 as a drapery, soon expanding with a flagship store at Oxford Circus, London, and bought by Burton’s in 1946.

The shop in Sheffield was part of Peter Robinson’s nationwide expansion, at its height having 39 stores across Britain.  

Whilst the building may not be considered of architectural importance, it most certainly played a part in shaping High Streets across the country.

It was here, in 1964, that a new department was launched on the third floor, 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 was not until 1973 that Top Shop was split from Peter Robinson, the Top Shop (later Topshop) brand flourished, subsequently becoming part of Phillip Green’s Arcadia Group, whose demise dominates present-day headlines.

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

The steel-frame of the Peter Robinson department store during construction in the early 1960s. (Image: Picture Sheffield)
Completed. Peter Robinson dominated this High Street corner. In 1964, the first Top Shop was opened on the third floor. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

From 1974, the adjacent C&A store absorbed the upper floors of Peter Robinson, while furniture retailer Waring & Gillow occupied the ground floor.

After C&A vacated in the 1990s, it became Primark until it relocated to The Moor in 2016, leaving the old department store empty.

During the 1970s C&A occupied the upper floors while Waring & Gillow sold furniture at ground level. (Image: Picture Sheffield)
Primark, originating from Dublin, took over the premises when C&A pulled out of the UK. (Image: Google)

On a final note, that proposed roundabout eventually became Castle Square, with the famous ‘Hole-in-the-Road’ linking into the building, filled in to accommodate Supertram in 1994.  

As part of the works to build King’s Tower, King Street, to the rear, will be improved with the market retained and access for vehicles.

Artist impressions of King’s Tower.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.

There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.

The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.

In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).

A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.

The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.

Sheffield Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.

While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.

In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.

These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.

The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.

In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.

And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Castle House

I don’t think many people will realise that this iconic Sheffield building was inspired by a Sears Roebuck department store in Chicago, as well as a nameless shop in Amsterdam. These were the motivation for George S. Hay, chief architect for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, who designed Castle House for the Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society in the 1950s.

It has positioned itself alongside Park Hill flats as not being particularly loved. A throwback to the sixties, but like many similar modernist buildings, has matured better with age.

Castle House was built between 1959-1964 for the good old B&C, formed in 1868, who wanted a flagship department store and combined head office in the centre of the city.

The Society’s previous tenure in the city centre had been disastrous. In 1914, it bought land in Exchange Street for a shop, central stores and offices. The First World War delayed work and construction wasn’t started until 1927, at which point the remains of Sheffield Castle were found as the foundations were being laid. The bastion and moats were presented to the public before building recommenced. It was finally completed in 1938, quite a grand affair, only to be destroyed by German bombs in December 1940.

The site was taken over by Sheffield Corporation which had plans for Castle Market (whose construction revealed the remains of Sheffield Castle once again).

In 1950, the B&C Co-op purchased land at the junction of Castle Street and Angel Street and built a temporary one-storey shop, named Castle House, a nod to its former City Stores premises. Accordingly, the one tower heraldic symbol became the familiar logo for the Society.

Castle House was replaced by the five-storey building we know today. It was built of reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl and grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass and brick. George S. Hay designed it with a blind wall to the first and second sales floors, taking encouragement from the Chicago building.

The interiors were designed by Stanley Layland, the interior designer for the CWS, the crowning glory being a cantilevered spiral staircase linking all floors. The suspended restaurant ceiling was only the second such in Europe.

It opened on 13 May 1964, the total cost of build, including shop fittings, being £925,000.

The B&C planned to merge with the Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-operative Society in 1985, a move voted down by its members, although it changed its name to the Sheffield Co-operative. In 2007, it merged with United Co-operatives, which itself merged with the Co-operative Group shortly afterwards. In 2007, the group decided to close its department stores and Castle House suffered the humiliation of standing empty.

Some trading units remained including food, travel and pharmacy, and
also the Crown Post Office. The pharmacy was closed in 2011 followed by travel and the Post Office.

English Heritage (now Historic England) gave it Grade II listed status in 2009, and in July 2018 Kollider, the regeneration company, announced plans to take over the building, the result of a £3.5million funding deal with Sheffield City Council.

Kollider created a Scandi-style food court on the upper ground floor, Kommune, an all-day dining experience including independent kitchens, brewers, bakers, baristas, book sellers and artists.

The rest of the building has been turned into Ko:Host, an events space, and Kollider Incubator, a work space for innovative, digital and tech entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, the US tech firm WANdisco, set up in California by Sheffield-born David Richards in 2005, announced plans to relocate sixty staff from its Sheffield head office to Castle House.

The Co-op sign remains, although this refers to the Co-op food store that still occupies part of the building on Castle Street.

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Buildings

Castle House

The sign on this building shows Castle House with a defunct Sheffield Co-op logo high above. It was designed by Hadfield Hawkwell & Davidson in 1962, constructed alongside the Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society’s new department store alongside.

It was occupied by Horne Brothers, men’s outfitters, who commissioned this glass fibre and metal sculpture, eight feet in height, in 1961.

The withered male figure represents Vulcan, patron of smiths and other craftsmen who use fire, and carries a bundle of metal rods in his right hand.

It was Boris Tietze’s second commission after leaving the sculpture department of the Slade School of Fine Art, metallic in appearance and supported on a ‘light and stable’ metal armature.

Tietze ‘decided to use the god of fire – Vulcan – as being representative of Sheffield.’ Although we know that Raggio’s conventional statue of Vulcan has stood on top of Sheffield Town Hall since Victorian times.

According to Sheffield City Council, Vulcan was removed in the 1980s, but was rescued by the Council’s Public Art Officer and subsequently restored to its rightful position.

The Co-op occupied a large part of the building, later using the ground floor as a Post Office, but it was closed in 2011. (The bulk of Castle House had been shuttered up four years earlier). The block is now part occupied by the The National Videogame Museum.

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Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (1)

One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets. The castle was one of the grandest and most powerful in the north of England before it was demolished by the parliamentarians in 1648.

The site of the castle was built over several times, the remains discovered in the 1920s, and covered over once again. And then Castle Market was built over it in the 1960s.

It might come as a surprise now, but during the 18th and 19th centuries there was doubt as to where Sheffield Castle had stood.

Most historians guessed correctly, and from here on, Victorians liked the romantic notion of secret tunnels running underneath the town, supposedly relics from the old castle.

Different generations handed stories down, with tales of hidden tunnels running from Sheffield Castle towards Manor Lodge, the Old Queen’s Head at Pond Hill, and towards Sheffield Cathedral.

We’re no closer to the truth now, but evidence has been uncovered over the years to suggest there might have been some legitimacy to the stories.

In 1896, during excavations for Cockayne’s new shop on Angel Street, a subterranean passage was discovered, arousing the interest of archaeologists and antiquarians.

However, it wasn’t enough to excite local journalists who were invited to accompany an exploring party up the passage.

Said one. “The expedition sounded attractive, but when I found that to gain admission it was necessary to crawl through a particularly small entrance, and that on the other side the passage had a covering of a foot of water, my exploring enthusiasm was dampened.”

He took consolation with the foreman’s claims that it was merely an “unromantic sewer,” his view confirmed by the explorers.

Alas, the march of progress ended any further exploration, and the passage was duly blocked up.

And there was another story from the same year, but one that didn’t emerge until 1920, when a retired reporter sent a letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

“At the bottom of High Street, at the curve which leads off towards Bank Street, some excavations were made in connection with drainage works, and at a depth of several yards, the opening in the ground cut right through an ancient subterranean way.

“I undertook an investigation with the view of establishing the correctness or incorrectness of the generally accepted theory. The foreman of the works was good enough to detail one of his men to be my guide, and with a lighted candle we began to walk along the passage towards the church. The opening in the direction of the river had been so badly disturbed during the excavations that the ingress on that side was out of the question.

“It was quite plain to see, as we advanced, that the passage had been cut through stone – it was not hard rock, but a rather soft and friable substratum. It was three feet wide, and at first, we could walk upright, but its height diminished a little, and twenty yards or so from the opening where we entered, we had to stoop to make our way along.

“At length we emerged into a dark cellar, with thralls all around it. The roof was of stone, but without ornamentation of any kind, and, altogether, it had the appearance of one of those underground caverns – crypts, they are commonly, but wrongly, called – in which a business had been carried on hundreds of years previously, and which was, in the first instance, reached by steps from without.

“These steps had disappeared however, and my guide brought me to daylight again up ordinary inside cellar steps, and we emerged into a dilapidated building.

“Pursuing my enquiries, I gathered that the premises beneath which the cellar lay had been for many years, at a remote period, the business place of a wine merchant, And the explanation of the passage was that it was, in all likelihood, a drain to conduct water from the cellar to the river.

“It was objected at the time that the cost of such a drain was altogether against the correctness of this theory; but, on the other hand, it is an established fact that drains of this character were common in medieval times. The residents in a locality would combine to bear the cost and to reap the advantage of such a construction, and, doubtless, if my guide and I had a better light, or if we had been more careful in traversing the passage, we might have seen junctions with the drain coming from the other premises.”

It was a disappointment to those who thought that this was part of a tunnel running from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church, but the so-called secret passages which ran underground in most towns were either sewers or watercourses.

The story was forgotten, only to emerge again in the 1930s, and subject of another post.