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Walter Gerard Buck

This influential character is relatively unknown in Sheffield’s history. A modest person, he was responsible for one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Walter Gerard Buck (1863-1934) was born in Beccles, Suffolk, the youngest son of Edward Buck. He was educated at the Albert Memorial College in Framlingham, and acquired an interest in architecture, joining the practice of Arthur Pells, a reputable Suffolk architect and surveyor, where he learned the techniques to design and build.

Walter Gerard Buck, architect and surveyor (1863-1934)

Walter, aged 21, realised there were limitations to this rural outpost and would need to improve his talent elsewhere. This opportunity arose in Manchester, the seat of the industrial revolution, where demand for new commercial buildings was great. It was here where he gained several years’ experience in large civil engineering and architectural works, including the building of the Exchange Station, Manchester, as well as the Exchange Station and Hotel in Liverpool.

Liverpool Exchange Street Station and Hotel. The frontage remains and in the 1980s was incorporated into the Mercury Court office development. It has recently been converted into 21st century office space called ‘Exchange Station’. (Image: Alan Young)
Manchester Exchange Station was a railway station located in Salford, immediately to the north of Manchester city centre. It served the city between 1884 and 1969. The station was closed on 5 May 1969. (Image: National Railway Museum)

In 1890, his reputation growing, Walter made the move over the Pennines and into the practice of Mr Thomas Henry Jenkinson at 4 East Parade.

Jenkinson had been an architect in Sheffield for over forty years. He had been responsible for several buildings built in the city centre, taking advantage that Sheffield had been one of the last among the big towns to take in hand the improvement of its streets and their architecture.

Buck’s move to Sheffield proved advantageous. Jenkinson had become a partner at Frith Brothers and Jenkinson in 1862, which he continued until 1898, when he retired. He made Walter his chief assistant and allowed him to reorganise the business and control affairs for several years. During this period Walter carried out work on many commercial buildings and factories in Sheffield.

Initially, Walter boarded in lodgings at 307 Shoreham Street, close to the city centre. He married Louisa Moore Kittle in 1892 and, once his reputation had been established, was able to purchase his own house at 4 Ventnor Place in Nether Edge.

A letter from Walter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Nov 1905)

Perhaps Walter Buck’s greatest work also proved to be his most short-lived.

In May 1897, Queen Victoria made her last visit to Sheffield for the official opening of the Town Hall. It also coincided with the 60th year of her reign – Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

The visit caused considerable excitement in Sheffield and preparations lasted for weeks. Shops and offices advertised rooms that commanded the best positions to see the Queen. Not surprisingly, these views were quickly occupied, but the closest view was promised in the Imperial Grandstand, specially designed for the occasion by Walter Gerard Buck.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee visit to Sheffield in May 1897. The central interest was the newly-built Town Hall where ‘the gilded gates stood closed until her majesty touched the golden key and they flew open’.

This spectacle was built next to the newly-erected Town Hall, opposite Mappin and Webb, on Norfolk Street (in modern terms this would be where the Peace Gardens start at the bottom-end of Cheney Walk across towards Browns brasserie and bar). It was advertised as ‘absolutely the best and most convenient in the city’, with a frontage of nearly 200 feet and ‘beautifully roofed in’. The stand, decorated in an artistic manner by Piggott Brothers and Co, provided hundreds of seats, the first three rows being carpeted with back rests attached to the back. In addition, the stand provided a lavatory, refreshment stalls and even a left luggage office. It was from here that the people of Sheffield saw Queen Victoria as the Royal procession passed within a few feet of the stand along Norfolk Street to Charles Street.

The next day the Imperial Grandstand was dismantled.

The professional relationship between Walter Buck and Thomas Jenkinson matured into a close friendship.

When Jenkinson died in 1900, he left the business to Walter and made him one of his executors. His son, Edward Gerard Buck, eventually joined the business which became known as Buck, Lusby and Buck, moving to larger premises at 34 Campo Lane.

In 1906, Walter was elected to the Council of the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and District Society of Architects and Surveyors and was elected President in 1930. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and a member of the council of that body.

Walter also became a member of the council of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Court of Governors of Sheffield University, a member and director of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club, a member of the Nether Edge Proprietary Bowling Club and vice-president of the Sheffield Rifle Club. It was this last role that he enjoyed best. Walter was a keen swimmer but his passion for rifle shooting kept him busy outside of work.

Apart from architectural work Walter held directorships with the Hepworth Iron Company and the Sheffield Brick Company. These astute positions allowed him to negotiate the best prices for the building materials needed to complete his projects.

A familiar site on Sheffield’s streets. The Sheffield Brick Company had brickyards situated at Neepsend, Grimesthorpe, Wincobank and Wadsley Bridge. Materials were used in many of the city’s buildings including Sheffield University, the Grand Hotel and the Town Hall. (Image: Sheffield History)

However, as the new century dawned, it was a role outside of architecture that occupied Walter’s time.

In 1892 the French Lumière brothers had devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. Their first show came to London in 1896 but the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park in 1889 by William Friese Greene. The ‘new’ technology of silent movies exploded over the next few years and by 1906 the first ‘electric theatres’ had started to open. In London, there were six new cinemas, increasing to 133 by 1909.

Not surprisingly, this new sensation rippled across Britain and Sheffield was no exception. This had been pioneered by the Sheffield Photo Company, run by the Mottershaw family, who displayed films in local halls. They also pioneered the popular ‘chase’ genre in 1903 which proved significant for the British film industry. The Central Hall, in Norfolk Street, was effectively Sheffield’s first cinema opening in 1905, but the films were always supported with ‘tried and tested’ music hall acts. Several theatres started experimenting with silent movies, but it was the opening of the Sheffield Picture Palace in 1910, on Union Street, that caused the most excitement. This was the first purpose built cinema and others were looking on with interest.

Walter Buck was one such person and saw the opportunity to increase business by designing these new purpose-built cinemas. One of his first commissions was for Lansdowne Pictures Ltd who had secured land on the corner of London Road and Boston Street. The Lansdowne Picture Palace opened in December 1914, built of brick with a marble terracotta façade in white and green, with a Chinese pagoda style entrance. It was a vast building seating 1,250 people. In the same year he designed the Western Picture Palace at Upperthorpe for the Western Picture Palace Ltd.

The Lansdowne Picture Palace was designed by architect Walter Gerard Buck of Campo Lane, Sheffield. It stands at the junction of London Road and Boston Street and opened on 18th December 1914.  In 1947 the cinema became a temporary store for Marks & Spencers. In the 1950’s it became a Mecca Dance Hall called the ‘Locarno’ later changing into ‘Tiffany’s Night Club’. It had several more reincarnations as a night club with different names and the frontage was painted black, its last name being ‘Bed’. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Weston Picture Palace, designed by Walter Gerard Buck in 1913-14. The cinema was on St Phillip’s Road and Mitchell Street and was demolished. (Image: Sheffield History)

With the knowledge required to build cinemas it was unsurprising that Walter Buck was asked to join several companies as a director. One of these was Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd which was formed in 1910 for ‘the purpose of erecting and equipping in the busiest and most thickly populated parts of the City of Sheffield and district picture theatres on up-to-date lines’. Its first cinema was the Electra Palace Theatre in Fitzalan Square with a seating capacity upwards of 700 with daily continuous shows. Their second cinema was the Cinema House built adjoining the Grand Hotel and adjacent to Beethoven House (belonging to A Wilson & Peck and Co) on Fargate, this part later becoming Barker’s Pool. This was a much grander cinema with a seating capacity of 1,000 together with luxuriously furnished lounge and refreshment, writing and club rooms.

Ironically, Walter Buck did not design either of these picture houses. Instead, they were conceived by John Harry Hickton and Harry E. Farmer from Birmingham and Walsall, but the bricks were supplied by the Sheffield Brick Company, that lucrative business where Walter was a director. It should not go unnoticed that this highly profitable company probably made Walter a wealthy man. It had already supplied bricks for the Grand Hotel, Sheffield University and the Town Hall.

Opened as the Electra Palace on 10th February 1911. It was designed by J.H. Hickton & Harry E. Farmer of Birmingham & Walsall. Constructed by George Longden & Son Ltd. (who built several Sheffield cinemas), the proprietors being Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. (Image: Sheffield History)
Opened in 1913, the Cinema House seated 800 and was one of the smaller city centre cinemas. Boasting a tea room, it had a narrow auditorium and patrons entered from the screen end of the hall. Being narrow, it’s Cinemascope image size was severely restricted. It closed in 1961 and was subsequently demolished. (Image: Cinema Treasures)

The cinema undertaking was not without risk and Cinema House, which opened six months before the start of World War One, always struggled to break even.

In 1920, far from building new cinemas right across the city, the company bought the Globe Picture House at Attercliffe. The following year they reported losses of £7,000 with Cinema House blamed for the poor performance.

At this stage, it is unclear as to what involvement Walter Buck had with Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres. He was also a director of Sunbeam Pictures Ltd, designing the Sunbeam Picture House at Fir Vale in 1922, and the Don Picture Palace at West Bar. He was most certainly a director of the Sheffield and District Cinematograph Company  by the late 1920s, and eventually became its chairman. In 1930, absurdly on hindsight, he was faced with a public backlash as the company made the transfer over to ‘talkie’ pictures.

“It was true that some people preferred the silent pictures, but the difficulty was that the Americans were producing very few silent films, or the directors might probably have kept some of the houses on silent films to see if they could hold their own with the talkie halls.”

Located on Attercliffe Common at the junction with Fell Road. The Globe Picture Hall was a venture of the Sheffield Picture Palace Co. Ltd. It opened on 10th February 1913 and was, at that time, one of the largest cinemas in Sheffield. The architects were Benton & Roberts. The owning company reformed on 21st March 1914 as the Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. and remained owners until closure on 29th June 1959. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Sunbeam Picture House was built on Barnsley Road at the junction of Skinnerthorpe Road in the Fir Vale district of Sheffield. The Sunbeam Picture House opened on Saturday 23rd December 1922. It was built set back from the road and was an imposing brick and stucco building, with a large embossed rising sun motif on the facade, set inside an ornamental parapet. A central entrance to the cinema was covered with a canopy. (Image: Sheffield History)
The Don Picture Palace opened on Monday 18th November 1912 with the films “Captain Starlight” and “Monarchs Of The Prairie”. The architect was Henry Patterson and it was situated in what was then one of the main entertainment areas of Sheffield with the old Grand Theatre of Varieties being close by. (Image: Sheffield History)

Walter Buck never retired but died at his home at 19, Montgomery Road, Nether Edge, aged 70, in September 1934. He left a widow, his second wife, Fanny Buck, and three sons – Edward Gerard Buck, William Gerard Buck, a poultry farmer, and Charles Gerard Buck, chartered accountant. Walter Gerard Buck was buried at Ecclesall Church.

It seems the only epitaph to Walter Buck is the Chinese pagoda style entrance of the Lansdowne Picture Palace. The auditorium was demolished to make way for student accommodation, but the frontage was retained for use as a Sainsbury’s ‘Local’ supermarket. Very little information exists about his other work in the city and further research is needed to determine which buildings he designed, and which remain. Any information would be most welcome.

All that remains of the former Lansdowne Picture Palace. The frontage and Chinese-style pagoda were retained for this Sainsbury’s Local supermarket, soon to become Budgens. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
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J.L. Womersley

Photograph by RIBA

If one man can be held responsible for defining Sheffield’s skyline, then it must be John Lewis Womersley (1909-1989), the City Architect between 1953 and 1964.

During his term, Sheffield’s housing grew upwards with multi-storey flats constructed at Low Edges, Park Hill, Hyde Park, Netherthorpe and Woodside. It was Womersley’s response to 13,000 families on the council’s waiting list and 10,000 condemned properties waiting to be demolished.

Womersley had previously been Borough Architect in Northampton, where he was responsible for the town’s first ten-storey block. In Sheffield, he presented an uncompromising vision of the future, one shared by the Labour council.

According to Ivan Morris, who worked in Sheffield City Council’s planning department until 1979, Womersley was “A blunt no-nonsense Yorkshireman with a burning desire to maintain quality of life by achieving high standards in his work.”

In his eleven years, Sheffield was a hive of building activity, his record perhaps stained by today’s  social problems in surviving tower blocks.

“Time and hindsight must not be allowed to judge too harshly the mark that Lewis Womersley left on the city,” said Morris in 1989. “For he gave his whole-hearted efforts unstintingly against economic restraints.

“Certainly, those who remembered the sordid and degrading conditions of the overcrowded back-to-back slums had cause for acknowledgement.”

His most famous legacy must be Park Hill, the “streets in the sky” claiming international recognition for Sheffield but dividing opinion across the city.

It is now Grade II* listed, the subject of a £100million refurbishment into upmarket apartments, business units and social housing (even though it seems to be taking an age to complete).

“Park Hill was certainly something of a masterpiece and is still relatively popular,” said one of his successors, Andrew Beard, over thirty years ago. “But with Hyde Park I feel he pushed the concept further than it was capable of going.”

And another of his projects, the Gleadless Valley estate, a mix of urban housing and landscape, described as “Mediterranean in appearance” when it was built between 1955 and 1962, might now be past its best.

But was that the fault of the architect, or simply under-investment in maintaining it properly?

Gleadless Valley estate

Most pronounced in housing, his work also extended to public buildings – schools, colleges, bus garages, fire stations and libraries. Amongst these we must mention Granville College and Castle Market, both demolished, but the former West Bar Police Station survives as the Hampton by Hilton Hotel.

Awarded a CBE in 1962, Womersley left Sheffield two years later, joining the Leslie Hugh Wilson partnership in Manchester, and finally retiring in 1978.

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Charles John Innocent

Charles John Innocent (1839-1901), architect, was born in Sheffield, the son of John Innocent, a publisher. He was educated at Sheffield Commercial Academy and later articled to the architects Weightman, Hadfield and Goldie.

Innocent went into partnership with Thomas Brown in 1862 and the Education Act of 1870, and the immediate demand for school buildings, proved to be a triumph for them.

He was appointed architect for the Sheffield Schools Board in 1871 after which school after school went up using his designs, including amongst many, Attercliffe, Springfield, Carbrook, Abbeydale, Gleadless Road, Hunters Bar, Sharrow Lane and Duchess Road.

Innocent also did a considerable amount of work for the Sheffield Board of Guardians, providing the plans for the erection of the headquarters of the Children’s Homes and the Cottage Homes for aged people.

Charles Innocent designed Glossop Road Baptist Church, now the Sheffield University Drama Studio (1871), and St. John’s Chapel, Crookesmoor, but his greatest achievement was probably the Montgomery Hall (1884-1886) on Surrey Street for the Sheffield Sunday School Union.

He died in November 1901 at his home on Wellesley Road, Broomhill.

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John Dodsley Webster

Here’s a name that keeps appearing on Sheffielder.

John Dodsley Webster (1840-1913), might not have been our best-known architect, neither was he responsible for Sheffield’s finest buildings, but his legacy was probably the most important.

J.D. Webster was born in Sheffield, received private tuition from Rev. H.D. Jones, Vicar of Heeley, and was later educated at Mansfield Grammar School.

Afterwards, taking up a career in architecture, he was articled to M.R. Mallinson, the Burnley ecclesiastical architect, later managing the Halifax office of Mallinson & Healey, after which he returned to Sheffield and spent time with Worth & Campbell.

Webster set up on his own soon after 1865 and along with his son, John Douglas Webster, who became his partner, practiced in Sheffield for nearly 50 years.

He became Diocesan Surveyor for the Diocese of Sheffield, and before that for the Archdeaconry of Sheffield when in the Diocese of York.

Unsurprisingly, with clerical interests, he was a prominent churchman, and for several years was warden at St. Mark’s Church at Broomhill.

Webster was the architect of St. Matthias’, Emmanuel Church (Attercliffe), St. Bartholomew’s (Burgoyne Road), Carbrook Church, St. Cuthbert’s (Fir Vale), St. Paul’s (Norton Lees), St Anne’s (Netherthorpe) and prepared the designs of extensions to Heeley Church.

Other works included Grenoside Church, the “Fox” Memorial Church (Stocksbridge) and the Trinity Church at Highfields (the last regarded as one of the best examples of its class).

With his son, he also designed St. Augustine’s Church (Brocco Bank), St. Oswald’s (Millhouses), St. Timothy’s (Crookes) and St. Clement’s (Newhall).

In addition, his name can be ascribed to Gleadless School, now vacant on Hollinsend Road, Woodhouse East, on Station Road, and Woodhouse West, at Sheffield Road.

A fellow of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), his best-known works were the former Jessop’s Hospital, Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and extensions to the Royal Infirmary and Ecclesall Union.

In Clarkson Street, at the corner with Western Bank, is the oldest surviving part of the Children’s Hospital which moved here in 1878. J.D. Webster was one of the hospital founders and chairman of its management committee.

The Jessop’s Hospital for Women, on the north side of Leavygreave Road, opened in 1878, a rather forbidding building in late Gothic style, that lost the top stage of its central tower during the Second World War, but survives as the University of Sheffield’s Department of Music.

Unfortunately, Webster’s Edwardian wing of 1902 was demolished, despite Grade II-listing, in 2013. The site is now occupied by The Diamond, the university’s futuristic home to the Faculty of Engineering.

There are few examples of Webster’s work in the city centre, but those that survive are passed on a regular basis by locals.

The Davy’s Shop in Fargate (1882) is now home to W.H. Smith, the Bainbridge Building on Surrey Street (1894) was most recently occupied by Halifax Bank, and the attractive St. Paul’s Parade building at the side of the Peace Gardens was completed in 1901.

Around the corner, in Norfolk Street, is the original frontage to the Central Hall for Sheffield Workmen’s Mission (1899), later becoming New Central Hall, the city’s first cinema, and now occupied by Brown’s Bar and Brasserie.

J.D. Webster practised at 19 St. James’s Street and lived at Sunbury, on Westbourne Road, at Broomhill.

He died in October 1913, aged 74, and was succeeded by his son, John Douglas Webster

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William John Hale

William John Hale (1862-1929) was an architect based in Sheffield, creating some of the city’s most outstanding architecture.

He was the son of Matthew Hale, and member of an old Sheffield family, several of his ancestors having been Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company.
Hale was born in Sheffield, educated at Wesley College, and articled to Innocent and Brown, commencing practice as an architect and surveyor in 1893.

He was a member of the Sheffield Architects Society and erected several public buildings, schools, and chapels, including Bole Hill, Hammerton Road, Lydgate Lane and Owler Lane Schools; Brightside Wesleyan Chapel, St. Luke’s Wesleyan Church, Bradfield Wesleyan Chapel, Crookes Congregational Church, Wesley Hall, Crookes, Rawmarsh Wesleyan Chapel, Attercliffe Wesleyan Hall, Banner Cross Methodist Church, Southey Methodist Church and Bents Green Methodist Church.

Hale was one of the pioneers of the octagonal style of church architecture of which Crookes Congregational Church and Crookes Wesley Hall were fine examples.

Upon the death of architect William Angelo Waddington, in 1907, he was appointed to complete work on the Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission.

Another example of his work can be found at the Carver Street Wesleyan Extensions, confusingly built on West Street, opened in 1929.

This was the same year that Hale died at his home, Tainby, in Ranmoor, aged 67.