“If you want to see a monument to this man, look around you.”
Here is a man once described as “one of the makers of Sheffield,” for he was responsible for many of its principal buildings and played a leading part in changing the shape of the city.
His long list of work can be seen around Sheffield today.
In his earlier years, Edward Mitchel Gibbs was architect for the branch libraries at Upperthorpe and Highfield, and later designed the Mappin Art Gallery, St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Telegraph Building, Lodge Moor Hospital, Channing Hall, Glossop Road Baths, Foster’s Building in High Street, and the White Building at Fitzalan Square. He was also responsible for some of the finest shops of the time in High Street and Fargate.
E.M. Gibbs (1847-1935) was born in Sheffield, educated at the Milk Street School, and articled to architects Flockton & Abbott between 1862 to 1868, remaining as principal assistant. He attended classes at Sheffield School of Art and subsequently spent time in London, studying at the Royal Academy Schools and assisting in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse.
Gibbs worked as Superintendent of Works to Archibald Neill of Leeds from 1868 until 1872, when he was taken into partnership by Flockton & Abbott.
He continued in partnership with Thomas James Flockton after the retirement of George Lewslie Abbott in 1875, and the partnership was joined by Flockton’s son, Charles Burrows Flockton, in 1895.
Gibbs became senior partner in 1902 (as Gibbs & Flockton), and the partnership was joined by John Charles Amory Teather in 1908, and Gibbs’ son, Henry Beckett Swift Gibbs, in 1921.
Like all good men, it was only after his death that people appreciated his contribution to the city.
His funeral in December 1935 was held at the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street (in which Gibbs had designed much of its interior) where the Rev. Alfred Hall paid tribute:
“Gibbs’ aim was to make Sheffield beautiful. All his artistic insight and architectural skill were devoted to that end, and, though tastes and fashion had changed, all men would acknowledge that the buildings he conceived and erected were dignified and noble.”
The funeral achieved national attention because Rev. Hall read out a document left by Gibbs:
“Born of Unitarian parents, I was a staunch supporter of the Unitarian precepts for many years, but under the teaching of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer became an agnostic. I hope the Minister, if he accepts the responsibility of conducting my funeral, will do so in the simplest manner possible, remembering that I die an agnostic.”
The clergyman admired his “sterling honesty” after which Gibbs’ remains were taken to City Road for cremation.
During his lifetime Gibbs thought positively and deeply and was a man of definite views. He was afraid that the country might fall into the hands of extremists and had the foresight to see the danger it faced arising out of Germany’s ambitions.
But he was not just an architect.
Gibbs had knowledge of property values and was retained by Sheffield Corporation in all cases of arbitration under the Tramways and Street Widening Act of 1897.
He also published essays: ‘The Town Planning of Sheffield’ and ‘The Finance of Housing and Reform of Rating’. In 1895, he presented a scheme for a central railway station in the vicinity of Haymarket. The plans were dismissed, as was his big scheme for housing.
Gibbs’ grand expansion plan was based on garden city principles with radiating main roads linked by a ring road with suburban settlements at its junctions.
As well as being a city magistrate, he was a trustee of Woofindin Homes, a director of the Gladstone Buildings Company and a governor of the University of Sheffield, where he was awarded a Master of Arts, and was instrumental in establishing the Department of Architecture.
He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1892 and was also president of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors. Gibbs also succeeded Thomas James Flockton as Consulting Surveyor to the Town Trustees, for which he designed the Fulwood Park estate.
Gibbs was married to Lucy, daughter of a manager at the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, who died a year before him, and lived at Woodcroft, 7 Riverdale Road. On his death he left gross estate of £52,939 (about £3.8 million today).
A building familiar to us all, the Sheffield City Hall, on Barker’s Pool, but take a closer look at these images.
The first is the winning entry by architect Emanuel Vincent Harris in a competition held in 1920, to design a new memorial hall, in recognition of those that lost their lives during World War One.
Sheffield had long recognised the need for a large hall for concerts, meetings, and lectures, and considered buying the Albert Hall on the site of what is now John Lewis. The proposal was rejected in favour of a new building.
The competition was judged by Sir Aston Webb (who designed the principal façade of Buckingham Palace and the main building of the Victoria and Albert Museum) and Frederick Ernest Pearce Edwards, city architect.
“An austere appearance well suited for a memorial hall with the best modern thought in architecture expressed in its compact yet comprehensive outlines.”
The original design of the memorial hall tried to avoid flights of steps, but the fall of the land in Barker’s Pool prevented it. It was designed to seat 3,500 with a smaller hall at the back to be added later if desired.
The second image is the runner-up in the competition, designed by James Black Fulton, a circular-shaped big hall with external dome and glazed shelters to the side doorways and vestibule.
Although the winner of the competition was announced in 1920 construction was repeatedly delayed by the fragile state of public finances during the Depression.
The interruption resulted in modifications to Harris’s original design, including a revision from 1924 that made greater use of steps outside, the addition of decorative flagpoles either side of the frontage, as well as long-running arguments as to what the building should be called.
You will see from the 1924 drawing, below, that ‘Sheffield Memorial Hall’ is engraved above the colonnade, but they were still squabbling by the time the foundation stone was eventually laid in 1929.
When it opened in September 1932, with a reduced capacity of 2,300, Harris’s building was called Sheffield City Hall, the smaller hall at the back recognised as the Memorial Hall.
The original budget was fixed at £200,000 in 1920. However, by the time it opened the final cost was £443,300… about £31.1 million today.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.