Odeon Luxe

The cinema experience in Sheffield is reaching new heights with the opening of The Light and the recent makeover of the Odeon on Arundel Gate. Now rebranded as Odeon Luxe – “cinema like you’ve never experienced before” – it’s hard to believe this building was constructed in the sixties.

The history will be lost to a younger generation, familiar with the cinema and Tank nightclub alongside, but its beginnings go back to the Epic Development of 1968-1969, a massive £1million project to provide an entertainment complex for the city.

The scheme exploited the steeply sloping ground above Pond Street, rising to the newly-constructed inner ring road (Arundel Gate). With shops and car-parking below, it linked Pond Street bus station to the city centre by means of walkways, escalators and subways. The key features were two large windowless blocks, clad entirely in panels of white tiles, designed by Jefferson Sheard & Partners, responsible for the brutalist Moore Street Substation.

One of the buildings was taken by the Rank Organisation as a 2,500 capacity nightclub and conference centre, known to generations as Top Rank (later the Roxy, now the O2 Academy), while the other unit was proposed as another nightclub with twin cinemas underneath.

The Cinecenta cinemas opened in January 1969, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1970 that a cabaret club opened above. This was the Fiesta Club, operated by two brothers, Keith and Jim Lipthorpe, who had managed the Club Fiesta at Stockton-on-Tees since 1965. The cost of fitting out the building was said to be £500,000, a huge undertaking, and provided 1,300 seats in the auditorium.

It was reputed to be the largest cabaret club in Europe, building a reputation in attracting big names to the city. The Jackson Five, The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and The Four Tops all played here.

And there were many famous homegrown names too – Cilla Black, Bruce Forsyth, Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper and Sheffield’s own Tony Christie – to name but a few. Legend suggests that Elvis Presley nearly appeared here, but alas it never happened.

For a time, the Fiesta Club was legendary, but the ever-increasing demands of artists and agents had taken its toll. In 1976, following a 17-day strike by staff wanting to join a union, the Fiesta Club closed with debts of £300,000.

After a spell in darkness, it reopened under the management of a Scarborough-based company, but when this also failed it passed into the hands of the Rank Organisation. Uncomfortable with such a large venue, it leased the Fiesta Club to a businessman who later disappeared.

The Epic Development never reached the heights it intended. Far from providing a link to the city centre, Arundel Gate was the problem, wider then, and only crossed by pedestrians via a series of subways. By the end of the seventies the area was already down-at-heel, the underpasses were dangerous places at night, the escalators had stopped working, and the shops were only attracting low-end retailers.

The lights finally went out at the Fiesta Club in 1980, standing empty until the Rank Organisation converted it into the Odeon multiplex cinema in 1992. Five of the seven screens were fitted into the shell of the Fiesta, two screens were taken in the former Cinecenta auditoriums, and extra screens added later.


Mulberry Bar & Venue

The Mulberry Bar and Venue on Arundel Gate is making a few waves on the Sheffield music scene. It follows a few years of decline for the Mulberry Tavern, empty in the 1990s, later reopening as Affinity, a short-lived gay venue.

However, it’s the name of the pub that gives us a clue to the history of the site.

This 1970s reincarnation is named after the original Mulberry Tavern on Mulberry Street, behind Arundel Gate, reputed to have been Sheffield’s second-oldest pub after the Old Queen’s Head in Pond Street. In fact, photographs from the 1960s show it as being called The Ye Olde Mulberry Tavern.

According to Sheffield City Council, both Mulberry Street and the Mulberry Tavern were named after a tree that once stood here.

How long is it since mulberry trees grew in Mulberry Street, a very unlikely site for a tree of any sort?

There is no Mulberry Street on Gosling’s plan of 1736, but it duly appears on Fairbanks’ map of 1771. At the earlier date the area was made up of gardens between High Street to Alsop Fields, through which Norfolk Street was later constructed.

But we can bring the date a little earlier because, in 1757, John Wesley’s Methodists turned what had been a warehouse in Mulberry Street into a Preaching House.

The street had been made through gardens in which, no doubt, there were mulberry trees – a more popular fruit than it is today.


Millennium Gallery

I wonder if the Millennium Gallery will become one of Sheffield’s iconic buildings.

Considering this is a modern-build, the white concrete construction appears to have settled comfortably into the hillside around Arundel Gate.

To understand the origins of the Millennium Gallery, we must go back to 1994 when the Heart of the City redevelopment scheme was initiated. Part of the masterplan involved building a new gallery, part of the new century celebrations, linked to a Winter Garden and the Peace Gardens above.

In 1995, a competition was held inviting architects to submit proposals, subsequently won by London-based Pringle Richards Sharratt. Although the Winter Garden might be easily recognisable, public response to the Millennium Gallery has remained positive.

When it was completed in 2001, the Millennium Gallery provided 1,800 square metres of exhibition space, including permanent displays of the Ruskin Collection and the city’s metalwork and silver collections.

The architects had to overcome the sloping topography of the site, creating galleries on the upper level over a service undercroft. Escalators lead to a first floor avenue, used as an indoor street to the Winter Garden, and access to five galleries on the left side.

Look up and you’ll see the barrel vaults of fine white pre-cast concrete, complete with columns and beams of the same material. Glass blocks in the avenue’s roof vaults and north wall provide diffused natural light.

The largest gallery, Sheffield’s largest exhibition space, is flexibly planned with moveable full-height screens that run parallel with the vaults. It is here that the Millennium Gallery has staged major touring exhibitions, such as those from the Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Gallery.

The last of the galleries contains the Ruskin Collection, separated from the Winter Garden by a glazed wall, with glass panels by Keiko Mukaide, symbolising water and clouds.

John Ruskin established a collection of material he hoped would inspire Sheffield’s workforce at the St. George’s Museum, Walkley, in 1875. The collection of watercolours, drawings, prints, plaster casts, minerals, illustrated books, manuscripts and coins is owned by the Guild of St. George (and managed by Museums Sheffield) and has had several homes in the city.