Ban-Thai. Like so many old buildings, its original use is overlooked

Ban Thai restaurant, on the west side of St. Mary’s Gate, is known to many, but like many old buildings, its original use is overlooked.

It was built in 1894 for the Sheffield Union Bank at the corner of Cemetery Road and Ecclesall Road. The postal address is still No.1 Ecclesall Road and goes back to when it stood adjacent to the Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-op building, demolished to make way for the Safeway (Waitrose) supermarket, and before the widening of St. Mary’s Gate.

Sheffield Union Bank was established in 1843, taking over the business of the Yorkshire District Bank. Its first branch opened in Retford in 1846, and expanded across Sheffield, Rotherham, Penistone, and Chesterfield.

This office was confusingly referred to as the Sheffield Moor branch and after the bank’s amalgamation with the London City & Midland Bank in 1901, it operated as the Midland Bank. The branch was offloaded to the Trustee Savings Bank in the later part of the twentieth century.

When the bank closed, it became Robert Brady, outfitters, before becoming Barbarella’s restaurant and bar and then Ban Thai. The upper floors were converted to provide two storey student accommodation in 1995.

The design of the Grade II listed building was the work of architects J.B. Mitchell-Withers & Son, whose practice was on Surrey Street.

John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1838-1894) came from the family of Samuel Mitchell, a name often mentioned in Hunter’s Hallamshire, and the son of W.B. Mitchell. He was educated at Collegiate College, later tutored by architect Samuel Worth, and set up on his own as an architect and surveyor. 

By the will of his aunt, Sarah Withers, he inherited her Sheffield property with the stipulation that he took the name of Withers.

Mitchell-Withers’ work can still be seen across the city. He was responsible for the extension to the Cutlers’ Hall after winning a competition in 1888. There are also Town Hall Chambers on Pinstone Street (1885), Firs Hill Junior School, the Licensed Victuallers’ Association Almhouses, Abbeydale Road South, as well as St John the Baptist Church, Penistone Road, St. Silas Church, Broomhall Street, and restorations to the nave of St. Mary Church at Ecclesfield. He also built his home,  Parkhead House (then called Woodlands) on Ecclesall Road South.

He was an enthusiastic watercolour painter with involvement in the local art scene. He became president of the Sheffield School of Art and the Sheffield Society of Artists and was vice-president and treasurer of Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors. The Duke of Devonshire engaged him to supervise the restoration of painted ceilings in the state rooms at Chatsworth House.

This branch of the Sheffield Union Bank was one of his last commissions and he died of a heart attack in the year it was built. Another commission for Union bank on Langsett Road had to be completed by his eldest son, also called John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers in 1895.

John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1865-1920) succeeded his father and initiated several distinguished buildings. These included extensions to Central Schools on Orchard Lane between 1893-1895 (now adjacent to Leopold Square), High Court on High Street, John Walsh’s department store (bombed), and Clifford House at Ecclesall Road South.

As a boy, he was educated at Rugby where he won several prizes and gained his cap in rugby football at the school. After joining his father’s practice, he passed the examination of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1890.

Mitchell-Withers Jnr was a member of Hunter Archaeologist Society and like his father, was involved with the Sheffield Society of Artists and became president of the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors, representing them on the council of RIBA.

He became an honorary lecturer on English Gothic architecture at Sheffield University and a council member with the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society.

Mitchell-Withers was also an agent for the Burgoyne estate and the Duke of Devonshire’s land near Dore.

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