From the archives. The year is 1847, and there was talk of a new public building in Sheffield. People were excited. The town was without a public building worthy of its name and enviously looked to Liverpool with St. George’s Hall, and Birmingham with its noble Town Hall.
Unexpectedly, the architects, Flockton, Lee, and Flockton, off its own back, came up with a design, and presented it to the Town Council. This would have been an ample hall for public meetings, a large room for public dinners or lectures, permanent places for the Town Council, the Bankruptcy Court, the Small Debts Court, the School of Design, and a large Museum.
The Town Council was shocked, flinched at the cost to build it, and dismissed the proposal.
However, the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, a supporter of the scheme, had other ideas. The newspaper published a detailed sketch of the building, along with floor plans, and advocated that it should be built.
The public was divided. Some said it had to be done, others said they would like to see it built because Sheffield would then have had a building unequalled by other towns, but the general feeling was that times were hard, and that it could not be allowed to continue.
It wasn’t built, and if it had been, we can only speculate as to what its future fate might have been. Would it still be standing? What condition would it be in? Might it have been destroyed by German bombers?
Most of us will be surprised as to where it was intended to be.
The site was a plot of sloping land bounded on the north by Bank Street, on the south by Hartshead, on the east by Meetinghouse Lane, and on the west by Figtree Lane. Today, it might seem to have been absurdly in the wrong place, but in the 1840s the area was close to where Sheffield began.
Bank Street wasn’t created until 1792, and was intended to be called Shore Street, named after John Shore, a banker, and this was the name used on leases granted when he cut up his land for building purposes.
In 1793, we find reference to a “new” street in Sheffield called Bank Street, indicating that Shore had just built the town’s first bank here. In effect, the area was a developing financial district, and a public building might not have been so preposterous after all.
“Is the town prepared for so large an undertaking?” asked the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. “Perhaps not, just now; but there are several considerations that may tend to prepare it.
“In the first place, if the town is to build, as build it must ere many years have elapsed, it must look beyond the present. A public building is not made like a coat, to fit exactly when made, and be soon worn out. It should be built for two centuries, or more.
“The question should not be how little will it serve now? But how can we adequately provide for the present and future, combining at once magnitude of conception, liberality of spirit, and wise economy?
“The expense could not fail to be considerable, but spread over thirty or forty years, it would never be felt as a very heavy burden. This is a wide policy of the Wesleyan body, who, when they build a chapel for the next generation as well as for the present, conceive that the payment should be by those who are to enjoy it hereafter, as well as by themselves.”
What would our ancestors have got for their money?
The descent from Hartshead to Bank Street was about 30ft, allowing for two frontages – one to Bank Street, and the other to Hartshead.
It was proposed to make the Bank Street entrance into a large hall for public meetings, affording standing room for 9000, or sitting room for 3000 persons. This hall would have occupied the whole base of the building with a grand staircase leading up to Hartshead.
The entrance hall at Hartshead would have led to a Bankruptcy Court on one side, and a Council Hall on the other. To these rooms would have been private apartments for the Mayor and the Bankruptcy Commissioner. The entrance hall would have led into an Exchange, covered by a glass dome 50ft above. Alongside would have been offices and committee rooms, with a Banqueting Hall at the Bank Street end.
The topmost story would have extended the whole of the building, excepting the Exchange, and would have provided a Museum of Arts, as well as four additional museum spaces.
In connection with the plan, it was intended to open a new street from Hartshead to High Street (along the line of what became Aldine Court) and opening the end of Watson’s Walk into Angel Street. Figtree Lane and Meetinghouse Lane would have been made wide enough for carriages.
“We do not suppose that the Town Council will embark hastily in this measure. They will listen for the public voice.”
The newspaper was correct because it was never built, and had it been so, we might not have had a need for Sheffield Town Hall or City Hall.
© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.