The Victorians knew how to build shops. And this is a perfect example of elaborate architecture. It is Boots, on West Street, at its corner with Regent Street. There has been a Boots here since 1890, which makes it one of Sheffield’s oldest shops.
“It was built in Free Renaissance house style, executed in light brown faience, with big Flemish gables, an open parapet, and a cupola on the corner with a dome,” says Pevsner.
Forget the shop, it is what happens at roof level that intrigues me most. How often do people go up there? What secrets lie within that cupola? What will the view from it look like?
Boots was established in 1849 by John Boot, but it was his son, Jesse, who built the company into a household name with stores all over the world. I’ve mentioned before that its first chemist branch outside Nottingham was at Spital Hill, and Sheffield played an important part in its growth.
The building we see is not the original shop. The old store was three storeys high, comprising a commodious shop, with seven large plate-glass windows, on the first floor six stock rooms, and on the second floor, six similar rooms. The site itself was held on an 800 year lease from 1 October 1825.
In 1905, the old store was rebuilt, and Boots took temporary premises opposite for its chemist, while fancy goods were sold from a shop higher up at the corner with Victoria Street.
The new shop opened in 1906 and was designed by Albert Nelson Bromley (1820-1934), whose work in Sheffield had already included a Boots branch in 1904 at Attercliffe. (It also survives, home to Samara Lounge, but for years as the Zeenat Restaurant).
The West Street branch followed the company tradition of purpose-built branches, faced in caramel-coloured glazed terracotta, often with shaped gables or corner turrets. The detailing followed French Renaissance and English Jacobean architecture, often including hybrid sea creatures in its decoration.
A good example of this can be found at Pelham Street, once Boots’ flagship Nottingham store, now occupied by Zara. West Street, although built on a much smaller scale, is a replica, still in original form, except for the disappearance of the corner clock. The terracotta may be Doulton’s Carraraware, which was specified for Boots’ branch in Southend in 1915.
Albert Nelson Bromley, the architect, was born in Stafford, and moved to Nottingham to live with his uncle, architect Frederick Bakewell. He joined his office and became a fellow member of RIBA in 1872. He was on the point of taking up a post in Manchester when he was encouraged to spend time sketching buildings on the continent.
Between 1872-73 he visited 90 towns and cities, including Bruges, Chartres, Heidelberg, Prague, Venice, Siena, Athens, and Constantinople. In ‘Work and Sport: Memories of an Architect’ (1934), he stated that the object of the book was “mainly to reduce to readable proportions his ‘Continental Diary of my Architectural Travels.’
Gifted in the use of the pencil, pen, and brush, he executed watercolours of high artistic merit.
On returning to England, Bromley re-joined his uncle’s practice although their partnership was dissolved in 1876. He became principal architect for Nottingham School Board and did work for Nottingham Tramway Company. But it was his work for Boots that he is best remembered for, a relationship that lasted into the 1920s.
Over a hundred years later, this modern-day Boots is a far cry from its origins, described back in the day as a ‘Chemist, Fine Art Dealer, and Bookseller.’
Special thanks to Kathryn A Morrison for providing historical date about Boots and Albert Nelson Bromley.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.