Back in the 1980s it was an important part of Sheffield’s regeneration, but after completion was universally hated. The steel and concrete building in Barker’s Pool opened as the Odeon, replacing the Gaumont Cinema, built in 1927 (as The Regent) for the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit, and demolished in 1985.
A tear or two was shed, but its severe appearance could never keep up with the go-getting eighties.
We enjoyed its bright new replacement, but it didn’t last long, closed in 1994 in favour of Odeon’s multi-screen complex on Arundel Gate. And then came its reincarnation as a nightclub.
If memory serves correct, it was vilified by Prince Charles, but fiercest criticism came from Sheffielders. It was considered downright ugly.
Over thirty years later, disapproval never waned, and the once-futuristic appearance looks as much out of place as it did then.
But that might be about to change.
A planning application proposing a significant facelift to the Gaumont building (as it has wistfully been renamed), has been submitted to Sheffield City Council.
The improvement works fall within the wider Heart of the City II development scheme – led by the Council and their Strategic Development Partner, Queensberry. Plans would see the building’s current red steel frame completely removed and replaced with a contemporary design.
The new façade proposals for the building, designed by Sheffield-based HLM Architects, who are also working on the Radisson Blu hotel, take inspiration from the building’s origins as the Regent Theatre (although I see no resemblance whatsoever).
It is sad to be writing about a building that will soon be no more.
The Old Coroner’s Court on Nursery Street is to be demolished and replaced with 77 apartments, after a Government inspector overturned Sheffield City Council’s decision to halt the development.
Firestone, the developer, has been given permission to demolish the building as it is not listed, or in a conservation area.
It will be a miserable end for the building built in 1913-1914, one damaged during the Blitz, the subject of severe flooding, and an arson attack.
At the end of November 1912, it was agreed by Sheffield Corporation that a new Coroner’s Court and Mortuary should be built on surplus land remaining after the widening of Nursery Street.
Prior to this, the land had been an area of mixed domestic, retail and industrial buildings, a far cry from the days when this was “a green and pleasant land, when salmon could be caught in the Don, and flowers gathered in the meadow” of Spittal Gardens, or the Duke of Norfolk’s Nursery.
The new Coroner’s Court was championed by Dr W.H. Fordham, of the Heeley Ward, chairman of the special committee set up to build it. The urgency was to replace the old coroner’s court that had stood on Plum Lane, off Corporation Street, since 1884, and had long been a disgrace to the city.
The building was designed by Sheffield’s first city architect, Frederick Ernest Pearce Edwards (1863-1945), who had previously held a similar position with Bradford Corporation.
Built of brick and stone, it drew on the design of Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Baroque traditions of the nineteenth century. Construction was by George Longden and Son and cost £5,000 to build.
The main courtroom was 30ft x 20ft and 25ft high. Within the building were various mortuaries, waiting rooms, jury retiring rooms, coroner and doctor waiting rooms, viewing rooms, coach and motor houses, stables, and a caretaker’s house.
It was furnished throughout in oak and contained all the ‘up-to-date’ appliances, including fixed and revolving tables in the post-mortem room.
The coroner at the time was Mr J. Kenyon Parker, but the first case held here was in May 1914 when Dr J.J. Baldwin Young, deputy coroner, investigated the death of Edward Villers, a labourer, and determined that he ‘hanged himself while of unsound mind.’
Buildings behind were added in the 1920s, and following bomb damage in December 1940, new plans were drawn up by W.G. Davis, city architect, in 1952-1953 to extend the courtroom buildings.
The opening of the Medico Legal Centre on Watery Street, Netherthorpe, in the 1970s, brought an end to grisly proceedings on Nursery Street.
It became Sheffield City Council, Employment Department, Enterprise Works, and was subsequently sub-divided into 36 principal rooms. In later years it was known as the Old Coroner’s Court Business Centre.
Unfortunately, little remains of the original internal detail, but the outside is virtually untouched apart from minor restoration.
The building has been empty for several years and the developer had hoped to incorporate it into the new development, but this was considered unpractical.
And so, we lose another one of our historic buildings, to be replaced with something considered to be “favourable towards the character and appearance of the area.”
This is probably one of Sheffield’s best-loved buildings. A glance through social media shows positive words about the White Building in Fitzalan Square, and yet little appears to be known about it.
The building is Grade II listed by Historic England, more so for the ten carved friezes that adorn its fascia, but its simple past, as shops and offices, means it is largely forgotten.
The White Building was built in 1908, named after the white faience used to dress it, quite different from the stone used in other buildings of the time. This material was used because it was ‘self-cleaning’, an antidote against the soot that clung to our city centre buildings in the past. (Another example, still seen today, was the Telegraph Building on High Street).
However, it would not look out of place on a typical Parisian street and comes into its own on a bright sunny day.
It was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, of Flockton and Gibbs, who built and owned the building. No surprise then that its construction came the same time that Fitzalan Square was about to be rebuilt. Gibbs, as a member of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors, had consulted on plans for the square, and no doubt saw an opportunity to cash in on future success.
The White Building was built of four storeys with a raised attic storey in the centre. The use of French windows with balconies on the first and third floors provided welcome relief to the usual designs for commercial buildings.
The building was accessed by an arcaded ground floor, the entrance, still with its original name plaque, recessed behind one of the plain elliptical arches.
It is above these five arches that the ten friezes can be seen. These were created by Alfred Herbert Tory and William Frank Tory, the brothers using real workers as models, before sending away the designs to be cast as hollow tiles (the moulding was done with terracotta tiles in Leeds).
With thanks to Darcy White and Elizabeth Norman ‘The Sheffield Trades’ are as follows:-
“A Silversmith (with a blowpipe): a Chaser: an Engineer: a File Cutter; a Steel Roller: a Cutler: a Grinder (using a flat-stick): a Hand Forger; a Buffer; and a Steel crucible teemer (with sweat rag in mouth).”
The Tory brothers made five each, casting their initials beneath their work, although these have weathered badly and are now difficult to read.
After the White Building opened, its ‘first class shops and offices’ were in huge demand and proceeded to be so until the decline of Fitzalan Square in the 1970s and 1980s. It was altered in the late twentieth century, including the removal of decorative rooftop urns, but remains pretty much as it did when first built.
These days the old offices have been converted into apartments and the ground floor shops await the revival of Fitzalan Square.