Categories
Streets

Backfields – while you were sleeping last night

Backfields, looking from Division Street. Image: DJP/2022

While you were sleeping last night. Backfields, 3am. A forgotten thoroughfare amid 21st century redevelopment. A street with an undesirable history. Our ancestors imperilled this narrow street to crime – stabbings, muggings, and death, and I doubt that Sheffield has another street which suffered so many devastating fires.

In 1872, a Dr Hime expressed his opinion that it was not surprising that there should be so much sickness in the town while there were such places as Backfields and the neighbourhood.

Backfields led from Division Street to Wellington Street, off which were alleys and passageways with access to Coal Pit Lane, and Carver Street. It was an area of dirty, dense, back-to-back housing, and small workshops.

It was a cess-pit of filth, but it hadn’t always been like this.

Once upon a time, Backfields was exactly that. The fields beyond Coal Pit Lane (now Cambridge Street), once the distant boundary of town, was where cows grazed, sheep gambolled, and children played in the meadows.

Cometh the Industrial Revolution, no trace of its rural past existed.

In the same year that Dr Hime pontificated about Backfields, the Sheffield Independent provided a unique account: –

“On the eastern side of a yard there is a privy that must do duty for a considerable number of houses, and it is scarcely equal to the duty. The ashpit is more than full – it is overflowing. It has made an encroachment almost into the middle of the yard, in front of the doors of some of the houses and extends about twenty feet until its further extension laterally is stopped by the water branch.

“It is the same in every yard. Near St. Matthew’s Church there is an ashpit adjoining the street, piled up high beyond the retaining walls, and the rubbish falls onto the footpath leading to the houses. The passages are worthy of exploration. A visit to them will show that the ashpit question, though a grave one, is not the only point affecting the sanitary position in Sheffield. Air, light, ventilation, and crowding have much to do with it, and many of these places ought to be improved off the face of the earth.

“There is a passage, the old entrance to which has been removed by the erection of a privy, and the actual passage left would scarcely admit the entrance to a turtle-fed alderman. But there are other privies, not only as bad, but worse. One could not be seen because the doors were closed. The other could not be seen because the doors could not be closed. But here, as in the other case, a solution has been found. Human necessity is strong in resources; and the depositions that should be made in the privies are made in or thrown into the passage. These premises are stuck over with notifications from the Health Committee enjoining cleanliness on the inhabitants, in circumstances and under conditions where it is impossible to be clean!

“Yet again, in these jennels and passages, there are active business proceedings carried on. In one of them, there is a bakery, where spicy-looking buns were being made for the delectation of young Sheffield, which may be very excellent in their way, though fastidious people would prefer that the materials of their food should not be exposed and manipulated in such unsavoury localities. In another passage, a large tray of pork pies was met ready for the oven. These ‘Melton Mowbrays’ may be all that could be desired; and the givers of picnics will perhaps feel obliged for hints as to the possible sources of their pies and buns, or other delectable confections manufactured over conditions of sweetness that may impart a flavour and improve the appetite.”

It took years for things to improve. A hundred years later, the houses had finally gone while recession claimed industry and commerce. St. Matthews is perhaps the only reminder of our inglorious past.

Sheffield did little to redevelop Backfields and it is only now, with the Heart of the City project, that the area has been embraced. Tower blocks are not long from completion, and people, maybe descendants of those who ate spicy-buns and pork pies, are returning.

But, as somebody recently pointed out to me, are we simply building the slums of the future?    

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

Cambridge Street – while you were sleeping last night

Image: David Poole

Cambridge Street at 3am. The changing face of our city centre.

Grosvenor House, home to HSBC, with the reflection of the almost-complete Isaacs Building opposite. Both buildings form part of Sheffield’s Heart of the City development.

Once upon a time, this was the site of Barrasford’s Hippodrome presenting music hall acts and films projected from the Barrascope. It was soon renamed the Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties and was Sheffield’s largest theatre. 

It eventually became the Hippodrome Cinema, demolished in 1963, and the Grosvenor House Hotel and retail outlets built in its place. History likes reinventing itself, and the hotel was itself demolished in 2016-2017.

Hippodrome Theatre opened 23 December 1907 as a Music Hall. Became a permanent cinema on 20 July 1931. In 1948, came under the management of The Tivoli (Sheffield) Ltd. Closed 2 March 1963 and demolished. Image: Maurice Parkin/Picture Sheffield 

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

The rise of facadism – new buildings with old fronts

Cambridge Street, Sheffield. Photograph: DJP/2021

Whenever you see an old facade with a new structure behind it, this tells you that a building of distinction once stood there that simply could not be demolished, and the compromise which arose was to keep the front wall. The rise of facadism shows how far the power balance has shifted away from conservation towards redevelopment. Retaining the facade is an unwelcome condition of planning permission when their preference would probably have been complete demolition.

This building, at the bottom of Cambridge Street, Sheffield, shows that the facade is retained while its interior will be replaced with modern concrete and steel. This will apply to almost all the Victorian buildings being redeveloped on Pinstone Street, and planning permission has been granted to do the same to Chubby’s and the Tap and Tankard further up Cambridge Street.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Planning permission submitted for Leah’s Yard

Planning permission has been submitted for Leah’s Yard on Cambridge Street to be transformed into a new creative hub for independent businesses, with a slew of independent stores set to surround a public courtyard.

The venue will be operated by Tom Wolfenden, CEO of SSPCo, and James O’Hara of the Rockingham Group, who were appointed to the project by Sheffield City Council.

If approved, Leah’s Yard will be refurbished true to its current form, with a courtyard surrounded by small boutique shops, with the first and second floors hosting approximately 20 independent working studios.

The oldest buildings on the Leah’s Yard site are the two former houses fronting Cambridge Street that date from the early nineteenth century. The industrial legacy of Leah’s Yard began with George Linley in 1825 as a small shear and tool manufacturing complex during the early nineteenth century. The houses fronting the street were later converted to offices and shops, and the complex as a whole is characterised by piecemeal additions and alterations dating from the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Cambridge Street was known for its horn works, and James Morton, a horn dealer, became the major sole occupier about 1842.

Leah’s Yard was occupied from about 1891-92 by Henry Leah and Sons, a manufacturer of die stamps for silverware. By 1911 there were 23 occupants (little mesters) on site producing slightly different goods, and undertaking different processes yet all contributing to the cutlery trade.

The site was predominantly used for production associated with the metal trades well into the mid to late twentieth century. The Leah family remained in part of the complex until the 1970s when they merged with Spear and Jackson; they sold the site in the 1990s. The Cambridge Street frontage of the complex had been used as shops in its last few years of occupation, and takes into account the former Sportsman public house and Chubby’s recently closed takeaway.

As part of Heart of the City II, Leah’s Yard will sit alongside the upcoming Cambridge Street Collective and Bethel Chapel developments – both currently under construction – that will feature a contemporary food hall, cookery school, fine dining experience and live entertainment spaces.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Leah’s Yard

Who says that the Heart of the City II development is just about new buildings?

Leah’s Yard is currently undergoing a £6m renovation to breathe life back into the old buildings. Set to open in early 2023, Leah’s Yard will be a destination for independent retail, and showcasing traders, makers and creators from Sheffield.

Throughout the 19th century the yard was used by a horn dealer (who supplied the cutlery handle making trade), Sheffield platers, knife manufacturers and silver stampers. In the 1880s the building was known as the Cambridge Street Horn Works.

In 1892 Henry Leah took over the building as a producer of die stamps for silverware, giving the building the name that it is known by today. Sharing the building at that time was Walter Walker & Co Ltd, who were piercers and stampers; the building was alternatively known as the Cambridge Stamping Works.

Behind the scaffolding, work is quietly progressing to restore what had become one of the city centre’s most endangered buildings.

Photographs by https://www.pedalophotography.com/

Categories
Places

Little Sheffield

Fairbanks’ Map of Little Sheffield in 1808. South Street became The Moor. The road marked Little Sheffield is now London Road. There are some familiar road names in the top half of the map. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Once upon a time there was a small hamlet near Sheffield town that went by the name of Little Sheffield.

During the early 1800s, Sheffield’s rapidly growing population needed to expand outside the historical boundaries, and Little Sheffield disappeared.

We know where Little Sheffield was, but its boundaries blurred over time, with experts long contesting where it started and finished. The area has never been clearly defined, like those forgotten places of Port Mahon and Hallamshire.

We must go back to olden days when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.

Today, we know this marshy land as The Moor with its surrounding streets.

A path was made by throwing up two embankments, between which was a deep ditch, with only a footbridge over Porter Brook.

By the 1760s, travellers had to go down Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) and Button Lane (long disappeared) to Little Sheffield – a group of poor and time-worn cottages. The road to it ran across Sheffield Moor, thence up a sharp rise to Highfield. The only house you came to after passing Moorhead was Mr Kirkby’s, standing on Button Lane (opposite where the ramp to Sainsbury’s car-park on Charter Row now stands). There was one other building nearby, with a bowling green attached to Sheffield Moor. Beyond was Little Sheffield, the outlying hamlet.

By the nineteenth century, the fields around Little Sheffield had been swallowed up for the working classes, a poor and densely populated area, its houses with roofs of stone slabs, low windows, and red brick walls.

Nowadays, we can define Little Sheffield’s northern boundary as being where the Moorfoot Building stands, taking in Young Street, South Lane, St Mary’s Gate, London Road, and surrounding streets like Hermitage Street, Sheldon Street, Hill Street, John Street, and Boston Street (once called George Street), up towards its southern boundary at Highfield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

The new Isaacs Building takes shape

Scaffolding and new steel work support retained Victorian fronts on Pinstone Street. (Image: Heart of the City II)

A photograph that tells a story. The remains of the Victorian facade at the lower end of Pinstone Street in Sheffield city centre. Everything behind has been demolished, and the famous old fronts preserved for posterity.

Block C of the Heart of the City II masterplan is located between Pinstone Street, Cambridge Street and Charles Street.

It incorporates two historic building blocks which form the southern end of the Pinstone streetscape.

The combined façade and its dramatic roofscape is an excellent example of Sheffield brick and terracotta architecture. It occupies a prominent position and is visible from the Peace Gardens through to The Moor.

Block C will be home to 39,000 sq ft of premium Grade A office space, serving 450 employees, plus six premium retail units comprising over 8,000 sq ft.

It will be known as the Isaacs Building, named after Edwardian-era paper-hangings merchant David Isaac, and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Categories
Buildings

Chubbys: An obvious link with the pub next door

Chubbys, Michelin Three Star cuisine for the inebriated, is to close after 40 years.

The legendary takeaway on Cambridge Street will shut for the last time on Bank Holiday, August 31.

It has been a long journey for Mehran Behizad, Iranian by birth, who first came to Sheffield in 1973, to study industrial design at the polytechnic, but met his Sheffield-born wife and decided to stay and raise a family.

He set up Chubbys in 1980 with a few business partners but eventually became the sole owner. When it opened, it was only one of two late-night takeaways in the city centre, arguably the first place to get a kebab.

However, the staying power of Chubbys means we do not look beyond the familiar sign above the door.

The takeaway shares the same building as the empty Tap & Tankard (formerly The Sportsman) next door. Both ground floor units have two storeys above, with white painted red-brick and mock Tudor detailing, with applied black timber over Chubbys.

The date of construction is unknown, but we can trace The Sportsman’s Inn (later to become The Old Sportsman’s Inn and then The Sportsman) to 1828, which might suggest that the whole building was once used as a public house.

It also suggests that this is one of the oldest buildings on Cambridge Street, tracing its origins back to the days when it was still called Coal Pit Lane.

Before Chubbys, the unit had many uses, but had strong links with food and drink, at one time being a grocery shop, George Alfred Webster’s Dining Rooms, and the Cambridge Coffee House.

It is now subject to a compulsory purchase by Sheffield Council to make way for the ambitious Heart of the City II project and 70-year-old Mehran is using the opportunity of the enforced closure to retire.

The good news is that the building will be incorporated in the adjacent Leah’s Yard restoration, while the bricked-up former works below Chubbys will be demolished and become an open-space linking to the soon-to-be-restored Bethel Chapel.

And there is a suggestion that after the Covid-19 crisis subsides Chubbys might resurrect itself somewhere else in the city centre.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Bethel Chapel: a new beginning for a hidden building

Sometimes there is more to a building than meets the eye. This former shop on Cambridge Street hides an interesting past and will be reborn soon.

We know it as the former Sports and Toy Departments of Cole Brothers, more recently as a city centre outpost for Stone the Crows, but this empty shop is a 1930s front extension to the Bethel Chapel which stands behind.

From John Lewis’ car-park you can look down and see that the chapel, built in 1835, still survives behind the street frontage.

The chapel owes itself to John Coulson, the first leader connected with the Primitive Methodist Movement in Sheffield. A small society had been formed and services held in a building in Paradise Square. The movement seized hold of the working classes and later bought an existing old chapel in deprived Coal Pit Lane (later to become Cambridge Street), about 1823.

A few years later plans for a new building nearby were prepared and the mainly poor congregation helped demolish an existing house that had been converted into tenements. The foundation stone for the new chapel was laid in July 1835 and opened for services in June 1836.

The Primitive Methodist Bethel Chapel existed for just over a century and was latterly connected with Sheffield Methodist Mission. Its final service was on Sunday 20th September 1936.

(Image: picture Sheffield)
(Image: Picture Sheffield)

It was briefly empty before George Binns, an outfitter at Moorhead, bought the old chapel to relocate the business.

The small churchyard at the front was swept away, including iron railings and stone pillars, and probably a few gravestones.

In 1938 a two-storey extension was added to the front of the chapel, with stone initials on its parapet showing ‘GB’ and the date ‘1868’, the year the business was founded.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

By the 1960s the shop had transferred to Lawsons Outfitters and in 1977 it was acquired by Cole Brothers (now John Lewis) to alleviate pressure on its store across the road.

With a short spell as Stone the Crows, the building has been vacant for several years, with the ‘ghost name’ of ‘Lawsons’ revealing itself above shop windows.

(Image: Graham Soult)

Now subject of compulsory purchase, Sheffield City Council, with its partner Queensbury, is now looking for occupiers to run it as a performing arts venue as part of Block H in the ongoing Heart of the City II development.

The question. How much of the old chapel interior remains?

NOTE: Bethel Walk is between Bethel Chapel and the former Bethel Chapel Sunday School, a listed building also included in Heart of the City II plans.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)
(Image: Picture Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People

Heart of the City II

Block H site plan. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.

More on Heart of the City II, creating a new city centre using existing street patterns and a mix of old and new buildings. Because the scheme relies on funding, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to delay things, but there is still the commitment to complete the project.

The latest plans unveiled covers Block H site – located between Wellington Street, Carver Street and Cambridge Street.

The site features some of the most interesting buildings within the masterplan area, including two listed buildings – Leah’s Yard (H1) and the Bethel Sunday School.

The intention is for Block H to truly become a cultural and social meeting place, and is split into three distinct elements (H1, H2 and H3).

H2 is a new 70,000 sq ft, Grade A office building, raising the bar with its low carbon specification. H3 is the Cambridge Street Collective – a cultural hub where the city’s best sights, sounds and flavours all come together. Proposals include a 20,000 sq ft communal hall offer, where people can meet, eat, drink, work and socialise.

Block H2 – View from Charter Square. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.
Block H2 – Top floor with terrace. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.

Proposals for H3, the Cambridge Street Collective include a large, stripped-back, industrial-style space, which would be ideally suited for a food hall or a similar sociable, communal offer. This space would incorporate the historic character of the Bethel Sunday School, the former Brewhouse and Henry’s venues and the building currently occupied by DINA. It would also include a more modern structure sitting behind this to enclose a gathering space, using sympathetic materials to the existing buildings.

Block H3 from Five Ways. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.
Block H3 – Section looking north. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.

Wrapping this large space would be complementary shops, a bar and restaurant, and an upper level leisure space. Next to the communal hall offer would be the renovated Bethel Chapel, with plans for this to become a live music venue.

The primary public entrance to this block would be via a pedestrianised spill out/arrival square to the north of the development, plus the modern ‘Arrival Building’ on Backfields. Access to the additional retail and leisure elements of H3 would be from Cambridge Street, Wellington Street and Backfields.

Block H3 – View from Backfields. Photograph by Sheffield City Council/Queensbury.