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.

Buildings Streets

Heart of the City II

Photograph by Sheffield City Council

Sheffield City Council is inviting comments on proposals for the next phase of Heart of the City II, which includes (Block H: Cambridge Street and Carver Street).

The Council and Queensberry recognise that people will have questions about the next stage of the scheme. Prior to the submission of planning applications, it has published proposals and will allow people to contribute to the final plans.

A wide-ranging development is proposed for Block H of the Heart of the City II development, with three distinct elements (H1, H2 and H3).

H2 will be a new building comprising about 70,000 sq ft of grade A office space, split across seven upper floors. It will feature a south-facing roof terrace, with retail and food and beverage units on the ground floor.

Proposals for the H3 element, to be known as Cambridge Street Collective, aim to retain as much of the existing fabric and façades along Cambridge Street and Wellington Street as feasible.

Plans include a large, industrial-style space, suited to a food hall or similar sociable, communal offer. Complementary shops, a bar and restaurant, and an upper level leisure space would also be created. The existing Bethel Chapel building will also be renovated, with plans for this to become a live entertainment venue.

Photograph by Sheffield City Council

The Block H site also includes Leah’s Yard (H1), a Grade II*-listed building housing a collection of small former industrial workshops. This site is not included in the application, but plans are still at an early stage to convert the property into workshops for creative businesses. Listed building consent is being sought to undertake the structural works required to make the buildings secure.

The new plans for this block proposes retention of more original architecture than envisaged in a previous masterplan. They now include the preservation and sympathetic restoration of the fabric and façades along Cambridge Street and Wellington Street, including the listed Bethel Sunday School and Leah’s Yard, as well as the Bethel Chapel and the buildings that formerly housed Brewhouse and Henry’s Bar.

Photograph by Sheffield City Council

The Benjamin Huntsman

Photograph by J.D. Wetherspoon

It’s hard to believe that the oldest part of The Benjamin Huntsman, on Cambridge Street, dates to 1879. Look closely, and you’ll notice that this is built with a cast iron frame, quite unique for its day, but responsible for saving the structure of the building on more than one occasion.

The Benjamin Huntsman has a lot of history, and had J.D. Wetherspoon not chosen to name it after one of Sheffield’s famous steel sons, there were plenty of other options available.

Strange as it might seem, very little has been written about the building, its past seemingly ignored.

It was originally built for William Wilson and Son, coachbuilders and harness makers, forced to move from its old premises at Moorhead due to road improvements. The golden age of the horse and carriage came to an end at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it was no surprise that the company soon turned its attention towards the motor car.

Image by The British Newspaper Archive

By the time it went into voluntary liquidation in 1924 the company was well-known in Sheffield as a car dealer and motor engineer.

It was next occupied by Quinton, Arthur and Co, ironmongers, trading from the ground floor with the Cambridge Billiard Club (proprietor Ernest Leonard Searle) opening on the floor above in 1925.

Image by The British Newspaper Archive

Quinton Arthur’s tenure was short-lived due to a serious fire in 1926, an event that caused its demise a few months later.

In 1927, the premises were rebuilt around the iron framework, advertised as a large sales shop and basement, including Cambridge Chambers, a suite of offices alongside the Cambridge Billiard Hall.

Image by The British Newspaper Archive

By 1929, the ground floor was occupied by R. Bamber and Company, a Southport-based firm of coachbuilders established in 1893, which had also started selling motor cars. Along with premises in Leeds, it moved into Cambridge Street selling “shop-soiled used cars,” and was soon advertising itself as the “Northern Motor Olympia.”

R. Bamber remained here until 1929 until handing over the premises to the Handsworth Motor Company, with a garage at the rear for forty cars.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

It was a brief existence and very soon the building was purchased by J. Gilder, a company that came to prominence in Sheffield.

Jack Gilder’s grandfather began selling and servicing cars as far back as 1912, his grandson setting up a new company in 1938. Jack went off to fight in World War Two and it was while in Belgium that he came across a car which changed the company’s fortunes.

The business was relaunched with a Rootes franchise in 1946, but it was Jack’s obsession with the design and engineering of the Volkswagen Beetle that made him approach the German manufacturer with a view to selling them.

It was a courageous move for Jack to sell a German product so soon after the war, and it was from this building that J. Gilder sold the first ever Volkswagen Beetle in Britain and became VW’s first UK dealership.

Gilder’s remained on Cambridge Street before moving to Banner Cross in the 1960s, and is now part of JCT600, a West Yorkshire-based motor group.

While changes went on below, it’s worth mentioning the Cambridge Billiard Hall that subsequently became Faulkeners and remained until the 1980s. By this time, it was long past its best, fondly remembered for its “bad flooring, rubbish on the floor, poor lighting, cigarette smoke and freezing cold temperatures.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The former car showroom became the Nameless Restaurant between 1979-1985, before becoming a takeaway. In 1987, a fire in the restaurant destroyed the whole of the building, including the old billiard hall, paving the way for J.D. Wetherspoon to rebuild it, once again using the iron frame, incorporating The Benjamin Huntsman (opened 1999) with an adjacent new build.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield


Benjamin Huntsman

Photograph by DSM Stainless Steel Fabrication

It’s sad, that in the 21st century, we refer to Benjamin Huntsman as the purveyor of cheap beer and a night out in Sheffield city centre. It’s equally sad that our only lasting memorial to Benjamin Huntsman is this J.D. Wetherspoon pub on Cambridge Street (aside from the sculpture in Meadowhall, and a block named after him at the Northern General Hospital).

However, Benjamin Huntsman invented a process that gave Sheffield pre-eminence in the production of finished steel and led to the growth of an industry that the city will always be famous for.

Benjamin Huntsman was born in Lincolnshire in 1704. His parents were of German extraction, settling in this country a few years before he was born.

His ingenious mind allowed him to become an expert at repairing clocks, and eventually set up business in Doncaster as a clock maker and mender. Described as being “shrewd, observant, thoughtful and practical,” he was regarded as the “wise man” of the neighbourhood.

His work, however, was hindered by inferior metal supplied from common German steel, material supplied for the springs and pendulums of his clocks.

These circumstances made him turn his attention to making a better kind of steel, his first experiments conducted at Doncaster, but as fuel was difficult to be had, he removed to Sheffield in 1740.

Huntsman settled at Handsworth, then a few miles south of the town, and he pursued his investigations in secret. The task was massive, not only to discover the fuel and flux suitable for the purpose, but to create a furnace that could sustain a heat more intense than had ever been known.

Huntsman’s cottage at Handsworth. Image by The British Newspaper Archive

His experiments lasted years, and it was only after his death that the numerous failures were brought to light, in the shape of many hundredweights of steel, found buried in the earth around his factory.

Benjamin Huntsman sculpture at Meadowhall. Photograph by Budby

At last his perseverance was rewarded, and his invention perfected. The melting was conducted in fire-clay pots, or crucibles, placed in a coke melting-furnace (at temperatures of 1,600°c/2,900°f), high enough to permit the melting of steel for the first time.

After he had perfected the process, Huntsman realised that the new metal might be used for other purposes, other than clock springs and pendulums. He canvased Sheffield’s tools and cutlery trade, but they obstinately refused to work a material much harder than that which they had been accustomed to use.

Foiled in his endeavours to sell steel at home, Huntsman turned his attention to foreign markets, and soon found he could readily sell abroad.

The honour of employing cast-steel for general purposes, belonged to the French, who quickly appreciated the advantages, and for a time the whole of Huntsman’s production was exported to France.

It was only after that Sheffield’s cutlers became alarmed at the reputation cast-steel was acquiring abroad, and formed a deputation to wait upon Sir George Savile, one of the members for the county of York, to use his influence with the Government and prohibit the export of cast-steel.

When Savile found out that Sheffield manufacturers wouldn’t make use of the new steel he positively declined to comply with their request.

Looking back, it was fortunate for Sheffield that he didn’t.

Huntsman had already received favourable offers from Birmingham to relocate his furnaces there, and had he done so, the Sheffield steel industry might never have grown as it did.

Benjamin Huntsman sculpture at Meadowhall. Photograph by Farzeed Rehman

The Sheffield makers eventually realised that they would have to use cast-steel if they were to compete with cutlery from France. And then began the efforts of the Sheffield men to wrest his secret from him.

Because Huntsman hadn’t taken a patent out on the process, his only protection was secrecy.

All his workmen were pledged to silence, strangers carefully excluded from the works, and the whole of the steel melted in the night.

However, it is said that the person who first succeeded in copying Huntsman’s process was an iron founder named Walker who carried on business at Grenoside.

Walker adopted the “ruse” of disguising himself as a tramp, feigned great distress and abject poverty, and appeared shivering at the door of Huntsman’s foundry late one night, asking for admission to warm himself by the furnace fire.

The workmen took pity on him, and they permitted him to enter.

Within months, Walker was also making cast-steel, and others quickly followed, but the demand for Huntsman’s steel steadily increased, and in 1770, he moved to a large factory at Worksop Road, Attercliiffe.

He died in 1776, aged 72, and was buried in the churchyard at Attercliffe. His son, William Huntsman (1733-1809) took over the business and it grew into one of Sheffield’s biggest steel firms, before being swallowed up by larger competitors in the mid-20th century.

Benjamin Huntsman’s grave at Attercliffe

Leah’s Yard

Photograph by Exposed Magazine

There might be a brighter future for Leah’s Yard, on Cambridge Street. For many years the former Little Mesters’ workshops have been cloaked with scaffolding, a desperate attempt to stop the Victorian frontage falling down.

But now, Sheffield City Council, and its development partner for the Heart of the City II project, Queensbury, have submitted a planning application for Leah’s Yard.

The council bought the building in 2015, almost ten years after the site had been sold to a development company (presumably as part of the ill-fated Sevenstone project), and over thirty years since it had last been used.

This latest planning application seeks permission to undertake fundamental construction works to make the building structurally sound and bring it back into usable condition. It includes the installation of one replacement shop front and another new one.

Photograph by David Poole

The project team has also revealed that it will be inviting bids from interested organisations wishing to occupy and manage the spaces towards the end of March.

Despite its Grade II*-listing, Leah’s Yard has been on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register, slowly decaying and crying out for development.

Leah’s Yard fronts onto Cambridge Street, a carriage archway leads into a small courtyard surrounded by two and three-storey brick workshops.

Barely one room deep, the workshops have external wooden staircases to give access to the upper floors with its casement windows, needed to provide natural light to the workbenches behind.

It’s hard to believe that many of these former workshops still contain traces of past existence, including some of the old workbenches.

Cambridge Street, once known as Coal Pit Lane, was traditionally one of the centres of the bone and horn-working trades in Sheffield.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

Leah’s Yard dates between 1850-1890, once home to six companies, including four cutlers, a horn and bone merchant and a silver-plater.

Henry Hobson later traded on the site, and in the 1890s it was solely occupied by Henry Leah, a manufacturer of die stamps for silverware, and for which the site gets its name.

By 1922, eighteen companies were working from Leah’s Yard, with Henry Leah eventually merging with Spear & Jackson in 1976.

Its last occupant was a shop on the front lower floor, and when this closed the site fell into gradual degeneration, and subject to fire damage.

The Heart of the City II team wants Leah’s Yard to become ‘a cultural heart and social anchor’ to the £470million scheme.

Photograph by Lathams

Bethel Sunday School

The origin of this building at 32 Cambridge Street can be seen on a stone plaque near the roof-line. It shows ‘Bethel Sunday School – 1852’. Presumably this was the date it was built and differs from its Historic England listing that claims it was built twenty years earlier.

To understand its existence, we must go back to the eighteenth century when Edward Bennet, a sugar-baker, funded a Methodist chapel to be built on Coal Pit Lane, which led to a pit towards the West Fields, abandoned because of the dangers of subsidence. In 1790, the church built a larger chapel on Howard Street and Coal Pit Lane was occupied by different Independent societies before standing empty.

Primitive Methodism was introduced into Sheffield at the end of the 18th century and made use of the redundant Coal Pit Lane chapel until 1835, when they built a new chapel (part of which still survives) on the other side of Bethel Walk. The old chapel was demolished, and the Bethel Sunday School was built in its place, accommodating over 500 scholars and were the means of educating and influencing thousands of children.

Coal Pit Lane, by the way, was renamed Cambridge Street when the Duke of Cambridge laid the foundation stone of the Crimean monument in 1857.

It is difficult to determine when the Methodists vacated the building, but by the 1920s it was being used as factory premises for Killeen, Rothwell and Company, men’s and boys’ cap manufacturers. Of course, later generations know it better as being part of Bar Centro, later The Cutler/Stardust Bar, opened next door in a former spoon factory.

At present it is occupied by DINA Venue, a hub for creative and digital space, with the former school known as Sheffield Arts Centre. It is astonishing that the building survived at all , but its Grade II-listing allows it to be retained in a future phase of the Heart of the City 2 masterplan.


Heart of the City II

New images have been released of Sheffield’s Heart of the City II scheme. The £500million development is being built on land between Pinstone Street. Barker’s Pool and The Moor, including shops, two four or five-star hotels, offices, apartments leisure venues and a high-end food hall, all set around tree-lined streets and public spaces overlooked by rooftop bars and cafes.

The CGI images show the Victorian facades on Pinstone Street being retained. They also show the Five Ways area – the name being given to the pedestrianised interchange where Cross Burgess Street, Charles Street, Cambridge Street and Wellington Street meet.

There is also work to restore Laycock House, a late Victorian building that survives almost completely intact, as part of the Block B element of the scheme. Known as Athol House, it will provide space for restaurants or cafes on the ground floor, while the floors above will include office space.

Block C will be known as Isaacs House after Victorian-era paper-hangings merchant David Isaacs. Behind the Pinstone Street frontage the re-imagined building will contain workspaces, prime retail and leisure space.

Heart of the City II is one of Sheffield’s key economic projects. Backed by Sheffield City Council, with Queensberry as its Strategic Development Partner, it is not just a retail scheme, but mixed-use development.

The scheme builds on the hugely successful original Heart of the City project that kick started the regeneration of Sheffield city centre at the start of the Millennium.


Isaacs Building

I hope I wasn’t the only one caught unaware when the Heart of the City II project announced that Block C was going to be called Isaacs House, named after Edwardian-era paper-hangings merchant David Isaacs.

The new block will sit on a triangular piece of land bordering Pinstone Street, Charles Street and Cambridge Street. The Victorian fronts on Pinstone Street – including the Pepper Pot façade – will be retained with new workspaces, prime retail and leisure space constructed behind.

David Isaacs (born 1873) was the son of Lewis Isaacs, a wallpaper merchant, and his wife Mary, both Russian-British subjects, and influential members of Sheffield’s Jewish community.

The family wallpaper business was established at 94 The Wicker, later opening a second shop at No. 4 St. Paul’s Parade, in the town centre.

In 1904, David Isaacs, now heading the business, commissioned a new building on a wedge-shaped plot cornering Charles Street and Cambridge Street. The Isaac’s Building contained new showroom premises for Isaacs – The Wallpaper People, on the corner, opposite The Hippodrome theatre on Cambridge Street.

Isaacs Building was an example of Edwardian entrepreneurship, the ground floor containing seven shop units with an assembly hall above, its entrance being from Charles Street. The top floor of the building contained offices and several workshops, mostly rented by enterprising tailoring businesses.

The wallpaper shop opened in 1905, a newspaper advertisement declaring that “Isaacs, The Great Wallpaper People, begs to announce that they have opened their new premises, Isaacs Building, Charles Street, with the cheapest, largest and best variety of paper hangings in the world.” The shop advertised a wide range of paper hangings – raised papers, engrain papers, plain papers, gilt papers, varnish papers, sanitary papers and pulp papers.

The Independent Labour Party quickly established a base within the assembly rooms and, along with the nearby Athol Hotel, the area became a hub of political activity. As well as offices for the ILP, the building was also home to the ILP club and the ILP-supporting Sheffield Guardian newspaper.

For the first few years Isaacs Building regularly advertised shops suitable for a hairdresser, milliner, chemist or sweet shop. The assembly hall, originally known as Stanton Hall, became regular home to the Sheffield Ethical Society, while other meeting rooms were known as the Central Rooms.

In 1911, the ILP rooms were taken over by Sheffield Trades Hall, a business that survived until 1930. It was regularly targeted by the police, believing that illegal drinking and gambling were taking place inside, and making several prosecutions.

It appears that Isaacs Wallpaper on Charles Street wasn’t the success it intended to be. Its proximity to St Paul’s Parade might have been the reason, and in 1908 the shop was closed, the business transferred to another new shop at 17 King Street… advertisements using the tagline “Waiting to be Hung.” In the shop’s place, Isaacs opened an auction mart “open to receive goods of every description.” By 1910, the shop at The Wicker had also closed.

In 1930, it was announced that Sheffield Trades Hall Ltd had gone into liquidation, a development that cost David Isaacs dearly. The following year he was declared bankrupt, the freeholds of Isaacs Building, approximately 346 yards long, being offered at auction. The properties were sold in lots – Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 Upper Charles Street (No.6 being Sheffield Trades Hall), and Nos.35,37, 39 and 41 Cambridge Street – all fetching £8,350.

For the next 88 years the property, no longer referred to as Isaacs Building, was occupied by numerous businesses. In time, the old assembly hall was converted into a nightclub, its various incarnations being Faces, Raffles, Charlie Parkers and Freedom, and for a time part of the old basement being used as Charles Street Underground, a faithful reproduction of a London Underground station.

As I write, the building still stands, long boarded-up and the only evidence of recent occupancy being a chicken takeaway where Isaacs Wallpaper shop once stood. But not for much longer, with demolition scheduled in the next few weeks.