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Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.

There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.

The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.

In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).

A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.

The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.

Sheffield Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.

While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.

In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.

These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.

The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.

In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.

And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

The Bankers Draft

This building stands in one of Sheffield’s most historic parts and survives in an area that has changed considerably in the past eighty years. Thanks to the Blitz, the Hole-in-the-Road and Supertram, the environs show no resemblance to the day it was constructed.

These days we know it as The Banker’s Draft, a Grade II listed building, in Market Place, one of the first J.D. Wetherspoon pubs to open in Sheffield, but its origins goes back to the turn of the twentieth century.

In the old days, the three landmarks of Sheffield were the Castle, the Market Place and the Parish Church. When tradesmen recognised the Castle as less than a means of protection, they started clustering around the Market Place (or The Shambles), a place where they could face anyone proceeding towards the church, by means of High Street.

Markets had been held here since 1296, and its original buildings were replaced with picturesque timbered latticed gabled properties about 1752, and again around 1812.

Once, amidst the atmosphere of drapery, leather, grocery and hats, the place had a banking tradition, one that repeated itself later. Hannah Haslehurst and Son, departing from ancestral grocery, founded The Sheffield Old Bank on this spot, but it collapsed in 1785.

In 1901, the Market Place area was described as ‘an aching void,’ sharing the fate of similar early 19th century buildings, the homes of humble traders, that were demolished to make way for the York City and County Bank.

The bank was designed by Walter Brierley (1862-1926), a York architect, described as being the ‘Yorkshire Lutyens’ or ‘Lutyens of the North.’ He created 300 buildings across the north between 1885 and his death, mainly family mansions, churches, schools and banks. Brierley was also architect for North Riding County Council and the Diocese of York.

Construction started in 1901, the contractor being Sheffield-based George Longden and Son, and was finished in 1904.

Described as being Edwardian Baroque, built in Aberdeen granite and Italian marble, its interiors were lavish. A parquet floor was laid by the Acme Wood Flooring Company of London, with furnishings supplied by Goodall, Lamb & Heighway, manufacturers of high quality furniture, upholsterers and carpet warehousemen from Manchester.

Quite forgotten, is that the York City and County Bank had bought more land than it really needed. It rented out offices on the first, second and third floors, as well as the spacious basement (where remains of old stables can still be seen).

However, it was also proposed to build a first-class hotel next door, also designed by Brierley, that was never erected, probably the result of a long dispute with the council over its alcohol licence.

The York City and County Bank (established 1830) amalgamated with the London Joint Stock Bank in 1909, which itself merged with the London City and Midland Bank in 1919.

Despite the area being mostly destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz, the Midland Bank (as it became) survived unscathed, and remained open until 1989, before relocating to the end of Fargate.

Standing empty for a while, it was bought by J.D. Wetherspoon, operating as The Banker’s Draft ever since.

NOTES: –
Walter Brierley was the architect who designed several buildings in the village of Goathland, North Yorkshire, that were seen during the opening credits of ITV’s Heartbeat (1992-2010).

Market Place is now commonly known as Castle Square. However, Market Place is officially the paved area running in front of The Banker’s Draft, between High Street to Angel Street.

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Companies

Top Shop

It appears that Topshop in Sheffield has come the full circle.

The news that Topshop and Topman is closing on Fargate could end a long-time association with Sheffield city centre. According to a recently submitted planning application, Nos. 33-35 Fargate, look to be falling into Superdrug hands.

The irony is that Topshop was founded in Sheffield in 1964, a brand extension of the Peter Robinson department store, then situated at the corner of Castle Square (now occupied by easyHotel).

Peter Robinson was a women’s fashion chain, founded in 1873, that had become part of Burton’s in 1946.

It opened as Peter Robinson’s Top Shop, a youth brand, selling fashion by young British designers such as Polly Peck, Mary Quant, Gerald McCann, Mark Russell and Stirling Cooper.

The Top Shop name was later used for a large standalone store on Oxford Street, London, and expanded into further Peter Robinson branches at Ealing, Norwich and Bristol.

It wasn’t until 1973 that Top Shop was split from Peter Robinson, focusing on the 13-24 age groups, leaving the department store to concentrate on the over 25s.

The Top Shop (later Topshop) brand flourished, subsequently becoming part of Phillip Green’s Arcadia Group, with 500 shops worldwide, of which 300 were in the UK.

Alas, by the end of the 1970s, the Peter Robinson name had all but disappeared.

In Sheffield, C&A had absorbed the former Peter Robinson shop, and when it pulled out of the UK, the unit transferred to Primark.

However, as we well know, times have been difficult for Phillip Green. Last year, the Arcadia Group went through a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with a significant number of stores closing.