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.


St Paul’s 4

I’m sure a few people will remember the demolition of the Empire Theatre, on Charles Street, back in 1959.

The grand old theatre was replaced by shops and offices, bridging the gap between Union Street and Pinstone Street, the most beloved tenant being Sugg Sport that closed in 2000.

They say that today’s buildings are tomorrow’s history.

This will be the case if Manchester-based developer CTP eventually gets the go-ahead for St. Paul’s 4, a 10-storey office block, planned in place of this 1960s building.

The £35million scheme was proposed in June last year, when CTP wanted half of the building pre-let before launching the project. A pre-let – signing a tenant while a building is still on the drawing board – would then trigger a bank or financial institution.

Initial talks had taken place with Sheffield City Council, thought to be supportive of the development, and CTP stated that “demand for the project was so high that they were happy to forge ahead.”

A pre-planning application had been expected last autumn, but has yet to materialise.

The optimism for St. Paul’s 4 was based on Sheffield’s office take-up reaching a ten year high in 2017, when prime office space availability fell to its lowest level on record.

However, the update from CTP is perhaps less optimistic.

With several new office blocks completed in the city centre, the developer has now downgraded its status to “serious tenant enquiries.”

CTP has an excellent track record in Sheffield, being responsible for St. Paul’s 1,2 and 3, as well as the Mercure Hotel, Cheesegrater car-park and St. Paul’s Tower.

It promises that St. Paul’s 4 would “respect the heritage” of historic buildings in the area, and complement an adjacent 32-storey tower block, proposed for the site of Midcity House, at the junction of Furnival Gate, Pinstone Street and Union Street.

CTP has a ‘quasi joint venture’ with Schroders, an asset management company, that owns the land and building on the site.

If St. Paul’s 4 gets off the ground, then it will be one of the most significant changes to Pinstone Street in modern times.