Telephone House: Smartening-up our retro buildings

With work progressing on the Heart of the City II development, it’s time to spruce up some our existing buildings. One already completed is the Telephone House NCP car park in Charter Row, achieved by recladding the facade in Corten coloured wave feature cladding and “goal post” feature frames to the ground floor retail units. These improvements addressed issues with the poor appearance of the existing concrete building (see photo) within the context of the new Charter Square development and assist in the future letting of ground floor retail units.

The former British Telecom tower, which is located above the carpark, was recently refurbished by Vita Student in 2016 to provide upmarket student accommodation.

A planning application has now been submitted to erect a new shop frontage to four existing retail units consisting of new aluminium curtain wall façade within existing feature goal post surrounds.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


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.


Grosvenor House

Making use of the rooftop terrace. Not bad at all. Grosvenor House, the name chosen by HSBC employees, and paying homage to the hotel that stood here before. The main office entrance is located on the corner of Wellington Street and Cambridge Street, and another entrance faces onto a new area of public realm at Charter Square. The building will also include retail space and shop fronts will be primarily located on Cambridge Street and also the important corner where Pinstone Street meets Furnival Gate. HSBC employees in Sheffield are being relocated from their current office space at Griffin House after the banking giant signed as the anchor tenant on a 15-year lease, committing them to Sheffield city centre.



Times have been hard for Debenhams, not least for the one on The Moor which is beginning to look extremely shabby alongside modern new developments nearby.

However, it hasn’t always been this way.

This shop was once considered to be a flagship store, until eclipsed by a brand new Debenhams at Meadowhall in 1990.

It seems like the store has been here forever – fifty-four years to be precise. For a new generation, this branch wasn’t always called Debenhams, and can trace its origins to the other side of the Pennines.

In 1865, William Paulden, aged 24, opened a carpet and soft furnishings store in Stretford Road, Manchester. He was the son of a Cheshire farmer, educated at Knutsford Grammar School, and died at Green Hall, Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1930.

The business expanded to become a department store and in 1928 was taken over by the Drapery Trust, a conglomerate of retailers, owned by London-based Debenhams.

The store continued to trade as Pauldens and added a second store at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, in 1946. A third store opened in Sheffield in 1965, a modern multi-level steel frame and concrete structure, bordering The Moor and Charter Row.

It traded as Pauldens of Sheffield, but in 1973, all the Drapery Trust businesses were either closed or rebranded as Debenhams, including the Sheffield store.

We now wait to see what will happen to this landmark as a result of the company’s turbulent restructuring.


Telephone House

We all watched with interest when Telephone House on Wellington Street underwent mega-renovation a few years ago.

Sheffield’s thirteenth tallest building, standing at 56 metres, was typical of late sixties office blocks that leapt up around the country.

After World War Two, the city adopted a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the area between Cambridge Street and Upper Hanover Street. Part of this strategy allowed the General Post Office (GPO) to build a 15-storey glass-fronted block in place of old housing.

Building started in the late 1960s and was completed by 1972. It was used to manage the telephone network in the area while parts of the lower building included independent retail units as well as a multi-storey car park. Yorkshire Television (YTV) later installed technical equipment on the roof linking the studio in Charter Row to its Leeds studios.

Telephone House was subsequently re-badged with a huge BT logo when the GPO became British Telecommunications in 1980.

In 2012, BT announced it was closing Telephone House and selling the property to a business consortium, Ace Liberty and Stone, which intended to sell-off parts of the building to developers. BT vacated the building in October with the loss of around 400 jobs.

In March 2014, the tower block section, excluding the retail units and car park, were sold to Vita Student, a developer, which converted the offices into ‘high-standard’ apartments for students. The project started in July 2014, costing £35million, and involved complete refurbishment of the interior as well as an exterior facelift. A sixteenth floor was added containing 14 luxury penthouses and suites.

Work finished in August 2015 leaving Telephone House offering ‘the World’s best student accommodation’ – SMART TVs, big double beds and large kitchens – as well as communal facilities including cinema, entertainment areas, gym, laundry and a library/study area.

The accommodation isn’t cheap, anywhere between £176 to £260 per week – and has appealed to foreign students, with deep pockets, attending both universities.


Westfield Health

A flashback to July 1921, and plentiful support had been given to the “Penny in the Pound” scheme for aiding Sheffield voluntary hospitals.

The Sheffield Hospitals Council had launched the scheme to support the city’s four hospitals: The Royal, The Royal Infirmary, The Children’s and Jessop Hospital for Women during the aftermath of World War One, when accommodation was short and no means to modernise or re-equip wards.

Whereby for every pound of an employee’s pay, a penny would contribute to the hospital’s finances in return for free hospital treatment, and employers would contribute a third of any money raised.

There were few who were not willing to recognise their responsibility to the hospitals.

Merchants, tailors, painters, brewers, wheelwrights, printers and many other trades had heard about the scheme.

The Sheffield Law Society had recommended the scheme to its members, and 96 per cent of staff of the Sheffield and Ecclesall Co-operative Society had agreed to pay contributions.

The Tramways and Motor committee, the Electric Supply committee, and the Sheffield Water committee, had each agreed to pay the employers’ portion of the scheme and the Parks men had shown sympathetic interest.

“Penny in the Pound” was dropped when the NHS came into being in 1948, but the Sheffield Hospitals Council survived by introducing innovative new schemes.

And what became of the Sheffield Hospitals Council?

It was renamed the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme in 1974, and as Westfield Health, has become one of Britain’s biggest Health Cash Plan providers. It moved to bigger premises at Charter Row in 2016.


Westfield Health

“Are you in the Westfield?” A question often asked at our Sheffield hospitals. But what do you know about the history of the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme?

It’s an institution, now nationwide, and its origins can be traced to July 1919, founded as the Sheffield Consultative and Advisory Hospitals Council, later shortened to The Sheffield Hospitals Council.

Its formation was to support Sheffield’s four hospitals: The Royal, The Royal Infirmary, The Children’s and Jessop Hospital for Women during the aftermath of World War One.

The war had crippled finances at Sheffield’s hospitals, with accommodation short and no means to modernise or re-equip wards.

The honorary medical staff at the hospitals suggested that a Joint Council should be formed, principally to tackle the financial difficulties after the war. They put their views into writing, produced a document to present to members of the Board and asked that a Joint Council should be set up to put the finances of the hospitals on a sound basis and to make the people of Sheffield, hospital health conscious.

The Sheffield Hospitals Council stepped in with the “Penny in the Pound” scheme, devised by businessman Fred Osborn, whereby for every pound of an employee’s pay, a penny would contribute to the hospital’s finances in return for free hospital treatment, and employers would contribute a third of any money raised.

The scheme was launched in April 1921, raising almost a million pounds for hospitals in the first six years, proving to be one of the largest and most successful in the country.

It quickly caught the imagination of the city’s biggest firms, trade unions and principal employers’ associations.

For 25 years it raised nearly five million pounds, surviving the Great Depression of the 1930s, when local people still contributed to the scheme from their wages.

During World War Two the scheme continued to support the hospitals, funding a new maternity unit at Jessop’s Hospital for Women after it suffered during a heavy air raid.

It also provided two ambulances in 1942 which transported patients to the city’s hospitals, and to and from nursing homes, travelling a total of 191,788 miles.

As well as delivering 9,000 Christmas Gifts each year, it also donated Easter eggs to patients in the Sheffield Voluntary Hospitals.

On 5th July 1948, the NHS was born with the aspiration to make healthcare available to all, regardless of a person’s wealth.

The NHS threatened the viability of the Sheffield Hospital’s Council, and although contributions fell, it closed the “Penny in the Pound” scheme and launched a “Special Purposes Fund,” providing amenities that weren’t covered by the NHS to patients and hospital staff.

In 1951, the NHS was struggling and introduced charges for prescriptions, dental services, and glasses, with the Sheffield Hospital’s Council creating an extended scheme of general benefits, becoming the innovator of the Health Cash Plan.

It was also the same year that the “Hospital Cinema Service” was launched, providing patients at the city’s hospitals with a cinema, showing full-length feature films, newsreels and shorts to help raise spirits for patients.

On 14th October 1965, the organisation established the Sheffield and District Hospitals Services Charitable Fund, donating annual funds for the purchase and repairs of equipment in hospitals, since donating over £15million to local and national hospitals and charities supporting people’s health and wellbeing.

More change was on the horizon. Due to the rapid expansion of the contributory scheme, it moved into a purpose-built office called Westfield House in 1973, followed by a change of name in 1974 to become the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme.

In 1999, Westfield became pioneers of the corporate paid Health Cash Plan, whereby employers rewarded employees with cashback on essential healthcare and access to health and wellbeing services.

The scheme launched in 2000 and has since become one of Britain’s biggest providers.

Westfield Health moved to bigger offices on Charter Row in August 2016, and celebrated its centenary last year.