I recall visiting a sunbed salon at Leopold Chambers in the 1980s and climbing the huge Victorian staircase. I couldn’t help thinking that the old building was past its best. That was 37 years ago, and a lot has changed. The curved four storey building on the corner of Leopold Street and Church Street is home to a cafe, letting agent and tanning and beauty salon at ground floor level, with student accommodation occupying the floors above.
We looked at Leopold Chambers several weeks ago, built in 1893-1894 as new offices for Webster and Styring, an established firm of solicitors set up by George Edward Webster and Dr Robert Styring.
It was designed by Andrew Francis Watson (1856-1932), designer of many well-known buildings in Sheffield, including the Norfolk Market Hall, the old Fitzwilliam Market, Westminster Bank, High Street, showrooms for Mappin and Webb, and the offices of Messrs Vickers and William Jessops on Brightside Lane.
There are now plans by Ashgate Property Developments to convert the first, second and third floors into two studios, three one-bed and three two-bed apartments.
The plans involve reconfiguring the current units with no external works to the ornate Grade II listed facade and the ground floor retail units are unaffected.
“The building was constructed during the Victorian period and has seen various internal and external alterations and modifications over the years to the present day.
“The building has undergone extensive refurbishment and remodelling since its construction and little or no original features can be found other than the staircase which will remain.”
At the corner of Church Street and Leopold Street is a building typical of Sheffield’s Victorian architecture.
Leopold Chambers was built in 1893-1894 as new offices for Webster and Styring, an established firm of solicitors set up by George Edward Webster and Dr Robert Styring. The imposing four-storey Renaissance building, in mellow golden sandstone, provided a handsome rounding to the corner, with four shops built beneath the offices.
The architect was Andrew Francis Watson (1856-1932), designer of many well-known buildings in Sheffield, including the Norfolk Market Hall, the old Fitzwilliam Market, Westminster bank, High Street, showrooms for Mappin and Webb, and the offices of Messrs Vickers and William Jessops on Brightside Lane. He was also the architect for the London and Midland Bank in the Sheffield District and responsible for 1-9 High Street that survives as an extension of Lloyds Bank.
A native of Lamport, Northamptonshire, he came to Sheffield in his twenties and eventually went into partnership with Edward Holmes (creating Holmes and Watson, and no apology to Arthur Conan Doyle).
The partnership between Webster and Styring was dissolved after George Webster’s retirement in 1908, and Leopold Chambers (typically blackened by Sheffield’s sooty air) was later taken over by the Bradford Equitable Building Society (later to become Bradford & Bingley).
Following their departure, the offices were sub-divided and more recently converted into student accommodation, with shops at ground level.
Never did a street fall out of favour as Orchard Street did. This narrow thoroughfare was once the main route between Church Street and Fargate, bustling with commerce, with horse-drawn carriages and carts squeezing past each other.
Neither did the creation of Leopold Street diminish its popularity, although only a small portion of the street retained its name.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, and the creation of Orchard Square, that it was relegated to become the back door to shops, and a place for lads to have a quick wee on a Saturday night.
It is an incredibly old thoroughfare, though the name Orchard Street wasn’t given to it until comparatively late.
Formerly all the land in the triangle between Church Street and Fargate consisted of orchards and gardens, but warehouses, shops, and cutlery works gradually covered the space.
In the early 1700s, it is referred to as Brinceworth’s Orchard, while in Fairbanks’ Plan of 1777 it was known as Brelsforth’s Orchards, and in the 1787 Directory it is described as Brinsworth’s Orchards. A document of 1763 gives the address of a trader as Brinsford Orchard. Both Brinsworth and Brelsford, or Brelsforth, are old Sheffield names, and possibly the various names indicate changes of ownership of the orchards through which the street passed.
Eventually the personal names were dropped, and the thoroughfare simply became Orchard Street.
Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.
As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873. Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.
Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.
A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square
By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.
The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.
The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”
It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.
What would our Victorian ancestors think of Sheffield now?
A tree grows out of the roof of this building on Church Street, a sad reminder that over a century since it was built, we’re guilty of turning our backs on impressive architecture.
Times change, and Church Street with its impressive collection of beautiful buildings, has suffered more than most.
In fact, Church Street possesses the finest empty buildings anywhere.
Barely a glance is given to the Sheffield Estate Salesrooms and Auction Mart, built in 1896 for William Bush and Sons.
William Bush was an enterprising individual who started his working life with Schofield and Son, a firm of auctioneers, and subsequently bought the company. He later entered partnership with Charles Dixon (Dixon and Bush) and when this dissolved in 1867 he practised alone.
William Bush traded on East Parade and was joined by his eldest son, George Frederick Bush, in 1884, and by another son, Frank Sleigh Bush, in 1895. Never a public figure, he became Sheffield’s oldest auctioneer, as well as a director of William Stones, the Cannon Brewery.
Such was the success of William Bush and Sons that in 1895 he commissioned the architect Thomas Henry Jenkinson to build a new salesroom on Church Street.
Built in Italian style of the 16th century period, the outside walls had a surface of red brick pleasantly relieved with Yorkshire stone dressings.
It was constructed by Ash, Son, and Biggin, a large building, covering 6,400 square ft with a frontage of 80ft on Church Street.
When completed in 1896, it was an inspiring if not different approach to Victorian architecture, sandwiched between the more imposing Gladstone Building and Cairn’s Chambers (built at almost the same time). However, the auction house interior was typical of the day.
Entering from Church Street through folding oak doors, the visitor found themselves in a bright vestibule with mosaic floor. To the right was the cashier’s office and to the left a telephone room. Through a passage past the cashier’s office were the private rooms of the principals of the firm.
The vestibule reached a well-lit, lofty corridor, constructed to double as a picture gallery, its walls, as in other parts, lined with Austrian wainscot oak installed by Johnson and Appleyard.
Leading off the corridor on either side were two large salesrooms. The right one was the general salesroom and on the left the estate mart. Both rooms took advantage of the best lighting and acoustics under dome-shaped roofs.
The handles on the doors were Italian bronze, representing a dragon’s head, by Charles Green, the artist and modeller.
At the end of the corridor, running at right angles with it, was another salesroom used for the sale of shrubs, trees, and plants, and used as a warehouse for the reception of goods.
A hydraulic lift took goods from the basement, where there were large storerooms fitted out to be salesrooms if required, and a fireproof strong room.
William Bush died in 1903, the business continued by both sons, but the popularity of salesrooms had started to wane in the new century.
George Frederick Bush left the business, and it became Frank Bush and Company, subsequently Bush and Company.
It might be that overheads connected with the building’s construction obliged Frank to look for tenants.
In December 1913, Lloyd’s Bank opened its Church Street branch here, the Bush auctions functioning in the remainder of the building. However, by the 1920s it had been renamed Lloyd’s Bank Chambers, and Bush and Company had relocated to Orchard Place.
Sadly, Frank Sleigh Bush was declared bankrupt in 1927, his reasons being “a change of business premises, slump in trade, illness, and lack of capital.”
The old salesrooms faded into memory, the ground floor sub-divided into shops, but Lloyd’s Bank remained until its recent departure to Parade Chambers on High Street.
Today, the ground floor units are empty, only Amplifon occupies what was the old vestibule, with little sign of life in the offices above, and with post-pandemic uncertainty, it looks like a long road back to glory.
There is a question that intrigues me more than anything.
How much, if anything at all, remains of the old auction house interiors?
It’s hard to believe that in 1913, this Grade II-listed building, opposite the cathedral, was “considered to be one of the finest banking halls in the country.”
Over a century later, banking has gone down the pan, and No. 17 Church Street has been an empty shell since 2007. The only sign of life these days is a Tesco Express that occupies part of it.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank was founded in 1836 with small premises at Hartshead. Two years later, the bank moved to this brand new building, designed by Samuel Worth. It originally had five bays with four giant Ionic columns between plain pilasters and was half the size of the structure we see today.
By 1878, the premises were inadequate to meet the needs of the business. The banking hall was considered too narrow, lacking in height, and the clerks obliged to work in a narrow passageway.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank turned to Henry Dent Lomas (1818-1901), an architect on Norfolk Row, to add an extension to its left-hand-side, land previously occupied by an old rope works and wire shop.
Lomas’ task was easy, duplicating the original building, creating an imposing façade of eight giant Ionic columns on a plinth, with plain frieze and cornice, anthemion panels over the doors at either end and Greek Key above the lower windows. He also added the Renaissance gateway to the left, a different design, as an entrance to buildings behind.
However, the interiors proved much more exciting for the architect.
The banking room was doubled in size, the walls decorated with pilasters and an entablature of the Corinthian order. The ceiling was formed into coffers by beams enriched with mouldings.
In the centre was a dome, 19 feet in diameter, rising to a height of 10 feet, the upper part of which contained the principal outlet for foul air, the bank receiving ample light from eleven large and eleven smaller windows.
The ceilings and walls were painted in simple harmonious colourings and the pilasters in an imitation of marble. The floor was laid in Maw’s tessellated tiles, reviving a tradition that had gone out of fashion a hundred years or more before.
The banking hall was kitted out with fittings made of Spanish mahogany and included two managers’ rooms in which to receive customers.
A staircase was built leading to a new boardroom, complete with Corinthian pilasters between the windows, retiring rooms, lavatories and offices.
In the basement, vaults were created for storing old books, along with a refreshment room and toilets for the clerks.
The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, the last bank in Sheffield to issue bank notes, was absorbed by the London City and Midland Bank in 1913. It subsequently became Midland Bank in 1923, eventually becoming part of HSBC in 1999.
As banks reduced the number of branches, the Church Street bank closed twelve years ago, with Tesco taking part of Lomas’ late Victorian extension.
Looking in a sorry state, the former banking hall is currently being advertised as suitable to let as a bar, restaurant or retail opportunity.
Unfortunately, city centre demographics have changed, leisure and retail have long abandoned the Cathedral Quarter, making it hard to see how this grand old building will be developed.
Look carefully at this photograph. Two Sheffield landmarks we are familiar with today. To the left, the Cutlers Hall, built in 1832 by Samuel Worth and Benjamin Broomhead Taylor, and on the right of the gateway, the former Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, most recently known as the Church Street branch of HSBC (now closed). Together they provide an imposing façade facing Sheffield Cathedral.
However, if we go back to 1878, things didn’t look quite as straightforward.
In October 1878, the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank had just opened a new extension, built on the site of an old rope works and wire shop. Designed by Henry Dent Lomas, the four Ionic columns and the Renaissance gateway seen here, mirrored the building’s original design (not seen in the picture), created by Samuel Worth in 1838.
Most people think the iron gate as being part of the Cutler’s Hall, but it was built as access to bank buildings behind.
Back in 1878, the Cutler’s Hall was also much smaller.
The frontage we see today was created in 1888 by J.B Mitchel-Withers, once again the result of an extension. The two Ionic columns to the right of the doorway mirrored the 1832 construction on the other side, cleverly placing the Cutler’s Hall entrance (once to the right) at the centre of the masterpiece.
Together, these buildings provide an insight into Victorian ingenuity, where two buildings were cleverly transformed by adding identical extensions.
But, the period between 1878, when the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank extension was built, and 1888, when the Cutler’s Hall was extended, meant there was an unsightly presence between the two buildings. A blot on the landscape.
Said the Sheffield Independent in 1878: –
“Few persons can have passed down Church Street since the extensions of the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank took definite shape, without wondering how the paltry brick shop wedged in between that and the Cutler’s Hall, has managed to hold its own, to the disfigurement of the handsome buildings on either side.
“It has not even the respectable appearance of a ham sandwich; it reminds us of nothing so much as a parched bit of unappetising Chicago beef spoiling two pieces of good bread.
“When things looked as if the Cutler’s Company meant neither themselves to swallow this up in some credible fashion, nor let the Hallamshire Bank have the chance of engulfing it, the public were inclined to be a little indignant at seeing a good street spoiled.
“For this relic of the middle-period Church Street, is not old enough to be picturesque and not substantial enough to be handsome.
“It is a specimen of domestic architecture at its worst period – if an erection of bricks, with holes left to do duty as windows, be worthy to be called architecture at all – and it breaks with unsightly violence, the most imposing row of buildings of which this not very beautiful town can boast.”
The Cutler’s Company did eventually purchase the shop and premises next door, demolishing it, and replacing it with the extension of 1888.
A reminder of our past. The Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank was founded in 1836 with small premises at Hartshead. Two years later, the bank moved to new premises on Church Street, designed by Samuel Worth. By 1878, the premises were inadequate to meet the needs of the business. The bank turned to Henry Dent Lomas (1818-1901), an architect on Norfolk Row, to add an extension to its left-hand-side. Later to become the Midland Bank and subsequently HSBC. It has been empty for twelve years, except for Tesco Express that occupies part of the building.
We pass this building on Church Street and probably don’t give it a second glance. This Grade II-listed property is looking unloved these days, its condition deteriorating. Look at the windows left open to the elements, and the tree growing out of the chimney pot. A sad reminder that this was an impressive and important Sheffield building.
Cairn’s Chambers was built between 1894-1896 by Charles Hadfield, of M.E. Hadfield, Son and Garland for Henry and Alfred Maxfield, solicitors. It was built in scholarly Tudor-style, a favourite of Hadfield’s, featuring decorative stonework by Frank Tory Sr.
The structure was described in Builder in 1897, as “very quiet and self-restrained, it also remarked that “this architect’s detail is always markedly good, particularly in the matter of scale.”
In 1916, Wilfrid Randolph, an architectural critic, considered Cairn’s Chambers as being one of Hadfield’s finest pieces. “Its quiet composition and detail, stands as an admirable application of traditional English forms to present day purposes, unspoiled by the straining after effect which mars so much contemporary street architecture.”
Henry and Alfred Maxfield occupied a large suite of offices, but it was also built to accommodate other businesses, a common trait of Victorian entrepreneurship.
The offices were used for almost 40 years by Charles Hadfield’s own company, C & C.M. Hadfield, architects, and later by Hadfield and Cawkwell. It was also where John Dodsley Webster, another Sheffield architect, had his office with an entrance at the back, on St James’s Street. Another long-serving tenant was Septimus Short and Co, a Sheffield agent for the Sun Insurance office.
The Hadfield company remained until World War Two, leaving after the building was damaged by a German bomb in 1940. The rear of the property was almost destroyed, but the decorative front survived.
Afterwards, Cairn’s Chambers became a branch of the District Bank, subsequently becoming NatWest until its closure.
The building stood empty for 15 years before the ground floor was taken over by Eua De Vie Leisure Ltd, which opened it as Cargo Hold in 2018, a seafood restaurant.
Alas, Cargo Hold closed earlier this year, the Cairn’s Building empty once again, and craving for a new occupier.
We’ve already had a look at the history of Cairn’s Chambers on Church Street, a Grade II-listed building that has been empty for most of the past sixteen years.
Built between 1894-1896 by Charles Hadfield for Henry and Alfred Maxfield, an established Sheffield firm of solicitors.
Almost unnoticed these days, are the decorative features that emblazoned the building, and which survived a Second World War German bomb.
The stone carvings, at the front, were the work of Frank Tory and Sons, Sheffield-based architectural sculptors, operating from the early 1880s until the 1950s, consisting of Frank and his twin sons Alfred Herbert and William Frank.
The crowning glory of Cairn’s Chambers was the statue of Hugh McCalmont Cairns (1819-1885), 1st Earl Cairns, an Irish statesman, and Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. He became a Q.C. in 1856, Solicitor-General in 1858, and was knighted in May of the same year, becoming Attorney-General in 1866.
The statue looks extremely miserable these days, weather-beaten, covered with dirt, and with some parts missing.
As well as the statue of Cairns, the building also features a sundial, and the heads of the then Prince and Princess of Wales, later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.