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Streets

“A favourite playground of the boys of those days and boasted the name of ‘Sow Mouth.”

Pinstone Street, Sheffield. Image/Sheffield Star

I walked through the city centre the other day and remembered an old newspaper article that spoke of Pinson Lane in 1736, and later became Pinstone Street.

The article from 1927 was written by Harold Rowley who suggested that Pinstone Street may have had some connection with Penistone, once a common surname in the district, but had once been called Pincher Croft, which hinted it may have had some connection with Barker’s Pool, being originally Pitcher Croft.

When I got home, I referred to Sidney Oldall Addy’s ‘The Hall of Waltheof’ or ‘The Early Condition and Settlement of Hallamshire’ from 1893.

“We have few ‘lanes’ in Sheffield now. The popular idea seems to be that there is something mean and insignificant in a lane, and hence Pinson Lane now bears the grander name of Pinstone Street.

Old inhabitants of Sheffield speak of Pinson Lane. Gosling writes it Pinson Lane in 1736, and I find a croft called Pincencroft Len in a document dated 1554. 

Pincen is probably the surname Pinson, so that Pincencroft is exactly analogous to Colson Crofts, Sims Croft, Scargill Croft, and Hawley Croft, which are derived from surnames.

The word ‘len’ in Pincencroft Len is not our ‘lane’ but the Old Norse lén, a. fief, or fee, a piece of freehold, or land held in fee simple. Thus, the meaning is Pinson Croft freehold. The croft acquired the name of the person or the family—the Pinsons—who once held it, and then it afterwards became known as the Pinsoncroft ‘len’ or fee.”

Mr Rowley also mentions that the old name for the Fargate end of Pinstone Street was once called Sowmouth, popularly explained because it tapered and grew narrower. However, he says, this was evidently wrong, because Sowmouth meant a door or opening.

I didn’t know this, but I referred to Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and its people’ (1876) and found the following passage from Richard Leonard: –

“Forty years ago, there were one or two trees growing on the property of Mr Withers, in Pinstone Street. A passage leading from Fargate to New Church Street, was a favourite playground of the boys of those days and boasted the name of ‘Sow Mouth.’”

(New Church Street ran parallel to modern-day Surrey Street and was lost underneath the Town Hall when it was built in 1890-1897).

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings

How site of Newspaper House evolved into Marks & Spencer

Fargate House. A sketch from 1938. Image: British Newspaper Archive

It was the 1960s, retail was in ascendancy, and Marks & Spencer, with a small shop on Fargate, wanted to build a new store and expand. To do so, it purchased an adjacent property called Fargate House, and Sheffield lost one of its finest buildings.

“As we drove along, we happened to pass a very splendid building. On looking up, I saw it was the new offices of the ‘Independent’ newspaper,” said the Archbishop of York in 1892, the year it had been built.

In the 1890s, there were two newspapers in Sheffield. W.C. Leng owned the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (forerunner to The Star), and the Leader family were proprietors of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. This was a time when newspapers sold thousands of copies daily, and the two were bitter rivals.

The Independent, founded in 1819, to secure ‘British independence, and an amelioration of the condition of the British people,’  had moved premises several times, and when Sheffield Corporation began widening Fargate, it purchased a plot of land.

The site nestled between Tuckwood’s Supply Store and the properties of George Shepley and T.R. Marsden. It was described as an inverted capital ‘T’, the top crossing Fargate and the tail pointing towards Norfolk Street behind. Much the same as Marks & Spencer today.

As were many Sheffield buildings of the day, the new Independent offices were designed by Flockton and Gibbs and constructed by William Ives of Shipley. The crosspiece on Fargate contained shops and commercial offices that were let, while the tail was occupied by the newspaper across six floors.

Once completed, the front of ‘Newspaper House’ was said to be the most imposing of numerous buildings erected in Fargate.

The architectural treatment was defined as ‘modern,’ the front too valuable to afford space for heavy piers and walls. The main arched entrance was set back from the building line, the wings on each side giving the shops on the ground floor a graceful curve to the front. The whole was covered with a steep picturesque roof, and surmounted with a sky sign, the letters of which were four feet high.

The style was said to be a development of early French Renaissance, more particularly the phase of it, which was seen in the Chateaux of the Valley of the Loire, of which the high pitched hipped roofs were an essential feature, but with ornament and mouldings more Greek than Roman.

The Sheffield Independent office – 1892. Image: British Newspaper Archive

Newspaper House was built with best Huddersfield stone, celebrated for its durability and its resistance in some measure, to the blackening influence of town atmosphere. On the last count, it failed, because within years it was as black as the rest of Sheffield’s buildings.

The arched recess entrance was placed at the centre, built of moulded stone; it embraced three entrances, leading respectively to the counting-house, a stone staircase, and an upholstered passenger lift to the offices.

The basement was occupied by the machine room with two Victory News machines capable of producing 16,000 copies per hour, and one of the latest forms of the famous Hoe printing machines. Two powerful steam-engines, manufactured by Shardlow of Attercliffe, stood at the far end.

Above was a bookbinding department, where account books, pamphlets and books were bound in all styles, as well as the paper warehouse.

The Counting House, with tesserae floor, and massive mahogany counter, was where the public placed advertisements and orders. The building also contained a library of Sheffield newspaper files dating back to 1787, all copies of the London Times, and an immense collection of Parliamentary records.  

On the second floor, reporters were clustered around a central corridor which extended the length of the building.

A technical advance was the installation of two telephones – one in the commercial department for use by day, the other in the sub-editor’s room for use during the night.

Messengers raced between the office and Sheffield’s two railway stations bringing in packets dispatched by district correspondents, while every few hours a large bag of letters were brought from the Post Office.

The rest of the building housed the composing room, lithograph and letterpress departments, and rooms for photography and zincography, both in their infancy.

“The inconveniences of photography consequent upon the dull atmosphere of Sheffield will be entirely overcome by the adoption of electric light for photographic purposes.”

At the Norfolk Street end, newspapers were despatched overnight. Carts distributed parcels to local newsagents and railway stations, the aim being that readers had their morning paper on their breakfast tables.

In 1931, consolidation within the newspaper industry meant that the Sheffield Independent was taken over by Allied Newspapers, now owner of the Sheffield Telegraph, and Newspaper House was surplus to requirement.

By the time it merged with the Telegraph in 1938, the old building had been sold and completely refurbished by architect Victor Heal as offices. The building was gutted, the frontage retained, but the upholstered lift and stone staircase were replaced.

A new entrance was made from Hoptonwood stone and black marble, surmounted by a dome, with an artistic lantern, in green and cream, and an illuminated electric clock with the figures ‘No.21’. Beneath were green enamel letters that stated the building’s new name – Fargate House.

It lasted until the 1960s, but Fargate had become one of Sheffield’s premier shopping streets. It was demolished in 1965 and the stylish new Marks & Spencer store built in its place. 

Marks & Spencer was built on the old newspaper site. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Harris Leon Brown and the one o’clock time signal

H.L. Brown is situated in Yorkshire House at 2 Barker’s Pool. Sheffield. The time signal can be seen in the first floor central window. Image: DJP/2022

It confuses many people but is a reliable reminder to others. I’m referring to the one o’clock time signal that blasts out daily from above H.L. Brown at Barker’s Pool.

Today it’s a quirky tradition, and a reminder of a time when the concept of time was a bit fuzzier.

The origin of the time signal goes back to 1874, when in Angel Street, Harris Leon Brown fixed and maintained a ‘Greenwich time ball’ – that was placed on a flagstaff outside his premises, and which by an electric current fell at exactly 1p.m., Greenwich mean-time.

Back then, – different towns tended to keep different times, and thus Greenwich Mean Time was established.

Back in Sheffield, the 1 o’clock Time Signal became a handy way for city workers to mark the end of their lunch breaks, though its position above the watchmaker was used to ensure that his timepieces were accurate.

The equipment was admired for two years, but electric signals in the open air were affected by the weather and its failure to ‘drop’ on several occasions caused it to be removed.

In 1876, he entered into an agreement with the Government to supply him daily for three years with the correct time. A wire connected his shop in Angel Street with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and at one o’clock every day the ball dropped with remarkable precision as the sixtieth part of a second.

In his window, Harris Brown displayed several English keyless chronometer watches, especially adapted for pocket timekeepers. All of these were regulated by the time ball placed outside his shop door.

In 1891, a ‘Greenwich mean time flashing signal and time bell’ was installed in the window of H.L. Brown at new premises at 71 Market Place. It was a synchronised clock with flashing signal and bell, showing mean time daily at 1p.m. and was unaffected by rain or snow.

The clock was 14 inches in diameter, and on either side were two open circles, about half the size of the clock dial.

The one on the left contained a ‘flashing signal’ – a disc of metal painted red, and finely balanced on a pivot. Throughout the day this disc remained with its edge towards the front and was almost invisible. But precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon (GMT) the electric current arrived, giving the disc a quarter revolution, and causing it to reveal its full face, and fill up the open circle, remaining in that position for two seconds.

Simultaneously, the time bell fixed in the open dial to the right of the large clock was struck, so that the electric current made its arrival known both to sight and sound.

To obtain this equipment, H.L. Brown had to enter a five year agreement with the Post Office and pay a large yearly subscription. They were the only watch manufacturer to receive this direct signal. He stated that one of the reasons for installing the equipment was because he had sold many watches from the Government observatory at Kew, and which were guaranteed to keep exact time.

By visiting the Market Place any day at one o’clock, he said that users could ascertain if their watch was ‘on time’ as accurately as by a visit to London.

H.L. Brown later moved to 65 Market Place, and along with it went his equipment. It was bombed in 1940 and the shop moved to 70 Fargate at the corner with Leopold Street.

The time signal was subsequently replaced with a siren, and this was relocated to its current position at Barker’s Pool when H.L. Brown’s Fargate shop was demolished in 1986 for the construction of Orchard Square.

Above the entrance, there’s a small black and white sign proclaiming “1 o’clock time signal” and alongside it, the siren that you hear each and every day. Image: Sheffield Star

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Companies People

Harris Leon Brown – a Polish refugee who made Sheffield his home

Harris Leon Brown came to England from Poland with an introduction to Alfred Beckett & Sons. He started by travelling around as a watch maker. Image: H.L. Brown

This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.

Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.

He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.

When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.

But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.

Harris Leon Brown (1843-1917), diamond merchant, jeweller and horologist of Poland and Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.

With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.

H.L. Brown, 71 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown

Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).

In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.

In 1896, H.L. Brown moved to 65 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown
In the 1930s, H.L. Brown was modernised. Image: H.L. Brown
While searching for photographs of London’s Regent Street, this image from 1910 appeared and shows H.L. Brown at 90 and 90A. Image: Getty Images

Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.

During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.

He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.

H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices  for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.

The jewelled key presented to King Edward VII at the opening of the University of Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield
Newspaper advertisement from 1907. Image: British Newspaper Archive

In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.

When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917.  He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.

At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”

His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.

He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.

In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.

In 1940, the Sheffield shop was destroyed in the Blitz and business moved to 70 Fargate. Image: H.L. Brown

During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.

Town Hall Square in 1967 looking towards Fargate and Leopold Street, Goodwin Fountain, foreground, and No 70, H.L. Brown and Son Ltd. Image: Picture Sheffield

James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.

In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.

Today,  H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).

H.L. Brown at 2 Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, in 2022. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Tesco Express to open on Fargate

42-46 Fargate. The site of a new Tesco Express. Image: DJP/2022

We recently looked at 42-46 Fargate, an existing retail unit that was formerly used by New Look. The building has been demolished and redeveloped multiple times, with the present, existing building having been constructed in the 1990s.

This was once the site of the Green Dragon Hotel, built in 1884, with R. H. Ramsden shoe and hat shop occupying the ground floor retail unit. In 1922, it was adapted to become Winchester House, the former hotel rooms becoming offices and studios. During the 1950s and 1960s, Winchester House became offices for the Provincial Insurance Company. In the 1970s, the building was demolished and replaced with a standard 1970s design.

The demise of Fargate and its pending renaissance is well documented, but here comes news that Tesco Express is to occupy the building.

The retail giant has applied for planning permission for the installation of a new realigned shopfront and new aluminium automatic telescopic sliding door, as well as new signage and rooftop plant machinery.

Tesco Express shops are convenience stores averaging 200 square metres (2,200 sq ft), stocking mainly food with an emphasis on higher-margin products, and the necessity to maximise revenue per square foot, alongside everyday essentials. They are in busy city-centre districts, small shopping precincts in residential areas, small towns and villages, and on Esso petrol station forecourts.

A typical Tesco Express store at the Mailbox, Birmingham.

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Buildings

The mystery behind the Lord’s House

45-47 Fargate, Sheffield. The site of the Lord’s House. Image: DJP/2022

The year is 1815 and a big old town house on Fargate was demolished. It was replaced by a shop and in later years the site at its corner with Norfolk Row was occupied by Robert Hanbridge and Sons, hosier, hatters, and glovers, before becoming Hepworth tailors and finally a branch of Next.

The story of 45-47 Fargate has been covered here already, and the former Next building was recently demolished to reveal its underground secrets. But if we were able to dig even deeper there may be further treasures.

After Sheffield Castle was demolished in 1646, the Manor House remained, and the agent of the Duke of Norfolk, Lord of the Manor, resided here.

In 1706, however, the Manor House was dismantled, and a year later the Lord’s House was built in Fargate, of moderate size and pretensions, for the accommodation of the steward, and the occasional visits of the Lord of the Manor.

In the middle of the eighteenth century Henry Howard, then resident agent to the Duke of Norfolk lived here, and his son, Bernard Edward, who was born in the Lord’s House in 1765 eventually succeeded to the title on the death of his cousin, and became the 12th, Duke. But the Lord’s House was mostly occupied by his agents, the last one being Vincent Eyre.

In 1791, rioters had tried to burn it down in protest at the Enclosures Acts and were only prevented by the timely arrival of the military, which had been summoned from Nottingham the day before.

Towards the end of its life, the Lord’s House became a school where Samuel Scantlebury, the brewer, was a pupil.

View of the Lord’s House, Fargate, demolished 1815. Taken from a pen drawing in the possession of Mr R. Drury (1867). Sketch made 31st October, 1867. Image: Picture Sheffield
The Lord’s House was built in 1707 for the Duke of Norfolk on his occasional visits to Sheffield. It was mostly occupied by his agents, the principal one being Vincent Eyre. It was situated in Fargate, at the corner of Norfolk Row. The house was demolished in 1814. Image: Picture Sheffield

“At the end of Norfolk Row was the building called the old Lord’s House,” said George Leighton in 1876. “It formed the corner of Fargate and Norfolk Row and stood where there are the shops so long occupied by Mr Holden, watchmaker (now Mr Rennie’s, hosier), and the adjacent ones, as far as the Old Red House.

“There was a double flight of steps leading to a balcony on the level of the first floor. Mr Rimmer, the catholic priest, had a small room in the house, used as a chapel. The entrance was from Norfolk Row side, and there were two or three steps up to the chapel.

“About the time I am speaking of (1814-1815), the building was taken down, and the land was quite open from Fargate to the Assembly Rooms in Norfolk Street, and it continued open for years. Mr Rimmer got a chapel built upon the ground, right at the back (in 1816), and that continued to be the Roman Catholic place of worship until the present St Marie’s Church was built (1846-1850). We used to play on the ground, and ‘Old Rimmer’ did not like it, and drove us off. He was a nice old gentleman – a cheerful old chap. For a long time, the ground was unfenced, but ultimately a palisade was put up.”

The Lord’s House was sold in 1814 and dismantled in 1815, but the replacement chapel was short-lived. The palisade in the house’s former gardens was St. Marie’s Roman Catholic Church, better known today as the Cathedral Church of St Marie, Sheffield.

These days we have little visual evidence as to how the Lord’s House looked. However, within Sheffield Archives are two sketches, one of which is a pen drawing that was in the possession of Mr R. Drury in 1867.

Both are remarkably similar, but in Charles Hadfield’s ‘History of St Marie’s,’ published in 1899, he provides another sketch that was taken from a porcelain model, the property of Arnold J. Ward. This model purported to represent the old mansion in Fargate. Mrs Fisher (widow of Henry Fisher, surgeon, Eyre Street) who died in 1881, stated that her father had purchased the model at a sale.

The Lord’s House. From Charles Hadfield’s ‘History of St Marie’s’ 1889. Image: British Newspaper Archive

That the model was a correct representation of the Lord’s House was testified by several residents including Septimus Clayton, John Kirk, George Thompson, James Brown, and William Clayton, well within the recollection of these old men.

In 1931, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph queried the whereabouts of the porcelain model and discovered that it had been presented to the Duke of Norfolk by Arnold J. Ward in 1897 who received an acknowledgement.

The newspaper contacted the ducal seat at Arundel Castle in Sussex and received the following response.

“We have a model in porcelain which might be described as follows: Circular front with door in centre, two round turret towers on either side with battlements around the top of each and with a square tower in centre of model which resembles an ordinary church. There is no record stating that this is the model asked about.”

The description suggests a different property to all the sketches, but there was consensus at the time that the model was the Lord’s House.

And we should also remember George Leighton’s recollections that ‘the Lord’s House had a double flight of steps, leading to a balcony on the first floor.’ Again, this contradicts all the sketches.

Somebody has suggested to me that the sketches might show the rear of the property, and one does show a retaining wall to the left hand side that might have been alongside Norfolk Row.

For now, I have submitted a request to Arundel Castle to determine whether the porcelain model still exists, and whether they have any more information on the Lord’s House.

Catholic Chapel, Norfolk Row (Original St. Marie’s). Norfolk Row to left. Fargate in background. Image: Picture Sheffield

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Categories
Buildings

Coles Corner – Plans for apartments and indie business

2-18 Fargate. “Given the huge housing shortage, plus the frequently reported difficulties faced by first-time buyers, the most obvious answer is to turn this unused office space into much-needed, quality apartments or student accommodation.” Arran Bailey. Image: GCW

It dates to 1965-1966, and stands at Coles Corner, the iconic site of the Cole Brothers department store.

2-18 Fargate, at the corner with Church Street, has been acquired for an undisclosed sum by Nottingham property company ALB Group.

It already has Starbucks, Greggs and Hotel Chocolat on the ground floor, and plans are underway to convert the four upper floors of vacant office space into apartments.

The move follows a similar refurbishment model employed by ALB Group in other UK centres, including Stoke-on-Trent, Ipswich, Birkenhead, and Derby, which are already experiencing a turnaround in fortunes.

Group managing director Arran Bailey has long been committed to finding ways to reverse the trend of decay in UK town centres, particularly by encouraging local, independent entrepreneurs to launch new high street businesses, by offering lower rents with more flexible terms.

ALB is seeking to do the same with its vacant retail units in the Fargate building.

Cole Brothers, Fargate/Church Street. 1900-1919. Image: Picture Sheffield
The demolition of the old Cole Brothers store in 1964. Photo: JPIMedia
Construction on the old Cole Brothers site (Coles Corner), junction of Church Street and Fargate in 1965. Image: SCC Engineers and Surveyors/Picture Sheffield

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Streets

“One side of the city centre to the other, and less than a mile. By car, I travelled 2.5 miles.”

The best map of Sheffield’s Inner Ring Road, but spoilt by spelling mistakes.

An unusual post, in so much that we are looking at a road. In fact, a series of roads that form one big one – Sheffield Inner Ring Road.

We might live in Sheffield, but sometimes it’s difficult to see wood for the trees, and this is the case with the inner ring road, because you probably don’t realise its purpose and where it is.

Let’s start in the 1930s when a route around the city centre was first proposed. Truth be known, World War Two stalled plans until the sixties, and in 1969 Sheffield Corporation published an impressive handbook called ‘Sheffield – Emerging City,’ in which plans for a detailed road system were revealed for the first time.

The council intended to pour £65m into the scheme which included bus lanes, pedestrian areas, as well as an urban motorway and motorway links with the M1.

Robert Waterhouse, writing in The Guardian in 1972, said that “Sheffield was as proud of its new roads as of its housing, its clean air, and its flourishing arts. They were all symbols of rebirth after years of stagnation among the ruins of the Industrial Revolution.”

The Guardian article, long forgotten, provides an interesting snapshot into the arguments that raged at the time.

It pointed out that after 1969, things had started to go wrong. In May 1971, a joint report by the city engineer, the city planning officer and architect, and the general manager of the transport department, had taken a gloomy view.

‘Although a large highway construction programme has been embarked upon,’ it said, ‘the growth of vehicular traffic is much greater than the growth of road capacity. The disparity has been obvious for many years and there seems negligible hope of it being ended in the foreseeable future.”

The report estimated that the proposed highway system, capable of carrying about 50 per cent of commuters to work by car, would cost ratepayers another 20p in the pound, which was probably acceptable, but that a system by which nearly everyone went by car could cost £300m, or another pound on the rates, clearly unacceptable. If the ‘compromise,’ £65m system was going to get clogged up anyway, was it worth building at all?

Arundel Gate in 1973 looking towards the Hole in the Road – new barriers erected in attempt to make pedestrians use the subways. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield

Waterhouse identified growing opposition within the council.

Sir Ron Ironmonger, Labour’s council leader, admitted that a growing number of councillors were against the scheme, and there had been public exchanges between the planning department and engineers.

The planners, headed by R. Adamson, felt that the engineers were going about the job the wrong way: instead of giving priority to the inner ring road, which everybody thought essential, construction had been advanced near the city centre. This meant that the civic circle – the inner ring road ultimately intended to carry only local shoppers and delivery vans – was being used as a throughway.

But the engineers, under K.D. Wiilliams,  replied that highways the size of the inner ring road – a six-lane urban motorway – didn’t happen overnight.

It seemed that Sheffield residents didn’t know what they were in for but would soon find out. The new interchange between the inner ring road and the Parkway was near completion at the bottom of Commercial Street. Sheffield Parkway was also being built and would be the main route into the city centre from the M1.

Construction of Sheffield Parkway in 1974 looking towards Park Square. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield
Sheaf Street/Commercial Street (latterly known as Park Square) roundabout under construction in 1973. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield

But the argument in 1971 was that traffic coming into the city centre was being diverted onto newly-constructed roads, because there was no proper inner ring road. And it was causing problems.

On Commercial Street itself, a bridge was being widened to take four lanes of traffic. It joined the civic circle at Castle Square, where traffic and pedestrians were already separated – cars at ground level, pedestrians underground. But before the road got there, it had to pass Fitzalan square, one of the principal routes for shoppers on foot. Everybody agreed this was a problem, but work on widening Commercial Street continued anyway, despite open criticism from Labour councillors.

Widened Commercial Street in 1970s, looking towards the Gas Company Offices on right, Electricity Supply Offices and Barclay’s Bank on left. Shude Hill behind car park on right. Image: Picture Sheffield

There were others also opposed to the scheme. Dr Leonard Taitz, a young South African doctor, working in Sheffield, was convener of the Conservation Society’s national transportation working party. He had started a campaign to bring the road building programme to a halt while a new policy on integrated transportation was formulated.

New roads were being built within the city centre but there were design flaws.

He cited the case of Furnival Gate, also a four-lane highway which, he suggested, was bound to be used by commuter traffic, but which divided The Moor and Pinstone Street, two proposed precinct streets. A subway to take people under the road had already been built, while Charter Row, another radial, had a barrier down its middle which cut a whole segment of the city from the centre.

Furnival Gate at the junction with The Moor showing (middle left) junction with Union Street in the 1960s. Image: Picture Sheffield

He argued that these roads were primarily being used by commuters cutting across town. But Mr K.D. Williams, head of technical design at the engineers, said this wasn’t the case, and that they were a necessary part of an integral system, that will one day be blocked off to prevent through traffic, and channel motorists to off-street car parks.

Whatever the interpretation, the roads were ‘not a pretty site.’ Certainly not ‘Sheffield’s Champs Elysees,’ as a councillor had called Arundel Gate.

Robert Waterhouse asked the important question? Would the new roads ever carry the massive traffic that Sheffield had come to expect? Would the inner ring road be built as a motorway, and would Sheffield get its two, or even three, motorway links with the M1?

Sir Ron Ironmonger pointed out that after 1974, highways would become the responsibility of the new South Yorkshire metropolitan authority and had no wish to make any drastic moves at such a late stage, and cited Nottingham which had done away with  a major part of its road programme. (Sir Ron later became leader of South Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council).

What did happen?

The 1970s proposal for the Inner Ring Road was abandoned because it would have destroyed important heritage assets like Kelham Island and the canal basin, and cash, as ever, was the stumbling block. But we did eventually get an Inner Ring Road, but it took a long time for it to be completed in its entirety. 

We can thank Duncan Froggatt, a Chartered Engineer, in his excellent book, ‘Sheffield – A Civilised Place’ (2018), for providing the timeline.

“The inner relief road had started in the 1960s starting with the dualling of Netherthorpe Road. But the later stages came much later with St Mary’s Gate and Hanover Way widened to dual carriageways in the 1980s.

“Sheaf Street was improved in the early 2000s leading to the improvement of Sheaf Square and subsequently links to St Mary’s Road up to 2009.

“The northern section from Sheffield Parkway to Penistone Road was built in two phases in the 1990s. The phase from the Parkway to The Wicker was completed in 2000, originally called Cutlers’ Gate, but later renamed Derek Dooley Way. The next stage, between the Wicker and Shalesmoor was finished in 2008.

“Once completed, it provided a continuous loop of dual carriageway, clockwise from Granville square in the southeast to Sheffield Parkway in the east, linking all main arterial routes in the city.”

Netherthorpe Road with Netherthorpe Street Flats under construction in 1965, looking towards Netherthorpe High Rise Flats. Image: SCC/Picture Sheffield

All done and dusted, but these days it is what is  happening within the Inner Ring Road that creates the interest.

Mr Williams’ plan for streets to be blocked off to traffic within the city centre did and continues to happen. Fargate and The Moor were the first to be pedestrianised, Pinstone Street is in transition, and Arundel Gate will be downgraded.

But what nobody in the 1970s envisaged was something that had been around for centuries… and that was the bicycle. Cycle routes, and the eagerness to cut car emissions, while greening our urban spaces, means that Sheffield city centre will eventually change beyond recognition.

I leave you with a story. Last week, I had to travel by car from one side of the city centre to the other. By foot it was less than a mile. By car, I travelled 2.5 miles.

Derek Dooley Way. Image: Sheffield Star

“Driving into Sheffield, I was looking forward to my friend’s hen-do. We had booked a city centre apartment, a spa day and a restaurant. What could go wrong? Yet, an hour-and-a-half later, I was bellowing tearfully into my mobile at my boyfriend: “You came to university here. Where AM I?” What had caused this emotional meltdown? Certainly not a fall-out with my friends – I hadn’t even seen them yet. Instead, my fun-filled city break had been spent navigating a series of roundabouts on the city’s ring road which kept spitting me out with increasing ferocity. Sheffield’s inner ring road has been tormenting drivers since 1961. Like many of the nation’s worst ring roads, it twists you round its little finger only to catapult you into bus-only zones or roads that lead you off in the opposite direction to the one you need.” – Jenny Scott – BBC News – 2014

NOTE
Robert Waterhouse is a journalist. Starting on the Guardian in Manchester and London, he turned freelance and was launch editor of the daily North West Times. He is a co-editor of the review Mediterraneans. His books include The Other Fleet Street, a history of national newspaper publishing in Manchester.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

38-40 Fargate – Still here, 140 years after being built

‘Fargate of the present’ declared the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1884. It showed the recently constructed shop for Arthur Davy. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

We have covered this building before, but as always happens, new material surfaces.

Take a close look at this sketch from 1884. It looks different these days but stands proudly as ever. This is 38-40 Fargate, erected in 1881-1882 for Arthur Davy, and described at the time as the largest retail provision store in Great Britain. Since the 1970s, it has been occupied by WH Smith.

It was erected because of Sheffield Corporation’s Street Widening Programme of the late 1800s that encompassed Pinstone Street, Fargate, and later, High Street. In modern terms, this might be considered to have been Sheffield’s original Heart of the City redevelopment.

Before this, Fargate was much narrower, the street line on the north side extending much further forward into what is today’s pedestrian precinct.  In fact, there was a ‘pinch-point’ in front of old shops that previously occupied the site. When these were demolished, Arthur Davy’s building was built much further back along a straight line of new buildings, most of which survive.

We also know which shops were demolished to make way for the new building. These were R. Goodson, a mantle shop (formerly E. Moses), a vacant unit (they even had empty shops then), E. Scott, feather bed warehouse, and George Bradley, watch and clockmaker.

Former buildings where 38-40 Fargate now stands. The old line of shops was demolished and the street made wider. Note the empty shop that was used for advertising purposes. Image: British Newspaper Archive

Pevsner describes John Dodsley Webster’s design for the new building as ‘economic handling of a late Gothic style, with carved animal heads advertising hams, potted meats and pork pies for which it was famous.’ Look carefully, these are still visible above WH Smith today.

Where stationary, magazines, and books, line the interior today, we must use our imagination as to what it used to look like.

The ground floor sales shop was 75ft long and 40ft wide, lined with Minton’s White Tiles. On the right was a counter for the sale of hams, bacon, butter, cheese, eggs, and tinned goods. On the left was the counter for pork, polonies, sausages, pork, veal and ham pies, brawn, pork, and lard. There was also a room in which to hang 50 pigs, 4000 hams, 2000 sides of bacon, besides a considerable number of polonies and sausages.

An entrance via Exchange Gateway (the small lane that exists to the left) led to a slaughterhouse, where Royal Pigs were killed, the carcases lowered through a trap door into a room below, where they were opened and dressed, and hung upon rails at the back of the shop.

Another room held the bakehouse where the crust for pork pies was made and baked in two Jennison Smokeless 2-Deckers, capable of baking 12cwt of pies per day.

It’s hard to believe, but where many of us remember WH Smith’s record department, this used to be where sausages and polonies were made, as well as the curing of ham and bacon. These were conveyed to the shop above by hydraulic lift.

In later years, the upper floors also became Davy’s Victoria Café, used for light refreshments, luncheons and afternoon teas.

Carved panels above the first-floor windows and open quatrefoils in the parapets either side of the central gable. Carved animal heads advertise hams, potted meats, and pork pies that Arthur Davy was famous for.

Sadly, Davy’s closed in 1972, and converted into WH Smith, complete with a flat canopy outside that has long-since been removed. In recent years, the shop had to close for a significant period, temporarily relocating to Pinstone Street, after roof supports failed and had to be replaced.

See the previous post about Arthur Davy here

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies

Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. The collapse of William Bissett and Sons

New shops erected in Fargate in 1884 for William Bissett. The architects were Flockton and Gibbs. The shops and offices still exist. See image at bottom of post. Image: British Newspaper Archive

When we look at Sheffield, the names of two construction firms – George Longden and Henry Boot – often appear. However, some of our well-known buildings were built by a company that has been erased from history. And perhaps for good reason.

William Bissett was a self-made man. Born in Pilsley, Derbyshire, he came to Sheffield and was apprenticed to Primrose and Company, where he acquired a practical knowledge of plumbing and glazing.

Afterwards, he set up on his own on West Street, adding further trades such as gas-fitting, painting, paperhanging, and general decorating. The success of the business allowed him to take on a partner, John Edwin Elliott, and move to more extensive premises on Devonshire Street, used as offices and showrooms, and workshops at Wilkinson Street, Pinfold Street, and Mary Street.

He launched as a general contractor and builder and managed to obtain important contracts in Sheffield and Birmingham. Amongst the earliest of his employers was Mark Firth, who entrusted him to enlarge his residence at Oakbrook, but this work was dwarfed by the magnitude of his public contracts, the most important of which was the Central Schools, School Board offices, and Firth College (now forming Leopold Square and Leopold Hotel).

Firth College. Now part of Leopold Hotel. Image: DJP/2022

When Sheffield Corporation started its Street Improvement Scheme in the 1870s, Bissett was extensively engaged in the erection of palatial; new business premises on Fargate and Pinstone Street, and himself acquired several valuable sites.

Other building work included Weston Park Museum, Mappin Art Gallery, Cockayne’s department store in Angel Street, and Lodge Moor Hospital.

Mappin Art Gallery

For some years, Bissett was a member of Sheffield Town Council for the Upper Hallam Ward, serving on the Buildings, General Purposes and Parks, and Highway Committees. Far from me to speculate that the success of his company might have been down to council connections, but these weren’t transparent days.  However, he resigned in 1884 to allow his firm to undertake the Sewage Works at Blackburn Meadows.

Unfortunately, Bissett suffered a stroke in 1886, and died at Rock Mount, Ranmoor, in 1888. His partnership long dissolved, the business was split amongst three sons, but hereon, the affairs of William Bissett and Sons unravelled.

In 1889, whilst work was underway to build buildings for the YMCA (Carmel House), on Fargate, a petition was served against his three sons.

“The acts of bankruptcy alleged against the debtors respectively are that William Crellin Bissett and Lawrence Colgrave Bissett, did, on or about the 28th of November, 1889, with intent to defeat or delay their creditors, depart from their dwellings or otherwise absent themselves; and that the said James Francis Bissett did, on the 4th day of December, file in the Sheffield Court a declaration admitting his inability to pay his debts.”

It appeared that some of the contracts did not turn out very successful and the firm had lost considerably by them. A year before, a destructive fire at the Wilkinson Street premises had also caused considerable loss. Stories about the firm’s financial position had circulated for months and everything that could be offered as security, even their interest under their father’s will, had been mortgaged.

Former School Board Offices on Leopold Street.

But the situation took a grimmer turn.

Apparently, the state of affairs was only known to the brothers in Sheffield, William and Lawrence, while James, in Birmingham, had been kept ignorant. The first he knew about it was when he received a letter from them bearing a Paris postmark and informing him that they had absconded.

James immediately came to Sheffield and found that the firm was in a state of financial ruin. From inquiries he learned that both William and Lawrence had been about the business on the Thursday morning, and that early in the afternoon they had left for London. They travelled to either Dover of Folkstone the same evening and caught a boat to Paris. The assumption was that they had then gone to Spain.

Before they left, they had received a cheque for about £4,000 to which debt they obtained advances. They cashed the cheque, took the proceeds, and with them went the petty cash books and private ledgers. In the end, it was determined that the company owed creditors about £34,439 (about £4.7m today).  

James, left to deal with his brothers’ dirty work, and the discovery that they been living way beyond their means, was absolved, and eventually released from bankruptcy.

However, the whereabouts of William and Lawrence remained a mystery and by all accounts never returned to England.

Until that is, a notice headed ‘Bissett v Bissett’ appeared in The Times in 1897, whereby Agnes Amy Bissett filed for divorce against her husband Lawrence, by reason of his adultery and desertion.

Lodge Moor Hospital was built by Bissett in 1888 as an isolation hospital.

On November 28, 1889, Lawrence had told her that he was going to London to see his solicitors about business, but he never returned, and the next she heard from him was through a letter he sent to her father from Paris, in which he said: –

“Will you please, on receipt of this, go to Amy at once. Our affairs have gone wrong, the bank having turned on us, and to save a little money from the wreck, I have left England for a time. I may have done wrong, if I have, God forgive me. I have no time for more, as the train goes.”

In a subsequent letter he wrote:-

“We had a certain overdraft from the bank, and all went well. They have suddenly shown us that they will not continue it, and nothing but bankruptcy, without a chance of saving anything, stared me in the face, so I thought it best, rightly or wrongly, to leave England with what money I could and try my fortune in another land.”

It was subsequently found that he had gone to San Antonio, Texas, and as a bankrupt, the Official Receiver had instructed the Post Office to send all letters to them.

In this way, another letter came to light from a young lady called Amy Sebright. This letter announced to him that she had given birth to a boy called Cyril Laurence Bissett. It transpired that the young lady had been engaged at the Theatre Royal during the pantomime season of 1888-1889, and that she had met Lawrence, and afterwards lived with him ‘maritalement’ at Manchester, Brighton, and elsewhere. When he was leaving England, he had asked her to accompany him, but she had declined to do so

His wife received another letter from him at the end of 1890 asking for her forgiveness, and acknowledging his guilt, but said nothing about returning.

The divorce was granted.

“Here the husband had left his wife with a falsehood on his lips, and there could be no doubt of his intention to desert her after what had transpired as to his relations with the actress from Sheffield.”

We do not know the end outcome for William or Lawrence (investigations for another day). Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. Only James came out of the story with his reputation intact. Remember this story the next time you visit Leopold Square or Weston Park Museum.

Modern day view of the shops that William Bissett built on Fargate. Most of the offices above are now empty. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.