The pandemic has claimed another victim. Caffé Nero, a familiar sight at No.2 High Street, won’t be reopening when lockdown restrictions are eased, the retail unit now up to let.
Our thirst for coffee and cakes might not have diminished, but poor trading conditions have forced the London-based chain to rethink its future.
While it maintains a presence in Sheffield, the outlook for one of the city’s Grade II-listed buildings is less certain.
No.2 High Street was the result of High Street widening during the 1890s, one of several Victorian buildings built by esteemed architects Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton.
Described in Pevsner as “one of their more exuberant ‘fin de siècle’ essays,” it is characteristic for its high mansard roof.
Many people think it was built as a bank, and Barclays did occupy it from the early 20th century until recent times, but its history is more elaborate.
The building featured in an 1896 edition of British Architect with a double-plate spread.
“A massive and imposing appearance, with an elaborate scheme of stone carvings and mouldings. There is a suggestion of the easy and graceful style of French architecture.”
It was built for Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings, established in 1775, auctioneers, which had conducted property sales at older premises on High Street, as well as holding horse sales at the Horse Repository on Castle Hill.
In August 1896, No.2 High Street was in the process of construction, farther back from the original street line, the auctioneers temporarily transferring business to the Cutlers’ Hall and premises on Fargate.
The firm was Sheffield’s premier auction house, responsible for the sale of important buildings and used by the Duke of Norfolk to dispose of land and property.
It was completed in 1897, a date stone still evident at the side of the building on Black Swan Walk.
There were two large auction rooms and offices on the ground floor, with a large basement for storage, a strong-room for jewellery and plate, and two separate store-rooms for furniture.
The façade was enriched with four stories of superimposed columns, the lower ones of red Labrador granite, standing upon a grey granite base.
The base supported a handsome cornice with a broad frieze of black granite, on which the name of the firm appeared in raised gilt letters.
The upper pillars were of stone with carved and decorated capitals, and a considerable amount of carving. The external effect was enhanced by a balcony of ornamental ironwork.
The upper portion of the block was let as offices, with special care given to effective ventilation and warming of the auction room with a Blackburn heater and fan, driven by an electric motor.
Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings was made up of four partners, each with interests elsewhere. In 1917, J.J. Greaves and Sons left the partnership and the firm continued trading as Nicholson, Barber and Hastings until the 1950s.
However, Barclays Bank opened a branch here in 1920 and the Estate Mart became a secondary part of the building before closing altogether.
Not much has changed since construction, except for the removal of the balcony railings and the interior completely refurbished for bank use.
After a period as Caffé Nero it now joins a long list of vacant properties in and around High Street and Fargate.
Although one of the oldest streets, Fargate hardly appears to have cut a conspicuous figure in Sheffield history. It boasts no long roll of distinguished residents, and no catalogue of inspiring buildings.
It was never part of Sheffield’s business district, but reinvented itself to become one of the best shopping streets in Sheffield, the result of street widening in the 1880s.
By the 1920s, Fargate was entering its golden period, described as the ‘street of many windows,’ with pavements packed with shoppers.
“There is a charm about it at all times, early in the morning when trams are disgorging their hundreds of workers, and a few hours later when limousines, jaunty sports models, and cheery old-timers, stream through the centre of Sheffield one after another. It is the happy hunting ground of all shoppers, whether of the leisured class who saunter up and down between the hours of 11am and 1pm, or the busy housewife who finds that afternoons are more convenient and joins the crowd always to be found – especially on Saturday.”
Fargate became Sheffield’s first pedestrianised street in the 1970s and missed a trick. It was perfect for open-air café culture, but it never materialised. Fargate struggled to charm and was at its best when the pop-up Christmas market appeared.
Then, along came Meadowhall, the internet, pandemic, and lockdowns.
Sheffield’s ‘best’ street is in trouble, empty of workers and shoppers, and vacant shop units growing by the week. All this might change with plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield to change Fargate and High Street into a ‘high-quality place to live, work, and socialise.’
Finally, the mystery of how it came to be called Fargate.
The road was obviously a ‘far gate’ with historians suggesting it was the farthest gate from Sheffield Castle. However, digging into the archives there might be a more plausible explanation.
Back in the 1600s, travellers heading towards the Parish Church (now the Cathedral) crossed a cornfield (Paradise Square) and entered a gate at the corner of what is now the corner of Campo Lane and Paradise Street. The other gate was called the ‘Far Gate,’ at what is now the High Street corner of the Cathedral forecourt, hence the name Fargate.
I am reminded that back in the eighties, an old man told me that one night in the 1950s he watched a horse and carriage pass down this lonely dead-end street and stop outside the building to the right. Its passengers dismounted and disappeared through a doorway. The carriage moved off and vanished into thin air. The man dared himself to wander down the lane. All the property was in darkness, locked-up for the night, and where the carriage disappeared stood only a high brick wall.
Today, I waited for someone at the opening to this lane, known as Black Swan Walk, when a mother and child walked past. The small boy looked down the desolate lane and said to his mother, “I want to see the horses.” She laughed and dragged him about his business.
In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee of the Black Swan public house, £11,600 for his land, and demolished the pub to allow for the widening of Fargate. The freehold was sold to Alwyn Henry Holland, provisions merchant, who built No. 9 Fargate, a narrow shop, still standing, and sadly empty, in between Black Swan Walk and Chapel Walk.
In later years, Holland bought adjoining land on Chapel Walk and built eight shops in English Renaissance style with the Howard Gallery above. Access to the art gallery was from Chapel Walk, with a carriage entrance around the back in Black Swan Yard. Alas, it was a dead end, and a turntable was assembled at the end of the lane that allowed carriages to be spun around and head back the way they came.
Wander down here today, and you will see that the outline of this turntable survives in concrete, with an old mechanism rusting away in a corner.
That story from the 1980s might have been the roguish imagination of an old man, long dead, but a lot of history remains in our forgotten streets.
Sheffield is one of 15 towns and cities to receive all the money they had bid for, in the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.
Sheffield will receive £15.8m in recognition of the ‘forward-thinking and innovative’ proposals to help progress plans to boost its reputation as an ‘Outdoor City’ with high quality public spaces for the community.
The historic streets of Fargate and High Street will become a high quality place to live, work, and socialise, in plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield.
A radical programme of improvements and modern digital infrastructure will complement well-designed residential and workspace conversions, making the most of unused floorspace. Particular blocks will be redeveloped to increase density by adding height while opening up new green spaces and views.
This transformation will play a major role in completing plans for a ‘Steel Route’ through the city centre, turning a declining shopping area into a mixed-use link between the two distinct regeneration projects already underway in Heart of the City at one end and Castlegate at the other.
The funding has been awarded as part of the Government’s flagship £831 million Future High Streets Fund and will help areas to recover from the pandemic while also driving long term growth.
A few of us might argue that Sheffield has never been at the forefront of cultural excitement. This was never more apparent when, over a century ago, Alwyn Henry Holland put his money into the Howard Gallery.
His determination to give us an alternative exhibition space came at a cost and ended with the collapse of the family business.
Holland’s far-sightedness didn’t resonate with the public, and the only reminder of his folly is a stone relief set in a small portico above a doorway on Chapel Walk.
For many years, Alwyn Henry Holland (1862-1935), was the Hon. Sec. and member of the Council of the Sheffield Society of Artists, and probably the most enthusiastic artist in the city at the time. He was also a lay member of the Society of Architects, and Hon. Sec. and trustee of the Croft House Settlement.
He was born in Sheffield, the son of Alwin Hibbard Holland, provisions merchant, and was brought up as an architect.
The family home was at 11 Broomgrove Crescent, and he was educated principally at Brampton Schools, Wath. He then became a pupil, and afterwards assistant, with architect John Dodsley Webster.
On the death of his father in 1883, however, he succeeded to the business of A.H. Holland, at No. 9 Fargate.
In its day, A.H. Holland, was one of Sheffield’s finest grocery stores, famous for its high-class goods at low prices, and awarded three prize medals at London exhibitions.
He ran the business with his mother, Eliza, and, with Thomas Flockton, designed new shop premises as part of the Fargate widening scheme in 1889.
Like many Victorian businessmen, Holland dipped into the property market, and when land became available adjacent to No. 9 Fargate, on Chapel Walk, he designed and built eight single shops in English Renaissance style.
At the time of construction in 1897, Henry Fitzalan Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, was Mayor, and later Lord Mayor, of Sheffield, and the inspiration for naming the new art gallery that Holland built above the shops.
The gallery comprised two exhibition spaces, both 60ft in length, separated by a staircase, with light supplied by a lantern roof above. The main entrance was on Chapel Walk, with a separate carriage entrance around the back on Black Swan Walk.
The inclusion of the art gallery satisfied Holland’s notions as a watercolour painter, providing more suitable environs to display artwork, rather than on the walls of the shop that had previously been the case.
The Howard Gallery never intended to be a showcase for his own work but was to be used for rotating exhibitions of works by other artists.
Holland’s plans were extravagant, seeing it as a northern rival to the big London galleries. There were those who mocked his plans, but even the fiercest critics were astonished when the Howard Gallery announced its opening exhibition in April 1898.
William Marchant, manager of the Goupil Gallery in Regent Street, was persuaded to bring a collection of pictures and drawings to Sheffield – and the samples of work seem inconceivable today.
“The exhibition contains examples of Gainsborough, Constable, David Cox, Turner, Landseer, Corot, Guardi, J. Maris, Mauve, Israels, Whistler, and J.M. Swan,” wrote the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
Public opinion was favourable, the critics silenced, but William Marchant struck a note of caution that pinpointed what lay ahead:
“I must say that when I decided to take this collection to Sheffield, I was fully aware of the fact that I was not catering for the popular taste, and I may add that several people who witnessed my preparations laughed and predicted total failure. I cannot say that much of Sheffield’s gold has found its way into our coffers, and the visitors have been, if select, very few, but I must own that I never expected to meet with so publicly expressed an appreciation.”
Despite the lacklustre support the Goupil Exhibition was extended past its May closing date, with several works removed and replaced with new works by Peter Graham, John Syer, Henry Dawson, Niemann and E.M. Wimperis. Several local artists were also represented including Austin Winterbottom, James Moore, Frank Saltfleet, and Jean Mitchell.
In June 1898, Thomas Agnew and Sons, fine art dealers, brought an exhibition to Sheffield, including Gethsemane ‘Jesus In the Garden’, painted by Tom Mostyn, and the engravings from the canvases of Landseer, Peter Graham, and Rosa Bonheur.
The Howard Gallery hired glass cases for its next exhibition of artistic book-bindings, obtained on loan from the Ruskin Museum Library, and which had rarely been seen.
And so, there followed a cycle of short-lived seasonal exhibitions – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter – all of which cost a lot of money and poor return.
In June 1899, Holland closed the East Gallery claiming that previous exhibitions had been too large for art lovers to properly view, but finances were diminishing and, apart from the annual Sheffield Society of Artists’ Exhibition, the major showings dwindled away. But the local press remained optimistic:
“There had been sneers at the Howard Gallery as a mere commercial speculation, but they only exhibit a complete ignorance of the motives with which it was founded, and their absurdity is as patent as their injustice,” wrote ‘Le Flaneur’ in the Sheffield Independent.
Holland launched a Winter Exhibition in December 1901, using the West and East Gallery, which had been used as a restaurant, and showing nearly 250 oils and watercolours, but, apart from a Frank Saltfleet exhibition in January 1903, the galleries were advertised as being available to hire for dances and evening entertainments.
Music recitals became a mainstay of the gallery, a popular home for the Sheffield Chamber Music Society, as well as for meetings including those of the Alliance Francais.
The principal use, from 1903, was for the Sheffield Gentlemen’s Club during the rebuilding of their premises on Norfolk Street. It occurred to Holland that the comforts and conveniences of the club might be appreciated by the public, so, with necessary alterations and additions, the Howard Gallery, and adjoining Rutland Institute (above No.9 Fargate) were transformed into a café and restaurant.
Holland auctioned his collection of paintings, pewter, and pottery, as well as fixtures and fittings, and the gallery became The Meerah Café in December 1904.
Once again, the undertaking received support from the local press:
“Mr Holland is an architect of considerable repute, and in the extensive range of rooms has given free play to his artistic ideas. The place is full of artistic surprises. They seem to meet you at every turn. The old-fashioned windows he has so daintily worked into his scheme, the many snug retreats, the originality displayed in the lighting and the decorations, all breathe art. The very atmosphere seems artistic. Even the furniture has all been studied with an artist’s care. The late William Morris designed some of the most comfortable of the chairs which will be found in the gentlemen’s quarters; but Mr Holland has designed the remainder of the furniture. The tables of solid old oak, also breathe of art. The names of the rooms sound artistic. There are the York Room, the Howard Room, the Wharncliffe Room, and the Rutland Room. Music is provided by Charles Callum.”
The café and restaurant fared marginally better than the Howard Gallery, but the overindulgences of the exhibition space and subsequent conversion, played heavily on the finances of A.H. Holland.
Alwyn and Eliza invited shareholders into the business, and it became Hollands Ltd in 1906, but the company went into voluntary liquidation three years later.
The shop and café were closed, and the contents auctioned to help pay off the creditors.
The last hurrah appeared in the Sheffield Independent:
“’It is a tragedy, that is the only word for it,’ said an old customer. The Wharncliffe Room of Holland’s Café was half filled with buyers, and about a dozen men hung about waiting for jobs to remove the purchases. A couple of dogs, which had strayed into the room, surveyed the scene, and made a faint effort to wag their tails. The firm, business-like tones of the auctioneer rang out, and soon the artistic fittings, pictures, crockery, and cutlery, were auctioned off.
“Hollands was well known for the original designs of the interior of the premises, Mr Holland being quite ambitious in this direction. The shop was regarded as an example of the art doctrines of Ruskin and Morris. Indeed, Holland made a special effort to introduce art into ordinary matter-of-fact business. Unfortunately, the effort failed.”
Afterwards, Alwyn Henry Holland faded into obscurity, no doubt chastened by his experience, and spent time walking, playing tennis and golf, and sketching.
His legacy is forgotten, his work little-known.
Some of his work hangs at the Cutlers’ Hall which had commissioned him to paint views of the banqueting halls as well as its exterior. Perhaps his most famous painting is Sheffield from above the Midland Station, included in the Sheffield Museum collection.
Holland died in 1935 at Patrington, near Hull, aged 73.
The Howard Gallery returned in name only, used by British Westinghouse and the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company as showrooms, and part of it used by Thomas Monkman and later H.C. Hibbert as a billiards hall.
In the time since, the gallery space has been sub-divided, but the Howard Gallery carving remains, as does the long glass roof, visible only from above.
No. 9 has stood at the end of Fargate all our lives. It is the tall, detached building standing between Chapel Walk and Black Swan Walk and is in a sorry state.
It is hard to imagine that this building was part of the Victorian renaissance of the old town centre, one that marked the widening of Fargate and set the building line for later High Street improvements.
Plans to widen Fargate were proposed in 1875, but it was not until the late 1880s that work started. Old buildings on the east side were flattened extending back from Fargate for distances varying from 60ft to 240ft.
It would appear that Lot 4, a plot of land containing about 150 square yards on the north side of Chapel Walk and south of a foot road (Black Swan Walk), with a frontage of 19ft to Fargate and 72ft to Chapel Walk, had been the site of the Black Swan Public House.
In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee, £11,160 for the land and demolished the pub.
The freehold was bought in 1888 by A.H. Holland, Provisions Merchant, founded in 1844 by Alwin Hibbard Holland, whose previous shop had been at No. 3 Fargate, one of those flattened for street widening.
Alwin Hibbard Holland had died in 1883, the business continuing through his wife, Eliza, and youngest son, Alwyn Henry Holland. (His eldest son, Kilburn Alwyn Holland, also had a provisions business, but appeared to have played only a small part in the family business).
Eliza Holland played an important role in the success of A.H. Holland, but it was Alwyn (whose story will be covered in a future post) who established the business in new premises at No. 9 Fargate.
Alwyn had been educated at Brampton Schools, Wath upon Dearne, before becoming a pupil, and afterwards, assistant to Sheffield-architect John Dodsley Webster.
After his father’s death, he joined A.H. Holland which he ran with his co-executors, and co-designed the new premises along with Flockton, Gibbs and Flockton.
Thomas James Flockton had negotiated the purchase of the property and acted for Sheffield Corporation in the resale to Alwyn Holland, a fact that did not go unnoticed to sharp-eyed citizens.
Building work started in early 1889, with Sheffield-builder George Longden and Son chosen for the work, but progress was hampered when bricklayers and labourers went on strike demanding more money.
The new shop was eventually completed and opened to an expectant public on 9 November 1889 selling the ‘highest class goods at the lowest possible prices’. As well as the shopfront on Fargate, the premises extended down Chapel Walk occupying Nos. 1 to 15. The firm was awarded prize medals at the London International Exhibition and the International Dairy Show, sufficient for it to become sole agent for Lord Vernon’s Dairy (from Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire).
In 1891, the Rutland Institution occupied rooms overlooking Fargate above the shop. It was named after the Duchess of Rutland, who opened it, and was formed in connection with the Sheffield Gospel Temperance Union.
As well as being a shopkeeper, Alwyn Holland was a watercolour artist and his work was displayed inside the shop, ‘displaying marked originality both as an architect and an artist’.
It might have been Holland’s aspirations as an artist that ultimately led to the downfall of A.H. Holland.
With a sizeable income the firm built new property on adjoining Chapel Walk, renting out eight shops at ground level with a large suite of assembly rooms upstairs, including the Howard Gallery, for high-class art exhibitions, and Holland’s Restaurant.
The gallery opened in 1898 but proved a failure, closing its doors in 1904. By this time, the Rutland Institution had moved out, and the entire upper floor was extended into rooms above No. 9 Fargate and remodelled as tea rooms.
In 1906, a new company was created, Hollands Ltd, to take over the business carried on by Eliza Holland and Alwyn Henry Holland at No. 9 Fargate and Nos. 1 to 15 Chapel Walk, as well as the restaurant business carried on by Alwyn at 17-23 Chapel Walk (and also at Sheffield University Rectory).
Joining Eliza and Alwyn as directors were Smith William Belton, a provisions merchant from Market Harborough, William Whiteley, a Sheffield scissor manufacturer, Richard P. Greenland, Liverpool soap manufacturer, Arthur Neal, Sheffield solicitor, and George Shuttleworth Greening, accountant.
A second grocery and provisions business were established on Whitham Road at Broomhilll, but despite new investment things did not go particularly well for A.H. Holland, and in 1909 the business slipped into voluntary liquidation.
Net losses since the formation of the new company amounted to £3,826 and directors attributed poor performance to deficient continuity of management, shortness of working capital, and consequent loss of business due to the depression in Sheffield.
The following year the freehold of No. 9 Fargate was offered at auction, as was the leasehold portion on Chapel Walk, once home to the Howard Gallery and Holland’s Café.
By the end of the year, No. 9 Fargate was used as an auction house by Arnold, Prince, Bradshaw and Company, and the following year fell into the hands of Sykes and Rhodes, costumiers and furriers, which remained until 1924.
By this time, the building had suffered from Sheffield’s age-old problem of black soot, darkening the stone, making it rather ‘dull-looking’.
However, the building was about to be reinvented with the opening of a shop in Sheffield by one of Britain’s leading tailors.
“A cynic has remarked that one of the reasons why Austin Reed Ltd have opened a shop in Fargate is because the male members of the community in Sheffield need attention in sartorial details.”
The business had been founded by Austin Leonard Reed (great grandfather of Asos founder Nick Robertson) and claimed to be the first menswear store to bring made-to-measure quality to the ready-to-wear market. Its first store was in London’s Fenchurch Street and by 1924 had branches in all the most important towns and cities of England.
“Time is not so long distant when Sheffield relied on its old-established businesses, handed on from father to son, but, with the passing of the war, there came a change, and today, as quickly as premises can be acquired, firms with world-wide reputations are erecting palatial buildings, limited only by the space at their disposal.”
The company spent a small fortune converting the building, the designs drawn up by P.J. Westwood and Emberton, of Adelphi, London, and involved the original builder, George Longden and Son.
Outside included a beautiful marble front erected by Fenning and Co., Hammersmith, made of Italian Bianco del Mare and Belgian Black Marble. The entrance lobbies contained lines of non-slip carborundum inserted into marble paving.
The building consisted of a basement, three sales floors, and an office situated at the top. They were linked by staircases and the lift, a survivor from A.H. Holland days.
The basement was used for dispatching, the ground floor for the tie, collar, and glove department, the first floor was for hats, shirts, and pyjamas, while the second floor formed the ‘new’ tailoring department.
“Inside, everything blends and tones; there is nothing garish to the eye. The ground-work is of oak panelling, staircase, and fittings. On the ground floor, the firm has arranged six windows nicely furnished with parquet beds, the door at the back being glazed with embossed glass to the architect’s design.
“The window lighting – admired by thousands – is worked with x-ray window reflectors, and each window has a special plug for ‘spotlights’ or experimental lighting effects.”
The front of the shop was also illuminated with a ‘Dayanite’ electric sign installed by the Standard Electric Sign Works. This, and the window lighting, was controlled by a revolutionary time switch that allowed them to be switched off on Sundays.
While the outside was impressive, the interior had the latest shop-fittings made of lightly fumed oak, with polished edged frameless mirrors, supplied by George Parnall of Bristol and London.
The coat cabinets worked on an American principle where doors opened and disappeared into the sides of the cabinet, and a large rack, laden with coats on pegs, was drawn out and slowly revolved.
The counters had small reflectors and low-voltage gas-filled lamps, manufactured by G.C. Cuthbert of London, that provided white light and gave a brilliant effect to the goods.
Another innovation was an electric hat cleaner whereby a visiting customer with a hard felt hat could have it cleaned and renovated in three minutes.
Customers were most impressed with Austin Reed’s new payment and receipt system.
When an item was purchased the assistant placed the money, bill and duplicate into a cartridge that was inserted into pneumatic tubes, similar to those used in newspaper offices, that within ‘three second’ had reached the top of the building. The office assistant then placed the receipt and change in the cartridge and the procedure reversed.
Austin Reed also used several local contractors.
Decoration was completed by F. Naylor, of Abbeydale Road, plumbing by George Simpson and Co., from Broomhall Street, electrics by Marsh Bros., of Fargate, and the structural engineers were W.H. Blake and Co., from Queen’s Road.
Austin Reed remained at No. 9 Fargate the 1970s, the building becoming a Salisburys bag shop and subsequently a victim of the relentless ‘chain store shuffle’, its last incumbent being Virgin Media.
As I write, it is a pop-up Christmas store, in darkness due to Covid-19 restrictions, with a sun-tanning parlour above.
Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.
The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.
Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.
Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street
Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.
Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.
Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.
Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.
The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?
Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.
The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.
Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?
We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.
Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.
The next time you are able walk into McDonalds or HMV, on High Street, be aware that you are walking into history. Before you go inside, take a moment and look above, and you will find that these popular ground floor premises are part of an elaborate building.
This is the Foster’s Building, built in French domestic Gothic style by Sheffield architects Flockton and Gibbs in 1896.
The origin of the Foster’s Building goes back to the Anglo-French Wars of the sixteenth century, and the entrepreneurship of William Foster, draper, tailor and outfitter, who opened a shop on High Street in 1769.
At the time that William Foster opened his business, High Street was a narrow thoroughfare, described by some as resembling a village street.
When peace was concluded with France, the British Government advertised for sale a vast stock of old uniforms and equipment, which had been given up by troops on disbandment.
William Foster took a coach to London and bought up large quantities of soldiers’ jackets and belts. These were brought to Sheffield and stacked in large crates and baskets outside his shop.
It was said that there was hardly a grinder or cabman in Sheffield who did not buy one of the jackets, not particularly concerned about appearance, but appreciating something cheap.
Being extremely durable they were suited to both trades, and a credible record suggests that the old workshops looked as though a regiment of soldiers was at work, for every grinding wheel had a red-jacketed attendant.
The army belts were of excellent leather, so the record runs, and were largely used by craftsmen for buffing and similar purposes.
Foster was afflicted with an obscure disease, the chief symptom of which was that he frequently fell asleep.
“Mr Foster fell asleep while seated on the hampers of soldiers’ clothes. These used to stand on the edge of the pavement, and there Mr Foster sold the contents, so long as he could keep awake,” said an old humourist.
According to George Leighton in Reminiscences of Old Sheffield (1876) there were other amusing consequences of Foster’s illness.
“I went once to him, as a boy, to be measured for a jacket. Standing behind him, he made me hold my arm horizontally, with the elbow bent, and I thought he seemed a very long time in measuring it. A person on the other side of the street, at York Street corner, was watching the operation, and, seeing him laughing, I looked round, and found that the old man had fallen fast asleep.”
William Foster made a huge sum of money from the transaction and left his family very wealthy.
He was succeeded by his son, also William, who subsequently went into partnership with his own son, George Harvey Foster, in 1860, and renamed the business William Foster and Son, operating at 12-14 High Street.
It soon became necessary to enlarge the premises, and for this purpose, they acquired an adjoining public house, the Spread Eagle, and incorporated it into the original building.
And so, we come to the building that we see today.
When Sheffield grew in prosperity during the late 1800s, the council considered various schemes to improve the condition of its streets. The High Street improvement scheme finally concluded in 1895, resulting in one of the city’s biggest redevelopment projects, and doubling the width of the street.
However, to allow the road widening it meant the demolition of the old properties on the south side of High Street, including buildings owned by William Foster and Son.
George Harvey Foster sold 400 yards of freehold land in High Street for £34,000 in 1893. He took £24,000 in cash for the site of the tailor’s shop, and £10,000 for adjoining land that he owned, and needed by Sheffield Corporation.
Foster died in 1894, his will confirming that he had sold the frontage of the High Street property to Sheffield Corporation for road widening, and empowering his trustees to rebuild and rearrange replacement premises.
In 1895, the first plans for the new building were issued by the architects, Flockton and Gibbs, and convinced the public that this was an “ornament to the widened street.”
The chief architect for the building was Edward Mitchel Gibbs with construction work starting in 1895, undertaken by George Longden and Son, with ironwork supplied by Carter Brothers (surprisingly based in Rochdale).
The building stood on a new street line, set back about forty feet, that allowed existing shops to continue trading during construction, and be demolished afterwards.
When the Foster’s Building was completed in late 1896, it accommodated previous tenants from the old site , Foster and Son being the principal tenant, with other shops for J. Harrison, hosier, C. Tinker, boot and shoe manufacturer, E. Brown, goldsmith and Mr W. Lewis, tobacconist.
Foster and Son had two entrances, with four large windows. Their frontage was 86 feet long and 100 feet in depth and came with a large back yard, and within, contained all three of their departments – ready-made clothes, children’s and bespoke tailoring.
A balcony extended across the top of the building, while Gibbs set back the main wall of the frontage about two feet, so that the supports would not interfere with ground floor window space, and was described as being a “huge showcase”.
The Foster’s Building, on a slightly sloping site, was built in a curved line, leading towards the bottom of Fargate.
The front of the showrooms, above the shops, was ornamented with light wooden tracery, and the upper parts of the building (four floors) was of Huddersfield sandstone, richly moulded, and with a steep-pitched slate roof. It was relieved by oriel windows, ornamental gables and turrets, and dormer windows.
The whole of the upper floors was utilised as rented offices, varying in size, approached by a staircase, ten feet wide, leading from High Street, and by a passenger elevator (see note at end). Each office was fitted with “electric wiring, gas tubing and all modern conveniences.”
The corridors on each floor were eight feet wide, with mosaic-tiled floors and tiled walls up to the height of the door heads, These were well lit by windows placed at the end of each corridor, and also borrowed light from the offices.
The office entrance was marked by a lofty arch, with oriel windows over it, surmounted by a gable, with turrets, and crowned with an ornamental tower, which was to have been the water tank for the elevator, had not “technology” quickly intervened.
Foster and Son remained in the High Street until 1931, by which time they had been here for over 160 years. It was the oldest tailoring firm in the city, with other premises at Waingate and Castle Hill, and had been run by the widow of William Joseph Foster, great-grandson of its founder, since 1905.
Foster and Son consolidated trade at its other shops, and while war had been instrumental in its initial success, it effectively led to its demise after the Waingate branch was destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz.
The Foster’s Building eventually succumbed to other retailers at street level and, for a time, was known as Norwich Union Buildings. It was refurbished during the late twentieth century, presumably with much period detail lost, and before it was Grade II-listed by English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1989.
NOTE: – The Foster’s Building had the first American Elevator in Sheffield, built by the Otis Elevator Company, founded in Yonkers, New York in 1853 by Elisha Otis.
In 1890, Otis had entered the British market under the name of the American Elevator Company. Between 1870 and 1900, there had been a transition between hydraulic lifts to electric-powered elevators.
The Otis company advertised its new generation of elevators with the consideration that such an installation was no longer a complicated matter, and well-suited to places which could not have had one before.
The Foster’s Building had intended to have a hydraulic lift and Gibbs’ design included a small water tower on the roof for its elevator. After it was decided to install an electric-powered lift the tower remained, but instead used as a motor room for the American Elevator.
In 1897, a newspaper advertisement for potential occupiers of its offices described the lift as being able to “accomplish the journey from ground floor to fourth floor in THREE seconds.” Unlikely, even today.
It is the “garden at the heart of the city”, and yet, the small plot at the corner of Barker’s Pool and Balm Green has never officially been named. It has been here since 1937, but these days most folk barely give it the time of day.
Barker’s Pool Garden, Balm Green Garden and Fountain Square are three of the names that have been attributed to it. However, when J.G. Graves, to whom Sheffield owes so much, attended the opening in 1937, he thought it unnecessary to give a name to the garden, but he had in mind its proximity to the City War Memorial.
“It will, I hope, provide a note of quiet sympathy which will be in harmony with the feelings of those who visit the War Memorial in the spirit of a visit to a sacred place.”
This garden, 400 square yards in size, would never have been created had it not been for the opening of the City Hall in 1932.
The land was owned by the adjacent Grand Hotel, the plot used as a car-park enclosed with advertising hoardings. But to J.G. Graves, it was an “eyesore”, obstructing the view of the splendid new City Hall from the Town Hall and the top of Fargate.
His solution was to negotiate the purchase of the land from the hotel. He paid £25 a square yard and outlined his plans in a letter to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Mrs A.E. Longden: –
“When planning the new City Hall, the architect, in order to give due importance and dignity to the elevation, placed the front of the building at some distance from the existing building line.
“This, of course, enhanced the architectural appearance of the Hall, but has had the incidental result of obstructing a view of the Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall corner, as is partially done now by the hoarding which surrounds the intervening plot of vacant land, and if in due course a tall building should be erected on the plot referred to, the possibility of a view of the City Hall from Fargate and the Town Hall would be completely lost.
“I feel it would be a misfortune if, through lack of action at the present time, building developments should proceed which would permanently deprive the city of an impressive architectural and street view at its very centre.
“With this in mind, I have arranged to buy the plot of land in question at its present day market value, with the intention of establishing thereon a formal garden, already designed by an eminent firm expert in this class of work.
“With this explanation I have the pleasure of offering the piece of land as a gift to the city, together with the garden which I propose to have established thereon at my own expense, and with the condition that the garden shall be maintained by the Corporation in as good a state as it will be when it is handed over on completion of the work.”
The gift was a personal one, not connected with the Graves Trust, and duly accepted by Sheffield Corporation.
In 1937, the Grand Hotel announced proposals for extensive alterations and to place their principal entrance on Balm Green. The whole of the corner was now thrown open and the new garden would later adjoin the forecourt to the Grand’s main entrance, running from Barker’s Pool to the building line of the hotel.
To complete the scheme the Grand Hotel management decided to reface the whole of the side of the hotel with a material approximate to the colour of the stone of the City Hall.
The garden had been laid out by “a famous firm of garden landscapers,” railed off from the footpath, with a border of shrubs, crazy paving, a fountain, and a water runway to a lily pond, and various flower beds.
A huge crowd gathered for the official opening on August 3, 1937.
“We shall always be proud of this garden, because it is not only a gift for all time,” said the Lord Mayor. “I hope the garden will become a real garden of remembrance for the future generation, who could thank the beauty of mind and heart which prompted the gift.”
Of course, two years later, Britain went to war with Germany again, the symbolism of the garden perhaps lost on the despairing public. However, the garden has remained, although J.G. Graves’ conditions seem to have been forgotten by subsequent councils.
The fountain was eventually removed, the condition of the gardens fluctuating between mini-restorations, but its current state is a pale shadow of its original glory.
We might do well to remember the terms of J.G. Graves’ gift, although progress often comes into conflict with the past.
In 2019, initial plans were announced by Changing Sheffield action group (formerly Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group) to create a unique space featuring ten large musical instruments and mini-trampolines, although the status of the application is unknown.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining and all that.
Virgin Money has halted plans to merge with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank due to coronavirus.
Some 52 branches were due to close – including the landmark Yorkshire Bank on Fargate in Sheffield city centre – under plans to rebrand the business to Virgin Money by October. Some 500 full time equivalent jobs were due to be axed.
Yorkshire Bank on Fargate stands opposite a Virgin Money Lounge. The bank was due to close in August under plans to ‘consolidate’ branches within half-a-mile of another by closing one.
Under the plans, Yorkshire Bank branches in Chapeltown and Wombwell, Barnsley, were due to close.
Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank paid £1.7billion for Virgin Money in 2018. The deal completed in October last year and plans were announced to rename all branches nationally Virgin Money, which was deemed the stronger brand.
Yorkshire Bank, which traces its roots back to 1859, was set to disappear. The Yorkshire Penny Bank (later Yorkshire Bank) has stood on the site since the corner stones were laid in 1888 by builders Armitage and Hodgson and completed in the summer of 1889. It was designed by Leeds-based architects Henry Perkin and George Bertram Bulmer.
The Albany Hotel once occupied floors above the bank.