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Buildings

Yorkshire Bank

Photograph by Yorkshire Live

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.

Categories
Buildings People

Walter Gerard Buck

This influential character is relatively unknown in Sheffield’s history. A modest person, he was responsible for one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Walter Gerard Buck (1863-1934) was born in Beccles, Suffolk, the youngest son of Edward Buck. He was educated at the Albert Memorial College in Framlingham, and acquired an interest in architecture, joining the practice of Arthur Pells, a reputable Suffolk architect and surveyor, where he learned the techniques to design and build.

Walter Gerard Buck, architect and surveyor (1863-1934)

Walter, aged 21, realised there were limitations to this rural outpost and would need to improve his talent elsewhere. This opportunity arose in Manchester, the seat of the industrial revolution, where demand for new commercial buildings was great. It was here where he gained several years’ experience in large civil engineering and architectural works, including the building of the Exchange Station, Manchester, as well as the Exchange Station and Hotel in Liverpool.

Liverpool Exchange Street Station and Hotel. The frontage remains and in the 1980s was incorporated into the Mercury Court office development. It has recently been converted into 21st century office space called ‘Exchange Station’. (Image: Alan Young)
Manchester Exchange Station was a railway station located in Salford, immediately to the north of Manchester city centre. It served the city between 1884 and 1969. The station was closed on 5 May 1969. (Image: National Railway Museum)

In 1890, his reputation growing, Walter made the move over the Pennines and into the practice of Mr Thomas Henry Jenkinson at 4 East Parade.

Jenkinson had been an architect in Sheffield for over forty years. He had been responsible for several buildings built in the city centre, taking advantage that Sheffield had been one of the last among the big towns to take in hand the improvement of its streets and their architecture.

Buck’s move to Sheffield proved advantageous. Jenkinson had become a partner at Frith Brothers and Jenkinson in 1862, which he continued until 1898, when he retired. He made Walter his chief assistant and allowed him to reorganise the business and control affairs for several years. During this period Walter carried out work on many commercial buildings and factories in Sheffield.

Initially, Walter boarded in lodgings at 307 Shoreham Street, close to the city centre. He married Louisa Moore Kittle in 1892 and, once his reputation had been established, was able to purchase his own house at 4 Ventnor Place in Nether Edge.

A letter from Walter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Nov 1905)

Perhaps Walter Buck’s greatest work also proved to be his most short-lived.

In May 1897, Queen Victoria made her last visit to Sheffield for the official opening of the Town Hall. It also coincided with the 60th year of her reign – Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Year.

The visit caused considerable excitement in Sheffield and preparations lasted for weeks. Shops and offices advertised rooms that commanded the best positions to see the Queen. Not surprisingly, these views were quickly occupied, but the closest view was promised in the Imperial Grandstand, specially designed for the occasion by Walter Gerard Buck.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee visit to Sheffield in May 1897. The central interest was the newly-built Town Hall where ‘the gilded gates stood closed until her majesty touched the golden key and they flew open’.

This spectacle was built next to the newly-erected Town Hall, opposite Mappin and Webb, on Norfolk Street (in modern terms this would be where the Peace Gardens start at the bottom-end of Cheney Walk across towards Browns brasserie and bar). It was advertised as ‘absolutely the best and most convenient in the city’, with a frontage of nearly 200 feet and ‘beautifully roofed in’. The stand, decorated in an artistic manner by Piggott Brothers and Co, provided hundreds of seats, the first three rows being carpeted with back rests attached to the back. In addition, the stand provided a lavatory, refreshment stalls and even a left luggage office. It was from here that the people of Sheffield saw Queen Victoria as the Royal procession passed within a few feet of the stand along Norfolk Street to Charles Street.

The next day the Imperial Grandstand was dismantled.

The professional relationship between Walter Buck and Thomas Jenkinson matured into a close friendship.

When Jenkinson died in 1900, he left the business to Walter and made him one of his executors. His son, Edward Gerard Buck, eventually joined the business which became known as Buck, Lusby and Buck, moving to larger premises at 34 Campo Lane.

In 1906, Walter was elected to the Council of the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and District Society of Architects and Surveyors and was elected President in 1930. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and a member of the council of that body.

Walter also became a member of the council of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Court of Governors of Sheffield University, a member and director of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club, a member of the Nether Edge Proprietary Bowling Club and vice-president of the Sheffield Rifle Club. It was this last role that he enjoyed best. Walter was a keen swimmer but his passion for rifle shooting kept him busy outside of work.

Apart from architectural work Walter held directorships with the Hepworth Iron Company and the Sheffield Brick Company. These astute positions allowed him to negotiate the best prices for the building materials needed to complete his projects.

A familiar site on Sheffield’s streets. The Sheffield Brick Company had brickyards situated at Neepsend, Grimesthorpe, Wincobank and Wadsley Bridge. Materials were used in many of the city’s buildings including Sheffield University, the Grand Hotel and the Town Hall. (Image: Sheffield History)

However, as the new century dawned, it was a role outside of architecture that occupied Walter’s time.

In 1892 the French Lumière brothers had devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. Their first show came to London in 1896 but the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park in 1889 by William Friese Greene. The ‘new’ technology of silent movies exploded over the next few years and by 1906 the first ‘electric theatres’ had started to open. In London, there were six new cinemas, increasing to 133 by 1909.

Not surprisingly, this new sensation rippled across Britain and Sheffield was no exception. This had been pioneered by the Sheffield Photo Company, run by the Mottershaw family, who displayed films in local halls. They also pioneered the popular ‘chase’ genre in 1903 which proved significant for the British film industry. The Central Hall, in Norfolk Street, was effectively Sheffield’s first cinema opening in 1905, but the films were always supported with ‘tried and tested’ music hall acts. Several theatres started experimenting with silent movies, but it was the opening of the Sheffield Picture Palace in 1910, on Union Street, that caused the most excitement. This was the first purpose built cinema and others were looking on with interest.

Walter Buck was one such person and saw the opportunity to increase business by designing these new purpose-built cinemas. One of his first commissions was for Lansdowne Pictures Ltd who had secured land on the corner of London Road and Boston Street. The Lansdowne Picture Palace opened in December 1914, built of brick with a marble terracotta façade in white and green, with a Chinese pagoda style entrance. It was a vast building seating 1,250 people. In the same year he designed the Western Picture Palace at Upperthorpe for the Western Picture Palace Ltd.

The Lansdowne Picture Palace was designed by architect Walter Gerard Buck of Campo Lane, Sheffield. It stands at the junction of London Road and Boston Street and opened on 18th December 1914.  In 1947 the cinema became a temporary store for Marks & Spencers. In the 1950’s it became a Mecca Dance Hall called the ‘Locarno’ later changing into ‘Tiffany’s Night Club’. It had several more reincarnations as a night club with different names and the frontage was painted black, its last name being ‘Bed’. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Weston Picture Palace, designed by Walter Gerard Buck in 1913-14. The cinema was on St Phillip’s Road and Mitchell Street and was demolished. (Image: Sheffield History)

With the knowledge required to build cinemas it was unsurprising that Walter Buck was asked to join several companies as a director. One of these was Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd which was formed in 1910 for ‘the purpose of erecting and equipping in the busiest and most thickly populated parts of the City of Sheffield and district picture theatres on up-to-date lines’. Its first cinema was the Electra Palace Theatre in Fitzalan Square with a seating capacity upwards of 700 with daily continuous shows. Their second cinema was the Cinema House built adjoining the Grand Hotel and adjacent to Beethoven House (belonging to A Wilson & Peck and Co) on Fargate, this part later becoming Barker’s Pool. This was a much grander cinema with a seating capacity of 1,000 together with luxuriously furnished lounge and refreshment, writing and club rooms.

Ironically, Walter Buck did not design either of these picture houses. Instead, they were conceived by John Harry Hickton and Harry E. Farmer from Birmingham and Walsall, but the bricks were supplied by the Sheffield Brick Company, that lucrative business where Walter was a director. It should not go unnoticed that this highly profitable company probably made Walter a wealthy man. It had already supplied bricks for the Grand Hotel, Sheffield University and the Town Hall.

Opened as the Electra Palace on 10th February 1911. It was designed by J.H. Hickton & Harry E. Farmer of Birmingham & Walsall. Constructed by George Longden & Son Ltd. (who built several Sheffield cinemas), the proprietors being Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. (Image: Sheffield History)
Opened in 1913, the Cinema House seated 800 and was one of the smaller city centre cinemas. Boasting a tea room, it had a narrow auditorium and patrons entered from the screen end of the hall. Being narrow, it’s Cinemascope image size was severely restricted. It closed in 1961 and was subsequently demolished. (Image: Cinema Treasures)

The cinema undertaking was not without risk and Cinema House, which opened six months before the start of World War One, always struggled to break even.

In 1920, far from building new cinemas right across the city, the company bought the Globe Picture House at Attercliffe. The following year they reported losses of £7,000 with Cinema House blamed for the poor performance.

At this stage, it is unclear as to what involvement Walter Buck had with Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres. He was also a director of Sunbeam Pictures Ltd, designing the Sunbeam Picture House at Fir Vale in 1922, and the Don Picture Palace at West Bar. He was most certainly a director of the Sheffield and District Cinematograph Company  by the late 1920s, and eventually became its chairman. In 1930, absurdly on hindsight, he was faced with a public backlash as the company made the transfer over to ‘talkie’ pictures.

“It was true that some people preferred the silent pictures, but the difficulty was that the Americans were producing very few silent films, or the directors might probably have kept some of the houses on silent films to see if they could hold their own with the talkie halls.”

Located on Attercliffe Common at the junction with Fell Road. The Globe Picture Hall was a venture of the Sheffield Picture Palace Co. Ltd. It opened on 10th February 1913 and was, at that time, one of the largest cinemas in Sheffield. The architects were Benton & Roberts. The owning company reformed on 21st March 1914 as the Sheffield & District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. and remained owners until closure on 29th June 1959. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
The Sunbeam Picture House was built on Barnsley Road at the junction of Skinnerthorpe Road in the Fir Vale district of Sheffield. The Sunbeam Picture House opened on Saturday 23rd December 1922. It was built set back from the road and was an imposing brick and stucco building, with a large embossed rising sun motif on the facade, set inside an ornamental parapet. A central entrance to the cinema was covered with a canopy. (Image: Sheffield History)
The Don Picture Palace opened on Monday 18th November 1912 with the films “Captain Starlight” and “Monarchs Of The Prairie”. The architect was Henry Patterson and it was situated in what was then one of the main entertainment areas of Sheffield with the old Grand Theatre of Varieties being close by. (Image: Sheffield History)

Walter Buck never retired but died at his home at 19, Montgomery Road, Nether Edge, aged 70, in September 1934. He left a widow, his second wife, Fanny Buck, and three sons – Edward Gerard Buck, William Gerard Buck, a poultry farmer, and Charles Gerard Buck, chartered accountant. Walter Gerard Buck was buried at Ecclesall Church.

It seems the only epitaph to Walter Buck is the Chinese pagoda style entrance of the Lansdowne Picture Palace. The auditorium was demolished to make way for student accommodation, but the frontage was retained for use as a Sainsbury’s ‘Local’ supermarket. Very little information exists about his other work in the city and further research is needed to determine which buildings he designed, and which remain. Any information would be most welcome.

All that remains of the former Lansdowne Picture Palace. The frontage and Chinese-style pagoda were retained for this Sainsbury’s Local supermarket, soon to become Budgens. (Image: Cinema Treasures)
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Buildings

Yorkshire Bank

This is one of the most imposing buildings in Sheffield city centre. The Yorkshire Bank building, in late-Gothic design, with five-storeys and a long curved Holmfirth stone front, stands at the top of Fargate, nudging around the corner into Surrey Street.

With it comes a long history and a few surprises as to its former use.

In the 1880s, when a plot became available at the side of the Montgomery Hall on (New) Surrey Street, the directors of the Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank bought the land to erect a new bank.

It turned to Leeds-based architects Henry Perkin and George Bertram Bulmer who were asked to create a brilliant show of Victorian entrepreneurship.

The corner stones were laid on 18 January 1888 by builders Armitage and Hodgson of Leeds and was completed in the summer of 1889.

The Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank occupied two floors – at ground level was the large banking hall, fitted out in polished wainscot oak with a mosaic-tiled floor, the basement contained the strong-room.

Lord Lascelles, the president of the bank, officially opened it on 25 July 1889.

The remainder of the building was used as a restaurant and first-class hotel, leased by Sheffield Café Company, formed in 1877 as part of a growing movement of temperance houses throughout the country. No drink allowed here.

The Albany Hotel opened in September 1889 with electric light throughout, a restaurant, billiard room, coffee and smoking rooms, private dining rooms as well as 40 bedrooms above.

By the 1920s, the Sheffield Café Company, with multiple cafes and restaurants across the city, was struggling financially and ceased trading in 1922.

Their assets were bought by Sheffield Refreshment Houses, which operated the hotel until the 1950s.

With grander hotels nearby and with dated facilities the Albany Hotel closed in 1958.

The Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank became Yorkshire Bank in 1959 and the old hotel was converted into offices – known as Yorkshire Bank Chambers – after 1965.

The interiors have long altered but the external appearance remains much the same, with carved winged lions, medieval figures, shields and gargoyles on the outside of the building. Gabled dormers, lofty chimneys and a crenelated parapet were sacrificed during the 1960s.

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Streets

Exchange Gateway

This is not the kind of street you might wander up after dark. Exchange Gateway, at the top of Fargate, is one of those forgotten parts of the city centre. Thousands pass its arched entrance every day, many of whom have never braved it up here. These days it acts as a service lane and fire escapes for properties backing onto Orchard Square and Fargate. Apart from its covered entrance there is little for the pedestrian to see. It is a dead end, and seemingly always has been, but its function has changed over the centuries.

At one time, this was a narrow street of multi-occupancy shops, houses, workshops and offices. A glance at an old directory shows that Exchange Gateway was home to small-scale tool manufacturers, cutlery producers, picture-framers and cabinet makers. This was also where the Sheffield Free Press newspaper was located, founded in 1850 – “a new impartial unsectarian journal” – but ending publication seven years later.

An 1867 newspaper tells us that “the buildings are old, four-storeys high of long range, and a considerable quantity of wood in their completion.” A fire had consumed the premises of Hobson and Wilson, brass-casters, and threatened to destroy the whole block. This was just one of many serious fires that occurred here, and no doubt contributed to its altered appearance.

For years, the street was unadopted by the council, its road surface out of character with the nearby thoroughfares. Its secluded location meant it was a haven for thieves, robbing people as they walked at night, and regularly breaking into properties. Its usefulness increased in the 1860s when the Cutler’s Hall, on Church Street, built a large extension at the rear, its approach being from Exchange Gateway.

The footprint of the street is virtually unaltered, but the greatest makeover was in the 1980s when Orchard Square shopping precinct was built, clearing old properties and replacing them with shops whose service doors lead out into Exchange Gateway. Nowadays the street is still out of sorts with its surroundings, a favourite for the homeless, drug-users and a sleeping place for the odd drunk.

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Buildings

Davy’s Fargate

The next time you pop into WH Smith on Fargate, cast your eyes towards the third floor. High above you might just be able to make out the carved heads of a sheep, cow, pig and ox, all clues as to the former use for this building.

For generations, this has been WH Smith, but its history goes back to 1881-1882, designed by Sheffield architect John Dodsley Webster for Alfred Davy, provisions merchant. This was arguably the flagship store for Davy, renowned for his sausages, hams, potted meats and pork pies.

Alfred Davy (1838-1902) was the son of James Smith Davy, a well-known member of the Society of Friends, who had a shop in the fruit market, now Fitzalan Square. Educated at Ackworth, he opened a provisions shop on Castle Street about 1867, subsequently opening other shops at Broomhall and Rotherham High Street.

Davy was alert, enterprising and good-hearted. He was described as upright and straightforward in his trading, having a good word for everyone, and never taking advantage of humbler competitors.

Like many contemporaries, he was a Churchman, sometime warden of St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, and was largely responsible for the formation of the Sheffield branch for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. His chief recreation was chess and became a prominent member of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club.

In the early 1880s, Davy found that the Castle Street branch had grown beyond all bounds, and there being no further room for expansion, found it necessary to secure additional accommodation.

His opportunity came when the west side of Fargate was being redeveloped as part of an improvement scheme. Alfred Davy bought Nos. 38 and 40, as well as premises at the rear, employing J.D. Webster to build his fourth shop.

We’ve seen before that the Victorians were shrewd businessmen when it came to property. Above the shop he asked Webster to create a suite of offices on the first and second floors, known as Exchange Chambers, suitable for renting, and accessed by a spacious Serpentine staircase. (In later years, the shop expanded upstairs, utilising the first floor as the Victoria Café).

When the store opened in December 1882 it was designated as one of the “ornaments of Fargate.” The business claimed to sell seven tons of sausages and poloney every week, inspiring Davy to place one of three Williams ‘Perfect Silent’ Meat Cutting Machines in the window. From here, customers were able to see the machine in action, capable of mincing and mixing 3cwt of meat each hour.

In the days before supermarkets, Davy’s was where all respectable citizens bought their food. He boasted selling 2-3 tons of Danish, Normandy and French butter every week, British and Continental cheeses, Wiltshire, Cumberland and Derbyshire bacon, as well as Irish, American and Canadian Hams. He was also a purveyor of tinned fish and meat, pure leaf lard and appears to have cornered the market with Scotch oatmeal.

A newspaper at the time raved that Davy had adopted electric lighting, then in its infancy, and installed by Tasker and Son. “The steadiness and brilliance of these little lamps in Mr Davy’s shop are like a new revelation, and show what rapid strides are being made in the application of electricity for illumination.”

In 1887, Alfred Davy opened a large factory in Paternoster Row, used to produce meat and baking products, and which later doubled-up as its Head Office.

Alfred Davy built a house called Hill Crest on Ranmoor Cliffe Road, originally called Upper Ranmoor Road, and it was here that he died of nerve paralysis in 1902.

His sons, Arthur Cedric Davy (died 1935) and Ernest Richard Davy (died 1951) took over running of the business and masterminded the company’s rapid expansion. By 1924, Davy’s had 16 shops and two cafes in Sheffield, but the business soon expanded across the north.

The Davy family sold the business to Associated British Foods in 1958, disposing of it completely in 1974, although some branches were retained as Sunblest shops.

Afterwards, the store was bought by WH Smith which has remained ever since. However, in recent years it temporarily relocated to allow for repairs on the old Victorian roof that had started to collapse. The store was refurbished and reopened earlier this year.

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Streets

Pepper Alley

I bet most of you have never heard of the delightfully named Pepper Alley. This was once a thoroughfare passing from Fargate to Norfolk Street, quite close to the surviving Upper Chapel.

Its existence is shown on this map, taken from “A Correct Plan of the Town of Sheffield, in the County of York, drawn by William Fairbanks, 1771.”

You’ll notice that Norfolk Row, pictured, doesn’t appear on the map at all, only coming into existence about nine years later. However, Chapel Walk is shown.

A little bit of Pepper Alley (Pepper is a local surname) can still be seen today, leading into Upper Chapel Yard, behind the shops which form part of the former YMCA property, now named Carmel House, at the corner with Fargate.

If you study the map you’ll see that the Town Hall stood by the Church Gates (now the Cathedral), at the junction of High Street and Church Lane (now Church Street).

Other names to look for are Bullstake (now Haymarket), Pudding Lane (King Street), Castle Green Head (Castle Street), Irish Cross (Queen Street), and Pinstone Croft Lane (Pinstone Street)

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Companies

Cole Brothers

Our younger readers might not be acquainted with Cole Brothers, but for generations this name was recognisable across Sheffield.

Better known now as John Lewis, the beginning of this department store goes back to 1847, when John Cole, silk mercer and hosier, opened a shop at No.4 Fargate. He was later joined by his brothers, Thomas and Skelton Cole.

The shop expanded along Fargate and around the corner into Church Street, the main block rebuilt in 1869 with two extra storeys added. Later, the premises of Thomas Watson and Sons, grocers, were procured, and the bookshop occupied by Thomas Widdison was added in 1892.

To accommodate its growing business, works and stables were acquired at Pinfold Street in 1861, later enlarged by the addition of the old Canterbury Music Hall in 1889.

Skelton Cole died in 1896, John Cole two years after in 1898, the same year that Cole Brothers became a limited company.

The Pinfold Street works were soon inadequate and subsequently sold, with new premises on Norfolk Street bought from Harrison Brothers and Howson in 1901.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two Cole sons – Thomas and Thomas Skelton – were in charge, leading the store through a period of change.

In 1909, the first women were employed in the shop and offices, its first motor delivery van was obtained in 1911, and the first cash registers were installed during 1916.

The Cole family were fervent Methodists and instilled disciplines within the business. Up to World War One, it was daily practice for staff to say prayers before trading began, but change was about to come.

‘The London shop invasion begins,’ said one Sheffield newspaper when it was announced that Cole Brothers had been sold to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the exalted storeowner, in October 1919.

The glitzy American, immortalised recently by ITV’s Mr Selfridge, had already acquired a dozen department stores across Britain, including shops in Liverpool, Leeds, Watford, St. Albans, Peterborough and Windsor.

The addition of Cole Brothers to Selfridge Provincial Stores was a surprise, and one that promised to bring the department store new riches. The London house had been modelled on American lines and was described as supplying anything, from a needle to a haystack.

Thomas Cole and Thomas Skelton Cole retired from the business, but the family retained an interest with the appointment of Arthur U. Cole and Maurice Cole as directors.

Almost immediately, the shop premises were extended and restructured, Harry Gordon Selfridge’s drama and flair embraced by his son, Harry Gordon Selfridge Jr, the man tasked to manage the provincial stores.

Newspaper advertisements were lavish, publicising Cole Brothers as ‘One of the Selfridge stores,’ and consequently increasing sales.

The golden age of Cole Brothers lasted until 1940, when war and loss of family control over Selfridges, caused Harry Gordon Selfridge Jr, to return to the United States. The Selfridge Provincial Stores were sold to the John Lewis Partnership, which rather abruptly found itself 15 stores better off overnight.

While many Sheffield department stores suffered during the Sheffield Blitz, Cole Brothers survived unscathed, remaining at Fargate and Church Street until the 1960s when it was announced that it was moving to a new shop as its old premises were outdated.

A site was bought from Sheffield Corporation at Barker’s Pool, once occupied by the Albert Hall until destroyed by fire in 1937, and at one time earmarked as new law courts.

Designed by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall, the white-tiled building was opened on 17 December 1963. Spread across five floors, the new Cole Brothers store contained sixty departments, with access to each level from a multi-ramp carpark, accommodating 400 cars.

In 1974, offices were moved into Barker’s Pool House, later connected by a landmark bridge, and a warehouse was opened at Tinsley. The store also moved its sport and toy departments to a site in Cambridge Street in 1977-1978.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a decline in Cole Brothers fortunes, not helped by the opening of Meadowhall, but a refurbishment and ensuing rebrand to John Lewis reversed its fortunes.

Alas, retail is suffering now, with department stores particularly hurting, and despite reassurances there is an air of uncertainty over John Lewis’ future in Sheffield city centre.

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Companies People

Cole Brothers

It was August 1930, Cole Brothers at the corner of Fargate and Church Street, had been part of Selfridge Provincial Stores (owned by Harry Gordon Selfridge) for ten years.

There was excitement with news that Miss Amy Johnson’s aeroplane, a Gypsy Moth called ‘Johnnie’, was travelling overnight by lorry to go on display in Cole Brothers shop window.

The plane had been presented to her in Hyde Park, London, by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation, and was a replica of the ‘Jason’ machine in which Amy Johnson had made her epoch-making flight to Australia. She intended to use the aeroplane for pleasure flying.

It had been funded by the Daily Sketch, with the help of readers of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, and had been on view at Selfridges in London.

‘Johnnie’ was displayed at Cole Brothers for one week, creating enjoyment for the huge crowds that gathered in front of the store.

But there had already been an Amy Johnson connection with Sheffield.

She graduated from Sheffield University in 1925 having studied Latin, French and Economics. She then became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia after buying a single engine De Havilland Gypsy Moth aircraft naming it ‘Jason’.

Amy Johnson died in 1941 after a plane she was flying crashed into the Thames Estuary.

Categories
Buildings

No. 14 Fargate

Sheffield is full of surprises. But if you don’t look up then you’ll miss them.

The next time you walk down Fargate, look at the versatility of buildings that were erected during the 1870s. No. 14, Fargate, now occupied by Office, has a narrow-gabled stone front that reflects the width of the plots preserved from much earlier development.

During the 1870s, Fargate was widened, necessitating the demolition of certain properties and rebuilding them further back.

No. 14 Fargate had been occupied by Thomas Widdison, a bookseller, printer and stationer, and in 1879 he temporarily relocated to No. 37 Fargate while his premises were rebuilt.

Thomas Widdison came to Sheffield as a boy and remained all his life. He opened his bookshop on Fargate in 1868, “a business of a high-class description, and all the best book-loving population knew the place and Mr Widdison well.”

A newspaper advertisement from 1889 describes Thomas Widdison as a seller of books, fancy stationary, bibles, prayer books, hymn books, photographic albums and leather goods.

Remarkably, customers were also able to order Flockton Wallsend Coal, “the celebrated drawing-room coal” at 12 shillings per ton.

Thomas was assisted by his wife, also his son, Charles D. Widdison, and continued until 1900, when failing health compelled him to retire from continuous work, afterwards becoming a manager at Boots the Chemist on High Street. He died of paralysis in November 1910.

His premises were swallowed up by Cole Brothers next door, a department store that had opened in 1847, and which had slowly extended its business along Fargate and Church Street (and immortalised as Coles Corner).

Cole Brothers remained until the 1960s before moving to new premises in Barker’s Pool, now John Lewis.

No. 14 Fargate remains as the only surviving reminder of the old Cole Brothers building.

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Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (3)

Our final instalment about hidden tunnels underneath Sheffield takes us to 1936, when Frank H. Brindley investigated a tunnel found by workmen underneath the offices of the Telegraph and Star newspaper at Hartshead.

Brindley explored the opening using two skilled masons. The floor was described as well-worn as from long usage, and bone dry, without any trace of rubbish.

“The tunnel was cut from solid rock, about six foot in height and five to six feet wide. Its first direction was east, taking a line towards Castle Hill.
“It turned slightly south and then resumed its eastern direction, and when 50 foot from the entrance hall, we found the first trace of others having found this mystery tunnel before.

“On one of the rock walls were the following letters ‘I.W. 1830’ then just below ‘B.R.’, a dash and then ‘T.W.W.B.'”

Exploring further, they passed beyond High Street and after rounding several bends found the tunnel ended abruptly at a brick wall, probably the foundations of a building in King Street.

If the wall hadn’t been built, they would have been able to walk underneath the buildings of King Street and entered what was once Sheffield Castle at a point where the markets were then situated.

Pictures and an interview were published in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star in 1936, providing clear proof of their existence.

Brindley concluded that this was the missing tunnel from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), and was undoubtedly the one that had been uncovered in 1896, when Cockayne’s were excavating for a new store on Angel Street, which had then been dismissed as a sewer.

Mr Brindley was in the headlines again at the start of World War Two, when he placed details of underground passageways at the disposal of Sheffield’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) authorities.

He explained that over the years, tunnels had repeatedly been found cut in the sandstone. Some appeared to have been old colliery workings, but many couldn’t be explained, while many appeared to radiate from the site of Sheffield Castle and were probably connected to mansions in the neighbourhood.

Brindley also shed further light on the 80ft shaft he’d found at Hartshead, that headed towards High Street.

The shaft had led to another tunnel running under Fargate, towards Norfolk Row. Unfortunately, explorations had come to an end when one of the investigating party was overcome by fumes only 50ft from the bottom of the shaft.

This time, Mr Brindley elaborated that the tunnel was part of a network that also connected Sheffield Castle with Manor Lodge.

It’s hard to believe now, but the hillside in Pond Street was said to be honeycombed with coal workings, but Brindley claimed that there were two other “mystery” tunnels found.

One section running from a cellar at the Old Queen’s Head Hotel, he said, was found when Pond Street Bus Station was being built during the 1930s, and the other was found near the top of Seymour Street (wherever that might have been). Beginning in an old cellar it ran beneath the site of the Royal Theatre, towards the Town Hall, where it was lost.

As far as I am aware, this was the last occasion that these tunnels were explored, probably sealed up but still hidden underneath the city centre.

We’ll end these posts as we began by saying that – “One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets.”