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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.

Categories
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.”

Categories
Buildings Streets

Fargate

The long-term plan for Fargate is to address the decline of retail and focus on leisure instead.

The regeneration of The Moor as a retail destination and the future development of Heart of the City II, which on completion will consolidate the retail core to the south of Fargate, has prompted Sheffield City Council to bid for up to £25million of government funding to improve the pedestrianised street.

It comes as no surprise then that the council has granted planning permission for the conversion of the old Next building at the corner of Norfolk Row.

Woodhead Investments’ proposal for a dining venue, along with a roof terrace fronting Norfolk Row, was accepted by the council, seen as regenerating the area.

Next relocated to The Moor in August, and the empty store was used as a pop-up Christmas shop during November and December.

The unit will be renovated to designs by Pearce Bottomley Architects, using new glazed panels and stone cladding, with a minimalist clock placed at the front of the building.

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Companies

Top Shop

It appears that Topshop in Sheffield has come the full circle.

The news that Topshop and Topman is closing on Fargate could end a long-time association with Sheffield city centre. According to a recently submitted planning application, Nos. 33-35 Fargate, look to be falling into Superdrug hands.

The irony is that Topshop was founded in Sheffield in 1964, a brand extension of the Peter Robinson department store, then situated at the corner of Castle Square (now occupied by easyHotel).

Peter Robinson was a women’s fashion chain, founded in 1873, that had become part of Burton’s in 1946.

It opened as Peter Robinson’s Top Shop, a youth brand, selling fashion by young British designers such as Polly Peck, Mary Quant, Gerald McCann, Mark Russell and Stirling Cooper.

The Top Shop name was later used for a large standalone store on Oxford Street, London, and expanded into further Peter Robinson branches at Ealing, Norwich and Bristol.

It wasn’t until 1973 that Top Shop was split from Peter Robinson, focusing on the 13-24 age groups, leaving the department store to concentrate on the over 25s.

The Top Shop (later Topshop) brand flourished, subsequently becoming part of Phillip Green’s Arcadia Group, with 500 shops worldwide, of which 300 were in the UK.

Alas, by the end of the 1970s, the Peter Robinson name had all but disappeared.

In Sheffield, C&A had absorbed the former Peter Robinson shop, and when it pulled out of the UK, the unit transferred to Primark.

However, as we well know, times have been difficult for Phillip Green. Last year, the Arcadia Group went through a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with a significant number of stores closing.