Categories
Buildings

Old County Court: “A considerable amount of money was spent, and I think not wisely.”

Old County Court, Bank Street, Sheffield. Many people have now forgotten what it was originally used for. Photograph: Crosthwaite Commercial.

To Bank Street, and a forgotten Grade II listed building, that was almost lost before it had even been completed.

This is the Old County Court, built in 1854, to replace court sessions that had previously been held at the Old Town Hall on Castle Street.

It was designed by Charles Reeves (1815-1866), an architect and surveyor to the Metropolitan Police from 1843, and from 1847 architect to the County Courts in England and Wales, designing 64 new courts across the country.

County Courts, as now, dealt with civil cases, including those about personal debt. They were not there to decide whether someone was ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty, did not issue fines, and neither did it imprison anyone in debt.

Work started on the new County Court in early 1854 and was due to be completed by October. However, one night in September, just as it was nearing completion, a serious fire broke out.

A young man called Henry Bradshaw noticed smoke coming out of one of the windows and climbed over the builders’ hoardings to investigate.

In one of the back offices, he found wood shavings on fire in several places. He tried to stamp the fires out but scorched his feet. The fire spread to stacks of wooden floorboards and Bradshaw was forced to raise the alarm at the offices of the Sheffield and North of England Insurance Companies.

The fire engines arrived within five minutes, but until a supply of water could be obtained from the main, the small engines were worked with water brought in buckets from adjoining houses.

The fire quickly spread, and the back suite of rooms became one mass of blaze.

Floorboards on the upper rooms had not been laid and this hampered efforts to fight the fire, with several firemen injured by falling between joists. The heat became so intense that roof lead melted, and with no floor intervening, it fell onto firemen below who were severely burned.

However, the blaze was prevented from reaching the front of the building, but the whole of the woodwork of the back rooms and the roof of that portion were destroyed.

It was suspected that a group of boys had broken into the building, setting fire to wood shavings by lighting matches.

The damage amounted to between £300 and £400 (about £35K-£45K today)- the cost falling on the contractor, Miles Barber, who was not insured. (Barber was later responsible for the widening of Lady’s Bridge in 1866).

The opening was delayed until 1855 and the property rebuilt.

The last County Court sitting at the Old Town Hall was on 12 July 1855 and the first session in the new building, presided by Judge Walker, was on the 18 July.

The building was in Italian style, with two entrances in Bank Street – one a private entrance for the judge, etc, and the other entrance for the public.

On the ground floor were offices for the high bailiff and clerks’ rooms for the entering of plaints and the payment of money, and a strong room for storing books and records, fitted with slate shelves, and iron fireproof doors with Chubb patent locks.

On the basement floor were water closets, etc, and four rooms for the office keeper.

The court room was on the second storey (revolutionary for its time) – 43ft long by 27 wide, and 22 feet high. On the same floor was a private room for the Judge, barristers and attorneys’ consultation room, jury room, and a large entrance hall or waiting room for parties attending the court.

The former main courtroom. Photograph: Crosthwaite Commercial.

While Sheffielders considered this a ‘fine’ building, it seems not to have been popular with those who worked there.

In 1901, Judge Waddy K.C. criticised the acoustic properties of the County Court. “The building was erected under exceptional circumstances, which I do not want to go into because the people are dead; but the result of it is, that a very considerable amount of money was spent, and I think not wisely.”

When it was built, Bank Street had been a quiet street, but by now had become a regular thoroughfare, so full of noise and disturbance, that it was impossible sometimes for them to get on with their work.

The stench from the main court by the middle of the day was said to be “perfectly shocking,” while the sanitary arrangements were “not fit to be used by considerable bodies of people.”

Poor acoustics were also mentioned in 1923 when Judge Lias and officials complained of difficulty in hearing evidence and suggested that the front of the Judge’s desk should be lowered.

Alterations to the court were eventually completed, including an annexe at the rear, and it functioned as the County Court until 1996 when it moved to new Law Courts at West Bar. The building was sold, and its interiors converted into offices, the configuration altered, but the stone cantilevered staircase survived.

When the building was put up for sale it had been used as office space. Photographs: Crosthwaite Commercial.

It was acquired by One Heritage Group in January 2021 for conversion into 22 one- and two-bedroom single storey and duplex apartments that will be split over four floors. The developer says these are carefully designed to showcase the building’s inherent Grade II listed features such as high ceilings, deep skirtings, and original architraves. Planning permission was granted in August 2021.

Proposed restorations and new apartments at the Old County Court. Photographs: One Heritage Group.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Central Fire Station

The former Central Fire Station, on Division Street, photographed in 2017. (Budby/Flickr)

This is Bungalows and Bears, on Division Street, a popular bar with students, but you might not be aware that in 2028 the building will celebrate its centenary. In Pevsner’s Architectural Guide to Sheffield, Harman and Minnis describe it as ‘bloodless, Neo-Georgian,’ typical of inter-war building. Sadly, it’s not looking its best these days.

This was the former Fire Brigade Headquarters, built in 1928 at a cost of £39,000, and opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman H. Bolton in July 1929.

It would be interesting to know how much remains of its interior since its conversion to flats and ground-floor bar in the 1990s.  

Finishing touches to Sheffield’s new fire station in July 1929. Painters can be seen in rather precarious positions. (The British Newspaper Archive)

The fire station was designed by the City Architect, W.G. Davies, and was intended as an extension to an adjacent station on Rockingham Street (1883-1884). A row of shops fronting Division Street from Rockingham Street to Rockingham Lane was purchased and demolished.

The new Division Street frontage was 155ft long, of which 60ft was occupied by the engine room, with accommodation for 10 engines. Inside, the engine room had white-tiled walls, tastefully picked out in blue, a floor of terrayo, and huge teak doors that opened onto the road.

Adjoining the engine room was the ‘watch room’ – a private telephone exchange and switchboard, with automatic fire bells for calling out the firemen.

On each side of the buildings were stairways and sliding poles of stainless steel fitted on each floor, enabling the men to reach the engine room from the first and second floor firemen’s quarters. There was a children’s playground at the rear of the first floor, while the third floor housed a recreation hall, gymnasium, and more firemen’s quarters.

Electric clocks were fitted throughout, as well as a lighting system controlled by the watch room that ensured that when an alarm sounded emergency lights were switched on automatically.

Outside the engine house, in Division Street, two solid bronze flamboyant torch-fitting electric lamps were fitted, each consisting of three torch-shaped, red-tinted electric lamps.

At the back was a courtyard with a 70ft high brick tower used for drill purposes with Pompier and hook ladders.

The building work was undertaken by Messrs. Abbott and Bannister, Ltd., general builders, and public works contractors, of Machon Bank, using Stairfoot Double Pressed Red Facing bricks, and stone supplied by Joseph Turner of Middlewood Quarries. A green Westmorland slate roof was installed by W.W. Fawcett of Hale Street.

The next time you go past, have a look for five different carvings on the building. They include the Sheffield Coat of Arms and representations of four of the old Fire Marks, all executed by Frank Tory and Sons, architectural sculptors, of Ecclesall Road.

The fire station survived until 1983 when a replacement building was opened on Wellington Street, subsequently demolished in 2010, with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue moving to its current Eyre Street headquarters. Now used as a car park, the Wellington Street site is earmarked to become Pound’s Park, named after Sheffield’s first Fire Superintendent.

Central Fire Station in operational use in 1974. The engine house could house ten fire engines, but by the 1970s only four were housed here. (Picture Sheffield)
The former fire station now requires some restorative work. The upper floors are flats and the old engine house is used as a bar. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People Places Streets

Pound’s Park: a belated tribute to a fire chief

Pound’s Park, named after the man responsible for creating Sheffield’s first fire brigade. The former John Lewis store is seen at bottom-left. Cambridge Street is already being developed as a cultural centre. (Sheffield City Council)

The Heart of the City II programme moves forward, and this artist impression shows Pound’s Park, a new public space that will be created on the site of the demolished Wellington Street fire station.

It will be on the western side of the Heart of the City masterplan, located between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street, and will create another green space in the city centre, as well as creating children’s’ play areas, water features, and a new bus interchange.

The Park will also provide an accessible new home for the William Mitchell frieze, which was removed from Barker’s Pool House a few months ago in preparation for the construction of the new Radisson Blu hotel on Pinstone Street.

A lot has been written about Pound’s Park, but I’d like to focus on the man it is named after.

John Charles Pound (1834 -1918) was the city’s first Fire Superintendent, and responsible for laying the foundations of our modern fire service.

He was born at Sittingbourne in Kent and served for eight years  in the Navy and Mercantile Marine Service, and as a man-of-war took part in operations in the Crimea.

Leaving the sea, he joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in its earliest days. He was engaged at the memorable Tooley Street fire in 1861, where his chief, Captain Braidwood, was killed by a falling wall just minutes after Pound had been talking to him. (It was referred to as ‘the greatest fire since the Great Fire of London,’ and occurred at Cotton Wharf where many warehouses were situated. It attracted a crowd of more than 30,000 spectators).

“This was in the early days of fire brigade work, and long before the extinguishing of fires had been the object of practical and scientific studies. The Metropolitan firemen learnt engineering by travelling on locomotives and receiving instruction from engine drivers. The scheme had been adopted by Captain Braidwood, and John Pound was one of those who familiarised himself in engineering. When proficient he was appointed to a responsible position on one of the brigade’s river floats.”

He applied for a position at Nottingham and was appointed as engineer of the first steam fire engine, staying two years before coming to Sheffield in 1869 to form the Corporation’s first fire brigade. The decision of the Corporation to take over and run the Fire Brigade was brought to a head by a series of large fires between 1865 and 1869.

John Charles Pound (1834-1918). Sheffield Fire Superintendent between 1869 and 1895. (Picture Sheffield)

Pound established the fire brigade over 26 years, with trained firemen, and the introduction of the best firefighting appliances. His biggest fires included Portland Street Confectionery Works (George Bassett and Co) and at G. H. Hovey and Sons (drapers and house furnishers) in Angel Street in the winter of 1893 in which six large shops were destroyed.

Superintendent Pound was injured at the Park Club fire, on Bernard Street, in February 1895 when he fell against a kerbstone whilst handling a jet. His injuries were at first thought to be bruising of the ribs, but later he suffered difficulty in breathing. He retired from the Fire Brigade shortly afterwards.

“He may now begin to feel the need of rest and relief from being in a state of incessant preparedness, and the Micawbian attitude of ‘waiting for something to turn up,’ and the good wishes of the citizens will follow him in retirement.”

John Charles Pound died from influenza at his home on Tullibardine Road in 1918. His coffin was shrouded in the Union Jack and conveyed on a horse-drawn fire brigade tender, with Indian Mutiny veterans, firemen and police taking part in the cortege. He was buried at Sheffield General Cemetery.

A fitting tribute that Sheffield’s first fire officer should be honoured with a park, and on the site of a former fire station.

Pound’s Park will be the latest addition to Sheffield City Council’s plans to create green spaces in the city centre. (Sheffield City Council)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.