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Buildings

St. John’s Buildings

Sheffield Medical School (1888) by J. D. Webster. Northern Renaissance-style. The Institution was the third provincial medical school and could accommodate a hundred students. (DJP/2021)

Here’s a building on Leopold Street with a thought-provoking history. St. John’s Buildings are now used as barristers’ chambers, the interior changed from its former use as the Bank of Scotland. However, a stone inscription (Ars Longa Vita Brevis) above the main entrance provides a clue to its original use.

Somewhere within, lies a foundation stone, and within its cavity is a bottle, a time capsule, containing Sheffield’s morning papers from June 1887, a conjoint prospectus for 1886-1887 for Firth College, Technical School, and School of Medicine, an old photograph, and a parchment engrossed as follows : –

“The Sheffield School of Medicine was built in 1828, at the corner of Surrey Street and Arundel Street, the foundation stone having been laid by Sir A.J. Knight in July 1828. The building having become inadequate to the requirements of the day in 1883, a proposal was made to amalgamate with or become a department of Firth College, the councils of the school and Firth College having met and fully considered points of co-operation, unanimously agreed that the union was likely to be advantageous to both, but before complete incorporation took place a new medical school was necessary.”

The new medical school was this building, the foundation stone laid by Dr Mariano Alejo Martin de Bartolomé, using a specially inscribed silver trowel.

I declare this stone duly laid in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. From this humble structure may we raise up a structure perfect in all its parts, and creditable to the builders.

“It will, in the course of time, grow as an oak did from the acorn, that it will spread its beneficial shadow over the whole of the town and neighbourhood, and communicate the blessings of true medica and surgical practice.”

Designed by architect John Dodsley Webster and built by W. and A. Forsdyke, of St. Mary’s Road, it was opened with an extravagant soiree, including a special address from Sir Andrew Clark, President of the Royal College of Physicians, in September 1888.

The sum required to build the school was £6,000, of which about £3,000 was raised before an appeal was made to the public. “We venture to ask the help of the people of Sheffield, on the ground that school of medicine is an advantage to them; because it stimulates the members of the medical profession to keep pace with the rapid progress of medicine and surgery.” (DJP/2021)

A site had originally been purchased from the Corporation in Pinfold Street; but at the request of the medical council the Corporation agreed to exchange the land for a plot in Leopold Street, opposite Firth College. The area contained about 550 yards and the price was £5 a yard. There was a frontage of about 50ft on Leopold Street, the main elevation being entirely of stone, and the treatment a sort of classic free renaissance, which caused the building to harmonise well with the surrounding property.

On the ground floor towards Leopold Street was a faculty room and library, a lecturers’ room, with porter’s room, lavatory, main staircase, and entrance hall. Also, on this floor, running towards Orchard Street, was an injection room and lumber room. A hoist connected the ground floor with the first floor.

On the first floor were two classrooms and at the back was a museum. The medical theatre was on the second floor, with circular seats in tiers, alongside a practical physiology and a dissecting room.

The School of Medicine was short-lived here, its entwined relationship with Firth College, and the Technical School, leading them to form University College, Sheffield, in 1897, and the eventual creation of the University of Sheffield in 1905, with the medical school moving to a new building at Western Bank (now Firth Court). In 1973, it moved again, and can still be found on Beech Hill Road.

After the school vacated, the building has been in almost continuous use. It will be recognised by those of a certain age as Sheffield Education Committee’s Central School Clinic, afterwards as a bank, and now St. John’s Buildings.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

Leopold Street

Work in progress. The pedestrianisation of Leopold Street (above), Pinstone Street, and Surrey Street, will create a traffic-free Town Hall Square. (DJP/2021)

Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.

As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873.  Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.

Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.

A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square

By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.

Aerial view of Leopold Street. The Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square are centre. Before 1880, the main route between Church Street and Fargate was along narrow Orchard Street, to the left, which curved at its junction with Orchard Lane (where the mini-roundabout is today). The top-end of Orchard Street (near to Fargate) was absorbed into Leopold Street. (Google)

The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.

The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”

It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.

A street sign on the wall of what was once Firth College, at its junction with West Street, and now part of the Leopold Hotel. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.