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Channing Hall – “The finest small auditorium in Yorkshire.”

Channing Hall, Surrey Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

It was the summer of 1881, and there were a lot of people in Sheffield town centre. They had come to watch Miss Margaret Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, lay the foundation stone of a new Unitarian Memorial Hall on newly constructed Surrey Street.

Margaret Jessop was the fourth daughter of Thomas Jessop (1804-1887), steelmaker, Mayor, and Master Cutler, and founder of the Jessop Hospital for Women.

She deputised for her sick father and laid the corner stone with a handsome silver trowel with ivory handle, upon which was the inscription – “Presented to Miss Jessop, of Endcliffe Grange, Sheffield, on the occasion of her laying the corner stone of a Congregational Hall in connection with the Upper Chapel, June 14, 1881.”

The stone also bore an inscription, and in the cavity underneath a bottle was deposited, which contained a parchment setting forth the purposes for which the hall was erected, and the names of the minister, trustees, secretary, architects, clerk of the works, and contractors. Having laid the mortar, she gave the stone a couple of taps with the mallet and declared it well and truly laid.

The hall was completed the following year and called Channing Hall, a name we are familiar with today.  

Channing Hall sits below a row of commercial properties owned and leased by the chapel. Image: DJP/2022
Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. It is connected by a corridor to Channing Hall. Image: DJP/2022

Channing Hall had been commissioned by the Trustees of the Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street and was named after William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the father of American Unitarianism.

At the time, Rev. Eli Fay said: –

“The trustees some years ago commenced to consider their need of a hall for the promotion of the social life of the congregation, and to enable the Sunday school to realise more fully its own ideals. They did not expect from the trustees anything poor and cheap, but he did not expect that they had given them what had been declared to be the finest small auditorium in Yorkshire, and probably the finest in the north of England.”

The building of Channing Hall and the four shops underneath cost £4200, a new caretaker’s house at the rear £460, the division of the old schoolrooms into classrooms £225, and the total cost, together with the site, was about £7000.

Years earlier, the Chapel had bought property on Pepper Alley (near Norfolk Row) as well as building a Minister’s house on land behind. In the 1880s, Sheffield Corporation had sights on the land these stood on, and gave the trustees £3,870 for it, as well as two pieces of land, one of which was used to build the new hall.

After great difficulty, the Chapel also obtained permission from the Court of Chancery to borrow £714 for themselves. But the rest of the money should have come from subscriptions but raised only £1280 from some 35 or 40 persons. It left the Trustees with a deficit and took years for the debt to be cleared.

The architects were Flockton and Gibbs, the style like that of the old chapel – Italian renaissance – only of a more ornate character.

It was 60ft in length, two storeys in height, with six pilasters on each story, the lower being of an Ionic and the upper an Italian treatment of the Corinthian order, surmounted with a bold cornice and balustrade. The space between the pilasters on the lower story was filled with five arches – the entrance being in the centre arch – and those on the upper story were filled with windows, three of which were arched, and sub-divided with more arches.

The walls of the interior, including entrance and staircase passage, were built of coloured glaze brick, the pilasters being of Indian red colour, the surbase of green and brown, panels of cream colour, and borders of white and French grey.

From the impressive winding staircase hall were doors giving access to the chapel, old schools, chapel-keeper’s house, committee room, and congregational hall. The latter, which was the chief part of the building, was considered a work of beauty.

The congregational is approached by a winding staircase, at the top of which is an hexagonal stair hall, 16ft in diameter, and which is built with brick walls similar to those used in the construction of the entrance passage. Image: DJP/2022
The Victorian contractors were: – Chambers and Sons, masons and joiners; J.E. Elliott, plumber; Marshall Watson, and Moorwood, iron founders; A. Berrisford, plasterer; Staniforth and Lee, slaters; R.R. Gibbs, heating apparatus. Image: DJP/2022

The roof had partly open timbers, and the caps and bases of the pilasters were of the Italian Corinthian order. This was used as a Sunday school as well as a congregational room, and the seating accommodation was for 350 to 400 persons.

The walls were glazed bricks, with surbase of browns and greens, pilasters of Indian red and cream-coloured panels, and with white and French grey. The caps and bases of the pilasters were cement, and of the Italian Corinthian design.

Hollis Hall, at Harvard University, is thought to contain a photograph of Channing Hall. Sent by Upper Chapel in 1936. Image: DJP/2022
The roof is partly open timbered, the ceiling being of panelled Memel wood, the panels coloured in a light blue and relieved with stencilled patterns in white. Image: DJP/2022

Around the room, at right angles with the beautiful caps surmounting the pilasters, was an inscription which stated that the hall had been erected “for educational and social purposes, and for the same religious aims with which the chapel was founded in the year 1700, and on the same broad basis of a free and open trust.”

The wooden floor was 4½ inches thick, laid on concrete, with the joints filled with white lead, with a slight fall to the sides; the object of this to enable the floor to be washed with a hose pipe.

All these years later, people tend to forget that Channing Hall and the Upper Chapel are tangibly connected. Both venues can be accessed by going through the other.

Little has changed since its construction, except the addition of a lift, and Channing Hall, now Grade II listed, is mainly used as a conference and banqueting suite.

Built in 1881-1882, Channing Hall was designed by Flockton and Gibbs. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings

Replacement chimneys arrive at Pepper Pot building

A chimney stack is lowered into place. Image: Sheffield Star

The Sheffield Star has posted several photographs of ‘fake’ chimneys that are being installed on the Pepper Pot building.

Six historic chimneys were removed as part of Heart of the City reconstruction, with only the façade remaining.

The Pepper Pot building is in Block C, bound by Pinstone Street, Cambridge Street and Charles Street.

Developers had asked for permission to change its original plans, by reducing the number of chimneys – designed by architects Flockton and Gibbs – and replicating only one.

Sheffield City Council’s planning committee overwhelmingly rejected the bid against the advice of officers who warned that refusal would put economic, social and environmental benefits of the scheme on hold and may lead to other cost cutting.

The replacement chimneys are two-tonne, 10ft ‘brick’ stacks, and thought to be made from glass reinforced concrete.

The pre-formed feature was seen on a lorry on PInstone Street ahead of being winched to the top of the Pepper Pot building. Image: Sheffield Star
A replacement a two-tonne, 10ft brick stack. A total of six were removed as part of a total revamp of the building. Image: Sheffield Star
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Buildings People

Foster’s Building

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.