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
Buildings Sculpture

The mystery of Mercury

The sculpture of Mercury stands proudly above the portico of the Sheffield Telegraph Building on High Street. It is one of two statues of Mercury in the city centre, the other being on top of the Lyceum Theatre. (Image: David Poole)

Here is a mystery.

This bronze statue of Mercury has stood on top of the portico of the Telegraph Building on High Street since about 1915.

Mercury, Roman god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves, is shown as a nude male figure with wings both side on his hat, and on the outside of his ankles. He carries in his left hand a caduceus, an elaborate winged staff. The statue appears to be about to take off, his toes barely touching the base and his right arm extended with fingers pointing skyward.

But where did the statue come from?

An artist impression from 1913 of the Sheffield Telegraph Building at High Street. The sculpture of Mercury sits above the portico at the corner with York Street. The portico was the entrance to the offices and counting-house which occupied the whole of the ground floor. Most recently occupied by a building society, the corner unit has planning permission to become a restaurant. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The bronze statue is said to be much earlier, re-sited here when the Sheffield Telegraph built new offices on High Street between 1913-1915.

A few searches are quite specific that the statue was acquired by the Electric Telegraph Company in 1856 to decorate new premises for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at the opening to The Shambles. (This is now the site of KFC at the junction of High Street and Haymarket).

The Electric Telegraph Company office seen about 1856. The statues of Mercury (left) and Vulcan (right) can be seen in the niches at the upper level. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Furthermore, it is suggested that the bronze sculpture occupied one of two niches, one on either side of the front elevation of the upper story, the figure of Mercury to the left and Vulcan to the right.

It is said that the Mercury sculpture was moved to the Telegraph Building in 1915, while the Vulcan statue was lost.

Old illustrations of the Electric Telegraph Building clearly show the statues, but at this point the authenticity of the sculpture on the 1915 building comes into question.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph may or may not have had offices at the Shambles, and it is well documented that its early offices were on the site of High Street and Aldine Court, long since vacated by the newspaper.

Further inspection identifies the Electric Telegraph Building on The Shambles as being the Fitzalan Market Hall, that looked up the slopes of High Street and King Street.

Fitzalan Chambers in 1918. Blackened by Sheffield’s smoky atmosphere, the Mercury and Vulcan statues are clearly evident three years after the construction of the Telegraph Building on High Street. The De Bears Schools specialised in shorthand, typewriting, correspondence, and business training. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In 1856, an account of the opening of the Exchange, News Room, and Telegraph Office was published in the Sheffield Independent:

“This building which has been erected from the designs of Messrs Weightman, Hadfield, and Goldie, by the Duke of Norfolk, terminate the pile of buildings occupying the façade towards the Old Haymarket. On the ground floor it was necessary to retain the old-established wine vaults of Samuel Younge and Co, and to provide shops for fish salesmen in the lower part of the market. The Exchange Room occupies the first floor. The room is entered by folding doors. At the end of the room opposite the entrance is a small apartment fitted up by the Telegraph Company in which the subscribers may write and dispatch their messages to all parts of the globe accessible to this rapid mode of communication.”

There were lengthy descriptions of the interior and finally “Over the market entrances are two niches with figures carved in stone by Messrs Lane and Lewis of Birmingham representing Mercury and Vulcan – typical at once of the wonder-working telegraph and the staple trade of Sheffield.”

From this account we can identify that both sculptures were made of stone and still present when the Fitzalan Market Hall (or Fitzwilliam Chambers as the offices became known) was demolished in the 1930s.

Fitzalan Chambers prior to demolition in the 1930s. The whereabouts of the statues of Mercury and Vulcan is unknown. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

This makes the Mercury atop the Telegraph Building a bit of an unknown.

The design is based on the work of Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), better known as Giambologna, noted for his command of sculptural composition, producing figures that were pleasing to view from all positions.

The bronze figure is identical to one on top of the dome above HSBC in Doncaster’s High Street, built in 1896-1897 for the York and County Bank (and according to historians, the sculpture also dating to 1856).

I suspect the origin of the Mercury sculpture on the Telegraph Building lies closer to home and is later in design.

The building was designed by Gibbs, Flockton & Teather and constructed by George Longden and Son in 1915. Both Sheffield firms worked with Frank Tory, responsible for much of the city’s fine stone artwork, but also known to have worked in bronze.

Is it possible that Frank Tory was the man behind the sculpture we see today?

It also leaves another question unanswered.

What happened to the two stone Lane and Lewis statues?

Maybe someone, somewhere, has two fine statues of Mercury and Vulcan in their garden.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.