Categories
Buildings

Curzon Cinema

One of the newest additions to Sheffield’s cinema scene is Curzon on George Street, a quiet thoroughfare with several hidden secrets. The history of this building goes back to January 9, 1794, when John Hardcastle opened it as a ‘conservative’ coffeehouse. A large room on the ground floor was used for George’s Coffeehouse, and over the fireplace was the motto ‘King, Lords and Commons’ with the warning ‘No Jacobins Admitted’. Accommodation was available above for ‘a fine gentleman’. Three years later it was in the possession of James Healey, but evidence suggests the coffeehouse wasn’t the success it had set out to be. English coffeehouses had been public social places where men could meet for conversation and commerce, but towards the end of the 18th century had almost completely disappeared from the popular social scene.

By 1799, the Institution of the School of Industry, a Quaker driven girls’ school for reading, knitting and sewing, had taken a room here. In 1818, a portion of the old coffeehouse was taken by the fledgling Sheffield Library. ‘The library room is spacious and lofty and is well filled with a collection of the most popular works in the English language. Adjoining the library is a comfortable reading room, in which are deposited those publications which are not to be taken out.’ The library’s stay was brief, and soon removed to the Old Music Hall on Surrey Street, leaving the ground floor occupied by Harwood and Thomas, merchants, and the first floor being used as an auction room.

Most people are aware that this was once an old bank, but it wasn’t until 1831 that the Sheffield Banking Company moved in. The newly-formed bank had looked at five properties but settled on 13 George Street spending £2,200 for the whole property. As well as the old coffeehouse it included adjoining offices and three dwelling houses. Changes were made to the building by architects Woodhead & Hurst of Doncaster, turning it into ‘an exceedingly commodious place of business, as well as for the customers as for the directors and officers.’ The Directors occupied what had been the old library as the board room.

A left extension was built in 1906 by architects Matthew Ellison Hadfield and his son Charles and can be traced in the brickwork outside. The interior decorations, appropriately emblematic, were carried out by Hugh Hutton Stannus, a Sheffield-born architect who had originally trained in casting brass, copper and bronze. In 1919, the Sheffield Banking Company amalgamated with the National Provincial and Union Bank (later becoming the National Westminster). The George Street branch’s busiest time was in the 1960s with 120 staff based here. However, it later relocated to newer premises on High Street and the building remained empty for years.

The Curzon opened in January 2015, adapting the Grade II listed building for cinema use while taking into consideration the pilastered walls, Doric arcades and granite columns inside.

Categories
Buildings

No. 35 George Street

No. 35 George Street, located between High Street and Norfolk Street, isn’t that old compared to some of our buildings. Built in 1913-1914, this Grade II-listed structure might look a little lost these days.

It was built as the Yorkshire and Derbyshire office for the Alliance Insurance Company, established by Nathan Meyer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore in 1824, to rival Lloyds of London.

The George Street site had originally been the workplace of the Sheffield Fire Insurance Company, with offices on the upper floors and the town fire engine, small enough to be drawn up narrow passages, housed below.

The business transferred to the Alliance Insurance Company in 1864, but by the start of the twentieth century the offices were too small.

The insurance company moved into an adjoining building that once formed part of the Athenaeum Club, and the old building was demolished.

Its demise wasn’t without controversy. Then, like now, there were those who mourned the loss of an old building. However, the company offered to keep the whole of the top balustrade, comprising pillars with urns bearing the Sheffield coat-of-arms.

During construction, there were those that criticised the plan.

“Most of the property at the High Street and Norfolk Street ends of George Street is old, and if it had been made into a good wide street, its rateable value would also have increased. The ‘dog’s hind leg’, half-way along, is still to be perpetrated – a danger to traffic, and a perpetual monument to our Corporation’s ineptitude.”

That ‘dog’s hind leg’ still exists, but the finished offices, designed by Goddard & Co, were well-received.

“It is one of the most elegant, though, unfortunately one of the least prominently situated of Sheffield’s new buildings. Romanesque in design, and built of white stone, it is one of those buildings which are completely deceptive as to size. It gives the impression of consisting merely of one large hall, instead of which one finds on entering not only a main hall (56ft x 26ft), without counting a large annexe, but an extensive suite of offices in three floors. One reason for the deception is that the site extends through into Mulberry Street, where there is considerable frontage.”

And this deception still exists. Take a walk under the adjacent covered roadway into Mulberry Street, and you can see that there is a lot more to the building than meets the eye. It was clever use of fitting a prestigious building into a tiny site.

“Artistically designed as is the exterior of the building, the interior is even more so. The large hall is elegantly panelled in oak up to the ceiling, which is richly ornamented, and the annexe is lighted by a glass dome. The appointments of the board room are in keeping with those of the large hall, and all the offices are handsomely fitted and furnished, while the walls of the stairways and corridors are lined with tiles of a pretty design.”

How much of the original interior survives is uncertain, the Portland stone exterior has weathered, but the building retains its dignity.

The Alliance Insurance Company remained here until the second part of the twentieth century, merging with the Sun Insurance Company in 1959, and finally amalgamating with the Royal Insurance Company to form Royal Sun Alliance in 1996.

No. 35 George Street was later used by Midland Bank as an administrative facility, and is today occupied by the NSPCC as its Sheffield Service Centre.

Before you go, look closely at this photograph, taking note of the two stone urns, as well as the well-worn Sheffield coat-of-arms within the pediment. These are the only survivors from the long-demolished Sheffield Fire Insurance Company building… and I bet you never knew that!

Categories
Streets

George Street

It is one of Sheffield’s oldest streets and contains some of our most significant buildings, including the former premises of the Sheffield Banking Company, now reborn as the Curzon Cinema (middle right), the old offices of the Alliance Insurance Company (centre) and the 1960s-built Cutler’s Hotel (left, originally the Sheffield Club).

The greatest mystery with George Street is the “dog’s hind leg” half-way along, a cause of traffic congestion in Victorian and Edwardian times, as it was a thoroughfare between High Street and Norfolk Street.

While many roads were widened, George Street was mercifully spared, despite our ancestors wanting the road to be straightened. This would have necessitated wholesale demolition of buildings.

The street’s historic layout was secured when the offices of the Alliance Insurance Company were built in 1913-1914, replacing the old Sheffield Fire Insurance Company building where the town fire engine was once housed.

It is now the NSPCC, Sheffield Service Centre.

Categories
Buildings

No. 35 George Street

While researching the history of No. 35, George Street, Sheffield, this remarkable old print came to light.

The site of what is now the NSPCC, Sheffield Service Centre, opposite the Curzon Cinema, used to be the office of the Sheffield Fire Insurance Company.

The Sheffield Fire Brigade used to practice in the space in front of what became Alliance Chambers, following the acquisition of the company in 1864 by the Alliance Insurance Company (now Royal Sun Alliance).

The small horse-drawn fire engine, small enough to get up alleyways, was housed on the ground floor.

The building was demolished in 1912 and replaced with new offices for the Alliance Insurance Company in 1913-1914.

However, two stone urns and the Sheffield coat-of-arms, seen here in this sketch, were transferred to the replacement building and can still be seen today. (The coat-of-arms built into the stone pediment).