I think this building looks quite elegant. Corporation Buildings, at the bottom of Snig Hill, is one of the few survivors of old Sheffield in this forgotten part of the city centre. And its proximity to the grey-to-green project adds to its stylishness.
But this was a troubled building from the start, and what you see today is a fragment of what it once looked like.
Our Victorian and Edwardian forebears had embarked on a plan to improve our streets, and too often we focus on Pinstone Street, Fargate, and High Street, as examples of their enterprise. But there were others, and Snig Hill was one of them.
At the turn of the twentieth century, plans were revealed to widen Snig Hill from Angel Street down to Bridge Street. Old buildings were swept away and in 1902 Sheffield Corporation revealed plans to build new Corporation Buildings stretching the whole of the right side going from the centre of town.
The original plans were drawn up by the city surveyor, Charles. F. Wilke, and showed a four-storey building, with a frontage of 140 yards, including thirteen shops, with showrooms above, and sixty artisan dwellings on top of them. The plans showed that turrets were included at each end, with gables introduced to break the differences in height created by the sloping gradient of the site.
The problem was that the Improvement Committee had drawn up the plans, but the council had already created an independent committee to deal with surplus land. The project was handed over to them and appears to have disregarded Mr Wilke’s plan.
Instead, the committee approached architects Gibbs and Flockton which came up with an alternative, if not dissimilar, plan for the site. Work began in 1903 and cost between £60K and £70K and was completed the following year.
Like all council-backed projects there was criticism about the Corporation Buildings, fuelled by the fact that when it was completed only three of the twenty-one shops had been let, and the rents for the flats appeared too expensive for Sheffield’s working class. One councillor referred to Corporation Buildings as ‘a ghastly array of empty shops.’
The scheme inevitably made a loss in its early years, but once shops and flats were occupied, it brought in steady income.
Nearly 120 years later, we are left with a small portion of the original construction.
What happened to the rest of it?
In World War Two, bombs destroyed much of the upper block at the top of Snig Hill. This had to be demolished and was replaced with ‘temporary’ single storey shops. A further portion was demolished in 1971 to make way for the new headquarters of Sheffield and Rotherham Constabulary, subsequently for South Yorkshire Police, and is now used as the divisional police station covering the city centre.
But at least we have something left, and most of us can only speculate as to how impressive the full block would have looked had it survived.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.