In 1900, the Improvements Committee of Sheffield Corporation paid £10,500 for 2,546 yards of land in Newhall Street. There were certain freehold premises here, including the Hollis Hospital.
The question we ask ourselves 122 years later, where was Newhall Street?
Sheffield Corporation wanted to carry out a road diversion with a straight way from Westbar to Bridge Street.
Newhall Street was at the bottom of Snig Hill and disappeared, the line of Westbar continued across land occupied by the Pack Horse Hotel (demolished), until it joined Bridge Street.
This illustration from 1902 shows the original road layout, with dotted lines indicating the new street pattern and building lines. It also shows the widening of Snig Hill.
The scheme was completed in 1903 providing a more direct route from Westbar to the Victoria Station, and in due course tram lines ran from Westbar into the Wicker. It allowed tramcars to run from Hillsborough to the Wicker and then back to Hillsborough by the Owlerton Route – another step in the completion of the city’s circular tramway system.
The loss of Newhall Street was significant because this had been the boundary between Saint Peter’s Ward and Saint Philip’s Ward, dating to 1843 when Queen Victoria granted The Charter to the Borough of Sheffield.
Fast forward to the present day and things are remarkably quieter, and more beautiful, thanks to Sheffield City Council’s ‘Grey-to-Green project.
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.
Sheffield is becoming an even greener city. The grey-to-green project around Castlegate has been well received, and other parts of the city centre are benefiting from a return to nature.
In these times of climate change the greening of public spaces – parks, squares, rooftops, and streets, can contribute to climate mitigation if they become green spaces. If a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than ten air-conditioning units, let’s rewild our public space and cool down our planet.
Outdoor spaces not only allow us to move more safely during the pandemic but are also linked to our well-being. Green urban areas facilitate physical activity, relaxation, recreation, and social interaction.
Time for me to be controversial.
If we are left with unwanted (and perhaps unloved) city centre buildings, might there be an argument to knock them down and start again? Might it be sensible to create green spaces from these footprints?
This photograph of Charter Square shows that redevelopment, and the introduction of greenery, can have a positive impact. The problem here is the shabby Debenhams building that will struggle to find an alternative use.
In years to come, West Bar will alter beyond recognition. The triangular area bordering West Bar, Bridge Street, and Corporation Street will be demolished. A £300m regeneration scheme will see old factories and workshops replaced with residential and business units.
According to the masterplan, West Bar Square will be a prestigious new address – a place where people will meet to do business, attracting workers and visitors, day and night. Once completed, the only recognisable buildings remaining will be the Law Courts and adjacent Family Court.
The development is aligned with Sheffield’s £3.6m Grey to Green scheme with wildflowers, grasses and trees already planted at West Bar. Alongside the grey to green development will be Love Square, a pop-up urban nature park designed by staff and students from the University of Sheffield’s Landscape Architecture Department.
While it is sad to see our heritage disappear, the project will go towards greening an area swallowed by the industrial revolution.
West Bar is one of Sheffield’s oldest streets and mentioned in ancient records of the Burgery. There seems to be no explanation available as to the derivation of its name. In bygone times a ‘bar’ was a barrier of posts and chains set up to close the entrance to a town or city, and West Bar is likely to have been the northern limit of old Sheffield.
The development area was included in a survey of the manor of Sheffield in 1637 which described the site as part of Coulston (or Colston) Crofts, previously part of the demesne lands of the lord of the manor. Surviving deeds from 1622 contained wording suggesting the area was originally part of the lord’s game preserve, with all rights of hawking, hunting, fishing, and fowling reserved to the Duke of Norfolk. It was later used for both pasture and arable cultivation.
By 1637, the area had been divided into two large fields, the area on the west leased from the Duke of Norfolk by Robert Bower, and that on the east by Edward Wood. In the 17th century the area was at least partially wooded, confirmed by a description in 1837, which stated that until the late 18th century the area had been “swampy meadows and damp osier [willow] grounds.”
The West Bar area remained on the outskirts of town into the 18th century. The town’s first workhouse was built to the southwest in 1733, now survived by Workhouse Lane to the left of the Law Courts.
The street layout principally dates to the period between 1783 and 1802, although Spring Street and the streets to the south are earlier. West Bar is likely to be medieval in origin, and part of Spring Street was shown in 1736. Workhouse Lane and Paradise Street were shown in 1771.
Corporation Street cut through the estate in 1853, and was altered as part of the Inner Relief Road development in 2006.
West Bar was widened in stages during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The construction of the Court Houses between 1993-1996 led to the truncation of Spring Street and Love Lane.
Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.
The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.
Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.
Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street
Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.
Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.
Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.
Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.
The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?
Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.
The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.
Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?
We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.
Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.
The recent post about Castlegate failed to mention that it is in the process of being part-pedestrianised, Phase 2 of Sheffield’s ‘Grey to Green’ project. Unless you visit this forgotten part of the city centre the relevance of the initiative might escape you.
It is part of an approach to transform ‘redundant’ road space into a network of public spaces, sustainable drainage and urban rain gardens, which aims to improve the setting of the Riverside Business District, Castlegate and the rest of the city centre and then on to Kelham Island and Victoria Quays, as a place to work, live and enjoy, whilst also dealing with the effects of climate change.
Phase 1 (West Bar/Bridge Street/Snig Hill) was completed in Spring 2016 and was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund and Sheffield City Council.
The area suffered catastrophic river floods in 2007. With the completion of the Inner Relief Road in 2008, traffic was diverted away from West Bar. The opportunity was seized to replace the ‘grey’ impermeable ‘redundant’ roads into ‘green’ permeable beds, transforming the space with colourful meadow-like planting and significantly increasing surface water storage.
With advice on plant selection from the University of Sheffield Landscape Department this has created a new townscape that is different to anything done in Sheffield before. Over 40,000 bulbs, 40 new trees, 600 evergreen shrubs and 26,000 herbaceous plants were introduced to form a seasonal urban meadow.
The new road layout was designed to slow vehicle speeds and make walking and cycling more attractive. New paving, street furniture, colourful seating and five eye-catching public art ‘totems’ celebrate the local history of the West Bar area including its Victorian music halls and theatres, its lively street life, its complex relationship to the river and its legacy of industry and brewing.
Phase 2 (Castlegate to Exchange Place) is nearing completion, and Phase 3 (Gibraltar Street to Shalesmoor) will eventually transform 1.2km of ‘redundant’ road-space into an attractive new linear green public space.