Categories
Buildings

Bank Street and the building that never came to be

“The architects have embodied and concentrated, in an excellent manner, the scattered ideas that were floating in the minds of many.” – Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (1847). Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

From the archives. The year is 1847, and there was talk of a new public building in Sheffield. People were excited. The town was without a public building worthy of its name and enviously looked to Liverpool with St. George’s Hall, and Birmingham with its noble Town Hall.

Unexpectedly, the architects, Flockton, Lee, and Flockton, off its own back, came up with a design, and presented it to the Town Council. This would have been an ample hall for public meetings, a large room for public dinners or lectures, permanent places for the Town Council, the Bankruptcy Court, the Small Debts Court, the School of Design, and a large Museum.

The Town Council was shocked, flinched at the cost to build it, and dismissed the proposal.

However, the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, a supporter of the scheme, had other ideas. The newspaper published a detailed sketch of the building, along with floor plans, and advocated that it should be built.

The public was divided. Some said it had to be done, others said they would like to see it built because Sheffield would then have had a building unequalled by other towns, but the general feeling was that times were hard, and that it could not be allowed to continue.

It wasn’t built, and if it had been, we can only speculate as to what its future fate might have been. Would it still be standing? What condition would it be in? Might it have been destroyed by German bombers?

Most of us will be surprised as to where it was intended to be.

The proposed site comprised nearly 3000 square yards, in an oblong shape, stretching from Bank Street (bottom) to Hartshead (top). “It was occupied by buildings which are of small value.” Photograph: Google.

The site was a plot of sloping land bounded on the north by Bank Street, on the south by Hartshead, on the east by Meetinghouse Lane, and on the west by Figtree Lane. Today, it might seem to have been absurdly in the wrong place, but in the 1840s the area was close to where Sheffield began.

Bank Street wasn’t created until 1792, and was intended to be called Shore Street, named after John Shore, a banker, and this was the name used on leases granted when he cut up his land for building purposes.

In 1793, we find reference to a “new” street in Sheffield called Bank Street, indicating that Shore had just built the town’s first bank here. In effect, the area was a developing financial district, and a public building might not have been so preposterous after all.

“Is the town prepared for so large an undertaking?” asked the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. “Perhaps not, just now; but there are several considerations that may tend to prepare it.

“In the first place,  if the town is to build, as build it must ere many years have elapsed, it must look beyond the present. A public building is not made like a coat, to fit exactly when made, and be soon worn out. It should be built for two centuries, or more.

The question should not be how little will it serve now? But how can we adequately provide for the present and future, combining at once magnitude of conception, liberality of spirit, and wise economy?

“The expense could not fail to be considerable, but spread over thirty or forty years, it would never be felt as a very heavy burden. This is a wide policy of the Wesleyan body, who, when they build a chapel for the next generation as well as for the present, conceive that the payment should be by those who are to enjoy it hereafter, as well as by themselves.”

What would our ancestors have got for their money?

The descent from Hartshead to Bank Street was about 30ft, allowing for two frontages – one to Bank Street, and the other to Hartshead.

It was proposed to make the Bank Street entrance into a large hall for public meetings, affording standing room for 9000, or sitting room for 3000 persons. This hall would have occupied the whole base of the building with a grand staircase leading up to Hartshead.

The entrance hall at Hartshead would have led to a Bankruptcy Court on one side, and a Council Hall on the other. To these rooms would have been private apartments for the Mayor and the Bankruptcy Commissioner. The entrance hall would have led into an Exchange, covered by a glass dome 50ft above. Alongside would have been offices and committee rooms, with a Banqueting Hall at the Bank Street end.

The topmost story would have extended the whole of the building, excepting the Exchange, and would have provided a Museum of Arts, as well as four additional museum spaces.

Simple plans were prepared by the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent that showed the three-floor layout of the public building. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

In connection with the plan, it was intended to open a new street from Hartshead to High Street (along the line of what became Aldine Court) and opening the end of Watson’s Walk into Angel Street. Figtree Lane and Meetinghouse Lane would have been made wide enough for carriages.

“We do not suppose that the Town Council will embark hastily in this measure. They will listen for the public voice.”

The newspaper was correct because it was never built, and had it been so, we might not have had a need for Sheffield Town Hall or City Hall.

The building that never came to be. This modern-day image shows where the Bank Street entrance would have been had it been built. Photograph: DJP/2021.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

.

Categories
Streets

Aldine Court: named after a Venetian printer

Aldine Court looking from High Street. Photograph: DJP 2021.

The glitziness of Sheffield’s High Street has long disappeared, now it’s a modern-day Miss Havisham, whose dilapidated appearance attracts only those of similar behaviour.

As such, we’re not likely to risk cutting along Aldine Court to Hartshead if we can help it. However, it is one of our oldest streets, and although concealed by surrounding buildings, it can tell a few stories.

Up until 1913 Aldine Court meandered from High Street towards Hartshead in so erratic a fashion that historian Robert Eadon Leader suggested its origin could have been from a primeval footpath across the waste.

Aerial view of Aldine Court. Its entrance is to the immediate right of the Telegraph Building on High Street and passes between later newspaper extensions behind. Photograph: Google.

It was Leader who disclosed a deed from Mary Trippett’s time, she was descended from  John Trippitte, yeoman, and Master Cutler in 1794, which revealed the haphazard buildings that had wantonly appeared; a malthouse (once William Patrick, then Thomas Wreaks), a maltkiln, a stable, workshops, and a bakehouse, as well as the old Sheffield Iris newspaper office at the Hartshead end.

“No two buildings were the same shape, the same height, scarcely of the same alignment; yet, decayed and ramshackle, they proved good enough for a typographer.”

Aldine Court had been called Trippett’s Yard, Wreaks Yard, and in 1845, when Joseph Pearce set up a printing works here, was referred to as Wilson’s Yard (probably after George Wilson, of the Sharrow Mills family, who had set up a snuff shop on High Street in the 1830s).

Pearce, the son of a bookseller in Gibraltar Street, was a stationer, printer and part-proprietor of the Sheffield Times before launching the Sheffield Telegraph, Britain’s first daily provincial newspaper, in 1855.

Aldo Manuzio (Aldus Manutius) (1449/52-1515)

The narrow thoroughfare would become forever linked with newspapers, and it was Pearce who renamed it Aldine Court, honouring one of history’s publishing greats.

Aldo Manuzio arrived in Venice in 1490 and produced small books in Latin and Italian, publishing the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Erasmus. Over two decades, his Aldine Press published 130 editions, famous for its imitation of the handwriting of Petrarch, using a typeface called ‘venetian’ or ‘aldine’, but later known by the name we are familiar with today – ‘italic’.

Between 1913-1916, Aldine Court was somewhat straightened to accommodate the Sheffield Telegraph building, and partly covered with later newspaper extensions.

Aldine Court looking towards the back of the Telegraph Building. Photograph: DJP2021.
Aldine Court looking towards Hartshead. Photograph: DJP2021.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

York Street

The entrance to York Street from High Street. The Crown Inn once stood where this photograph is taken. Photograph Google.

York Street is just a street to many of us, a shortcut between High Street and Hartshead. Apart from its long, recently ended, association with the Star and Telegraph, it hasn’t played a significant role in the city centre’s history.

However, despite having few buildings of architectural importance, York Street can still tell a story.

In 1565, documents state that the property between the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral) passed into new hands and was bounded by the churchyard to the west, and on the east by lands belonging to John Skynner of London.

York Street didn’t exist, the land changing ownership many times, steadily developed towards its High Street frontage.

We now come across an old tavern, sometimes called Morton’s, and at others as The Crown, often used for public meetings (and drinking) by the Town Trustees and the Cutlers’ Company.

John Morton, landlord, had the honour of being a Master Cutler and a victualler. He occupied the chair in 1709-10, and during his year, the Archbishop of York seems to have been entertained at The Crown. In 1721, when the Duke of Norfolk entertained leading inhabitants, a substantial amount of plate and table requisites were lent from this inn.

The Crown’s location is found in property deeds from adjacent properties in 1711 and 1735, bounded by the lands of John Morton westwards, and putting it where the opening to York Street is now.

In 1744, Morton’s widow, announcing her retirement from business, advertised in the Leeds Mercury her desire to let ‘that very good, accustomed inn, known by the sign of the Crown, near the Church Gates, with stabling for twenty-four horses.’

Soon afterwards, the inn appears to have closed and in 1770, Thomas Vennor, a Warwick man, bought the Crown property from the owners of ‘The Great House at the Church Gates,’ and established himself as a mercer.

In 1772, he had ‘lately’ made ‘a new street called York Street, leading from High Street to Hartshead,’ which ran through the ground ‘whereon stood the house of John Morton, over its yard, and beyond to Hartshead across a piece of vacant land purchased from the Broadbents.’

We can fix 1770 as the date York Street was created, possibly as a nod to the Archbishop of York’s historical visit, and it appears on Fairbank’s map of 1771.

This photograph dates to about 1890. The spot underwent a complete metamorphosis, with the addition of a bank on the left hand corner and the Sheffield Telegraph offices on the right. The shop shown on the right was that of the Goldsmiths’ Company. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

Its creation was important because prior to construction pedestrians could only pass from High Street to Hartshead through narrow ‘jennels,’ while wheeled traffic had to negotiate Townhead and travel the full length of Campo Lane to reach it.

In this respect, Robert Eadon Leader, that cherished Sheffield historian, regarded him as a ‘public benefactor,’ something not shared by Vennor’s contemporaries, who failed to support his efforts to become a Town Trustee in 1778.

York Street was a busy thoroughfare, with houses, shops, and offices, lining both sides, but there was a darker characteristic.

York Street in 1905, looking towards High Street. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

In 1868, a resident wrote that “the neighbourhood of York Street is infested with night walkers, who won’t let you pass without receiving the grossest insults imaginable.”

The building of respectable Victorian buildings towards High Street improved its reputation, but in 1922 a correspondent to the Sheffield Telegraph said that it was “in a very bad state of repair, and in wet weather large pools of water collect, with the result that not only is property splashed up with dirt (your beautiful white building is an example), but foot passengers have their clothes ruined by every wheeled vehicle that passes up and down. It is the busiest street for motor traffic in the city, and the footpath the narrowest.”

A sight more familar to us. York Street looking towards Hartshead in 1965. The Telegraph and Star Offices are on the right, now apartments. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

When King Edward visited an old pub

Queen Victoria reckoned that Edward, the playboy Prince of Wales, would not make a good King. She frowned upon his antics – drinking, gambling, horse-racing, shooting and passionate attachments – but she was quite wrong.

However, she might have been forgiven for believing this. On more than one occasion Edward proved an embarrassment, something not known to common folk, but whispered about in higher circles.

In a separate post, we discovered that Edward, as Prince of Wales, paid a discreet visit to Tapton Court, at Ranmoor, to meet his old friend, Henry Steel, a man who made his fortune as a bookmaker. Now, we have another story where Edward made a clandestine journey into Sheffield.

“In a little oak room reached by a winding staircase in an old Sheffield inn there used to sit a caped and overcoated figure playing cards or talking to two or three friends.

“The story goes that this striking figure was King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and the inn was the Shades Vaults in Hartshead.

“People well remembered His Majesty walking up the narrow passage along Hartshead and going straight into the Shades Vaults and up to a little oak room.”

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The story goes that King Edward was dressed in an old ulster overcoat, an old hat, and old boots. In the little room, it is said, he used to meet his good friend Henry Steel, of Tapton Court, former bookmaker and one of the founders of Steel, Peech and Tozer, steel manufacturers.

The place was romantic enough. The room in which he was supposed to have sat with Henry Steel, a man of his day, was a small and secluded old-world corner in which anyone travelling incognito could sit quietly and enjoy a rest far away from the worries and cares of the outer world.

The little room at Shades Vaults by The British Newspaper Archive

The story emerged in 1932, long after the deaths of those involved – Edward died in 1910, and Henry passed away five years later – but it was a tale passed down by generations.

Shades Vaults has long gone, destroyed by German bombers during World War Two, and the narrow passage was Watson’s Walk that ran from Angel Street into Hartshead. It was named after a well-known local family that kept several public houses in the town centre and, despite being flattened during the Blitz, is still the name attached to the covered walkway that goes underneath Argos into Hartshead Square.

The Shades dated to the late 1790s, was kept in 1805 by Sam Turner, known as ‘Gin Sam’, and was commonly known as T’oil in T’wall.

Categories
Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (3)

Our final instalment about hidden tunnels underneath Sheffield takes us to 1936, when Frank H. Brindley investigated a tunnel found by workmen underneath the offices of the Telegraph and Star newspaper at Hartshead.

Brindley explored the opening using two skilled masons. The floor was described as well-worn as from long usage, and bone dry, without any trace of rubbish.

“The tunnel was cut from solid rock, about six foot in height and five to six feet wide. Its first direction was east, taking a line towards Castle Hill.
“It turned slightly south and then resumed its eastern direction, and when 50 foot from the entrance hall, we found the first trace of others having found this mystery tunnel before.

“On one of the rock walls were the following letters ‘I.W. 1830’ then just below ‘B.R.’, a dash and then ‘T.W.W.B.'”

Exploring further, they passed beyond High Street and after rounding several bends found the tunnel ended abruptly at a brick wall, probably the foundations of a building in King Street.

If the wall hadn’t been built, they would have been able to walk underneath the buildings of King Street and entered what was once Sheffield Castle at a point where the markets were then situated.

Pictures and an interview were published in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star in 1936, providing clear proof of their existence.

Brindley concluded that this was the missing tunnel from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), and was undoubtedly the one that had been uncovered in 1896, when Cockayne’s were excavating for a new store on Angel Street, which had then been dismissed as a sewer.

Mr Brindley was in the headlines again at the start of World War Two, when he placed details of underground passageways at the disposal of Sheffield’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) authorities.

He explained that over the years, tunnels had repeatedly been found cut in the sandstone. Some appeared to have been old colliery workings, but many couldn’t be explained, while many appeared to radiate from the site of Sheffield Castle and were probably connected to mansions in the neighbourhood.

Brindley also shed further light on the 80ft shaft he’d found at Hartshead, that headed towards High Street.

The shaft had led to another tunnel running under Fargate, towards Norfolk Row. Unfortunately, explorations had come to an end when one of the investigating party was overcome by fumes only 50ft from the bottom of the shaft.

This time, Mr Brindley elaborated that the tunnel was part of a network that also connected Sheffield Castle with Manor Lodge.

It’s hard to believe now, but the hillside in Pond Street was said to be honeycombed with coal workings, but Brindley claimed that there were two other “mystery” tunnels found.

One section running from a cellar at the Old Queen’s Head Hotel, he said, was found when Pond Street Bus Station was being built during the 1930s, and the other was found near the top of Seymour Street (wherever that might have been). Beginning in an old cellar it ran beneath the site of the Royal Theatre, towards the Town Hall, where it was lost.

As far as I am aware, this was the last occasion that these tunnels were explored, probably sealed up but still hidden underneath the city centre.

We’ll end these posts as we began by saying that – “One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets.”