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.
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.
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.
Let us dismiss a legend before we go any further. I cannot find any evidence that bodies are buried beneath Chapel Walk, but there again, nor can I prove that they aren’t. The only connection with the ‘dead’ these days is the number of empty shops and lack of pedestrians.
Since the 1990s, the decline of Chapel Walk is the most remarkable example of degeneration in Sheffield city centre. From being a busy thoroughfare, where people struggled to avoid bumping into each other, it has become a ‘ghost’ street, but one that has the most potential to be impressive again.
Chapel Walk is one of our oldest streets, with origins in medieval times, but its importance surfaces in the 1700s.
At that time, every house on Prior Gate (High Street) had long gardens behind them, backing onto Alsop Fields, a rural and agricultural area sloping down to the River Sheaf.
In 1660, followers of Rev. James Fisher, vicar of Sheffield, broke away from Sheffield Parish Church to form the beginnings of Congregationalism. They met in rooms around the town but in 1700 rented a site that faced ‘Farrgate’ and called it the New Chapel, the back of it looking across Alsop Fields.
On the death of the Rev. Timothy Jollie in 1714, the Trustees of the New Chapel appointed the Arian John Wadsworth, causing some dissenters to breakaway and build a new chapel.
They looked to John Tooker, an early Master Cutler, who lived on ‘Farrgate’ and agreed to sell a piece of garden behind his house for £60 to Elia Wordsworth, a prominent member of the seceding independents, to build a new meeting house.
The chapel, across gardens from New Chapel, was built in 1714 within Tooker’s Yard, access being from Tooker Alley (later Tucker Alley), a narrow thoroughfare, with the conveyance ensuring permanent right of way to the chapel from Fargate and Alsop Fields, and that the passage should never be narrower than two yards. Thereafter, Tucker Alley became known as Chapel Walk.
Because of their proximity to each other, New Chapel became the Upper Chapel with the one on Chapel Walk called Nether Chapel.
“One regrets that there is no picture available of the Nether Chapel of those far-off days. We can imagine the little congregation during a long sermon on a hot summer’s day being beguiled by the song of birds coming through the open windows. We can see them, through fancy’s eye, coming out after worship into the strong sunlight and indulging in a friendly chat under the shade of neighbouring trees, and then dispersing to their homes in the vicinity along narrow lanes with hedges of honeysuckle and hawthorn; the air fragrant with the scent of new-mown hay – the silence broken now and again by the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle grazing contentedly in the adjacent fields.”
The chapel was partly destroyed by fire in 1827, and foundations for a New Nether Chapel were laid in May. It cost £4,200 and looked towards Norfolk Street (built at the edge of Alsop Fields) instead of Chapel Walk which had done its duty for 113 years. Dr William Younge sold land fronting Norfolk Street allowing the creation of a new chapel yard.
Over the next hundred years, Sheffield changed considerably. Gone were those rural delights and solitudes. Nether Chapel now stood in the heart of a city of bricks and mortar. The countryside had been obliterated by factories, workshops, and offices, and Chapel Walk became a popular shopping street.
In 1963, congregations at Burngreave, Wicker, Queen Street and Nether Chapel resolved to unite and form one church and to build a new chapel in the city centre. Nether Chapel was demolished, and a new Central Congregational Church opened in 1971.
When the United Reformed Church was formed in 1972 from Congregational and Presbyterian denominations the Church became Central United Reformed Church. It was significantly altered in 2000 and stands at the Norfolk Street end of Chapel Walk.
Meanwhile, Chapel Walk has fallen on tough times. Not helped by the Fargate end being shrouded in ‘abandoned’ scaffolding for several years, attempts to regenerate the street have so far failed. However, with the right investment, this slender pedestrian walkway could rise again. Small independent shops?
NOTE:- Upper Chapel was remodelled in the 1840s, turned around to face across fields. It survives in solitude on Norfolk Street.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
The next time you walk up High Street, look at this English Renaissance-style building at its corner with York Street. The official address is 1-9 York Street and causes confusion because it is an extension of Lloyd’s Bank, occupying the ground floor of Parade Chambers, next door.
It is dwarfed by its neighbour, a five-storey Tudor-Gothic block, built by Pawson and Brailsford in 1885, and looks out of proportion, but, as we shall see, there is a reason why it looks this way.
In 1892, Pawson and Brailsford snapped up a large area of land around Parade Chambers, including the corner plot that had once been a music shop for Alderman William Stacey and as a draper, for Edward Butcher, whose family had lived and traded here for generations.
At the close of the 19th century the building was long-neglected, but the land it stood on, fronting High Street, was extremely valuable. The plot went to auction and was bought for £12,000 by the directors of London and Midland Bank.
It commissioned Sheffield architect Andrew Francis Watson, of Holmes and Watson, to build a new and commodious bank to replace its Fargate branch, opened in 1889, but three years later, deemed inadequate for its growing business.
However, there was a delay in construction because of unsuccessful consultation with the bank’s neighbour on the opposite corner of York Street. This was due to the privileges of ‘ancient lights.’
It was an old restriction that said that A, an owner of property on one side of a narrow central street, was refused permission to raise his building by B, the owner of the property opposite. As was often the case, no amount of money would tempt him to give up his rights to the lights.
Watson made clever use of the site, but the best that could be done, according to the Sheffield Independent, was a “disfigurement, through want of height, to what ought to have been a very fine street.”
Construction began in 1894, built by Fred Ives of Shipley, the materials on the façade being polished black Labrador granite for the base, and red Swedish granite for the pilasters. The stone in the upper part of the building was from Varley’s Huddersfield quarries, thought to be the best to cope with Sheffield’s acidic atmosphere.
The entrance to the bank had a carved panel over the doorway, with heraldic shields representing the arms of some of the towns and cities where the company had offices and banks. A lobby, lined with modelled tiled faience, led to folding walnut doors.
The banking house, about 56ft by 28ft, and 18ft high, was lined with polished walnut dido, and above that with Pavanazza and Sienna marbles (supplied by Pattinson of Manchester), with a richly modelled frieze, panelled ceilings, and cornice, with local traditional work of the Jacobean period put into the design.
The fixtures, fittings, counters, and screens were made of elaborately carved American walnut, by Johnson and Appleyard, while the public floor was of marble mosaic, the rest being in red wooden blocks.
Particularly impressive was a fireplace and chimneypiece with carved walnut overmantel and clock case.
The bank occupied the ground floor and basement (with strong rooms), books and cash conveyed from the counters using a tramway system to a lift. The basement bullion room was designed with a passage all around it to avoid mining from surrounding property or the street.
The manager’s office, occupied by Mr H.M. Elliott, looked out onto High Street, was lined with Tynecastle tapestry, and approached through a private inquiry box.
On the first floor were eight offices to let, accessed from York Street by a staircase, while the second floor, still visible from the street, contained the caretaker’s residence.
The London and Midland Bank cost £9,000 to build and opened in September 1895.
In 1913, the London, City and Midland Bank (as it had become) amalgamated with the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank on Church Street and rebranded as Midland Bank in 1923 (now HSBC).
In 1931, Midland Bank transferred its business from High Street to Market Place (now Banker’s Draft), and with the old Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank on Church Street, the presence of three banks close to one other was considered unnecessary.
The building was immediately bought by the adjoining National Provincial Bank as an extension, later becoming NatWest, and is now occupied by Lloyd’s Bank. Its interior became one, with only the exterior providing any clues to its history.
The pandemic has claimed another victim. Caffé Nero, a familiar sight at No.2 High Street, won’t be reopening when lockdown restrictions are eased, the retail unit now up to let.
Our thirst for coffee and cakes might not have diminished, but poor trading conditions have forced the London-based chain to rethink its future.
While it maintains a presence in Sheffield, the outlook for one of the city’s Grade II-listed buildings is less certain.
No.2 High Street was the result of High Street widening during the 1890s, one of several Victorian buildings built by esteemed architects Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton.
Described in Pevsner as “one of their more exuberant ‘fin de siècle’ essays,” it is characteristic for its high mansard roof.
Many people think it was built as a bank, and Barclays did occupy it from the early 20th century until recent times, but its history is more elaborate.
The building featured in an 1896 edition of British Architect with a double-plate spread.
“A massive and imposing appearance, with an elaborate scheme of stone carvings and mouldings. There is a suggestion of the easy and graceful style of French architecture.”
It was built for Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings, established in 1775, auctioneers, which had conducted property sales at older premises on High Street, as well as holding horse sales at the Horse Repository on Castle Hill.
In August 1896, No.2 High Street was in the process of construction, farther back from the original street line, the auctioneers temporarily transferring business to the Cutlers’ Hall and premises on Fargate.
The firm was Sheffield’s premier auction house, responsible for the sale of important buildings and used by the Duke of Norfolk to dispose of land and property.
It was completed in 1897, a date stone still evident at the side of the building on Black Swan Walk.
There were two large auction rooms and offices on the ground floor, with a large basement for storage, a strong-room for jewellery and plate, and two separate store-rooms for furniture.
The façade was enriched with four stories of superimposed columns, the lower ones of red Labrador granite, standing upon a grey granite base.
The base supported a handsome cornice with a broad frieze of black granite, on which the name of the firm appeared in raised gilt letters.
The upper pillars were of stone with carved and decorated capitals, and a considerable amount of carving. The external effect was enhanced by a balcony of ornamental ironwork.
The upper portion of the block was let as offices, with special care given to effective ventilation and warming of the auction room with a Blackburn heater and fan, driven by an electric motor.
Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings was made up of four partners, each with interests elsewhere. In 1917, J.J. Greaves and Sons left the partnership and the firm continued trading as Nicholson, Barber and Hastings until the 1950s.
However, Barclays Bank opened a branch here in 1920 and the Estate Mart became a secondary part of the building before closing altogether.
Not much has changed since construction, except for the removal of the balcony railings and the interior completely refurbished for bank use.
After a period as Caffé Nero it now joins a long list of vacant properties in and around High Street and Fargate.
Although one of the oldest streets, Fargate hardly appears to have cut a conspicuous figure in Sheffield history. It boasts no long roll of distinguished residents, and no catalogue of inspiring buildings.
It was never part of Sheffield’s business district, but reinvented itself to become one of the best shopping streets in Sheffield, the result of street widening in the 1880s.
By the 1920s, Fargate was entering its golden period, described as the ‘street of many windows,’ with pavements packed with shoppers.
“There is a charm about it at all times, early in the morning when trams are disgorging their hundreds of workers, and a few hours later when limousines, jaunty sports models, and cheery old-timers, stream through the centre of Sheffield one after another. It is the happy hunting ground of all shoppers, whether of the leisured class who saunter up and down between the hours of 11am and 1pm, or the busy housewife who finds that afternoons are more convenient and joins the crowd always to be found – especially on Saturday.”
Fargate became Sheffield’s first pedestrianised street in the 1970s and missed a trick. It was perfect for open-air café culture, but it never materialised. Fargate struggled to charm and was at its best when the pop-up Christmas market appeared.
Then, along came Meadowhall, the internet, pandemic, and lockdowns.
Sheffield’s ‘best’ street is in trouble, empty of workers and shoppers, and vacant shop units growing by the week. All this might change with plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield to change Fargate and High Street into a ‘high-quality place to live, work, and socialise.’
Finally, the mystery of how it came to be called Fargate.
The road was obviously a ‘far gate’ with historians suggesting it was the farthest gate from Sheffield Castle. However, digging into the archives there might be a more plausible explanation.
Back in the 1600s, travellers heading towards the Parish Church (now the Cathedral) crossed a cornfield (Paradise Square) and entered a gate at the corner of what is now the corner of Campo Lane and Paradise Street. The other gate was called the ‘Far Gate,’ at what is now the High Street corner of the Cathedral forecourt, hence the name Fargate.
Sheffield is one of 15 towns and cities to receive all the money they had bid for, in the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.
Sheffield will receive £15.8m in recognition of the ‘forward-thinking and innovative’ proposals to help progress plans to boost its reputation as an ‘Outdoor City’ with high quality public spaces for the community.
The historic streets of Fargate and High Street will become a high quality place to live, work, and socialise, in plans drawn up by Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield.
A radical programme of improvements and modern digital infrastructure will complement well-designed residential and workspace conversions, making the most of unused floorspace. Particular blocks will be redeveloped to increase density by adding height while opening up new green spaces and views.
This transformation will play a major role in completing plans for a ‘Steel Route’ through the city centre, turning a declining shopping area into a mixed-use link between the two distinct regeneration projects already underway in Heart of the City at one end and Castlegate at the other.
The funding has been awarded as part of the Government’s flagship £831 million Future High Streets Fund and will help areas to recover from the pandemic while also driving long term growth.
Prepare for a major new addition to the Sheffield skyline, and its location may come as a surprise.
King’s Tower, at 51-57 High Street, will be a 39-storey tower, comprising 206 apartments, with space for a ground floor commercial unit, drinking establishment or hot food takeaway.
It is probably the first regeneration step for one of the most unkempt parts of the city centre.
The building will be on the site of what many of us know as the former Primark building, and even further back, the one-time Peter Robinson department store.
When the wrecking balls arrive, there will likely be cries of contempt, but in the eyes of planners, the existing building has no architectural value.
In fact, when researching this post, it was discovered that it was always meant to be a temporary structure, even though it’s lasted almost sixty years.
King’s Tower will be on the site of the ancient market adjacent to Sheffield Castle, first established as the result of a Royal Charter of 1296. The market stall and buildings that occupied the site were demolished in 1786 to make way for the construction of the Fitzalan Market (also known as ‘The Shambles’), which underwent improvement about 1855.
Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 when the new Castle Hill Market opened, and a new shop was constructed on the corner of Angel Street for Montague Burton, of Burton Menswear, in 1932. The shop occupied the lower floors while the upper tiers were home to the City Billiard Hall and ‘The City’ Roller Skating Rink.
The Burton building was badly-damaged during the Sheffield Blitz of 1940, and stood as an empty shell for many years, its replacement held up by funding and lack of building materials. By the 1950s, Sheffield Corporation insisted that plans for an alternative building would only be granted if it were of ‘temporary character, and not as before,’ because it had plans for a new roundabout intersecting Angel Street, High Street and what would become Arundel Gate.
It was eventually demolished and replaced by a new steel-framed building, clad in concrete and tile panels, and opened in 1962 as a Peter Robinson department store. The chain store had been founded in 1833 as a drapery, soon expanding with a flagship store at Oxford Circus, London, and bought by Burton’s in 1946.
The shop in Sheffield was part of Peter Robinson’s nationwide expansion, at its height having 39 stores across Britain.
Whilst the building may not be considered of architectural importance, it most certainly played a part in shaping High Streets across the country.
It was here, in 1964, that a new department was launched on the third floor, Top Shop, a youth brand, selling fashion by young British designers such as Polly Peck, Mary Quant, Gerald McCann, Mark Russell and Stirling Cooper.
The Top Shop name was later used for a large standalone store on Oxford Street, London, and expanded into further Peter Robinson branches at Ealing, Norwich, and Bristol.
It was not until 1973 that Top Shop was split from Peter Robinson, the Top Shop (later Topshop) brand flourished, subsequently becoming part of Phillip Green’s Arcadia Group, whose demise dominates present-day headlines.
Alas, by the end of the 1970s, the Peter Robinson name had all but disappeared.
From 1974, the adjacent C&A store absorbed the upper floors of Peter Robinson, while furniture retailer Waring & Gillow occupied the ground floor.
After C&A vacated in the 1990s, it became Primark until it relocated to The Moor in 2016, leaving the old department store empty.
On a final note, that proposed roundabout eventually became Castle Square, with the famous ‘Hole-in-the-Road’ linking into the building, filled in to accommodate Supertram in 1994.
As part of the works to build King’s Tower, King Street, to the rear, will be improved with the market retained and access for vehicles.
No. 9 has stood at the end of Fargate all our lives. It is the tall, detached building standing between Chapel Walk and Black Swan Walk and is in a sorry state.
It is hard to imagine that this building was part of the Victorian renaissance of the old town centre, one that marked the widening of Fargate and set the building line for later High Street improvements.
Plans to widen Fargate were proposed in 1875, but it was not until the late 1880s that work started. Old buildings on the east side were flattened extending back from Fargate for distances varying from 60ft to 240ft.
It would appear that Lot 4, a plot of land containing about 150 square yards on the north side of Chapel Walk and south of a foot road (Black Swan Walk), with a frontage of 19ft to Fargate and 72ft to Chapel Walk, had been the site of the Black Swan Public House.
In 1887, Sheffield Corporation paid William Davy, the licensee, £11,160 for the land and demolished the pub.
The freehold was bought in 1888 by A.H. Holland, Provisions Merchant, founded in 1844 by Alwin Hibbard Holland, whose previous shop had been at No. 3 Fargate, one of those flattened for street widening.
Alwin Hibbard Holland had died in 1883, the business continuing through his wife, Eliza, and youngest son, Alwyn Henry Holland. (His eldest son, Kilburn Alwyn Holland, also had a provisions business, but appeared to have played only a small part in the family business).
Eliza Holland played an important role in the success of A.H. Holland, but it was Alwyn (whose story will be covered in a future post) who established the business in new premises at No. 9 Fargate.
Alwyn had been educated at Brampton Schools, Wath upon Dearne, before becoming a pupil, and afterwards, assistant to Sheffield-architect John Dodsley Webster.
After his father’s death, he joined A.H. Holland which he ran with his co-executors, and co-designed the new premises along with Flockton, Gibbs and Flockton.
Thomas James Flockton had negotiated the purchase of the property and acted for Sheffield Corporation in the resale to Alwyn Holland, a fact that did not go unnoticed to sharp-eyed citizens.
Building work started in early 1889, with Sheffield-builder George Longden and Son chosen for the work, but progress was hampered when bricklayers and labourers went on strike demanding more money.
The new shop was eventually completed and opened to an expectant public on 9 November 1889 selling the ‘highest class goods at the lowest possible prices’. As well as the shopfront on Fargate, the premises extended down Chapel Walk occupying Nos. 1 to 15. The firm was awarded prize medals at the London International Exhibition and the International Dairy Show, sufficient for it to become sole agent for Lord Vernon’s Dairy (from Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire).
In 1891, the Rutland Institution occupied rooms overlooking Fargate above the shop. It was named after the Duchess of Rutland, who opened it, and was formed in connection with the Sheffield Gospel Temperance Union.
As well as being a shopkeeper, Alwyn Holland was a watercolour artist and his work was displayed inside the shop, ‘displaying marked originality both as an architect and an artist’.
It might have been Holland’s aspirations as an artist that ultimately led to the downfall of A.H. Holland.
With a sizeable income the firm built new property on adjoining Chapel Walk, renting out eight shops at ground level with a large suite of assembly rooms upstairs, including the Howard Gallery, for high-class art exhibitions, and Holland’s Restaurant.
The gallery opened in 1898 but proved a failure, closing its doors in 1904. By this time, the Rutland Institution had moved out, and the entire upper floor was extended into rooms above No. 9 Fargate and remodelled as tea rooms.
In 1906, a new company was created, Hollands Ltd, to take over the business carried on by Eliza Holland and Alwyn Henry Holland at No. 9 Fargate and Nos. 1 to 15 Chapel Walk, as well as the restaurant business carried on by Alwyn at 17-23 Chapel Walk (and also at Sheffield University Rectory).
Joining Eliza and Alwyn as directors were Smith William Belton, a provisions merchant from Market Harborough, William Whiteley, a Sheffield scissor manufacturer, Richard P. Greenland, Liverpool soap manufacturer, Arthur Neal, Sheffield solicitor, and George Shuttleworth Greening, accountant.
A second grocery and provisions business were established on Whitham Road at Broomhilll, but despite new investment things did not go particularly well for A.H. Holland, and in 1909 the business slipped into voluntary liquidation.
Net losses since the formation of the new company amounted to £3,826 and directors attributed poor performance to deficient continuity of management, shortness of working capital, and consequent loss of business due to the depression in Sheffield.
The following year the freehold of No. 9 Fargate was offered at auction, as was the leasehold portion on Chapel Walk, once home to the Howard Gallery and Holland’s Café.
By the end of the year, No. 9 Fargate was used as an auction house by Arnold, Prince, Bradshaw and Company, and the following year fell into the hands of Sykes and Rhodes, costumiers and furriers, which remained until 1924.
By this time, the building had suffered from Sheffield’s age-old problem of black soot, darkening the stone, making it rather ‘dull-looking’.
However, the building was about to be reinvented with the opening of a shop in Sheffield by one of Britain’s leading tailors.
“A cynic has remarked that one of the reasons why Austin Reed Ltd have opened a shop in Fargate is because the male members of the community in Sheffield need attention in sartorial details.”
The business had been founded by Austin Leonard Reed (great grandfather of Asos founder Nick Robertson) and claimed to be the first menswear store to bring made-to-measure quality to the ready-to-wear market. Its first store was in London’s Fenchurch Street and by 1924 had branches in all the most important towns and cities of England.
“Time is not so long distant when Sheffield relied on its old-established businesses, handed on from father to son, but, with the passing of the war, there came a change, and today, as quickly as premises can be acquired, firms with world-wide reputations are erecting palatial buildings, limited only by the space at their disposal.”
The company spent a small fortune converting the building, the designs drawn up by P.J. Westwood and Emberton, of Adelphi, London, and involved the original builder, George Longden and Son.
Outside included a beautiful marble front erected by Fenning and Co., Hammersmith, made of Italian Bianco del Mare and Belgian Black Marble. The entrance lobbies contained lines of non-slip carborundum inserted into marble paving.
The building consisted of a basement, three sales floors, and an office situated at the top. They were linked by staircases and the lift, a survivor from A.H. Holland days.
The basement was used for dispatching, the ground floor for the tie, collar, and glove department, the first floor was for hats, shirts, and pyjamas, while the second floor formed the ‘new’ tailoring department.
“Inside, everything blends and tones; there is nothing garish to the eye. The ground-work is of oak panelling, staircase, and fittings. On the ground floor, the firm has arranged six windows nicely furnished with parquet beds, the door at the back being glazed with embossed glass to the architect’s design.
“The window lighting – admired by thousands – is worked with x-ray window reflectors, and each window has a special plug for ‘spotlights’ or experimental lighting effects.”
The front of the shop was also illuminated with a ‘Dayanite’ electric sign installed by the Standard Electric Sign Works. This, and the window lighting, was controlled by a revolutionary time switch that allowed them to be switched off on Sundays.
While the outside was impressive, the interior had the latest shop-fittings made of lightly fumed oak, with polished edged frameless mirrors, supplied by George Parnall of Bristol and London.
The coat cabinets worked on an American principle where doors opened and disappeared into the sides of the cabinet, and a large rack, laden with coats on pegs, was drawn out and slowly revolved.
The counters had small reflectors and low-voltage gas-filled lamps, manufactured by G.C. Cuthbert of London, that provided white light and gave a brilliant effect to the goods.
Another innovation was an electric hat cleaner whereby a visiting customer with a hard felt hat could have it cleaned and renovated in three minutes.
Customers were most impressed with Austin Reed’s new payment and receipt system.
When an item was purchased the assistant placed the money, bill and duplicate into a cartridge that was inserted into pneumatic tubes, similar to those used in newspaper offices, that within ‘three second’ had reached the top of the building. The office assistant then placed the receipt and change in the cartridge and the procedure reversed.
Austin Reed also used several local contractors.
Decoration was completed by F. Naylor, of Abbeydale Road, plumbing by George Simpson and Co., from Broomhall Street, electrics by Marsh Bros., of Fargate, and the structural engineers were W.H. Blake and Co., from Queen’s Road.
Austin Reed remained at No. 9 Fargate the 1970s, the building becoming a Salisburys bag shop and subsequently a victim of the relentless ‘chain store shuffle’, its last incumbent being Virgin Media.
As I write, it is a pop-up Christmas store, in darkness due to Covid-19 restrictions, with a sun-tanning parlour above.