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.
Back in Victorian times, High Street and its approach was compared to a bottle, of which the approach was the body and the street the neck.
From the Churchgates (Sheffield Cathedral) the road tapered away until constricted at what was known as ‘Grundy’s Corner’ – the bulging portion of which had been an eye-sore for years.
Horse-drawn traffic was the problem, and every year the neck became increasingly congested.
Plans to divert traffic away from High Street were considered impossible, and the Town Council had considered an ambitious widening of the street as far back as 1875.
However, it involved demolishing buildings and prompted objections from shopkeepers concerned about compensation and property boundaries, and it wasn’t until the 1890s that work started.
These two illustrations from 1890, both taken from Coles Corner, showed High Street as was, and the proposed widening of the street.
It was completed in 1895-1896 and involved demolition of buildings on the south side (to the right), replacing them with elegant Victorian structures, including the Foster’s Building.
Sadly, the Blitz of World War Two destroyed most of the property and we are left with twentieth century replacements including what was once Walsh’s department store, an old Sheffield name that mutated into Rackhams, House of Fraser, eventually handed over to TJ Hughes.
Only one building survives both sketches and is as familiar today as it was then. Parade Chambers, built for Pawson and Brailsford by Charles Hadfield, and constructed by George Longden & Son between 1883-1885.
In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.
There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.
The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.
In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).
A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.
The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.
The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.
Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.
While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.
In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.
The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.
These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.
The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.
In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.
The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.
And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.
This extraordinary sketch shows a grand municipal square that was once proposed for the centre of Sheffield. The illustration from 1911 was by Alwyn Henry Holland, and showed King Edward Square, considered as a memorial to King Edward VII who died in 1910.
At the time, Alderman George Franklin had suggested that the Fitzalan Market should be swept away and the central block between King Street and Fitzalan Square used as a handsome open square. In its centre was to be an equestrian monument celebrating King Edward with fountains either side.
The proposal would have meant that the main streets of the city would run into the square and afford adequate space for dealing with increasing tram traffic.
It was understandable that Sheffield considered such a scheme.
The city was often compared to Leeds, with its city square and ornamental embellishments, and the architecture of its public buildings and offices were thought far superior.
Fitzalan Market, dating back to the 18th century, was considered an ‘eyesore’ and described by market traders as being like the “Black Hole of Calcutta.”
The scheme was subject of several meetings at the Town Hall, and serious consideration was given to the plan. Alas, with the cost estimated at £200,000 (nearly £24 million today), the idea was abandoned in favour of the much-cheaper standing figure of King Edward VII in nearby Fitzalan Square.
From the illustration we can determine where King Edward Square would have been.
The road at the centre of the sketch is Commercial Street, leading into High Street, with Fitzalan Square to the left. The road on the right side of the square is King Street. Several buildings are familiar, including The White Building on the left and the York City and County Bank (now The Banker’s Draft) in the centre of the picture. The spire of Sheffield Parish Church, now the Cathedral, can be seen behind.
Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 and a large part of the site was acquired by C&A Modes Ltd for a new department store. This was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced with a less spectacular building, later acquired by Primark, and now easyHotel.
NOTE:- Alwyn Henry Holland (1861-1935) was a little-known painter in watercolours who was initially articled to the architect John Dodsley Webster. He acted as Honorary Secretary of the Sheffield Society of Artists but, on the death of his father, succeeded to the family grocery business. Holland was the owner and architect for the Howard Fine Art Gallery on Chapel Walk, which opened in 1898 for the exhibition of old, modern, pictorial, and applied arts.