Yesterday’s post about the demolition of the former Next building on Fargate caused a bit of a hubbub. Redevelopment is also taking place nearby, at 33-35 Fargate, better known to us as the former Topshop/Topman building.
Part of the ground floor is now occupied by Superdrug, but you may have noticed building work going on in the rest of the property. This is going to be new office space called Ratoon – its name meaning a new shoot or sprout springing from the base of a plant, especially sugar cane, after being cut.
The main entrance, and former escalator access to Topman on the first floor, is being turned into a new opening for office space above, much of which has been empty for years.
The £6.5m project is being financed by fund manager Nuveen on behalf of Medical Research Council Pension Fund. Sheffield City Council has also provided a £900K grant as it seeks to reinvent Fargate and High Street.
Offices will be rented as a whole, or floor-by-floor basis, with a rooftop terrace garden with views over St Marie’s Cathedral and Fargate. A lightwell will be installed over the stairs and an orangery-style roof lantern will shed light directly onto the upper floors.
But more about the history of the site.
If we go back to the beginning of the twentieth century the site was occupied by J.B. Eaton, well-known drapers at No. 33, and a public house called Old Red House, at No. 35. The pub closed in 1903 and the whole site developed as a purpose-built shop for J.B. Eaton.
The draper closed in the early 1930s and the site was bought by the British and Colonial Furniture Company. It demolished the former shop and built a new property for James Woodhouse and Son, known for selling furniture of modern and attractive design, and opened in May 1937.
The new Woodhouse building had five floors of spacious and well-lit showrooms providing nearly 40,000 square feet of floor space.
The shop fronts with large arcades, specially designed for the display of furniture, were of modern character, equivalent in size to a window nearly 200 feet long. A bronze and illuminated canopy protected shoppers and added to the dignity of the building.
The elevation, on classical lines, was constructed of Portland stone, with ornamental windows, and was floodlit at night.
Inside, staircases of polished oak were features of each floor, which were also served by express lifts.
The architect is unknown, but likely to have been the same one used to design many of James Woodhouse’ similar-looking stores.
Construction was by Sheffield-based George Longden and Son, who had also cleared the site, using materials of ‘British and Empire origin,’ and incorporating nearly 200 tons of British steelwork for the frame. Ornate plastering inside was completed by Hudson and Dore of Crookes.
British and Colonial was created after it bought James Woodhouse of Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as furniture retailers in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland. James Woodhouse is recorded in the records of Gillows of Lancaster, and it is thought he carried out his apprenticeship here.
The company traded as James Woodhouse and Son and expanded throughout Great Britain, Toronto, Quebec, and in 1936 had opened a New York store on West 34th-Street, Fifth Avenue. Its success was due to selling modern furniture at the lowest price, and by providing convenient and economical means of payment.
In 1945, British and Colonial was bought by Great Universal Stores and Woodhouse lasted on Fargate until the late1970s/early 1980s. Its eventual closure, and that of its sister company Cavendish, was the result of GUS divesting much of its physical retail subsidiaries to concentrate on mail order, property, and finance. In 2006, it was split into two separate companies. Experian which continues to exist, and Home Retail Group which was bought by Sainsbury’s in 2016.
33-35 Fargate eventually became Topshop/Topman, and for a while had a branch of Dorothy Perkins. It closed in 2020, a few months before the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.
And so, the next time you walk past, look at this old building, and remember its overlooked history.
©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.