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The signs come down and John Lewis disappears

Workcrews abseiled off of the roof of the store in Barkers Pool to remove the last letters of the John Lewis sign from Sheffield’s skyline. Photograph: Sheffield Star

The last call for John Lewis in Sheffield. The signs are down and its association with the city since the 1940s has been obliterated. It was one of eight stores axed nationally and brought to an end the history of Cole Brothers, the beginning of which went back to 1847, when John Cole, silk mercer and hosier, opened a shop at No.4 Fargate. He was later joined by his brothers, Thomas and Skelton Cole. Their Fargate store was taken over by Selfridge Provincial Stores in 1919, before being sold to the John Lewis Partnership. Cole Brothers moved to its purpose-built department store in 1963, and was renamed John Lewis in 2002. It never reopened after the lockdown and confirmation of its closure came in June.

The signs were lowered to ground level before carried away by work crews. Photograph: Sheffield Star
The John Lewis store by Barkers Pool closed down permanently in August after the decision was reportedly taken at the start of the third national lockdown. Photograph: Sheffield Star

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Buildings

John Lewis: Maybe we shouldn’t get excited just yet

Last week, a top Sheffield businessman urged Sheffield City Council to work fast to secure a £100m proposal to convert the vacant John Lewis department store into ‘Sheffield Rules’ – a museum celebrating the city’s roles in the origin of the game, have-a-go football experiences with celebrities, community pitches on the roof, and bars and restaurants on the ground floor opening onto Barker’s Pool.

The building would be revamped with ‘football architecture’ including a central column to represent a halfway line and a tunnel leading to the roof. The proposal could also see the John Lewis car park replaced by a residential tower.

Patrick Abel, corporate finance partner, at Hart Shaw Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, compared delaying the potential deal with failed plans by developer Hammerson to build Sevenstone shopping centre.

Unfortunately, there may be more questions to be asked rather than the simple decision-making process.

John Lewis announced it would not be reopening its Sheffield store in June, and with the lease due to revert to the council, it quickly appointed Fourth Street, a placemaking company which provides strategic and commercial advice to unique destinations and unusual property developments. The result of its work won’t be released until early next year, and the public will be consulted on plans.

The ‘Sheffield Rules’ plans, complete with artistic impressions of the development, have appeared barely five months after the announced closure and states that the company behind the scheme is a global sports brand. This might suggest that the idea was in place long before John Lewis announced it wouldn’t be opening its doors again.

Is the ‘Sheffield Rules’ proposal part of Fourth Street’s work to recreate the former department store? I think not. “The response (to Sheffield City Council) has been positive,” says the developer, “But they can’t commit because they are going through their own processes.”

Why hasn’t the global sports brand been named? The involvement of a credible sponsor would surely add weight to any development. Remember, there is already the National Football Museum in Manchester, and might we seriously expect tourists to choose between the two?

And, of course, there are problems that surround the empty shop. Rumours abound of its poor condition – lack of investment by John Lewis and the presence of asbestos – and without compensation agreed, any plans might be a while away yet.

Call me sceptical, but I think the announcement came too soon, and we need to know more about its integrity before we get too excited. The ‘Sheffield Rules’ idea is brilliant, I hope it comes to culmination, but we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

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Buildings

Coming down: the last days of Barker’s Pool House

Demolition underway at Barker’s Pool House on Burgess Street. Photograph: DJP/2021

Sheffield city centre has never seen so much demolition and construction. The latest to fall is 1970s Barker’s Pool House, on Burgess Street, once linked to John Lewis by its high covered footbridge. The bridge has already gone, and now the bricks and mortar of the former office block will soon be no more. As part of the Heart of the City II development, it will be replaced by a stylish new Radisson Blu hotel, with its retained Victorian entrance on Pinstone Street. The William Mitchell ten-panel abstract reliefs, commissioned in 1972, were removed last year and will be resited in nearby Pound’s Park once completed.

The former Yorkshireman public house stands adjacent to Barker’s Pool House. Its own fate is uncertain. Photograph: DJP/2021

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.