Ban-Thai. Like so many old buildings, its original use is overlooked

Ban Thai restaurant, on the west side of St. Mary’s Gate, is known to many, but like many old buildings, its original use is overlooked.

It was built in 1894 for the Sheffield Union Bank at the corner of Cemetery Road and Ecclesall Road. The postal address is still No.1 Ecclesall Road and goes back to when it stood adjacent to the Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-op building, demolished to make way for the Safeway (Waitrose) supermarket, and before the widening of St. Mary’s Gate.

Sheffield Union Bank was established in 1843, taking over the business of the Yorkshire District Bank. Its first branch opened in Retford in 1846, and expanded across Sheffield, Rotherham, Penistone, and Chesterfield.

This office was confusingly referred to as the Sheffield Moor branch and after the bank’s amalgamation with the London City & Midland Bank in 1901, it operated as the Midland Bank. The branch was offloaded to the Trustee Savings Bank in the later part of the twentieth century.

When the bank closed, it became Robert Brady, outfitters, before becoming Barbarella’s restaurant and bar and then Ban Thai. The upper floors were converted to provide two storey student accommodation in 1995.

The design of the Grade II listed building was the work of architects J.B. Mitchell-Withers & Son, whose practice was on Surrey Street.

John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1838-1894) came from the family of Samuel Mitchell, a name often mentioned in Hunter’s Hallamshire, and the son of W.B. Mitchell. He was educated at Collegiate College, later tutored by architect Samuel Worth, and set up on his own as an architect and surveyor. 

By the will of his aunt, Sarah Withers, he inherited her Sheffield property with the stipulation that he took the name of Withers.

Mitchell-Withers’ work can still be seen across the city. He was responsible for the extension to the Cutlers’ Hall after winning a competition in 1888. There are also Town Hall Chambers on Pinstone Street (1885), Firs Hill Junior School, the Licensed Victuallers’ Association Almhouses, Abbeydale Road South, as well as St John the Baptist Church, Penistone Road, St. Silas Church, Broomhall Street, and restorations to the nave of St. Mary Church at Ecclesfield. He also built his home,  Parkhead House (then called Woodlands) on Ecclesall Road South.

He was an enthusiastic watercolour painter with involvement in the local art scene. He became president of the Sheffield School of Art and the Sheffield Society of Artists and was vice-president and treasurer of Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors. The Duke of Devonshire engaged him to supervise the restoration of painted ceilings in the state rooms at Chatsworth House.

This branch of the Sheffield Union Bank was one of his last commissions and he died of a heart attack in the year it was built. Another commission for Union bank on Langsett Road had to be completed by his eldest son, also called John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers in 1895.

John Brightmore Mitchell-Withers (1865-1920) succeeded his father and initiated several distinguished buildings. These included extensions to Central Schools on Orchard Lane between 1893-1895 (now adjacent to Leopold Square), High Court on High Street, John Walsh’s department store (bombed), and Clifford House at Ecclesall Road South.

As a boy, he was educated at Rugby where he won several prizes and gained his cap in rugby football at the school. After joining his father’s practice, he passed the examination of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1890.

Mitchell-Withers Jnr was a member of Hunter Archaeologist Society and like his father, was involved with the Sheffield Society of Artists and became president of the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors, representing them on the council of RIBA.

He became an honorary lecturer on English Gothic architecture at Sheffield University and a council member with the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society.

Mitchell-Withers was also an agent for the Burgoyne estate and the Duke of Devonshire’s land near Dore.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


1-9 York Street

Impressive by design. Former premises of the London and Midland Bank. Designed by Andrew Francis Watson and opened in 1895. (Image: David Poole)

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.

Looking onto East Parade in the early nineteenth century. Pawson and Brailsford was replaced by Parade Chambers and W. Stacey became the site of the London and Midland Bank. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

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.

Artist impression of the London and Midland Bank in 1895, making it larger than it actually was. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)
Local newspapers sketched the completed building shortly after opening. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

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 intricate sculptors that adorn many Sheffield buildings were the work of Frank Tory. This old bank reveals another of his treasures above the old front entrance. Tory was also responsible for woodwork carvings within the building. (Image: David Poole)

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.

Victorian banking made a statement at the London and Midland Bank. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

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.

Eight years after construction, the London and Midland Bank had succumbed to Sheffield’s sooty atmosphere. The owners of the property where Harpers Stores stands had objected to building the bank any higher because of ‘ancient lights.’ (Image: Picture Sheffield)
The bank seen in 1895, the year it opened. The manager’s office looked out onto High Street. The small dormer window at the top was the caretaker’s residence. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

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 former grand entrance is now a fire exit to Lloyd’s Bank. (Image: David Poole)
The old bank was Grade II-listed in 1995. (Image: David Poole)
The building only lasted 36 years as a standalone property. It was absorbed into the bank next door in 1931 but remains one of Sheffield’s few original banks. (Image: David Poole)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.