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Edward Mitchel Gibbs

Edward Mitchel Gibbs (Image: Picture Sheffield)

“If you want to see a monument to this man, look around you.”

Here is a man once described as “one of the makers of Sheffield,” for he was responsible for many of its principal buildings and played a leading part in changing the shape of the city.

His long list of work can be seen around Sheffield today.

In his earlier years, Edward Mitchel Gibbs was architect for the branch libraries at Upperthorpe and Highfield, and later designed the Mappin Art Gallery, St. John’s Church at Ranmoor, the University of Sheffield, the Sheffield Telegraph Building, Lodge Moor Hospital, Channing Hall, Glossop Road Baths, Foster’s Building in High Street, and the White Building at Fitzalan Square. He was also responsible for some of the finest shops of the time in High Street and Fargate.

Sheffield Telegraph Building (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

E.M. Gibbs (1847-1935) was born in Sheffield, educated at the Milk Street School, and articled to architects Flockton & Abbott between 1862 to 1868, remaining as principal assistant. He attended classes at Sheffield School of Art and subsequently spent time in London, studying at the Royal Academy Schools and assisting in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse.

Gibbs worked as Superintendent of Works to Archibald Neill of Leeds from 1868 until 1872, when he was taken into partnership by Flockton & Abbott.

He continued in partnership with Thomas James Flockton after the retirement of George Lewslie Abbott in 1875, and the partnership was joined by Flockton’s son, Charles Burrows Flockton, in 1895.

Gibbs became senior partner in 1902 (as Gibbs & Flockton), and the partnership was joined by John Charles Amory Teather in 1908, and Gibbs’ son, Henry Beckett Swift Gibbs, in 1921.

Mappin Art Gallery (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Like all good men, it was only after his death that people appreciated his contribution to the city.

His funeral in December 1935 was held at the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street (in which Gibbs had designed much of its interior) where the Rev. Alfred Hall paid tribute:

“Gibbs’ aim was to make Sheffield beautiful. All his artistic insight and architectural skill were devoted to that end, and, though tastes and fashion had changed, all men would acknowledge that the buildings he conceived and erected were dignified and noble.”

The funeral achieved national attention because Rev. Hall read out a document left by Gibbs:

“Born of Unitarian parents, I was a staunch supporter of the Unitarian precepts for many years, but under the teaching of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer became an agnostic. I hope the Minister, if he accepts the responsibility of conducting my funeral, will do so in the simplest manner possible, remembering that I die an agnostic.”

The clergyman admired his “sterling honesty” after which Gibbs’ remains were taken to City Road for cremation.

During his lifetime Gibbs thought positively and deeply and was a man of definite views. He was afraid that the country might fall into the hands of extremists and had the foresight to see the danger it faced arising out of Germany’s ambitions.

Highfield Library (Image: Picture Sheffield)

But he was not just an architect.

Gibbs had knowledge of property values and was retained by Sheffield Corporation in all cases of arbitration under the Tramways and Street Widening Act of 1897.

He also published essays: ‘The Town Planning of Sheffield’ and ‘The Finance of Housing and Reform of Rating’. In 1895, he presented a scheme for a central railway station in the vicinity of Haymarket. The plans were dismissed, as was his big scheme for housing.

Gibbs’ grand expansion plan was based on garden city principles with radiating main roads linked by a ring road with suburban settlements at its junctions.

Foster’s Building, High Street. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

As well as being a city magistrate, he was a trustee of Woofindin Homes, a director of the Gladstone Buildings Company and a governor of the University of Sheffield, where he was awarded a Master of Arts, and was instrumental in establishing the Department of Architecture.

He was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1892 and was also president of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors. Gibbs also succeeded Thomas James Flockton as Consulting Surveyor to the Town Trustees, for which he designed the Fulwood Park estate.

The White Building, Fitzalan Square. (Image: David Poole)

Gibbs was married to Lucy, daughter of a manager at the Sheffield and Hallamshire Bank, who died a year before him, and lived at Woodcroft, 7 Riverdale Road. On his death he left gross estate of £52,939 (about £3.8 million today).

St John’s Church, Ranmoor. (Image: St John’s Ranmoor)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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People

Frank Saltfleet

A self portrait in old age. Photograph by View from the Hill

Frank Saltfleet was one of Sheffield’s best-known artists, yet today his work is largely overshadowed by that of his wife, Jean Mitchell.

He was a specialist in watercolour painting, and about 18 months before his death an exhibition of his works was held at the Graves Art Gallery.

Alderman J.G. Graves also presented a group of Frank’s pictures to the city, and in the 1930s were on view at the Mappin Art Gallery.

He was, by profession, a landscape painter, but also keenly interested in music, literature, and drama.

Sheffield During the Coal Strike from Norfolk Park by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Museums Sheffield.

Born in Sheffield in 1860, he was sent to St George’s National School, and when he was about 12-years-old, entered the silver trade to learn the art of close plating, later being apprenticed to a cabinet maker.

Frank attended the Mechanics’ Institute in Surrey Street, where his teacher was Mr Read Turner, a well-known Sheffield artist. Some time later he accepted an offer to advance the necessary funds for six months’ study in art at Antwerp, and with several other young Sheffield artists he went to the Academy of Arts there.

Whirlow Brook Hall by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Peter Wilson Fine Art Auctioneers.

His travels included tours of Italy, the Adriatic, and several visits to Venice.

Frank was quite out of sympathy with the works of ultra-modernists in any art, and his favourite composers were Mozart and Beethoven. The works of Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Marlowe and Greene had an appeal to him.

He had several pictures accepted at the Royal Academy, but they were never hung and on many occasions his work was to be found in local exhibitions. Once or twice he exhibited watercolours at the Cutlers’ Hall.

His tastes lay chiefly in the direction of landscapes and seascapes, and woodland and moorland pictures.

“A land and riverscape artist with more than a local reputation. Some of his best pictures have the atmospheric charm of the not too hazy impressionist school. In social circles Mr Saltfleet sings drolly. He is that strange thing – an artist without the professional pose. He has less ambition than many of his inferiors,” said the Sheffield Independent in 1902.

Frank was well known in Sheffield as an enthusiastic amateur actor, taking part in several local productions.

For many years he was a Freemason, attaining a few honours, the chief of them being that of Past Master of St. Leonard’s Chapter at Tapton Hall.

Frank married twice, and after his death in 1937 was survived by his second wife, who was Miss Jean Mitchell, daughter of Young Mitchell, who was the first Principal at the Sheffield School of Art.

Rowing Boats on a Cobble Landing by Frank Saltfleet. Photograph by Invaluable.