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Buildings

Harris Leon Brown and the one o’clock time signal

H.L. Brown is situated in Yorkshire House at 2 Barker’s Pool. Sheffield. The time signal can be seen in the first floor central window. Image: DJP/2022

It confuses many people but is a reliable reminder to others. I’m referring to the one o’clock time signal that blasts out daily from above H.L. Brown at Barker’s Pool.

Today it’s a quirky tradition, and a reminder of a time when the concept of time was a bit fuzzier.

The origin of the time signal goes back to 1874, when in Angel Street, Harris Leon Brown fixed and maintained a ‘Greenwich time ball’ – that was placed on a flagstaff outside his premises, and which by an electric current fell at exactly 1p.m., Greenwich mean-time.

Back then, – different towns tended to keep different times, and thus Greenwich Mean Time was established.

Back in Sheffield, the 1 o’clock Time Signal became a handy way for city workers to mark the end of their lunch breaks, though its position above the watchmaker was used to ensure that his timepieces were accurate.

The equipment was admired for two years, but electric signals in the open air were affected by the weather and its failure to ‘drop’ on several occasions caused it to be removed.

In 1876, he entered into an agreement with the Government to supply him daily for three years with the correct time. A wire connected his shop in Angel Street with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and at one o’clock every day the ball dropped with remarkable precision as the sixtieth part of a second.

In his window, Harris Brown displayed several English keyless chronometer watches, especially adapted for pocket timekeepers. All of these were regulated by the time ball placed outside his shop door.

In 1891, a ‘Greenwich mean time flashing signal and time bell’ was installed in the window of H.L. Brown at new premises at 71 Market Place. It was a synchronised clock with flashing signal and bell, showing mean time daily at 1p.m. and was unaffected by rain or snow.

The clock was 14 inches in diameter, and on either side were two open circles, about half the size of the clock dial.

The one on the left contained a ‘flashing signal’ – a disc of metal painted red, and finely balanced on a pivot. Throughout the day this disc remained with its edge towards the front and was almost invisible. But precisely at one o’clock in the afternoon (GMT) the electric current arrived, giving the disc a quarter revolution, and causing it to reveal its full face, and fill up the open circle, remaining in that position for two seconds.

Simultaneously, the time bell fixed in the open dial to the right of the large clock was struck, so that the electric current made its arrival known both to sight and sound.

To obtain this equipment, H.L. Brown had to enter a five year agreement with the Post Office and pay a large yearly subscription. They were the only watch manufacturer to receive this direct signal. He stated that one of the reasons for installing the equipment was because he had sold many watches from the Government observatory at Kew, and which were guaranteed to keep exact time.

By visiting the Market Place any day at one o’clock, he said that users could ascertain if their watch was ‘on time’ as accurately as by a visit to London.

H.L. Brown later moved to 65 Market Place, and along with it went his equipment. It was bombed in 1940 and the shop moved to 70 Fargate at the corner with Leopold Street.

The time signal was subsequently replaced with a siren, and this was relocated to its current position at Barker’s Pool when H.L. Brown’s Fargate shop was demolished in 1986 for the construction of Orchard Square.

Above the entrance, there’s a small black and white sign proclaiming “1 o’clock time signal” and alongside it, the siren that you hear each and every day. Image: Sheffield Star

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Companies People

Harris Leon Brown – a Polish refugee who made Sheffield his home

Harris Leon Brown came to England from Poland with an introduction to Alfred Beckett & Sons. He started by travelling around as a watch maker. Image: H.L. Brown

This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.

Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.

He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.

When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.

But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.

Harris Leon Brown (1843-1917), diamond merchant, jeweller and horologist of Poland and Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.

With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.

H.L. Brown, 71 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown

Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).

In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.

In 1896, H.L. Brown moved to 65 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown
In the 1930s, H.L. Brown was modernised. Image: H.L. Brown
While searching for photographs of London’s Regent Street, this image from 1910 appeared and shows H.L. Brown at 90 and 90A. Image: Getty Images

Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.

During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.

He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.

H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices  for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.

The jewelled key presented to King Edward VII at the opening of the University of Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield
Newspaper advertisement from 1907. Image: British Newspaper Archive

In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.

When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917.  He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.

At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”

His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.

He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.

In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.

In 1940, the Sheffield shop was destroyed in the Blitz and business moved to 70 Fargate. Image: H.L. Brown

During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.

Town Hall Square in 1967 looking towards Fargate and Leopold Street, Goodwin Fountain, foreground, and No 70, H.L. Brown and Son Ltd. Image: Picture Sheffield

James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.

In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.

Today,  H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).

H.L. Brown at 2 Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, in 2022. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

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.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

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 Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

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.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings

The Bankers Draft

This building stands in one of Sheffield’s most historic parts and survives in an area that has changed considerably in the past eighty years. Thanks to the Blitz, the Hole-in-the-Road and Supertram, the environs show no resemblance to the day it was constructed.

These days we know it as The Banker’s Draft, a Grade II listed building, in Market Place, one of the first J.D. Wetherspoon pubs to open in Sheffield, but its origins goes back to the turn of the twentieth century.

In the old days, the three landmarks of Sheffield were the Castle, the Market Place and the Parish Church. When tradesmen recognised the Castle as less than a means of protection, they started clustering around the Market Place (or The Shambles), a place where they could face anyone proceeding towards the church, by means of High Street.

Markets had been held here since 1296, and its original buildings were replaced with picturesque timbered latticed gabled properties about 1752, and again around 1812.

Once, amidst the atmosphere of drapery, leather, grocery and hats, the place had a banking tradition, one that repeated itself later. Hannah Haslehurst and Son, departing from ancestral grocery, founded The Sheffield Old Bank on this spot, but it collapsed in 1785.

In 1901, the Market Place area was described as ‘an aching void,’ sharing the fate of similar early 19th century buildings, the homes of humble traders, that were demolished to make way for the York City and County Bank.

The bank was designed by Walter Brierley (1862-1926), a York architect, described as being the ‘Yorkshire Lutyens’ or ‘Lutyens of the North.’ He created 300 buildings across the north between 1885 and his death, mainly family mansions, churches, schools and banks. Brierley was also architect for North Riding County Council and the Diocese of York.

Construction started in 1901, the contractor being Sheffield-based George Longden and Son, and was finished in 1904.

Described as being Edwardian Baroque, built in Aberdeen granite and Italian marble, its interiors were lavish. A parquet floor was laid by the Acme Wood Flooring Company of London, with furnishings supplied by Goodall, Lamb & Heighway, manufacturers of high quality furniture, upholsterers and carpet warehousemen from Manchester.

Quite forgotten, is that the York City and County Bank had bought more land than it really needed. It rented out offices on the first, second and third floors, as well as the spacious basement (where remains of old stables can still be seen).

However, it was also proposed to build a first-class hotel next door, also designed by Brierley, that was never erected, probably the result of a long dispute with the council over its alcohol licence.

The York City and County Bank (established 1830) amalgamated with the London Joint Stock Bank in 1909, which itself merged with the London City and Midland Bank in 1919.

Despite the area being mostly destroyed during the Sheffield Blitz, the Midland Bank (as it became) survived unscathed, and remained open until 1989, before relocating to the end of Fargate.

Standing empty for a while, it was bought by J.D. Wetherspoon, operating as The Banker’s Draft ever since.

NOTES: –
Walter Brierley was the architect who designed several buildings in the village of Goathland, North Yorkshire, that were seen during the opening credits of ITV’s Heartbeat (1992-2010).

Market Place is now commonly known as Castle Square. However, Market Place is officially the paved area running in front of The Banker’s Draft, between High Street to Angel Street.