Categories
Buildings Streets

Thomas Street – the people are returning

Thomas Street, looking towards Moore Street, with a covered walkway between Cosmos, recently constructed student accommodation.

This was formerly the site of Stokes Tiles, but back in 1892 we would have been looking at a much narrower Thomas Street, with the Noah’s Ark public house evident. The council paid £750 for 113 square yards of freehold land from Tennant Bros for the purpose of widening these streets.

Former back-to-back housing in the area was cleared and made way for industry, but times change, and the people are returning.

In the background is the Moorfoot Building, and Wickes, this land now under ownership of NewRiver, owners of The Moor, and I’m informed will be assigned for further residential development.

Cosmos. New student accommodation situated at the corner of Fitzwilliam Street and Moore Street. The people are returning to Sheffield city centre. Image: DJP/2021

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Uncategorized

Demolishing Moorfoot might not be that easy

I listen, I watch, I give my own opinions.

There is a whisper that New River, owner of The Moor, might be in talks with Sheffield City Council about purchasing the Moorfoot building. This ties in with the council’s Strategic Vision document that suggests the area will be targeted at young professionals and promoted as a ‘prime location for city core living’.

“The future of the Moorfoot Building itself (adaptation or replacement) is currently being considered’ due to the emergence of hybrid working.”

Eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings, it was built for the Manpower Services Commission which occupied it from 1981. It was here that the infamous Youth Training Scheme (YTS) was instigated, before being used by other Government agencies. The council bought it in the late 2000s.

Will Moorfoot be demolished and replaced?

I think there will be obstacles in the way of demolition, not least from architectural experts who regard the building as a Brutalist landmark. Don’t be surprised if there is an application to get it listed.  

It might also seem a waste of money for Sheffield City Council to spend a fortune buying and renovating Moorfoot, and then spend even more money to relocate departments elsewhere. But stranger things have happened.

I don’t think the Moorfoot building will disappear, although there might be an opportunity to demolish the indoor car park attached to it. Much more likely is that the block of shops, and hospitality venues bordering Moorfoot, Hereford Street, South Lane, and Cumberland Street, will go instead. This would provide an ideal public space, paving the way for the Moorfoot building to be converted to residential (think of The Barbican in London).

And don’t forget that the former Office Outlet/Theatre Deli block is earmarked to be replaced by Lidl.

A lot of speculation and perhaps wide of the mark, but extremely interesting.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings Short Stories

I am a pair of gates… and I’ve suffered more than most

Moorfoot. Photograph: DJP/2021

“I am a pair of gates. I’ve been padlocked for 40 years. I am the victim of abuse.

“People have climbed on me. People have thrown things over me. People have been sick on me. People have urinated on me… and sometimes much worse. People have fought against me and got hurt, and then I have seen them arrested. People have laughed with me, and there have been people who’ve cried. People make love against me, and there are those that have slept by my side all night. Sometimes, bad people have hid in the shadows and I have been unable to do anything.

“I am at my best in autumn, when I’m able to catch fallen leaves, and then they rest at my feet until they’ve become a rotting mess. But I guess I’m only a pair of gates, and people pass me every-day without giving me a second glance.”

Moorfoot. Photograph: DJP/2021

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings

The mystery of the Moorfoot building

Moorfoot. A late seventies Government-built office complex that opened in 1981. Now home to Sheffield City Council. Photograph: Google

Moorfoot is a brute of a building, dominating the Sheffield skyline, and 40 years after it opened, remains one of the city’s most controversial structures.

Its origins are in 1973 when Edward Heath’s Conservative Government created the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), to co-ordinate employment and training services in the UK through a ten-member commission drawn from industry, trade unions, local authorities and education interests.

Pat Duffy, the Labour MP for Attercliffe, excited by the prospect of 2,000 jobs, campaigned for the new headquarters to be built in Sheffield. Two years later, Harold Walker, Under Secretary at the Employment Department, told the House of Commons, “The decision has been made to locate the headquarters in Sheffield.”

It was an accomplishment for a down-at-heel northern city, but the citizens of Sheffield weren’t prepared for what came next.

The futuristic new headquarters was designed by the Government’s Property Services Agency – “A truly monolithic brutalistic office building. Red brick bands between rows of windows separated by concrete panels.” – eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings. Something of a pyramid, it earned nicknames like the ‘Aztec Temple’ and ‘Dalek City.’

Photograph: DJP/2021

That it would be built on land at the bottom of The Moor was even more controversial, cutting off Sheffield’s main shopping street from busy London Road, and depriving road and pedestrian traffic of a popular and historic route.

To compensate, it was designed to allow pedestrian access through the building, starting with an elevated ramp near the corner of Young Street and South Lane, before proceeding via a tunnel through the building, exiting above the car park, and using ramps to ground level on The Moor.

The route never opened, allegedly because IRA activity posed a threat to a government building, and the upper parts of the elevated walkway were left suspended mid-air before eventual removal.

The MSC opened in 1981, and for such a high-profile building, it was shrouded in mystery. Apart from the cavernous office-space, restaurant, bar, and basement squash court, were there really underground nuclear bunkers and a luxury apartment for Government hierarchy? Even today, the amount of information available about the building is incomplete – no floor plans, no design architect, no history forthcoming.

If ever a building divides opinion. The Moorfoot Building will probably escape demolition, unlike many other Sheffield buildings built in the 1970s. Photographs: DJP/2021

The MSC building was famous for its management of the Youth Training Scheme and various other training programmes intended to help alleviate the high levels of unemployment in the 1980s, but after 1987 the MSC lost functions and was briefly re-branded the Training Agency (TA), before being replaced by a network of 72 training and enterprise councils.

The MSC Building gave way to other Government agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office. However, it was too big and expensive to maintain, with departments vacating over a twenty year period.

In the late 2000s, the MSC Building was bought by Sheffield City Council, and with demolition in mind, wanted to create a new financial services district in its place.

The timing could not have been worse, and the monetary crisis of 2007-2008 prompted a rethink, and the building was overhauled, renamed Moorfoot, with potential office space for 2,600 council employees, and consolidation of various departments from around the city centre.

As for the Moorfoot’s future, it is likely to stay, worthy of a facelift and a bit of greenery might not go amiss. The iron gates at ground level could be opened to allow public access between The Moor and London Road. And, as the aerial photograph shows, there is a chance to create a green square in front of its main entrance (demolition required).

Photograph: DJP/2021

See also Crucible Fountain and Judith Bluck

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Other

Like it or not, Sheffield’s seagulls are here to stay

Have you noticed a lot of seagulls recently? Their cries can be heard throughout the city centre, and out into the suburbs. And more than one person has said, “It must be bad weather on the coast because they’ve come inland.”

The closest beach as the crow flies is Cleethorpes Central Beach, in North East Lincolnshire, and is 62 miles from Sheffield. Seagulls have always come inland during winter for the simple reason that it’s warmer in urban areas, but now it seems we may have to get used to them all year long.

As far as we know, it was about 40 years ago, that some gulls decided they preferred Sheffield, and stayed on during the rest of the year. They first started to roost and gather in local parks like Meersbrook Park and Graves Park, back in the ice-cold grip of the winters of 1979 and 1980.

Now they can be seen across the city, with large groups reported in the city centre and around Crystal Peaks.

A disruption in the ready supply of fish, particularly waste, due to changes in the fishing industry, could be a contributing factor in the gulls heading inland.

Adult birds (3 years and over) having once bred in a town or city will generally return to the same colony year after year, often to the same nesting site.

Mating activity will start in February when birds begin to identify nesting sites, courting is in full swing by March, and by April the nest will have been made. Typically, eggs will be laid in late April or May, and the eggs start to hatch in June. Matters get much worse in July and August when the young birds fledge (begin to fly).

It appears to be only the Herring and Lesser black-backed gulls that breed in Sheffield. They prefer flat roofs with a little substrate (gravel etc). They build a very simple nest of moss and other vegetation and if needs be this can be done in a matter of hours. Typically three eggs are laid in each nest. On a modern building, nests will tend to be built behind a parapet wall or where there is protection from the elements.

Gulls like circling round tall buildings: they use the updraughts to gain height, while they socialise or study the neighbourhood for food.

It is thought that the Moorfoot building has provided perfect nesting and roosting points for them, and there is lots of food which is easily available. Even if not fed by people there are always rubbish dumps and litter they can eat, for example, fish and chips dropped on pavements.

Much of the birds’ success in cities is due to their long lives, which allows the birds to build up an extensive memory of where and how to find food. Unlike garden songbirds (which generally live 3-5 years), gulls can live decades and accumulate valuable experience. 

Young gulls have been brought up with no knowledge of anywhere except urban life. None of them know how to catch a fish and have now reached the third or fourth generation.

And so, it appears that our seagulls are here to stay.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places

Little Sheffield

Fairbanks’ Map of Little Sheffield in 1808. South Street became The Moor. The road marked Little Sheffield is now London Road. There are some familiar road names in the top half of the map. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Once upon a time there was a small hamlet near Sheffield town that went by the name of Little Sheffield.

During the early 1800s, Sheffield’s rapidly growing population needed to expand outside the historical boundaries, and Little Sheffield disappeared.

We know where Little Sheffield was, but its boundaries blurred over time, with experts long contesting where it started and finished. The area has never been clearly defined, like those forgotten places of Port Mahon and Hallamshire.

We must go back to olden days when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.

Today, we know this marshy land as The Moor with its surrounding streets.

A path was made by throwing up two embankments, between which was a deep ditch, with only a footbridge over Porter Brook.

By the 1760s, travellers had to go down Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) and Button Lane (long disappeared) to Little Sheffield – a group of poor and time-worn cottages. The road to it ran across Sheffield Moor, thence up a sharp rise to Highfield. The only house you came to after passing Moorhead was Mr Kirkby’s, standing on Button Lane (opposite where the ramp to Sainsbury’s car-park on Charter Row now stands). There was one other building nearby, with a bowling green attached to Sheffield Moor. Beyond was Little Sheffield, the outlying hamlet.

By the nineteenth century, the fields around Little Sheffield had been swallowed up for the working classes, a poor and densely populated area, its houses with roofs of stone slabs, low windows, and red brick walls.

Nowadays, we can define Little Sheffield’s northern boundary as being where the Moorfoot Building stands, taking in Young Street, South Lane, St Mary’s Gate, London Road, and surrounding streets like Hermitage Street, Sheldon Street, Hill Street, John Street, and Boston Street (once called George Street), up towards its southern boundary at Highfield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.