It is a strange name for a small street in Sheffield. Esperanto Place is the short road that stretches between Arundel Gate, going down past Mecca Bingo, and into Fitzalan Square.
Many years ago, this was the eastern end of Norfolk Street, later separated by the construction of Arundel Gate, and insignificant to most people.
However, in 1974, when Sheffield hosted the British Esperanto Conference, this section of road was renamed in its honour.
Sheffield has been important in the world of Esperanto, hosting the British Esperanto Conference on four occasions, and is one of the few places in Britain to have a street named Esperanto.
Esperanto is a language created in the 19th century which soon became the most widely-spoken constructed international auxiliary language in the world. Advocates included film star Charlie Chaplin and writers J. R. R. Tolkien and Leo Tolstoy.
What do you do with a problem like Fitzalan Square? Those of you that have seen it lately cannot have failed to notice its recent overhaul with a new grassed area around the statue of King Edward VII, and the addition of new trees. The square has also been given open access from Norfolk Street, across Arundel Gate, and down Esperanto Place.
The improvements to Fitzalan Square and the surrounding area are part of a £5.5million ‘Knowledge Gateway’ project to transform the area which runs from the Cultural Industries Quarter up to the square.
However, there will be doubters that look upon this work with a note of scepticism. Fitzalan Square has never lived up to its name, not helped by unremarkable twentieth century buildings on one side of the square, and a tendency to attract ‘undesirables’.
Its history goes back to 1869 when Sheffield Corporation started purchasing and demolishing premises on the east side of Market Street (where the top end of the square is now) and the south side of the old Haymarket.
Several properties came down, including the Star Hotel, Theaker’s Coffee House, the King’s Arms Hotel, the Blue Bell, Fisher and Sons, Mr Arnison’s drapery, and Mr Jeffrey’s pawnbrokers.
A large portion of the premises belonged to the Misses Shearwood. These two ladies objected to part with their property and refused to lend themselves in any way to the proceedings for acquiring it. Sheffield Corporation had to execute a deed poll vesting the property in themselves and paid money into a bank account for the benefit of the ladies. The Sheriff of Yorkshire was called in to give the Corporation possession of the property, and did so by placing in the street an article of furniture and getting the tenants to ‘attorn’ to the Corporation – that was to admit that the Corporation was their landlord. The money remained in a Bank of England account until the death of the ladies some years later.
When the property between Market Street and Jehu Lane (still standing off Commercial Street) was pulled down the open space was called Fitzalan Square, after the Duke of Norfolk’s family.
It was in 1882 that the council announced that it was obtaining plans and specifications for completing a new layout in the open space.
“The space will be levelled, and a retaining wall built along Market Street, surmounted with ornamental palisades, leaving a part open in the centre with steps down to the space levelled, at each of which is to be erected two small ornamental stone buildings, the one near the markets for the use of gentlemen, to contain a good reception or waiting room, lavatory, retiring and attendant’s rooms. The building at the other end near to Norfolk Street, for the use of ladies; to be provided with similar accommodation. The open space is to be well spaced with good flagstones, and in the centre a suitable fountain to be erected, or a statue to William Jeffcock, the first Mayor of Sheffield.”
It appears that the plans were rejected in full, the toilets not built, but some improvements were made to ‘Welshers’ Oval’, as the Sheffield Independent called Fitzalan Square.
“The police were asked to undertake the keeping of order in the open space,” said Le Flaneur in the newspaper. “I am afraid this open space will be very much like the proverbial white elephant. It certainly cost enough to get, and now a permanent addition of the police force will be necessary to keep it constantly free of the loafers, idlers and book makers that make it their daily resort.”
It was left to Police-constable George Warhurst to be the object of terror. Betting loungers were prompt to obey his orders to make themselves scarce, and it was a difficult task for the Chief Constable when Warhurst died in 1884.
Matters did not improve after a pagoda-style building, comprising tram waiting rooms, water closets and urinals, as well as a clock turret, was built in the centre of the square in 1885.
Far from enhancing the appearance of the square, it provided shelter to ‘mouldy old men and frowsy women’ and in a short time had acquired a shabby reputation.
“If only some of our worthy Aldermen and Councillors would make it convenient to spend a few hours each day, for a week, in the immediate vicinity of this structure, they would, I am sure, be earnest in their endeavours to put an end to the constant ‘loafing’ which takes place by ‘undesirables’ at this particular sport,” said one letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.
It was a subject repeated day after day.
“The evil at the shelter is a radiating evil. It embraces all the seats around, for the reason that, while the shelter is the converging point of the very pick of Sheffield’s undesirable characters, they also use it as a kind of base from which they carry on their predatory prowling: a long rest, then a short spell of loafing at the street corners, – that is the day’s programme.”
“It has been a disgrace far too long, and from every point of view. In my judgement the lavatories themselves are a menace to public decency.”
The ‘Current Topics’ column in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph took up the matter and its biting words make painful reading today.
“The correspondents who are raising the question of this unpicturesque resort of the city’s Weary Willies and Tired Tims will do good service if they can stimulate the authorities into action. We will confess that we never pass through Fitzalan Square without experiencing a keen desire to turn a hose pipe on those seats, partly because it would be a pleasing novelty to see the people run, as in their abhorrence of cold water they would, and partly because both they and the seats they occupy look as if they would be the better for a smart wash.
“There need be no sentiment wasted over the denizens of Fitzalan Square. When we are really civilised, we shall transport such people to Labour Colonies and give them to eat exactly what they earn. Failing that there is neither reason nor sense in retaining them as permanent decorations to the city’s ‘finest site’. Fitzalan Square might be something to be proud of. At present it is only disgusting.”
Sheffield Corporation was indeed stimulated into action, probably the result of land at one end of the square being chosen as the site for the new General Post Office.
While land was cleared for the Post Office in 1907, councillors proposed reconstructing Fitzalan Square to harmonise with the new building.
It was probably one of the best known public spaces in Sheffield, but the most ardent son could scarcely claim that the pagoda-like structure which gave it its chief characteristic had added either architectural grace or dignity to this part of the city.
“The pagoda had served various purposes satisfactorily, and, notably, as a rendezvous for a little army of folk with apparently little to do than doze and gossip the day through.”
The council adopted a scheme for laying out Fitzalan Square in ornamental style as an open space, and at the same time taking advantage for utilitarian purposes. The scheme was worked out by Mr C.F. Wike, City Engineer, based on drawings prepared by the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors.
At the time it was noted that there were more pipes laid through Fitzalan Square than through any part of the city. Here, the lines to the GPO, the National Telephone, and Electric Light Power stations converged. The Post Office was also laying cables to connect trunk wires to the new GPO building and on completion of work, in January 1909, renovation of the square commenced.
The contractor chosen for the work was George Longden and Son, but the original plan had been shorn of ornamental detail due to cost, although the property overlooking the square was nearly all rebuilt.
The ugly pagoda went and the central part of the square it occupied was enlarged. This was made possible by removing an old cab stand and filling up the slope on the south side of the square to make it level and wider.
The upper part of Baker’s Hill, a sloping road in front of where the new GPO was being built, had been done away with, and steps substituted as an outlet from that corner of the square into Pond Street.
The new scheme provided an ornamental stone balustrade, public conveniences at either end of the square, and a tramway office, all underground. At the four corners were electric arc lamps, with further embellishments, in the shape of a fountain and a statue, planned for a later date.
However, the scheme was embroiled in controversy, the council wanting to use Norwegian or Swedish granite because it resisted damage, but the majority wanting cheaper Stoke Hall stone. In the end, the balustrades were built of imported granite.
Fitzalan Square was formally opened on Wednesday December 8, 1909, by the Lord Mayor, Earl Fitzwilliam, at which he made an expressive speech: –
“We live in a time when the question – a burning question in some cities – of open spaces is bidding fair to see some very satisfactory accomplishment. In no city more than Sheffield are these open spaces desirable. In a city like Sheffield where we burned the very best ‘South Yorkshire’, they made the very best mess of the South Yorkshire atmosphere. Science has not yet taught us how altogether to avoid this murky effect, but by providing open spaces we might make best of the atmosphere that is left to us. Sheffield is especially fortunate in its open spaces and in this particular one, because although in the past they had had a space here, it had not been one worthy of the size or importance of the city.”
The improvements had cost £9,000 (about £1.1 million now), but the age-old problems refused to go away, and criticism was often scathing.
“Within a year an article appeared in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph, written by an anonymous correspondent, under the heading ‘THAT SQUARE’: –
“A good deal of the recent talk about Fitzalan Square may have been ineffectual, but if it did nothing else it sent me to inspect the place. Though my work brings me into the city daily, I had never had reason to descend to the bottom of High Street since the so-called improvement had taken place. Yesterday I determined to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
“I have no desire to exaggerate but I do not hesitate to say that Fitzalan Square is the most pestilently ill-favoured open space in England. This is patent without seeing all the others, for there is an instinct which tells you when you have seen the absolute nadir of ugliness. I have seen IT.
“If you are at all run down the effect of suddenly coming upon such a spectacle as this forlorn wilderness of paltry dog kennels and pretentious architectural incoherencies may easily cause a shock dangerous to health.
“The said ‘improvement’ consists of a stone balustrade round a large piece of nothing at all. What this petty stone fence is meant to enclose or exclude is not obvious. There are four lamp-posts of the most abysmal hideousness. Possibly there is poetic fitness in this, for they are meant to light the way below.
“It might be roofed in and let as a skating rink or turned into a rifle range. It might be dug up and let out to husbandmen. Unless three out of four of the surrounding buildings are absolutely wiped out and a big sum spent in covering up the alleged ‘improvement’ which has recently been carried out, nothing can be done to make the place decent.”
And so, the tone was set, for decades subject of ridicule, damaged during the Blitz, and often left to its own unsavoury devices.
The fountain never materialised and a plan to relocate a statue of Ebenezer Elliot from Weston Park to Fitzalan Square was abandoned. It was graced with a statue of King Edward VII (subject of another post) in 1913.
In time the underground toilets were removed, the trams disappeared, and even the taxis left for busier parts of the city centre.
When the area has become too down-at-heel there have been attempts to restore it, including a 2003 facelift, with the restoration of the King Edward VII statue, new sandstone paving, steel benches and improved street lighting.
The latest restoration comes at a time when this part of the city centre is in transition. A vast proportion of people have migrated to The Moor along with the old market, the old General Post Office now belongs to Sheffield Hallam University, and the future depends on the Castlegate development and most probably our student population.
It is hard to believe that next year, the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield’s architectural upstart, will be fifty-years-old. It has been a long journey, with plenty of ups and downs, but survives with its reputation intact.
The Crucible Theatre was built as a replacement for the Sheffield Playhouse on Townhead Street, home to the Sheffield Repertory Company, whose origins went back to 1919.
Colin George was appointed Artistic Director of Sheffield Playhouse in 1965, and did not grasp that its hand-to-mouth existence was going to be turned upside down.
“One sunny spring day in 1966, I was one of a deputation from the Playhouse Theatre who went to the Town Hall to ask the Council for a subsidy to run the theatre. We were ushered into the main Council Chamber, empty but for a formidable northern lady seated at one end, on her Lord Mayor’s throne – Alderman Grace Tebbutt. We sat in front of her, naughty schoolchildren in front of the headmistress. She looked at us for a minute and then dropped her thunderbolt. ‘Nah then. Where do you want your new theatre?’ To those of us working at the Playhouse it was quite unexpected. ‘You probably want an island site,’ she continued forcefully, and with a wave of her hand effortlessly destroyed Norfolk Street.”
A new Sheffield Theatre Trust and Building Committee was created, an architect was appointed, and plans were made to create a new conventional theatre with its proscenium arch and using a large forestage.
Had these plans progressed, the history of Sheffield theatre would have been quite different. The cat-amongst-the-pigeons was Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971), an English director instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival theatre in Ontario and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In October 1967, Guthrie arrived in Sheffield to talk about theatre. Hearing of plans, he spoke to the Trust and excited them enough to send Colin George and David Brayshaw, a local solicitor appointed as administrative director, to visit America to see and report on thrust or promontory stages.
They spent ten days in Minneapolis, Stratford, Ontario, and New York, and reported back that Sheffield should have a thrust stage. The Trust agreed, and the cries of derision began.
Denounced by theatrical knight Bernard Miles (“The theatre is a freak. It will be blacklisted by all reputable dramatists”), by councillors at public meetings (“I’m not going to pay to see Hamlet’s backside”), and in the media, the modernists won the day.
There was also the problem of giving the new theatre a name. The Star ran a competition and ‘The Adelphi’ won, named after the famous hotel and public house that had stood on the site, but in the end, Hilary Young, who worked at the Playhouse, suggested the Crucible, a nod to Sheffield’s industrial past.
The Crucible was designed by Renton Howard Wood Associates, the project architects being Nicholas Thompson and Robin Beynon.
However, we must not forget the part played by Tanya Moiseiwitsch (1914-2003), regarded as one of the foremost British designers in twentieth century theatre, an innovative designer of costumes, sets and stages, and responsible for the look of over two hundred productions in Britain, Canada and the United States.
Moiseiwitsch had worked closely with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and was the principal designer at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis from 1963–1966, and again designed a thrust stage like that she had designed (and in 1962 modified) in Stratford, Ontario.
Returning to England in the 1970s, she designed plays both for the National Theatre and the West End, but her last legacy was designing the stage for the Crucible Theatre. The whole of the stage (18ft wide-28ft deep) was mounted on steel stanchions and beams provided flexibility to adapt it for different productions.
Construction started in October 1969, the work undertaken by Gleesons, and was completed in November 1971. It cost almost £1 million to build, £650,000 contributed by Sheffield City Council and the Arts Council, and £260,000 raised by the New Sheffield Theatre Trust as the public contribution to the theatre.
In Spring 1971, it was decided that Colin George would direct Peer Gynt to open the Crucible, followed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s Aeschylus Trilogy, The House of Atreus. However, in July news came through that Guthrie had died, and the opening schedule was hastily rearranged.
The Crucible Theatre, principally made of reinforced concrete, opened on November 9, 1971, with Fanfare, a production devised in three parts. The first was ‘Children’s Theatre’ in which 34 children were involved. The centre piece was Ian McKellen playing the Old Actor in Chekhov’s Swan Song and the last part was rumbustious Music Hall.
And so, the futuristic theatre with its twinkly ceiling lights, orange auditorium seats (provided by Race Furniture of London), and gaudy foyer carpets, started its journey.
Once deemed a ‘white elephant’ due to low audiences, it steadily gained a reputation, along with the Lyceum Theatre, as the best production theatre outside London. With far more full houses than not, the long list of success is remarkable – The Stirrings in Sheffield on a Saturday Night, Chicago (the European premiere, no less), The Wiz (British premiere), Funny Girl, Brassed Off, Fiddler on the Roof, Hamlet, Othello, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… the list goes on, and it was once called the ‘National Theatre of the North’. And, of course, there is the snooker.
The Crucible Theatre was Grade II listed in 2007, considered of national importance in the history of theatre design, ahead of a £15 million refurbishment that included a new roof and the Adelphi Room extension to the front. Ironically, during the construction of the extension the cellars to the old Adelphi Hotel were discovered and some of its foundations used to support the new build.
Colin George left the Crucible Theatre in 1974, but returned to appear in a production of Othello with Dominic West and Clarke Peters in 2011. His ambition to write the history of the theatre was never fulfilled, but as one newspaper reported on his death in 2016, his legacy stands in Tudor Square.
Good news for the Bainbridge Building on the corner of Norfolk Street and Surrey Street.
The proposed redevelopment of the former Halifax Bank to create a new hotel and restaurant has been given the go-ahead.
Mitchells & Butchers, supported by WYG and Design Coalition, submitted an application to Sheffield City Council at the end of 2019 for the former bank on Surrey Street.
The building, which is not listed, was originally constructed in 1893-1894, with the structure behind the façade rebuilt in 1977-1978. It has remained vacant following the closure of the Halifax Bank in August 2017.
The application covers the conversion of the property to create a restaurant at ground floor and basement levels and a hotel on the upper floors.
The restaurant is set to operate as a Miller & Carter Steakhouse and comprise 187 covers. It will be located within the former banking hall on the ground floor, with additional covers at basement level.
A total of 20 hotel rooms are set to be created on the upper floors, along with a reception area and a manager/night porter office.
It has been estimated that the development would create 62 jobs (29 full-time and 37 part-time positions). The £2.36m conversion and fit-out of the building is expected to support the creation of further roles.
The building was commissioned by Emerson Bainbridge, a mining engineer consultant and philanthropist, following the death of his wife, Jeffie. It was erected as a memorial to her and opened by the Duke and Duchess of Portland in 1894.
The first floor formed a shelter for waifs and strays, and a large suite of offices on the second floor were given to the local branch of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of which Bainbridge was a committee member.
The ground floor consisted of shops that were let out to tenants in order to raise revenue to support the rent-free premises above.
This influential character is relatively unknown in Sheffield’s history. A modest person, he was responsible for one of the city’s iconic landmarks.
Walter Gerard Buck (1863-1934) was born in Beccles, Suffolk, the youngest son of Edward Buck. He was educated at the Albert Memorial College in Framlingham, and acquired an interest in architecture, joining the practice of Arthur Pells, a reputable Suffolk architect and surveyor, where he learned the techniques to design and build.
Walter, aged 21, realised there were limitations to this rural outpost and would need to improve his talent elsewhere. This opportunity arose in Manchester, the seat of the industrial revolution, where demand for new commercial buildings was great. It was here where he gained several years’ experience in large civil engineering and architectural works, including the building of the Exchange Station, Manchester, as well as the Exchange Station and Hotel in Liverpool.
In 1890, his reputation growing, Walter made the move over the Pennines and into the practice of Mr Thomas Henry Jenkinson at 4 East Parade.
Jenkinson had been an architect in Sheffield for over forty years. He had been responsible for several buildings built in the city centre, taking advantage that Sheffield had been one of the last among the big towns to take in hand the improvement of its streets and their architecture.
Buck’s move to Sheffield proved advantageous. Jenkinson had become a partner at Frith Brothers and Jenkinson in 1862, which he continued until 1898, when he retired. He made Walter his chief assistant and allowed him to reorganise the business and control affairs for several years. During this period Walter carried out work on many commercial buildings and factories in Sheffield.
Initially, Walter boarded in lodgings at 307 Shoreham Street, close to the city centre. He married Louisa Moore Kittle in 1892 and, once his reputation had been established, was able to purchase his own house at 4 Ventnor Place in Nether Edge.
Perhaps Walter Buck’s greatest work also proved to be his most short-lived.
In May 1897, Queen Victoria made her last visit to Sheffield for the official opening of the Town Hall. It also coincided with the 60th year of her reign – Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Year.
The visit caused considerable excitement in Sheffield and preparations lasted for weeks. Shops and offices advertised rooms that commanded the best positions to see the Queen. Not surprisingly, these views were quickly occupied, but the closest view was promised in the Imperial Grandstand, specially designed for the occasion by Walter Gerard Buck.
This spectacle was built next to the newly-erected Town Hall, opposite Mappin and Webb, on Norfolk Street (in modern terms this would be where the Peace Gardens start at the bottom-end of Cheney Walk across towards Browns brasserie and bar). It was advertised as ‘absolutely the best and most convenient in the city’, with a frontage of nearly 200 feet and ‘beautifully roofed in’. The stand, decorated in an artistic manner by Piggott Brothers and Co, provided hundreds of seats, the first three rows being carpeted with back rests attached to the back. In addition, the stand provided a lavatory, refreshment stalls and even a left luggage office. It was from here that the people of Sheffield saw Queen Victoria as the Royal procession passed within a few feet of the stand along Norfolk Street to Charles Street.
The next day the Imperial Grandstand was dismantled.
The professional relationship between Walter Buck and Thomas Jenkinson matured into a close friendship.
When Jenkinson died in 1900, he left the business to Walter and made him one of his executors. His son, Edward Gerard Buck, eventually joined the business which became known as Buck, Lusby and Buck, moving to larger premises at 34 Campo Lane.
In 1906, Walter was elected to the Council of the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and District Society of Architects and Surveyors and was elected President in 1930. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and a member of the council of that body.
Walter also became a member of the council of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Court of Governors of Sheffield University, a member and director of the Sheffield Athenaeum Club, a member of the Nether Edge Proprietary Bowling Club and vice-president of the Sheffield Rifle Club. It was this last role that he enjoyed best. Walter was a keen swimmer but his passion for rifle shooting kept him busy outside of work.
Apart from architectural work Walter held directorships with the Hepworth Iron Company and the Sheffield Brick Company. These astute positions allowed him to negotiate the best prices for the building materials needed to complete his projects.
However, as the new century dawned, it was a role outside of architecture that occupied Walter’s time.
In 1892 the French Lumière brothers had devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. Their first show came to London in 1896 but the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park in 1889 by William Friese Greene. The ‘new’ technology of silent movies exploded over the next few years and by 1906 the first ‘electric theatres’ had started to open. In London, there were six new cinemas, increasing to 133 by 1909.
Not surprisingly, this new sensation rippled across Britain and Sheffield was no exception. This had been pioneered by the Sheffield Photo Company, run by the Mottershaw family, who displayed films in local halls. They also pioneered the popular ‘chase’ genre in 1903 which proved significant for the British film industry. The Central Hall, in Norfolk Street, was effectively Sheffield’s first cinema opening in 1905, but the films were always supported with ‘tried and tested’ music hall acts. Several theatres started experimenting with silent movies, but it was the opening of the Sheffield Picture Palace in 1910, on Union Street, that caused the most excitement. This was the first purpose built cinema and others were looking on with interest.
Walter Buck was one such person and saw the opportunity to increase business by designing these new purpose-built cinemas. One of his first commissions was for Lansdowne Pictures Ltd who had secured land on the corner of London Road and Boston Street. The Lansdowne Picture Palace opened in December 1914, built of brick with a marble terracotta façade in white and green, with a Chinese pagoda style entrance. It was a vast building seating 1,250 people. In the same year he designed the Western Picture Palace at Upperthorpe for the Western Picture Palace Ltd.
With the knowledge required to build cinemas it was unsurprising that Walter Buck was asked to join several companies as a director. One of these was Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres Ltd which was formed in 1910 for ‘the purpose of erecting and equipping in the busiest and most thickly populated parts of the City of Sheffield and district picture theatres on up-to-date lines’. Its first cinema was the Electra Palace Theatre in Fitzalan Square with a seating capacity upwards of 700 with daily continuous shows. Their second cinema was the Cinema House built adjoining the Grand Hotel and adjacent to Beethoven House (belonging to A Wilson & Peck and Co) on Fargate, this part later becoming Barker’s Pool. This was a much grander cinema with a seating capacity of 1,000 together with luxuriously furnished lounge and refreshment, writing and club rooms.
Ironically, Walter Buck did not design either of these picture houses. Instead, they were conceived by John Harry Hickton and Harry E. Farmer from Birmingham and Walsall, but the bricks were supplied by the Sheffield Brick Company, that lucrative business where Walter was a director. It should not go unnoticed that this highly profitable company probably made Walter a wealthy man. It had already supplied bricks for the Grand Hotel, Sheffield University and the Town Hall.
The cinema undertaking was not without risk and Cinema House, which opened six months before the start of World War One, always struggled to break even.
In 1920, far from building new cinemas right across the city, the company bought the Globe Picture House at Attercliffe. The following year they reported losses of £7,000 with Cinema House blamed for the poor performance.
At this stage, it is unclear as to what involvement Walter Buck had with Sheffield and District Cinematograph Theatres. He was also a director of Sunbeam Pictures Ltd, designing the Sunbeam Picture House at Fir Vale in 1922, and the Don Picture Palace at West Bar. He was most certainly a director of the Sheffield and District Cinematograph Company by the late 1920s, and eventually became its chairman. In 1930, absurdly on hindsight, he was faced with a public backlash as the company made the transfer over to ‘talkie’ pictures.
“It was true that some people preferred the silent pictures, but the difficulty was that the Americans were producing very few silent films, or the directors might probably have kept some of the houses on silent films to see if they could hold their own with the talkie halls.”
Walter Buck never retired but died at his home at 19, Montgomery Road, Nether Edge, aged 70, in September 1934. He left a widow, his second wife, Fanny Buck, and three sons – Edward Gerard Buck, William Gerard Buck, a poultry farmer, and Charles Gerard Buck, chartered accountant. Walter Gerard Buck was buried at Ecclesall Church.
It seems the only epitaph to Walter Buck is the Chinese pagoda style entrance of the Lansdowne Picture Palace. The auditorium was demolished to make way for student accommodation, but the frontage was retained for use as a Sainsbury’s ‘Local’ supermarket. Very little information exists about his other work in the city and further research is needed to determine which buildings he designed, and which remain. Any information would be most welcome.
Here’s a building we regularly pass and never give it a second glance. This is the NHS Central Health Clinic at the corner of Norfolk Street and Mulberry Street, a structure that has seen better days.
However, most of us will be unaware that this building once had a very different function.
It was built in 1865 for Pawson and Brailsford, once a famous high-class printing firm in Sheffield.
We’ve featured Pawson and Brailsford before, in connection with Parade Chambers, built in 1883-1885 (and still standing) on High Street, near to the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral).
The company was founded in 1855 by Henry Pawson and Joseph Brailsford, both former newspaper men. Pawson had joined the reporting staff of the Leeds Intelligencer, moving to the Sheffield Mercury and later becoming editor of the Sheffield Times. Brailsford had been associated with the Sheffield Independent.
The two opened their first printing and stationary shop at Britannia Printing Works on Castle Street, later moving to these new premises on Mulberry Street.
Also called Britannia Printing Works, the new manufacturing facility was designed by Frith Brothers and Jenkinson, architects, of East Parade.
However, the construction of the Britannia Printing Works wasn’t without its problems and subject of an interesting court case.
In March 1865, Pawson and Brailsford bought property in Mulberry Street, to the junction of Norfolk Street. Opposite were the new building of the Sheffield Club, and the Mulberry Tavern, an ancient public house. In July, the company proceeded to pull down part of the property, consisting of old workshops, about 24ft in height, occupied by Rhodes and Beardshaw, silver-platers, and a shop at the corner of Norfolk Street, occupied by Mr Shaw, tailor.
The new offices for Pawson and Brailsford extended to four-storeys high, about 50ft, and were set back 5ft, allowing for road widening at the Norfolk Street end of Mulberry Street.
Building work started in the first week of July and continued until 14 November when Pawson and Brailsford received a letter from Mr Unwin, a solicitor, threatening to apply for an injunction from the Court of Chancery to stop construction work.
The letter was sent on behalf of Mrs Senior, owner of the Mulberry Tavern, who claimed £500 in damages due to loss of light caused by the new building, and the devaluation of her property.
Failing to obtain a satisfactory response from the owners, the claim was filed on the 5 December, by which time the building had reached its full height, and before it went to a hearing on 21 December, the building was ready for its roof. The case wasn’t argued, but Pawson and Brailsford were ordered to progress carefully, with an intimation that if work proceeded it would be at their own risk.
Attempts were made to settle the case, but Mrs Senior adhered to her demands for £500, although at one stage had indicated she might be willing to settle for £250.
Pawson and Brailsford maintained that they hadn’t harmed the value of the Mulberry Tavern but had enhanced it instead. They offered to pay Mrs Senior £1,000 for the public house, a £200 profit on what her late husband had paid for it and offered to guarantee her possession by giving her a lease. However, she declined to sell for not less than £1,300.
The case stood over until November 1866 when it came up for hearing before Vice-Chancellor Sir Page Wood.
Mrs Senior claimed that she was compelled to light up the Mulberry Tavern with gas during the daytime, a claim refuted by Pawson and Brailsford. According to her testimony, the sunshine only came on her property ten minutes a day as against 7-8 hours before. She also provided several witnesses, including George Lawton, a corn miller, and Mr R. Bunby, corn dealer, both providing convincing evidence that it “was no longer possible to see samples of corn,” when conducting business inside the inn.
In the end, Sir Page Wood said there was no answer to say, as the defendants did, that the plaintiff’s property was increased in value by their building, and that she was entitled to all the additional value given to her property by recent improvements in the town. It was clear from the evidence that she had suffered material damage from interference with the ancient light.
However, considering that Mrs Senior had been given notice in April of what Pawson and Brailsford intended, Sir Page pointed out that it had taken her until December, when the new building was nearly completed, to make a claim, and that there was no case for the building to be pulled down.
Sir Page ordered that Pawson and Brailsford pay compensation, decided by the Chief Clerk, and to pay costs of the suit and the inquiry.
Pawson and Brailsford, on finding that a decision wouldn’t be made straightaway, now offered to give Mrs Senior £1,300 for the Mulberry Tavern, the figure she had originally suggested, and a lease on the property. She now, however, refused to sell, and would accept no settlement except payment of damages.
The company offered Mrs Senior £250 in damages, and she demanded £300, but ultimately the settlement was made at £275.
With peace restored, Pawson and Brailsford completed the building and when business increased the property was considerably enlarged in 1870, taking the top stories of offices at the corner of Norfolk Street, together with rooms at the top of Alliance Chambers.
The ground floor was used as paper stores, warehouse, packing room and counting house. On the first floor, letterpress printing and wood engraving were undertaken, with lithographic printing and copper plate engraving carried out on the second floor. The top storey was used for book-binding and storage of completed work, with machinery used for rolling, cutting, paging, blocking and ruling.
The basement was occupied by Mr Favell, wine merchant, along with a portion containing steam engines and boilers to work the machinery throughout the building.
The Britannia Printing Works looks less grand than the day it was built, particularly the roof space, probably the result of a series of unfortunate fires.
Shortly after completion, a fire started when a workman thrust a lit pipe into a drawer to avoid being found smoking. And in 1881, a significant fire destroyed the upper floor, and caused considerable damage to floors below. Another blaze, in 1903, caused even greater destruction, once again obliterating the top floor, as well as destroying the roof.
Rebuilt on each occasion, Pawson and Brailsford refurbished the building in 1930, transferring the stationary department from its High Street premises and creating “a new and commodious showroom and sales shop.”
The new shop had entrances from Norfolk Street and Mulberry Street, both allowing access into “beautifully fitted” departments.
“Since the days when a spike file and an old ledger, a stool and an old-fashioned desk were the principal furniture of a counting house, there has been a wonderful development in office equipment. Desks, filing and card index cabinets, steel furniture, loose-leaf and account books, ruled sheets and forms, safes, cash boxes, calculators, commercial, legal, technical and Government publications, form a few of the items stocked.”
Pawson and Brailsford also made a speciality of drawing office materials, and architects and surveyors were able to source all kinds of instruments, and the motorist wasn’t forgotten either, agents by special appointment for Government Ordnance Survey Maps.
By the 1960s, the building had transferred to another Sheffield institution, Wilks Brothers and Company, ironmongers, founded in 1744, who remained until 1972.
In March 1974, approval was granted to the Maternity and Child Welfare Centre for the rental of the Wilks Building as replacement premises for ones at Orchard Place (now the site of Orchard Square).
The building was converted, including the removal of shop windows on Norfolk Street and obliterating all traces of its previous history.
The NHS facility opened in April 1974, known as the Central Health Clinic, offering advice on contraception, pregnancy, sexual health and sexuality. It is now used as a health centre.
This attractive building at 97-101 Norfolk Street is known as the Ruskin Building. However, this was once the premises of one of the country’s leading wine merchants. Mr J.T. Gunn, a Sheffield merchant, originally opened a store at 47 Norfolk Street for the sale of Sicilian produce. Wines and fruits from Sicily were attracting considerable attention in Georgian times so Gunn went directly to producers in Italy for supplies, and early in 1829 shipped his first cargo of produce from Palermo to Goole onboard a freight ship called the Cythia. His relation,
Alexander Hay, entered into the partnership in 1849 , and in 1871, his son, Captain Charles H. Gilbert Hay (1850-1925), took over the management and expanded the firm’s connections abroad in America, West Africa, Russia and the Far East. In 1876, Hay and Son, wine merchants, commissioned Sheffield architects Flockton & Abbott to construct new premises, the building we see today.
Captain Hay regularly visited wine-producing districts and carefully selected the best vintages, imported back home and distributed throughout the country. As well as being present on Norfolk Street, Hay and Son also opened premises on London Road, Deepcar, Eckington and Tinsley, as well as opening an office at Glasgow in 1905.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph visited Norfolk Street in 1925 and reported that there were “thousands and thousands of bottles stowed away, three rows deep in some places, and leaving but a narrow pathway.”
Hay and Son continued until 1970 after which the building was vacant for a time. It was restored in 1985 when it became home to the Ruskin Gallery, displaying minerals, paintings, ornithological prints, drawings, manuscripts and architectural plaster casts, assembled by John Ruskin (1819-1900), the Victorian art critic, draughtsman, watercolourist, social thinker and philanthropist. The museum closed in 2002 and is now located at the Millennium Gallery.
These days the building survives as offices, ironically its biggest tenant being Hays Recruitment, with no connection to the wine merchant.
One thing is certain. They won’t build banks like this anymore, if they build any new banks at all. We know this old building as the Head of Steam, on Norfolk Street, but like so many bars it wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for banking.
The story of this building goes back to 1819, when the Sheffield and Hallamshire Savings Bank was established by subscription, the business being carried on at the Cutlers’ Hall until 1832, and afterwards in Surrey Street.
It was founded largely due to the influence of James Montgomery (1771-1854), newspaper editor and poet, whose friend was the Rev. Henry Duncan, who had set up the world’s first commercial savings bank (eventually becoming TSB). The Savings Bank appealed to working people (largely steelworkers) whose savings were too small to be accepted by other banks.
When the Sheffield and Hallamshire Savings Bank outgrew the Surrey Street premises, it bought a plot of land on nearby Norfolk Street, hosting a competition in 1858, asking for someone to design brand new facilities.
The challenge was won by Thomas James Flockton, whose plan was for a two-storey cube of three bays, flanked by single-storey entrance wings with projecting porticoes. It was embellished with a rusticated stone front with round and square Corinthian columns on the ground floor. “One of the first buildings in the town centre with any pretension of elegance.”
The new bank was built out of surplus funds of the Bank at a cost of £5,500, opening in June 1860, its business hours being 10am until 2pm daily and on Saturday evenings from 5 to 7.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Bank engaged in small-scale expansion by opening several branch offices. It wasn’t until after the Second World War, however, that significant growth occurred with 15 new branches opening.
In 1974, a rear extension was built (now leading into Tudor Square) by Mansell Jenkinson & Partners, part of a massive refurbishment programme that retained the façade and the dentilled cross-beam ceiling interior.
The TSB Act of 1976 led to the restructuring of savings banks across the country, and the Bank was amalgamated into the Trustee Savings Bank (TSB) the following year.
By the 1990s the Bank had closed, a small branch in a massive network, but the building deemed suitable for conversion into a bar.
The Fraternity opened in the late 90s, changing into the Old Monk at the Fraternity House, before becoming the Old Monk. The bar was operated by the Old Monk Company, founded by Gerry Martin, younger brother of Tim Martin, boss of the high-profile, larger J.D. Wetherspoon, but which collapsed into administration in 2002.
Gerry Martin bought back the Old Monk in Norfolk Street, along with bars in Cardiff and Birmingham, setting up a new company called Springbok Bars. In December 2015, Hartlepool-based Cameron’s Brewery bought the Old Monk in Sheffield, opening it as their eighth branded Head of Steam bar in April 2016.
A few weeks back we looked at 95-101 Norfolk Street, constructed by Flockton & Abbot for Hay and Son, wine merchants, in 1876. The business lasted until 1970 and was restored to become the Ruskin Gallery in 1985. The museum closed in 2002 and the collection is now housed at the Millennium Gallery.
In recent times, it has been home to several businesses, the ground floor occupied by Handlesbanken, a Swedish commercial bank.
Now, the Ruskin Building is undergoing further renovation as The Bank, operated by Sheffield Theatres Trust.
The Bank is part of Sheffield Theatres’ The Making Room project, a network of local artists in collaboration with Theatre Deli, The Bare Project and Third Angel. The new venue will be used as a theatrical and reading space, a rehearsal area and basement storage. This is where the next generation of creative talent will be nurtured.
The project has been made possible after a financial gift from long-standing Sheffield Theatres supporters, Jo and Chris Hookway.
The former Handlesbanken bank was separate to the former Ruskin Gallery, divided by a partition wall. This will be reconfigured and allow the extension of The Crucible Corner, an adjacent bar and restaurant, providing room for 20 extra covers. The remaining part will be used for The Making Room venture.
The opening of The Bank, scheduled for late November, does not affect the historic fabric or architectural features of the Grade II-listed building.
The next time you settle into a seat at one of our multiplex cinemas, take a moment to consider that there are still traces of Sheffield’s original cinema.
Head down to Norfolk Street, and look at part of Brown’s Brasserie and Bar. Above one of the plate glass windows is the name New Central Hall, the remains of a former decorative arched entrance.
This part of the building, just around the corner from St. Paul’s Parade, was built in 1899 by architect John Dodsley Webster as the Central Hall for the Sheffield Workmen’s Mission, established by Pastor A.S.O. Birch in 1880 at the old Circus on Tudor Street. (The building was constructed by James Fidler, contractor, of Savile Street).
The cost, exclusive of land, was about £4,000, made possible by a £3,500 loan from Mr F.E. Smith, “trusting those who will attend the hall to repay him when they can.”
The Central Hall had a frontage of 46 feet, the ground and first floors devoted to the main hall, which contained a gallery, and seating accommodation for 500 people. The second floor was occupied by five classrooms and an office, while the basement was taken up by a large kitchen and store-rooms.
It had been designed as a place of public worship; the Mission having previously held services at the Montgomery Hall on Surrey Street and opened in December 1899.
However, no sooner had it opened when, somewhat unexplainable, the Workmen’s Mission left and taken up residence at the Albert Hall in Barker’s Pool.
It was left to John Dodsley Webster to advertise the Central Hall as being available to buy or let on lease, “suitable for conversion to offices, flats or business premises.”
It wasn’t until November 1904 that we find evidence that the building was in use again.
Nelsons Ltd, “The Pensions Tea Men,” advertised that it was opening its drapery, ready made clothing and boot and shoe departments at Central Hall. It was another short-lived scheme, because in March 1905, the shop had gone into liquidation.
Nonetheless, there was somebody waiting in the wings who saw Central Hall as a long-term answer to a conundrum.
Henry Jasper Redfern (1871-1928) is almost forgotten now, but he packed a lot into a relatively short life. Here was a man who had made a fortune with a long list of business successes – “optician, refractionist, manufacturer of optical, photographic and scientific instruments, photographer, expert in animated photography and Rontgen rays, electrician and public entertainment.”
Born in Sheffield, Redfern trained as an optician, opened a business on Surrey Street, and later added a photography shop nearby.
However, he was more famous in the realms of cinematography, a subject he studied in its early stages, and became a pioneer in exhibiting moving pictures.
Alongside his daily routine, he toured the country with “Jasper Redfern’s world-renowned animated pictures and grand vaudeville entertainment” show.
Redfern decided that a permanent venue was required, and Central Hall provided a convenient solution.
In July 1905, New Central Hall opened to great flourish with the showing of the “Royal visit to Sheffield in its entirety,” shown twice nightly, along with a complete programme of live variety entertainment.
In the following months, there were screenings of more moving pictures, with titles like “Winter Pastimes in Norway” and “North Sea Fishing”, as well as resident acts, such as the two French conjuring midgets and songs by Madame McMullen and Lawrence Sidney.
New Central Hall attracted big houses twice a night, much to the dismay of Smith and Sievewright, clothiers, which occupied the shop next door, and took Redfern to court complaining that the queue of waiting patrons was detrimental to their business.
But, by 1912, the cinema was in financial difficulties, although its company secretary, Norris H. Deakin, found backing to improve amenities, increasing the size of the stage and adding a proscenium arch, and increasing seating capacity to 700.
Jasper Redfern & Company Ltd was wound up and replaced with the New Central Hall Company in early 1913, with Deakin as managing director. At what stage Jasper Redfern left is uncertain, but he emerged elsewhere in the country, his life story worthy of a separate post.
The tenancy of New Central Hall quickly passed to yet another company, Tivoli (Sheffield) Ltd, and the cinema reopened in January 1914 as the Tivoli, newly decorated and improved, with variety acts stopped a year later.
The Tivoli was a success but suffered a disastrous fire during the night in November 1927. Four fire engines raced to the scene, one using a new £3,000 ladder, and attempted to put out flames coming from the roof. However, parts of the roof were destroyed, the balcony was a charred mass, and the ground floor was a mass of burning woodwork.
The cinema was rebuilt and opened in July 1928 as the New Tivoli, completely refurbished with carpets by T. & J. Roberts of Moorhead, theatre furnishings by L.B. Lockwood & Co, Bradford, and lighting effects provided by J. Brown & Company, of Fulwood Road.
In the following decade, a Western Electric sound system was installed and because of a penchant for screening cowboy films, the New Tivoli was popularly known as “The Ranch.”
The curtain finally fell on the cinema on 12 December 1940, the result of Blitz fire damage. It was never rebuilt, the cinema area adapted for offices, restaurant and shop.
All that remains of the original Central Hall is its frontage, and the only nostalgic reminder of its cinema days being the stone-carved sign.