Never did a street fall out of favour as Orchard Street did. This narrow thoroughfare was once the main route between Church Street and Fargate, bustling with commerce, with horse-drawn carriages and carts squeezing past each other.
Neither did the creation of Leopold Street diminish its popularity, although only a small portion of the street retained its name.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, and the creation of Orchard Square, that it was relegated to become the back door to shops, and a place for lads to have a quick wee on a Saturday night.
It is an incredibly old thoroughfare, though the name Orchard Street wasn’t given to it until comparatively late.
Formerly all the land in the triangle between Church Street and Fargate consisted of orchards and gardens, but warehouses, shops, and cutlery works gradually covered the space.
In the early 1700s, it is referred to as Brinceworth’s Orchard, while in Fairbanks’ Plan of 1777 it was known as Brelsforth’s Orchards, and in the 1787 Directory it is described as Brinsworth’s Orchards. A document of 1763 gives the address of a trader as Brinsford Orchard. Both Brinsworth and Brelsford, or Brelsforth, are old Sheffield names, and possibly the various names indicate changes of ownership of the orchards through which the street passed.
Eventually the personal names were dropped, and the thoroughfare simply became Orchard Street.
Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.
As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873. Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.
Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.
A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square
By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.
The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.
The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”
It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.