Categories
Buildings

Pinstone Chambers: Its forgotten history lies within the entrance

Pinstone Chambers. Elegant, its exterior untouched, and one of the few buildings that doesn’t form part of the Heart of the City II development. Photograph: Google.

Heart of the City II is altering the way our city centre looks. We must go back to Victorian times to see anything resembling the magnitude of this change. Before then, the area around Pinstone Street was a region of dirty, narrow, streets and alleys that led to nowhere. The poor were abundant, and then the jennel known as Pinstone Street was replaced by a broad thoroughfare, and the people who lived under the shadow of St. Paul’s dome (now Peace Gardens) migrated southward. With it came shops and offices that are no longer suitable for the 21st century… and now we are preserving the look, but removing the myriad of old corridors, staircases, and rooms behind.

Once completed, almost the whole of the west side of Pinstone Street will have been touched by redevelopment… and that is quite a remarkable achievement.

One building will remain, oblivious to the change around it, and one that rarely gets a mention.

Few people realise that the entrance to Pinstone Chambers once led to the remarkable building behind.
For all to see. This stone was laid by William Bramwell Booth, the Salvation Army’s Chief of Staff. It can be seen to the right of the modern-day entrance. Photograph: DJP/2021

We can trace Pinstone Chambers (Nos. 44-62 Pinstone Street), at its corner with Cross Burgess Street, back to 1891, when the Salvation Army ‘planted the flag’ on a piece of land bought from Sheffield Corporation. A year later, a ceremony took place to turn the first sod. ‘The waste piece of ground has been as free of turf as a billiard ball is of hair, it was hard to see where the sod would be found.’   

The foundation stones were laid in September 1892, and formed part of an inner wall, the inscriptions on them visible in the entrance hall by which the Sheffield Citadel behind was approached from Pinstone Street. By this, we know that this building was steadfastly linked with the Salvation Army’s place of worship, one that survives in disgraceful neglect, and awaits its own course of redevelopment.

The architect was William Gillbee Scott (1857-1930), who designed the Gower Street Memorial Chapel (now the Chinese Church in London), and the London and Provincial Bank in Enfield.

The building is curved on plan, has five storeys, and has seven bays at the east return and one along Cross Burgess Street to the south. The building is Classical in style and has red brick elevations with contrasting sandstone dressings. Architectural features include ground floor shopfronts, mullioned fenestrations, casement windows and rusticated pilasters between bays.

The building was erected by Messrs. Thomas Fish and Son, Nottingham, and comprised accommodation on the top floor, offices beneath, and six large shops on Pinstone Street. Painting and decoration were by Thomas Toon, of Nottingham.

The land cost £7,812, and the building work over £16,000, the shops and offices used to bring in considerable income for the Salvation Army.

It was opened by Commissioner Thomas Henry Howard, on 27 January 1894.

This photograph in the Picture Sheffield collection shows the construction of the Citadel Building between 1892-1894. St. Paul’s Church, on the right, stood where the Peace Gardens are now. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.
The carved initials of the Salvation Army above the main entrance. Photograph: DJP/2021

The main entrance to the Citadel was from Pinstone Street, flanked by the row of shops. The visitor passed along a vestibule lit by gas in ruby globes. The walls were decorated in green sage, with a deep maroon dado, and the floor was paved in mosaic style. Inserted into the wall on the right were the dozen stones, laid when the building commenced, with the names of those who undertook that duty.

While the temperance rooms at the Citadel are decisively linked with the Salvation Army, the Citadel Building (as it became known) was better known for its commercial activities. Soon after it opened it was occupied by the Wentworth Café and Hotel, moving here from Holly Street, a socialist meeting place famously linked with Edward Carpenter. That association ended in 1922 when the whole of the premises was leased by Stewart and Stewart, the well-known tailors, who extended from next door.

The Wentworth Cafe and Hotel occupied most of the building from about 1898 to 1922. The entrance to the Salvation Army Citadel can be seen centre-left. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.
One of the original occupants. This newspaper advertisement from 1898 is for Stewart and Stewart who later leased the whole of the ground floor. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.
The Sheffield Citadel was built at the same time as Pinstone Chambers. Despite the contrasting styles, the two buildings were connected by a corridor leading from its main entrace on Pinstone Street. Photograph: Sheffield Star.

Afterwards, while shops frequently changed hands, the upper floors were used as offices until the interiors of Pinstone Chambers were completely remodelled for city living accommodation.

The Salvation Army moved out of the Citadel in 1999, the crumbling shell still attached to Pinstone Chambers, but the old main entrance and corridor to it long since blocked-off.

Is the ‘foundation stone’ wall still visible in the old vestibule? What survives of the Victorian floor mosaic? Is there any evidence of the sage green and deep maroon decoration?

Probably not.

With its curved Queen Anne facade, Pinstone Chambers remains one of Sheffield’s most attractive buildings. Photograph: Google.
Pinstone Chambers. The National Market Traders Federation was founded at the Wentworth Café in 1899. Photograph: DJP/2021)
Pinstone Chambers. The carved initials of the Salvation Army can be seen above the entrance. Photograph: DJP/2021

Picture Sheffield
© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Companies

Béres: from Budapest, a Sheffield success story

The Béres hot pork sandwich has been hailed as a Sheffield favourite for the past 50 years. Photograph: Béres.

If it hadn’t been for a speech in 1956 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev then you might not have been able to enjoy your modern-day Sheffield pork sandwich.  Khrushchev attacked the period of Joseph Stalin’s rule and, encouraged by the new freedom of debate and criticism, a rising tide of unrest and discontent in Hungary broke out into active fighting in October 1956. The following month, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the revolution.

Sandor Béres , a young Hungarian butcher, left his home city of Budapest after communists had taken possession of his father’s butchers shops, and arrived in the UK as a political refugee. He was one of many evacuees to seek a new life in Sheffield, and in 1960 married a Barnsley girl, Eileen Lovell, whom he met at a dance.

A year later, Sandor and Eileen, opened their first butchers shop at Wadsley Bridge, and set up a mobile round selling to nearby estates. Béres specialised in pork and beef, and quickly realised the potential of selling freshly-made pork sandwiches to Sheffield folk. Within a few years, they’d opened three more Béres shops.

Photographs: Béres

Their son, Richard, joined the business in 1988, and under his leadership embarked on a significant expansion plan. In the 1990s, he was joined by his two sisters, Helen and Catherine, and the business trebled in size with further shops in the north of the city.

Larger production facilities were needed, and Béres converted a factory on Rawson Spring Road allowing it to bake its own bread.

In the early part of this century the company expanded into Crookes, Woodseats, and Chapeltown, as well as shops on Pinstone Street and Crystal Peaks, and will open their fourteenth shop at Broomhill next month.

Béres shop at Crystal Peaks shopping centre. Photograph: Béres.

Béres bone-out and roast all their own joints and each pork sandwich is freshly made to order. The success of the Béres Pork sandwich is said to be down to the taste, enhanced by the roasting juices that each breadcake is dipped in. And, of course, the company sells a range of other tasty products, including pies, cooked and raw meats, and pork dripping.

After 60 years, Béres (note the Hungarian diacritic) is a Sheffield institution.

Béres production facility on Rawson Spring Road. Photograph: Google.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

There’s not a lot of love for the proposed C-N Tower

The CN-Tower from Norfolk Street. Image: Grantside.

A developer has responded after one of its project on the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street attracted 127 objections.

Grantside applied for planning permission to Sheffield City Council for a 10-storey office block, called C-N Tower, to replace two 1960s buildings.

Residents complained it would block natural light, destroy privacy and damage businesses, and Historic England is concerned about the height of the tower and its effect on existing heritage buildings.

Grantside chief executive Steve Davis said: “According to Sheffield City Council there is a ‘chronic shortage’ of high-quality, Grade ‘A’ office space in the city centre. This is hugely detrimental to Sheffield’s future economic growth both in the short term and the long-term, as potential occupiers may be forced to look elsewhere.

One of the buildings that will be demolished at the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street. Photograph: Sheffield Star.

The area around Norfolk Street and Pinstone Street was drastically redesigned in the late 1800s, widening and realigning Pinstone Street which involved the demolition of many buildings including some on this site.

The first building to be built on the site within the new road layout was the Three Horseshoes Hotel Public House in the 1890s. In the early 1900s buildings were built either side of the pub including the existing building St. Paul’s Chambers which originally housed the New Central Hall, cited as one of Sheffield’s first picture houses. This building also took up a section of the proposed site and became the Tivoli Cinema in 1914.

On 12th December 1940 Sheffield City Centre suffered extreme bomb damage during an intensive air raid. This included a direct strike outside the site where the Three Horseshoes Hotel and partof the Tivoli Cinema were gutted by the blast and subsequent fires.

The cinema never reopened but the Central Hall entrance signage can still be seen on the building today.

The site was eventually cleared of rubble and sat as an empty plot, used for parking during the 1950s. In the 1960s the current buildings on site were constructed and provided new offices above ground floor retail space. Over the following decades the buildings were occupied by many differing uses including BBC Radio Sheffield and a branch of The Post Office.

The C-N Tower is shown as an artist impression behind St Paul’s Building and the Prudential Assurance Building. Photograph: Grantside.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Reuben Thompson’s City Mews

Work is in progress to demolish the interiors of 30-42 Pinstone Street (as well as the adjacent Palatine Chambers) to create a new hotel. (DJP/2021)

The hoardings are up, contractors are in, and Nos. 30-42 Pinstone Street (as well as Palatine Chambers), are about to be resurrected as part of a Victorian frontage to a brand-new Radisson Blu Hotel. The old facades will remain, but everything behind it, including Barker’s Pool House, on Burgess Street, will be demolished and rebuilt.

Until the 18th century, Pinstone Lane (as it was called) crossed fields and rough grazing land. As Sheffield grew, it became a twisting, close, and sinister-looking passage. In 1875, Sheffield started a street widening programme, and Pinstone Lane was transformed into a 60ft wide thoroughfare to match the magnificence of the proposed new Town Hall.

In 1892, Reuben Thompson, of Glossop Road, an established operator of horse-drawn omnibuses, cabs, and funeral director, gave up his lease on premises at Union Street, and purchased a plot of vacant land opposite St. Paul’s Church (now Peace Gardens) from the Improvement Committee, along with adjoining property at the back towards Burgess Street.

The Salvation Army had already started building its Citadel on Cross Burgess Street as well as three large business premises at its corner with Pinstone Street. Thompson bought the land alongside this, and employed Flockton, Gibbs, and Flockton to design a red brick building, with handsome stone dressings, comprising ground floor shops, and offices and flats above.

An old sketch that shows Reuben Thompson’s City Mews to the left. The sign is visible on top of the building. (PIcture Sheffield)

In 1895, he purchased an additional plot of land to build three additional shops. This extended the length of the original building and incorporated an entrance tunnel from Pinstone Street through to stabling and carriage sheds behind, the carriages lifted from floor to floor by a hoist.

It extended the range to fifteen bays, and across the top of the building ran an enormous sign – ‘Reuben Thompson’s City Mews – and was completed in time for the opening of the new Town Hall.

This is the building we still see, although the advent of the motor car, and high petrol prices during the 1930s, saw Reuben Thompson Ltd vacate a property that had become far too big. It consolidated on Glossop Road and Queen’s Road and focused on its funeral business.

Looking up Pinstone Street. Reuben Thompson’s City Mews are on the right of this old photograph. Once again, the large sign is visible across the top of the building. (Picture Sheffield)

Those of a certain age will be familiar with the shops that have occupied this prime location on one of Sheffield’s most prestigious streets.

The Pinstone Street entrance to City Mews, where horses and carriages once passed, was filled-in, and later lost in the frontage of Mac Market (later to become International, Gateway, Somerfield, Co-op, Budgens, and finally, as a temporary home for WH Smiths).

The construction of Barker’s Pool House on Burgess Street in 1969-1970 (on the site of the former stabling and carriage-houses) linked both properties and altered much of the original Pinstone Street interiors. These too will be lost in the latest stage of the Heart of the City II redevelopment.

An old building plan shows Reuben Thompson’s City Mews, with stabling and carriage sheds located at the back of the Pinstone Street premises and stretching through to Burgess Street. This would later become the site of Barker’s Pool House, soon to be demolished. (Goad Insurance Plan 1896/British Library))
In the 1970s, Mac Market occupied three of the old shop units on Pinstone Street. The original carriage entrance passed underneath the offices above and was located where the central window is here. It remained a supermarket until fairly recently. (Picture Sheffield)
A recent image of 30-42 Pinstone Street. All the shops frequently changed hands. The former Mac Market was most recently used as a temporary shop for WH Smith. In 1970, Barker’s Pool House was built behind, and shoppers were able to use an alternative entrance on Burgess Street. Useful for Cole Brothers staff before and after work. (Google)
Proposed principal east elevation (Pinstone Street) for the Radisson Blu Hotel. Fifteen bays once formed Reuben Thompson’s City Mews. Palatine Chambers occupies twelve bays to the right. (Montagu-Evans)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

Leopold Street

Work in progress. The pedestrianisation of Leopold Street (above), Pinstone Street, and Surrey Street, will create a traffic-free Town Hall Square. (DJP/2021)

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.

Aerial view of Leopold Street. The Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square are centre. Before 1880, the main route between Church Street and Fargate was along narrow Orchard Street, to the left, which curved at its junction with Orchard Lane (where the mini-roundabout is today). The top-end of Orchard Street (near to Fargate) was absorbed into Leopold Street. (Google)

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.

A street sign on the wall of what was once Firth College, at its junction with West Street, and now part of the Leopold Hotel. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Livesey-Clegg House

The last remaining Victorian building on Union Street is due to be demolished. (Image: David Poole)

Union Street is not a fashionable road, its role as one of Sheffield’s important thoroughfares, and its ancient connection with Norfolk Street, long diminished.

Post-war redevelopment deprived Union Street of its character, and one of its most important buildings, the shops and offices that made up Cambridge Arcade (with its covered walkway into Pinstone Street) disappeared in the 1970s.

A walk along Union Street today shows that almost all its architecture is from the sixties onwards. All except for one narrow building, a survivor of Sheffield’s Victorian past, sandwiched between unsightly 20th century structures.

However, Livesey-Clegg House, at 44 Union Street, is expected to go the same way as its long-lost neighbours soon.

If plans to create Midcity House, three new tower blocks, up to 25-storeys high, are given the go ahead, then this old building will be demolished.

The last Victorian building to survive on Union Street was built for Thomas Henry Vernon, cork manufacturer, in 1881. His father’s business had originally existed at 2 Union Street at the junction with the old line of Pinstone Street.

Street improvements in 1875 resulted in the creation of Moorhead and comprehensive redevelopment in the area. As part of this, Vernon’s old premises were demolished, with Thomas Henry Vernon succeeding to the business and relocating to Milk Street. When his new premises were built in 1881, he moved to 44 Union Street, and employed about a dozen people.

Vernon died in 1919, the ground floor becoming a small car showroom for Midland Motors, later Moorhead Motors, and the upper floors converted into offices.

The ground floor was taken over by Hardy’s Bakery in the 1970s, and frequently changed hands afterwards, used as a shop and several food takeaways, and is now empty and boarded-up.

Livesey-Clegg House. The ground floor was occupied by Moorhead Motors in 1961. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

While most Sheffield folk were interested in what went on at street level, it is the floors above that provide the real sense of history.

The name above an adjacent door – Livesey-Clegg House – indicates that this was once home to the British Temperance League.

(Image: David Poole)

In Victorian times, high levels of alcohol consumption and drunkenness were seen by some as a danger to society’s well-being, leading to poverty, child neglect, immorality, and economic decline. As a result, temperance societies began to be formed in the 1830s to campaign against alcohol.

The British Temperance League, a predominantly northern teetotal and Christian society, was the new name in 1854 for the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance. In 1880 it moved its headquarters from Preston to Union Street in Sheffield, largely due to the influence of the Clegg family.

Successive members of the Clegg family served as chairman of the executive committee: William Johnson Clegg (1826-1895), sometime alderman of Sheffield, and his son Sir (John) Charles Clegg, best known as chairman and president of the Football Association. His brother, Sir William Edwin Clegg, sometime Mayor of Sheffield, was a vice-president.

By the 1890s its finances and prestige were in decline, but the society persevered and by 1938 was looking for new premises.

“Street widening and re-planning will shortly make it necessary for us to vacate the offices in Union Street, of which we have been tenants for more than 50 years,” said Herbert Jones, the secretary. “We have long felt the need of a permanent home for books, pictures, and other treasures of the movement.”

The ground floor was occupied by Hardy’s Bakery in the 1970s. The sign above the doorway to the right of the shop still exists. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In 1940, the society moved into 44 Union Street and called it Livesey-Clegg House – named after Joseph William Livesey (1794-1884), a temperance campaigner, politician, and social reformer, and Sir John Charles Clegg (1850-1937), chairman and president of Sheffield Wednesday and founder of Sheffield United.

As well as the headquarters of the British Temperance League, its collection of journals, monographs, bound collections of pamphlets and non-textual items, including lantern slides, posters, banners, textiles, and crockery, were housed in Victorian bookcases in a large old-fashioned room that was used as a library.

The BTL merged with the London-based National Temperance League in 1952 to become the British National Temperance League, with the HQ in Sheffield. It remained until 1987 when the historically valuable library was transferred to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston (now known as the Livesey Library after teetotal pioneer Joseph Livesey).

The old offices and library at Livesey-Clegg House were eventually turned into student accommodation.

Alas, the building is not considered to be of architectural importance and will most likely be demolished soon.

(Image: David Poole)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Other Streets

Connecting Sheffield

Our city centre may take on a new look if plans to pedestrianise large swathes of it get the go ahead. Sheffield City Council want to make foot and bicycle journeys easier and quicker, while streamlining public transport services.

The proposals include pedestrianisation to Pinstone Street and Leopold Street, linking Fargate with the Peace Gardens, as well as Charles Street between Union Street and Pinstone Street. The pedestrianisation of Surrey Street would create a traffic-free Town Hall Square.

Work would include more greenery, replicating the ‘Grey-to-Green’ scheme already seen between Castlegate and West Bar.

Bus gates would be installed in both directions on Furnival Gate, and along Arundel Gate to Norfolk Street

Rockingham Street would get a new bus hub with improvements to pavements, green planting, a pocket park, and bus stops.

The future of our city? Pedestrianisation of Pinstone Street and Charles Street connects with Heart of the City II redevelopment, due for completion in 2021. (Image: Connecting Sheffield)

Of course, there are benefits to the scheme – improved air quality, better accessibility to shops and businesses, a more attractive city centre, and public spaces that create city uniqueness.

Artist impressions paint a bright picture, but there are notes of caution.

Sheffield city centre is at a midpoint in its regeneration, with the pandemic decimating footfall, and placing even more uncertainty on retail, hospitality, and office space requirements.

The city centre is a travesty of its former self, Covid-19 exposing retailers already reeling from Meadowhall and the internet. And, after restrictions are eventually lifted, how many pubs, bars, and restaurants, will have survived?   

Half-hearted attempts to open cycle lanes at the heart of the city, further reducing traffic flow, have met with lukewarm response. With respects to cyclists, our seven hills make four wheels the favoured choice in and out of the city.

The prospect of a Town Hall Square, with pedestrian access and cycle routes linking Fargate, Leopold Street, Surrey Street, and the Peace Gardens. (Image: Connecting Sheffield).

The key to any redevelopment must take into consideration transport links.

Cars are already deterred from entering due to over-complicated traffic flow and the extortionate cost of parking. Our buses remain empty, not least because nobody knows where they go, or where to catch them anymore. Our elderly citizens must walk a distance to catch a bus, and the question remains whether they will bother anymore?

We must tread carefully, mindful that change must happen if our city centre is to be revitalised.

Any changes must take place before 2023 to qualify for a Government grant, managed by Sheffield City Region, and must be subject of public consultation.  

An overview of the ‘Connecting Sheffield’ proposal, providing a green space around the city centre. (Image: Connecting Sheffield)

Connecting Sheffield

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

The new Isaacs Building takes shape

Scaffolding and new steel work support retained Victorian fronts on Pinstone Street. (Image: Heart of the City II)

A photograph that tells a story. The remains of the Victorian facade at the lower end of Pinstone Street in Sheffield city centre. Everything behind has been demolished, and the famous old fronts preserved for posterity.

Block C of the Heart of the City II masterplan is located between Pinstone Street, Cambridge Street and Charles Street.

It incorporates two historic building blocks which form the southern end of the Pinstone streetscape.

The combined façade and its dramatic roofscape is an excellent example of Sheffield brick and terracotta architecture. It occupies a prominent position and is visible from the Peace Gardens through to The Moor.

Block C will be home to 39,000 sq ft of premium Grade A office space, serving 450 employees, plus six premium retail units comprising over 8,000 sq ft.

It will be known as the Isaacs Building, named after Edwardian-era paper-hangings merchant David Isaac, and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Categories
Buildings

Sheffield Citadel

Photograph by Exposed Magazine

The Citadel, a prominent Sheffield building that has remained vacant since 1999, could finally be brought back into use after planning consent was granted for its redevelopment by Sheffield City Council.

WMA Architects, on behalf of Tandem Properties, submitted full planning and listed building applications in October 2019 for work on The Citadel on Cross Burgess Street.

The Grade II-listed building was constructed in 1894 as the Sheffield headquarters of the Salvation Army. It was designed by William Gillbee Scott (1857-1930), who had conceived the Gower Street Memorial Chapel in London.

The foundation stones were laid in September 1892 with construction completed by the end of 1893. Completed at a cost of £25,000, the building consisted of a large hall, various rooms and apartments, with three large business premises on Pinstone Street.

It has remained vacant following the charity’s relocation to new premises in 1999.

The interior of the four-storey building is set to be modernised to make it suitable for use as a food and drink establishment, while retaining its historic features.

Work will include increasing the amount of glazing on the Cross Burgess Street frontage with the existing auditorium expected to form part of the restaurant or bar area.

The applications have now been approved, subject to conditions, by Sheffield City Council under delegated powers.

Categories
Other

Sheffield’s sun-ray revolution

March 1927, and Sheffield’s first Sun-Ray Centre opened at the Imperial Rooms, on Pinstone Street, used for the treatment of nerve disorders, rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, neuritis, sciatica, lumbago, neurasthenia, insomnia and anaemia.

It might seem strange in this day of sun-bed shops and tanning parlours that such excitement was created by the opening of Dr Mark Turner’s Sun-Ray Centre.

But the difference between sun-ray treatment and modern-day sunbeds is completely different.

Sun-ray treatment was seen as a cure for ailments, with Sir George Newman, Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health, proclaiming it “as one of the five great discoveries in medicine in the last two generations.”

Bodies consumed therapeutic light in one of two ways: outdoors in the natural sunshine, or indoors with artificial, electrical substitutes, known variously as phototherapy, artificial sunlight therapy, ray therapy, or actinotherapy. The latter method commonly used carbon arc, tungsten arc, or mercury vapour lamps, which produced different outputs of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet rays. Most prized among these was the ultraviolet. Referred to as ‘chemical’ or ‘actinic’ rays – notably for their use in photography – the ultraviolet rays were understood to disinfect and heal lesions and wounds by virtue of being bactericidal; to regenerate blood by increasing phosphorus, calcium, and haemoglobin levels; and to stimulate the production of vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’.

Niels Finsen, a Faroese-Danish physician who had grown up in the dim light of the North Atlantic, was fascinated by the link between sun exposure and health. He noticed that ultraviolet light could apparently kill bacteria. In the 1890s he designed the Finsen Light, a powerful electric lamp which proved effective in treating lupus vulgaris, a skin disease caused by tuberculosis bacteria.

Hearing of his work, Queen Alexandra, a fellow Dane, provided “the first Finsen lamp in Great Britain” to a hospital.

In 1903, Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for his work on phototherapy.

Dr Mark Turner arrived in Sheffield after setting up similar establishments at Nottingham, Lincoln and Derby. And with him came plaudits and recommendations from former patients:

“Dear Mr Turner. You will be pleased to know that I walked up and down the dining room without the aid of sticks yesterday, this after only six treatments.”

“I’m much better, so much better after suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, I can’t tell you what I feel like, but just watch me walk.”

“Well, it does one good to see what a wonderful improvement there is in us all; no wonder we look so bright and happy.”

Sheffield newspapers were full of stories from grateful patients, but one suspects the column inches were paid for by Dr Turner.

A month later, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported:

“A sensation awaited those who watched the arrival of Mrs Hannah Lindsay, of Wolseley Road, at the Sun-Ray Centre for Private Patients in Pinstone Street.

“Mrs Lindsay electrified the onlookers by walking from her car to the Treatment Rooms, instead of being carried in the hospital chair as formerly.

“A murmur of applause greeted her arrival, some of the bystanders had had the opportunity of witnessing her former visits and were enthusiastic at what they saw.

For sixteen years she had suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis so severely as to make walking impossible, now she is really walking.”

The promotion of actinotherapy received its greatest boost in December 1928, when it was used on King George V, who was ill with pneumonia: “the ray therapy treatment would be used as a new method of attack in the difficult struggle which the doctors are waging . . . The new treatment may act as a tonic and increase the bacterial power of the blood.”

By 1928, light therapy had reached its zenith in popularity, both among the public and the medical profession. Although almost 200 clinics existed in England at this time, it was unregulated and incredibly expensive.

And, some medical professionals continued to have reservations about the treatments. A 1930 meeting at the British Medical Council discussed experiments by the Medical Research Council which found ultraviolet rays “to be no more effective than a mustard plaster”.

Despite the accolades, Dr Turner’s Sun-Ray Centre appears to have been short-lived and within a couple of years had disappeared.

For much of the first half of the twentieth century, phototherapy or “sun ray” therapy was prescribed by hospitals for children for a wide range of maladies, from chest infections to anaemia. At the same time, concerns mounted over the link between exposure to ultraviolet light and skin cancer.

By the 1960s, antibiotics and alternative treatments rendered sun ray therapy obsolete for most purposes. Targeted ultraviolet light is still used today for some skin disorders, and other types of non-ultraviolet light treatments are used to treat mood and sleep disorders.