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Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework

Photograph by Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework.

I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Sheffield’s biggest ever development project – a £1.5bn plan to develop the area around Sheffield Railway Station, dwarfing the £480m Heart of the City II scheme.

The plan is to maximise the economic potential of the area and make the most of HS2, and will now go out for public consultation.

The idea stems from plans for HS2 trains to stop at Sheffield Station on a loop off the mainline which were recently given the green light by the government.

Sheffield City Council would co-ordinate the project, with funding coming from several organisations including the city council, HS2, SYPTE, Transport for the North, Network Rail, Sheffield City Region and the Department for Transport. The bulk of the costs – up to £1bn – would be from the private sector, which would build offices, restaurants, bars and potentially a hotel.

Photograph by Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework.

The project would see the closure of Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street – the dual carriageway that runs in front of the station – would swap places with the tram route that runs behind.

A huge, landscaped pedestrian bridge would link Park Hill with Howard Street and the multi-storey car park on Turner Street would be demolished and moved further away.

It would be replaced by an office block – one of up to 12 planned in the ‘Sheffield Valley’ zone, including four outside the station, employing up to 3,000 people.

Up to 1,000 homes – flats and houses – could also be built.

Photograph by Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework.

The new tram route would run from Fitzalan Square, along Pond Street, stop outside the station and continue along Suffolk Road to Granville Square.

The bus station on Pond Street would be reduced in size to make room for the tram tracks and offices on stilts potentially built on top.

Photograph by Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework.

Park Square roundabout and Sheaf Street would become a park and link into the Grey to Green scheme at Victoria Quays, Castlegate and West Bar.

Under the plans the ‘Q park’ would move to the Wren-DFS site on nearby St Mary’s Road.

There would be a new, sheltered, taxi rank next to the station, but the taxi ‘stacking’ area would be moved ‘slightly further out’ improving access for drop-offs and people with mobility needs.

The area between St Mary’s Road, Queens Road and Sheaf Gardens, currently home to businesses including a Pure Gym, would be a new residential centre for up to 700 homes, with a further 300 spread throughout the area.

The Masterplan

Photograph by Sheffield Midland Station and Sheaf Valley Development Framework.
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Buildings

Odeon Luxe

The cinema experience in Sheffield is reaching new heights with the opening of The Light and the recent makeover of the Odeon on Arundel Gate. Now rebranded as Odeon Luxe – “cinema like you’ve never experienced before” – it’s hard to believe this building was constructed in the sixties.

The history will be lost to a younger generation, familiar with the cinema and Tank nightclub alongside, but its beginnings go back to the Epic Development of 1968-1969, a massive £1million project to provide an entertainment complex for the city.

The scheme exploited the steeply sloping ground above Pond Street, rising to the newly-constructed inner ring road (Arundel Gate). With shops and car-parking below, it linked Pond Street bus station to the city centre by means of walkways, escalators and subways. The key features were two large windowless blocks, clad entirely in panels of white tiles, designed by Jefferson Sheard & Partners, responsible for the brutalist Moore Street Substation.

One of the buildings was taken by the Rank Organisation as a 2,500 capacity nightclub and conference centre, known to generations as Top Rank (later the Roxy, now the O2 Academy), while the other unit was proposed as another nightclub with twin cinemas underneath.

The Cinecenta cinemas opened in January 1969, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1970 that a cabaret club opened above. This was the Fiesta Club, operated by two brothers, Keith and Jim Lipthorpe, who had managed the Club Fiesta at Stockton-on-Tees since 1965. The cost of fitting out the building was said to be £500,000, a huge undertaking, and provided 1,300 seats in the auditorium.

It was reputed to be the largest cabaret club in Europe, building a reputation in attracting big names to the city. The Jackson Five, The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and The Four Tops all played here.

And there were many famous homegrown names too – Cilla Black, Bruce Forsyth, Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper and Sheffield’s own Tony Christie – to name but a few. Legend suggests that Elvis Presley nearly appeared here, but alas it never happened.

For a time, the Fiesta Club was legendary, but the ever-increasing demands of artists and agents had taken its toll. In 1976, following a 17-day strike by staff wanting to join a union, the Fiesta Club closed with debts of £300,000.

After a spell in darkness, it reopened under the management of a Scarborough-based company, but when this also failed it passed into the hands of the Rank Organisation. Uncomfortable with such a large venue, it leased the Fiesta Club to a businessman who later disappeared.

The Epic Development never reached the heights it intended. Far from providing a link to the city centre, Arundel Gate was the problem, wider then, and only crossed by pedestrians via a series of subways. By the end of the seventies the area was already down-at-heel, the underpasses were dangerous places at night, the escalators had stopped working, and the shops were only attracting low-end retailers.

The lights finally went out at the Fiesta Club in 1980, standing empty until the Rank Organisation converted it into the Odeon multiplex cinema in 1992. Five of the seven screens were fitted into the shell of the Fiesta, two screens were taken in the former Cinecenta auditoriums, and extra screens added later.

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Buildings

Vista

Work will start shortly on “Vista”, a 16-storey student tower block on a plot of land between Flat Street and Pond Street.

Sheffield Council approved a plan by Langland Estates to redevelop the entire former Head Post Office site in September 2015. Refurbishment of the listed buildings is complete, including the old post office which is now Sheffield Hallam’s Institute of Arts.

Langland’s initial aim was to build up to 22 storeys, but this was brought down to 16 two years ago after talks with the council’s planning department.

The development has now been bought by Liverpool-based Mount Property Group which is aiming to complete construction for the September 2021 academic year. The approved scheme is for 241 “student units” with ground floor reception, study lounge, coffee shop and bike store.

It is Mount’s first project in Sheffield, and will use its own building subsidiary, Mount Construction.

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Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (1)

One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets. The castle was one of the grandest and most powerful in the north of England before it was demolished by the parliamentarians in 1648.

The site of the castle was built over several times, the remains discovered in the 1920s, and covered over once again. And then Castle Market was built over it in the 1960s.

It might come as a surprise now, but during the 18th and 19th centuries there was doubt as to where Sheffield Castle had stood.

Most historians guessed correctly, and from here on, Victorians liked the romantic notion of secret tunnels running underneath the town, supposedly relics from the old castle.

Different generations handed stories down, with tales of hidden tunnels running from Sheffield Castle towards Manor Lodge, the Old Queen’s Head at Pond Hill, and towards Sheffield Cathedral.

We’re no closer to the truth now, but evidence has been uncovered over the years to suggest there might have been some legitimacy to the stories.

In 1896, during excavations for Cockayne’s new shop on Angel Street, a subterranean passage was discovered, arousing the interest of archaeologists and antiquarians.

However, it wasn’t enough to excite local journalists who were invited to accompany an exploring party up the passage.

Said one. “The expedition sounded attractive, but when I found that to gain admission it was necessary to crawl through a particularly small entrance, and that on the other side the passage had a covering of a foot of water, my exploring enthusiasm was dampened.”

He took consolation with the foreman’s claims that it was merely an “unromantic sewer,” his view confirmed by the explorers.

Alas, the march of progress ended any further exploration, and the passage was duly blocked up.

And there was another story from the same year, but one that didn’t emerge until 1920, when a retired reporter sent a letter to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

“At the bottom of High Street, at the curve which leads off towards Bank Street, some excavations were made in connection with drainage works, and at a depth of several yards, the opening in the ground cut right through an ancient subterranean way.

“I undertook an investigation with the view of establishing the correctness or incorrectness of the generally accepted theory. The foreman of the works was good enough to detail one of his men to be my guide, and with a lighted candle we began to walk along the passage towards the church. The opening in the direction of the river had been so badly disturbed during the excavations that the ingress on that side was out of the question.

“It was quite plain to see, as we advanced, that the passage had been cut through stone – it was not hard rock, but a rather soft and friable substratum. It was three feet wide, and at first, we could walk upright, but its height diminished a little, and twenty yards or so from the opening where we entered, we had to stoop to make our way along.

“At length we emerged into a dark cellar, with thralls all around it. The roof was of stone, but without ornamentation of any kind, and, altogether, it had the appearance of one of those underground caverns – crypts, they are commonly, but wrongly, called – in which a business had been carried on hundreds of years previously, and which was, in the first instance, reached by steps from without.

“These steps had disappeared however, and my guide brought me to daylight again up ordinary inside cellar steps, and we emerged into a dilapidated building.

“Pursuing my enquiries, I gathered that the premises beneath which the cellar lay had been for many years, at a remote period, the business place of a wine merchant, And the explanation of the passage was that it was, in all likelihood, a drain to conduct water from the cellar to the river.

“It was objected at the time that the cost of such a drain was altogether against the correctness of this theory; but, on the other hand, it is an established fact that drains of this character were common in medieval times. The residents in a locality would combine to bear the cost and to reap the advantage of such a construction, and, doubtless, if my guide and I had a better light, or if we had been more careful in traversing the passage, we might have seen junctions with the drain coming from the other premises.”

It was a disappointment to those who thought that this was part of a tunnel running from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church, but the so-called secret passages which ran underground in most towns were either sewers or watercourses.

The story was forgotten, only to emerge again in the 1930s, and subject of another post.

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Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (2)

For hundreds of years there have been rumours of secret tunnels that existed between Sheffield Castle, going towards the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), and heading out to Manor Lodge and the Old Queen’s Head at Pond Hill.

After an underground tunnel was found underneath Angel Street in the 1890s, dismissed as an old sewer, interest in the stories waned.

However, excitement resurfaced in 1920, when discoveries were made at Skye Edge as a result of a coal strike.

In order to keep engines running in a nearby brickworks, several men were digging coal from an outcrop on Sky Edge quarry, when they unearthed what appeared to be a subterranean passage cut out of the solid ironstone.

Sky Edge was amid many historical associations – the old Manor Lodge to which Mary Queen of Scots was held captive – was less than a mile away.

It was possible to penetrate for about 100 yards with a naked light, but further on the tunnel appeared to show signs of caving in, and the presence of foul gases made it unwise for the men to carry on.

The main passage had an arched roof, 6ft high, and the floor was on a seam of coal, 3ft thick.

In the light of similar discoveries made at the time, in River Lane, near Pond Street, and at High Street, the discovery raised the possibility that the tunnel at Sky Edge was part of a subterranean passageway which at one time connected Sheffield Castle at Waingate (where the unfortunate Queen was also imprisoned).

Four years later, Sheffield Corporation workmen laying sewers near Manor Lodge unearthed another tunnel, at a depth of nearly 10ft deep, although it ended in a heap of dirt and stones.

The tunnel ran across the road towards Manor Woods. Explorations revealed that in the direction of the Castle the passage was only about ten yards long, apparently demolished at an earlier stage. But in the opposite direction it was possible to walk about 50 yards.

At the time, it was thought that it had some connection with a tunnel found at Handsworth two years previous.

In some places the roof of the tunnel had shifted slightly, thought to have been caused by ploughing operations above, where coping stones had previously been unearthed.

A reporter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph was invited into the tunnel.

“All sounds from the outside world are cut off, and the thought that people long since dead had trodden the same path was decidedly eerie. The floor, walls, and roof are all made of stone, some of the blocks on the floor being of quite considerable size and thickness.”

An old man at the time, told the same newspaper that he knew of the passage, as it had been opened for the Duke of Norfolk about fifty years previous.

“The tunnel was opened out in the field, and one day, I, in the company of other lads, went on a tour of exploration. We took our lamps with us and were able to walk for quite a considerable distance in the direction of the castle. At last, however, our progress was arrested by a heap of stones and earth and we were compelled to return. I remember the incident well enough because we all got a “belting” when we returned.”

Another claimed that he knew where the tunnel came out of Manor Lodge.

“One had to go down a number of steps into a cellar and from there it was possible to walk some distance along a corridor until a heap of rubbish was encountered. The cellar was within a few yards of the road, being near the large ruined tower,”

The secret tunnel to Sheffield Castle is said to have been through a small opening which was situated in a wall dividing the Lodge from the grounds of the Turret House. This had been boarded up at the time, but rusty staples suggested the fact that years before a strong door was fitted to the passage.

The secret way possibly served two ends. It could either have been used as a means of escape when the Lodge was surrounded, or to assist in the hunting of deer which once abounded in the vicinity.

The legend that Manor Lodge was connected by a subterranean passage to the Castle, the two homes of the Shrewsbury’s, was an old one. But one that suggested that Manor Lodge was connected to the Old Queen’s Head Hotel in Pond Hill had only surfaced later.

There was evidence from a few years before in Thomas Winder’s British Association Handbook and Guide to Sheffield (1910):

“We know that there was a chapel in the Manor House, from the account of the funeral of the 5th Earl, but its position is unknown. The corpse was secretly brought from the said Manor to the Castle.”

Some years before, an underground passage had been discovered, about 4ft high, during drainage excavations under Castle Hill, a passage that was never explored further.

According to that writer, the secret passage from the Manor might have ended near Castle Hill, and not the Old Queen’s Head. Furthermore, the height of the Castle Hill passage corresponded with that of the Manor – about 4ft – whilst the supposed entrance at the Old Queen’s Head was said to be half as high again.

Drainage excavations, which led to the discovery of traces of a passage were referred to in “Rambles Round Sheffield (1915). The writer mentions the Lodge-end of the supposed passage.

“The old lady (custodian at Manor Lodge) will point to the entrance to the subterranean passage which is said to have connected the Lodge with the Castle. During drainage excavations at the castle years ago, traces of a passage were found, but the workmen smashed them in before attention was directed to them. Perhaps some day efforts will be made to trace the passage.”

It was possible that there were two passages, one going from the Castle to the Manor, and the other from the Castle to the gabled structure in Pond Hill (now the Old Queen’s Head), but supposed to have been the laundry of the Castle.

With regards the Old Queen’s Head, a reporter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph visited in March 1925 and spoke with the landlord, Mr Ellis.

“Yes, there is an old tunnel here,” he said, “which is supposed to go to the Manor Castle, but it is all stoned up, although the entrance can plainly be seen.”

Proceeding into one of the cellars, the reporter was shown the entrance which faced in the direction of Midland Railway Station and was about six feet high. It was impossible to go in, as within two feet of the wall a strong stone barricade had been erected.

“I feel quite sure that this goes to the Manor,” said Mr Ellis, “as since the work commenced up there (Manor Lodge), we have been ‘swarmed’ with rats, and, possibly, they have been driven down here.”

And finally, there was the story of a worker at Steer and Webster, cutlery manufacturers, on Castle Hill, who told his fellows in the late 1800s about the works yard where a shaft or dry well was being used to deposit rubbish, and at some distance down the shaft, on the Manor side, there was an opening, apparently a doorway, which he declared was the entrance to the secret passage to the Manor.

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Places

Secret tunnels of Sheffield (3)

Our final instalment about hidden tunnels underneath Sheffield takes us to 1936, when Frank H. Brindley investigated a tunnel found by workmen underneath the offices of the Telegraph and Star newspaper at Hartshead.

Brindley explored the opening using two skilled masons. The floor was described as well-worn as from long usage, and bone dry, without any trace of rubbish.

“The tunnel was cut from solid rock, about six foot in height and five to six feet wide. Its first direction was east, taking a line towards Castle Hill.
“It turned slightly south and then resumed its eastern direction, and when 50 foot from the entrance hall, we found the first trace of others having found this mystery tunnel before.

“On one of the rock walls were the following letters ‘I.W. 1830’ then just below ‘B.R.’, a dash and then ‘T.W.W.B.'”

Exploring further, they passed beyond High Street and after rounding several bends found the tunnel ended abruptly at a brick wall, probably the foundations of a building in King Street.

If the wall hadn’t been built, they would have been able to walk underneath the buildings of King Street and entered what was once Sheffield Castle at a point where the markets were then situated.

Pictures and an interview were published in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star in 1936, providing clear proof of their existence.

Brindley concluded that this was the missing tunnel from Sheffield Castle to the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral), and was undoubtedly the one that had been uncovered in 1896, when Cockayne’s were excavating for a new store on Angel Street, which had then been dismissed as a sewer.

Mr Brindley was in the headlines again at the start of World War Two, when he placed details of underground passageways at the disposal of Sheffield’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) authorities.

He explained that over the years, tunnels had repeatedly been found cut in the sandstone. Some appeared to have been old colliery workings, but many couldn’t be explained, while many appeared to radiate from the site of Sheffield Castle and were probably connected to mansions in the neighbourhood.

Brindley also shed further light on the 80ft shaft he’d found at Hartshead, that headed towards High Street.

The shaft had led to another tunnel running under Fargate, towards Norfolk Row. Unfortunately, explorations had come to an end when one of the investigating party was overcome by fumes only 50ft from the bottom of the shaft.

This time, Mr Brindley elaborated that the tunnel was part of a network that also connected Sheffield Castle with Manor Lodge.

It’s hard to believe now, but the hillside in Pond Street was said to be honeycombed with coal workings, but Brindley claimed that there were two other “mystery” tunnels found.

One section running from a cellar at the Old Queen’s Head Hotel, he said, was found when Pond Street Bus Station was being built during the 1930s, and the other was found near the top of Seymour Street (wherever that might have been). Beginning in an old cellar it ran beneath the site of the Royal Theatre, towards the Town Hall, where it was lost.

As far as I am aware, this was the last occasion that these tunnels were explored, probably sealed up but still hidden underneath the city centre.

We’ll end these posts as we began by saying that – “One day soon, Sheffield Castle might give up some of its secrets.”