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Streets

“One side of the city centre to the other, and less than a mile. By car, I travelled 2.5 miles.”

The best map of Sheffield’s Inner Ring Road, but spoilt by spelling mistakes.

An unusual post, in so much that we are looking at a road. In fact, a series of roads that form one big one – Sheffield Inner Ring Road.

We might live in Sheffield, but sometimes it’s difficult to see wood for the trees, and this is the case with the inner ring road, because you probably don’t realise its purpose and where it is.

Let’s start in the 1930s when a route around the city centre was first proposed. Truth be known, World War Two stalled plans until the sixties, and in 1969 Sheffield Corporation published an impressive handbook called ‘Sheffield – Emerging City,’ in which plans for a detailed road system were revealed for the first time.

The council intended to pour £65m into the scheme which included bus lanes, pedestrian areas, as well as an urban motorway and motorway links with the M1.

Robert Waterhouse, writing in The Guardian in 1972, said that “Sheffield was as proud of its new roads as of its housing, its clean air, and its flourishing arts. They were all symbols of rebirth after years of stagnation among the ruins of the Industrial Revolution.”

The Guardian article, long forgotten, provides an interesting snapshot into the arguments that raged at the time.

It pointed out that after 1969, things had started to go wrong. In May 1971, a joint report by the city engineer, the city planning officer and architect, and the general manager of the transport department, had taken a gloomy view.

‘Although a large highway construction programme has been embarked upon,’ it said, ‘the growth of vehicular traffic is much greater than the growth of road capacity. The disparity has been obvious for many years and there seems negligible hope of it being ended in the foreseeable future.”

The report estimated that the proposed highway system, capable of carrying about 50 per cent of commuters to work by car, would cost ratepayers another 20p in the pound, which was probably acceptable, but that a system by which nearly everyone went by car could cost £300m, or another pound on the rates, clearly unacceptable. If the ‘compromise,’ £65m system was going to get clogged up anyway, was it worth building at all?

Arundel Gate in 1973 looking towards the Hole in the Road – new barriers erected in attempt to make pedestrians use the subways. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield

Waterhouse identified growing opposition within the council.

Sir Ron Ironmonger, Labour’s council leader, admitted that a growing number of councillors were against the scheme, and there had been public exchanges between the planning department and engineers.

The planners, headed by R. Adamson, felt that the engineers were going about the job the wrong way: instead of giving priority to the inner ring road, which everybody thought essential, construction had been advanced near the city centre. This meant that the civic circle – the inner ring road ultimately intended to carry only local shoppers and delivery vans – was being used as a throughway.

But the engineers, under K.D. Wiilliams,  replied that highways the size of the inner ring road – a six-lane urban motorway – didn’t happen overnight.

It seemed that Sheffield residents didn’t know what they were in for but would soon find out. The new interchange between the inner ring road and the Parkway was near completion at the bottom of Commercial Street. Sheffield Parkway was also being built and would be the main route into the city centre from the M1.

Construction of Sheffield Parkway in 1974 looking towards Park Square. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield
Sheaf Street/Commercial Street (latterly known as Park Square) roundabout under construction in 1973. Image: Sheffield Newspapers/Picture Sheffield

But the argument in 1971 was that traffic coming into the city centre was being diverted onto newly-constructed roads, because there was no proper inner ring road. And it was causing problems.

On Commercial Street itself, a bridge was being widened to take four lanes of traffic. It joined the civic circle at Castle Square, where traffic and pedestrians were already separated – cars at ground level, pedestrians underground. But before the road got there, it had to pass Fitzalan square, one of the principal routes for shoppers on foot. Everybody agreed this was a problem, but work on widening Commercial Street continued anyway, despite open criticism from Labour councillors.

Widened Commercial Street in 1970s, looking towards the Gas Company Offices on right, Electricity Supply Offices and Barclay’s Bank on left. Shude Hill behind car park on right. Image: Picture Sheffield

There were others also opposed to the scheme. Dr Leonard Taitz, a young South African doctor, working in Sheffield, was convener of the Conservation Society’s national transportation working party. He had started a campaign to bring the road building programme to a halt while a new policy on integrated transportation was formulated.

New roads were being built within the city centre but there were design flaws.

He cited the case of Furnival Gate, also a four-lane highway which, he suggested, was bound to be used by commuter traffic, but which divided The Moor and Pinstone Street, two proposed precinct streets. A subway to take people under the road had already been built, while Charter Row, another radial, had a barrier down its middle which cut a whole segment of the city from the centre.

Furnival Gate at the junction with The Moor showing (middle left) junction with Union Street in the 1960s. Image: Picture Sheffield

He argued that these roads were primarily being used by commuters cutting across town. But Mr K.D. Williams, head of technical design at the engineers, said this wasn’t the case, and that they were a necessary part of an integral system, that will one day be blocked off to prevent through traffic, and channel motorists to off-street car parks.

Whatever the interpretation, the roads were ‘not a pretty site.’ Certainly not ‘Sheffield’s Champs Elysees,’ as a councillor had called Arundel Gate.

Robert Waterhouse asked the important question? Would the new roads ever carry the massive traffic that Sheffield had come to expect? Would the inner ring road be built as a motorway, and would Sheffield get its two, or even three, motorway links with the M1?

Sir Ron Ironmonger pointed out that after 1974, highways would become the responsibility of the new South Yorkshire metropolitan authority and had no wish to make any drastic moves at such a late stage, and cited Nottingham which had done away with  a major part of its road programme. (Sir Ron later became leader of South Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council).

What did happen?

The 1970s proposal for the Inner Ring Road was abandoned because it would have destroyed important heritage assets like Kelham Island and the canal basin, and cash, as ever, was the stumbling block. But we did eventually get an Inner Ring Road, but it took a long time for it to be completed in its entirety. 

We can thank Duncan Froggatt, a Chartered Engineer, in his excellent book, ‘Sheffield – A Civilised Place’ (2018), for providing the timeline.

“The inner relief road had started in the 1960s starting with the dualling of Netherthorpe Road. But the later stages came much later with St Mary’s Gate and Hanover Way widened to dual carriageways in the 1980s.

“Sheaf Street was improved in the early 2000s leading to the improvement of Sheaf Square and subsequently links to St Mary’s Road up to 2009.

“The northern section from Sheffield Parkway to Penistone Road was built in two phases in the 1990s. The phase from the Parkway to The Wicker was completed in 2000, originally called Cutlers’ Gate, but later renamed Derek Dooley Way. The next stage, between the Wicker and Shalesmoor was finished in 2008.

“Once completed, it provided a continuous loop of dual carriageway, clockwise from Granville square in the southeast to Sheffield Parkway in the east, linking all main arterial routes in the city.”

Netherthorpe Road with Netherthorpe Street Flats under construction in 1965, looking towards Netherthorpe High Rise Flats. Image: SCC/Picture Sheffield

All done and dusted, but these days it is what is  happening within the Inner Ring Road that creates the interest.

Mr Williams’ plan for streets to be blocked off to traffic within the city centre did and continues to happen. Fargate and The Moor were the first to be pedestrianised, Pinstone Street is in transition, and Arundel Gate will be downgraded.

But what nobody in the 1970s envisaged was something that had been around for centuries… and that was the bicycle. Cycle routes, and the eagerness to cut car emissions, while greening our urban spaces, means that Sheffield city centre will eventually change beyond recognition.

I leave you with a story. Last week, I had to travel by car from one side of the city centre to the other. By foot it was less than a mile. By car, I travelled 2.5 miles.

Derek Dooley Way. Image: Sheffield Star

“Driving into Sheffield, I was looking forward to my friend’s hen-do. We had booked a city centre apartment, a spa day and a restaurant. What could go wrong? Yet, an hour-and-a-half later, I was bellowing tearfully into my mobile at my boyfriend: “You came to university here. Where AM I?” What had caused this emotional meltdown? Certainly not a fall-out with my friends – I hadn’t even seen them yet. Instead, my fun-filled city break had been spent navigating a series of roundabouts on the city’s ring road which kept spitting me out with increasing ferocity. Sheffield’s inner ring road has been tormenting drivers since 1961. Like many of the nation’s worst ring roads, it twists you round its little finger only to catapult you into bus-only zones or roads that lead you off in the opposite direction to the one you need.” – Jenny Scott – BBC News – 2014

NOTE
Robert Waterhouse is a journalist. Starting on the Guardian in Manchester and London, he turned freelance and was launch editor of the daily North West Times. He is a co-editor of the review Mediterraneans. His books include The Other Fleet Street, a history of national newspaper publishing in Manchester.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places Streets

Kelham Island

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

Once a rural idyll, along came industry, and Kelham Island became famous for its factories and works. It’s hard to believe that in a remarkably short space of time, the last remnants of industrial heritage are being squeezed out, and Kelham is becoming one of the “coolest places to live in Britain.”

Here’s an extract from Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People’ (1876), in which Richard Leonard remembered the days before industry.

“Beyond Bower Spring, the footpath – Cottonmill Walk – was the continuation of Spring Street. It ran in the direction now taken by Russell Street, across ‘Longcroft,’ as the open space was called in 1771, towards Green Lane. Of course, it took its name from the cotton mill of Mr Middleton.

“An open stream ran from the top of Cornish Street, in front of Green Lane, and emptied itself in the Don, below where Green Lane works now stand. On the other side of the stream were cottage gardens. Middleton’s silk mill – built in 1758, burnt down in 1792, and the cotton mill, re-erected on the same site only in turn to be burnt down in 1810, and again built only to become the Poor-house in 1829 – stood alone in its glory, its nearest neighbour being Kelham Wheel, still there, as it had been at least as long before as in 1674, on the now covered-in ‘Goit’.

“Across the river was the suburb of Bridgehouses, and all around was verdure. Those were the days when ‘the old cherry tree,’ whose name is now perpetuated only by the public-house (on Gibraltar Street) and the yard where it stood, was still young, and when Allen ‘Lane’ and the Bowling Green marked the extremity of the inhabited region of Gibraltar. Beyond the road ran between fields – ‘Moorfields’ (now Shalesmoor) – and on to the distant rural haunts of Philadelphia and Upperthorpe.”

The photographs show Citu’s recent sustainable housing development at Little Kelham (Little Kelham Street).

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)
Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Nichols Building

Nichols Building. An artist impression of how the old building might look after conversion into flats and commercial space. (Ashgate)

A £3.25m funding package from Lloyds Bank has been secured to support the redevelopment of a former grocer’s warehouse and coffee roastery in Sheffield’s Kelham Island district into apartments. Developer Ashgate is redeveloping the currently disused Nichols Building, Shalesmoor, to a mixed-use scheme with private residential units and commercial space.

Work is to start this summer, and retain many of the building’s original features, including mosaic tiling, stone, and brickwork.

The Nichols Building is an elegant three-storey range built with iron-hard engineering red bricks, such as Accrington or Noris type, laid in English Garden Wall bond.

Leather’s Plan of Sheffield (1823) shows the site (once known as Moor Fields) to have two buildings. The adjacent road had also been renamed ‘Shalesmoor’ although the smaller streets around it remained unnamed.

The 1853 Ordnance Survey map shows the site to comprise back-to-back housing, and likely small workshops, concentrated around two courtyards.

The Nichols Building appears to have been built in 1914 as indicated by a date sign located within the front gable at the corner between Shalesmoor and Shepherd Street. Cartographic records confirm such a date for the construction of the building as the site was formerly occupied by several terraced buildings with internal courts.

The building includes two signs stating, ‘FOUNDED AD 1854’, referring to the establishment of the company; and an additional one to the north-western end along Shalesmoor which reads ‘REBUILT AD 1914’, which refers to the ‘rebuilding’ of the company on the site.

An advertising postcard for Nichols and Co. (Sheffield) Ltd., Shalesmoor (dated between 1900-1919). The back of the postcard reads: “Wholesale grocers. Tea blenders and coffee roasters. Baking powder and self raising flour manufacturers. Dried fruit specialists. Tea packers to the trade. Colonial and foreign produce delivered or sold export. Only goods of reputed quality and of the leading manufacturers sold. Write for quotations.” (Picture Sheffield)

The business Nichols & Co., wholesale grocer, tea merchant and dealer, was established in 1854 by Charles Nichols which originally occupied premises at 231 Gibraltar Street. In 1868, the business held an additional property in Meadow Street and in 1877 in Langsett Road. The 1900 Kelly’s Directory also lists a property in Trinity Street. Once the company moved to the present Nichols Building, no other associated premises are listed, suggesting that the aim of the Nichols Building was to bring the different properties of the company together within a single and purposely-built warehouse.

Nichols and Co. are listed on the site until 1965 when the company is renamed ‘Nichols, Johnson and Bingham’. Following liquidation, various parts of the buildings were sold off with the final reference in the 1973 directory showing ‘Richardson, Arthurs and Son Ltd’ which had purchased part of the former Nichols and Co. business.

It subsequently became auction rooms for Eadon Lockwood & Riddle, and more recently functioned as an antique centre that closed in 2018.

ELR Auctions Ltd., The Nichols Building, at the junction of Shepherd Street and Shalesmoor in 2006. (Picture Sheffield)

© 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
Places Sculpture Streets

Grey to Green

The recent post about Castlegate failed to mention that it is in the process of being part-pedestrianised, Phase 2 of Sheffield’s ‘Grey to Green’ project. Unless you visit this forgotten part of the city centre the relevance of the initiative might escape you.

It is part of an approach to transform ‘redundant’ road space into a network of public spaces, sustainable drainage and urban rain gardens, which aims to improve the setting of the Riverside Business District, Castlegate and the rest of the city centre and then on to Kelham Island and Victoria Quays, as a place to work, live and enjoy, whilst also dealing with the effects of climate change.

Phase 1 (West Bar/Bridge Street/Snig Hill) was completed in Spring 2016 and was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund and Sheffield City Council.

The area suffered catastrophic river floods in 2007. With the completion of the Inner Relief Road in 2008, traffic was diverted away from West Bar. The opportunity was seized to replace the ‘grey’ impermeable ‘redundant’ roads into ‘green’ permeable beds, transforming the space with colourful meadow-like planting and significantly increasing surface water storage.

With advice on plant selection from the University of Sheffield Landscape Department this has created a new townscape that is different to anything done in Sheffield before. Over 40,000 bulbs, 40 new trees, 600 evergreen shrubs and 26,000 herbaceous plants were introduced to form a seasonal urban meadow.

The new road layout was designed to slow vehicle speeds and make walking and cycling more attractive. New paving, street furniture, colourful seating and five eye-catching  public art ‘totems’ celebrate the local history of the West Bar area including its Victorian music halls and theatres, its lively street life, its complex relationship to the river and its legacy of industry and brewing.

Phase 2 (Castlegate to Exchange Place) is nearing completion, and Phase 3 (Gibraltar Street  to Shalesmoor) will eventually transform 1.2km of ‘redundant’ road-space into an attractive new linear green public space.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.