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Buildings

Barclays Bank: The grand building that we lost

The one that got away. I bet only a handful of people will remember this building and it might have been one of Sheffield’s finest had it survived. But it didn’t, and you’ll be surprised to learn what stands in its place today.

This was a bank that stood at the corner of Commercial Street and Fitzalan Square, demolished in the late sixties/early seventies to allow for road widening. Nowadays, its location is buried under the road section of Commercial Street, the Supertram tracks alongside following the course of the original road.

(Image: Google)

We can trace the building back to 1879, built for the Midland Banking Company (not to be confused with the Midland Bank, that 20th century institution). Its architect was Salmon Linton Swann whose office was on George Street.

It might have been this building that caused the downfall of the Midland Banking Company.

In 1878, the bank bought The King’s Arms in Commercial Street for £20,000, a portion of the public house demolished to make way for the new building.

The bank invited architects to submit plans. Thirteen architects competed for the design from Sheffield, Rotherham, Stamford, and Nottingham.

The directors awarded the prize to Swann, and the building contract to George Chambers and Son, a Sheffield construction company.

“The building will be of an imposing and handsome appearance, and the arrangements will tend to give privacy and facilitate easy and direct communication with the manager without passing through the bank room or incumbering the principal or main entrance with all the work of the bank.”

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

Its erection was well underway but a tragic accident in December 1879 halted progress and had devastating consequences for the reputations of those involved.

Just before Christmas, a whole length of projecting cornice, about 50ft above ground, fell and crashed through a wooden awning below. A workman, Thomas Moclar, fell to his death with it, and several workmen were seriously injured.

There was an air of complacency from Salmon Swann, who failed to attend the initial inquest and instead sent a letter. “I consider my presence or services not required, as I expect it will be a pure accident and one easily understood.”

The Coroner disagreed and ordered him to attend a few days later.

The jury found Swann censurable for not allowing sufficient tail weight to the cornice, and Chambers blameable for not calling the architect’s attention to such deficiency. However, they found the negligence insufficient to render them criminally culpable and that Thomas Moclar’s death had been an accident.

Construction was halted for a while, and progress hampered by having to rebuild the damaged section. By 1881, the bank was nearing completion and William Derry, a manager at the Huddersfield branch, was brought in to oversee its opening.

However, Derry arrived in difficult circumstances. Shortly before it opened, the Midland Banking Company realised that it was in financial difficulty. Believing it had ‘outgrown its resources’ a rescue was needed, and it came in the form of the Birmingham, Dudley and District Banking Company which amalgamated with it.

The bank opened under its new name, and quickly established a reputation in the city.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The height of the building was 70ft, the building preceding the development of Fitzalan Square, and cost about £17,000 to build.

The architecture was adopted from ‘a free treatment of the classic order’, built with Huddersfield stone fronts and brick backs, having bold fluted columns along the front, with moulded bases and carved capitals dividing the wall spaces into panels, relieved by plate glass windows.

At the principal corner of the parapet was an ornamental stone tower with an ornamented panel bearing the Sheffield coat of arms, surmounted by the carved dome, supporting a moulded canopy and finial.

Internally, the wall spaces were divided into panels by means of moulded pilasters, in Parian cement, the panels fitted with the large windows. Those along the blank walls were fitted with silver-plated glass, which added a lustre of light.

The whole was surmounted by a moulded and enriched cornice, from which sprang a deep cove, relieved by a diaper work, supporting a moulded and panelled ceiling, from the centre of which was the dome, filled in with stained glass.

From the centre of the dome a ventilating sunflower fan was suspended to extract air from the bank, and to light the space below.

The whole of the bank floor was constructed with fireproof flooring covered with tiles.

The bank was heated with Perkins’ patent hot water apparatus, the pipes obscured by perforated iron skirting running around the walls.

The whole of the Commercial Street frontage was used as offices for the manager and waiting rooms, which were divided from the bank room with mahogany glazed screens, 10ft high, and covered with light glazed roofs, introducing Tobin’s principle of ventilating tubes for fresh air.

The remainder of the floor was divided and sub-divided by desks and counters, with the rear east wall fitted up with safes. Seats and desks were appropriated for the public under the windows.

Quite unusual for the building was an entrance to a basement (9ft high) in Commercial Street. This was used as a caretaker’s apartment, complete with sitting room, scullery, and bedrooms. There was also a dining room for clerks, two strong fireproof rooms, the hollow walls lined with white glazed bricks, to store ledgers, a bullion room, and toilets. The floor was laid with wood block flooring laid on a bed of concrete, thought more suitable to prevent damp and vermin. Below the basement was the boiler room, coal cellar, and a place to store ashes and dust.

The bank merged with the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Banking Company in 1889 to become Birmingham, District and Counties Bank, eventually becoming United Counties Bank in 1907.

In the same year, a fire almost destroyed the dome after a spark in the built-in chimney set fire to woodwork. It was threatened until firemen managed to haul hoses up to a height of 70ft to extinguish the flames.

United Counties Bank was bought by Barclays Bank in 1916, a name long-associated with the building until its sad demolition.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Institute of Arts (Sheffield General Post Office)

(Image: David Poole)

In a previous post we looked at the history of the General Post Office in Sheffield city centre. From humble beginnings on High Street, via Angel Street, Market Place, and Haymarket, the central post office ended up in Fitzalan Square.

However, the building now occupied by Sheffield Hallam University, was a long time coming.

In the first years of the twentieth century the Post Office acknowledged that facilities at the top of Haymarket had become too small.

By 1897, red-brick offices in Flat Street had opened and by 1900 all that remained at Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

In fact, the Post Office had been buying up land around its Flat Street offices. By 1903, it had a triangular piece of land of one acre stretching from Fitzalan Square to Pond Hill.

(Image: David Poole)

The Post Office submitted plans to Sheffield Corporation for a building fronting Fitzalan Square, but the councillors were less than impressed. In 1907 it sent a delegation to see Lord Granard, who represented the Post Office in the House of Lords, to ask for a better building, including a finer elevation, than the one proposed.

Newspapers had been full of stories about a new post office and the people of Sheffield had started to think that the building might never get built.

However, the visit to London appeared to work and later that year plans were released by the Post Office for a new building in Fitzalan Square adjoining the existing Flat Street offices.

(Image: David Poole)

Work started in 1908, coinciding with Fitzalan Square improvement works, and an immense crane, 70ft high and with a jib 95ft long, dominated the skyline.

It was designed by Walter Pott, an architect who had started work with HM Office of Works in 1896 working in the London and Leeds offices.

The design was a modern adaptation of the Renaissance and allowed an additional storey over the wing in Flat Street.

Plan of Sheffield Post Office in 1909. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The principal front in Fitzalan Square was three storeys high, with a central portion having columns the full height of the two lower floors, these finished with carved Ionic caps and heavily moulded cornice and balustrade, which continued around the other fronts.

The front of Flat Street was treated in a similar manner but without the columns, and the corner with Fitzalan Square was rounded to accommodate a main staircase leading to the upper floors and finished with a dome.

The two principal entrances were in the wings of this portion, giving access to the public office, inquiry office, and Postmaster’s office. The upper parts of these were finished with heavy pediments.

Post boxes were at the base of the corner, with a large bracket clock (paid for by the council) above.

A sketch by Walter Pott of Sheffield Post Office in 1909. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The main post room, for the sale of stamps and postal orders, was 64ft long and 45ft wide, lit with windows back and front, and lined to a height of 8ft with marble, with a mosaic floor. Adjoining was a public telephone office with ‘silence boxes’ to allow messages to be sent without interference or risk of transactions being overheard.

The Postmaster, the Chief Clerk and writing staff, as well as the sectional engineer, were accommodated on the first floor immediately over the public office and front entrances, and on the floor above was the telephone switch-room and message-room. The basement was used for batteries and engineers’ equipment.

(Image: Picture Sheffield)

The Flat Street wing was set apart on the lower floors for retiring rooms for staff, for the messengers’ delivery room, and for storerooms. The first floor was entirely occupied by an instrument room.

The lower part of the site was in Little Pond Street, a much-needed extension to the existing sorting office, and for the provision of yards for loading and unloading mail and the storage of handcarts.

The new post office was designed throughout to meet modern sanitary requirements as regards light and ventilation, and the walls and passages occupied by staff were faced with glazed bricks. Four boilers, 146 radiators, and 1½ miles of heating pipe was installed by the Brightside Foundry and Engineering Co.

The building had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater portion was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

Although history books give a date of 1910 for the building, it came into use without fuss during the summer of 1909. “The staff simply left their posts in one building and walked over to the incomparably better equipped accommodation across the Square.”

It remained in operation until 1999 and remained empty for several years, a ‘building at risk’, until rescued by Sheffield Hallam University which opened it as the Institute of Arts in 2016.

(Image: AxisArchitecture)
(Image: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

The White Building

The White Building in Fitzalan Square. The old offices have been converted into apartments. (Image: David Poole)

This is probably one of Sheffield’s best-loved buildings. A glance through social media shows positive words about the White Building in Fitzalan Square, and yet little appears to be known about it.

The building is Grade II listed by Historic England, more so for the ten carved friezes that adorn its fascia, but its simple past, as shops and offices, means it is largely forgotten.

(Image: David Poole)

The White Building was built in 1908, named after the white faience used to dress it, quite different from the stone used in other buildings of the time. This material was used because it was ‘self-cleaning’, an antidote against the soot that clung to our city centre buildings in the past. (Another example, still seen today, was the Telegraph Building on High Street).

However, it would not look out of place on a typical Parisian street and comes into its own on a bright sunny day.

The White Building seen shortly after completion in 1908. This was one of several new buildings built at the same time as the square was ornamentalised. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

It was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, of Flockton and Gibbs, who built and owned the building. No surprise then that its construction came the same time that Fitzalan Square was about to be rebuilt. Gibbs, as a member of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Society of Architects and Surveyors, had consulted on plans for the square, and no doubt saw an opportunity to cash in on future success.

The White Building was built of four storeys with a raised attic storey in the centre. The use of French windows with balconies on the first and third floors provided welcome relief to the usual designs for commercial buildings.

The building was accessed by an arcaded ground floor, the entrance, still with its original name plaque, recessed behind one of the plain elliptical arches.

It is above these five arches that the ten friezes can be seen. These were created by Alfred Herbert Tory and William Frank Tory, the brothers using real workers as models, before sending away the designs to be cast as hollow tiles (the moulding was done with terracotta tiles in Leeds).

With thanks to Darcy White and Elizabeth Norman ‘The Sheffield Trades’ are as follows:-

“A Silversmith (with a blowpipe): a Chaser: an Engineer: a File Cutter; a Steel Roller: a Cutler: a Grinder (using a flat-stick): a Hand Forger; a Buffer; and a Steel crucible teemer (with sweat rag in mouth).”

The Tory brothers made five each, casting their initials beneath their work, although these have weathered badly and are now difficult to read.

After the White Building opened, its ‘first class shops and offices’ were in huge demand and proceeded to be so until the decline of Fitzalan Square in the 1970s and 1980s. It was altered in the late twentieth century, including the removal of decorative rooftop urns, but remains pretty much as it did when first built.

These days the old offices have been converted into apartments and the ground floor shops await the revival of Fitzalan Square.

The King Edward VII Memorial with the White Building in the background. (Image: David Poole)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.