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Buildings

Sheffield City Council targets developers for two new Heart of the City sites

Sheffield City Council has gone to market with two new development plots within its transformational £470m Heart of the City masterplan.

The Council and its appointed marketing agent, CBRE, are seeking buyers for two development sites located on the former car park between Rockingham Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street.

The new developments would further contribute to the rapidly growing mixed-use district that is being created through Heart of the City – this includes the already completed Grosvenor House, plus several under-construction office, leisure, and residential developments.

The two new plots are located at opposite corners of the evolving Pound’s Park, having been originally outlined during the Council’s public consultation for this landmark public space last year.

Construction of Pound’s Park is already well underway and is set to complete towards the end of this year. By prioritising the physical and mental wellbeing of its visitors – through a focus on pedestrians, cycling, active play, and relaxation – the new green space is seen as a big draw for potential developers.

The sites are expected to provide active ground floor uses such as cafes and restaurants onto this high-quality public realm with office, hotel and residential uses on the upper floors considered appropriate. Whilst both sites could be developed by a single purchaser, the Council will consider separate or combined offers for the sites.

The largest of the two new sites (Site B) sits on the southeastern side of the park on the corner of Carver Street and Wellington Street.

One of the requirements for this site is that it must incorporate and display the locally cherished William Mitchell Frieze artwork, which was carefully removed from Barker’s Pool House to make way for a new Radisson Blu hotel last year.

The second site (Site A) sits to the northeast of the park on the corner of Rockingham Street and Division Lane.

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Buildings

Bar and events venue planned for Globe Steel Works

More development proposals at Kelham Island. This time it involves the former Globe Steel Works on Alma Street.

Plans have been lodged to convert it into a bar, café, multi-use events and music venue. The full planning application has been submitted by Citu, supported by Directions Planning Consultancy.

The traditional red brick building was built about 1845 and is one of the last standing remnants of the former Globe Steel Works, which once incorporated land to the east, south and west. The extended site was last occupied by Richardson’s Cutlery Works and, more recently, this building was used by AW Tools (Europe) Limited.

Under the plans, an existing single-storey enclosed yard area that is already partially covered along the western elevation would be fully utilised to provide further accommodation at ground floor and a terrace at the first floor level. A new lobby area would also be created in the north-east corner.

The existing Globe Steel Works sign would be retained.

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Buildings Sculpture

Heat and Light – A story in Portland stone

A story above. No. 9 Commercial Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

I recently featured Canada House, on Commercial Street, a well-known building, built in 1874 for the Sheffield United Gas Light Company. Plans have been submitted to convert it into Harmony Works, a home for music education in the region.

However, next door to Canada House is an often overlooked building that was originally an extension to the former gas showrooms.

The building, No. 9 Commercial Street, is no longer connected with Canada House, and was recently used by Jessops photographic shop.

This Portland stone building is conspicuous against its Victorian neighbours, added in 1938 by Hadfield & Cawkwell. It is described as ‘between stripped classical and modern.’ Harman and MInnis in Pevsner’s Architectural Guide describe it as ‘a Greek Key band and flutes representing pilasters combining sculpture by Philip Lindsey Clark of a flying female figure with a sunbeam behind her and a male figure backed by flames.’

Next time you pass, take a good look because the sculpture makes sense when you know what you are looking at.

The life-size sculptural figures represent Heat and Light.

Heat is represented by the male figure with the feet coming out of the earth to suggest the origin of gas. Flames twisting and expanding upwards, with a ‘quivering’ background, convey the suggestion of heat.

The female figure was chosen to represent light, designed to give an impression of light descending in rays controlled by the arms of the figure to shed light on the earth. In the background, a star suggests night turned into day by means of this light.

Philip Lindsey Clark (1889-1977) was the son of sculptor Robert Lindsey Clark, and he worked with him at the Cheltenham School of Art from 1905 until 1910. He later studied at the City and Guilds School in Kennington, had a distinguished record in World War One, and continued his training at the Royal Academy and Salon des Artistes, Paris.

His work from 1930 onwards became more of a religious nature and can be seen in ecclesiastical buildings across the country.

In Sheffield, there are other examples of his sculpture at Church of the Sacred Heart (Hillsborough), the Royal Institution to the Blind in Mappin Street (still retained in the replacement building), and St Theresa of the Child Jesus Church at Manor, including, amongst others, the stone statue of St Theresa above the main door of the church.

Philip Lindsey Clark works on a stone panel for the tympanum of the new Sacred Heart Church in Hillsborough, Sheffield, 12th March 1936. 

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Kings Tower – Revised plans for city centre high-rise

News of what could become Sheffield’s tallest building, and it’s a development that has featured on this page before.

Revised plans have been lodged for King’s Tower, a 40-storey tower in the city centre.

CJS7 Ltd (trading as Oppidan Life) and SFGE Properties Ltd have applied to Sheffield City Council for development on the site at the junction of High Street, Angel Street, and Arundel Gate, previously occupied by part of the city’s Primark store.

Planning permission was granted in December 2020 for a 39-storey development featuring 206 apartments. However, new plans seek full planning permission for the demolition of the existing building and construction of a new 40-storey tower. It would now comprise 428 co-living units and 33 studio apartments.

Shared facilities would include workspaces, cycle store, private meeting and dining rooms, cinema/presentation rooms, gym, bar and lounges. Roof terraces and balconies would be provided where possible.

The site is of little architectural value, much of its history lost underneath twentieth century developments.

It is the site of the ancient market adjacent to Sheffield Castle, first established as the result of a Royal Charter of 1296. The market stall and buildings that occupied the site were demolished in 1786 to make way for the construction of the Fitzalan Market (also known as ‘The Shambles’).

Fitzalan Market was demolished in 1930 when the new Castle Hill Market opened, and a new shop was constructed on the corner of Angel Street for Montague Burton, of Burton Menswear, in 1932.

The Burton building was badly damaged during the Sheffield Blitz of 1940, and stood as an empty shell for many years

It was eventually demolished and replaced by a new steel-framed building, clad in concrete and tile panels, and opened in 1962 as a Peter Robinson department store.

From 1974, the adjacent C&A store absorbed the upper floors of Peter Robinson, while furniture retailer Waring & Gillow occupied the ground floor.

After C&A vacated in the 1990s, it became Primark until it relocated to The Moor in 2016, leaving the old department store empty.

If it is completed it would become Sheffield’s tallest building, a claim that will shortly pass from St Paul’s Tower to Code Sheffield (on the site which borders Rockingham Street, Wellington Street, and Trafalgar Street, and adjacent to Kangaroo Works), at 38 storeys and 383ft tall.

In the meantime, planning is also sought for the temporary display of an illuminated building wrap advertisement around the facing elevations of the existing building for a period of 12 months whilst pre-enabling works take place.

The advertisement will principally display signage relating to the new development – King’s Tower – highlighting the positive change and regeneration the area will experience on completion of the landmark development.

See also King’s Tower

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Corporation Buildings – An impressive shadow of its original design

Corporation Buildings, Snig Hill, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

I think this building looks quite elegant. Corporation Buildings, at the bottom of Snig Hill, is one of the few survivors of old Sheffield in this forgotten part of the city centre. And its proximity to the grey-to-green project adds to its stylishness.

But this was a troubled building from the start, and what you see today is a fragment of what it once looked like.

Our Victorian and Edwardian forebears had embarked on a plan to improve our streets, and too often we focus on Pinstone Street, Fargate, and High Street, as examples of their enterprise. But there were others, and Snig Hill was one of them.

Snig Hill from West Bar, derelict timber framed shops, prior to demolition in 1900. Image: Picture Sheffield

At the turn of the twentieth century, plans were revealed to widen Snig Hill from Angel Street down to Bridge Street. Old buildings were swept away and in 1902 Sheffield Corporation revealed plans to build new Corporation Buildings stretching the whole of the right side going from the centre of town.

The original plans were drawn up by the city surveyor, Charles. F. Wilke, and showed a four-storey building, with a frontage of 140 yards, including thirteen shops, with showrooms above, and sixty artisan dwellings on top of them. The plans showed that turrets were included at each end, with gables introduced to break the differences in height created by the sloping gradient of the site.

Charles F. Wilke’s rejected 1902 design for Corporation Buildings on Snig Hill. Image: British Newspaper Archive

The problem was that the Improvement Committee had drawn up the plans, but the council had already created an independent committee to deal with surplus land. The project was handed over to them and appears to have disregarded Mr Wilke’s plan.

Instead, the committee approached architects Gibbs and Flockton which came up with an alternative, if not dissimilar, plan for the site. Work began in 1903 and cost between £60K and £70K and was completed the following year.

Like all council-backed projects there was criticism about the Corporation Buildings, fuelled by the fact that when it was completed only three of the twenty-one shops had been let, and the rents for the flats appeared too expensive for Sheffield’s working class. One councillor referred to Corporation Buildings as ‘a ghastly array of empty shops.’

Newly constructed Corporation Buildings and shops, Snig Hill, 1905. Image: Picture Sheffield
Snig Hill. This image was originally part of the Tim Hale Photographic Collection. Image: Picture Sheffield

The scheme inevitably made a loss in its early years, but once shops and flats were occupied, it brought in steady income.

Nearly 120 years later, we are left with a small portion of the original construction.

What happened to the rest of it?

In World War Two, bombs destroyed much of the upper block at the top of Snig Hill. This had to be demolished and was replaced with ‘temporary’ single storey shops. A further portion was demolished in 1971 to make way for the new headquarters of Sheffield and Rotherham Constabulary, subsequently for South Yorkshire Police, and is now used as the divisional police station covering the city centre.

But at least we have something left, and most of us can only speculate as to how impressive the full block would have looked had it survived.

Demolition of Council flats in 1971 on Snig Hill showing (left to right) Sheffield and Rotherham Constabulary (Criminal Investigation Department); W. H. Godley and Son, gents outfitters (Nos.78-80) and Arthur Davy and Sons Ltd, bakers (No.74). Image: SCC/Picture Sheffield
Corporation Buildings, Snig Hill, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Commercial House – new owner for former Barclays Bank Building

Earlier this week, I wrote about an exciting planning application for Canada House, formerly the Gas Offices, on Commercial Street. It might be some time away, but the regeneration of Fitzalan Square, Haymarket, Commercial Street, and Castlegate, is already on the mind of property developers and investors.

Here’s a recent statement from Connor Rogers, at Cushman & Wakefield:-

“The transformation of the immediate area led by the redevelopment of Fitzalan Square, part of the city’s £5m Knowledge Gateway programme, and the proximity to Sheffield Hallam and the city’s amenities, will allow Glenbrook to adapt its strategy to suit future market conditions.”

He refers to Manchester-based Glenbrook Investments which has made its first acquisition in Sheffield, across the road from Canada House. It has paid £3m for Commercial House, once the Barclays Bank building, that lays adjacent to Ponds Forge International Sports Centre.

Scott Griffiths, investment director at Glenbrook Investments, said: “Commercial House provides a high-quality income return until December 2024 from an attractive building that is well positioned within Sheffield city centre for both access and amenities.

“The ambition of Sheffield City Council to reposition the city through targeted investment makes it a very interesting proposition for investors. We look forward to bringing forward our vision for the building as we seek to maximise its potential as a landmark office.”

The building is predominantly let to law firm Knights plc (formerly Keebles) and comprises 33,000 sq ft arranged over basement, ground and four upper floors.

It is also home to Sheffield Town Trust, one of the oldest charitable organisations in the country, having originally been established in 1297 by Thomas de Furnival, Lord of the Manor of Hallam.

I can date Commercial House to the late 1960s or early 1970s, built for Barclays Bank to replace an older branch at the corner of Commercial Street and Fitzalan Square, and stands behind the site once occupied by the King’s Arms Hotel, both buildings demolished to turn Commercial Street into dual carriageway.

I suspect the new owners will be looking to 2024, when office leases expire, and future redevelopment.

Categories
Buildings

Cairn’s Chambers – the Tudor-Gothic style Victorian building is up for sale

Here’s a nice development opportunity in the heart of Sheffield city centre. The Cairn’s Chambers building, built in Tudor-Gothic style, on Church Street, is up for sale (offers invited).

Grade II listed Cairn’s Chambers was built between 1894-1896 by Charles Hadfield, of M.E. Hadfield, Son and Garland, for Henry and Alfred Maxfield, solicitors. It was built in scholarly Tudor-style, a favourite of Hadfield’s, featuring decorative stonework by Frank Tory Sr., including a four-foot statue of Earl Cairns, a former Lord Chancellor.

Henry and Alfred Maxfield occupied a large suite of offices, but it was also built to accommodate other businesses, a common trait of Victorian entrepreneurship.

The offices were used for almost 40 years by Charles Hadfield’s own company, C & C.M. Hadfield, architects, and later by Hadfield and Cawkwell. It was also where John Dodsley Webster, another Sheffield architect, had his office with an entrance at the back, on St James’s Street.

The Hadfield company remained until World War Two, leaving after the building was damaged by a German bomb in 1940. The rear of the property was almost destroyed, but the decorative front survived.

Afterwards, Cairn’s Chambers became a branch of the District Bank, subsequently becoming NatWest until its closure.

Most recently, the ground floor was occupied by Cargo Hold, a seafood restaurant.

Last year an offer was accepted for the building, and subject to planning permission, was to be turned into a restaurant, with up to a dozen luxury apartments on the first, second, and third floors.

However, the development appears to have stalled and the building is now on sale at Knight Frank.

Cairn’s Chambers, Church Street, Sheffield. Images: Knight Frank

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Canada House – Thank you for the music

Canada House, Commercial Street, Sheffield. Image: DJP/2022

The year is 1874, and on a road, yet to be named, there is a conspicuous addition to Sheffield’s public buildings.

“Heavy? Well, a light and airy edifice would hardly bear the weight of the abominable clouds of smoke that smother the locality, and that make one shudder to see a handsome building exposed to their defilement,” said the Sheffield Independent.

“Externally the building is almost finished, and as nearly all the scaffolding has been removed, its architectural features are now fully revealed. Whether considered from an architectural point of view or simply as a business establishment, the building is undoubtedly the finest erection in town.”

People of my generation must hang our heads in shame because we have woefully neglected this building over the past fifty years, and it is in a sorry state.

It was completed in 1875 for the Sheffield United Gas Company, and after the expansion of works at Neepsend, and new works at Grimesthorpe, there was no longer any need for its original works at Shude Hill. It coincided with the town council’s ambitious road improvements programme and the creation of Midland Railway’s new station in the 1870s.

Four new approach roads were created to what is now Sheffield Station, including one from Haymarket down to Sheaf Street, and required the construction of a bridge over Shude Hill, and allowed construction of new offices and showrooms for the gas company.

When it was built, the new road still lacked a name causing the Independent’s ‘Spectator in Hallamshire’ to say, “What is the name of that street? I never know how to call it?”

It became Commercial Street, the history of which I’m currently preparing for the Sheffield Star, and so will avoid further comment here.

Gas Company Offices, now known as Canada House, Commercial Street, Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

The building (without fittings) cost £25,000.

The architects (Hadfield and Son) adapted a style of architecture affected by old Venetian merchants; the general effect was bold and massive; the details, not without their elegances, were in perfect keeping, while the granite doorways and monolithic pillars – some 14 feet in height and of splendid Mull of Ross stone – were quite imposing. The carving on the front elevation was sculpted by Thomas Earp, who worked on many Gothic churches and is perhaps best known for his 1863 reproduction of the Eleanor Cross which stands at Charing Cross in London.

The interior of the building seemed admirably adapted for its purpose.

A few steps led into what was the general office, a magnificent room capable of accommodating fifty clerks. The ceiling was handsomely coved and surrounded by a spacious dome which was filled with glass, designed by John Francis Bentley, and brilliantly painted with heraldic designs. All the desk fittings were fine Spanish mahogany. To the left of the entrance was the show room, fifty feet in length.

General office with restored glass dome, 2019. Image: Creative Heritage Consultants
Carved door case in the
General Office. Image: Creative Heritage Consultants
First floor staircase hall, and Ground floor hall looking east through entrance lobby, 2019. Image: Creative Heritage Consultants
Main entrance. Image: DJP/2022

From the vestibule or entrance hall, was a handsome corridor, with finely coffered ceiling, leading to a grand staircase, the steps of which were Hopton Wood marble.

At the top of the stairs there was another hall, which communicated with the board room, with coved ceiling by Hugh Stannus, the engineers’ drawing office, and several other rooms, all of which could be thrown together ‘en suite’ if desired.

Board Room ceiling 2019. Images: Creative Heritage Consultants

The foundations were in Shude Hill, a great depth below the level of the new street; and the two storeys down there provided storage space.

Canada House: Shude Hill elevation. Image: DJP/2022

By 1890, the company had extended its premises northwards along Shude Hill, with a contrasting red-brick warehouse, and in 1938 a white Portland stone extension to the offices was built on the west side of the Commercial Street building. In the characteristic art deco style of the time, it has carvings by Philip Lindsey Clark, and is no longer connected to the original building.

The 1948 Gas Act brought together over one thousand privately owned and municipal gas companies and created twelve area gas Boards, and these offices and showroom were used by East Midlands Gas. It lasted until 1972 when the British Gas Corporation was created and moved elsewhere.

It attracted no buyers, was listed by English Heritage (now Historic England), but despite this, was identified for demolition. It survived a 1977 inquiry and was sold to a local businessman who had plans to convert it to a hotel and conference centre, which never materialised but in the 1980s, the ground floor was converted to ‘Turn Ups’ nightclub and ‘Bloomers’

The Shude Hill warehouse wing became Tower Cash & Carry. And in 1990 the building was acquired by Canadian Business Parks of Bedfordshire with plans for restoration.

The building adopted its new name, Canada House, but notwithstanding regeneration of the city, the company hit financial difficulties and the building was never developed.

Vacancy led to dereliction through rainwater ingress caused by the stripping of lead from the roof by vandals, and the theft of period fireplaces.

The council served an urgent works notice to effect repairs to the building’s owner in 1996, and ownership was subsequently secured by English Partnerships, the government’s regeneration agency.

It was most recently used as a head office by owner Panache Lingerie, with a Chinese buffet on the ground floor. It is now occupied by just one commercial tenant, who occupy the first floor of the Shude Hill wing only.

However, the future looks the brightest it’s been for many years because plans have been lodged to convert it into a new music hub.

Section through Commercial Street block looking east, through new performance space building in the courtyard (Live Works, from early feasibility study). Image: Creative Heritage Consultants
‘What if….’ Images from the Pre-Application document showing re-use of internal spaces. Image: Creative Heritage Consultants

The proposed ‘Harmony Works’ development, from Sheffield Music Academy and Sheffield Music Hub, aims to create a home for music education in the region.

Planning permission is sought for the refurbishment, change of use and extension of the Grade II* listed building.

The proposed development would include a performance space for an audience of 300, two rehearsal rooms accommodating 80 musicians, 15 smaller ensemble rehearsal rooms, 20 individual practice rooms and a substantial instrument store.

Plans also include office space, a café, breakout spaces and ancillary accommodation.

Initial concept sketches produced as part of the feasibility works carried out in 2017/2018. Image: Sheffield School of Architecture / Live works

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Streets

38-40 Fargate – Still here, 140 years after being built

‘Fargate of the present’ declared the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1884. It showed the recently constructed shop for Arthur Davy. Image: British Newspaper Archive.

We have covered this building before, but as always happens, new material surfaces.

Take a close look at this sketch from 1884. It looks different these days but stands proudly as ever. This is 38-40 Fargate, erected in 1881-1882 for Arthur Davy, and described at the time as the largest retail provision store in Great Britain. Since the 1970s, it has been occupied by WH Smith.

It was erected because of Sheffield Corporation’s Street Widening Programme of the late 1800s that encompassed Pinstone Street, Fargate, and later, High Street. In modern terms, this might be considered to have been Sheffield’s original Heart of the City redevelopment.

Before this, Fargate was much narrower, the street line on the north side extending much further forward into what is today’s pedestrian precinct.  In fact, there was a ‘pinch-point’ in front of old shops that previously occupied the site. When these were demolished, Arthur Davy’s building was built much further back along a straight line of new buildings, most of which survive.

We also know which shops were demolished to make way for the new building. These were R. Goodson, a mantle shop (formerly E. Moses), a vacant unit (they even had empty shops then), E. Scott, feather bed warehouse, and George Bradley, watch and clockmaker.

Former buildings where 38-40 Fargate now stands. The old line of shops was demolished and the street made wider. Note the empty shop that was used for advertising purposes. Image: British Newspaper Archive

Pevsner describes John Dodsley Webster’s design for the new building as ‘economic handling of a late Gothic style, with carved animal heads advertising hams, potted meats and pork pies for which it was famous.’ Look carefully, these are still visible above WH Smith today.

Where stationary, magazines, and books, line the interior today, we must use our imagination as to what it used to look like.

The ground floor sales shop was 75ft long and 40ft wide, lined with Minton’s White Tiles. On the right was a counter for the sale of hams, bacon, butter, cheese, eggs, and tinned goods. On the left was the counter for pork, polonies, sausages, pork, veal and ham pies, brawn, pork, and lard. There was also a room in which to hang 50 pigs, 4000 hams, 2000 sides of bacon, besides a considerable number of polonies and sausages.

An entrance via Exchange Gateway (the small lane that exists to the left) led to a slaughterhouse, where Royal Pigs were killed, the carcases lowered through a trap door into a room below, where they were opened and dressed, and hung upon rails at the back of the shop.

Another room held the bakehouse where the crust for pork pies was made and baked in two Jennison Smokeless 2-Deckers, capable of baking 12cwt of pies per day.

It’s hard to believe, but where many of us remember WH Smith’s record department, this used to be where sausages and polonies were made, as well as the curing of ham and bacon. These were conveyed to the shop above by hydraulic lift.

In later years, the upper floors also became Davy’s Victoria Café, used for light refreshments, luncheons and afternoon teas.

Carved panels above the first-floor windows and open quatrefoils in the parapets either side of the central gable. Carved animal heads advertise hams, potted meats, and pork pies that Arthur Davy was famous for.

Sadly, Davy’s closed in 1972, and converted into WH Smith, complete with a flat canopy outside that has long-since been removed. In recent years, the shop had to close for a significant period, temporarily relocating to Pinstone Street, after roof supports failed and had to be replaced.

See the previous post about Arthur Davy here

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies

Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. The collapse of William Bissett and Sons

New shops erected in Fargate in 1884 for William Bissett. The architects were Flockton and Gibbs. The shops and offices still exist. See image at bottom of post. Image: British Newspaper Archive

When we look at Sheffield, the names of two construction firms – George Longden and Henry Boot – often appear. However, some of our well-known buildings were built by a company that has been erased from history. And perhaps for good reason.

William Bissett was a self-made man. Born in Pilsley, Derbyshire, he came to Sheffield and was apprenticed to Primrose and Company, where he acquired a practical knowledge of plumbing and glazing.

Afterwards, he set up on his own on West Street, adding further trades such as gas-fitting, painting, paperhanging, and general decorating. The success of the business allowed him to take on a partner, John Edwin Elliott, and move to more extensive premises on Devonshire Street, used as offices and showrooms, and workshops at Wilkinson Street, Pinfold Street, and Mary Street.

He launched as a general contractor and builder and managed to obtain important contracts in Sheffield and Birmingham. Amongst the earliest of his employers was Mark Firth, who entrusted him to enlarge his residence at Oakbrook, but this work was dwarfed by the magnitude of his public contracts, the most important of which was the Central Schools, School Board offices, and Firth College (now forming Leopold Square and Leopold Hotel).

Firth College. Now part of the Leopold Hotel. Image: DJP/2022

When Sheffield Corporation started its Street Improvement Scheme in the 1870s, Bissett was extensively engaged in the erection of palatial; new business premises on Fargate and Pinstone Street, and himself acquired several valuable sites.

Other building work included Weston Park Museum, Mappin Art Gallery, Cockayne’s department store in Angel Street, and Lodge Moor Hospital.

Mappin Art Gallery

For some years, Bissett was a member of Sheffield Town Council for the Upper Hallam Ward, serving on the Buildings, General Purposes and Parks, and Highway Committees. Far from me to speculate that the success of his company might have been down to council connections, but these weren’t transparent days.  However, he resigned in 1884 to allow his firm to undertake the Sewage Works at Blackburn Meadows.

Unfortunately, Bissett suffered a stroke in 1886, and died at Rock Mount, Ranmoor, in 1888. His partnership long dissolved, the business was split amongst three sons, but hereon, the affairs of William Bissett and Sons unravelled.

In 1889, whilst work was underway to build buildings for the YMCA (Carmel House), on Fargate, a petition was served against his three sons.

“The acts of bankruptcy alleged against the debtors respectively are that William Crellin Bissett and Lawrence Colgrave Bissett, did, on or about the 28th of November, 1889, with intent to defeat or delay their creditors, depart from their dwellings or otherwise absent themselves; and that the said James Francis Bissett did, on the 4th day of December, file in the Sheffield Court a declaration admitting his inability to pay his debts.”

It appeared that some of the contracts did not turn out very successful and the firm had lost considerably by them. A year before, a destructive fire at the Wilkinson Street premises had also caused considerable loss. Stories about the firm’s financial position had circulated for months and everything that could be offered as security, even their interest under their father’s will, had been mortgaged.

Former School Board Offices on Leopold Street

But the situation took a grimmer turn.

Apparently, the state of affairs was only known to the brothers in Sheffield, William and Lawrence, while James, in Birmingham, had been kept ignorant. The first he knew about it was when he received a letter from them bearing a Paris postmark and informing him that they had absconded.

James immediately came to Sheffield and found that the firm was in a state of financial ruin. From inquiries he learned that both William and Lawrence had been about the business on the Thursday morning, and that early in the afternoon they had left for London. They travelled to either Dover of Folkstone the same evening and caught a boat to Paris. The assumption was that they had then gone to Spain.

Before they left, they had received a cheque for about £4,000 to which debt they obtained advances. They cashed the cheque, took the proceeds, and with them went the petty cash books and private ledgers. In the end, it was determined that the company owed creditors about £34,439 (about £4.7m today).  

James, left to deal with his brothers’ dirty work, and the discovery that they been living way beyond their means, was absolved, and eventually released from bankruptcy.

However, the whereabouts of William and Lawrence remained a mystery and by all accounts never returned to England.

Until that is, a notice headed ‘Bissett v Bissett’ appeared in The Times in 1897, whereby Agnes Amy Bissett filed for divorce against her husband Lawrence, by reason of his adultery and desertion.

Lodge Moor Hospital was built by Bissett in 1888 as an isolation hospital.

On November 28, 1889, Lawrence had told her that he was going to London to see his solicitors about business, but he never returned, and the next she heard from him was through a letter he sent to her father from Paris, in which he said: –

“Will you please, on receipt of this, go to Amy at once. Our affairs have gone wrong, the bank having turned on us, and to save a little money from the wreck, I have left England for a time. I may have done wrong, if I have, God forgive me. I have no time for more, as the train goes.”

In a subsequent letter he wrote:-

“We had a certain overdraft from the bank, and all went well. They have suddenly shown us that they will not continue it, and nothing but bankruptcy, without a chance of saving anything, stared me in the face, so I thought it best, rightly or wrongly, to leave England with what money I could and try my fortune in another land.”

It was subsequently found that he had gone to San Antonio, Texas, and as a bankrupt, the Official Receiver had instructed the Post Office to send all letters to them.

In this way, another letter came to light from a young lady called Amy Sebright. This letter announced to him that she had given birth to a boy called Cyril Laurence Bissett. It transpired that the young lady had been engaged at the Theatre Royal during the pantomime season of 1888-1889, and that she had met Lawrence, and afterwards lived with him ‘maritalement’ at Manchester, Brighton, and elsewhere. When he was leaving England, he had asked her to accompany him, but she had declined to do so

His wife received another letter from him at the end of 1890 asking for her forgiveness, and acknowledging his guilt, but said nothing about returning.

The divorce was granted.

“Here the husband had left his wife with a falsehood on his lips, and there could be no doubt of his intention to desert her after what had transpired as to his relations with the actress from Sheffield.”

We do not know the end outcome for William or Lawrence (investigations for another day). Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. Only James came out of the story with his reputation intact. Remember this story the next time you visit Leopold Square or Weston Park Museum.

Modern day view of the shops that William Bissett built on Fargate. Most of the offices above are now empty. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.