If buildings could only tell a story. Bell House is probably the oldest structure in Fitzalan Square. It was built after Sheffield Corporation spent a fortune from 1869 onwards purchasing and demolishing property between Market Street and Jehu Lane to create a new municipal open space.
The five storey building was the Bell Hotel (1872), its first landlord and owner being Henry Hardcastle, a wealthy man, previously of the Blue Bell in Commercial Street, one of those properties that was a casualty of the development.
For many years he had been a member of the 1st West York Yeomanry Cavalry, attaining the rank of sergeant-major, and proving popular with his comrades.
Hardcastle was good for a quick anecdote, could sing a good song, and make an admirable speech. Seemingly the right qualities needed for a publican. He was actively connected with the birth of building societies, whose meetings he allowed to be held in his pubs. He died in 1887 at the “ripe old age of 67-years” after collapsing in Snig Hill.
The Bell Hotel was put up for sale.
“That old established, substantially built and well-appointed hotel. Its central situation, and being within easy reach of both railway stations, the tramways and omnibus termini, secures for it a good commercial and country trade, and in the hands of an enterprising person it could not fail to continue a successful and prosperous undertaking.”
The woes of Fitzalan Square have been recorded in previous posts and at least one licensee fell victim to the area’s unsavoury characters. Annie Padley was one, pleading guilty to letting the Bell Hotel be used for betting purposes in 1901.
Another landlord, Arthur Browning, believed the Bell Hotel to be a gamble, one that might have rewarded him handsomely.
In 1902 he allowed the public house to be used for the trial of the Monarch fire escape, a convoluted device of poles, knitted ropes, hooks and slings, manufactured by Waddington and Co of Bradfield Road, to allow people escape from high-rise buildings. At the time, the Bell Hotel was one of the highest buildings in the city, the top floor window being about 50 feet from the ground.
Unfortunately, Browning was declared bankrupt in 1904 owing £1,398 (about £171,000 today).
The Bell Hotel (later The Bell) was for many years associated with Thomas Rawson and Co, a brewery long-established at nearby Pond Street, later acquired by Duncan Gilmour & Co (another local brewer), and finally falling into the hands of Joshua Tetley & Son. It closed in 1974.
Since then the ground floor has been occupied by shops and the upper floors converted into flats.
Look carefully above the three first floor windows and you can still see traces of the past – two pairs of bells above each window – one on top of each other.
© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.