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Buildings

When Sheffield forced its way into Fleet Street’s golden age

A sketch of the 1901 Sheffield Telegraph building in London’s Fleet Street. The entrance was at the corner of Fleet Street and Fetter Lane. (Picture Sheffield)

Set in the floor, at the entrance to a narrow covered alley on Fleet Street, in the City of London, is a forgotten reminder that the Sheffield Daily Telegraph was once one of Britain’s leading provincial newspapers.

Fleet Street was the centre of Britain’s newspaper industry, and adjacent to Hen and Chicken Court, was the site of the Telegraph’s former London office. It moved here in the early 1890s, occupying a small building at its corner with Fetter Lane. However, in 1901, it was swept away by the Telegraph’s owners, W. C. Leng and Co, and replaced with a piece of Sheffield.

A busy newspaper street. 1906: Fleet Street looking towards Ludgate Hill and St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

180-181 Fleet Street was designed by Sheffield architects Gibbs and Flockton, and used as offices for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, the Weekly Telegraph, the Yorkshire Evening Star and Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, and other newspapers and publications belonging to the company.

The site was held on a long lease from the Drapers’ Company, with a 20ft frontage on Fleet Street, and 131ft in Fetter Lane.

The Sheffield Telegraph, 180-181 Fleet Street, London offices of the Sheffield Telegraph, in 1897. (Picture Sheffield)
May 1901. Demolition of the Sheffield Telegraph offices in Fleet Street to make way for the new Gibbs and Flockton building. (British Newspaper Archive)
A rare glimpse of the Sheffield Telegraph building on the right. Although the address was Fleet Street, it had six ground floor shops on Fetter Lane. The buildings to its left survive.

There were six floors, including the basement and roof storey, built with cast-iron standards and steel girders. The ground floor in Fetter Lane was divided into six sale shops, and each of the floors into thirteen offices. The front of the building was faced with creamy white Carrara faience, supplied by Doulton and Co.

It was here that the newspaper rented a private telegraph wire from the Post Office, the first provincial publication to do so. It connected Fleet Street with its head office in High Street allowing 400 words a minute to be transmitted. The wire ran underground to Birmingham then onwards to Sheffield using telegraph poles. It meant that Sheffield was only five minutes behind London when it came to getting the latest news stories.

In 1925, the newspapers were bought by Allied Newspapers, the building sold, and the offices relocated to 136 Fleet Street.

A floor plaque, at the entrance to Hen and Chicken Court, is the only reminder that the Sheffield Daily Telegraph once had adjacent offices.

Surprisingly, very few photographs exist of the Gibbs and Flockton offices, and it was replaced by a modern office block in 1983.

Newspapers were once big business, but no more.

The building was replaced by this modern office block in 1983 and is still known as 180 Fleet Street. Note that old buildings survive to the left. (Buildington)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Buildings

The Viaduct Scheme

Markets on a grand scale. The proposed retail markets sketched by Alwyn Holland for E.M. Gibbs. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

The former Castle Market site lays in transition waiting for the day when a park is created between Castlegate and Exchange Street.

It was demolished in 2015 allowing the few remains of Sheffield Castle to be excavated in detail.

The area might be run-down and demands attention, but had an extravagant scheme been completed over a century ago, the place might look vastly different now.

In 1911, Sheffield Corporation drew up plans to create a new street running from Great Central Station (Victoria Station) into the centre of the city. Objections were made by the Markets Committee that any such road would have made it impossible to complete its proposed new market scheme.

In response, the Sheffield architect Edward Michel Gibbs created an alternative plan whereby, instead of building the street at ground level, a new road could be carried on a viaduct, allowing the site beneath to be developed for market use.

“The street to the station would be similar in position to that recommended by the committee. It would run from Haymarket to Blonk Street, nearly in a direct line for the station, but instead of descending 26 feet to Blonk Street and then ascending 20 feet to the station yard, it would be carried on a viaduct on the level of Haymarket, then by a bridge over Blonk Street (26 feet high), and forward to a viaduct over the side of Smithfield Market to the station yard.”

A plan of the proposed Viaduct Scheme linking Great Central Station with Haymarket. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

The viaduct road would have resulted in level access to Great Central Station, avoiding traffic congestion in Blonk Street, and allowing for the expansion of the markets.

It was a radical scheme that also allowed for the creation of brand new market halls. A wholesale market would have been constructed underneath the viaduct, covering an area of 13,960 square yards, and built on part of the River Sheaf.

On top of the viaduct were to be retail markets, with bold balustraded parapets, and set back 40 feet on each side of the new street, fronting onto a decorative space almost as big as Fitzalan Square. With 5,555 square yards of selling space, the markets would have been bigger than the combined areas of the existing Norfolk Market Hall and Fitzalan Market.

A sketch of E.M. Gibbs’ Viaduct Scheme, drawn by local artist Alwyn Holland. (Image: The British Newspaper Archive)

Gibbs estimated the cost of the Viaduct Scheme to be £351,000, inclusive of land, road, viaduct, markets, and a new River Don Street from Blonk Street to Lady’s Bridge.

Unsurprisingly, Sheffield Corporation recoiled over the estimated cost (equivalent to over £16 million today) and refused to consider the scheme.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph favoured the proposal and filled column inches with reasons why the council should at least consider it.

“There can be no doubt that the streets abutting onto the station approach are a disgrace to the town. They are dangerous, congested and filthily dirty, and they give the visitor to Sheffield a first impression of squalor and sordidness.

“If they alight at the station, what do they see? On the right a piece of wasteland: on the left a road that dips under the railway and is flanked with ugly stone walls; straight before them a sloping road leading to a narrow street of dingy, mean-looking buildings, with a dirty, battered ‘convenience’ of the worst and most ancient type standing proudly as a centrepiece.”

Gibbs published a pamphlet to convince people about the scheme and the council eventually agreed to discuss the proposal. However, the projected cost had increased to £398,000 and the Corporation went for the cheaper option.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph was unimpressed.

“The Corporation have before them a scheme which is only a tinkering with an admitted evil, not a bold and generous attempt to extirpate it. It will suffice only for a generation or so.”

Unfortunately, World War One halted all plans for the markets, and it was not until 1930 that Castle Hill Market opened, subsequently replaced by Castle Market in 1959.

Castle Hill Market seen from the air in 1933. The new River Don Street in E.M. Gibbs’ Viaduct Scheme was the only part of the plan adopted by Sheffield Corporation. It was built in 1930 and became known as Castlegate. (Image: Historic England)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.