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People

A Fiennes Romance: From Darnall to Hollywood

Sir Maurice Fiennes. A leader of British industry during the 1960s. His long association with Sheffield ended in 1969 but his family legacy is quite remarkable. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

Sir Maurice Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, (1907-1994), played an important part in Sheffield’s industrial history. He is forgotten, but his grandchildren are most certainly not.

Fiennes was the son of Alberic Arthur Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, and great-grandson of Frederick Benjamin Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 16th Baron Saye and Sele. 

He was born at Brentford, educated at Repton, Derbyshire, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and in 1937 joined the United Steel Companies of Sheffield, taking charge of the forging and gun departments at Steel, Peech and Tozer. After a spell in Loughborough, Fiennes became Managing Director of Davy United Engineering at Darnall in 1945. He became Chairman of Davy-Ashmore, was knighted in 1965, and achieved success as a producer of high quality British steel until 1969.

Davy and United Engineering Company Ltd, Darnall Works, Prince of Wales Road, seen here in 1960. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

Amongst his other roles, Fiennes was a President of the Iron and Steel Institute, Chairman of the Steel Works Plant Association, was on the Committee on Overseas Credit of the Federation of British Industries, and a member of the Engineering Advisory Council of the Board of Trade. Locally, he was President of the Sheffield and District Engineering Trades Employers Association, an Assistant on the Cutlers’ Company, and Chairman of the Committee of the Sheffield Philharmonic Society.

He married Sylvia Finlay in 1932 and had five children – three girls and two boys – the oldest of which was Mark Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (1933-2004), a photographer and illustrator, chiefly known for his architectural photographs, which appeared in Country Life.

Mark Fiennes. “The breadth of his work reflected his alertness to the eccentricities of mankind, his keen eye, his mischievous humour and his deep sensitivity.” – Ralph Fiennes. Photograph: HowOld

Mark Fiennes (third cousin to explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes) married novelist Jennifer Lash in 1962 and had six children: Ralph, Martha, Magnus, Sophie, Jacob, and Joseph. They also fostered the 11-year-old Mike Emery.

Martha and Sophie are both film producers and directors, with Martha winning awards for her film Onegin and Sophie being director of arts documentaries. Magnus is a film and television composer whose work includes his sister’s Onegin and Chromophobia as well as television programmes like Hustle, Murphy’s Law, and Death in Paradise, and has also worked with Shakira, Pulp, Tom Jones and Morcheeba.

The two most famous of Mark and Jennifer’s children are Ralph and Joseph, acclaimed movie actors.

Ralph’s breakout role occurred in Schindler’s List, when he played Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Göth. He’s since been in The Avengers, The English Patient, Red Dragon, and Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.

Joseph is no pale shadow, known best as William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, as well as Elizabeth, Enemy at the Gates, Luther, The Merchant of Venice, and most recently in The Handmaid’s Tale. He also starred as Edward II at the Crucible Theatre in 2001.

Joseph’s twin brother, Jacob, is Director of Conservation at the Holkham estate in Norfolk, and foster brother Michael Emery is an acclaimed archaeologist.

Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes was born at Ipswich in 1962.
Joseph Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes was born at Salisbury in 1970.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings

John Lewis: Maybe we shouldn’t get excited just yet

Last week, a top Sheffield businessman urged Sheffield City Council to work fast to secure a £100m proposal to convert the vacant John Lewis department store into ‘Sheffield Rules’ – a museum celebrating the city’s roles in the origin of the game, have-a-go football experiences with celebrities, community pitches on the roof, and bars and restaurants on the ground floor opening onto Barker’s Pool.

The building would be revamped with ‘football architecture’ including a central column to represent a halfway line and a tunnel leading to the roof. The proposal could also see the John Lewis car park replaced by a residential tower.

Patrick Abel, corporate finance partner, at Hart Shaw Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, compared delaying the potential deal with failed plans by developer Hammerson to build Sevenstone shopping centre.

Unfortunately, there may be more questions to be asked rather than the simple decision-making process.

John Lewis announced it would not be reopening its Sheffield store in June, and with the lease due to revert to the council, it quickly appointed Fourth Street, a placemaking company which provides strategic and commercial advice to unique destinations and unusual property developments. The result of its work won’t be released until early next year, and the public will be consulted on plans.

The ‘Sheffield Rules’ plans, complete with artistic impressions of the development, have appeared barely five months after the announced closure and states that the company behind the scheme is a global sports brand. This might suggest that the idea was in place long before John Lewis announced it wouldn’t be opening its doors again.

Is the ‘Sheffield Rules’ proposal part of Fourth Street’s work to recreate the former department store? I think not. “The response (to Sheffield City Council) has been positive,” says the developer, “But they can’t commit because they are going through their own processes.”

Why hasn’t the global sports brand been named? The involvement of a credible sponsor would surely add weight to any development. Remember, there is already the National Football Museum in Manchester, and might we seriously expect tourists to choose between the two?

And, of course, there are problems that surround the empty shop. Rumours abound of its poor condition – lack of investment by John Lewis and the presence of asbestos – and without compensation agreed, any plans might be a while away yet.

Call me sceptical, but I think the announcement came too soon, and we need to know more about its integrity before we get too excited. The ‘Sheffield Rules’ idea is brilliant, I hope it comes to culmination, but we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings Short Stories

I am a pair of gates… and I’ve suffered more than most

Moorfoot. Photograph: DJP/2021

“I am a pair of gates. I’ve been padlocked for 40 years. I am the victim of abuse.

“People have climbed on me. People have thrown things over me. People have been sick on me. People have urinated on me… and sometimes much worse. People have fought against me and got hurt, and then I have seen them arrested. People have laughed with me, and there have been people who’ve cried. People make love against me, and there are those that have slept by my side all night. Sometimes, bad people have hid in the shadows and I have been unable to do anything.

“I am at my best in autumn, when I’m able to catch fallen leaves, and then they rest at my feet until they’ve become a rotting mess. But I guess I’m only a pair of gates, and people pass me every-day without giving me a second glance.”

Moorfoot. Photograph: DJP/2021

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings

The mystery of the Moorfoot building

Moorfoot. A late seventies Government-built office complex that opened in 1981. Now home to Sheffield City Council. Photograph: Google

Moorfoot is a brute of a building, dominating the Sheffield skyline, and 40 years after it opened, remains one of the city’s most controversial structures.

Its origins are in 1973 when Edward Heath’s Conservative Government created the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), to co-ordinate employment and training services in the UK through a ten-member commission drawn from industry, trade unions, local authorities and education interests.

Pat Duffy, the Labour MP for Attercliffe, excited by the prospect of 2,000 jobs, campaigned for the new headquarters to be built in Sheffield. Two years later, Harold Walker, Under Secretary at the Employment Department, told the House of Commons, “The decision has been made to locate the headquarters in Sheffield.”

It was an accomplishment for a down-at-heel northern city, but the citizens of Sheffield weren’t prepared for what came next.

The futuristic new headquarters was designed by the Government’s Property Services Agency – “A truly monolithic brutalistic office building. Red brick bands between rows of windows separated by concrete panels.” – eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings. Something of a pyramid, it earned nicknames like the ‘Aztec Temple’ and ‘Dalek City.’

Photograph: DJP/2021

That it would be built on land at the bottom of The Moor was even more controversial, cutting off Sheffield’s main shopping street from busy London Road, and depriving road and pedestrian traffic of a popular and historic route.

To compensate, it was designed to allow pedestrian access through the building, starting with an elevated ramp near the corner of Young Street and South Lane, before proceeding via a tunnel through the building, exiting above the car park, and using ramps to ground level on The Moor.

The route never opened, allegedly because IRA activity posed a threat to a government building, and the upper parts of the elevated walkway were left suspended mid-air before eventual removal.

The MSC opened in 1981, and for such a high-profile building, it was shrouded in mystery. Apart from the cavernous office-space, restaurant, bar, and basement squash court, were there really underground nuclear bunkers and a luxury apartment for Government hierarchy? Even today, the amount of information available about the building is incomplete – no floor plans, no design architect, no history forthcoming.

If ever a building divides opinion. The Moorfoot Building will probably escape demolition, unlike many other Sheffield buildings built in the 1970s. Photographs: DJP/2021

The MSC building was famous for its management of the Youth Training Scheme and various other training programmes intended to help alleviate the high levels of unemployment in the 1980s, but after 1987 the MSC lost functions and was briefly re-branded the Training Agency (TA), before being replaced by a network of 72 training and enterprise councils.

The MSC Building gave way to other Government agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office. However, it was too big and expensive to maintain, with departments vacating over a twenty year period.

In the late 2000s, the MSC Building was bought by Sheffield City Council, and with demolition in mind, wanted to create a new financial services district in its place.

The timing could not have been worse, and the monetary crisis of 2007-2008 prompted a rethink, and the building was overhauled, renamed Moorfoot, with potential office space for 2,600 council employees, and consolidation of various departments from around the city centre.

As for the Moorfoot’s future, it is likely to stay, worthy of a facelift and a bit of greenery might not go amiss. The iron gates at ground level could be opened to allow public access between The Moor and London Road. And, as the aerial photograph shows, there is a chance to create a green square in front of its main entrance (demolition required).

Photograph: DJP/2021

See also Crucible Fountain and Judith Bluck

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Categories
Buildings

Rockingham House: from tax offices to studio apartments

Rockingham House. Despite the modest 1930s design the building has aged well. The former Inland Revenue office is fronted by West Street and bordered either side by Rockingham Street and Westfield Terrace. Photograph: Google

This building on West Street is typical of inter-war buildings. Plain and simple. The excessive cost of construction materials during the 1930s meant structures had to be functional rather than decorative. The substantial use of red-brick was symbolic, and certainly conceived in the architects’ department at the Government’s Office of Works.

Revenue Buildings was built in 1937 for the Inland Revenue to replace nine district offices. In June of that year over 300,000 files of the District Valuer were moved here, as were something like 100,000 files of the Inland Revenue. Once completed, it housed all departments of the Board of Inland Revenue in Sheffield, including Tax Inspectors, Collectors, and Valuation.

It occupied the four upper floors, and the west part of the ground floor was used as motor vehicle and tractor showrooms for Samuel Wilson & Son. Motor vehicle retail appears to have continued until recent times, although this part is now occupied by Players Bar.

Revenue Buildings. In 1964, part of the ground floor was still occupied by Samuel Wilson & Son. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

The Inland Revenue merged with HM Customs & Excise in 2005 and the site handed over to the Department for Work and Pensions. It later vacated the site (now known as Rockingham House) and most office space became vacant.

The block was sold in 2011 and the new owner granted planning permission in 2019 for conversion and extension of the building for student accommodation. This has been replaced with a new application to convert and extend the property into 162 build-to-rent studio apartments with a modern two-storey roof extension.

Oakstore, supported by Bond Bryan and Urbana Town Planning, has submitted an application to Sheffield City Council for the redevelopment of Rockingham House. Approval is sought for the reconfiguration of the existing buildings and a two-storey roof top extension to provide 162 build-to-rent studio apartments. Photograph: Insider Media

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

The rise of facadism – new buildings with old fronts

Cambridge Street, Sheffield. Photograph: DJP/2021

Whenever you see an old facade with a new structure behind it, this tells you that a building of distinction once stood there that simply could not be demolished, and the compromise which arose was to keep the front wall. The rise of facadism shows how far the power balance has shifted away from conservation towards redevelopment. Retaining the facade is an unwelcome condition of planning permission when their preference would probably have been complete demolition.

This building, at the bottom of Cambridge Street, Sheffield, shows that the facade is retained while its interior will be replaced with modern concrete and steel. This will apply to almost all the Victorian buildings being redeveloped on Pinstone Street, and planning permission has been granted to do the same to Chubby’s and the Tap and Tankard further up Cambridge Street.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Coming down: the last days of Barker’s Pool House

Demolition underway at Barker’s Pool House on Burgess Street. Photograph: DJP/2021

Sheffield city centre has never seen so much demolition and construction. The latest to fall is 1970s Barker’s Pool House, on Burgess Street, once linked to John Lewis by its high covered footbridge. The bridge has already gone, and now the bricks and mortar of the former office block will soon be no more. As part of the Heart of the City II development, it will be replaced by a stylish new Radisson Blu hotel, with its retained Victorian entrance on Pinstone Street. The William Mitchell ten-panel abstract reliefs, commissioned in 1972, were removed last year and will be resited in nearby Pound’s Park once completed.

The former Yorkshireman public house stands adjacent to Barker’s Pool House. Its own fate is uncertain. Photograph: DJP/2021

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Revealing what’s hidden behind that glass facade

Photograph: DJP/2021

It seems that nobody liked the former Odeon in Barker’s Pool. The red steel and glass facade never caught the imagination of Sheffielders. If we hated the exterior, we won’t like what was behind – plain boring brickwork – revealed in latest Heart of the City II works.

Photograph: DJP/2021

The whole exterior will be refaced to become the Gaumont Building, supposedly taking inspiration from the previous building’s origins as the Regent Theatre, later the Gaumont Cinema. The new design is by Sheffield-based HLM Architects.

Built by the Rank Organisation in 1986-1987 as a replacement, bosses realised it wasn’t cost effective to run two Odeons in the city centre, and one had to go, closing in 1994, and later becoming a nightclub.

The final use for the building has yet to be confirmed.

Photograph: DJP/2021

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

No buyer for Sheffield’s Old Town Hall

Sheffield’s former Town Hall and Crown Court on Waingate and Castle Street. Its condition is a cause for concern. Photograph: Insider Media

The Old Town Hall remains in predicament after failing to sell at auction. It was to be sold by Allsop auctioneers but attracted no bids – despite a sale figure of £750K, a big drop on the original asking price of £1.35m.

The Grade II listed building was put up for sale by receivers appointed after the collapse of Aestrom OTH Ltd, the company set up to restore the building.

The Old Town Hall was commissioned to replace the original one next to the Parish Church and designed by Charles Watson in 1807-1808. As well as housing the Town Trustees it also accommodated Petty and Quarter Sessions.

The building was extended in 1833 and again in 1866 to designs by William Flockton and his partner George Abbott, linking the courtrooms to the neighbouring Sheffield police offices by underground tunnels. When the current Town Hall was built in 1891-1897 it was extended by Flockton, Gibbs & Flockton to become Sheffield Crown and High Courts. New court buildings were built during the 1990s and the Old Town Hall has stood empty ever since.

The Old Town Hall is significant to Sheffield’s history and its demise has been shocking. The fabric of the building has rapidly worsened and water damage has caused considerable damage to its interiors. Restoration costs are likely to cost millions of pounds.

Its location next to the Castlegate development, recently awarded Government funding, might have made it an attractive acquisition, but developers are at a loss as to what function it might be used for. Until the Castlegate project gets underway the Old Town Hall will stand shrouded in misery.

There are now calls from heritage groups for Sheffield City Council to step in and make good the building, as well as seeking out partners to develop a practical and feasible solution.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
People

The Crucible Theatre at 50: Robert Hastie

It’s fifty years since Colin George fought and succeeded in opening the Crucible Theatre, and there have been many ups and downs along the way.

The current Artistic Director, Rob Hastie, had big shoes to fill when Daniel Evans left for the Chichester Festival in 2016, and an unforeseen challenge – the long-enforced closure of the Crucible Theatre during the pandemic.

Hastie’s connection with Sheffield Theatres has been a long one. As a child he travelled from Scarborough to see plays, and in 2005, fresh out of drama school, he appeared in Edward Bond’s Lear – his professional theatre debut.

“My grandfather was born near Sheffield, and my parents were at college here. So the city always meant something to me growing up. When we went to the theatre, one of the places we came to was The Crucible. So Yorkshire is home. More sentimentally for me, it’s where I started my stage career as an actor.”

Much has been made about Hastie’s meteoric rise as a director. His first taste of professional directing came as an associate on Josie Rourke’s West End production of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant. He followed this with acclaimed productions of Events While Guarding the Bofors Gun, Splendour and My Night with Reg, which landed him an Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination. He also became associate director of the Donmar Warehouse in London.

“I was very happy at the Donmar, and I had some great experiences there. But there’s no way I could have refused the possibility of getting to work at the Sheffield Crucible which is, for my money, the most beautiful and welcoming theatre space in the country.”

At the Crucible, Hastie has directed Coriolanus with Tom Bateman and the musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which was created by Richard Hawley and Chris Bush, and which opened in March 2019 to outstanding reviews.

He’s also directed a critically acclaimed revival of The York Realist, co-produced with, and presented at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Other productions have included Guys and Dolls, Julius Caesar, Of Kith and Kin, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Wizard of Oz.

Above all else, it will be Everybody’s Talking About Jamie that Hastie commissioned and premiered at the Crucible in 2017, going on to the West End, possibly Broadway, and now a movie.