It was the 1960s, retail was in ascendancy, and Marks & Spencer, with a small shop on Fargate, wanted to build a new store and expand. To do so, it purchased an adjacent property called Fargate House, and Sheffield lost one of its finest buildings.
“As we drove along, we happened to pass a very splendid building. On looking up, I saw it was the new offices of the ‘Independent’ newspaper,” said the Archbishop of York in 1892, the year it had been built.
In the 1890s, there were two newspapers in Sheffield. W.C. Leng owned the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (forerunner to The Star), and the Leader family were proprietors of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. This was a time when newspapers sold thousands of copies daily, and the two were bitter rivals.
The Independent, founded in 1819, to secure ‘British independence, and an amelioration of the condition of the British people,’ had moved premises several times, and when Sheffield Corporation began widening Fargate, it purchased a plot of land.
The site nestled between Tuckwood’s Supply Store and the properties of George Shepley and T.R. Marsden. It was described as an inverted capital ‘T’, the top crossing Fargate and the tail pointing towards Norfolk Street behind. Much the same as Marks & Spencer today.
As were many Sheffield buildings of the day, the new Independent offices were designed by Flockton and Gibbs and constructed by William Ives of Shipley. The crosspiece on Fargate contained shops and commercial offices that were let, while the tail was occupied by the newspaper across six floors.
Once completed, the front of ‘Newspaper House’ was said to be the most imposing of numerous buildings erected in Fargate.
The architectural treatment was defined as ‘modern,’ the front too valuable to afford space for heavy piers and walls. The main arched entrance was set back from the building line, the wings on each side giving the shops on the ground floor a graceful curve to the front. The whole was covered with a steep picturesque roof, and surmounted with a sky sign, the letters of which were four feet high.
The style was said to be a development of early French Renaissance, more particularly the phase of it, which was seen in the Chateaux of the Valley of the Loire, of which the high pitched hipped roofs were an essential feature, but with ornament and mouldings more Greek than Roman.
Newspaper House was built with best Huddersfield stone, celebrated for its durability and its resistance in some measure, to the blackening influence of town atmosphere. On the last count, it failed, because within years it was as black as the rest of Sheffield’s buildings.
The arched recess entrance was placed at the centre, built of moulded stone; it embraced three entrances, leading respectively to the counting-house, a stone staircase, and an upholstered passenger lift to the offices.
The basement was occupied by the machine room with two Victory News machines capable of producing 16,000 copies per hour, and one of the latest forms of the famous Hoe printing machines. Two powerful steam-engines, manufactured by Shardlow of Attercliffe, stood at the far end.
Above was a bookbinding department, where account books, pamphlets and books were bound in all styles, as well as the paper warehouse.
The Counting House, with tesserae floor, and massive mahogany counter, was where the public placed advertisements and orders. The building also contained a library of Sheffield newspaper files dating back to 1787, all copies of the London Times, and an immense collection of Parliamentary records.
On the second floor, reporters were clustered around a central corridor which extended the length of the building.
A technical advance was the installation of two telephones – one in the commercial department for use by day, the other in the sub-editor’s room for use during the night.
Messengers raced between the office and Sheffield’s two railway stations bringing in packets dispatched by district correspondents, while every few hours a large bag of letters were brought from the Post Office.
The rest of the building housed the composing room, lithograph and letterpress departments, and rooms for photography and zincography, both in their infancy.
“The inconveniences of photography consequent upon the dull atmosphere of Sheffield will be entirely overcome by the adoption of electric light for photographic purposes.”
At the Norfolk Street end, newspapers were despatched overnight. Carts distributed parcels to local newsagents and railway stations, the aim being that readers had their morning paper on their breakfast tables.
In 1931, consolidation within the newspaper industry meant that the Sheffield Independent was taken over by Allied Newspapers, now owner of the Sheffield Telegraph, and Newspaper House was surplus to requirement.
By the time it merged with the Telegraph in 1938, the old building had been sold and completely refurbished by architect Victor Heal as offices. The building was gutted, the frontage retained, but the upholstered lift and stone staircase were replaced.
A new entrance was made from Hoptonwood stone and black marble, surmounted by a dome, with an artistic lantern, in green and cream, and an illuminated electric clock with the figures ‘No.21’. Beneath were green enamel letters that stated the building’s new name – Fargate House.
It lasted until the 1960s, but Fargate had become one of Sheffield’s premier shopping streets. It was demolished in 1965 and the stylish new Marks & Spencer store built in its place.
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