Sheffield City Hall

The winning entry for the Sheffield Memorial Hall. Photograph by Archiseek

A building familiar to us all, the Sheffield City Hall, on Barker’s Pool, but take a closer look at these  images.

The first is the winning entry by architect Emanuel Vincent Harris in a competition held in 1920, to design a new memorial hall, in recognition of those that lost their lives during World War One.

Sheffield had long recognised the need for a large hall for concerts, meetings, and lectures, and considered buying the Albert Hall on the site of what is now John Lewis. The proposal was rejected in favour of a new building.

The competition was judged by Sir Aston Webb (who designed the principal façade of Buckingham Palace and the main building of the Victoria and Albert Museum) and Frederick Ernest Pearce Edwards, city architect.

“An austere appearance well suited for a memorial hall with the best modern thought in architecture expressed in its compact yet comprehensive outlines.”

The original design of the memorial hall tried to avoid flights of steps, but the fall of the land in Barker’s Pool prevented it. It was designed to seat 3,500 with a smaller hall at the back to be added later if desired.

The second image is the runner-up in the competition, designed by James Black Fulton, a circular-shaped big hall with external dome and glazed shelters to the side doorways and vestibule.

James Black Fulton’s runner-up design. Photograph by Archiseek

Although the winner of the competition was announced in 1920 construction was repeatedly delayed by the fragile state of public finances during the Depression.

The interruption resulted in modifications to Harris’s original design, including a revision from 1924 that made greater use of steps outside, the addition of decorative flagpoles either side of the frontage, as well as long-running arguments as to what the building should be called.

You will see from the 1924 drawing, below, that ‘Sheffield Memorial Hall’ is engraved above the colonnade, but they were still squabbling by the time the foundation stone was eventually laid in 1929.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

When it opened in September 1932, with a reduced capacity of 2,300, Harris’s building was called Sheffield City Hall, the smaller hall at the back recognised as the Memorial Hall.

The original budget was fixed at £200,000 in 1920. However, by the time it opened the final cost was £443,300… about £31.1 million today.

Photograph by ComedyGigs