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Buildings

Velocity Tower

Things didn’t go to plan with the Velocity Tower, near Moore Street roundabout, at the edge of the city centre.

When it was built it should have been 30-storeys high, (an application for 36-storeys was wisely rejected by planners), but construction halted on the 21st floor, as the firm behind it went into administration. A student block alongside would have reached 18-storeys, containing 41 cluster flats, but only the ground-floor podium was completed.

In 2011 the complex went on the market for £10.5million and was eventually snapped up by Dubai-based Select Group.

A few corners had been cut during the initial build, something that Select have been able to rectify as well as completing the unfinished twenty-first floor.

More importantly, it agreed a deal for a £6.5million Ibis Hotel in the footprint of the proposed student block.

Work is almost completed on the seven-storey building, designed by Whittam Cox Architects, and will provide an extra 126 beds for the city centre. A coffee shop will be created on the ground floor along with the reception and (somewhat scanty) 14 car-parking spaces.

Meanwhile, planning permission remains for the 30-storeys at Velocity Tower, although the developer says there are no plans to extend higher.

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Buildings

Central Library

It’s 85 years since Sheffield Central Library opened, and it is showing its age.

The building was described as an ‘up-to-date wonder’ when it opened its doors in 1934. Its origins went back to 1853 when the city opened its first public library, the same year that the Libraries Act was adopted. The original library started in two small rooms in the Mechanics Institute, from which it grew until the whole of the building was required. There was a further development in 1910, when the Old Music Hall was purchased to start a lending library and reading room.

The site was a fitting one for a library because for 150 years it had been used by cultural, musical and educational bodies, scientific institutions and local trades. The land was formerly in the ownership of Henry Tudor, who built a house and silver plating works surrounded by an extensive garden about the middle of the 18th century. On his death, the estate was split up, part of it to the shareholders of the Music Hall. part of the land used to build a school and the house taken over by the Mechanics Institute.

After demolition, work on the new Central Library began in 1929, to a design by W.G. Davies, built with Portland stone around a steel frame, in Art Deco style, and opened in 1934 by the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother).

The idea was conceived as part of a plan by Patrick Abercrombie to create a civic square. It never materialised, although Tudor Square (named after Henry Tudor) was created alongside in 1991.

The Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums Committee had to spend their entire annual budget of £2,650 on stocking the new library. The total cost of the project was £95,000, including £10,000 from local mail order entrepreneur and philanthropist, J.G. Graves, who also contributed £20,000 for the Graves Art Gallery on the top floor, as well as his art collection.

In the Second World War, a bomb fell on Fitzalan Square nearby and the aftershock caused the library foyer’s marble floor to crack. The crack is still visible today and runs almost the full length of the foyer.

Do we still appreciate the 85-year-old lady?

Probably not. In 2017, Sheffield City Council, horrified at the cost of extensive repairs, announced plans to sell the building to a Chinese developer, which proposed converting the library into a hotel. Thankfully the deal never got off the ground.

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Buildings Companies

Banner Cross Hall

In July 1932, the fate of Banner Cross Hall, on Ecclesall Road South, had been in the balance.

The old house had been on the market, subject of many rumours, and people in Sheffield feared that it would be demolished.

However, the announcement that Charles Boot, of Henry Boots and Sons, the famous firm of builders, had purchased the hall, did much to alleviate concerns.

The area of the land was just under four acres, and it was intended to accommodate all the firm’s staff from its original Moore Street premises.

In an interview with the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at his home, Thornbridge Hall, near Bakewell, Charles Boot (1874-1945) said that certain structural alterations for office purposes had already started.

“The front of the hall will be somewhat altered, but it is not my intention to do anything to destroy the amenities of the district,” he said.

Banner Cross Hall was begun in 1817 for Lieutenant-General William Murray by architect Jeffry Wyatt (afterwards Sir Jeffry Wyatville), who claimed it to be his finest work, and stood on the site of an ancient mansion.

It appears to have got its name from an ancient cross which stood near to the house, and in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1558) was known as Bannerfield, referred to as Banner Cross in the time of James I (1603).

General Murray had purchased the interests of the Athol family, and after building the hall, retired here with the intention of “spending within its tranquil shades, the evening of an active and honourable life.”

However, he died a year later and General Murray, by his will, gave Banner Cross Hall to his sister, Anne, the wife of the Rev. William Bagshawe.

The Bagshawe’s were a prominent family within Derbyshire and Yorkshire, with estates in Castleton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Ford, Hope, Norton and Wormhill; and in Ecclesall Bierlow, Fulwood and Sheffield.

Banner Cross Hall had remained with the Bagshawe family until going to market.

Tenants of the hall included Douglas Vickers, industrialist and politician, Colonel Henry Kenyon Stephenson, MP and businessman, and David Flather, an engineering firm owner, the hall’s last occupant from 1922 to 1932.

The history of Banner Cross Hall and the names of the distinguished families who occupied it are maintained in the naming of roads in the vicinity, the likes of Tullibardine, Murray, Glenalmond, Blair Athol, and Ford roads.

Eighty-eight years later, Banner Cross Hall is still the headquarters of Henry Boot.

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People

Alastair Burnet

Sir James William Alexander Burnet (1928-2012) was born in Sheffield, the son of a Scottish engineer.

He was educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read history.

To many of a generation he was simply Alastair Burnet, the suave ITV news reader once described as “the booster rocket that put ITN into orbit.”

He joined ITN in 1963 as its political editor, but left after two years to become editor of The Economist and later the Daily Express.

On July 3 1967, with Andrew Gardiner sitting beside him, he launched the first ‘News at Ten’ bulletin with the words “Good evening. The railway freight strike has been called off.”

It was the beginning of a television institution.

He retired in 1991, disappeared from our screens, and died seven years ago at a nursing home in Kensington.

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Buildings

Sheffield City Hall

Once upon a time, back in 1932, a war of words existed between Sheffield City Council and the local ex-servicemen’s Association (embracing 20,000 members) concerning the name to be attached to the new Civic Hall.

The councillors wanted it to become Sheffield City Hall, the ex-servicemen preferred Sheffield Memorial Hall.

Such was the level of feeling that the ex-servicemen wrote to King George V hoping to bring the matter to his attention.

The reply when it came offered no solution. “I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that the matter has been laid before the King, but the Secretary of State regrets he was unable to advise His Majesty to issue any commands thereon.”

When it opened in September 1932, the canvas covers above the front doors were removed to reveal it would be called Sheffield City Hall, its crowning glory being the large Oval Hall inside.

However, by means of compromise, the smaller half-moon hall at the back was called the Memorial Hall, more famous now as being weekend home to the Last Laugh Comedy Club.

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Buildings

Sheffield Water Works Company

We’ve never mastered the art of saying, “Let’s go for a pint at the Sheffield Water Works Company.”

The chiefs at J.D. Wetherspoon will cringe as we insist on calling it by its previous name, Lloyds No. 1. One of the few occasions where you can hop, skip and jump between two ‘Spoons’ pubs.

A lot of history behind this building. Palazzo-style, a rarity in Sheffield, designed by Flockton and Abbott in 1867 for the Sheffield Waterworks Company.

The sculptured heads of Greek and Roman water gods are above the ground-floor windows.

The Grade II listed building was later the home of the hugely successful Graves Mail Order Empire… the Amazon of the Edwardian period. It was founded by John George Graves, whose many gifts to the city included Graves Park and Graves Art Gallery.

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Buildings

Sheffield City Hall

Arguably Sheffield’s most impressive building. English Renaissance with Corinthian colonnades. But to us locals there has always been a second-class air about Sheffield City Hall.

Sadly, like many of my generation, I can count on one hand the number of concerts I’ve seen here. My biggest memory is of sitting on its chunky front steps as a kid, and later falling down them as a drunken teenager.

But it’s not that old.

Designed in 1920 by Emanuel Vincent Harris (he also designed the Board of Trade Buildings in Whitehall), construction was delayed eight years because of the economic climate.

Built of Hopton Wood stone, from Wirksworth, laid in alternate courses of white and grey shades. The walls at the front were pierced by three archways of black-veined marble from Ashburton, near Dartmoor.

It cost £500,000 and opened in 1932 when this photograph by Edward Bale Stewart was taken.

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Buildings

The Victoria Hall

Within the Victoria Hall, on Norfolk Street, is a time capsule that was buried within one of fifteen foundation stones in September 1906.

The ceremony was attended by 3,000 people, celebrating the construction of the new building for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission, designed as a place of worship, as well as for institutional and religious work.

The Victoria Hall stood on the site of the old Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, the site extended to include land gifted by Thomas Skelton Cole, a devout Methodist, and the chairman of Cole Brothers.

Inside the foundation stone laid by Mrs Thomas Cole was placed a casket, hermetically sealed. It contained an old bottle which was taken out of the stone at the entrance of the old Norfolk Street Chapel, and placed there no doubt when the foundation stone of that building was laid in 1780.

The bottle contained a circuit plan of that day and the day’s programme. Also placed in the casket was the circuit plan for September 1906, a list of the trustees of the new Victoria Hall, the last annual report of the Mission, copies of the Sheffield daily newspapers, a civic directory of the city, and some coins of the realm.

Two years in the building, the Victoria Hall was opened on September 24, 1908, by three ladies, representative of the oldest and most esteemed Wesleyan families in Sheffield – Mrs Samuel Osborn, Mrs Samuel Meggitt Johnson and Mrs Cole. Called to the front, William John Hale, the architect, presented to each of the ladies a gold key with which were opened the three large main doors.

Over a hundred years later, the Victoria Hall is now used by voluntary organisations, including meals for the homeless, and as a popular music and events venue. However, church services are still held every Sunday evening.

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People

William John Hale

William John Hale (1862-1929) was an architect based in Sheffield, creating some of the city’s most outstanding architecture.

He was the son of Matthew Hale, and member of an old Sheffield family, several of his ancestors having been Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company.
Hale was born in Sheffield, educated at Wesley College, and articled to Innocent and Brown, commencing practice as an architect and surveyor in 1893.

He was a member of the Sheffield Architects Society and erected several public buildings, schools, and chapels, including Bole Hill, Hammerton Road, Lydgate Lane and Owler Lane Schools; Brightside Wesleyan Chapel, St. Luke’s Wesleyan Church, Bradfield Wesleyan Chapel, Crookes Congregational Church, Wesley Hall, Crookes, Rawmarsh Wesleyan Chapel, Attercliffe Wesleyan Hall, Banner Cross Methodist Church, Southey Methodist Church and Bents Green Methodist Church.

Hale was one of the pioneers of the octagonal style of church architecture of which Crookes Congregational Church and Crookes Wesley Hall were fine examples.

Upon the death of architect William Angelo Waddington, in 1907, he was appointed to complete work on the Victoria Hall, Norfolk Street, for the Sheffield Wesleyan Mission.

Another example of his work can be found at the Carver Street Wesleyan Extensions, confusingly built on West Street, opened in 1929.

This was the same year that Hale died at his home, Tainby, in Ranmoor, aged 67.

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Buildings

The Victoria Hall

When it opened in 1908, the Victoria Hall was a bit of an eye-opener for Methodist church-goers. At the start of a new century, the Wesleyans wanted to attract a new crowd, so the words ‘church’ and ‘chapel’ were omitted from its name.

This was a replacement for the Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1780 and demolished in 1906, and didn’t want to draw its strength from existing churches. Instead, it wanted to catch those people who spent their spare time in the streets.

The Sheffield Wesleyan Mission had considered calling it the Central Mission Hall, but realised that there was already a Central Hall on Norfolk Street, one that was devoted to public entertainment.

This meant that the Victoria Hall, as it was christened, looked nothing like conventional Methodist buildings, the design chosen in a competition, won by  Waddington, Son and Dunkerley of Manchester.

However, when the architect, William Angelo Waddington, died in 1907, a year after the foundation stones had been laid, it was left to Sheffield-based William John Hale (1862-1929), second in the competition, to finish the design.

The extent of Hale’s alterations to the original plans is unclear, but the tower and its uppermost elevations were considerably changed.

The result was a mix of Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles, red brick and stone, with a massive neo-Baroque top to the tower, and carved decorations by Alfred and William Tory. The total cost was £41,000, of which £25,000 had already been paid or promised.

As usual for this time period, construction was by the inexhaustible Sheffield builders, George Longden and Son.

The Main Hall, with its tip-up seats and wooden flooring, was designed for 2,000 people, while the Lecture Hall accommodated up to 400. The rest of the Victoria Hall was made up of smaller suites, halls, class and club rooms, as well as an innovative cinematographic box.

The total number of rooms amounted to seventy, suitable for institutional and religious work.

Said one commentator at the time:

“One finds a pleasure to traverse the cement-stepped stairs, with their bright walls, and beautifully designed stained glass windows, and at every turn, vistas of long corridors, where monotony of vision is eased by the insertion of arches on the ceiling.”

Pleasant to the eye also was the artistic brightness, without a suggestion of garishness, of the white and pale green walls and the well-lighted roof.

A ventilation system of powerful exhaust fans drove impure air through a series of tubes and emitted it by way of the tower.

In World War One, the Victoria Hall opened its doors to the Armed Forces and was visited, in 1919, by King George V and Queen Mary, who presented medals to returning soldiers. It also served free breakfasts during the Great Depression to needy children, as well as distributing food parcels to the unemployed.

Prior to the opening of the City Hall in 1932, this was also Sheffield’s leading concert venue, a role it still fulfils as a popular classical music venue.

During World War Two, the Victoria Hall was partly converted into an Armed Forces rest hostel with 20 beds, increased to 35 at the height of hostilities.

The building underwent an extensive restoration in 1930, and has subsequently been remodelled to create an events venue, although church services still take place every Sunday evening.

If ever you get chance to call in, take a good look at the splendid glass roof in the Main Hall.