Here’s a building on Leopold Street with a thought-provoking history. St. John’s Buildings are now used as barristers’ chambers, the interior changed from its former use as the Bank of Scotland. However, a stone inscription (Ars Longa Vita Brevis) above the main entrance provides a clue to its original use.
Somewhere within, lies a foundation stone, and within its cavity is a bottle, a time capsule, containing Sheffield’s morning papers from June 1887, a conjoint prospectus for 1886-1887 for Firth College, Technical School, and School of Medicine, an old photograph, and a parchment engrossed as follows : –
“The Sheffield School of Medicine was built in 1828, at the corner of Surrey Street and Arundel Street, the foundation stone having been laid by Sir A.J. Knight in July 1828. The building having become inadequate to the requirements of the day in 1883, a proposal was made to amalgamate with or become a department of Firth College, the councils of the school and Firth College having met and fully considered points of co-operation, unanimously agreed that the union was likely to be advantageous to both, but before complete incorporation took place a new medical school was necessary.”
The new medical school was this building, the foundation stone laid by Dr Mariano Alejo Martin de Bartolomé, using a specially inscribed silver trowel.
“I declare this stone duly laid in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. From this humble structure may we raise up a structure perfect in all its parts, and creditable to the builders.
“It will, in the course of time, grow as an oak did from the acorn, that it will spread its beneficial shadow over the whole of the town and neighbourhood, and communicate the blessings of true medica and surgical practice.”
Designed by architect John Dodsley Webster and built by W. and A. Forsdyke, of St. Mary’s Road, it was opened with an extravagant soiree, including a special address from Sir Andrew Clark, President of the Royal College of Physicians, in September 1888.
A site had originally been purchased from the Corporation in Pinfold Street; but at the request of the medical council the Corporation agreed to exchange the land for a plot in Leopold Street, opposite Firth College. The area contained about 550 yards and the price was £5 a yard. There was a frontage of about 50ft on Leopold Street, the main elevation being entirely of stone, and the treatment a sort of classic free renaissance, which caused the building to harmonise well with the surrounding property.
On the ground floor towards Leopold Street was a faculty room and library, a lecturers’ room, with porter’s room, lavatory, main staircase, and entrance hall. Also, on this floor, running towards Orchard Street, was an injection room and lumber room. A hoist connected the ground floor with the first floor.
On the first floor were two classrooms and at the back was a museum. The medical theatre was on the second floor, with circular seats in tiers, alongside a practical physiology and a dissecting room.
The School of Medicine was short-lived here, its entwined relationship with Firth College, and the Technical School, leading them to form University College, Sheffield, in 1897, and the eventual creation of the University of Sheffield in 1905, with the medical school moving to a new building at Western Bank (now Firth Court). In 1973, it moved again, and can still be found on Beech Hill Road.
After the school vacated, the building has been in almost continuous use. It will be recognised by those of a certain age as Sheffield Education Committee’s Central School Clinic, afterwards as a bank, and now St. John’s Buildings.
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