Categories
Streets

York Street

The entrance to York Street from High Street. The Crown Inn once stood where this photograph is taken. Photograph Google.

York Street is just a street to many of us, a shortcut between High Street and Hartshead. Apart from its long, recently ended, association with the Star and Telegraph, it hasn’t played a significant role in the city centre’s history.

However, despite having few buildings of architectural importance, York Street can still tell a story.

In 1565, documents state that the property between the Church Gates (now Sheffield Cathedral) passed into new hands and was bounded by the churchyard to the west, and on the east by lands belonging to John Skynner of London.

York Street didn’t exist, the land changing ownership many times, steadily developed towards its High Street frontage.

We now come across an old tavern, sometimes called Morton’s, and at others as The Crown, often used for public meetings (and drinking) by the Town Trustees and the Cutlers’ Company.

John Morton, landlord, had the honour of being a Master Cutler and a victualler. He occupied the chair in 1709-10, and during his year, the Archbishop of York seems to have been entertained at The Crown. In 1721, when the Duke of Norfolk entertained leading inhabitants, a substantial amount of plate and table requisites were lent from this inn.

The Crown’s location is found in property deeds from adjacent properties in 1711 and 1735, bounded by the lands of John Morton westwards, and putting it where the opening to York Street is now.

In 1744, Morton’s widow, announcing her retirement from business, advertised in the Leeds Mercury her desire to let ‘that very good, accustomed inn, known by the sign of the Crown, near the Church Gates, with stabling for twenty-four horses.’

Soon afterwards, the inn appears to have closed and in 1770, Thomas Vennor, a Warwick man, bought the Crown property from the owners of ‘The Great House at the Church Gates,’ and established himself as a mercer.

In 1772, he had ‘lately’ made ‘a new street called York Street, leading from High Street to Hartshead,’ which ran through the ground ‘whereon stood the house of John Morton, over its yard, and beyond to Hartshead across a piece of vacant land purchased from the Broadbents.’

We can fix 1770 as the date York Street was created, possibly as a nod to the Archbishop of York’s historical visit, and it appears on Fairbank’s map of 1771.

This photograph dates to about 1890. The spot underwent a complete metamorphosis, with the addition of a bank on the left hand corner and the Sheffield Telegraph offices on the right. The shop shown on the right was that of the Goldsmiths’ Company. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive.

Its creation was important because prior to construction pedestrians could only pass from High Street to Hartshead through narrow ‘jennels,’ while wheeled traffic had to negotiate Townhead and travel the full length of Campo Lane to reach it.

In this respect, Robert Eadon Leader, that cherished Sheffield historian, regarded him as a ‘public benefactor,’ something not shared by Vennor’s contemporaries, who failed to support his efforts to become a Town Trustee in 1778.

York Street was a busy thoroughfare, with houses, shops, and offices, lining both sides, but there was a darker characteristic.

York Street in 1905, looking towards High Street. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

In 1868, a resident wrote that “the neighbourhood of York Street is infested with night walkers, who won’t let you pass without receiving the grossest insults imaginable.”

The building of respectable Victorian buildings towards High Street improved its reputation, but in 1922 a correspondent to the Sheffield Telegraph said that it was “in a very bad state of repair, and in wet weather large pools of water collect, with the result that not only is property splashed up with dirt (your beautiful white building is an example), but foot passengers have their clothes ruined by every wheeled vehicle that passes up and down. It is the busiest street for motor traffic in the city, and the footpath the narrowest.”

A sight more familar to us. York Street looking towards Hartshead in 1965. The Telegraph and Star Offices are on the right, now apartments. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

The mystery of Mercury

The sculpture of Mercury stands proudly above the portico of the Sheffield Telegraph Building on High Street. It is one of two statues of Mercury in the city centre, the other being on top of the Lyceum Theatre. (Image: David Poole)

Here is a mystery.

This bronze statue of Mercury has stood on top of the portico of the Telegraph Building on High Street since about 1915.

Mercury, Roman god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves, is shown as a nude male figure with wings both side on his hat, and on the outside of his ankles. He carries in his left hand a caduceus, an elaborate winged staff. The statue appears to be about to take off, his toes barely touching the base and his right arm extended with fingers pointing skyward.

But where did the statue come from?

An artist impression from 1913 of the Sheffield Telegraph Building at High Street. The sculpture of Mercury sits above the portico at the corner with York Street. The portico was the entrance to the offices and counting-house which occupied the whole of the ground floor. Most recently occupied by a building society, the corner unit has planning permission to become a restaurant. (Image: British Newspaper Archive)

The bronze statue is said to be much earlier, re-sited here when the Sheffield Telegraph built new offices on High Street between 1913-1915.

A few searches are quite specific that the statue was acquired by the Electric Telegraph Company in 1856 to decorate new premises for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph at the opening to The Shambles. (This is now the site of KFC at the junction of High Street and Haymarket).

The Electric Telegraph Company office seen about 1856. The statues of Mercury (left) and Vulcan (right) can be seen in the niches at the upper level. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Furthermore, it is suggested that the bronze sculpture occupied one of two niches, one on either side of the front elevation of the upper story, the figure of Mercury to the left and Vulcan to the right.

It is said that the Mercury sculpture was moved to the Telegraph Building in 1915, while the Vulcan statue was lost.

Old illustrations of the Electric Telegraph Building clearly show the statues, but at this point the authenticity of the sculpture on the 1915 building comes into question.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph may or may not have had offices at the Shambles, and it is well documented that its early offices were on the site of High Street and Aldine Court, long since vacated by the newspaper.

Further inspection identifies the Electric Telegraph Building on The Shambles as being the Fitzalan Market Hall, that looked up the slopes of High Street and King Street.

Fitzalan Chambers in 1918. Blackened by Sheffield’s smoky atmosphere, the Mercury and Vulcan statues are clearly evident three years after the construction of the Telegraph Building on High Street. The De Bears Schools specialised in shorthand, typewriting, correspondence, and business training. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

In 1856, an account of the opening of the Exchange, News Room, and Telegraph Office was published in the Sheffield Independent:

“This building which has been erected from the designs of Messrs Weightman, Hadfield, and Goldie, by the Duke of Norfolk, terminate the pile of buildings occupying the façade towards the Old Haymarket. On the ground floor it was necessary to retain the old-established wine vaults of Samuel Younge and Co, and to provide shops for fish salesmen in the lower part of the market. The Exchange Room occupies the first floor. The room is entered by folding doors. At the end of the room opposite the entrance is a small apartment fitted up by the Telegraph Company in which the subscribers may write and dispatch their messages to all parts of the globe accessible to this rapid mode of communication.”

There were lengthy descriptions of the interior and finally “Over the market entrances are two niches with figures carved in stone by Messrs Lane and Lewis of Birmingham representing Mercury and Vulcan – typical at once of the wonder-working telegraph and the staple trade of Sheffield.”

From this account we can identify that both sculptures were made of stone and still present when the Fitzalan Market Hall (or Fitzwilliam Chambers as the offices became known) was demolished in the 1930s.

Fitzalan Chambers prior to demolition in the 1930s. The whereabouts of the statues of Mercury and Vulcan is unknown. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

This makes the Mercury atop the Telegraph Building a bit of an unknown.

The design is based on the work of Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), better known as Giambologna, noted for his command of sculptural composition, producing figures that were pleasing to view from all positions.

The bronze figure is identical to one on top of the dome above HSBC in Doncaster’s High Street, built in 1896-1897 for the York and County Bank (and according to historians, the sculpture also dating to 1856).

I suspect the origin of the Mercury sculpture on the Telegraph Building lies closer to home and is later in design.

The building was designed by Gibbs, Flockton & Teather and constructed by George Longden and Son in 1915. Both Sheffield firms worked with Frank Tory, responsible for much of the city’s fine stone artwork, but also known to have worked in bronze.

Is it possible that Frank Tory was the man behind the sculpture we see today?

It also leaves another question unanswered.

What happened to the two stone Lane and Lewis statues?

Maybe someone, somewhere, has two fine statues of Mercury and Vulcan in their garden.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.