Categories
Buildings Streets

Leopold Street

Work in progress. The pedestrianisation of Leopold Street (above), Pinstone Street, and Surrey Street, will create a traffic-free Town Hall Square. (DJP/2021)

Our city centre is at a crossroads. The city is in flux and a street that highlights it most is Leopold Street. Buses no longer run along here, and all traffic is halted mid-way. Sheffield is going car-free, and with it our streets become soulless. Nothing is sadder than a street about to undergo pedestrianisation. It is blocked with traffic cones and concrete barriers and unsure what it wants to be.

As far as Sheffield streets go, Leopold Street is relatively new, a pet-project for town planners in 1873.  Back then, access to Fargate and Pinstone Street was via Church Street, along awkwardly narrow Orchard Street, to its junction with Orchard Lane, and dog-legged towards what is now the top of Fargate.

Its making was the result of Sheffield Corporation’s three-street development scheme – the creation of Surrey Street, Fargate improvements, and the construction of ‘modern-day’ Pinstone Street. A new road was needed to link these streets with Bow Street (the road that became the bottom of West Street) and a link between old Sheffield Moor and Shalesmoor.

A long-standing road, South Street, was swept away, the land around it cleared, and the large sloping site bounded by the proposed new road, Orchard Lane, Holly Street and Bow Street (West Street) earmarked for educational purposes. It became the site of Firth College (1879), School Board offices and the Central School (both 1880). Of course, we now know these buildings as the Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square

By May 1880, half its length had been completed, 60-feet wide from Bow Street to Fargate, paved in wooden blocks, and converted to macadam in 1883.

Aerial view of Leopold Street. The Leopold Hotel and Leopold Square are centre. Before 1880, the main route between Church Street and Fargate was along narrow Orchard Street, to the left, which curved at its junction with Orchard Lane (where the mini-roundabout is today). The top-end of Orchard Street (near to Fargate) was absorbed into Leopold Street. (Google)

The Watch Committee recommended that the new street be named after Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had opened Firth College in October 1879.

The addition of the Sheffield Medical Institution on the other side of the road in 1888 prompted one expert to say that Leopold Street would become a “street of institutions.”

It never became a street of learning. Firth College and the Medical Institution were the foundation stones for the University of Sheffield and moved away. By the late 1970s, the old education buildings were in decline, mostly unoccupied, but spared the fate that befell the nearby Assay Office and Grand Hotel, both demolished, and replaced with office blocks.

A street sign on the wall of what was once Firth College, at its junction with West Street, and now part of the Leopold Hotel. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places

Little Sheffield

Fairbanks’ Map of Little Sheffield in 1808. South Street became The Moor. The road marked Little Sheffield is now London Road. There are some familiar road names in the top half of the map. (Image: Picture Sheffield)

Once upon a time there was a small hamlet near Sheffield town that went by the name of Little Sheffield.

During the early 1800s, Sheffield’s rapidly growing population needed to expand outside the historical boundaries, and Little Sheffield disappeared.

We know where Little Sheffield was, but its boundaries blurred over time, with experts long contesting where it started and finished. The area has never been clearly defined, like those forgotten places of Port Mahon and Hallamshire.

We must go back to olden days when Sheffield was a town surrounded by fields and countryside. It gradually expanded until its southern edges skirted a gorse-clad swampy common called Sheffield Moor.

Today, we know this marshy land as The Moor with its surrounding streets.

A path was made by throwing up two embankments, between which was a deep ditch, with only a footbridge over Porter Brook.

By the 1760s, travellers had to go down Coal Pit Lane (Cambridge Street) and Button Lane (long disappeared) to Little Sheffield – a group of poor and time-worn cottages. The road to it ran across Sheffield Moor, thence up a sharp rise to Highfield. The only house you came to after passing Moorhead was Mr Kirkby’s, standing on Button Lane (opposite where the ramp to Sainsbury’s car-park on Charter Row now stands). There was one other building nearby, with a bowling green attached to Sheffield Moor. Beyond was Little Sheffield, the outlying hamlet.

By the nineteenth century, the fields around Little Sheffield had been swallowed up for the working classes, a poor and densely populated area, its houses with roofs of stone slabs, low windows, and red brick walls.

Nowadays, we can define Little Sheffield’s northern boundary as being where the Moorfoot Building stands, taking in Young Street, South Lane, St Mary’s Gate, London Road, and surrounding streets like Hermitage Street, Sheldon Street, Hill Street, John Street, and Boston Street (once called George Street), up towards its southern boundary at Highfield.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Streets

Fitzwilliam Street

Planning application has been received for a new 13-storey development below the Washington public house. Photograph by Cartwright Pickard

The Fitzwilliam Street part of Sheffield city centre was developed in the early 19th century, from agricultural fields into Victorian terracing and warehouses. Of significance, is that the area was heavily bombed during World War Two and as a result was cleared and remained largely undeveloped until the 1970s and 1980s.

The boom in student accommodation has resurrected the area in the past decade, not least with another new planning application submitted to Sheffield City Council for a thirteen-storey block of 209 student studio apartments. If all current applications are approved, the area will once again revert to residential use.

But what is the history of Fitzwilliam Street?

Back in 1874, Samuel Everard, a prominent citizen of the town, made the following observations: –

“As we pass Bright Street, Fitzwilliam Street and Rockingham Street, let us know them as illustrations of the origin of our street names. They at once indicate the ownership of the soil by the house of Wentworth (of Wentworth Woodhouse).”

Photograph by Cartwright Pickard

The last Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, married Mary, the daughter and heir of Thomas Bright, of Badsworth, near Pontefract, in 1752, who in her own right was Lord of the Manor of Ecclesall and owner of extensive estates in the vicinity.

It was said that the Marquis, when once taunted with marrying a woman of no blood, had replied, “If she had no blood, she had plenty of suet.”

The marriage brought the land into possession of the Marquis of Rockingham and it descended to his nephew, William Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam.

The names of Fitzwilliam Street and Rockingham Street are familiar to us all, but Bright Street, named after the Lord of the Manor of Ecclesall, has long disappeared.

It ran directly from the bottom end of Fitzwilliam Street towards Cumberland Street, crossed by South Street (that we now know as The Moor). It broadly spanned the same line as does Fitzwilliam Gate today.

Photograph by Cartwright Pickard
Categories
Streets

The Moor

Photograph by Exposed

Goodness me, here’s a story that seems to have passed by unnoticed. It seems that The Moor has been sold from under our feet, with Aberdeen Standard Investments offloading the biggest asset in its property fund to New River real estate investment trust.

The deal was completed in December after being put on the market with an £89.4million price tag.

The Moor, once again installed as Sheffield’s foremost shopping street, accounted for seven per cent of the £1.3billion Aberdeen UK Property Fund.

Back in December, outflows from Aberdeen Standard’s fund spiked after investors were spooked following the suspension of rival manager M&G’s Property Portfolio. M&G was forced to suspend trading in its £2.5billion property fund after investors rushed to withdraw money.

The Moor has thrived under the ownership of Aberdeen Standard Investments, with the addition of Moor Markets, the Light Cinema, Lane7 Bowling Alley, and new retailers including Primark, Next, River Island and H&M.

However, with retail in steady decline, it might appear that Aberdeen Standards Investments has divested of The Moor while the going is good.

It remains to be seen whether the next phases of development will go ahead, including the renovation of the block occupied by Boots, Melody, Lloyds Bank, Bodycare and Halifax Bank.

The deal was the latest in a string of acquisitions for New River, including a retail park in Northern Ireland for £40million, and sites in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and the Isle of Wight.

Categories
Streets

The Moor

I don’t know about you, but I never look in shop windows anymore. Frankly, there’s not much to look at, with only a handful of department stores making the effort, if at all.

We must thank Harry Gordon Selfridge for being one of the first to create window dressing displays to attract customers.

The American millionaire’s aim was to “make an art of window display” and resulted in copycat spectacles across Britain.

Nowadays, the skill of window dressing has been replaced with visual digital technology, and this hasn’t exactly helped our struggling shops.

The Moor at night can be a particularly gloomy place when shops have closed, and despite the best efforts of ‘arty’ street lighting, its attempts to attract a night-time audience are pretty much nil.

It makes this newspaper article from March 1931 about “the attractive thoroughfare” even more interesting.

“On leaving cinemas and theatres in the centre of the city last night, hundreds of people were attracted to the Moor, by the special lighting display arranged in connection with the ‘Display Week’.

“They discovered undreamed beauty at Moorhead. The Crimea monument has not been regarded with admiration by many modern citizens, but under the floodlighting this week it takes on special graces.

“The whole result is a credit to those who have contributed to the scheme, to the Electric Supply Department of the Sheffield Corporation, the Edison Swan Electric Company, and the proprietors of the various businesses on the Moor.

“Standing at Moorhead one has an uninterrupted view of the straight thoroughfare down a slight gradient, and the effect of the special lighting is most striking.

“After ordinary business hours the shops are keeping their well-dressed windows lighted. During the whole of last evening the Moor was thronged with citizens attracted by the more than usually bright appearance of the various establishments.

“Although the shops were closed and the interior premises were in darkness, the brilliant windows in which the best efforts of a peculiarly modern art were displayed, attracted many appreciative visitors.

“Until 10 o’clock the whole of the Moor was a blaze of light, and provided ample proof of the efficiency of the arrangements, as well as the business acumen of tenants and proprietors of premises along the thoroughfare which is regarded by many as the most attractive business centre in the city.”

Today, the Moor Management team can only dream at such high visitor numbers after-dark, but we should remember that this was the major road linking Pinstone Street with Ecclesall Road, and with a plentiful supply of cars, buses and trams going up and down.

And while we’re at it, the Crimea monument, seemingly lost for years by Sheffield City Council, before being found again, once earmarked for the Botanical Gardens, is still languishing in some dark corner.

Categories
Buildings

Debenhams

Times have been hard for Debenhams, not least for the one on The Moor which is beginning to look extremely shabby alongside modern new developments nearby.

However, it hasn’t always been this way.

This shop was once considered to be a flagship store, until eclipsed by a brand new Debenhams at Meadowhall in 1990.

It seems like the store has been here forever – fifty-four years to be precise. For a new generation, this branch wasn’t always called Debenhams, and can trace its origins to the other side of the Pennines.

In 1865, William Paulden, aged 24, opened a carpet and soft furnishings store in Stretford Road, Manchester. He was the son of a Cheshire farmer, educated at Knutsford Grammar School, and died at Green Hall, Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1930.

The business expanded to become a department store and in 1928 was taken over by the Drapery Trust, a conglomerate of retailers, owned by London-based Debenhams.

The store continued to trade as Pauldens and added a second store at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, in 1946. A third store opened in Sheffield in 1965, a modern multi-level steel frame and concrete structure, bordering The Moor and Charter Row.

It traded as Pauldens of Sheffield, but in 1973, all the Drapery Trust businesses were either closed or rebranded as Debenhams, including the Sheffield store.

We now wait to see what will happen to this landmark as a result of the company’s turbulent restructuring.

Categories
Buildings Sculpture

Moorfoot

Oh, how happy sculptor Judith Bluck (born 1936) must feel. Thirty-four years after creating a brick wall relief, it now adorns the outside of a boarded-up toilet block at Moorfoot.

The frieze was created for the Manpower Services Commission in 1985, the theme based on different kinds of skills used in the “little mesters” workshops formerly on the site.

Bluck visited Kelham Island Museum for inspiration and made a master in Glass Reinforced Polyester Resin from which a mould was formed. Pan tiles, each 25cm square, were produced by Nori (a subsidiary of Accrington Brick).

Working from her studio in the Yorkshire Dales, Bluck was also responsible for the Crucible Fountain outside the Moorfoot building (covered in another post).

She also created numerous works around the country including Small Workhorse, at Ealing Broadway, Legend of the Iron Gates, Wilmslow, Sheep in Milton Keynes, and a 20ft high relief narrative on security doors at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Categories
Sculpture

Crucible Fountain

It might have seen better days, and quite frankly, it’s at the arse-end of The Moor. But how many people even notice the monument outside the Moorfoot building?

It is called the Crucible (or Crucible Fountain) and was commissioned by the Property Services Agency, Department of the Environment, to stand in front of the former Manpower Services Commission building. It was installed in 1979, the work of sculptor Judith Bluck, and cost £30,000.

Unsurprisingly, the sculptor chose something that was “rooted in Sheffield,” and based the design on a crucible used in the steel industry, along with the shape of a bird with spread-out wings.

After being conceived as a paper and wire-scale model on a turntable, the sculpture was created in Accrington, using a building with lifting gear, to lift a rolled steel joist armature, covered in chicken wire, and then sprayed with Glass Reinforced Polyester Resin.

The surface was created with a coating of “techfil,” made up of recycled fuel ash and crushed coal mixed with resin and applied by trowel. This was then sanded down and stippled with centrifugally atomised bronze.

Brought to Sheffield, the 30ft monument was mounted on two reinforced concrete pads.

Originally, the sculpture included water, supplied by three separate jets, positioned so that water falling off the structure didn’t blow in the wind and soak passers-by.

The surface texture was created to enhance the sound of water and provide a sparkling effect. By night, the monument was illuminated to augment the overall appearance.

A lot has happened to it since then.

The water was switched off in the distant past and the floodlights removed. The raised garden in which it stands was planted with shrubbery that eventually consumed much of the lower part of the monument.

I kid you not when I say that the sculpture provided the perfect safe place for the homeless, hidden from view, in which to sleep overnight.

Most of the overgrowth was removed in early 2016 when this part of The Moor was used in the filming of Brief Encounters, an ITV comedy-drama, detailing the beginning of the Ann Summers company, through four women who sought happiness and fulfilment by selling lingerie and sex toys.

Now in need of much care and attention, this cries out for restoration.

Note: Look out for Bluck’s wall frieze outside the disused toilet block nearby, covered in a separate post.