Thursday 29 May 1856. Thousands of people attended a May-day procession to celebrate the fall of Sevastopol, the capital of Crimea, the previous October. “The view from Moor-head along this fine street was lively in the extreme, presenting to the eye at one glance a greater number of flags and banners than perhaps any other part of the town.”
In March 1929, John Atkinson, aged 84, took to his bed at No. 86, The Moor, and remained there for a week. He had been in ill-health and died a week later.
His death meant that Sheffield had lost a veteran businessman, who not only had built up a great establishment, but was largely responsible for the development of the principal shopping thoroughfare in the city.
While John Atkinson lay on his death-bed, would he have ever contemplated that his business would still exist 150 years later?
The Atkinson family came from Low Dunsworth, near Boroughbridge, and John, one of a family of nine, was determined to try his fortune away from his home surroundings.
His first venture was at York, where he became an assistant in a leading establishment of that city. But he was stirred with ambition, and he fixed his eye on Sheffield, a growing centre of commerce.
He came in 1865 and became acquainted with the Sheffield public by working at Cole Brothers, at their premises at the corner of Church Street.
Once settled in Sheffield, he looked for an opportunity, and in 1872 secured premises in South Street, on Sheffield Moor. No. 90 was a two-windowed shop and was opened by 26-year-old John in March of that year.
In those days the Moor was not the shopping centre that we are familiar with. It was on the fringe of the country and people used to ‘go to Sheffield’ to do their shopping when they really meant going to Fargate and High Street.
It was his mission to see that his windows were sufficiently attractive to draw the attention of those on their way to ‘shop in town’ and was one of the pioneers of the ‘Shop on the Moor’ movement and had the pride of seeing the completion of his commodious emporium that became his life work.
Atkinson worked hard for seven years and established gradual growth of regular customers. His business required expansion, and in 1879, a piece of land known as Holy Green became available. It adjoined his premises and two additional shops, Nos 86 and 88 were erected, the former leased to a trader. But trade and custom grew, and in 1884, No 86 was taken over by Atkinson and became the millinery department.
Three years later, Nos. 2,4, and 6, Prince Street (a street that has disappeared) were added, and became the furniture department, and four years after that an extensive space at the back of the Prince Street premises was secured and covered for the development of the mantle and shawl trade of the day.
The business expanded, and a few years later brought another acquisition. In 1892, the shops, land, and works covering a large block of buildings as far back as Button Lane (another lost street), facing Eldon Street, were purchased, and in 1897 a new dress warehouse was built in another portion of Holy Green.
Atkinson’s love of beautiful architecture, and his ever expanding business, led him to demolish all his shops, ranging from Nos. 79 to 86, on the South Street site. The foundation stone was laid in 1901, and the new building was ready for occupation in 1902.
The store had a glass roof to let light down into the three floors which were decked with flowers and maintained by a gardener.
At the outbreak of World War One, the shop had empty warehouses, and these were utilised for war work, responsible for making hundreds of thousands of stamped parts for guns, shells, and tanks.
In 1918 two new wings were added, and in 1920 more of the Eldon Street block was brought into use.
By the time of its fifty year centenary in 1922, Atkinson was assisted by his sons, Harold Thomas Atkinson, and John Walter Atkinson.
“There is an atmosphere of completeness about the store. It is not merely a draper’s store. It is a general outfitting establishment, with its well-cuisined restaurant, and its café; with its departments for gas-fitting, and electrical outfit; its men’s clothing department and its footgear stores; it has an ironmongery branch; as well as its branches for stationary, sweetmeats, and drugs and perfumes; for china and glass, as well as for bedding and bedsteads; while its fur department, its section for robes and gowns, costumes and skirts, wools, dress goods, piece silks, velveteens, Manchester goods, and millinery, gloves, and hosiery, and its cabinet and carpet and oilcloth departments, are just part of the wide-varied whole.”
A lot changed afterwards, the business flourished, but during the Second World War the store was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940, resulting in temporary shops for all its departments across the city.
The business operated like this until 1960 when a new purpose built store opened on The Moor.
This year marks Atkinsons 150th anniversary and John Atkinson would have been shocked to find that his family-owned store is now the only department store left in Sheffield.
There is a whisper that New River, owner of The Moor, might be in talks with Sheffield City Council about purchasing the Moorfoot building. This ties in with the council’s Strategic Vision document that suggests the area will be targeted at young professionals and promoted as a ‘prime location for city core living’.
“The future of the Moorfoot Building itself (adaptation or replacement) is currently being considered’ due to the emergence of hybrid working.”
Eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings, it was built for the Manpower Services Commission which occupied it from 1981. It was here that the infamous Youth Training Scheme (YTS) was instigated, before being used by other Government agencies. The council bought it in the late 2000s.
Will Moorfoot be demolished and replaced?
I think there will be obstacles in the way of demolition, not least from architectural experts who regard the building as a Brutalist landmark. Don’t be surprised if there is an application to get it listed.
It might also seem a waste of money for Sheffield City Council to spend a fortune buying and renovating Moorfoot, and then spend even more money to relocate departments elsewhere. But stranger things have happened.
I don’t think the Moorfoot building will disappear, although there might be an opportunity to demolish the indoor car park attached to it. Much more likely is that the block of shops, and hospitality venues bordering Moorfoot, Hereford Street, South Lane, and Cumberland Street, will go instead. This would provide an ideal public space, paving the way for the Moorfoot building to be converted to residential (think of The Barbican in London).
And don’t forget that the former Office Outlet/Theatre Deli block is earmarked to be replaced by Lidl.
A lot of speculation and perhaps wide of the mark, but extremely interesting.
According to new UK retail data, nearly 90 per cent of former Debenhams stores remain empty almost a year after the department store closed its doors for the last time, in a sign of the challenge to reinvent high streets across the country.
The figures include former Debenhams stores at Meadowhall and on The Moor.
Only last week, MHA London, which bought the city centre building for £1.5m in March 2021, said there was interest but “nothing substantial.”
Since then, property agent Colliers said it was talking to prospective occupiers, thought to be a discount department store company and a leisure operator, both interested in taking space.
Might the discount operator be B&M Retail?
It currently occupies space on Haymarket, also operating Heron Foods at nearby King Street, both in a part of the city centre suffering from declining footfall.
A move to the vibrant Moor shopping area might be considered a good move and could include a B&M and a Heron Foods offering as well.
Hereford Street’s greatest moment was when Queen Victoria officially opened Sheffield Town Hall in May 1897 and travelled down here on her way to Norfolk Park. It might be hard to believe now, but let your imagination do the rest.
“To stand on The Moor, at the top of Hereford Street, and look down the latter thoroughfare affords the spectator a great amount of pleasure. A scene is presented of bright flags of dainty and artistic colours, fancy streamers of every description, while other kinds of bunting and bannerettes float out gaily in every direction.
“Venetian masts are erected on either side of the street, 15 yards apart, and are surmounted by large gilt spearheads, while banners, shields, and trophies of flags are fixed to each mast. Every alternate mast has a pedestal covered with crimson cloth and gilt ornamentation, and at the summit of each pedestal is a group of real plants.
“Across the street at intervals are fixed canopies of handsome floral work, and streamer flags of harmonious colours and flower baskets are suspended from the centre of each floral canopy, with lines of streamer flags along the street at either side connecting the masts with the whole design.
“The buildings, too, in Hereford Street have been dealt with in the most artistic manner. Flags float out bravely from the tops of the principal works and houses, and on the fronts are displayed handsome shields, backed up with designs of small flags and other similar trophies.
“As the time arrived for the stopping of traffic, the corner where Hereford Street joins the Moor became so blocked with cars, cabs, and buses that the Derbyshire police, who extended from the top of Hereford Street along part of St Mary’s Road were hard put to it to prevent serious accidents.
“People would still insist on leaving the shelter of the barriers and coming across the road, and then, as likely as not, they were stranded amongst the horses and vehicles, who, being unused to the terrible commotion, were almost frantic and the drivers, but for the efforts of the police, could not possibly have helped running down some of these belated wayfarers.
“However, this was soon cleared, the arrival of the 1st Battalion of the Hallamshire Rifles having a great deal to do with the transformation.
“The men were placed eight paces apart and covered the entire length of Hereford Street and part of St Mary’s Road.
“The crowd was very orderly, only a few attempting to elude the vigilant eye of the constables, and those that attempted this being in most cases drunk.
“As the time wore on, however, getting tired, perhaps, and some of them thirsty, occasional rows occurred. People attempted to change their positions and their neighbours’ mild remonstrations gradually developed into what may be styled ‘words,’ and again, in some cases, where the sum was particularly irritating, into blows.
“The few fights, however, that did take place soon raised cries of ‘Police!’ and the guardians of the peace immediately quelled the disorder and left the combatants to sing and shout once more with the rest.
“Several cases of fainting occurred, and it was rather unfortunate that at this point of the route there was no ambulance corps, but the gallantry to the ladies of the rough and ready grinders was quite touching, and these were immediately made room for even in the thickest crushes.
“Of course, skits and jokes passed amongst the members of the crowd, but, as a rule, the language was ‘fit for the Queen.’
“Stands, windows, and roofs were all crowded, and the number of people in the street was, as far as can be judged, above the average.
“The procession passed, the military lined up, and the crowd in one huge migration, made tracks, some for the park, and others in order to get another view, if possible, along South Street, Park.”
Two photographs that show how a Sheffield street lost its identity.
Hereford Street is shown as a wide thoroughfare in 1951, a continuation of Charlotte Road, and intersected by narrow St Mary’s Road, and Porter Street (that became the lower end of Eyre Street). It joined The Moor that continued south towards London Road. Note that Bramall Lane roundabout did not exist.
Seventy years later, the outline of Hereford Street can still be seen but is split by two dual carriageways – St Mary’s Road and Eyre Street. Gone are the factories, houses, and small shops, and the Moor-end is pedestrianised, and this section of The Moor lost beneath the Moorfoot Building.
Sadly, this area has become an unloved part of the city centre with Hereford Street falling on hard times.
Most astonishing is that few buildings appear in both photographs. Most were swept away for road development, factories were surplus to requirement, and old houses and shops deemed unfit for purpose.
St Mary’s Church, on Bramall Lane, does appear in both photographs. In 1951, it was covered in soot and suffered from air pollution, but look how large the churchyard was, and how much was taken away to make St Mary’s Road a dual-carriageway.
Buildings to point out in the modern-day image are the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Headquarters and Moor Markets (left), Decathlon and Deacon House (centre) and, of course, the Moorfoot Building (bottom).
History is all around us. Keep your eyes open and sometimes you will see something that reveals something of our past. At the corner of Eyre Street and Cumberland Street, set in the wall of a building, is an old night safe. Unused for forty-eight years, it is marked ‘Martins Bank Limited’.
It is an obvious clue as to the origins of this rather run-down looking 1960s building, and tells us that once-smart buildings can become eyesores if we don’t look after them.
Martin’s Bank was a London private bank that could trace its origins back to the London goldsmiths. Martin’s agreed to its acquisition by the Bank of Liverpool in 1918, which wanted a London presence and a seat on the London Bankers’ Clearing House; the Martin’s name was retained in the title of the enlarged bank which was known as The Bank of Liverpool and Martin’s Limited. The title was shortened to Martins Bank Limited (without an apostrophe) in 1928.
The bank had a presence in Sheffield from 1927 when the Equitable Bank, at 64 Leopold Street, merged with the Bank of Liverpool and Martins. It outgrew the premises and opened a new branch in the Telephone Buildings at the bottom of West Street in 1930. It wasn’t until 1960 that a Sheffield University branch was opened, quickly followed by this purpose-built bank – Sheffield Moor – on Eyre Street. (Another, on Bank Street, came later).
This branch opened in 1961 on land that had once been the site of Greer and Rigby, Surgeons, and land left vacant after the bombings of World War Two.
According to archives, this part of Sheffield was too far from the old commercial quarter to be effectively served by the West Street branch. “A beautiful modern building with interior décor which responds to the full blaze of sunshine most cheerfully, or, on a dark day when the illuminatedceiling has to be switched on, creates an oasis of light, warmth and welcome which makes it a pleasure to step inside.”
The ground floor was shared with Olivetti, typewriters, and office machine dealers, while the British Wagon Company occupied part of the first floor.
Martins Bank was bought by Barclays in 1968 and five years later the Sheffield Moor branch was closed – its existence as a bank lasting only twelve years.
The building itself was used for a variety of purposes, even a gym, and is now sub-divided as office space.
Moorfoot is a brute of a building, dominating the Sheffield skyline, and 40 years after it opened, remains one of the city’s most controversial structures.
Its origins are in 1973 when Edward Heath’s Conservative Government created the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), to co-ordinate employment and training services in the UK through a ten-member commission drawn from industry, trade unions, local authorities and education interests.
Pat Duffy, the Labour MP for Attercliffe, excited by the prospect of 2,000 jobs, campaigned for the new headquarters to be built in Sheffield. Two years later, Harold Walker, Under Secretary at the Employment Department, told the House of Commons, “The decision has been made to locate the headquarters in Sheffield.”
It was an accomplishment for a down-at-heel northern city, but the citizens of Sheffield weren’t prepared for what came next.
The futuristic new headquarters was designed by the Government’s Property Services Agency – “A truly monolithic brutalistic office building. Red brick bands between rows of windows separated by concrete panels.” – eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings. Something of a pyramid, it earned nicknames like the ‘Aztec Temple’ and ‘Dalek City.’
That it would be built on land at the bottom of The Moor was even more controversial, cutting off Sheffield’s main shopping street from busy London Road, and depriving road and pedestrian traffic of a popular and historic route.
To compensate, it was designed to allow pedestrian access through the building, starting with an elevated ramp near the corner of Young Street and South Lane, before proceeding via a tunnel through the building, exiting above the car park, and using ramps to ground level on The Moor.
The route never opened, allegedly because IRA activity posed a threat to a government building, and the upper parts of the elevated walkway were left suspended mid-air before eventual removal.
The MSC opened in 1981, and for such a high-profile building, it was shrouded in mystery. Apart from the cavernous office-space, restaurant, bar, and basement squash court, were there really underground nuclear bunkers and a luxury apartment for Government hierarchy? Even today, the amount of information available about the building is incomplete – no floor plans, no design architect, no history forthcoming.
The MSC building was famous for its management of the Youth Training Scheme and various other training programmes intended to help alleviate the high levels of unemployment in the 1980s, but after 1987 the MSC lost functions and was briefly re-branded the Training Agency (TA), before being replaced by a network of 72 training and enterprise councils.
The MSC Building gave way to other Government agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office. However, it was too big and expensive to maintain, with departments vacating over a twenty year period.
In the late 2000s, the MSC Building was bought by Sheffield City Council, and with demolition in mind, wanted to create a new financial services district in its place.
The timing could not have been worse, and the monetary crisis of 2007-2008 prompted a rethink, and the building was overhauled, renamed Moorfoot, with potential office space for 2,600 council employees, and consolidation of various departments from around the city centre.
As for the Moorfoot’s future, it is likely to stay, worthy of a facelift and a bit of greenery might not go amiss. The iron gates at ground level could be opened to allow public access between The Moor and London Road. And, as the aerial photograph shows, there is a chance to create a green square in front of its main entrance (demolition required).
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.
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.
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.