In August 1835, at about two o’clock in the morning, some dastardly villains broke the rappers and bell pulls of several houses in Union Street. The watchman in that neighbourhood sprung his rattle and followed the ruffians down Norfolk Street, but with no other night guardians answering the call, they managed to escape.
We are coming up to the time when some of Sheffield’s modernist buildings are commemorating fiftieth birthdays. One such is Redvers House, recently renamed Redvers Tower, built in 1971 on Union Street, by Newman Doncaster Associates.
The 11-storey tower, built on a 3-storey podium, is almost invisible to locals, yet has seemingly dominated the skyline forever.
It is doubtless unloved, notwithstanding its long association as offices for Sheffield City Council’s Social Services departments, perhaps harbouring unpleasant memories within its walls.
Redvers House was opened in 1972 by Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Social Services, a man who served under four Conservative Prime Ministers – Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, and Margaret Thatcher.
At ground level, we are more familiar with its retail space fronting Furnival Gate, one-time showroom for Allied Carpets, later as a Curry’s electrical store, and now for Nisbets, Europe’s largest catering equipment supplier.
The older of us might remember its copper-tinted glass, set within bright white tiles that blinded under the light of a summer sun. The windows were lost during a £7 million major refurbishment in 2005.
According to reliable sources, Redvers House was owned by the council which put it up for sale for nearly £7 million in October 2014, when staff relocated offices to the Moorfoot Building.
It was bought by private rental specialist Make Space, part of the Minton Group, in June 2015, and reconfigured at a cost of £6.2 million to become high-end student accommodation with studio apartments and communal areas.
In 2019, the newly-relaunched Redvers Tower attracted widespread publicity when it was named in the Top Ten Most Instagrammable Student Accommodation properties in the UK, the plush interiors perfecting fine city views.
Alas, the budget did not stretch to cleaning those problematic white tiles, echoing a similar quandary facing John Lewis in Barker’s Pool.
Just one question remains. Does anybody know how it came to be called Redvers House?
Union Street is not a fashionable road, its role as one of Sheffield’s important thoroughfares, and its ancient connection with Norfolk Street, long diminished.
Post-war redevelopment deprived Union Street of its character, and one of its most important buildings, the shops and offices that made up Cambridge Arcade (with its covered walkway into Pinstone Street) disappeared in the 1970s.
A walk along Union Street today shows that almost all its architecture is from the sixties onwards. All except for one narrow building, a survivor of Sheffield’s Victorian past, sandwiched between unsightly 20th century structures.
However, Livesey-Clegg House, at 44 Union Street, is expected to go the same way as its long-lost neighbours soon.
If plans to create Midcity House, three new tower blocks, up to 25-storeys high, are given the go ahead, then this old building will be demolished.
The last Victorian building to survive on Union Street was built for Thomas Henry Vernon, cork manufacturer, in 1881. His father’s business had originally existed at 2 Union Street at the junction with the old line of Pinstone Street.
Street improvements in 1875 resulted in the creation of Moorhead and comprehensive redevelopment in the area. As part of this, Vernon’s old premises were demolished, with Thomas Henry Vernon succeeding to the business and relocating to Milk Street. When his new premises were built in 1881, he moved to 44 Union Street, and employed about a dozen people.
Vernon died in 1919, the ground floor becoming a small car showroom for Midland Motors, later Moorhead Motors, and the upper floors converted into offices.
The ground floor was taken over by Hardy’s Bakery in the 1970s, and frequently changed hands afterwards, used as a shop and several food takeaways, and is now empty and boarded-up.
While most Sheffield folk were interested in what went on at street level, it is the floors above that provide the real sense of history.
The name above an adjacent door – Livesey-Clegg House – indicates that this was once home to the British Temperance League.
In Victorian times, high levels of alcohol consumption and drunkenness were seen by some as a danger to society’s well-being, leading to poverty, child neglect, immorality, and economic decline. As a result, temperance societies began to be formed in the 1830s to campaign against alcohol.
The British Temperance League, a predominantly northern teetotal and Christian society, was the new name in 1854 for the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance. In 1880 it moved its headquarters from Preston to Union Street in Sheffield, largely due to the influence of the Clegg family.
Successive members of the Clegg family served as chairman of the executive committee: William Johnson Clegg (1826-1895), sometime alderman of Sheffield, and his son Sir (John) Charles Clegg, best known as chairman and president of the Football Association. His brother, Sir William Edwin Clegg, sometime Mayor of Sheffield, was a vice-president.
By the 1890s its finances and prestige were in decline, but the society persevered and by 1938 was looking for new premises.
“Street widening and re-planning will shortly make it necessary for us to vacate the offices in Union Street, of which we have been tenants for more than 50 years,” said Herbert Jones, the secretary. “We have long felt the need of a permanent home for books, pictures, and other treasures of the movement.”
In 1940, the society moved into 44 Union Street and called it Livesey-Clegg House – named after Joseph William Livesey (1794-1884), a temperance campaigner, politician, and social reformer, and Sir John Charles Clegg (1850-1937), chairman and president of Sheffield Wednesday and founder of Sheffield United.
As well as the headquarters of the British Temperance League, its collection of journals, monographs, bound collections of pamphlets and non-textual items, including lantern slides, posters, banners, textiles, and crockery, were housed in Victorian bookcases in a large old-fashioned room that was used as a library.
The BTL merged with the London-based National Temperance League in 1952 to become the British National Temperance League, with the HQ in Sheffield. It remained until 1987 when the historically valuable library was transferred to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston (now known as the Livesey Library after teetotal pioneer Joseph Livesey).
The old offices and library at Livesey-Clegg House were eventually turned into student accommodation.
Alas, the building is not considered to be of architectural importance and will most likely be demolished soon.
I’m sure a few people will remember the demolition of the Empire Theatre, on Charles Street, back in 1959.
The grand old theatre was replaced by shops and offices, bridging the gap between Union Street and Pinstone Street, the most beloved tenant being Sugg Sport that closed in 2000.
They say that today’s buildings are tomorrow’s history.
This will be the case if Manchester-based developer CTP eventually gets the go-ahead for St. Paul’s 4, a 10-storey office block, planned in place of this 1960s building.
The £35million scheme was proposed in June last year, when CTP wanted half of the building pre-let before launching the project. A pre-let – signing a tenant while a building is still on the drawing board – would then trigger a bank or financial institution.
Initial talks had taken place with Sheffield City Council, thought to be supportive of the development, and CTP stated that “demand for the project was so high that they were happy to forge ahead.”
A pre-planning application had been expected last autumn, but has yet to materialise.
The optimism for St. Paul’s 4 was based on Sheffield’s office take-up reaching a ten year high in 2017, when prime office space availability fell to its lowest level on record.
However, the update from CTP is perhaps less optimistic.
With several new office blocks completed in the city centre, the developer has now downgraded its status to “serious tenant enquiries.”
CTP has an excellent track record in Sheffield, being responsible for St. Paul’s 1,2 and 3, as well as the Mercure Hotel, Cheesegrater car-park and St. Paul’s Tower.
It promises that St. Paul’s 4 would “respect the heritage” of historic buildings in the area, and complement an adjacent 32-storey tower block, proposed for the site of Midcity House, at the junction of Furnival Gate, Pinstone Street and Union Street.
CTP has a ‘quasi joint venture’ with Schroders, an asset management company, that owns the land and building on the site.
If St. Paul’s 4 gets off the ground, then it will be one of the most significant changes to Pinstone Street in modern times.
Union Street Limited, a Gibraltar-based developer, has submitted plans to Sheffield City Council for the redevelopment of Midcity House, on a site between Pinstone Street, Furnival Gate and Union Street.
The proposal includes the demolition of the existing four-storey concrete-clad building consisting of ground-floor retail, bar, offices and limited student accommodation above.
In its place would be three blocks, up to 25-storeys high, with four ground-floor retail units and 271 dwellings above for the build-to-rent market.
The site once stood on the boundary of old Sheffield Moor, part of a field in 1736, and occupied by houses, shops, workshops and yards by 1771.
Most of the properties survived until 1853 but had been demolished by the late nineteenth-century.
In later times it was occupied by the Nelson Public House, Cambridge Arcade and a series of shops, with most buildings replaced in the 1960s with the present structure.