Monthly Archives: January 2017

Bennerley Viaduct

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire (1973)

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire (1973)

The River Erewash is not widely known (and often wrongly pronounced – three syllables, “Er-e-wash”).  Indeed, it’s an unremarkable river, meandering between its wide, low-lying valley sides, bordering Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  It gives its name to the Erewash Canal and is the location for many of D H Lawrence’s stories, including much of the novel The Rainbow (1915).

Eastwood, the town of Lawrence’s birth, claims to be the “birthplace of the Midland Railway”, on the strength of a meeting at the Sun Inn, which led to the formation of the Midland Counties Railway in 1832.

In fact the railway didn’t reach the valley until the late 1840s, after which the local mine-owners deserted the canals to send their coal by rail to Leicestershire and London.

This was the heartland of the Midland Railway, until its rival the Great Northern Railway, egged on by local businessmen anxious to break the Midland’s monopoly, chose to compete by building a line west from Nottingham across the southern edge of the coalfield and on to Derby and beyond.

This Derbyshire & Staffordshire Extension, authorised by Parliament in 1872, spawned numerous branches to local collieries, and was intended also connect with the North Staffordshire Railway to take some of the Midland’s Burton beer traffic.

Little survives of the route, which closed in the 1960s, except for the remarkable Bennerley Viaduct, which strides across the Erewash flood-plain east of Ilkeston, opened in 1878.

The wrought-iron lattice construction, designed by the GNR engineer, Richard Johnson, was necessary because the floor of the Erewash valley was already riddled with coal workings.  A brick-arch viaduct would have been vulnerable to subsidence;  iron legs could be jacked up if necessary.

The structure survives because wrought iron cannot be cut by an oxy-acetylene torch, and dismantling it piece-by-piece proved unduly expensive.

It’s a unique survivor, now listed Grade II*:  two taller and more spectacular viaducts, at Crumlin on the Taff Vale Railway near Caerphilly (1857, 200 feet high) and Belah near Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria (1860, 196 feet high) were demolished in 1965 and 1962 respectively.

Belah Viaduct, designed by Thomas Bouch who went on to build the first Tay Bridge, had the same lattice construction as Bennerley;  Crumlin, like the surviving Meldon Viaduct near Okehampton, Devon, had distinctive Warren Trusses.

Bennerley Viaduct belongs to Sustrans, and may one day form part of the National Cycle Network.  For the present, it’s remarkably difficult to approach or see.  Indeed, the best view is from passing trains (on the left-hand side heading south) between Langley Mill and Nottingham.

Clad in complete steel

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Steel cladding is an admirable and relatively inexpensive way of modernising the façade of a building.  It conceals the original usually without obliterating it.  I’d far rather see a historic frontage, such as the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, clad than stripped of its aesthetic value.

The Bijou Cinema, Derby, lost its elaborate faience façade when it became a furniture showroom in the early 1960s.  The interior, at balcony level at least, survived to become a particularly beautiful curry house, which would have been even more eye-catching if the original cinema frontage had remained intact.

There’s hardly anything left of the auditorium of the former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield, which after it closed in 1958 also became a furniture showroom, and latterly a self-storage unit, yet the rich façade in brick and brown faience survives largely intact behind steel cladding that was installed as late as the 1980s.

Indeed, part of the façade became visible when a gale brought down the corner of the cladding on January 11th 2017.

Though at present barely recognisable , the Don has a particular place in the history of the city’s cinemas.

Sales people working at the furniture showroom were perturbed by manifestations that they couldn’t explain – whirring noises, voices and a figure in an overall wearing cycle clips.

The late Bernard Dore, who had managed the Don Cinema in the 1950s, pointed out that the chief operator, Mr Potter, invariably cycled to West Bar from his home in Ecclesall rather than take the tram, and stored his bike in the projection room.

Furthermore, he habitually wore plus-fours and a tweed jacket covered by an overall.

He had a habit of creeping up behind his junior colleagues and whispering their names to make them jump.

Dan, the manager of Armadillo Storage, showed me what’s left of the cinema structure – an intact staircase and the space that was once the projection room.  He and his colleagues say they haven’t experienced manifestations.

I hope that when the steel cladding has eventually to come down, the façade behind it will be retained.

After all, the Don Picture House is, as far as I know, Sheffield’s only documented haunted cinema.

We never closed

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

I passed the former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, twice a day for nearly thirty years on my way to work without ever taking much notice of it, from a time when it was still a cinema, through years as a bingo club, until eventually it became a carpet showroom.

I wrote a blog article about it and illustrated it with an image dated 1985, when the exterior was largely as designed by the London architect, George Coles.

A couple of years ago the carpet showroom advertised what became the longest-running closing-down sale I can remember.

I got to know the staff, who were unclear about when and indeed whether the closure would take place.

They’re still there, and in the autumn of 2016 the cinema marquee was dismantled and the entire façade covered with elegant steel cladding.

It’s reassuring to know that the owners are investing in the building, so it’s unlikely to be threatened in the near future, which is as well because it’s unlisted and unrecognised as a building of merit.

It was Sheffield’s last pre-war cinema, opening shortly after the start of the Second World War, on September 18th 1939.

George Coles was a highly regarded architect who built numerous cinemas for Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon circuit, such as the Odeons at Muswell Hill and Woolwich.

In Sheffield he was commissioned by the building contractor M J Gleeson to build the Forum, Southey (1938, demolished) and shortly afterwards began work on the Capitol.

Indeed, Coles’ plans for the proposed cinema show that Gleesons intended to name it another Forum, until they thought better of having two cinemas with the same name a little more than a mile apart.

The exterior is an impeccable, restrained version of the Art Deco manner that Odeon favoured, but the interior in contrast is elegant neo-Georgian, with alcoves and statuary and a 36-foot proscenium, much of which remains, apparently, behind immaculate white cladding.

The street-level foyer has been swept away to open up the showroom area, but the upstairs crush lobby (inaccessible to the public) remains as it was in the days of bingo, and the operating box and rewind room are intact though empty of equipment.

Although the building has a secure future for the moment, some day it will change hands, and its considerable architectural merit may not be recognised as a largely intact late-1930s moderne cinema by an architect with a national reputation.

Lacking the protection of listing, the long-term future of the Capitol depends on the vigilance of local observers and the support of national conservation organisations.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the building as worth less than the site, when in fact its historic integrity could be a selling point sometime in years to come.