Category Archives: Demolished Sheffield

Old Town Hall at risk

Old Town Hall, Sheffield, interior (circa 2014)

Photo: Chard Remains

Sheffield’s Old Town Hall, on Waingate, has stood empty and unmaintained for over twenty years.  As far back as 2007 it figured on the Victorian Society’s annual list of endangered buildings, and it’s more recently been added to SAVE Britain’s Heritage Buildings at Risk register.

I wrote about it in 2011 and again in 2015, since when there has been little to report.  Successive urban-explorer reports have simply underlined the continuing decay:  https://www.proj3ctm4yh3m.com/urbex/2015/02/01/urbex-sheffield-crown-court-south-yorkshire-september-2014-revisit-4.   

Eventually, in August this year, a planning application was posted proposing a solution to the dilemma of what to do with this huge public building with its sensitive interiors.

The new owner, Mr Efekoro Omu, is already refurbishing the long-neglected Cannon public house on Castle Street.

Mr Omu’s company, Aestrom OTH, plans to clean and restore the exterior of the Old Town Hall, and intends to strip out much of the listed interior to provide twelve serviced apartments, twelve “pod” hotel rooms in the old cells and, on the basement and lower ground-floor levels, a “souk” – “a boutique marketplace of characterful commercial spaces” of 918 square metres (equal to 3½ tennis courts).

The Friends of the Old Town Hall, an energetic group of volunteers who have been monitoring the building since 2014, applaud the arrival of someone actually prepared to take on the building but are highly critical of the proposed alterations to the interior:  http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/our-response-to-the-planning-application.

Mr Omu’s scheme threatens to obliterate the three most impressive courtroom spaces and compromise the Waiting Hall area, making the interior as a whole unreadable as a former courthouse.

There’s no doubt that any historic building has to earn its own keep.  In this case, the current scheme prioritises commercial necessity above historic integrity.

Some parts the Old Town Hall complex, especially the 1955 extension, lend themselves to radical alteration because their historic value is inconsiderable.

The earlier interiors, dating back to the nineteenth century with some later alterations, need more tactful treatment.

Sheffield can boast of a number of practical, attractive, sensitive refurbished historic buildings within a couple of minutes’ walk of the Old Town Hall, such as the Old Post Office in Fitzalan Square and the former bank that is now the Curzon Cinema on George Street.

The Planning Committee of Sheffield City Council meets on November 19th to decide whether to approve this application concerning a major public building in an area of the city that’s subject to radical redevelopment.

Let’s hope that the Committee gives Mr Omu every encouragement to think again in more depth about how to revive the Old Town Hall, which deserves a better fate than to become a historic shell.

Update: The conflict between preserving the courtroom interiors and finding a practical way of financing restoration of the whole building was resolved in favour of development: http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/planning-approved.

Detailed commentary on the Planning Committee’s decision can be found in the Friends of the Old Town Hall newsletter of January 2020: http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Newsletter-19-Jan-2020.pdf.

St Cecilia’s – starting a new chapter

St Cecilia's Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield:  baptistery (2014)

St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield: baptistery (2013)

Some years ago I made a nuisance of myself querying the determination of the Diocese of Sheffield to demolish the attractive 1939 parish church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross:

Last week I received a letter from the Church Commissioners (because I’d made a formal objection to the demolition in 2013) notifying me that St Cecilia’s has at last been closed and the daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux is the parish church with effect from August 16th 2018.

St Bernard’s was completed, using recycled bricks from the demolished mansion at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, in 1954 as one of two mission churches in the vast Parson Cross parish.

The other church, Christ the King, Deerlands Avenue, was consecrated on the afternoon of the first Sheffield Blitz, December 12th 1940.  It closed in 1970 and was sold:  it became a Roman Catholic social club, St Patrick’s, and is now a showroom.

The notice of closure indicates that St Cecilia’s “shall be appropriate to use for residential purposes and for purposes ancillary thereto”, and “the contents of the old church building shall be disposed of as the Bishop shall direct”, in line with the Draft Pastoral Scheme about which I posted an article in 2016.

It’s probably the best possible outcome.

It saves the residents of Chaucer Close from the noise and mess of a brick-by-brick demolition.

It preserves an unobtrusive but attractive building on a housing estate that has few landmarks, having lost an outstanding but unlisted cinema in 2013.

I’ll be interested to see how this wide building, with a nave and two aisles, adapts to housing.

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.

Timbertop

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

When I came to live in north Sheffield in 1973, the pleasantest place to go for a couple of pints in the evening was Timbertop on Shirecliffe Road at the top of a hill looking out across the Lower Don Valley, then still an expanse of smoking steelworks.

Timbertop was the most exciting and innovative of three 1960s public-house designs by the versatile Sheffield practice, Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson.  The others were the Jack in a box, Silkstone Road, Frecheville (1966) and The Domino, Egerton Street (1967, demolished).

Timbertop was commissioned by Bass Charrington (North) Ltd, built in 1969 and opened early in 1970.  It was an adventurous design, taking advantage of its sloping site five hundred feet above sea level.

The load-bearing brick walls support a timber structure, with a roof that presents as a valley on the entrance front and as a pyramid when seen from downhill.

All the service facilities were located in the basement, along with the tenant’s bedrooms;  the tenant’s living accommodation was, unusually, on the ground floor rather than above the public areas.

Customers had a choice of social areas spread over an open-plan split-level space, with a snug at ground level leading to a sunken lounge with a 16ft natural stone fireplace and a chimney breast reaching to the roof, and an upper-level gallery floor with a bar and snack-preparation room.

In harmony with the timber structure, the internal walls were lined with pine, and the ceilings were of cedar wood.

Another interior feature, unusual in Sheffield pubs at the time, was a waterfall.

The building was completed in nine and a half weeks.

The pub was opened by Alderman J W Sterland, who drew the first pint.  As chairman of the city licensing committee, he’d visited a few hostelries in his time and declared it “one of the finest pubs I have seen”.

In later years Timbertop gained an unsavoury reputation and was not the sort of place you’d go for a quiet pint.

There were repeated reports in the local press of “a significant number of incidents on the premises” involving “reports of assaults and drug usage and dealing”.

On one occasion the premises supervisor was attacked when he confronted a customer attempting to serve himself.  Further incidents included a stabbing, paramedics attending a customer who was comatose, assaults involving bottles and “a damaged vehicle with a ‘strong smell of cannabis’”.  The final straw must have come shortly after a shooting that led to a court case in September 2015.

Now the place stands empty, and the chances of it reopening as licensed premises are probably nil.  A car-wash operation occupies the car park.

It’s an exceptional building, in a part of Sheffield that has already lost – or may lose – some of the few landmark structures it ever had – such as the Ritz Cinema (Hadfield & Cawkwell 1937;  demolished 2013) and St Cecilia’s Parish Church (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939;  redundant).

Friends of the Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall, Sheffield, interior

Old Town Hall, Sheffield, interior

Photo:  Chard Remains

I wrote an article in 2011 about Sheffield’s Old Town Hall, highlighting the virtual invisibility of a major public building in the middle of a busy city centre: https://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=1285.

Since then, in November 2014, a Friends of the Old Town Hall group has been formed to ginger up support for this splendid, inexorably decaying building, opened in 1809 as a combined town hall and court house, and disused since 1996 when the courts moved to a new building on West Bar.

The original owners, the Sheffield Town Trust, sold it in 2000, and the developer, G1 London Properties Ltd, that bought it in 2004 has since then apparently done nothing to the building.

Its deterioration, primarily through damp and water ingress, is chronicled by a succession of urban-explorer reports, of which this is one of the latest: http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/sheffield-old-town-hall-courts-sheffield-december-2014.t93247#post-1064776.

The Friends point out that the Old Town Hall is only the largest and most splendid of a group of buildings at the heart of the old town-centre.

As a support group the Friends face an uphill task – first, to conceive positive proposals to restore the building; second, to get the owners to respond to their repeated approaches.

Their enthusiasm is bolstered by positive support from Sheffield City Council, which is beginning the comprehensive redevelopment of the adjacent Castlegate area.

The Friends’ growing body of individual members is open to anyone who would like to offer support. There is no subscription, and everyone on the mailing list receives a regular newsletter. The website is at https://friendsofothsheffield.wordpress.com and there is a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/OTHSheffield?fref=ts.

Sheffield’s surviving cinemas 2: Wincobank Picture Palace

Former Wincobank Picture Palace, Sheffield

Former Wincobank Picture Palace, Sheffield

Sometimes, when you explore old buildings, the least prepossessing places still produce surprises.

Wincobank, round the corner from the huge modern Meadowhall shopping centre, was very much a separate community from both Sheffield and Rotherham until well after the First World War. There were two railway stations, one called ‘Wincobank and Meadow Hall’, the other ‘Meadow Hall and Wincobank’, but electric trams never came near and the bus-service was sparse.

Wincobank people looked for their entertainment to the 550-seat Wincobank Picture Palace, opened in 1914 and operated at least from the 1920s by the Wadsworth family, who also owned the nearby, long-vanished Tinsley Picture Palace.

After the Wincobank Picture Palace closed in February 1959 it was used by a plumbers’ merchant, now operated by the Graham chain [http://www.grahamplumbersmerchant.co.uk/branch-locator/?location=Wincobank].

The outside of the building is in beautiful condition, but in the course of fifty-odd years of industrial use the interior has been heavily beaten up.

The manager, Mick Adams, encouraged me to take a good look round, mainly because the balcony front, installed in 1926 to add a hundred extra seats, is visible and largely intact.

Otherwise, the proscenium has disappeared and all the plasterwork from the walls has been stripped away, though the shallow barrel ceiling with its ventilators remains.

The floor has been levelled and an extra level has been built out from the balcony, but it’s clear that the original raked floor and balcony flooring remain.

I did my best to contrive a series of photographs to illustrate my forthcoming presentation at Sheffield City Libraries, and then Mick mentioned the staircase that his staff don’t use to get upstairs.

He opened a door by the front entrance, to reveal the original staircase to the balcony, now used only for storage, beautifully preserved and tiled in cream, brown and chocolate, with wooden handrails intact.

It was like stepping back into the 1920s.

Mick tells me that under the floor at the entrance there remains a mosaic design with the words ‘Wincobank Picture Palace’.

You never know what you’ll find…

Update:  The Wincobank Picture Palace was advertised for sale with a guide-price of £199,000 in May 2020:  https://colloco.co/find-a-property/properties/1006-5-merton-road-sheffield.  It’ll be interesting to see if a buyer makes any use of the remaining historic features of this much altered building.

Further update:  A planning application has been lodged to convert the Picture Palace into apartments, which would provide a practical opportunity to incorporate the remaining historic features but would necessitate windows in the existing outside walls.

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Sir John Brown’s church

All Saints' Church, Ellesmere Road, Sheffield (1976)

All Saints’ Church, Ellesmere Road, Sheffield (1976)

My local community magazine, the Burngreave Messenger (Issue 112, June 2014), recently included an article by Elizabeth and Gordon Shaw about the Cornerstone, a stone-built community centre on the corner of Carwood Road and Grimesthorpe Road on the hill above Sheffield’s industrial east end.

The article proudly commemorates the continuous 127-year history of what was originally the meeting hall (1887) for the now vanished All Saints’ Church, Ellesmere Road, founded in 1869 by the steel magnate John Brown (1816-1896, Sir John Brown from 1867).

It’s good that this modest building is still used and valued, but it’s a pity Sir John’s great church was demolished in 1978:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3824154.

Like his neighbour and rival, Mark Firth, John Brown rose from humble origins in the Sheffield cutlery trade:  his successive breakthroughs were inventing the conical spring railway-buffer, which he eventually included in his coat of arms, manufacturing railway rails from Bessemer steel and rolling armour plate to clad ships of the Royal Navy.

On the hill above his works Sir John erected a magnificent Gothic church designed by Flockton & Abbott with a spire that could be seen from miles around.  When the original budget of £5,000 proved inadequate he flatly refused to accept a contribution from the Church Extension Society:  the final cost was £12,000.

This huge, cruciform parish church would have served as a small cathedral.  It inevitably became unsupportable as the surrounding housing was cleared.

It and the neighbouring Petre Street Methodist Chapel were replaced by a diminutive Local Ecumenical Partnership building, St Peter’s Ellesmere, which has a token spire:  http://www.burngreavemessenger.org/community/belief-in-burngreave/st-peters-ellesmere.

When All Saints’ came down the eight bells were rescued and passed on to the 1911 Austen & Paley church of St Anne, Worksop.  The war-memorials were transferred to St George’s, Portobello, which itself closed in 1981 and is now used by Sheffield University for lectures and student accommodation.

All Saints’ is the biggest single architectural loss, as a historic building and as a landmark, in the Lower Don Valley, the site of Sheffield’s heavy steel industry, a place with little beauty and a tremendous story to tell.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Last word on St Hilda’s

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (March 13th 2014)

No sooner had I posted a blog-article complaining that St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield had stood a roofless ruin for six months than the demolition team moved in.

Within a week, March 10th-14th 2014, the building was flattened – an eyesore that need never have been an eyesore.

The earliest reference I’ve so far found to the possibility of  closure is in 1993.  As late as 2004, Ruth Harman and John Minnis clearly thought it merited an illustration in their Pevsner  Architectural Guide Sheffield (2004), p 188.

By the time I became aware it was threatened and my neighbours started a campaign to save it at the end of 2011 it was far too late to have any effect.

This is what I’ve learned from following the fate of St Hilda’s Church:

  • the Church of England’s procedure for disposing of redundant churches is ponderous, glacially slow and largely ignores the possibility that the secular community might resolve the problems of disposal
  • local politicians, hammered for a generation by central governments’ stripping away of their autonomy, think in terms of solving problems rather than exploring possibilities
  • the network of amenity organisations, particularly English Heritage and the national amenity societies, prioritises its concerns in terms of national perspectives, with a bias against twentieth-century architecture and buildings of purely local significance
  • just as the churches declined because people think they’re going to be there for ever and never set foot across the threshold, so local people will sign petitions but aren’t inclined to participate actively in seeking uses for derelict local buildings

It was always on the cards that St Hilda’s would go.

One less twentieth-century suburban church makes the others that remain marginally more valuable.

 

St Cecilia’s lingers

St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield – nave & baptistery

St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield – nave & baptistery

After I’d taken part in the Church Commissioners’ meeting to discuss the redundancy and proposed demolition of St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I spent some time talking to people in the Parson Cross community about the building’s practical possibilities.

Apparently, there aren’t any.

Local community workers told me that there’s already full provision of community facilities on the Parson Cross and neighbouring Foxhill estates:  a further facility, if it could be financed, would threaten the viability of those already existing.

Public finance is, of course, an impossibility.

One City Councillor told me with understandable passion of the difficulties of maintaining social provision in the face of draconian financial cuts.  One particular priority at present, justifiably, is somehow to maintain a branch library within reach of local residents.

Yet the emotional pull of St Cecilia’s still remains.  A clergyman spoke movingly of how the building holds the prayers of seventy years of congregational worship, and is a monument to the revered Kelham Fathers who built up the parish from nothing.

The one positive insight I heard came from someone with enterprise experience:  “The only hope for that building,” he said, “is serendipity.”

That, after all, is what happened at Gorton Monastery in Manchester, the Abbeydale Cinema on the south side of Sheffield, and the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, which is now Greentop Circus.

The Gorton Monastery project was co-founded by Elaine Griffiths, MBE;  the Abbeydale Cinema turned a corner when Phil Robins spotted its possibilities as a climbing centre;  the founders of Greentop Circus had the wit to challenge Anneka Rice.

In other words, the only possibility of finding a use for the building is if someone comes along with a practical idea that no-one else has thought of.

The only way of saving St Cecilia’s is for someone who needs an attractive space on the north side of Sheffield to come up with a business plan that relieves the Church Commissioners of the need to spend nearly £200,000 knocking the place down brick by brick to the great inconvenience of the neighbours.