Category Archives: Demolished Sheffield

The Hole in the Road

Castle Square, Sheffield (1993)

Nineteenth-century Sheffield was a town that thought it was a village.

After Sheffield became a city in 1897 it was a city that thought it was a town.

Sheffield folk don’t take easily to the idea of grandeur.  They make things.  Predominantly Nonconformist, truculent and quietly proud of their skills and products, they look upon other Yorkshire cities as brash.

The Blitz of December 1940 flattened much of the city centre and the city planners took advice from (among others) Birmingham City Council’s City Engineer, Herbert Manzoni, himself notorious for rendering his own city unrecognisable.

Their plans saddled Sheffield with a plan for a “Civic Circle” road centred on the Town Hall, together with an Inner Ring Road and an Outer Ring Road.

One aspect of this scheme, to be picked up by Sheffield’s City Architect, Lewis Womersley, on his appointment in 1953, was that as far as possible pedestrians and motorists should move around the city centre at different levels.

Womersley’s Castle Market (1960-65) happily achieved this, taking advantage of its sloping site to provide access on three levels to shops, clear of motor vehicles at ground level.

At the traditional Market Place, however, the idea didn’t work out. 

A dual carriageway, Arundel Gate, swept across the Duke of Norfolk’s grid of Georgian streets, and came to an abrupt halt at the top of Angel Street, where a roundabout directed traffic downhill along Commercial Street towards the Parkway.

Against Womersley’s wishes, motor vehicles negotiated this tight turn at ground level, and pedestrians were pushed below ground into a dramatic space with a circular oculus open to the sky, opened in 1967.

Though the planners called this circle Castle Square, Sheffield folk obstinately labelled it the Hole in the Road

The only decorative feature was a 2,000-gallon fish-tank which became a popular meeting place, replacing Coles Corner which had lost its raison d’être after the Cole Brothers’ department store moved to Barker’s Pool in 1963.

Despite the subway-level entrances to adjacent shops and a couple of sad little stalls for buying newspapers and cigarettes, this memorable piece of townscape proved to be dead space and as the years passed it became more and more grubby and threatening.

Promotional literature for the proposed Sheffield Minitram, a driverless elevated people-mover, showed its track supported by a single pillar in the centre of the Hole in the Road as it climbed High Street.  The project was quietly dropped in 1975.

When the full-size, standard-gauge Supertram was planned, it was quickly obvious that the Hole in the Road would have to go. 

It was closed and filled in, possibly with rubble from the demolition of Hyde Park Flats, in 1994.

There’s a story that when the fish tank was emptied the only remaining fish was a piranha. I can’t vouch for it.

The generation of locals who met their date by the fish tank may regret its demise but even Lewis Womersley would probably agree that Castle Square was a dubious idea in the first place.

The story of Castle Square – the “Hole in the Road” – is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom. For details please click here.

Streets in the sky 2

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield: demolition (1992)

Sheffield’s Park Hill development, completed in 1961, has remained popular, though the flats and maisonettes overlooking the city centre are by no means everyone’s idea of an ideal dwelling.

The bigger Hyde Park complex, prominent on a steep bluff above the Don Valley, was inevitably vertiginous and became generally unpopular.  I wonder what the Queen Mother made of the place when she opened it in 1966.

The sanguine hopes that Corbusian decks would provide an adequate replacement for the dirty, rundown streets and backyards of the industrial East End soon faded.  Working Sheffield families were glad at last to have indoor sanitation, space, light and central heating, but not at the price of high winds, isolation and loneliness. 

High-rise housing was a nightmare for families with young children, and as the children grew Hyde Park and Kelvin became bywords for vandalism and crime.   At Hyde Park in particular, furniture and – on occasions – desperate inhabitants came over the balconies:  on one occasion a falling television killed a seven-year-old girl.  At ground-level, hatched areas of tarmac indicated where falling objects were a likelihood, and entry-points to the blocks were eventually given awnings.  Police as a matter of course parked their marked vehicles away from the buildings.

Lionel Esher, in A Broken Wave: the rebuilding of England 1940-1980 (Pelican 1981), describes the context of Womersley’s work:  he concludes, “[In] Hyde Park….Womersley had overreached himself….”  

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s condescending assumptions, in The Buildings of England, about what used to be called “slums” eventually gained a bitter irony. 

After years of social problems and misery, the inhabitants of Hyde Park were rehoused in 1990-91 when the World Student Games adventure provided the funding and motivation for a sumptuous upgrading of two of the Hyde Park blocks. 

When the students departed, the two blocks once again housed local people, one block still administered as City Council housing, the other by a housing association. 

The biggest unit, B Block, having been cosmetically redecorated for the Games, was condemned, and its distinctive crusader-castle outline disappeared from its bleak hilltop site in 1992-3, to be replaced by unobtrusive low-density housing. 

A surprising number of Sheffielders expressed regret at its passing.

It’s a pity that Hyde Park, itself such a magnificent piece of townscape, turned out to be unusable.

The story of Park Hill and Hyde Park Flats is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom. For details please click here.

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, Sheffield (1977)

In 1977 I made a point of photographing the demolition of the magnificent All Saints’ Church, Ellesmere Road, Sheffield (1869) and, incidentally, took one image of the nearby Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel (1869).

I knew nothing of its history;  I simply thought it looked attractive, surrounded by boarded-up terraced houses that were clearly going to disappear.

Petre Street was the largest Primitive Methodist chapel in Sheffield:  its main hall seated 1,250 and its site on a steep slope provided room for a schoolroom, institute and classrooms in addition.

It had a troubled inception.

Sited on what was then the outskirts of Sheffield, it stood on a bleak hilltop overlooking the burgeoning steelworks in the Lower Don Valley below.

During construction a storm blew away the roof in November 1867, and the contractor repaired the several hundred pounds’ worth of damage.  This was completed on Friday February 7th 1868, when the beginning of another storm obliged the workmen lash themselves to the scaffolding to avoid being blown off.

This second storm over two days and nights caused considerable damage over a wide area, including two fatalities in the centre of Sheffield.

Overnight a section of the gable end of the partly-constructed chapel fell away, and at three o’clock the following afternoon the side wall collapsed, bringing with it the roof and its timbers, filling the interior with debris and weakening the remaining side wall so that it too collapsed. 

This time the repair bill, estimated at £1,200, was the direct responsibility of the trustees, who immediately set about fundraising. 

The church was opened at an eventual cost of £5,000, with a remaining debt of £2,400, on Friday March 27th 1869.

As a community, the Petre Street Methodists lost no time.  Newspaper reports in 1869 show a relentless programme of events in addition to services – Band of Hope meetings, a sale of work, a bazaar, the oratorio Babylon and, immediately after Christmas, a tea for a thousand in two sittings, for which eight hundred tickets were sold.

The trustees’ courage and determination in surviving not one but two storms at the outset is remarkable.

At the start of the twentieth century this congregation was described by the Primitive Methodist Magazine as leading one of the most “aggressive and prosperous” Primitive Methodist circuits in Sheffield.

For a century, the two congregations, Anglicans at All Saints’ and Primitive Methodists at Petre Street, came and went each Sunday within sight of each other.

As the houses were cleared in the mid-1970s both congregations diminished.  All Saints’ had gone by the middle of 1977, and the Petre Street chapel was closed and quickly demolished in 1980, when the two churches moved together into a new building, St Peter’s,designed by the G D Frankish Partnership.

It’s an attractive design, though it lacks the impact of All Saints’ or the quieter dignity of the Petre Street chapel.

St Peter’s Church, Ellesmere, Sheffield

Old Town Hall at risk

Old Town Hall, Sheffield, interior (circa 2014)

Photo: Chard

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

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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