Category Archives: Sheffield’s Heritage

156 years of continuing prayer

St Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield

When I run my annual Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe we visit one of only two remaining Christian places of worship in the Lower Don Valley. It’s also the only historic place of worship in the Valley that has been in continuous use since it was built.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Charles Borromeo was consecrated in 1868 to provide a home for a congregation that had been meeting since 1864.

This was the time when the flat rural meadows and gardens of the Lower Don Valley were being replaced by huge steelworks served by rail and canal. 

Housing for the workers, many of whom came from surrounding counties and as far away as Ireland, had to be within walking distance of the works because public transport was inadequate and expensive.

The church was the gift of Mr William Wake of Osgathorpe, and partly financed by gifts of £500 each from the Duke of Norfolk and from Mrs Wake and her family.  The eventual cost was £4,700. 

The dedication commemorates the Wakes’ son, Charles, who drowned while skating on the Serpentine in Regent’s Park in January 1867.

The building was designed by Charles John Innocent (1837-1901) and Thomas Brown (c1845-1881), who went on to design nineteen out of the twenty-two schools built by the Sheffield School Board from 1873 onwards.

Initially only the nave and the presbytery were constructed.  Charles Innocent returned in 1887 to oversee the lengthening of the nave and the construction of the baptistery and two porches to the west and the chancel, Lady Chapel and sacristy to the east.  These extensions, costing £2,400, were the gift of the Duke of Norfolk and Mr and Mrs Wade.

The interior is spacious and light, with a hammerbeam roof.  The screens, choir stalls and pulpit were designed by C J Innocent and carved by the sculptor Harry Hems of Exeter (1842-1916).  The organ is by the Norwich builder Norman & Beard, and dates from 1911.

The adjacent brick-built school was originally built in 1871 and rebuilt in 1929 in memory of the first rector of the parish, Father Joseph Hurst, who served from 1866 to 1905.  It was remodelled in 1964 by Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson, and closed because of falling rolls in 1981. 

After some years of use for Youth Training Scheme activities it became the Diocese of Hallam Pastoral Centre, opening on June 27th 1990.

Alongside the Centre, regular services continue in the church of St Charles, as they have done since 1868.

St Charles Borromeo Church is a destination on Mike Higginbottom’s Heritage Open Days A Walk Round Attercliffe which takes place on Friday September 6th 2024 from 10am to 12.30pm, starting and finishing at the Attercliffe tram stop.  

Call 07946-650672 or e-mail mike@mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk to book.

Fragmentary remains

Site of former Brightside & Carbrook Staniforth Road store: pilaster base

When I’m stuck for information about an aspect of Sheffield’s architectural and social history, one of the people I call on is Robin Hughes, trustee of Hallamshire Historic Buildings and Joined Up Heritage Sheffield.  He almost always has a detailed, referenced answer.

In return, he occasionally asks me for answers to his queries.  Sometimes I know something;  other times I’m clueless, as I was when he asked if I’d noticed three stones on the south side of Staniforth Road in Attercliffe, immediately downhill from the Pinfold Bridge across the Sheffield Canal. 

The blunt answer was no:  I must have driven past them hundreds of times and never even glanced in their direction.

Robin was at a loss to explain them, though they had clearly been significant.  Two form a pair at the boundary of Spartan Works though too far apart to mark an entrance;  the other is smaller (or perhaps lower) and immediately adjacent to the canal-bridge parapet.

It would have been irresponsible for me to speculate:  any conjecture of mine would have been no more than a wild guess.  Robin’s initial hypothesis was that they were boundary markers, and he found an 1819 map on Picture Sheffield to support it.  But he added, “There may be another explanation, though.”

And there was.  Within a couple of hours he e-mailed again with the correct answer.

These stones are all that remains of the Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society’s Staniforth Road store [Print details Picture Sheffield], which was built in 1894 when Staniforth Road was still Pinfold Lane, and completely destroyed in the Blitz in December 1940.  They are, in Robin’s words “the decorative bases of the shop front pilasters, and are not functional.”  The building was designed by the B&C’s preferred architect, Henry Webster.  In this Picture Sheffield image [Print details Picture Sheffield] of the ruins the single stone is visible next to the small child on the extreme left.

These almost invisible vestiges mark a place where Attercliffe people shopped for “value for money furniture”, jewellery, prams, pianos, cycles, carpets, rugs and mats, according to an advertisement in The Sheffield Co-operator (May 1924) that promises “Give us your co-operation, and we will give you Civility, Attention, and Free Delivery”:  Issue_021_May_1924.pdf (principle5.coop) [page 3].

It’s also a memento of a night of terror in December 1940 when bombs rained on Attercliffe obliterating familiar shops, pubs and churches, making many houses uninhabitable and killing at least 660 people across the city.

These three small pilaster bases would almost certainly have been forgotten without Robin’s detective work, and their history would have been lost.

In the imminent rejuvenation of Attercliffe I suggest it’s important to commemorate the lives and lifestyles that went before.

The Friends of Zion Graveyard have made it easy for visitors to visualise what was on their site until a few decades ago by raising funds to install professionally composed interpretation boards that are now accompanied by a £5 guide book.

The writer Neil Anderson has led a series of effective campaigns to ensure that the 1940 Sheffield Blitz is not forgotten.  His easy-to-use app [Sheffield Blitz – Apps on Google PlayThe Sheffield Blitz on the App Store (apple.com)] enables anyone with a mobile phone in their hand to visit relevant locations in and around the city centre, accompanied by the voice of the late Doug Lightning, the last surviving firefighter to have been on duty in the midst of the raid.  Ian Castle has commemorated the World War I raid on the Lower Don Valley in 1916:  Sheffield author Neil Anderson relaunches book that led to proper tribute to city sacrifice in Blitz (thestar.co.uk).

Attercliffe has more than enough sites associated with the Blitz to make a walking trail that captures for younger generations the impact of two nights’ destruction in the dark days of the Second World War.  Alongside books, videos and apps, there’s a special immediacy to markers of the actual sites that casual pedestrians can stumble upon, like Gunter Demnig’s StolpersteineStolpersteine | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.

If “heritage” means anything, it’s about linking the experience of past generations to the imagination of those who follow.

Brightside & Carbrook

Former Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society branch, 18/20/22 Page Hall Road, Sheffield

In the late nineteenth century Sheffield, like most places, was dotted with Co-op shops selling food and all kinds of household goods.

Many co-op branches were mundane buildings which, if they survive, are difficult to recognise, but on occasions a society would make an architectural statement in the grimy streets.

The Brightside and Carbrook branch at 18/20/22 Page Hall Road, on the former tram route to Firth Park, remains a particularly spectacular landmark, faced with white faience and an elaborate composition of pilasters, aedicules and festoons. 

Its opulent interiors were photographed at the time of its opening in 1914, when smart assistants and the manager, Alf Sparkes, waited expectantly for the first customers

It served a moderately affluent community with clothing, drapery and haberdashery.  An early image shows that the fascia advertised “clothing & outfitting…boots & shoes…linoleum & carpets…drapery, millinery and costumes”.

A much later image of the frontage dated 1952, showing that the white faience had become distinctly grubby in Sheffield’s polluted atmosphere, advertises “baby linen, ribbons, laces, a millinery showroom, ladies’ & childrens’ underwear, furs, corsets, skirts [and] a mantle showroom”.

At the time it closed on June 12th 1965 the front windows advertised “Co-operative furnishing, footwear…outfitting [and] drapery”.

Since then the building has been used as Patnick’s Junk Shop (1972), Pope’s DIY superstore (1993), Khawaja & Sons Halal Supermarket and presently the Hamza Supermarket.

It was listed Grade II in 1995.

Across the road is a less regarded building, 25 Page Hall Road, which has an inscription ‘FIRTH PARK COLISEUM’ and the date 1906.  This has prompted overenthusiastic cinema enthusiasts sometimes to speculate that it was a cinema, but in fact it was a rival to the Co-op opposite.

It was owned by the outfitter Mr Samuel Alonzo Peel, who also ran the Emporium and Peel’s Stores in the nearby suburb of Brightside.

He was provoked in May 1915 to issue the following legal notice in the Sheffield newspapers:

It has come to my knowledge that statements have been made to the effect that the above businesses are not in a good financial condition and that I have therefore been compelled to work as a Turner at one of the large firms in Sheffield.  Such a statement is untrue.  When I heard of the shortage of men (although I have been out of the trade twelve years) I returned to this trade purely from a patriotic motive.  My businesses are financially sound and if I can ascertain who the originators of the above slander are I shall be prepared to take proceedings against them… [Searching Picture Sheffield].

May 1915 is the precise date of the Lusitania riots, which destroyed many German butchers’ businesses in Sheffield and other cities:  Libraries Sheffield: From the Archives: Sheffield and the Lusitania riots of 1915 (shefflibraries.blogspot.com).

According to the information in Picture Sheffield, Mr Peel died in 1925.  His Coliseum survives.  When I first knew it and puzzled over the inscription in the 1970s it was a launderette.  Since 2014 it has been SK Market – Mix Potraviny.  Mix Potraviny is Slovak for “mixed food”.

Castle House

Former Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Store, Castle House, Sheffield
Former Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Store, Castle House, Sheffield: main staircase

The “Co-op” was the mainstay of many working-class families, particularly in the north of England, from the mid-nineteenth century until well after the Second World War.  Not only did it provide groceries and greengroceries;  it offered furniture, funerals, clothing, carpets, soap and shoes as well as banking and insurance.  The Co-operative Group remains powerful, but it has lost its proud tradition of cradle-to-grave service to customers who regained the profits of their trading through the dividend, or “divi”.

For historical reasons which were perpetuated by political inertia, there were two co-operative societies in Sheffield, the Brightside & Carbrook and the Sheffield & Ecclesall – the former based in the gritty, working-class east end and the latter serving the more affluent areas to the west.  Geography divided Sheffield’s population in shopping, just as it did in football.  Both co-ops originated in the 1860s.

Everyone remembered their “stores number”, which they gave to the shop assistant for every purchase so that at the end of the year the “divi” reached their membership account.

The Brightside & Carbrook Co-operative Society chose to plant their flagship city-centre store at the south end of Lady’s Bridge on land purchased from the City Council in 1914.

Building operations stalled until 1927, and construction revealed vestiges of the medieval Sheffield Castle, which had been dismantled in the mid-seventeenth century after the end of the Civil War.

The City Stores, a splendid shopping emporium with a lengthy façade stretching from Waingate along Exchange Street, eventually opened in 1929.

The building lasted only eleven years, and was destroyed in the 1940 Blitz. 

After the B&C Co-op gave up the site to the City Council for what became Castle Market it took instead a site at the corner of Castle Street and Angel Street, and initially made do with a single-storey shop opened in 1949.

When building restrictions were eventually relaxed at the end of the 1950s the Society expanded upwards, building the impressive Castle House, designed by George S Hay, the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s chief architect, in collaboration with the CWS interior designer, Stanley Layland.  It cost slightly under a million pounds.

Castle House began trading in 1962 and opened formally in 1964, joining replacements for other bombed-out Sheffield department stores – Walsh’s (1953; reconfigured early 1960s), Roberts Brothers (1954), Cockaynes (1955-56), Atkinsons (1960) and Pauldens (1965), along with the one of the only two Sheffield stores that wasn’t bombed, Cole Brothers, which relocated to Barker’s Pool in 1965.

Of these, the Brightside & Carbrook store expressed a different architectural language to any other building in the city.  The façade, splayed across the street corner, presents a blind wall of Blue Pearl Cornish granite that masked the sales floors on the first and second storeys. 

Within, an elegant spiral main staircase connected the ground floor to each floor, and at the top a mural relief of a cockerel and a fish heralded the restaurant, with an innovative suspended ceiling, and the directors’ lavish board room and executives’ offices.

Castle House stood out from the other postwar city-centre department stores by the quality of its design in the style then known as ‘contemporary’.  It spoke of the optimism of the 1950s and 1960s that life really was better than before the War and that there was no going back to the drudgery and hardship of the interwar period.

Shopping footfall in the city centre inexorably declined from the opening of the Meadowhall Centre in 1990.  The main retail operation at Castle House closed in 2008, followed by the remaining peripheral departments, travel, the Post Office (2011) and latterly the supermarket (2022).  It was listed Grade II in 2009.

Castle House and the adjacent former Horne’s building were repurposed in 2018 by the developer Kollider, though this enterprise hasn’t had a smooth passage:  Is Kommune on the verge of kollapse? – by Victoria Munro (sheffieldtribune.co.uk).

The building is apparently intact but clearly underused.   It still looks excitingly modern, though it’ll soon be sixty years old.  Like all buildings, it needs to earn its keep in a continuing hostile economic environment, yet deserves considerable amounts of TLC.

Indeed, when the Heart of the City development is complete, it’s to be hoped that the desert of decaying buildings and empty spaces between Castle Square and the Victoria Quays, with the Old Town Hall in its centre, will be similarly transformed. 

The longer it’s left, the more difficult it’ll be to rejuvenate.

History repeats itself

Norwood Hall, Sheffield (1976)

In my book Demolished Sheffield I used Norwood Hall as an example of how easily a valuable historic building can be lost when a determined owner wishes to be rid of it without regard to public opinion, forethought and common sense.

One of the earliest surviving buildings in the north of Sheffield, Norwood Hall was built in 1713 and for much of its history was occupied by the descendants of James Wheat, an eighteenth-century solicitor, until it was sold to Sheffield Corporation in 1916.  It passed two years later to the Diocese of Sheffield as a residence for the first Bishop, Hedley Burrows (1857-1940), and became known as Bishopsholme.

During the Second World War it was requisitioned and afterwards returned to the ownership of Sheffield City Council and listed Grade II in 1952.  Ultimately it became a social-care hostel until it closed in 1968, after which it was left empty and repeatedly vandalised. 

The City Architect at the time remarked that it didn’t “possess sufficient architectural merit to warrant its retention, and I am surprised that anyone should consider it does”.

When the proposed demolition became public knowledge in April 1969 the resulting controversy prompted to the formation of the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, which led a campaign accusing the Council of attempting to demolish the building by neglect.  

Two public enquiries, in February 1970 and December 1972, each concluded that the Hall was worth saving. The inspector at the second inquiry declared that the Council’s estimates of the cost of restoration were outlandish.

Despite these judgements, Sheffield City Council as guardian of health and safety overruled Sheffield City Council as protector of ancient buildings, and Norwood Hall was demolished as unsafe before dawn on June 6th 1976.

A housing estate now covers the site, which is remembered only in the street-names Bishopsholme Road and Burrows Drive.

Fifty years later, we have a parallel problem because the present-day City Council, however much it values the city’s heritage, simply hasn’t the resources to safeguard places of architectural and historic significance.

The auditorium of the Adelphi Cinema, listed Grade II, was stripped of its ornate interior plasterwork by a previous owner, and now belongs to the Council, which intends to restore it using ring-fenced Levelling Up funds.

The Old Town Hall, also listed Grade II, was never owned by the Council but was sold to a private developer early in this century, and has been left to rot ever since.  By 2007 it featured as one of the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings, and in 2014 the Friends of the Old Town Hall group was established to promote its significance.  It’s now in such a state that it looks increasingly unlikely that it can be rescued.

The Abbeydale Picture House, appreciated and celebrated by the people who have enjoyed events there since 2005, is unsafe because the auditorium ceiling is in danger of collapse, and though the current lessees have secured funding to purchase the freehold a legal stand-off with the current owner continues.

The City Council has struggled for years to maintain essential services and no longer has the funds to support culture and the environment adequately.  Like other public bodies under siege, the Council has sometimes been its own worst enemy, most notoriously in the controversy over the culling of street trees in Sheffield between 2014 and 2018.

It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the City Council, having purchased and neglected the Market Tavern on Exchange Street, eventually announced that the building had become dangerous and must be taken down, only to have to admit – in the face of evidence to the contrary from Hallamshire Historic Buildings and enterprising local journalists – that in fact it did not fall down by accident.

It’s understandable, in the face of a succession of scandals caused by the duplicity of elected members and paid officers at all levels of government across the UK, that people are increasingly cynical and distrustful about the lack of transparency in public life.

The result is that when a council commits an error it’s damned for concealing it and damned for admitting it.

There’s not much ordinary people can do to protect local buildings in distress, but we can make a loud noise in support of those who, by their voluntary, professional or political efforts are working against enormous odds to preserve the attractive and familiar environment that has been handed down to us.

This brave o’erhanging firmament

Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield: auditorium ceiling (2013)

The legal stalemate over the leaking roof of the Abbeydale Picture House threatens to bring down the ornate plaster ceiling of the auditorium.

A recent press-release from the lessee of the cinema, CADS [Creative Arts Development Space], stated that the building must be made weatherproof without delay, and the financial loss from the closure of the auditorium is becoming unsustainable:  The uncertain future of a century-old Sheffield landmark (sheffieldtribune.co.uk) [scroll to ‘The Big Story’].

Subsequently, the Theatres Trust has added the Abbeydale to its register of theatres at risk:  Theatre at Risk Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield (theatrestrust.org.uk).

An alarming incident at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s West End in 2013 [‘Apollo theatre collapse injures more than 80 people in London’s West End | London | The Guardian] injured over eighty theatregoers and raised concerns about health-and-safety issues with plaster ceilings in historic theatres across Britain.  The Society of London Theatres quickly established that at the time of the incident all the West End theatres were up to date with their safety inspection routines.  Further precautions led to a tightened, systematic routine of inspections:  No prosecutions over theatre roof collapse | Theatre | The Guardian.

A detailed examination of the damage showed that the Apollo ceiling was weakened by the deterioration of hessian ties, called ‘wads’, that anchored the plasterwork to the roof structure:  Apollo theatre ceiling collapse blamed on failure of old cloth ties | London | The Guardian.  Water ingress was apparently the basic problem, weakening the hessian and adding to the weight of the plasterwork.  There’s a partly redacted technical report on the Apollo collapse at Apollo-Theatre..pdf (abtt.org.uk).

There’s been no public statement to indicate exactly what is wrong with the Abbeydale Picture House roof, but it’s clear that if the ceiling collapsed its reinstatement would be costly and would delay plans for a full restoration.

In a recent blog-article I highlighted the successful restoration of Wingfield Station in Derbyshire after years of neglect.  This came about because of a combination of forces.  Local residents and the Amber Valley District Council worked with English Heritage and the not-for-profit Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust to put the station back in excellent order which will enable it to earn its keep in future.

Sheffield City Council has already played that card by channelling Levelling Up funds from central government to make the Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe suitable for a lessee’s occupation, but the Abbeydale Picture House is a different proposition.

Firstly, it’s much bigger than Wingfield Station and though it’s structurally complete its integrity is seriously threatened by the ceiling vulnerability.

Secondly, it’s not the only landmark building in the city that presents a major conservation challenge.  The Old Town Hall is older, more central, more complex, in far worse physical condition and extremely difficult to adapt to a practical future use.

Sheffield City Council is desperately short of money after years of budget cuts, and to finance non-essential services it’s forced to scavenge for ringfenced grants that can’t be spent on other priorities.

I spoke to someone who knows about such matters, and he said that the only solution was money – more money than ordinary individuals might raise in a hurry.

But the support of ordinary members of the public will help CADS, a not-for-profit organisation with a strong track record in repurposing redundant buildings for use in a variety of art forms.

And reminding local politicians that people care about landmark buildings like the Abbeydale wouldn’t go amiss.  The Council’s heritage champion, Councillor Janet Ridler, is at Councillor details – Councillor Janet Ridler | Sheffield City Council.

Update: Within days of this article going online, on February 22nd 2024 CADS announced the immediate closure of the Abbeydale Picture House for lack of resources to make the auditorium safe, though they retain the tenancy agreement and hope to restore the building in the future: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-68371502.

Old Town Hall on the brink

Old Town Hall, Sheffield (2023)

Photo: Simon Hollis

At the end of November 2023 Sheffield’s digital news site Tribune published an in-depth article [The Old Town Hall has had some terrible owners. Is Gary Ata the worst? (sheffieldtribune.co.uk)] about the lamentable state of the Old Town Hall, one of the largest, oldest and most significant historic buildings in the city centre, which though Grade II listed is deteriorating inexorably.  Tribune had previously reported on the building in August 2021:  Sheffield’s Old Town Hall changes hands again (sheffieldtribune.co.uk).

I posted blog articles about the Old Town Hall in 2011 [Court adjourned | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times], 2015 [Friends of the Old Town Hall | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times] and 2019 [Old Town Hall at risk | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times].

Ownership has long been a problem with this building.  It was never owned by the City Council or its elected predecessors.  It was built in 1807-08, before Sheffield was even a borough, by the Town Trustees, one of the three ancient foundations that administered the town from Tudor times. 

Through the nineteenth century the Trustees leased space to the borough authorities until the new Town Hall was completed in 1897.  After that the building became the city’s law courts until 1995 when the new Crown Court building opened on West Bar. 

The Department of the Environment bought the Old Town Hall in 2000 and passed it to a succession of property developers who allowed the place to rot.  The intentions – and sometimes the identities – of these shadowy figures have not always been apparent to the media or the public. 

By 2007 it featured as one of the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings, and in 2014 the Friends of the Old Town Hall group was established to promote its significance.

The only owner who made a positive effort to put the Old Town Hall to commercial use was Mr Efekoro Omu, whose 2019 scheme for serviced apartments, hotel rooms in the old cells and a “souk” – “a boutique marketplace of characterful commercial spaces” – would have severely compromised its historic integrity. 

That idea sat uneasily with the scheme that the Friends had created using funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Mr Omu’s scheme collapsed during the Covid lockdowns and led to his bankruptcy in 2021.  When the Old Town Hall was sold, the Friends estimated that restoration might cost £15 million.  That figure has undoubtedly risen since, as weather, inflation, vandalism and neglect take their toll, perhaps to £25 million.

The problem is conservation deficit, the gap between the cost of restoring a neglected building and its market value when fully restored.  Consequently, commercial use almost inevitably compromises historic integrity, so a prominent historic structure like the Old Town Hall needs to be supported by scarce grant aid.

Urban explorers may yet be the saving of the building because they have chronicled and publicised its increasingly miserable condition.

In Bradford the New Victoria Cinema might have gone by now if urban explorers hadn’t publicised the fact that behind post-war modernisations the original 1930 décor was intact and retrievable:  Our History Timeline | Bradford Live.

In Sheffield, two more modest cinemas bit the dust, as I chronicled in my book Demolished Sheffield [Demolished Sheffield | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times], because their intact interiors weren’t recognised until the roof was off.  An English Heritage inspector apparently declared that the ornate Electra Palace (1911), Fitzalan Square, did not merit listing shortly before it burnt down in 1984.  The Star Cinema, Ecclesall Road (1915) was unrecognised as an intact silent-movie picture house until part way through its demolition in 1986.

I’ve met a number of building owners who are wary of the “risk” of having their buildings listed because they fear it will prevent them from using the site as they wish, but Sheffield can be proud of buildings at risk that became thriving assets to their owners and the community, such as Carbrook Hall (17th-century, II*), Greentop Circus (1876, II) and the soon-to-be-opened Leah’s Yard (mid-19th century II*).

The ultimate player in the process of rescuing buildings in distress is the City Council and it’s true that they have in the past missed chances to wrest the Old Town Hall from negligent owners.  At one time the Council had a team of planners whose brief was to monitor the city’s stock of historic structures.  Now there is only one conservation officer, and he works part time and lives outside the city.  His workload is unenviable.

For this reason, when I raise an issue about a historic building, as I did recently with the listed Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe, I present a concern but I don’t hold my breath waiting for action.

In particular, after decades of financial strictures, the Council’s priorities are rightly prioritised to supporting essential services and helping vulnerable people.

For the immediate future, whether an old building that’s lost its purpose stands or falls depends on community stakeholders and imaginative benefactors who can work together to make the city a better place for future generations.

The least any of us can do as individuals is to express concern about the Old Town Hall, the Adelphi Cinema or any other Sheffield building that we don’t want to lose.

A good place to start is by contacting the Council’s heritage champion, Councillor Janet Ridler:  Sheffield Council makes ‘small but significant’ steps for heritage (thestar.co.uk) at Councillor details – Councillor Janet Ridler | Sheffield City Council.

Tram tracks revealed

Tram tracks, Fargate and Leopold Street, Sheffield (2023) © John Binns

When Sheffield City Council abandoned its first-generation tram system in the 1950s, most of the redundant trackwork was simply covered with tarmac and forgotten.  At that time there was no value in uprooting the rails for scrap.

Ever since, workmen digging holes in main roads across the city have been repeatedly confronted by heavy steel girders blocking their way.

There was a recent flurry of media interest in Sheffield when most of the delta junction which connected the tracks along Fargate, Pinstone Street and Leopold Street came to light in the course of alterations to the pedestrianised area around the Town Hall.

People queued up to take photographs of the rusting rails, and BBC Look North and the Sheffield Star ran features on this 63-year-old piece of urban archaeology. 

Interviewees were sorry to see the tracks cut up, and wondered why they couldn’t be preserved for their heritage value:  Calls to preserve heritage as historic Sheffield tram tracks torn out for Fargate development (thestar.co.uk).

Actually, that’s already happened.  Tram tracks found in the course of pedestrianising The Moor at the start of the 1980s were included in the landscaping, with immediately recognisable planters representing the lower-deck fronts of two standard Sheffield double deckers:  Searching Picture Sheffield.  These have now vanished.

In Firth Park, when a roundabout was constructed in the 1950s at the bottom of Bellhouse Road and Sicey Avenue, the trams continued to run directly through the road junction for the few years that remained before buses took over.  The tram tracks still slice through the roundabout after six decades’ disuse.

Firth Park, Sheffield: roundabout and tram tracks (2023)

This isn’t simply a Sheffield eccentricity.  Stretches of recovered track, and often the associated stone setts, are preserved in such cities as Birmingham, Bristol and Chester.

The Fargate discovery is old news.  A history forum stream dated 2008-2011 reported numerous excavated tracks across the city:  Tram Tracks on the Moor – Sheffield Buses, Trams and Trains – Sheffield History – Sheffield Memories.

Sheffield was one of the last British cities to eliminate tram services, yet though you have to be pushing seventy years of age even to remember these tracks being used, the nostalgia for the city’s cream and blue four-wheelers is powerful and, it seems, inheritable by younger generations.

It’s tempting to ask why there can’t be tram-tracks in use along Fargate, Pinstone Street and The Moor, heading to the south of the city, now that city-centre bus services are diverted several hundred yards from the city’s pedestrian thoroughfares.

The new Adelphi

Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe, Sheffield: balcony plasterwork (1982)
Adelphi Cinema, Attercliffe: balcony (2023) [© Dan Bultin]

Sheffield has only two listed cinema buildings, both coincidentally opened in 1920 – the Abbeydale Picture House, designed as a multi-purpose entertainment venue with a full theatre stage, a ballroom, a billiard saloon and a café, and the Adelphi, Attercliffe, a straightforward silent-movie house which at the time of listing in 1996 was largely intact inside and out.

At present the Abbeydale is in a state of limbo.  Problems with the auditorium ceiling have led to a legal stand-off between the landlord and the lessee which needs to be resolved to safeguard the integrity of the building and enable a full restoration to take place.

There has been a flurry of media attention about the Adelphi, which was purchased by Sheffield City Council in March 2023 for refurbishment as a mixed-use cultural space, much needed for the revival and transformation of the local community. The Adelphi is on the market, with a promise of Levelling Up funding to make it once again “occupiable”:  Levelling Up: Adelphi Cinema in Attercliffe out to market (sheffnews.com).

A very attractive CGI image shows what the interior might look like after refurbishment, yet nowhere in the media coverage is there any indication that the original 1920 decoration has completely disappeared.

The auditorium in its current state is a bleak contrast to how it looked at the time it was surveyed for listing, with “pilasters, segment-arched panelled ceiling and [a] moulded proscenium arch with [a] central crest flanked by torches [and a] U-shaped gallery with [a] latticework plaster front”.  The original scheme was delicate and light:  Searching Picture SheffieldSearching Picture Sheffield.

The listing inspector observed that “cinemas dating from this period, between 1918 and the introduction of sound in the early 1930s, are comparatively rare”.

What happened? 

I e-mailed a city councillor who will be in a position to know (or find out) but I’ve so far received no response.

I photographed the interior in 1982 when it was a bingo club and again in 1990 when it was unoccupied.  At the time the entire auditorium was bristling with classical plaster decoration designed by the architect William Carter Fenton (1861-1950;  Lord Mayor 1922).

A cluster of urban-explorer reports in 2011 suggests that conversion to a night-club was largely respectful of the building’s listed status, despite the need for structural alterations.

The building was sold for storage use in 2013 and at some point the plasterwork was stripped out.

Recent images show a bleak space that looks nothing like a 1920s cinema.  The CGI image represents an admirable exercise in making the best of a bad job, apart from the puny chandeliers.

Maybe there was a legitimate reason to take down the plasterwork:  perhaps it was unstable and might have injured someone.  Maybe the owner at the time discussed the matter with the Council planning authority, but I’ve never heard any public mention of alterations in the years after the listing.

Though the Adelphi deserves to retain its Grade II listing because its fine exterior survives intact, it now bears no comparison with the Abbeydale, and there are other Sheffield cinemas with surviving interior features which haven’t been considered for protection:

And if the stripping of the auditorium plasterwork was unauthorised, should there not be consequences for a flagrant disregard of the laws about listed buildings?

Zion Graveyard 4

Zion Congregational Church and Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1978)

When I went looking for the site of the Zion Congregational Church in 2017 while reconnoitring my Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe, all that could be seen through the boundary fence was a twelve-foot-high jungle.

Coincidentally, that was the summer when the group that maintains the undenominational Upper Wincobank Chapel came looking for the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887). 

It took a great deal of work to locate her family tomb, and the group resolved to form the Friends of Zion Graveyard, which quickly purchased and restored the site and made it accessible.

I don’t do gardening, so instead I’ve brought visitors to the Graveyard through my Walks Round Attercliffe and Bus Rides Round Attercliffe and busied myself researching the history of the buildings and the generations of worshippers dating back to the end of the eighteenth century.

During the lockdown period the Friends produced a series of interpretation boards – to which I contributed – to fix to the boundaries of the Graveyard.

These make a significant difference to visitors’ understanding, particularly because the images show how much the surroundings have changed since the 1970s:  two of the congregation’s three buildings have been destroyed, along with all of the surrounding housing.

Visitors to the Zion Graveyard can now take away the information and the pictures in a guide-book, The Story of Zion Graveyard Attercliffe: