Category Archives: Twentieth-century architecture

Ralph Dutton of Hinton Ampner

Hinton Ampner, Hampshire: entrance hall

Ralph Dutton – his first name always pronounced ‘Rafe’ – was born in 1898, in the right place at the right time.

His parents were wealthy – his father a descendant of the 2nd Baron Shelborne with an estate at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire, his mother a daughter of a Bristol banker.

Ralph progressed from West Downs School to Eton, leaving in 1917 without taking his School Certificate.  He was rejected for military service because of his eyesight and instead served as a clerk in the Foreign Office.  In 1919 he was admitted to Oxford University on the strength of a letter from his mother to the Dean of Christ Church, and left two years later without taking a degree.  During his second year at Oxford his father asked him how he was getting on at Cambridge.

This path through education gave him a priceless legacy of friends, young men who became luminaries in British life and culture – Anthony Eden, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, Christopher Hussey, Beverley Nichols, Sacheverell Sitwell.

To the end of his life he gave no hint to anyone of his political views, his religious persuasion or his sexuality.

He knew that sooner or later he would inherit Hinton Ampner and, apart from taking a course at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, he spent his time and money on broadening his mind, travelling, and become adept at collecting fine art and furniture.

He acquired such treasures as a fireplace from Hamilton House near Motherwell, paintings by Jacob de Wit, Francesco Fontebasso and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and ceiling roundels by Angelica Kaufman.

He loathed his father’s house, a Victorian remodelling of a late-eighteenth century hunting lodge, and when eventually it became his in 1935 he lost no time in remodelling it in neo-Georgian style.  His architects were his friend Lord Gerald Wellesley (from 1943 7th Duke of Wellington) and Trenwith Wells.

At the same time he began to write about the aesthetic interests that gave him joy, beginning with The English Country House (1935) and The English Garden (1937), and after the War resumed producing books about architecture and fine art until the early 1960s.

He filled the house with the paintings, furniture and books that he’d accumulated, and when he took up residence in August 1939 he entertained only one guest, his friend Charlotte Bonham-Carter, before the property was requisitioned to accommodate the girls of Portsmouth High School at the start of World War II.

When peace returned Ralph gradually brought the house and garden to a state that satisfied him, so that he could entertain his wide circle of friends in comfort and luxury – the biographer James Pope-Hennessy, the art critic Raymond Mortimer, the diplomat and politician Harold Nicolson and the novelist L P Hartley.

A serious fire in 1960 destroyed part of the house and disfigured the rest.  Ralph Dutton’s immediate reaction was to call back Trenwith Wells (because Lord Wellesley was by this time fully occupied being Duke of Wellington) and his favourite decorator Ronald Fleming, and they not only restored the house but improved it, making good deficiencies that had only been recognised when it was lived in after the war.

He inherited the title 8th Baron Shelborne in 1982, three years before his death.  He had no direct heir, so the title died with him.

He had bequeathed the estate to the National Trust in the 1960s, soon after the house was rebuilt.  This caused some embarrassment to the Trust, who did not habitually take on properties before the paint was dry.  They were grateful for the gardens and grounds, but only agreed to open the house to the public after his death.

I’m glad they did, because it’s a beguiling place to visit.  The volunteer room-stewards are notably welcoming, and Ralph Dutton’s rooms are exquisite. 

It’s not an easy place to find, and really needs more signage in the surrounding area, but it’s worth putting aside a day to relax and savour some of the comforts its owner wanted guests to experience: Hinton Ampner | Hampshire | National Trust.

St Cecilia’s Apartments

St Cecilia’s Apartments, formerly St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield (2024)

At long last, the attractive parish church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, Sheffield is sure of a secure future after years of redundancy and the threat of demolition.

It was built at the same time as the surrounding council estate and consecrated in 1939, designed by a little-known architect called Kenneth Mackenzie. 

The church community thrived into the post-war period, led by clergy provided by the Anglo-Catholic Kelham Fathers, but in later decades the congregation shrank until they were forced to abandon the building for the smaller church of St Bernard, Southey Green.

The problem of disposing of St Cecilia’s after the church was closed in 2011 dragged on for several years, which I chronicled in a series of blog-articles:  St Cecilia’s – starting a new chapter | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.

Sheffield City Council insisted that the only possible reuse would be residential, and eventually a developer came forward with a practical scheme, completed in 2024.

St Cecilia’s still looks like a church, even to the carved crosses on the gables, though it’s been converted into seventeen modern apartments shoehorned into the space within:  2 bedroom apartment for rent in Flat 9 102 Chaucer Close, Sheffield, S5 (rightmove.co.uk).

I wish that the UPVC glazing had been black or dark grey instead of stark white, and it’s a shame that Kenneth Mackenzie’s Gothic tracery had to go, but I’m pleased that this charming building survives within its circle of surrounding houses in an area of north Sheffield which has lost some of the few landmark buildings that were built in the 1930s, such as St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen and the Ritz Cinema, Parson Cross.

Local people who knew and loved St Cecilia’s Church will be bewildered if they set foot inside now.  Necessarily, its spaciousness has been sacrificed by the insertion of a mezzanine floor and multiple internal partitions, and though the arches of the nave arcades provide decorative features in individual first-floor apartments, the need to preserve the external fenestration has required compromises in the height of the window apertures.

Demolishing St Cecilia’s didn’t bear thinking about, not only because it’s an attractive and substantial building, but the closeness of the adjacent houses meant that it would have had to be taken down expensively brick by brick, which would have been an extended nightmare for local residents.

As it is, the former church can earn its keep and repay the investment in redevelopment.  And the exterior looks immaculate.

It remains a quiet, unobtrusive presence in the midst of the Parson Cross estate, and it’s a witness to the energy of the Kelham Fathers and the optimism of the worshippers who arrived from dismal inner-city areas at the end of the Thirties, only to face the upheaval of war and the uncertainties of the decades that followed.

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 via Attercliffe, 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 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.

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.

Trijunct Station

Derby Midland Station (1978)
Derby Station (2016)

Derby railway station’s three-way junction forms a hinge in the national railway network, not as extensive or complex as Crewe or York, but pivotal on the north-east/south-west axis and the route from South Yorkshire to London.

The railway came to Derby because the town was chosen as the meeting point of three independent railways, the Midland Counties Railway between Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby (opened June 4th 1839), the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway (opened August 12th 1839) and the North Midland Railway between Derby, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Normanton (opened May 11th 1840).

Passenger services for these three companies were provided at the Trijunct Station (1839-41), owned by the North Midland, at Litchurch, just outside the Derby boundary, because the only available nearer site for a single station, at the Holmes, was prone to flooding and would have required a more complicated track layout.

In 1844 the three companies amalgamated to form the Midland Railway, which grew to become an important main-line railway with services to London, Manchester and Carlisle.

The original joint station had a single platform, 1,050 feet long, with terminal bays for trains to Birmingham southwards and for the Midland Counties trains that departed northwards and headed east towards Spondon. 

The equally long Italianate station building was designed by the North Midland Railway architect, Francis Thompson (1808-1895), behind which was a cast-iron train shed by Robert Stephenson (1803-1859). 

Both of these structures are long gone.  An island platform was installed in 1858, along with further offices and a porte-cochère on the street frontage, designed by the Midland Railway architect, John Holloway Sanders (1825-1884).  A second island platform, with a footbridge, followed in 1881.  The front buildings were largely replaced by Sanders’ successor, Charles Trubshaw (1840-1917) c1892.

Following extensive bomb damage in January 1941 which destroyed the train shed and the buildings on Platform 6, all three sets of platform buildings, together with the footbridge and main signal box, were replaced in 1952-54.

The signal box was decommissioned in 1969 when a modern power box was constructed south of the station, and the Victorian front buildings were demolished, despite objections from conservationists, in 1985. 

All that remains of these buildings is the clock and the carved coat of arms of the borough of Derby from the porte-cochère, incongruously located in the station car park.

The replacement building in red brick is uninspiring.  Behind it, the 1950s concrete was found to be weakening.  The concrete footbridge was replaced in 2005, and new platform buildings followed in 2007-2009.  An additional platform was added during 2018 along with comprehensive remodelling of track and signalling to improve freight and passenger flows and to future-proof the station for decades to come.

Peter Stanton, describing the complex construction and engineering that took place over seventy-nine days of service disruption in Rail Engineer (November 15th 2018), remarked that there was “very little heritage to concern designers who could have a free reign to produce the most modern facilities”. 

The original Trijunct Station has been remodelled so frequently – 1858, 1881, 1892, 1952-54, 2005, 2007-09, apart from being bombed in 1941 – that it’s now a 21st-century passenger station. 

But the modern trains gliding in and out of Derby follow the same tracks and routes as the early steam locos that trundled into the Trijunct Station in 1839-40.

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?

Rylands Building

Rylands Building, Market Street, Manchester (2023)

John Rylands (1801-1888) was a Manchester textile manufacturer whose name lives on in the John Rylands Library, founded as a memorial by his widow Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908) and opened in 1900.

From 1822 his company, Rylands & Sons Ltd, occupied a site in the city’s High Street in what is now called the Northern Quarter, and replaced these premises with the Rylands Building (1929-32), a bulky modern textile warehouse on Market Street faced in Portland stone with distinctive corner turrets, in a sober version of Art Deco.

The architects were Harry Smith Fairhurst (1868-1945) and his son Philip Garland Fairhurst (1900-1987).  The elder Fairhurst had already built Lancaster House (1905-1910), India House (1906) and Bridgewater House (1912), all on Whitworth Street, and York House (1910-11, demolished 1974) on Major Street – all of them to the Manchester pattern of a packing house and wholesale showroom.

The Rylands Building is prominently visible at the corner of Piccadilly Gardens, an ornamental space opened up on the site of the demolished Manchester Royal Infirmary. 

In 1957 it was bought by the owners of Paulden’s department store after a fire destroyed their All Saints premises south of the city centre.  The splendid architectural treatment, inside and out, and the vast amount of floor space made the former warehouse an admirable retail store, which was rebranded by its ultimate owners, Debenhams, in 1973. 

The debacle that led to the complete closure of the Debenhams chain in 2021 meant that the Rylands Building suddenly became a huge void in the heart of Manchester’s retail quarter – half a million square feet of retail floor-space over ten floors encased in a magnificent and prominent building within sight of the city’s tourist hub, Piccadilly Gardens, and within reach of the nearby Northern Quarter.

The way forward is Rylands Manchester.  The developer AM Alpha gained permission for a scheme by Jeffrey Bell Architects adding four storeys on top of the present roof to compensate for carving an open atrium out of the centre to bring natural light within the building from the second to the seventh floor.

The project respects the appearance of the 1929 design while observing the Manchester Zero-Carbon Action Plan which aims to make Greater Manchester carbon-neutral by 2038 [Zero Carbon Manchester | Zero Carbon Manchester | Manchester City Council].  Insulation, glazing and energy provision will conform to expected future needs, and the respect for original architectural detail includes installing up-to-date Crittall Windows units corresponding with the appearance of the original fenestration.

The finished scheme will offer 70,000 square feet of retail space at ground level, 258,000 square feet of office space above and a winter garden on the sixth floor.  The atrium storeys each include open space, terraced to provide sight of the sky and sheltered by a glazed roof:  https://www.maxfordham.com/projects/the-rylands-building.

Work is expected to be completed by 2025, a tribute to Manchester’s efficacy in grabbing opportunities to improve the urban environment, as it did after the IRA bomb-attack in 1996.

An urban-explorer report uploaded in April 2023 reveals surviving architectural details in the less-frequented areas of the Rylands Building:  Exploring Manchester’s Abandoned Debenhams: Found 1930s Secrets – YouTube.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Manchester’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

New city with a long history

Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, Doncaster

As its name suggests, Doncaster dates back to Roman times, yet despite centuries of importance as an administrative, social and industrial centre, it is one of the newest British cities, awarded Letters Patent confirming its city status in 2022 on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Coincidentally, it has gained a superb new museum, art gallery and central library, named after the original Roman fort, Danum, that probably existed where the parish church of St George, now Doncaster Minster was later built.

The Danum Gallery, Library and Museum stands on the site of the Doncaster Girls’ High School, which dates from 1910-11 and was designed by J M Bottomley, Son & Wilburn in bright red brick, contrasting starkly with elegant white Burmantofts ‘Marmo’ faience.

Latterly it amalgamated with the corresponding boys’ Doncaster Grammar School, renamed Hall Cross Comprehensive School, part of which still occupies its 1869 George Gilbert Scott building on Thorne Road.

When the Girls’ High School building became redundant there was a popular demand to retain at least its distinctive butterfly-plan facade.  The extent and physical decay of the rear buildings are admirably illustrated at Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster. (urbanography.org.uk), Report – – Doncaster High School For Girls – October 2009 | Other Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk and Esoteric Eric: In Accordance with Ordinance : Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster (3soteric3ric.blogspot.com).

The initial proposal to bring together the then borough’s library, gallery and museum facilities behind the school frontage looked quite different from the final design:  Old Doncaster Girls’ High School frontage plans for new library – BBC News.  The new building opened on May 29th 2021, designed by Willmott Dixon [Danum Gallery, Library and Museum | Willmott Dixon] as part of the new city’s Civic and Cultural Quarter.

The entrance leads into an entirely conventional modern lending library, brightened by full height windows.  Following the line of the windows leads to a surprising space dominated by the spruced-up brick and faience façade of the old school.  Here is Café 1910, where welcoming, homely Yorkshire ladies provide satisfying hot drinks, healthy snacks and irresistible cakes and pastries.  Their warm, well-mannered Facebook stream reflects their style and their service.

Behind the school frontage, the Museum and Art Gallery explores the rich variety of Doncaster’s history in a sequence of displays that leads the visitor from the local ichthyosaurus and the Norman Conisbrough Castle to living legends such as Doncaster’s Diva, Lesley Garrett, in a 2022 portrait by Michael Christopher Jackson, and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson.  The Museum also tells the story of the local regiment, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Uniting four previously cultural facilities – library, archives, art gallery and museum – in one location with a café makes it possible to look at art and artefacts, read and research, and eat and drink in comfort.

As someone who is prone to overstimulation and sore feet in museums and art galleries this is a welcome luxury.

Knightsbridge of the North

Victoria Quarter, Leeds, West Yorkshire

“In Briggate nothing of note,” is Pevsner’s comment on the ancient heart of Leeds, an oddly offhand remark which is immediately contradicted when he goes on briefly to mention two “examples of the characteristic Leeds Arcades”.

When the existing tiny settlement was developed as a new town in the early thirteenth century the landholdings were laid out as narrow burgage plots on Briggate, the approach to the bridge over the River Aire.

Many of these boundaries have survived to the present day, and in the nineteenth century they engendered the city’s distinctive arcades as places for shopping and entertainment.

Along with the surviving City Markets the arcades provide a wonderfully atmospheric experience of the best of Victorian retail enterprise, and are sufficiently well recognised to gain the attention and investment of present-day developers.

The earliest of these long corridor-thoroughfares, covering over the ancient yards and providing access to premises away from the main street, is Thornton’s Arcade (1877-8), built on the site of the Old Talbot Inn and Yard by Charles Thornton.

Several imitators followed – the Queen’s Arcade (1888-9), the Grand Arcade adjacent to the earlier Grand Theatre (1896-9 for the New Briggate Arcade Co), and the Victoria Arcade (1898). 

Most sumptuous and celebrated of all was the complex designed from 1898 onwards for the Leeds Estate Co by the great theatre-architect, Frank Matcham, consisting of County Arcade, Cross Arcade and the open Queen Victoria Street and King Edward Street, all designed in “freestyle” with mahogany shopfronts and elaborate façades in Burmantofts terracotta. 

Frank Matcham based the shopping arcades on the opulent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (1877) in Milan, and within the same block of buildings stood his Empire Theatre, built at the same time but demolished in 1961. 

The County and Cross Arcades came into their own as a result of Prudential Portfolio Managers’ commissioning of a high-quality redevelopment scheme by Derek Latham & Co, completed in 1990 and named the Victoria Quarter.

For this scheme Matcham’s arcades were lovingly restored, with new mosaics by Joanna Veevers and ironwork by Jim Horrobin.  In addition, Queen Victoria Street was roofed in a sympathetic modern style which features nine hundred square yards of stained glass by Brian Clarke with iron street-furniture by Alan Dawson. 

The spirit of the late-Victorian covered malls has been reaffirmed and updated by enclosing Matcham’s outside walls and encouraging passers-by to slow their walking pace and look upwards. 

And on the footprint of the Empire Theatre an unremarkable 1960s shopping mall has given way to the first branch of Harvey Nicholls outside London, opened in 1996. 

Since that time, Leeds has continued to develop as the “Knightsbridge of the North”.  The Light (2001) occupies a site south of the Headrow.  Trinity Leeds (2013) embraces the eighteenth-century Church of the Holy Trinity on Boar Lane, and Victoria Gate was opened alongside the Victoria Quarter in 2016 with a distinctive flagship John Lewis store.

And yet the burgage plots remain.

The intact and celebrated City Varieties music hall, dating from 1865 and originally Thornton’s Varieties, stands near Charles Thornton’s arcade, embedded within the block of buildings and completely devoid of any façade, and in a narrow alley off Briggate stands Whitelock’s, a three-hundred-year-old pub-restaurant that was originally the Turk’s Head, described by John Betjeman as “the very heart of Leeds”.

For all these reasons Leeds is a place to shop until you drop, and afterwards eat, drink and be merry.