As Chairman of the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society I attended the inaugural meeting regarding the future of the Central Library and, like most of the audience, was decidedly unimpressed. The Council’s vague and meaningless replies when pressed about the location of a replacement library spoke a thousand words. The notion that JG Graves would have approved is farcical, turning in his grave is probably a bit nearer the mark.
However, I’m suffering from a severe bout of déjà vu as this idea of selling off the Central Library is not a new one.
Way back in 2003 when this area was being redeveloped, with the Millenium Galleries and Winter Gardens being the main focal points, the Council began feeding information to the local press about the Central Library’s deteriorating condition. We at the HHB were sure that demolition of this important 1930’s building was the Council’s ultimate aim and began working to ensure the building’s safety. We discovered to our horror that it was not Listed and therefore had no protection. We swiftly remedied this and applied to the Govt for Listed status which was immediately granted. Apparently this didn’t go down well with the Council but thank goodness the HHB were there to save the Library from the bulldozers.
Repair costs at that time were given as £20m which, like the current £30m, presumably came from that famous ‘Council Department of Thin Air’. These costs are down to sheer lack of maintenance and years of neglect and the blame for this can be laid firmly at one door – Sheffield City Council – but this has not been mentioned once. Instead they hide behind that old chestnut ‘Government cuts’. Had they spent the £20m in 2003 when there were no such cuts the Library would not be in the state it is.
As the interior of the building is Grade II Listed as well as the exterior, it would be very difficult to justify the trashing of the very fine features. I quote from the official Listing
“The libraries retain their original coffered ceilings, doorcases, doors and many other features including a number of original bookcases.
The Foyer and staircase retains all its original features including its marble columns, marble walls, coffered ceilings and light fittings.
The galleries on the upper floors retain similar architectural detailing.”
The inspector’s final remark was that “it stands in its own right as a fine example of the stripped Classical style which was so popular in the inter-war years.”
The practicalities of conversion to an hotel obviously have not been properly addressed as Historic England are unlikely to allow holes to be punched in the façade. Future 5* guests would have to run the gauntlet of the foyer as Councillors informed us at the meeting that the Graves Art Gallery would be moved to the ground floor to make it more accessible to the public, so unless the hotel reception is moved to another floor(?) the guests will presumably have to weave round gawping art-lovers.
To sell off this fine example of 1930s architecture is akin to selling off the family silver and once again highlights Sheffield Council’s notorious Philistine approach to our city’s built heritage. The Chinese now appear to have joined Sheffield University in that elite band where ‘anything goes’. Their giant tower which has been allowed to dominate Grade II Listed St Mary’s Church on Bramall Lane and the University’s ‘Diamond’ overshadowing Grade II St Georges Church, bear testament to this. Perhaps they should get together and form a club. The Kan Du No Wrong Club would be an appropriate name.
How can it be justified to vandalise such an important building as the Central Library, erected specifically for the general public to use, so that snooker players have somewhere ‘nice’ to stay for 2 weeks of the year? St Paul’s Mercure, where they currently stay, can’t get beyond its 4* status because it doesn’t have dedicated parking. Won’t the same rules apply to the library? Even if you removed the delightful Library Theatre in the basement you wouldn’t get many Ferrari’s parked down there.
According to the Sheffield Destination Management Plan compiled by Marketing Sheffield, Sheffield City Council’s official destination marketing arm, hotel occupancy rates in the city are currently running at around 66%, so why do we need another one which will be used only by the rich and famous?
We were informed at the meeting last week that the £30m refurbishment figure includes the provision of 100 new computer terminals. As most people now own a lap-top why is this necessary?
The 2004 edition of the HHBS’s magazine ‘The Cruck’, carried an article about our successful fight to save the Central Library and if anyone would like a copy we can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. We sell the latest edition of our magazine, which carries articles about current aberrations taking place throughout Sheffield, at Sheffield Scene on Surrey Street. Our Society aims to promote interest and pride in architecture and local history, and we are monitoring the plans for the New Retail Quarter closely. Many buildings are under threat here, so please help by joining the HHBS, add your voice to ours and help stop the needless destruction of our historic buildings.
The HHBS is not against redevelopment schemes and we are well aware that Sheffield lags behind other cities which are considerably more vibrant. However most of these cities seem to cherish their historic buildings and at the same time, where revitalisation takes place, use good architects to create stunning and interesting modern buildings. Sheffield does neither.
Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society