If you had been admitted to hospital in 1797 the chances of you coming out alive would have been much slimmer than today, but the newly built General Infirmary would no doubt have done their best to keep you in the land of the living. Indeed many Sheffielders still alive today may have been patients there but they will remember it as the Royal Infirmary. This title (or to be more correct Royal Sheffield Infirmary) was bestowed upon it by Queen Victoria in 1897 when she visited the city to open the new Town Hall. Two years earlier a new hospital had opened on West Street and again the Queen decided that it should be named the Royal Hospital. Both these fine buildings served the citizens of Sheffield admirably until the Royal Hallamshire Hospital replaced them but we won’t go into architectural comparisons!
Back to the Royal Infirmary site two schemes have been submitted here by the same developer, Mabec from Nottingham who have a good track record with Listed buildings. The first application was for the Grade II Listed Round House which was a later addition to the site and designed by John Dodsley Webster in 1883. It opened as an Out Patients Dept and I have a fascinating photograph of rows and rows of patients awaiting attention and many of them sporting eye-patches – an occupational hazard if you were a cutter or grinder. Folklore has it that this building was designed as an operating theatre so that an audience could look down on the butchery which was taking place below. This story doesn’t add up as this blood and guts cabaret would have taken place in early Victorian times and not as late as this. This ‘gory story’ would have made much more interesting reading and captured your attention – so I’m sorry to disappoint!
The developers are wanting to fill in the roofspace of this attractive building with apartments but this will not be allowed due to its Listed status so there will be a maximum of 7 apartments in the conversion scheme. Because of the building’s importance it has also gained exemption from the current strict insulation regulations.
This will not apply to the main 1797 block however which is actually Grade II* listed and now known as Heritage House. This is to be converted into 55 units comprising of 28 studio apartments. 1 x one bed, 11 x two bed, 15 x 3 bed apartments. Just for a change they will not be aimed at the student population and will be quite upmarket. Unfortunately most of the original features were stripped out in the 1980s when Norwich Union / Aviva took over the building and with the exception of one or two bits here and there, the only things of merit left are the entrance and some staircases. This important piece of Sheffield’s history has been empty since 2005 and this scheme is fantastic news. There is also to be some new-build on the site but plans for this have yet to be submitted. We can’t do anything about the supermarket which was sadly plonked next to it, but the landscape of the entire site could easily be softened by removing the acres of tarmac which surround it and reverting to grass and grasscrete for the necessary car-parking. The hospital was after all built on a spot which was originally known as Upperthorpe Meadows in this then rural part of Sheffield.
Now there’s a clue if the developers are scratching their heads for a name!