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If you’re aged under 50 that headline won’t mean much to you, so do what you usually do and Google it. Basically it was a long running sit-com featuring an old fashioned department store run by the Grace Bros. It starred a very camp John Inman and Mollie Sugden, who played a Mrs Slocombe, who was always talking about one of her pets – but we won’t go there.

Sheffield used to have several similar stores, now all sadly gone, and probably the last to go was Walsh’s on High Street. John Walsh built his magnificent edifice at No 50 High Street between 1894 and 1898 and it thrived until the Blitz severely damaged it. It was in close proximity to the Marples tragedy and was eventually demolished. It was rebuilt in 1953, then became House of Fraser and finally TJ Hughes before it closed in 2012. Whilst the upper floors remained empty, the ground floor units became home to Sports Direct, the British Heart Foundation charity shop and Poundland. Not an incarnation that John Walsh would have approved of.

Walsh's Dept Store with The Hole In The Road
Walsh’s Dept Store with The Hole In The Road

In 1967 when Castle Square was created major alterations were made to the building and it was almost entirely remodelled with the north-east corner being squared off at an angle to face Market Place. However these alterations were nothing compared to what is about to take place. The top floor is to be removed entirely and two additional floors are to be added. The ceiling heights on the remaining third floor will be lowered to those on the new-build floors as department store high ceilings are not needed for – yes you’ve guessed it – student flats. All 330 bed spaces will be created in 38 cluster flats and 63 studios. So where tills were once ringing there will be 330 mobile phones ringing instead. A void is to be created down to first floor level and an open-air communal space of 310 m2 will be made for the five floors of students. Very innovative!

As this brave scheme will involve raising the height of the façades and emulating the existing ones it is most important that Portland stone is used and not reconstituted stone. The developers have guaranteed that you won’t be able to see the join, but I think Eric Morecambe once said that. The overall new height will be no higher than the neighbouring Nat West bank so High Street’s streetscape will not be compromised and may possibly be enhanced by it becoming a gateway building to the City Centre Conservation Area.

The only original piece of the 1953 building which survived the 1967 re-modelling is on the corner of High Street and Mulberry Street. This is to be either re-built or re-clad in a modern design with angled windows. The vertical emphasis and close-set mullioned windows on the main façade were originally designed to be a modernist take on the Edwardian buildings on High Street and the Market Place and this theme is to continue.

They say that the windows of a building are its eyes and these eyes have seen the facing Edwardian bank turned into a pub, the Hole In The Road to be dug out and then filled in again, and the tram tracks ripped out and then put back again and all in a period of about 50 years. They are currently seeing C&A, or Primark depending on how old you are, being turned into an hotel, and to the rear on George Street a bank, which was originally a 1793 Georgian coffee house becoming the Curzon Cinema. Plus ça change certainly doesn’t apply around here!

When the student scheme has been completed it’ll be ticking all the right boxes as it will hopefully be connected to the District Heating System and also boast an 84 space cycle store but no car-parking spaces. Several accessible and adaptable housing units are also to be created for use by the disabled.

In 1994 there were plans to turn the old dept store into offices but it never happened. In 2013 there was a pre-application for an hotel but it never happened. This scheme is just what we’ve been waiting for and CAG were in full approval of what will tidy up a not very pleasant part of the city. It is hard to believe that this used to be the posh end of town with not only John Walsh but also T.B. & W. Cockayne just across the road down Angel Street. Also on Angel Street we had the Angel Temperance Hotel and Sheffield Ladies Club. Not far from Walsh’s we had Hope Bros Outfitters and obviously not forgetting the iconic Cole’s Corner.

What went wrong?

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