No one would have thought that a building in Sheffield could have such a chequered history as the above title infers, but we can assure you that there is one.
Castle House has stood at the side of Lady’s Bridge overlooking the Don since 1900 together with its adjacent sister Royal Exchange Buildings which faces Lady’s Bridge and contains shop fronts. On the opposite side of the road stands another sister – the Royal Victoria Buildings and it is obvious that they are all from the same family. The unusual polychromatic brown glazed bricks are the clue and all are of great architectural interest.
Castle House itself was designed by Flockton, Gibbs and Flockton for well-known veterinary surgeon John Henry Bryars and contained a dog’s home (!) farriers and most importantly lots of stabling for the dray horses of the nearby Midland Railway Company. The original plans were for large basements but this never happened so most below-ground stabling was at river bank level on the northern side. The other side of the river immediately opposite was once home to a long row of slaughter houses, a very handy riverside location for disposing of their waste products and goodness knows what else. Eurgh!
Going back to the early 1800s the previous history of the Castle House site was very interesting as the first building on it was the ‘Wicker Tilt’, a Tilt Hammer Forge known as Huntsman Forge after its famous owner Benjamin Huntsman. A culvert, which drove the tilt hammer, ran under it but this was filled in when the site was later developed as Castle House.
Lady’s Bridge itself has an interesting history as the original core is still there which dates back to the late 15th century. It was widened three times, firstly in 1761 and then again, as the area got busier with the nearby railway goods yard and Bridgehouses and Victoria stations, in 1864 and yet again in 1909.
To come bang up to date, the new scheme for the old stables is very innovative and will involve lots of sub-dividing due to the original layout of the building. It will be a difficult conversion as the window heights were designed for horses! It can nevertheless be done without altering the building too much and bricks from the internal alterations will be used on the exterior, so it will be in keeping. Internally roof trusses, cast-iron columns and Art Nouveau stained glass will be retained as features. The stable-doors, cast concrete stalls and cast concrete inclines will also be retained to show how horses were moved from floor to floor. This is a very rare feature and there are only two similar buildings left, both in London and both of them listed.
It is proposed to create 13 studio apartments, 8 x one bed and 2 x two bed apartments and the existing town-house on the site is to be restored with a rear first floor extension in black brick which will complement the distinctive iQuarter tower block on Blonk Street which now looms over Castle House.
Apart from the internal features Castle House has some very interesting external ones including a carved horse’s head above one of the door openings, a John Henry Bryars monograph on the iron gateway leading to the buildings and of course the distinctive red, yellow and orange tiles which you can hardly miss. The whole building is done in a Flemish style which is quite unusual for Sheffield, and when finished will do a lot to boost the Castlegate area which by then will, hopefully, be a Conservation Area in its own right. The building has now been empty for 10 years and a previous developer proposed to turn it into offices but ran into financial difficulties. Residential is much more suitable for here particularly as it is a riverside location and once the river under the markets’ site has been de-culverted and the canal basin been made more accessible then this part of town will come into its own.
Now to the strange header to this article. You’ve heard about the horses; the elephant was a reference to Lizzie the famous elephant who worked for Tommy Wards the famous steel firm. She was hired from a circus and lived at Castle House for two years whilst hauling steel around the city for Wards. She was needed here as most of the horses were doing their duty at the Front during World War One. She was a common sight on the streets but I don’t think that Animal’s Lib would allow it in this day and age.
As to the mushy peas, this great delicacy was invented here after Batchelors took over the building in 1928 and turned it into a pea-canning factory.
Hancock and Lant, the furniture people took the building over in the 1950s and following their removal to Queens Road in the early 2000s the building has been empty ever since. Their reign on Queens Road was very short lived however and another famous Sheffield name sadly bit the dust.
This article was very nearly called The OTHER Castle House, as the one on Angel Street (formerly the B&C Co-Op) has been featured in the news recently with its exciting new reincarnation as the Kommune Food Hall and National Video Game Museum. Both Castle Houses are within a quarter of a mile of each other and both Grade II listed for different reasons but an interesting example of how society has evolved from horse drawn transport to video games.