One of the most neglected and important historic public spaces in Sheffield must be Fitzalan Square. Strangely enough it’s not included in the City Centre Conservation Area but thank goodness that is soon to be rectified and it will gain this warranted status.
A hundred years ago this would have been one of THE places to meet, socialise and court (that’s a word you don’t hear very often nowadays). Hopefully, when a £4m restoration has been completed, those days will return and you’ll be able to sip your lattes there as an alternative to St Paul’s Parade. Proper lighting and paving is to be installed and all traffic will be moved to one side. Currently, taxis are on one side and buses are on the other, but taxis will have a new rank in Flat Street and the buses will remain.
The small walls currently surrounding Alfred Drury’s Grade II Listed bronze statue of Edward VII will be removed to allow buses to sweep around but the statue itself will be untouched. It will be restored to its former glory and hopefully a way will be found to stop pigeons perching on his head.
The four London plane trees are to be removed and there has been much protesting about this but in actual fact they were only planted 35 years ago and some smaller replacements to be dotted around the Square are planned, although we’re sure the planes could be saved if they really wanted to, considering that their life span is 200/300 years. However, with the current tree mentality in Sheffield it is highly unlikely.
Fitzalan Square has gradually evolved over the years and prior to the installation of the statue there was a bus and tram waiting room locally known as the Moochers Rest on the site and a clock tower. Beneath all this were some large public toilets and as these were not filled in but sealed up, it would be nice if they could be restored and provide a much-needed facility. If the Victorian fixtures and fittings have survived this would be an amazing discovery and a potential major feature of the re-vamped Square à la Philharmonic Dining Rooms in Liverpool.
Apart from the famous statue there are three other listed buildings here, the most prominent of which is the recently restored Head Post Office which has now been taken over by Hallam University’s Institute of Arts. The other two are the Yorkshire Bank and the White Building. There once were two cab-mans’ shelters in the Square and had they survived they would no doubt have been listed, just like the delightful examples which are scattered throughout London.
When Fitzalan Square was redeveloped in 1910/11 in readiness for the 1913 statue installation the cost was £9,000 – somewhat different to the current £4m scheme!
The White Building is one of the most interesting buildings in the Square and dates back to 1908 but was not listed until 1992. It was designed by Flockton and Gibbs and its name is self-explanatory. The prominent panels were by the famous Tory Brothers and show typical Sheffield trades including cutlery making and silversmithing. The upper floors were created as offices but we’re sure they’ll end up as flats if it’s not happened already. Next door stands the Marples public house which replaced the original building which was the scene of the terrible tragedy in 1940 when over 70 people were killed by a direct hit from a German bomb. Not a lot of people know that it was originally known as the London Mart Hotel. Another interesting fact is that there was once a Fitzalan Market Hall dating back to the 1780s which backed on to King Street and stood roughly where the old C&A / Primark building is situated. Incidentally the name Fitzalan came from a branch of the Howard family who were the Dukes of Norfolk.
Back to the present day and current proposals; it is intended to demolish 31-35 Arundel Gate which are nasty 1970s buildings and this will open up Esperanto Place which is at present a very unpleasant cul-de-sac and not a place to go at night (apart from Mecca Bingo). This is an excellent idea which will pull the Square into the city centre and hopefully the six currently empty shops will be snapped up and brought back into use.
Work will commence in May and last for approximately 12 months, but one of the concerns of the Conservation Advisory Group was the mixing of pedestrians and cyclists and it was felt that the cycle route should be located around the edge of the pedestrian area rather than through it. An excellent idea which will prevent frayed tempers and no doubt many altercations.
Way back in 2013 we did an article in our Cruck magazine regarding a proposed 18 storey tower on Flat Street to provide accommodation for 278 students. The article was entitled ‘Sheffield’s Shard’ and although this scheme was scrapped there will still be a (smaller) tower plonked there and ‘Teddy‘ standing on his plinth will be somewhat dwarfed in his shiny new surroundings. We don’t suppose he’ll be bothered though, in fact we suspect he’ll be rather pleased.