Sheffield has one or two little pockets of early buildings which have somehow escaped the bulldozers and one is on a street which few people venture down due to our convoluted traffic systems. I refer to Bank Street which was once buzzing in the days of Baileys Nightclub which only those of a certain age will remember. If you’re slightly younger you’ll remember it as the Cavendish and if you’re younger still Cairos or Cairo Jax, even younger then Romeo and Juliets, or really young then Corporation. Sorry, I’ve run out of names now.
On the other side of the street on the corner of Snig Hill sat the Black Swan a.k.a. the Mucky Duck which hosted many live bands and names which later became famous.
Bank Street, which got its name from a private bank which was once situated there, has now become a desirable little backwater which lends itself to residential conversions and this is now taking place.
The street is in the City Centre Conservation Area and has eight listed buildings in only two short blocks and Nos 18-20 were actually built specifically for the Sheffield Independent Newspaper in 1862. The newspaper was founded in 1819 and was the voice of Liberal politics and liberalism in Sheffield. (What happened to both of those?)
However this article is about the earlier buildings which, according to their listing descriptions, date back to the 1830’s but there is actual documentary evidence that they were inhabited in the late 18th Century. If you study the row of Georgian terraces you’ll notice that each one is slightly different as they were built at different times. The giveaway is that rooflines and window lines vary from building to building. They were built originally for both residential and commercial use and the numerical layout was that Nos 36, 38, 40 and 42 were terraces to the front and 32, 34 and 40A were to the rear. 34 abuts the rear of 38, 32 and 40A and they are separated from the front by two courtyards. In 1988 this area was covered by a glass atrium to link all the buildings under one roof to provide internal circulation for the then tenants Irwin Mitchell Solicitors. In 2012 a steel walkway and staircase were also added. Thankfully these are to be removed and the courtyard paved with York Stone.
This part of Sheffield has always been home to the legal profession and at one stage it was occupied almost entirely by barristers. During my research I discovered that the numbering system did not show 40A initially but 40½! This is a delightfully quirky system which I have never come across before and which should perhaps be revived as a novelty. Developers please take note! 40½ incidentally was occupied by the High Bailiff’s Office – so still a legal connection there. In 1988 the rear façade was given a makeover in the Georgian style which is rather ironic as this bit is in reality Victorian. These rear terraces are not actually listed but 36, 38, 40 and 42 are listed.
If this sounds a bit complicated then there is an excellent book available called Tales From The Orchard which was compiled in 2014. It tells the history of Bank Street and was written by John Clark and Karen Harvey with other contributions from resident artists when part of the terrace was home to Bank Street Arts from 2008 to 2017. This incarnation was relatively short lived but nevertheless added to the fascinating history of this stretch of streetscape. When first built it was for mixed use and part residential and part commercial. The commercial side was for both white and blue collar workers with the latter conducting their trades in the basements and cellars.
There was a variety of activities but one which attracted my attention was in the 1860’s and was the profession of ‘boot closer’. Here we had an entire family of husband, wife, 2 sons and 1 daughter who were all boot closers. This had me scratching my head and I must investigate it further but it sounds like one of the most boring jobs in the world! Another tenant who most certainly needs investigating was one Theban Vernon who was there in 1913 and was an occult bookseller. Not a common occupation even by today’s standards and possibly even worthy material for a horror film!
The white collar workers meantime were the usual mix of architects, estate agents, doctors and of course solicitors and barristers who by the 20th Century had become the most predominant tenants. Together with Paradise Square just around the corner these were probably the biggest concentrations of legal eagles in the city and with current happenings in the Square both look set to revert to residential and thus offer period living in the city centre.
Whilst the properties on Bank Street may be period there are very few period features left inside. No 38 still has some York Stone paving although it is currently covered by a carpet. It also contains some nice vaulted cellars, but similar cellars at 36, 40 and 42 are currently unusable. The new proposed scheme will bring these back into use. Another nice feature to be reinstated will be the staircase in the ginnel which is to be replicated using stone steps. Second floor ceilings are to be opened up to the vaulted rafters which will expose structural timber trusses. A coal chute is also to be glazed to provide light in the basement. Outside No 36 there are traces of street lighting on the wall but as far as we know there are no plans to reinstate this, although it could make the terrace very atmospheric if lights were placed at intervals.
All in all then, these schemes to create apartments are to be welcomed. The most major changes to be made are at No 42 where a second floor terrace/balcony is to be installed together with French doors at ground floor level. All this will obviously be at the rear so not really visible. Our Society put in an objection to the use of aluminium windows which really would spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar, so we hope that we are listened to and timber framed windows are used. No 42 was converted to a single dwelling some time ago which is admirable and once finished with its enhancements it will make someone a fantastic townhouse.
On the subject of townhouses we couldn’t possibly not mention No 44 next door which was built for the Earl of Wharncliffe as his townhouse in 1885. Grade II listed Wharncliffe House’s ornate Italianate style couldn’t be in more contrast to the simplicity of the adjacent Georgian terraces, in fact Pevsner’s Guide describes it as a “ponderous palazzo”. Unfortunately someone ruined it in 1980 by adding a metal clad fourth storey, but with its bearded heads keystones and ornate central doorway it is still one of the most impressive buildings on Bank Street and the Earl must have been very proud of it. I wonder what he would have made of the current gentrification which is taking place amongst his near neighbours?
Probably baffled and bemused.