Big plans afoot for home of Sheffield's wartime elephant

Castle House, Blonk Street, Sheffield
Castle House, Blonk Street, Sheffield
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A new chapter could soon be written in the story of a building that used to house Sheffield’s famous elephant Lizzie and may have been the birthplace of mushy peas.

The distinctive Castle House building, in Blonk Street, is hard to miss, with its red, yellow and orange tiled frontage based on Flemish design.

Lizzie, Sheffield's wartime elephant.

Lizzie, Sheffield's wartime elephant.

It adjoins the Royal Exchange Buildings and is a striking fixture on the banks of the River Don, on the edge of the Castlegate area which is a key point of Sheffield Council’s regeneration strategy.

Castle House itself has been empty for some time and in need of refurbishment.

But this week, Sheffield firm Coda Studios revealed its appointment as the architects for the refurbishment of the building.

An as-yet unnamed developer is planning a residential and commercial conversion of the Grade II listed building, and a planning application is expected in the coming weeks.

Castle House.

Castle House.

Coda managing director David Cross said he was ‘extremely excited’ to have been appointed to work on an ‘iconic piece of Sheffield’s architectural heritage’ – particularly given the history of the building.

Built at the end of the 19th century by animal breeder and vet John Henry Bryars, Castle House was originally used as the stable for the Midland Railway Company dray horses, which were stabled on four floors.

During the First World War the stables also became home to the famous Tommy Ward’s elephant, Lizzie.

Lizzie was hired from a circus for a couple of years during the war and became a familiar sight on city streets, hauling heavy loads of steel while horses were away at the front in France.

Castle House.

Castle House.

She was the inspiration for this year’s Herd of Sheffield campaign, in aid of The Children’s Hospital Charity.

In the 1920s the site was acquired by Batchelors, and became the company’s first canning factory. It became known as the birthplace of the mushy pea.

Mr Cross said: “The story of Lizzie the elephant is an essential part of Sheffield folklore and the site’s fame as the birthplace of the mushy pea simply adds to the appeal of the building.

“As we begin to work on the refurbishment of the site for both residential and commercial use, we will be working closely with the site’s owners to ensure that none of that heritage is lost.

“At Coda we always take enormous pride in preserving the past wherever possible and this is going to be an exciting project that assures the future of a fascinating slice of Sheffield history.”

Rob Darrington, of Commercial Property Partners, said Castlegate was on its way to becoming the next 'en-vogue' area of Sheffield.

He added: "It’s already surrounded by residential schemes, which at the moment may seem a little periphery, but once this areas develops, will soon be engulfed into the expanding city centre.

“It has many buildings with unique character, which prove attractive to residents, whilst also still being within walking distance of the city centre.

"I expect that the private sector could end up defining what becomes of the former market and Castlegate area, as they react to market forces."

Mr Darrington pointed to Sheffield Hallam University's move into Fitzalan Square as an example of how to reinvigorate the area, adding: "Bringing the student population closer creates demand for housing but also leisure and amenities."

And he said there was an opportunity to better link the city centre with Victoria Quays.

"At the moment this is currently very detached and has to be one of the city’s most under-utilised areas.

"There are some fabulous, historic buildings around here, a mix of businesses, as well as the attractive waterfront. Yet, very few amenities.

"In any other city, a central quayside or docks is a major attraction and destination."

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