Restorations - hoardings hide a transformation in Sheffield city centre

Behind yards of hoardings and scaffolding a big part of Sheffield city centre is being rebuilt.

By David Walsh
Saturday, 12th June 2021, 8:31 am

Extensive demolition is transforming Cambridge Street, or ‘Block H’ as it is known in the £480m Heart of the City scheme.

Single storey, modern extensions to the rear are being swept away. But much is being been saved - and not just because it is listed.

Andrew Davison, Block H project director at contractor Queensbury, said they wanted to preserve the street’s historic appearance.

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Leah's Yard has been restored and no longer needs scaffolding to hold it up. Picture: Chris Etchells

So the facades of the Tap and Tankard pub, Chubbys takeaway, the old John Lewis sports and toy department, Dina venue and Henry’s wine bar will be retained - all of which would have been demolished under the old - defunct - Sevenstone shopping centre plan.

He added: “Heritage is not a pain, it’s interesting, it can create challenges but original spaces have character.”

None more so than Leah’s Yard which is the jewel in the Cambridge Street crown.

The listed Little Mester’s workshop is the only surviving example of hundreds of similar buildings which would have dominated the city centre in the nineteenth century.

Leah's Yard has been repointed as part of restoration work. Picture: Chris Etchells

Now, it has been restored from near dereliction.

Last used more than five years ago and held up by scaffolding for at least three years, Leah’s Yard is about to emerge looking its best for a century.

RF Joinery of Loxley has replaced floors and rebuilt one corner of the building, using original bricks carefully put to one side. When they ran out, because some cracked or fell apart, bricks of the same age were bought in.

The big scaffolding support system is no longer needed after bowing walls were pushed back plumb straight and up to 15 roof trusses have been kept, although new slates were needed.

Andrew Davison, Block H project director at contractor Queensbury and the new Albert Walk off Cambridge Street. Picture: Chris Etchells

A total repointing job has left it looking very smart, best seen currently from the rear.

Andrew said: “We’re just trying to recreate everything as best we can.”

The building is set to reopen as workshops, shops, offices, a cafe and restaurant - but not until autumn of next year. And a new extension not until spring of 2023.

Before then it needs new electrics and air source heat pumps. The aim is to make it as sustainable as possible while preserving as much as possible, Andrew says.

Demolition work has opened up a partial view of the Bethel Primitive Methodist Chapel which had 1930s extension built on its front. Picture: Chris Etchells

He has lived and breathed Block H for three years and will continue to until it is all finished, scheduled for March 2023.

He said he was still ‘overwhelmed’ at the privilege.

“We’re redefining the city centre and to do that in the place I live is the best thing. I take a lot of pride in seeing Leah’s Yard restored to a place people can enjoy again.

“I think the market is just waking up to Heart of the City, we’ve got interest in commercial and residential space. It’s putting Sheffield back where it belongs on the map.”

The former Tap and Tankard pub and Chubbys takeaway next to Leah’s Yard will become a restaurant. A wall adjacent has been flattened to create a new route through, called Albert Walk, after the Old Albert Works which once stood behind it but burned down in the 1970s.

The demolition has also exposed the curious fate of Bethel Chapel which was bricked up when a new extension was built in front, leaving just the eaves visible.

Demolition is taking place to the rear of Cambridge Street as part of the Block H plan. Picture: Chris Etchells

Historian Aidan Stones said: “Bethel Primitive Methodist Chapel, dating to 1835, has been hidden from the Cambridge Street scene since the 1930's. How much of the frontage survives behind the extension who knows. The recent demolition work has opened up a partial view of the old building.”

Andrew said the chapel would be refurbished and become an events space.

He added: “We’re in a Covid world at the moment and concerts and events are not on the agenda. It’s one for next year. But it’s going to be very attractive to someone.”

After Bethel Walk is the listed former Bethel Sunday School, Dina and Henry’s. A glass roof will be built to the rear to create a food hall called Cambridge Street Collective.

In March, Sheffield City Council chose The Milestone Group to run it as food hall, cookery school and fine dining experience.

It will be constructed by Sheffield builders Henry Boot which will also put a new office block, Elshaw House, on a plot to the rear, close to Carver Street.

In February, James O’Hara, of Rockingham Group, and Tom Wolfenden, of Sheffield Technology Parks, won the race to run Leah’s Yard.

Since then they have had 85 enquiries from prospective tenants - an ‘insane’ number that made choosing very difficult, James said.

The plan is to have 12 stores and a cafe open on the ground floor selling goods such as jewellery, furniture, clothes, artisan foods and ales by December 2022, with studios, workshops and offices above.

It would provide an affordable city centre shop window for some of the makers and independent traders currently based further out at sites like Harland Works, Tom said.

James added they were toying with the idea of having retailers on rotation to help meet demand.

Both were excited by the vision of a transformed city centre.

Andrew added: “James and Tom have been really proactive and helpful. They’ve been very closely involved in the design, I’m very pleased they are on aboard. It’s given us confidence we can find the right niche businesses. It will be a shop front for them but at reasonable rents.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.

How the chapel used to look. Picture from Sheffield Archives.
'Block H' and HSBC's Grosvenor House - the first Heart of the City building. Picture: Chris Etchells
The Dina and Henry's facades will be retained but the rear is going. Picture: Chris Etchells.