A fine example

As Chairman of the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society I attended the inaugural meeting regarding the future of the Central Library and, like most of the audience, was decidedly unimpressed.

Thursday, 15th December 2016, 6:04 am
Updated Thursday, 15th December 2016, 10:22 am
Central Library and Graves Art Gallery. Picture: Andrew Roe

The council’s vague and meaningless replies when pressed about the location of a replacement library spoke a thousand words. The notion that JG Graves would have approved is farcical, turning in his grave is probably a bit nearer the mark.

However, I’m suffering from a severe bout of déjà vu as this idea of selling off the Central Library is not a new one. In 2003 when this area was being redeveloped, the council began feeding information to the local press about the Central Library’s deteriorating condition. We at the HHBS (Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society) were sure that demolition of this important 1930s building was the council’s ultimate aim and began working to ensure the building’s safety. We discovered to our horror that it was not Listed and therefore had no protection. We swiftly remedied this and applied t for Listed status which was immediately granted. Apparently this didn’t go down well but thank goodness the HHBS were there to save the Library from the bulldozers.

As the interior of the building is Grade II Listed as well as the exterior, it would be very difficult to justify the trashing of the very fine features.

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The practicalities of conversion to an hotel obviously have not been properly addressed as Historic England are unlikely to allow holes to be punched in the façade. Future 5* guests would have to run the gauntlet of the foyer as councillors informed us at the meeting that the Graves Art Gallery would be moved to the ground floor to make it more accessible to the public, so unless the hotel reception is moved to another floor(?) the guests will presumably have to weave round gawping art-lovers.

To sell off this fine example of 1930s architecture is akin to selling off the family silver and once again highlights Sheffield Council’s notorious Philistine approach to our city’s built heritage. The Chinese now appear to have joined Sheffield University in that elite band where ‘anything goes’. Their giant tower which has been allowed to dominate Grade II Listed St Mary’s Church on Bramall Lane and the University’s ‘Diamond’ overshadowing Grade II St Georges Church, bear testament to this. Perhaps they should get together and form a club.

How can it be justified to vandalise such an important building as the Central Library, erected specifically for the general public to use, so that snooker players have somewhere ‘nice’ to stay for 2 weeks of the year? St Paul’s Mercure, where they currently stay, can’t get beyond its 4* status because it doesn’t have dedicated parking. Won’t the same rules apply to the library? Even if you removed the delightful Library Theatre in the basement you wouldn’t get many Ferrari’s parked down there.

According to the Sheffield Destination Management Plan compiled by Marketing Sheffield, Sheffield City Council’s official destination marketing arm, hotel occupancy rates in the city are currently running at around 66%, so why do we need another one which will be used only by the rich and famous?

We were informed at the meeting last week that the £30m refurbishment figure includes the provision of 100 new computer terminals. As most people now own a lap-top why is this necessary?

The 2004 edition of the HHBS’s magazine ‘The Cruck’, carried an article about our successful fight to save the Central Library and if anyone would like a copy we can be contacted at hhbs.sheffield.org.uk. We sell the latest edition of our magazine, which carries articles about current aberrations taking place throughout Sheffield, at Sheffield Scene on Surrey Street. Our Society aims to promote interest and pride in architecture and local history, and are monitoring the plans for the New Retail Quarter closely. Many buildings are under threat here, so please help by joining the HHBS, add your voice to ours and help stop the needless destruction of our historic buildings.

The HHBS is not against redevelopment schemes and we are well aware that Sheffield lags behind other cities which are considerably more vibrant. However most of these cities seem to cherish their historic buildings and at the same time, where revitalisation takes place, use good architects to create stunning and interesting modern buildings. Sheffield does neither.

Howard Greaves

Chairman Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society