The sky’s the limit for Sheffield
We’re almost 200ft feet from the ground, gently swinging above John Lewis and peering out over Sheffield city centre.
“When I was younger you wouldn’t have been able to see anything for the smog,” says Monica Dyson, gazing down at the City Hall flagpole.
Monica, 70, is sitting in a carriage at the top of the Big Wheel with Coun Mazher Iqbal, the cabinet member in charge of revitalising the city centre.
The pair are discussing their childhoods in Sheffield and what changes lie ahead for the city centre.
“When I was growing up in the 1950s there were two distinct differences between then and now,” says Monica.
“You could rarely see anything clearly in the distance because of the dreadful smog hanging low over the city and also, there were very few, if any, high rise buildings on the skyline.
“The skyline of Sheffield has altered rapidly during my lifetime. When I was a child, the tallest buildings were the spires of St Marie’s Catholic Cathedral and that of Sheffield Cathedral.
“The beautiful Kemsley House, home of Sheffield Newspapers, was also most impressive, and still is. To signify the end of the war lights were erected on the top which could be seen for miles around.
“It wasn’t until the 1960s that we acquired the University Arts Tower, for long enough the tallest building in Sheffield, and the Grosvenor House Hotel.”
Monica, who writes a column for The Star, remembers back to the days of Marples, Walsh’s, Coles Corner, Cockaynes, Saxon’s and Davy’s Food Hall.
“I remember the High Street before the Hole in the Road,” she laughs. “There was no online shopping so everybody came into the city centre.
“I came from Firth Park and my mother would go from shop to shop in the local area. Women didn’t drive and nobody had cars anyway. My mother would have a chat with people on the way and go in all the shops and it would take a whole day.
“Going into town was a bit of a treat. A visit to town on the tram was never complete without afternoon tea in Society Park Restaurant in the Co-op on Angel Street, complete with artificial palm trees and an elevator which had a lady sitting on a high stool.
“They had waitresses in caps and frilly aprons and when it changed to self service people were quite horrified as they liked the elegance.
“There was Cockaynes where my mother bought her gloves, John Walsh, Marshall and Snelgrove, Cole Brothers and Atkinsons, the only name still in existence.
“We had Andrews for school equipment, Redgates toy shop, Hibberts art shop where my father bought his painting materials and Tuckwoods for ladies who lunched.
“Does anyone remember the garden for the Blind on High Street? It had railings all round it, beautifully scented flowers and a collection box for donations.”
Monica has seen many city centre landmarks come and go, including the Hole in the Road from 1968 to 1994, the Wedding Cake Registry Office from 1973 until 2004 and the Town Hall Extension or ‘Egg Box’ from 1977 until 2002.
“I can almost hear the cries of the stallholders in the Sheaf Market and the Rag and Tag, and even earlier than that smell the flowers in the Norfolk Market Hall, where my mother bought flowers for my sister and myself to carry at the May Queen celebrations and which was demolished in 1959.
“The once elegant Fitzalan Square is steeped in history. There was Wigfall’s, the Bell pub and the Classic Theatre. The ruins of the Marples pub, where many were killed in the Blitz, and of Burtons Building across the road were still there in a sorry state right up to the mid-1950s.
“I can also remember where Town Hall Chambers stood on the corner across from the Town Hall. It had the most beautiful staircase but sadly isn’t there any more.”
City on the move
It was the classic start of The Full Monty film but Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment, says Sheffield has to be on the move to keep pace with modern day living.
The long-awaited Local Plan will be a blueprint for how the city will be developed over the next 15 years.
“The aim for us is to have a map of Sheffield where you can have housing, employment, industry, retail and green space,” he said.
“People will be able to pull up the map and see where the best place is to start a business or move house.
“The Hammersons Heart of the City scheme was never going to happen and if it had, we would have been in a worse place. We are reconfiguring and putting in more office requirements along with residential and somewhere for people to drink, eat and shop.
“It’s about how to get more people working in the city centre and more people living there. There was an explosion of student accomodation but that’s plateaued and we want more balanced living. We hear from both young and older people that they want to live in the city centre.”
The only way is up for Sheffield – literally.
Coun Iqbal says: “We can’t go horizontally as there’s no more space so we have to go up. We want to ensure we are building what people want. If people are living and working in the city centre it gives investors confidence.
“There are around 27,000 people living in the city centre and we want that figure to become closer to 50-60,000 over the next five to ten years.
“The city is on the cusp of something amazing but we need to keep its heritage as that’s an added benefit.”
Sheffield’s tallest buildings
St Paul’s Tower – 331ft
Arts Tower – 256ft
Hallamshire Hospital – 249ft
New Era Square – 217ft
Velocity tower apartments – 217ft