Red brick, Corinthian columns and cobbled courtyards - Sheffield’s quirky architectural history has more to offer than you’d think, but you’ll need the shoes for it, as Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers.
TIM BOTTRIL goes through a lot of shoes. His Loakes footwear - nice as it is, has huge holes in the soles. But it’s not surprising, Tim’s job is to showcase the city’s unusual buildings to commercial clients looking to base their business in Sheffield. “We get a lot of businesses wanting to base themselves in buildings that have character,” says Tim.
He’d know - Tim works for Knight Frank, a Sheffield-based property agency which, among other things, specialises in finding clients unconventional properties.
“There are so many unusual buildings in this city - it’s just that people don’t know about them,” he says.
Such architectural gems include Sellers Wheel - a Victorian warehouse that belonged to John Sellers, a stamp-manufacturer who made the template for the stamp used to print the American dollar bill.
“You can see this is a quirky building,” he says, looking at the huge white-washed brick structure. “It’s quirky and thousands of people walk past it every day without evening knowing that it was once home to the stamp manufacturers who made the stamp that printed the dollar bill.”
Across the road is another quirky building. “Here,” says Tim. “I bet you’ve walked past this one a dozen times too.” He wanders over the street to Butcher Works, a solid, brick-built complex once home to several cutlery manufacturers.
Butcher Works is quaint, though industrial-looking, with shallow small studios and big windows. “People in the cutlery industry would need the light so the studios have big windows and are very shallow, so that craftsmen could always see what they were doing.”
The works is used by Freeman College and partly used by some of Knight Frank’s clients, who lease the converted apartments.
And it’s these leases - the old workshops and the quirky post industrial warehouses - that Tim enjoys most. “You always have to find something out about the buildings as well. Each one appeals to a different type of client - it’s not just about floor space and carpet tiles.”
Knight Frank have all manner of commercial clients on board, but it’s the quickly-emerging creative digital industry sector that’s looking for more unusual premises. “They are less conventional with their taste than lawyers, surveyors and accountants - these are the people who don’t go to work in a suit, they go in jeans and they want their premises to reflect that,” says Tim.
Tim’s also in a good position to observe which industries are emerging in the city.
“Sheffield is great on advanced manufacturing - there is less emphasis on heavy manufacturing and more on high-end stuff like Swann Morton - you can see their products all over the world.”
The portfolio of properties on Knight Frank’s books offers a snapshot of Sheffield’s social and economic history. In stark contrast to the humble, sturdy brick-build mesters’ workshops at Butcher’s Works is Canada House, a stunning late Victorian civic building, complete with Corinthian columns and neo-classical masonry. The building was once home to the Sheffield United Gas Light Company and was built in 1874. In just a few paces across the city centre, we’ve gone from working class heroes to big business and civic pride.
“In those days, people built properties and wanted to make a statement - they wanted them to build their headquarters to be impressive. Money was not the primary motivator for architecture whereas now people build speculatively so they want to build them as cheaply as possible.”
Yet, impressive though these Canada House is, some of Tim’s favourite buildings in Sheffield are those belonging to the Digital Campus. “I love the clean, modern look, and I love Leopold Square - there are some nice modern buildings in Sheffield, look at the Cheesegrater - that’s a great building.”
Tim says there have been architectural highlights throughout all the ages of Sheffield’s history, though much of it was destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. “The interwar period was a really interesting one for Sheffield’s architecture - that’s when Steel City House was built. The 1960s definitely wasn’t a high point, however.”
He stops outside Steel City House. Even now, the former telephone exchange and Grade II Listed Building, evokes a sense of civic pride - more than 80 years after it was built.
“That’s a great building,” he says. Tim is attuned to looking at unusual buildings, but he says that the more familiar a building becomes to our every day lives, the less we notice it.
“If you walk down your street you might notice if someone puts a for sale sign up outside the house but you’re not likely to pay any attention to the building themselves because you see them every day - that’s the case with people in Sheffield and there’s nothing wrong with that. Can you imagine if we stopped and stared at every interesting building? We’d never get anywhere.” That’s unless you’re called Tim Bottrill, in which case you need an infinite supply of Loakes shoes.
Butcher’s Works is a former cutlery manufacturing complex that was completed in 1834.
Now the building is in the Cultural Industries Quarter, between Sheffield City Centre and the River Sheaf.
The area in which Butcher Works stands was owned by the Duke of Norfolk and he intended to make it available for long-term, high-end residential lease in the 1770s however, there was little demand for this type of letting and the area instead became a haven of small cutlery manufacturing outlets.
The last cutlery manufacturer at Butcher works left in 2004.
Steel City House was built in 1927 and used as a telephone exchange/post office.