RETRO: Only crooks were booked in for night

Control Room at West Bar Police Station'8 Dec 1988
Control Room at West Bar Police Station'8 Dec 1988
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Ello, ello, ello, what have we here then? Memories of Sheffield’s West Bar Police Station from when it was still a state-of-the-art nick.

The seven-storey building – the headquarters for hundreds of city bobbies for almost 50 years – has been transformed into a £9 million, 142-room hotel. The all-new Hampton by Hilton opens today.

The old and the new......'The new West Bar Police Headquarters HQ now under construction towers in contrast over the old building - 16th August 1964

The old and the new......'The new West Bar Police Headquarters HQ now under construction towers in contrast over the old building - 16th August 1964

Now, to mark the conversion, Midweek Retro looks back at a time when only crooks and criminals were booked in for the night.

“It was a proper old-fashioned police station,” says former inspector Mick Young, who was based there for more than 20 years. “Not the building itself – that was like something from the future when we first moved there in 1965.

“But the atmosphere was like a police station should be. Lots of camaraderie, lots of getting the job done with good humour.”

By the time the nick was shut in March 2011, few would have suggested it still resembled something from the future.

So out-dated was the station, even producers of Life On Mars, a TV police series set in the Seventies, rejected it as a filming location. Officers regularly complained of lifts breaking down and heating on the blink.

Yet, when the £400,000 complex first opened on July 16 1965, it was described by city chief constable Edward Barker as “the finest divisional headquarters in the country”.

The towering steel and aluminium structure included three levels of car parking and maintenance for 86 vehicles, horse stables, private offices, gymnasium, lecture hall, library and canteen. Down in the basement was a 75 ft sound-proofed firing range and on the top floor a games room was kitted out with snooker tables and dart boards. “Architects from all over the country have been coming to have a look at it,” project leader Austin Ibrahim told The Star when it was opened by Chief Inspector of Constabularies Sir Edward Dodd.

“It was a magnificent building,” says 75-year-old Mr Young, who served at the station between 1965 and 1967, and from 1976 to 1994. “In those days, the city centre wasn’t a popular beat for bobbies.

“There were less people living here but more disorder. Keeping control could be a very...physical job. When we were taking on new recruits, the biggest lads tended to be sent here. But I always enjoyed it. There were a lot of good officers.”

Famously, the nick made national headlines when, in 1982, the European Cup was handed in there after a man stole it from Aston Villa players who were celebrating winning the trophy. Another football link is thatWorld Cup final referee Howard Webb was based there.

“There was always something going on,” says former sergeant Peter Darling, 61, who worked from the building in 1981-82. “Sheffield’s a big city and this was the main headquarters so it was constantly busy.”

Indeed, a three-storey extension was built in 1986 to cope with demand.

And, yet, time inevitably started to take its toll.

“Looking back,” says Peter, who is now the chief executive of the South Yorkshire Police Sports and Social Club at the Niagara Conference and Leisure Centre in Hillsborough, “it was already getting old-fashioned by the early Eighties.”

As the building became increasingly unfit for purpose by the turn of the century, units were slowly moved from it, before it closed completely in March 2011.

City centre officers were moved to the more modern station in Snig Hill, while South Yorkshire Police HQ is now based in Carbrook. West Bar Police Station, itself, was sold for £2.5 million.

“It was sad to see it shut but time moves on,” says Peter. “A modern police force needs a modern base.”