Sunday, 25 February 2018

A Nestle Into Northern Nostalgia

73 Not Out - Yet!
Today, at 1400, fbb completes 73 years of life and moves into his 74th.

One of those most meaningful periods of that life was from 1963 to 1983, twenty years spent in Sheffield, know to his parents as "that funny northern town".

Sheffield provided his fairly ignominious University education, brought a continued commitment to serving God in a Crusader bible class, was the setting for marriage, first home and family, but, above all, gave the young man a wide eyed appreciation and interest in the day to day life of a big busy city.

And it had wonderful buses!
Each day, after a busy (?) time at Uni, the young student would walk down West Street, observing routes 52, 54, 55, 60 and 95, continue past the Cathedral and down the High Street to wait for a 33 or 75 outside the C & A store to take him back to his "digs" at Pitsmoor. Technically the stop was called "Market Side" as that is where Sheffield's indoor market used to be.

fbb was mystified by that part of the city centre. Some of the buildings looked very new and others seemed unfinished but with no work in progress. 
Walsh's, for example, had a posh stone facade on the High Street, but plain boring brick round the corner; and why was there a row of decidedly tatty temporary shops in a big triangular gap?

For the answer, we have to go back to World War 2 when, on four terrifying nights in December 1940, the "Sheffield Blitz" happened. Thanks to some unfortunate or fortunate miscalculation by the Luftwaffe, the city's East End industry was relatively unscathed, but much of the city centre was destroyed and many lives were lost.

Walsh's department store was burnt out and subsequently demolished..
Once hostilities were over, a grand plan was planned.
In the early seventies fbb went to the Town Hall to enquire if copies were still available. He was taken into the dark and doom-laden cellars where "the man" found an old dusty metal chest. The lid opened with a Dracula-style creak and there were heaps of the book. 

And fbb did not even have to pay the decimal equivalent of the cover price (25p)

The book revealed in great detail plans for an outer ring road, using some of the 1930s infrastructure and leaving room as new estates were built. That is why Hallamshire Road, just round the corner from the fbb family home, has such wide verges.
The outer ring road simply never happened.

Then there was the inner ring road. Two bits were built, Netherthorpe Road from the University down the hill to Shalesmoor ...
... now with the Supertram down its middle.

The other bit ran from Moorfoot to West Street.
Ultimately the inner ring road was never completed as planned but cobbled together in almost haphazard pieces.
The third piece of the plan was a central "city" ring road.
The Moor shopping street is the stick of an inverted lolly, with Walsh's rebuilt store shown in the red box.
The pink box shows a proposed new Civic Centre and, amazingly, new building is going on there today!
Sadly this is not a civic centre but more offices with "some" retail opportunities. It is called "Heart of the City 2."

The only bit of the "city" ring road that has ever been built as planned is Arundel Gate ...
... which was blasted though that odd empty triangle which so bemused fbb as a student; thus Walsh's store finally got its "proper" finish.

Perhaps the property that was demolished to build it was no great loss ...
... but had the job been done today, many of these works buildings would have become trendy bijou residences!
The roundabout in the architects model of the proposals became the so-called "hole in the road" ...
... which linked ramps and escalators and basement entrances to some of the stores. In its early years it was a pleasant place where people could enjoy the flowers, have a seat and watch the goings on in a huge fish tank.

You could even buy a postcard!
But it was simply allowed to decay by the City Council and it became an unpleasant eyesore.

Fortunately the idea of a city centre monorail was as potty as it sounded and was smacked into the long grass by the Men from the Ministry.
Ironically this architects "montage" shows Castle Square as complete but the old C & A store (where fbb caught his bus back to his digs) in a state of d├ęshabille.

The grand plan was eventually abandoned and replaced with various new plans, but one feature was retained. There would be a brand new Technical College built next to the Pond Street Bus Station.
In a way, this did happen ...
... but not quite as planned! It was the Sheffield Polytechnic and now trades as Sheffield Hallam University.

And as for Castle Square, the "Hole in the Road" - it was all filled in to make way for the Supertram.
There is no sign of hole, subways or anything that gives a clue to the history of this part of the city centre.

Walsh's became Rackhams, then House of Fraser and closed in 1998. The store was occupied by T J Hughes for a while but then they disappeared. The ground floor includes a Poundland shop but the upper floors are unoccupied.

C & A ceased trading in year 2000 and the store was then occupied by Primark ...
... which has now moved to massive new premises on The Moor.
The Light is a cinema.

Whilst even the aged fbb realises that things have to change and plans don't always work out as originally intended ... it seems sad that so little of the optimistic 1945 development ever happened.

But you do wonder how Sheffield might have developed; if the money for Meadowhall had been invested in the city centre; if the old trams had hung on for a few more years after 1960 and if the 1945 plan had been more rigorously applied in the years since it and fbb were conceived!

Would passenger numbers on the transport system now be declining in the city?

Pure and pointless speculation.

And thanks to all those who have supplied stuff from their memories and their personal collections. fbb has very happy memories of the city and will be visiting again in April. He wonders whether bus publicity will have improved?

 Next Fakenham PS blog : Monday 26th February 


  1. Many happy returns fbb, or Peter as we regular readers realise you are called. I've been reading your blog for 3 or 4 years now, most nights before I turn in. I really enjoy it. So have a good one. Jon Blake.

  2. Happy birthday, fbb.
    A fascinating insight as to why, to this visitor, parts of central Sheffield feel very disjointed.
    It wasn't alone in grandiose plans for post-war reconstruction. Coventry and Plymouth probably came nearest, though Exeter, Bristol and Southampton all implemented some element of central redevelopment. Canterbury council's plans for compulsory acquisition for a similarly grandiose scheme came to an abrupt halt when a residents' action group took control at the 1945 election, and a much reduced option was adopted. Even that was (thankfully) never completed.

  3. Central Cardiff is also disjointed although I think that was due to planning decisions made in the 60s rather than because of the War. Central Ipswich also has a Ring Road that goes nowhere, in this case because the town was going to grow hugely as a "London overspill" but the policy was reversed. See

  4. Happy Birthday Peter
    from Peter
    also fast approaching his own 74th

  5. Happy birthday, fbb, and thanks for reminding me of some of the changes in Sheffield, where my mother group up (pre-war), and my Uncle Tom worked fro the Transport Department at Herries Road. Happy Days