Friends Of The Old Town Hall – Newsletter 1: February 2015 – The Friends’ story so far
Welcome to the first newsletter from the Friends of the Old Town Hall in Sheffield, and thank you for becoming a FOTH supporter. We aim to make this a regular e-publication, so look out for more on our campaign to secure the regeneration of this iconic Sheffield building. In this edition: • The Friends’ story so far • Some background on the OTH building • An update on our activities and plans for the coming months. • Contact details: website, blog and Facebook site
The Friends of the Old Town Hall emerged from some meetings in autumn 2014 when several people interested in Sheffield’s heritage. We got together to discuss their longstanding concern about the state of the Old Town Hall, empty and neglected since 1996. This is a Grade 2 listed building which has played an important part in the city’s history since it first opened in 1808.
The autumn meetings demonstrated that there are enough people who care about the OTH to make it possible to set up a campaigning group. We’ve adopted a constitution, elected our first officers and developed a strategy and action plan for our first year. Why now? Because this is the best opportunity that’s offered in years for a campaign on the OTH to bear fruit, as the plans to regenerate the Castlegate area come to fruition.
The Old Town Hall looks friendless; but the arrival of FOTH will, we hope, change that. We’ve made a good start on our action plan, as you’ll find out below. And we will have our first open meeting in the city centre on Tuesday 17 March, from 6-9pm. Make a note of the date! All welcome, come along and bring your friends. Full details in the next newsletter.
A little bit of history about Sheffield Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall opened in Waingate in 1808 as a combined town hall and courthouse. As Sheffield grew, so did the building, with extensions in the 1830s, 1860s, and 1890s, at which point all the town hall functions were transferred to the present town hall in Pinstone Street leaving the OTH as purely a courthouse; a role it kept until 1996 when the West Bar courthouse opened. An extra wing was added along Castle Street in 1955, and is covered by the G2 listing.
Contrary to popular myth, the Old Town Hall is not owned by Sheffield City Council, and never has been. Sheffield Town Trust has owned the site since at least the mid-eighteenth century. It paid for the building in 1808 and for the 1833 extensions. In 2000, it sold its interest, and in 2004 this was sold on to a private property company in London, which still owns it. We don’t know why they bought it, or what – if any – plans they have for its future. What we do know is that the OTH is in poor condition internally, with water damage and the kind of deterioration you will always get after nearly 20 years of non-occupation. And we know most of the damage has occurred since 2000.
Can you help to save Sheffield Old Town Hall?
We’ve had some great support already but there is always scope for more! So if you’d like to contribute in a practical way we’d be pleased to hear from you. You may have ideas of your own on what’s needed. But we could do with marketing experience to help us extend our reach, develop a programme of talks and activities, people interested in researching the history of the OTH and its role in the city (we’d like to produce a series of short publications on this), knowledge/ expertise on fundraising for heritage buildings, or memories of working in the building which we can collect and publish – or interest in seeking such memories out. There will be more! Come along to our public meeting on Tuesday 17 March and sign up.
FOTH’s name doesn’t mean we are concerned with just a single building, though obviously the OTH is top priority. Close to it are some other very interesting structures whose future is in some cases uncertain but anyway are in need of some long-term thinking. They range from Castle House, the former co-op on the corner of Angel Street and Castle Green – which is also G2 listed, via the former Cannon pub along the street, the former Arthur Davey grocery store – the wonderful Arts and Crafts building on the corner of Haymarket – through to the row of buildings dating from the 18th century to the 1930s which line Haymarket. This is the heart of the old town of Sheffield and if Castlegate is ever to be the comfortable, well-kept quarter we’d all like to see in Sheffield, they need TLC too. We’ll be aiming
Charles Dickens and Sheffield Old Town Hall
Charles Dickens visited Sheffield five times, first to act in a play and then to give his famous readings. We know that on at least 2 of these visits, in 1852 and 1855, he stayed in The Royal Hotel in Haymarket: bang opposite the Old Town Hall, then of course active as both town hall and courthouse. It’s what Dickens would have seen when he stepped out of the hotel to make his way to his performances. Let’s hope it impressed him as evidence of the town’s civic pride.
What have the friends of the old town hall being doing?
We had a very successful media launch at New Year, with coverage in the Sheffield Telegraph and the Sheffield Star, an interview with Radio Sheffield and a brief report on BBC Look North. These brought supporters to our Facebook page and then on to sign up as Friends.
It pleases us that English Heritage said:
“We welcome the establishment of such a group and your commitment to raising the profile and finding a future for the building. Through action by groups like yours, buildings like the Old Town Hall can be saved”
The City Council – with whom we have established a cordial working relationship – issued an important statement, which we are pleased to quote in full:
“The Old Town Hall and Courthouse is one of Sheffield’s most significant civic buildings and its restoration forms a key part of the Council’s Castlegate regeneration strategy alongside the rediscovery of the Castle ruins, the deculverting of the River Sheaf and reuse or development of other vacant buildings and land.
The Council has for many years continued to press the owners of the building to both carry out essential repairs and to come up with proposals for its reuse or sale. It is acknowledged that it is a difficult building to convert due to its listed court interiors, but there are successful precedents in other cities.
The establishment of the Friends is warmly welcomed by the Council, bringing fresh energy and imagination to this task. A positive and constructive meeting was held with the Friends before Christmas and more will follow. The Council also plans to step up the pressure on the owners and could bid for restoration funds if a suitable use for the building can be identified.”
The OTH has been selected by Locality, a support organisation for community groups, as one of 10 buildings in their CADO project this year – Community Buildings in Difficult Ownership. CADO aims to raise awareness of the state of important but neglected buildings. Selection has provided us with a modest grant for start-up and related purposes.
What is next for the Old Town Hall?
We’re keen to meet the OTH’s owners but so far they have not replied to us. We’ll keep trying. A very important item in this year’s plan is to answer the question ‘what could be done with the OTH? What new uses would be possible?’ We need this to underpin discussions with potential new users, funders and crucially, if we can, the current owners.
Note the Council’s comment that if a new use is identified it could bid for restoration grants. Ideas are welcome. Some are already coming in. Also, we want to commission a professional assessment of potential new uses. Some of the cost of this will be met from the CADO grant, and we’ve submitted a grant application for the rest.
It won’t be an easy task given the lack of access, but we have obtained fairly recent plans of the interior and it’s possible to match up some of the online images with these so we have a view of what the internal spaces look like and where the worst water damage is
How to contact us
We are on Facebook – https:// www.facebook.com/OTHSheffield – and have a blog at https:// friendsofothsheffield.wordpress.com/ We have a video, kindly shot by Juun Loh of Sheffield University’s Department of Journalism Studies. View it on the Locality website at http://locality.org.uk/our-work/ campaigns/cado/town-hall/ In a week we will have a website: https://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk Our grateful thanks to Richard Hennessy for his help with this. It will have the necessary background stuff like the constitution and this year’s plan, some more information on the OTH’s history and some images of the outside and inside.
VALERIE BAYLISS: Valerie Bayliss is a former civil servant and consultant with a longstanding interest in Sheffield’s historic buildings.
BRIAN HOLMSHAW Brian volunteers for several community groups including the Friends of Sheaf Valley Park and Heritage Open Days. In any spare time he runs his own heritage consultancy – sheafvalleyheritage.co.uk.
JOY BULLIVANT Joy Bullivant, MA. joint secretary of FOTH is a local historian and coordinator for the Sheffield based Timewalk project.
CHARD REMAINS Thanks to Chard for the cover photograph of the Old Town Hall.