Another of Sheffield’s forgotten spaces
On Monday, the winners of Forgotten spaces will be announced. We’ll get to see the results of the competition which asked architects, designers and artists to come up with new uses for Sheffield’s forgotten spaces.
It will be interesting to see whether any of the entries looked at what could be made of Fitzalan square, which surely is one of Sheffield’s most prominent, under-used and forgotten public spaces.
The old post office building, Fitzalan square
Walking through a couple of months ago, I was struck by how good the square would have once looked. It gets plenty of sunshine and the trees offer a nice bit of shade, as well as some greenery to contrast with to the buildings.
I don’t know that much about architecture, but look closely and you’ll see just how impressive these buildings are. I don’t think Sheffield has anywhere near as much Victorian architecture compared to many cities of a similar size, but in Fitzalan square you’ll find the magnificent old post office dominating the south side. This grand old grade-II* structure has stood empty since 1999 and sadly been left to fall into disrepair.
On the west of the square there is another attractive building, towering five stories high with balconies on the windows and five beautiful arches on the ground level which are currently operating as retail units.
Adjacent to this on corner of the square and High street is the square’s most famous building. Now a motorcycle accessories store, the Marples building used to be a seven storey hotel but was completely reduced to rubble by bombing during in the war. The building you see there now was constructed in the 1950s.
The Marples name lives on in the square by means a small fast food hut. A statue of King Edward VII stands in the middle of the square, which was cleaned up and illuminated in as part of a facelift in 2003.
King Edward VII statue, Fitzalan square
Despite the impressive buildings and the statue centerpiece, Fitzalan square doesn’t currently feel a enticing place to hang out. I took these photos over a lunchtime when there was just a single office worker enjoying his dinner there.
The roads around the edge of the square leave you feeling a bit isolated and hum of running engines in the taxi rank on the west side doesn’t make it particularly relaxing. Some of the businesses on the square – an amusement arcade and betting shops – also don’t really add much charm.
The good news is that that there are signs of recovery. The old post office building has been bought* and will be repaired and restored to a basic level before a further development is announced. Apparently it won’t be a hotel or flats.
Marples food hut, Fitzalan square
This may be the lease of life that the square needs and a catalyst for some positive further development. I think the centre of the square could be remodelled, some of the roads pedestrianised and if they manage to attract the right businesses – some decent shops, perhaps a nice pub, cafe or restaurant trading on the Marples name and with outside tables – it could give people a reason to visit.
I’m not sure to what extent the recession has affected this bit of the Sheffield city centre master plan, but the original idea was to develop the route between Victoria quays and the High street, open up what’s left of Sheffield castle and landscape a park around the remains. If this is ever happens, it will at the very least be a huge benefit to Fitzalan square. Hopefully the planners will include it as a key part of their overall vision.
For now, the next step is the plans for the old post office building, which we should find out about in early 2012.
*ignore the main picture on this article, for some reason the Star has chosen to show a picture of a separate University of Sheffield development