THE CHESTERFIELD HOTEL

Chesterfield and District Civic Society

A future for the site of the Chesterfield Hotel

This post can be downloaded as a PDF here

Background

The Chesterfield Hotel was built in 1876–7, a few years after the Midland Railway rebuilt its station at Chesterfield on its present site (a short distance to the north of the first station of 1840). The hotel stood at the foot of Corporation Street, which was itself laid out by the Borough Council in the early 1870s as a more impressive approach to the station than the original road, part of which survives as Station Back Lane.

The hotel, which is built of brick with pitched slate roofs on a quadrangular plan around a central courtyard, was extended three times. Two more or less matching wings were built at either end of the original block, one on Corporation Street and the other on Malkin Street. The last extension was much less satisfactory – in brick which did not match that of the earlier phases, with windows that were not the same size or shape, and in part a flat roof.

The setting of the hotel was not improved by the decision to sever Corporation Street as a motor road when the Inner Relief Road was built, separating it from the other commercial buildings higher up the street, and leaving it in not very splendid isolation, flanked by minor roads on three sides and the Inner Relief Road on the fourth.

Known for most of its life as the Station Hotel, it was renamed the Chesterfield Hotel in the 1980s, presumably because the older name had rather down-at-heel connotations, although the later name was essentially meaningless.

The Station Hotel set out from the start to be Chesterfield’s leading hotel. For much of the twentieth century it was one of Mansfield Brewery’s leading residential houses and was featured a good deal in the company’s advertising. It was a three-star hotel, whereas its nearest rival, the Hotel Portland of 1899, also a railway hotel, was Chesterfield’s two-star hotel.

For many local people, the hotel is probably most affectionately remembered as a function venue, rather than as somewhere to stay. It was for decades the place to have an engagement party, wedding reception, retirement do or whatever. It was a popular choice for club dinners and lunches, as well as business meetings, fashion shows, trade exhibitions and the like.

Hotels of this sort in not particularly wealthy medium-sized provincial towns have not had an easy time in recent decades and for most local people it was probably disappointing, rather than surprising, when it ceased trading. It was presumably a very expensive building to maintain and, despite the efforts of recent operators, was arguably doomed from the day the Casa opened on Whittington Moor, which (despite its uninspiring location alongside a four-lane dual carriageway with an outlook onto car dealerships and a supermarket) does provide Chesterfield with a good class modern four-star hotel.

The recent past

After the Chesterfield Hotel closed it was sold to its present owners, Prestige Hotels (Midlands) Ltd. Despite its impressive name, this appears to be a shell company run by a syndicate of business people living in south-east England, whose registered office is a modest private house in Bushey (Hertfordshire). It was incorporated in 2016 with issued capital of £1, and its most recently available balance sheet shows assets valued at £0.98m. and liabilities, principally it appears a mortgage on the Chesterfield Hotel, of £1.07m. We have been unable to locate any hotels, prestigious or otherwise, in the Midlands or elsewhere, owned or operated by the company.

It is just possible that the company did once intend to reopen the building as a hotel, although the only work they did was to board up the ground floor to make the building look even worse than before they bought it. An attempt to install short-term tenants as ‘guardians’ fell foul of public health and fire safety legislation. It seems rather more likely that the company intended from the start to sell the site on, probably with a view to it being redeveloped by others with more capital than themselves.

Some time after the property was sold, Chesterfield Borough Council announced ambitious plans to redevelop the whole of the approach from the station up to St Mary’s Gate, including land on either side of both Corporation Street and a new road parallel to it. Much of this area is currently either unoccupied or used as temporary car-parks. All of it is extremely unattractive and gives a very poor impression to visitors arriving at the station. The area clearly needs comprehensive redevelopment and the council’s plans have been generally welcomed.

The other major development in recent years is the Waterside scheme, occupying a large area immediately to the north of the Chesterfield Hotel. This promises to transform what has for years been a very bleak area, comprising the site of the former Trebor sweet factory, Arnold Laver’s timber yard, S. & J. Kitchen’s engineering works, and the old Great Central Railway station and goods yard. The retention of the Chesterfield Hotel (and for that matter the former county police station and court house on Brimington Road, now largely unoccupied) would seriously detract from the setting of the Waterside development.

Arguably, the whole area from the Inner Relief Road to the northern end of Waterside needs completely redeveloping as a mixed-use area, including a good proportion of reasonably priced housing. It is simply not practicable to retain prominent, but architecturally unremarkable and economically unviable, buildings on the edge of what is meant to be a prestigious landmark development. At the same time, it would be impossible to create a new approach to the station if the hotel building was retained.

The future

For all these reasons, the Civic Society believes that the Borough Council was right to allow the Chesterfield Hotel to be demolished. Civic societies are dedicated to campaigning for the improvement of the built environment in their local community. They are not ‘preservation societies’. Improving the built environment sometimes means demolishing buildings which have outlived their useful life. The Chesterfield Hotel falls into that category.

What is now important is that whatever takes the place of the Chesterfield Hotel enhances this very run-down part of the town. We need to look forward, not back. The current owners of the site are proposing that it should be redeveloped with a commercial building with car-parking, as part of the Borough Council’s overall scheme for the improvement of the approach to the station. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this idea but we would like to suggest an alternative.

Although another residential hotel on the scale of the Chesterfield Hotel is unlikely to be economically viable on this site, arguably there is a demand for some hotel and catering services in this part of the town. People sometimes have time to kill waiting for a train and would prefer to do so in more comfortable surroundings than a station buffet; business and professional people come to Chesterfield by train for meetings and do not wish to venture further from the station than necessary; and there is a demand from local business people for somewhere to meet for a drink or a meal within walking distance of the town centre (which the Casa is not). The site is also close to both the theatres in Chesterfield, especially the Pomegranate, and there should be a demand for pre-theatre meals or drinks afterwards (neither the Winding Wheel nor the Pomegranate serves food).

It might be argued that this market is already catered for by the licensed bars higher up Corporation Street and on Holywell Street. These, however, appear to be aimed at a predominantly young market, have late licences and are essentially drink-led operations, sometimes accompanied by loud music. There is a demand for this type of outlet, but it is not going to attract the market outlined in the previous paragraph. What we have in mind is somewhere with a more traditional, not to say quieter, offering, serving tea and coffee during the day, light lunches and a simple (but good quality and traditional) dinner menu in the evening might.

Could such a venue also offer residential accommodation? Obviously not on the scale the Chesterfield Hotel once did, nor as somewhere for coach operators to accommodate large numbers very cheaply (a market catered for in Chesterfield principally by the Ibis, it appears), but an operation on the lines of a ‘restaurant with rooms’ might be viable. People sometimes wish to stay close to a station if they are leaving early the following morning, and some people arriving by train might wish to stay as near the station as possible. Once again, the Chesterfield Hotel site has the advantage of being within walking distance of the town centre, if people have business there. We believe that it might be possible for a good quality restaurant also to offer a limited amount of overnight accommodation for both business and leisure travellers.

Another possibility, which would be an innovation for Chesterfield, would be to include in a restaurant-with-rooms development a small number of service flats, catering for those who wished to stay in Chesterfield for more than a couple of nights but not for long enough to rent an unfurnished flat. We are thinking of business and professional people working in Chesterfield for between a few weeks and a couple of months on a temporary contract, who would like more than just a hotel room to live in during the week and do not want to rent a room in a private house. Flats of this sort – with one or possibly two bedrooms – would have a modest kitchen (comparable to the facilities provided in some student accommodation) but the assumption would be that the tenants would have most (and possibly all) their meals in a restaurant that formed part of the development. This would provide something of a captive market for the restaurant, especially midweek, when there is likely to be less demand from non-residents. If a new building on the site of the Chesterfield Hotel was a three-storey development, the ground floor would have the usual range of restaurant, bar, lounge and kitchen, the first floor a small number of good quality letting bedrooms, and the second floor perhaps half a dozen flats.

Finally, it is worth stressing how centrally Chesterfield is placed for the main-line railway network. As in most provincial towns, the emphasis tends to be on the service to London (which is very good), but thanks to the town’s position between two major junctions, it is also possible to get direct trains to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Norwich, Bristol and Birmingham, as well of course as Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby. Not many towns the size of Chesterfield can offer this. This might also be a selling point for anyone thinking of basing themselves in a service flat close to the station in Chesterfield, which would at the same time be within easy walking distance of the facilities available in a medium-sized town.

We hope that when the redevelopment of the Chesterfield Hotel site comes to be considered, the case for continuing to use it in the same way as it has been since the land was first built-up in the 1870s will be borne in mind, rather than settling for just building another office block, which could go elsewhere in the town.

January 2020

This post can be downloaded as a PDF here

 

5 thoughts on “THE CHESTERFIELD HOTEL”

  1. Why should the hotel and courthouse detract anything from Waterside if they are properly maintained?
    CBC’s vision for this area comprises big blocky concrete buildings which aren’t in keeping with a supposedly historic market town.
    Shouldn’t the Civic Society be pushing to retain historic, old and interesting buildings in Chesterfield and working to find alternative uses for them if necessary?
    Cutting off Corporation Street was a major mistake when the by pass was built. All traffic from the south of town to the station and beyond has to go round the Donut which increases traffic and adds to delays.

    1. Ideally, the Civic Society would have preferred to have seen the Chesterfield Hotel refurbished, if not as a hotel, then possibly as flats. We did at one stage suggest that it could be marketed as serviced apartments, close to the station for people commuting to work elsewhere. No-one came forward with a scheme on these lines. The major problem is that the building is of no historical interest (in the precise sense of the phrase) and not of sufficient architectural merit to be listed. The original phase of building and the two additional wings are reasonably in keeping with each other, but the overall effect was ruined by the additions to the rear, which were of unsympathetic design and executed in materials that did not match the older part of the building.

      The building also had a very poor internal layout as a result of its piecemeal construction, which would have made it much harder to modernise. The previous owners did nothing to maintain the building, which accordingly deteriorated. Taking all these things into consideration, the Civic Society’s view was that it would be better for the site to be cleared and redeveloped with a well-designed modern building. The Borough Council are currently thinking of an office block but the Civic Society view remains that apartments might be a possibility, given its proximity to the station, possibly with a bar-restaurant on the ground floor. Offices can be built elsewhere, but there should be a place for flats (possibly serviced) and/or a bar/restaurant near a station.

      The short-term future of the site is clearly as a temporary car-park, which may help in reducing on-road nuisance parking near the station, for example on Piccadilly Road and the Riverside Estate. A longer-term plan will probably have to wait until the Borough Council adopts a detailed plan for a new approach to the station and for a bus/rail interchange at the station, which is in turn dependent on the scheme for a new access road to the station from the bottom of Hollis Lane going ahead.

      The future of the former county police station and court house on Brimington Road has not, as far as we know, been settled, although there appears to be a presumption that the block will be demolished. It is currently badly under-occupied and so looks in a poor way as a result. It might be possible to find a new use for it, although we are not aware that any detailed suggestions have been made. We have no special knowledge of its history or who the architect was, but the building is not listable. The adjoining building, currently occupied by a secondhand dealer, we would say has no viable future, nor does the former light engineering works on the opposite side of the road.

      As regards the wider function of the Civic Society, we try to stress that we are not a ‘preservation society’ or a ‘heritage society’. We take the view that a civic society should, as a group of interested lay people, campaign to improve Chesterfield as a place to live. This includes the retention of buildings of architectural merit (very few buildings in a town like Chesterfield are of ‘historic’ interest) but also the replacement of buildings, of whatever age, which detract from the appearance of the town. We are afraid the Chesterfield Hotel now falls firmly into the second category. We are also concerned that redevelopment schemes should enhance the appearance of the town and make it a better place to live (for example by reducing traffic congestion) and improve the range of facilities available to residents and visitors. In particular we support the Borough Council’s policy of creating (or to be precise re-establishing) more residential premises in the town centre as the demand for shops (and possibly also offices) declines.

      All this kind of work is best underpinned by a sound knowledge of the history of the town and in some cases of individual buildings, so that inaccurate claims about ‘historic buildings’ or an ‘historic town’ can be avoided. It is for this reason that the Civic Society has for many years installed blue plaques on buildings of particular interest. More detailed historical research is the province of the Victoria County History, a London University local history research project, which is currently working on Chesterfield, and individuals with a lay or professional interest in the history of the town.

      The Civic Society is also concerned about Chesterfield as a social organism and an economic entity. This includes encouraging steps that will create new employment in the Borough, and pressing for the improvement of public services, such as the maintenance of highways, education, the relief of poverty and environmental health. All these aspects of its work are the subject of items in its most recent (November 2020) Newsletter, sent monthly to members.

      In which context, membership of the Civic Society is open to all interested in the future of our town, and we welcome new members. Details of how to join can be found on this website.

  2. As a former employee at the Chesterfield hotel in the early 1980s I think this should be bought by the council and done up to provide bedsits for the homeless and there is a good kitchen and canteen where jobs could be created for chefs to cook meals for them at a reasonable charge .This would then ease the problem of homelessness on our street and give them the incentive to be clean and possibly get themselves into full or part time employment.

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