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CHESTERFIELD AND DISTRICT CIVIC SOCIETY
Civic Society urges Council to save historic building
Chesterfield and District Civic Society has written to the Borough Council asking them not to allow the demolition of what the society believes is the last building in the town associated with the Chesterfield Canal. Thornfield, a stone-built Georgian house of the early 1830s, is part of the former offices of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce on Canal Wharf, which the Chamber wishes to redevelop for housing. The Civic Society is in favour of new houses being built there, but wishes to see Thornfield retained.
Philip Riden, the society’s chairman, explained that Thornfield was built by Joseph Gratton, who was the Chesterfield Canal Company’s ‘agent’ (general manager in modern terms) between 1802 and 1839, when he was presented with a silver tea service by the company on his retirement. Gratton also designed the town’s original gas and waterworks on Foljambe Road and had a draper’s shop on High Street. He was a keen amateur scientist and made fireworks for public shows which he put on in the Market Place. ‘Joseph Gratton was clearly a remarkable man’, commented Mr Riden, ‘and his home at Thornfield is important as the last surviving building in Chesterfield connected with the canal. This brought prosperity to the town 200 years ago and will do so again once it is fully restored’.
The Civic Society has asked the Borough Council to issue a Building Preservation Notice to protect Thornfield from demolition for six months, during which time a plan can be worked out to incorporate it in the redevelopment scheme. In the meantime, the society has written a short history of the house, which is available on their website.
The history can be found here as a PDF : Thornfield History
Though there was in reality nothing the Council could do to prevent it , it is still sad to report that permission to demolish was effectively granted at the Planning Meeting on the April 3rd .
The Victoria Centre, Knifesmithgate, and adjoining buildings
On October 27th 1911 an exhibition match was played between Ernest Rudge, the champion of South Yorkshire, and P.W. Hughes, a leading Yorkshire professional from Leeds, to mark the opening of a temperance billiard hall to the rear of 11 Knifesmithgate. Ernest Rudge was soon recognised as the best billiard player in the area and a promising young player, Joe Davis, was taken by his father to see if Rudge would give him lessons. The rest is history! In 1913, aged 12 years, Davis scored his first 100 break. At 13 he won the Chesterfield and District Amateur Billiards Championship. He turned professional when 18-years-old, and became World Billiards Champion in 1928.
The entrance to the hall was via a passageway, still there today, between the Tool & Mallet public house on the north side of Knifesmithgate and 11 Knifesmithgate. The hall itself was one of the buildings that originally formed part of the Victoria Foundry of Oliver & Co. opened in 1860. The company built much larger new works alongside the Midland Railway, with an office block fronting Markham Road (which later became the premises of Markham & Co. Ltd) and the Victoria Foundry was sold in 1877.
At some stage a warehouse was erected over the building which formed the hall. In 1899, when it was occupied by Alexander Todd Furnishers, the hall was described as having a showroom downstairs and a workshop above.
In December 1911 Henry Brier of Leeds was granted planning permission by the borough council to convert the warehouse above the billiard hall into a cinematographic theatre. It was opened on 14 April 1913 as the Victoria Picture Palace.
In 1920 a new company, Victoria Enterprises Ltd, was formed to acquire the Victoria Picture Palace, the undertaking and assets of E. Rudge & Company Limited, the freehold of the building containing the cinema and the Victoria Billiard Hall, and other land abutting on Knifesmithgate, to enable the site to be redeveloped. Included in the company’s prospectus was an artist’s impression of the new building.
The architect was named as W. Cecil Jackson, who was by this date in failing health and, before he died in 1926, he took William Fryer into partnership and it was Fryer who oversaw the construction of the buildings from the Victoria to the Gas Board Showrooms. This was the description of the proposed scheme:
‘The handsome block of buildings will stand upon 1,940 square yards, and will comprise Cinema House to seat 2,000 persons, large Billiard Saloon for 35 tables with private and exhibition rooms, large Café, Restaurant, Smoke Room, Tea Room and Ball or Assembly Room. The whole throughout will be fitted and decorated in the latest and most up-to-date manner. In addition to the above, there will be nine double fronted shops, with spacious cellars, the rent of which will bring in adequate return.
The plans of the building have been approved by the Corporation.’
The cinema and billiard hall closed in July 1924 for reconstruction and re-opened in December that year, with a new foyer and the rear part of the circle of the cinema projecting over the adjacent furniture store. On the ground floor, the large billiard hall had 20 tables. It was important that the building was erected as quickly as possible: billiards was probably at the height of its popularity due to the success of Joe Davis and, also about the same time, plans were being submitted for another cinema in the town, the Picture House (later the Odeon, now the Winding Wheel). The design of this competitor may also have influenced the change of design for the new Victoria.
Photograph thought to be taken on the occasion of the opening of the billiard hall as Ernest Rudge and the commissionaire are standing where the shops were later erected.
The new complex was built in stages as Knifesmithgate was widened by setting back the building line on its northern side (the southern side was less heavily altered and some older property survives there today). Finally in 1930, the rest of the building, including the ballroom for 500 on the second floor, a restaurant on the first floor, and shops and a branch of Barclays Bank on the ground floor, was completed.
The cinema remained independent of the major chains until 1956, when Victoria Enterprises was sold to the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. The site comprised the cinema, which was renamed the Gaumont, the ballroom, café, billiard hall, snack bar and sweet shops, and a furniture store and property on Elder Way. Shortly afterwards, in December 1957, the Victoria Billiard Hall, where Joe Davis took the early steps which took him to his world-famous professional career in billiards and snooker, closed after nearly 50 years and was converted into a bingo hall. Once well-known groups, such as The Who and Bill Haley and the Comets, played in the ballroom until Rank sold the complex, and groups continued to play in a smaller way for about another six years in the restaurant. A night club used the ballroom until a few years ago, but now there is no public access to the second floor. The lower floor of the cinema and the billiard hall were converted into an arcade of small shops. These have been progressively vacated in recent months and the arcade is now closed.
The building is steel-framed with half-timber frontage above an ashlar-faced ground floor. The original plans for the Victoria were lost in the floods of June 2007, although plans of 1962 have survived . These show that externally the building is unaltered. Internally there have been changes but the original spaces occupied by the billiard hall, cinema, restaurant and ballroom are identifiable. The restaurant remains, although latterly it became a café .
Elsewhere, most of the fixtures and fitting have been removed, although the ballroom floor remains.
The Victoria is one of a number of Tudor Revival buildings in Chesterfield town centre, most of which were erected in the 1920s partly as the result of extensive road improvements at that time. About 1920 the original Knifesmithgate was widened resulting in the demolition of the frontages on the north side. The road was also extended westwards to Glumangate.
Chesterfield Corporation Plans and Sections 1913 (in Parliamentary Session 1914). Work No. 24 New Street from Knifesmithgate to Soresby Street) Chesterfield Corporation. 1913
The extract shows the new street from Knifesmithgate to Glumangate (on the left). Although the street was originally intended to continue to Soresby Street this did not happen until later.
The borough council brought in a regulation that owners of adjoining land intending to build or rebuild on Knifesmithgate and its extension should carry the first floor over the pavement to be supported on columns.
The intention was that these arcades on the newly extended street should provide shelter for shoppers in wet weather . The Victoria (including Greaves furniture store), together with R.J. Stokes’s shop, the Gas Board showrooms and the King’s Head form the arcade to the north of the widened Knifesmithgate . The Victoria and the two adjacent buildings were designed by W.C. Jackson (later Jackson & Fryer) and the King’s Head by another firm of Chesterfield architects, Wilcockson & Cutts.
The external decoration of the main elevation to Knifesmithgate is unaltered.
The leaded gothic windows show a connection with the Arts and Crafts movement. Of the Tudor Revival buildings in the town only the Victoria and the Gas Board showrooms have such windows. At the head of every other column there are carved grotesques . These are the work of Frank Tory & Sons of Sheffield.
This one shows remnants of the gold leaf with which they were originally covered.
At the west end of the range, in the corner of the building which originally housed a bank branch, there is a mosaic of stone blocks.
Above the main entrance to the cinema, ballroom etc. there is a stone carving.
This actual entrance was originally set further back than it is today.
The entrance and foyer are paved with marble mosaic, which according to press reports at the time of the opening is Italian marble. The exterior mosaic is still visible but the interior is covered by carpet.
The mosaic continues up the stairs to the foyer outside the cinema, where it is assumed to have survived but is covered by carpet. The mosaic then continues up the upper flight of stairs to the second floor.
There is plasterwork outside the entrance but this has been damaged by the insertion of a partition at the modern entrance
The foyer has a false ceiling but there were gaps through which the original plaster work could be seen.
It is also visible to the rear of the arch at the bottom of the stairs.
The ceiling of the Cavendish room above the main entrance is exposed
and an early photograph shows that it is original.
Press photos of the restaurant and ballroom before opening 1930 show the layout of the ballroom and restaurant. The ceilings may survive under the false ceilings.
The description of the café, when it opened in 1930, noted that ‘the walls and stanchions are effectively panelled in Colombian pine’, but it is not known whether this window surround is original; all the rest are covered by plaster board.
This group of buildings is one of the most impressive examples of Tudor Revival architecture in Chesterfield and makes an important contribution to the large collection of such buildings in the town. Indeed, few towns of similar size have such a quantity and range of ‘Black and White’ buildings of the 1920s and 1930s, finished to such a high standard, and it is important that the complete surviving corpus be retained. In the case of the Victoria Centre buildings on Knifesmithgate, the external decoration remains largely unaltered. In particular, there are substantial remains of the elaborate 1920s leisure complex, including cinema, ballroom, billiard hall and restaurant.
For additional information about Chesterfield’s black and white buildings refer to :
This history is published with the kind permission of Janet Murphy . A full version is available for download here :
The Council updated the Local Plan Core Strategy, dating from 2013 , this January and the Civic Society has commented on it . The covering letter and the link to the response are found below .
CHESTERFIELD AND DISTRICT CIVIC SOCIETY
9 Owen Falls Avenue, Chesterfield S41 0FR
P.I. Staniforth Esq.
Planning and Development Manager
Chesterfield Borough Council
25 February 2017
Chesterfield Borough Council Local Plan
I have much pleasure in enclosing herewith a paper setting out the considered views of Chesterfield and District Civic Society committee on the Borough Council’s Local Plan. As you will see, we generally support the proposals contained in it, but we have made a number
of suggestions, which we hope will be seen as constructive.
Click here to access the detailed response .
The Civic Society has a long record of making submissions to the Borough Council on planning applications, especially where the demolition of older buildings is involved. One such issue which is current at the moment is the future of the large early Victorian house at 46 Newbold Road (The Shrubberies). This was until recently used by the National Heath Service, and the local Health Authority wish to demolish the house and sell the entire site for new houses. The Civic Society feels that, if possible, the original house should be retained, and a smaller portion of the very large garden belonging to The Shrubberies used for new building.
A copy of the letter sent to the Council Planning and Development Manager can be read here .
Click here to read a short history of The Shrubberies compiled by the Civic Society .
This article was first published in the 2014 newsletter
Chesterfield is an historic market town of some substance, having received its market charter from King John in 1204, and it has possibly one of the largest open air markets in Britain.
The town sits on a large coalfield which formed a major part of the area’s economy along with pottery, engineering and chemicals, until the 1980s. Whilst there is little evidence of these industries today, the town remains proud of its industrial roots and its Town Centre.
There was a phase, between the Wars, when a cosmetic offensive was mounted in Chesterfield to Tudor-bethan-ise’ the town centre, and revive the charms it probably never originally enjoyed. The awareness of a problem, however, and the willpower to do something to rectify it at the time is an interesting point.
Then in the 50s and 60s there is what could be called the Civic Era. It had begun before WW2 with the rather pompous Council Offices and some quite significant interventions in the neo-classical manner in the main streets, and it continued afterwards with the Law Courts and the new Civic Centre. There was even water and sculpture. All of the individual projects were quite good for their times, but they were planted out like bedding plants and turned their back on the historic core, which became increasingly seedy. Eventually Chetwynd House was replaced with a pleasant modern office block whose red brick walls and dark roof help knit the area together, though we still await the removal of the derelict car park at West Bars. (finally demolished in 2016)
Then came the first coherent attempt at a strategy for the whole town, both in its conservation aspects and in the provision of scope for new developments. The architect, Sir Bernard Fielden thought the net result was quite good and was rightly proud of his work. There is a legacy here which is worthy of study.The public library is a successful modern building, whereas Theatre Yard was good on conservation but changes in levels deter footfall. The later shops on Vicar Lane/ Steeplegate work on plan but disappoint by the lack attention to detail. That, and a respect for context and good quality materials, distinguish the better new buildings around the town. The new courthouse, for example, looks good on the outside, but the artificial stone plinth is starting to let it down.The Market Hall extension shows that improvements can be achieved on a tight budget.
The developments over the last 100 years reflect how we value the town centre.The 2009 Masterplan for the town centre has a strong commitment to the future but probably needs refining, to take account of retail trends that have left the Co-Op store empty and filled the new retail units on the slightly disconnected Ravenside retail park. It is likely that the town centre will become more attractive as a cultural centre and a place to live. To succeed, it will need more attention to the public spaces, more connectivity and more of the good conservation of buildings that has occurred recently though Lottery funding. That is quite possible and should be considered alongside the redevelopment of the Northern Gateway and Waterside projects.
The Civic Society supports Chesterfield Borough Council and North East Derbyshire District Council in their work, particularly in challenging economic times .
Professor John Tarn OBE and Bryan Thompson
Chesterfield & District Civic Society
East Midlands Association of Civic and Heritage Societies
Saturday 21 January 2017 at the Saints Centre,
St Mary’s Gate, Chesterfield
10.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m.
Anyone interested in the work of Chesterfield & District Civic Society, founded in 1964 to promote pride in the town and campaign for environmental improvements and a high standard of architectural design, is warmly invited to come to our next public meeting,
held in conjunction with the regional organisation for civic societies.
There will be a business meeting and discussion on the work of the Chesterfield and other civic societies in the morning, followed at 2 p.m. by
An Illustrated Talk
by Peter Swallow on
and Chesterfield Waterside
Peter Swallow is Chairman of Destination Chesterfield, a network of businesses and professional firms which encourages inward investment into the town, and also Chief Executive of Bolsterstone PLC, the lead developer of Chesterfield Waterside, one of the largest regeneration schemes of its kind in the country, centred on the terminus of the Chesterfield Canal on Brimington Road.
Come and find out about both these important ventures and put questions to the man in charge. There will also be displays illustrating the work of civic societies from around the region, and one by the Chesterfield Canal Trust, which has campaigned for many years for the restoration of the Derbyshire section of the canal, including the creation of a new basin and moorings at Chesterfield.