The number of buildings falling into a state of disuse in our city is on the rise. Whether this is down to the economic climate or bad investment decisions, the problem is here and will not get any better until people, place and identity are higher on the list of development priorities. Sheffield is unique, and its sense of possibility is stronger than our northern neighbours, whose souls, you could argue, have already been sold. The answer may be to spend less trying to keep up with the Joneses, embrace our differences and focus on the neglected and abandoned.
The majority of these structures may not seem architecturally striking. But amongst the empty modernist ideals of 60s and 70s, or even the seemingly un-rentable pseudo-modern Blairboxes, there are also pre-war listed buildings with plenty of historical and social value that lay dormant. This article aims to encourage discussion on the past and future of these lost spaces. In the process, we hope to stimulate forgotten memories and generate new interest in the subject.
In its heyday Sheffield had as many as 45 cinemas, most of them independents. All the originals bar two – The Showroom and The Odeon – have been closed, demolished, used as bingo halls or converted for commercial use. Most served their various villages and parishes as the main focal point for leisure. As many as eight were connected through one line on the old tram system.
The more recent SuperTram network leads us to Attercliffe and its film hub, the Grade II listed Adelphi Cinema on Vicarage Road. Designed by Architect William C Fenton and built in 1918, the 1,350-capacity picture house opened its doors to the public on 18th October 1920 with a now somewhat fitting feature named Auction of Souls. During the Second World War it suffered repeated bomb damage but was afterwards restored to its former glory.
With its red brick facade, ornate brick details and decorative lattice windows, the three bays emphasised by the central giant arch and projecting pilasters in bold Baroque Revival style give it a sense of symmetry and proportion. Continuing this theme, there is a little dome that sits on a projecting square tower which has four oddly shaped oval windows. Internally the space has many features that still give it a sense of luxury and grandeur, from the wide staircases and striking granite floors to the wonderfully detailed ceilings.
The building closed as a cinema in 1976 with a double bill showing The Karate Killers and The Rounders starring Glenn Ford. It was then converted into a bingo hall until the mid 90s. Shortly after its foray into the world of bingo it became a renowned nightclub, at one point housing nights like Gatecrasher and Uprising.
Since the Adelphi was built as an attraction venue, we believe this function could yet be a means for this illustrious building to have a vibrant future. If it became a significant destination in the area it might also enhance the regeneration effort and promote Attercliffe as a prominent gateway for those arriving into the city centre from the north via the M1. With the area being on the SuperTram link and a short trip away from the Don Valley entertainment scene, the new Adelphi would be able to draw patrons from the other parts of the city as well.
We also believe that the link with the visual arts needs to be maintained while at the same time bringing something original and innovative to Sheffield. One concept that we envisage for a refreshed Adelphi is to use the existing layout to create a stylish multipurpose space which fits neatly into the city’s plans for the regeneration of the surrounding district. Our concept would have the main part of the Adelphi transformed into a quality restaurant housed within the auditorium space, with the surrounding walls and spaces used for exhibitions by dynamic local artists who could prepare installations specifically for this purpose.
Granted, the idea would require careful planning, but if a suitable restaurateur could be found and the right mix of art and good food could be achieved, the Adelphi would once again be an attraction for the people of Sheffield and beyond. All it needs is a dose of imaginative investment.
If you have any interesting photos, stories or experiences from the Adelphi in its active years, please let us know – everettmackay.co.uk/ contact-us
Photo by Chard Remains PhotograpicalGeoff Mackay & Max Everett.