How much do we take notice of the environment around our city centre? Why are decent buildings sitting empty? This month the focus of Dead Space moves back to the city centre. The buildings in question are another clear representation of quality spaces in Sheffield that are currently vacant and serve no purpose.

Fitzalan Square and the former post office buildings make up the subject of this article. Fitzalan Square has been a vibrant constituent of Sheffield city centre for over 100 years. As part of Sheffield’s inner core, Fitzalan Square has always provided the link between the markets and High Street. The broad history of the square records its creation in 1881, although the site itself has been in use since the medieval period. The name is derived from the Fitzalan family, who owned the main market hall which stood there from 1786 to 1930. The square has changed a lot since its creation but the statue of Edward VII and the post office buildings have been there for over a century.

The Grade II listed complex includes three buildings that were used as the central office and sorting buildings for the postal service in Sheffield until 1999. The earliest building is still in use as a branch of Yorkshire Bank, while the other two buildings on the square are the dead spaces in the trio. The main building and the sorting office functioned as postal buildings for about 90 years before they were converted into office space and eventually sold in 2006. The Edwardian style of the vacant structures provides an excellent example of architectural trends during Sheffield’s earlier periods of industrial and economic expansion.

The main structure, designed by Walter Pott and completed in 1910, contains a lot of classic detail. Clad with granite and finely cut stonework, the building dominates Fitzalan Square, its domed corner tower uniting its two wings. Internally the building contains marble panelling and a stunning spiral staircase that includes an ornate wrought-iron balustrade. The Henry Tanner-designed former sorting office on Pond Street, completed in 1871, also has some interesting bits of architecture, like the striking use of brick ashlar stone adornments and the arches that sit above its large windows.

The individual merits of both buildings combine to reinforce the cultural and economic value of the site, not just to developers but also to the public of today and the future. We hope the eventual conclusion of the redevelopment of these buildings addresses these realities, but for now the buildings sit in limbo.

The site has a long history of communication, and the buildings should be used in a way that reflects this. This area of town is due for considerable change over the next few years, with the relocation of the markets to the Moor and the potential of opening up the Castle ruins for public viewing. But let’s face it, when will all this actually happen? How many building projects have come to a halt? Where does this leave Castle Market and the surrounding area in the near future?

Fitzalan Square is one of the busiest squares in the city due to its proximity to the bus and train stations. It’s good to see a scheme that differs from the pre October 2012 planning submissions of yet more unaffordable apartments, out of place wine bars and restaurants that eat at your pocket. The current proposal from Sheffield Hallam University sees a change of use toward education, but wouldn’t we all like to see something more interesting and a possible unique attraction?

Our alternative concept would be a hive of social activity; a cheap place to stay, a place to eat, a place to communicate and learn something, a place to meet and a place to buy local art and produce. Sheffield doesn’t have anything like a youth hostel. For travellers this means staying in some mediocre hotel where nothing happens. Part of the development would house a hostel, ideal for people arriving in Sheffield who want to get around the city, and those using the Ponds Forge sporting facilities.

As well as a hostel, a small museum exploring the history of postal communication could be included along with an internet cafe. The grand, rotund corner on the square could be used as an entrance to a retail experience to rival that of the Corn Exchange in Leeds. The space would be for small independent shops and stalls to generate growth and create a unique attraction.

While the future of buildings like these remains unknown, groups like The Meanwhile Project encourage the use of empty properties that blemish town centres, devastate economic and social value, and waste resources that cannot be left idle.

If you have any interesting photos, stories or experiences about the post office, please let us know – everettmackay.co.uk/contact-us

Photo by Chard Remains Photographical

Geoff Mackay & Max Everett.