Many of the buildings we have recently written about have been empty and unused for a long time, but none as much as the heavyweight in this month’s feature. Dead Space opens the seemingly closed case on the future of Sheffield’s Old Crown Courts, currently serving time on demolition row. The jury is out and it doesn’t seem like an outcome is due anytime soon. Who is responsible for letting this spectacular, grand edifice dilapidate to such a degree? What could be offered as a solution?

Built as the second of three town halls, the new town hall sat on a site close to where Sheffield’s first town hall was built in 1700. There was no prospect of extending, so as Sheffield grew quickly during the Industrial Revolution plans were commissioned and the new town hall was completed in 1810 for the sum of £200. Situated on Waingate, across from Castle Market, the building functioned as town hall for over 90 years before it eventually grew too small. Power was focused further toward the south of the city and in 1897 the town hall relocated to Pinstone Street, where it stands today. From that point the old town hall became the Crown Courts.

During its time as the town hall – also housing the petty and quarter sessions, which were the local courts – it went through a number of physical changes. In 1833 architects Flockton installed an underground connection through to the police station from the holding cells. The more notable design change in 1867 by Flockton & Abbot, following the lease takeover by the town trustees, was the addition of the ornate neo-classical clock tower which re-orientated the entrance towards Waingate. The clock has long since stopped. The last entry in the registry is dated 1997, before the crown courts moved to a new location, and the building has stood bruised and battered since. It was bought at auction in 2004 and went up again in 2008, but was pulled due to an issue over fees. The current owners are G1 London Properties, who were unavailable for comment on their plans for the future of the courts. With the Victorian Society naming it in their top ten list of buildings most at risk back in 2007, it seems a criminal offense for G1 to sit idly on their mucky assets, letting whole chunks of history rot before its time to rub out another piece of the city’s identity.

If there was ever a building worthy of a resurrection miracle, then the former crown court is a very strong candidate. The combination of credit crunching and unforeseen winters is slowly draining the strength out of this imposing building. But there is so much more to be lost than mere stone and glass. The heritage, history and memories from the many people who used the building when it was in a healthier state will also be blighted by the loss of such a significant structure. The sad thing is that there are currently no realistic proposals to do anything with this grade II listed treasure.

What can we see as a possible solution? For starters we believe that the civic heritage that this building represents should be a prominent feature of the restored building. Furthermore we’d love the building to remain in the public realm, perhaps as part of the controversial proposals for Castle Market that we hear about these days. It’s hard to deny that the building is still an eye-catcher in spite of the dirt black patina which drapes its facades like a dark shroud. This aesthetic quality would make this building an interesting place to go and a place to explore when it is refreshed and cleaned up, for locals and visitors alike.

Within the building there could be modern leisure facilities such as a themed restaurant or bar, and a roof terrace space could be included to take advantage of the spectacular views across the city. The lower floors could be converted into a museum on the history of the Castle Market site as whole. There are still many citizens of Sheffield who have enjoyed its services in one way or another, and if the Council and the owners find a way to work together, we might yet have our own stories to tell about our experiences there. Whatever it becomes in the end, if it ever happens, it needs to be done swiftly.

We hope this article sparks new debate on the Old Courts and if you have anything to say please get in touch: everettmackay.co.uk

Image by Chard Remains Photographical

Geoff Mackay & Max Everett.