COLES CORNER - FARGATE, SHEFFIELD

""is still remembered by many Sheffielders, of a certain age as the place to meet one's date"

The mention of "Coles Corner" to most young people today would elicit a response of "Richard Hawley". Coles Corner was the title of his fourth studio album and was highly regarded by the musical press and the music-buying public. The album's title is taken name given to the corner of Fargate, and Church Street in Sheffield, England just opposite Sheffield Cathedral. The corner is self-explanatory but the "Coles" element is taken from the surname of three brothers who were born in Pickering, North Yorkshire but were who were apprenticed in Sheffield. The Cole brothers started their shop in 1847, but the real significance of the site and the one that is central to Richard's album is that it  

"is still remembered by many Sheffielders, of a certain age as the place to meet one's date. A plaque put up by the Rotary Club now marks the spot and ensures its history is not forgotten."

Cole Brothers (1860) - Cole Brothers, Silk Mercers & General Drapers 4 and 8 Fargate
No. 4 Entrance for General Drapery and to the Showrooms for Shawls, Mantles, Millinery, Carpets and Furnishing  No. 8 Entrance to Silk, Mourning & Flower Department 

An article on the Sheffield History Forum  website gives a brief history of the company and the site where it established itself. It also contains a photograph that I personally think is one of the best I have ever seen of Sheffield in the Edwardian era.

"The Cole Brothers, John, Thomas and Skelton, sons of a shoemaker, were born respectively in 1814, 1824 and 1827. The two elder boys were both apprenticed to drapers and by 1847 felt they had enough experience to open their own business, at 4 Fargate. They described themselves as `Silk Mercers and Hosiers` and were soon joined by their younger sibling Skelton. The business had expanded considerably, occupying premises in Fargate and Church Street, and the brothers had now become `Silk Mercers, Shawl, Mantle and Carpet Warehousemen, Bonnet Makers and Sewing Machine Agents`.

Between 1896 and 1902 all three brothers died. They had seen their drapers shop develop into one of the foremost businesses in the city. `Coles Corner` had become a favourite meeting place and the building was one of Sheffield's best known and well-loved landmarks. In 1898 the business was registered as a limited company and it was the next generation of Cole sons that took the enterprise into the new century.

Colour Postcard of Coles Corner


In 1909 women were employed for the first time to work in the shop and in 1911 the first motor delivery van was acquired. Little is known about the effects of the First World War on the family or the business, but in 1918 sales topped 200,000 for the first time. By then the two `young Mr. Coles` were in their mid-sixties, and had in their turn become pillars of the local community. In 1919 they sold the business to H. Gordon Selfridge, the American entrepreneur, who some ten years earlier had opened the successful department store in London`s Oxford Street, and Cole Brothers became part of the growing Selfridge Provincial Stores Group.

There are few records of the interwar years, except it may be safely assumed that Selfridge introduced the same promotional and advertising strategies that he employed in the other shops in his group. We do know, for example, that when Amy Johnson`s aeroplane, `Johnnie`, went on a tour of the country, it was at Cole Brothers that it was displayed in Sheffield.


 

Postcard from 1945 - Coles Corner is on the right of the photograph

Cole Brothers and Coles Corner prior to demolition -  photograph courtesy of  Dave Richardson

In 1940 the Selfridge family decided to sell the SPS group (Selfridge Provincial Stores Group) to the John Lewis Partnership. The building came through the war unscathed and in the post-war years business began to pick up. Visiting Cole Brothers was considered to be `an occasion` and eating in Cole Brothers restaurant was a special treat. Though the 1950s were buoyant times, by 1960 it was clear that the old shop had to go and the Partnership decided to build a new shop on Barkers Pool, a derelict piece of land some three hundred yards from Coles Corner. (it had been the site of Sheffield's Albert Hall which had been gutted by a fire in 1937, and was subsequently demolished). The new store in barkers Pool opened on 17 September 1963.

An advertisement for the Barkers Pool store - April 1964

The move from the old and well-loved building to the new purpose-built shop had been considered by many to be risky, but customers soon transferred their allegiance and flocked to the new shop.

Within ten years it became clear that the selling space was woefully inadequate. In 1974, to free up more space, the offices were moved across the road to accommodation in Barkers Pool House and in 1977 the Partnership acquired a shop in Cambridge Street. By the end of the `70s the interior of the shop was beginning to look dated and a massive refurbishment programme was begun.

Sheffield was hit harder than most by the recession of the `80s. Out-of-town shopping offered strong competition and the building of the Supertram, network made access to the city centre difficult, but Cole Brothers weathered the storm and in 1997 celebrated 150 years of trading and the best sales increase in sixteen years. Five years later, after lengthy consideration, the Partners at Cole Brothers decided to join most of the other department stores in the John Lewis group and take the name of the founder."

Cole Brothers and Coles Corner prior to demolition -  photograph courtesy of  Dave Richardson

The three "Cole Brothers" appear in the 1881 UK census

Household Record 1881 British Census - 
Source Information:
Institution "Prior Bank" Cherry Tree Rd Census Place Ecclesall Bierlow, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342121 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4639 / 38 Page Number 29

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
John COLE Head W Male 66 Pickering, York, England Draper Master Partner
Ellen ROBINSON Niece U Female 25 Sheffield, York, England
Anne SKELTON Servant U Female 46 Sheffield, York, England House Keeper Domestic
Mary HALL Servant U Female 38 Alfreton, Derby, England Cook Domestic
Jessie POPE Servant U Female 25 Plymouth, Devon, England Housemaid Domestic

Household Record 1881 British Census
Source Information:
Dwelling Archer House Census Place Ecclesall Bierlow, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342121 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4639 / 64 Page Number 3

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Thomas COLE Head M Male 56 Pickering, York, England Draper (Employing 6 Men 4 Women 2 Boys ?)
Mary COLE Wife M Female 49 Sheffield, York, England
Sarah ATKIN Servant U Female 29 Norton, Derby, England Cook Domestic Servant
Harriet BEACH Servant U Female 22 Shireoakes, Nottingham, England Housemaid Domestic Servant

Household Record 1881 British Census
Source Information:
Dwelling 387 Glossop Rd Census Place Ecclesall Bierlow, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342119 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4633 / 75Page Number 39

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Skelton COLE Head M Male 54 Pickering, York, England Draper
Thomas S. COLE Son U Male 28 Sheffield, York, England Draper
William B. POPE Visitor M Male 59 Nova Scotia, Canada Professor Of Theology (Doctor In Divinity)
Thomas BEATSON Servant M Male 40 Great Bedingfield, Suffolk, England Coachman (Domestic Servant)
Emma BEATSON Servant M Female 43 Parsondrove, Cambridge, England Cook (Domestic Servant)
Thomas (Jr.) BEATSON Son Of Coachman U Male 14 Norton, York, England

It appears that all three brothers are buried in the General Cemetery in Sheffield.

Needless to say, tragedy also played a part in Skelton's family. His daugher "Anne Elizabeth COLE , description: Daughter of Skelton Cole, Draper age 11months was buried in Sheffield's General Cemetery (Burial No 13379 Grave No  KK 83 & 84 The date of her death was 20 Oct 1866 and she was buried four days later on 24 Oct 1866 by the minister Thomas Nightingale The family residence was Broomhill House, Broomhill Sheffield"

The following is from The Times dated 29th October 1898 and gives details of John Cole's will

It is a rather dispiriting experience to see Coles Corner in the twenty-first century. Having survived the blitz in 1940, which incidentally devastated many of the surrounding buildings, "the old and well-loved building" was like many fine buildings in Sheffield, demolished. Whilst I recognise the need for progress, I am also conscious of the fact that if a building is going to be demolished, its replacement should at least be an improvement. The two photographs below show a building that is neither "old" or by the look of it "well-loved"

The photograph was taken in late one afternoon in November 2007 and shows that the ground floor is completely boarded up after the HSBC Bank decided to decamp to Fargate. To all intents and purposes, it looks derelict but what is more puzzling is why the Sheffield planners in the 1960's championed the building as a replacement for the old Cole Brothers store. Viewed from any perspective, the replacement just looks as though it was built with no thought to the surrounding buildings. After many years of being unused it was announced in September 2017 that the site was to be occupied by "an upmarket sandwich chain" Pret a Manger. An urban tragedy and a sad reflection on Sheffield City Council.     

      

A rather sad ending for a Sheffield landmark

An affectionate portrayal of Coles Corner by Terry Gorman

"What is shopping in these days, but an unsuccessful struggle against overwhelming temptation?" Lady Jeune, in The Ethics of Shopping;  Fortnightly Review 1895

Coles Corner by George Cunningham

Note

In July 2015 I came across this cutting. It came from The Sheffield Star dated 21st January 1957 and refers to the funeral of Miss Mary Middleham who was Managing Director of Cole Brothers

Sources

Richard Hawley

WIKIPEDIA

UK Census

The Times dated 29th October 1898

The Sheffield Star dated 21st January 1957

Dave Richardson

Sheffield History Forum 

John Lewis

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This page was last updated on 23/09/17 15:23