New public space for 'events and enjoyment' planned in Sheffield's listed Paradise Square

Paradise Square. Picture: Dean Atkins
Paradise Square. Picture: Dean Atkins
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It is Sheffield's only complete Georgian square, an upmarket place where solicitors, barristers and estate agents have found a suitably refined home.

Paradise Square, set on a slope off Campo Lane behind the Anglican cathedral, hasn't always enjoyed such a good reputation - in the 200 years after the first buildings were put up in 1736, it became a haunt for gamblers and drunks, as well as being the site of civil unrest when a crowd of 2,000 attacked troops at a banned Chartist meeting.

Paradise Square in times gone by.

Paradise Square in times gone by.

A revamp in the 1960s returned the Grade II* listed quad to some semblance of its former glory, and its emergence as the city's legal hub has made it a sought-after address.

Now Sheffield Council hopes to make more of the square, and fully realise its potential. A 10-year masterplan called This Is Sheffield, published last month for consultation, stated the ambition of creating a new open space for 'events and enjoyment' in the courtyard, potentially adding attractive plants, flowers and trees.

But the cobbles are used as a private car park during the day - meaning a way of removing the vehicles will need to be found before any enhancements can be made.

Marcus Newton, who leads walking tours of the city centre, always takes visitors to see the smart buildings and their 18th century surroundings, calling them a 'focal point' of his informative treks. And he knows the kind of effect clearing the parking away could have.

"Interestingly, I did an evening tour for an EU industrialist who owns a specialist steel factory in Sheffield and who specifically wished to see the square," he says. "What a difference no cars make. It's time to bring our best heritage square back into use - my daytime customers are surprised how using it as a car park detracts from the wonderful and historic square. Considering how many multi-storey car parks are nearby it's reasonable to say developing the square into a vibrant venue would be a great asset for our city. As more hotels arrive this would mean visitors here for short breaks would have choice on a par with other vibrant cities such as Manchester."

It could, he says, rival Leopold Square, formed out of the old Sheffield Central Technical School and education offices on Leopold Street. Customers at the Wig and Pen are able to drink at picnic tables in Paradise Square, but it remains the only bar to use the space in such a way. "The terrace adds a welcome continental vibe," Marcus says.

Any improvements would come through two council schemes - Grey to Green and City Centre Breathing Spaces. The first project involves brightening up roads with greenery and boosting conditions for pedestrians and cyclists - the initial £3.5m phase, focusing on West Bar, was completed in 2016. Meanwhile, Breathing Spaces provides 'pocket parks'; examples can be seen on Nursery Street, beside the River Don, and off Sidney Street next to the Porter Brook.

Paradise Square lies within the Cathedral Quarter, Sheffield's first suburb, and the council has noted that residential homes are making a comeback nearby.

"Its core medieval alleys, Georgian square and Victorian yards present a rich townscape which has been diversifying from an almost wholly office-dominated district for the legal and property professions into a more mixed community," the authority's This Is Sheffield plan says.

"Townhouses are returning to residential and independent retail, and food outlets moving in, especially along its main spine of Campo Lane. Around the north and western periphery several 20th century office blocks have or will become vacant and some have already been converted to apartments under permitted development rights, to date mostly for students.

"However the attractive location and relative lack of intrusive late-night activity make it a potential area for housing aimed at an older and more long-term type of resident. The relocation of private car parking from Paradise Square will be encouraged, possibly in conjunction with a new multi-storey on one of the new developments."

The Duke of Norfolk owns many of the buildings in the square through the Shrewsbury Hospital Trust. Jeremy Robinson, from the trust's managing agent Fowler Sandford, says the site has been 'very successful recently', with lettings to quality business tenants secured, among them Switalskis solicitors, recruitment consultancy Gradcore and law firm Metcalf David Eyres.

"A couple of years ago there were quite a few voids and empty buildings but there's a really good picture down there now," Jeremy says. "It's come full circle."

The land in the middle, however, is held by the Sheffield Town Trust, which gives money to good causes. Companies buy season tickets to park their cars there, generating income, so the council would need to reach an agreement with trustees in order to empty the courtyard.

In addition, the proposed public space would have to be carefully managed. Paradise Street - the square's entrance - faces the doors of the Cathedral Archer Project, recognised by police as a place frequented by people who use the drug Spice, a form of synthetic cannabis known for its 'zombie' effect.

Nevertheless, the idea has the backing of the Sheffield city centre Business Improvement District, which funds initiatives through a levy on firms.

“Transforming Paradise Square into a space that can be used for events would be welcomed by the BID," says manager Diane Jarvis. "The square is one of the few surviving examples of Georgian architecture in the city. Transforming it will increase footfall dwell time in Paradise Square and support surrounding businesses. The BID welcomes proposals to revive areas of the city into lively, vibrant places which celebrate Sheffield’s heritage and help move the city forward into the future.”

Site's tumultuous history

Paradise Square - its name taken from the ancient term for a garden or enclosed space near a church - started as a line of buildings on the edge of a cornfield, constructed in 1736 by Thomas Broadbent on a 500-year lease from the Duke of Norfolk.

In July 1779 John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke to the largest weekday congregation he had ever seen in the square, while the Hillsborough Barracks Dragoons, mounted on horseback, drove rioting Chartists from the courtyard in 1839.

Circuses and fairs were held, and four pubs traded at different times, including the Clown and Money at Number 22 - next to sculptor Francis Chantry's former workshop - which had a rat pit in the cellar where gamblers bet on how many were killed by a dog. Number 17 was once the Shrewsbury Hotel, which in Victorian times had an American theme bar with a skittle alley, and number one was the House of Help, a sanctuary for 'fallen girls'. Physician David Daniel Davis lived at number 12 from 1803 to 1812.

In the 1800s the spot gained the nickname Pot Square as it hosted a market that sold plates and cups - although on one bizarre occasion steel burner John Lees sold his wife, taken to market with a horse's halter around her neck, to Samuel Hall for sixpence. Another was 'bought' for five shillings, a watch and a gold chain.

The Wig and Pen, which backs on to Paradise, dates from the 1830s when it was known as the Old Cock. It was given its present name by former owner Gordon Boucher in 1970 because his customers were lawyers and journalists.

Architects Hadfield, Cawkwell, Davidson and Partners carried out an extensive restoration of the square between 1963 and 1966, following bomb damage in World War Two.