One of the biggest success stories to spring from Sheffield is the musician Richard Hawley. As I’m an old fossil and don’t sit comfortably into modern life I like his retro-sound. His fourth album Coles Corner comfortingly follows the template of previous albums – unapologetic flavours of loss, regret, love’s lament, homesickness and romance.
On the front cover Richard is standing at Coles Corner which was a famous Sheffield meeting point for shoppers and courting couples. In daylight hours shoppers met there every o clock or half past and then in dark hours it was usually lovers. The Coles Brothers department store stood there, selling high quality goods over many floors - the Harrods of Sheffield. In 1909 the store started employing women and by 1911 Coles delivery vans would be seen all over the city dropping off purchases. In 1916 they started using the first cash registers in the city. Business was so healthy they built upward in in 1920, adding two storeys. In the same year the business was sold to retail king Gordon Selfridge. It never got bombed in World War Two.
I didn’t know of Coles Corner until I saw the album cover so I thought I’d see if I could find it. I’d been searching for the grave of a famous fat goalkeeper in Burngreave Cemetery (found it). The cemetery looks across the city scape so when I came out of the gates I just pointed my car at the city centre and set off. I parked on a featureless side street, plopped a £1 coin in a metre and had thirty minutes to find the corner. I sprinted though a subway and up into the centre of Sheffield. It was Saturday afternoon and the squares were thronging with Christmas shoppers. It’s a big busy city so I didn’t know how close I was to the corner. A man with a tray of chips and his back to a wall assumed mild dread in his eyes as I approached him (I know I’m scruffy but surely I don’t look like I’m going to beg for money.)
“Coles Corner please dude?”
He jabbed a chip on a plastic fork down the way and I found it about a quarter of mile away (I must have looked suspicious on the CCTV cameras as I ran all the way.) I soon found it a white building dying in its own monumental blandness. The album cover was in my brain and it showed an Art-Deco building with cosy lighting but there’s nothing like that there now. Bum.
The local Rotary Club had paid for a “Coles Corner” plaque to be mounted but it would be more fitting for it to say “Something Of High Quality Stood Here Once – Now Look At This Turd.”
I wandered around the Christmas markets I was heartened by so many old-fashioned traditional buildings putting modern edifices to shame. I saw a red K6 telephone box which still worked (60 pence minimum call – I can chat to Ting-Tong in Thailand for ten minutes for 40 pence.) These days Coles Corner is better known as an area than a building. I got back to the car with three minutes left on the clock. There were no Gestapo-dressed parking attendants about so I had a coffee, a slab of carrot cake and a bit of ABBA.