A MULTI-MILLION pound scheme which is breathing life into one of the town centre’s most historic streets is nearing its long-awaited completion. Josh Timlin took a look at what’s being done to preserve - and regenerate - Eldon Street.
Barnsley town centre is very different to what it was like just a handful of years ago. Ageing, unattractive eyesores are gone and a host of stylish, ultra-modern buildings have been built in their place.
The town centre was a place where you’d avoid and head for Sheffield, Wakefield or Leeds instead but in 2024 the picture couldn’t be more disparate - it’s now the envy of its neighbours and the Glass Works has transformed Barnsley.
The library, the public realm, the big-name shops& many people scoffed at the council’s plans a decade ago and indeed continue to do so given its £200m-plus cost but it just goes to show you sometimes have to speculate to accumulate.
The council’s stuck to its guns, it’s got on with the task at hand, progress is there for everyone to see and the regeneration model has shown that sometimes in life ballsy decisions have to be made to ensure a brighter future.
A key gateway to the Glass Works is Eldon Street as it’s often where commuters and visitors land having exited Barnsley Interchange. Again, despite its historic - and cultural - significance, it was very much in need of TLC and the council cottoned onto the fact not long after they announced the Glass Works plan.
A four-year programme has seen Historic England and the council team up to deliver a series of improvements including the restoration of broken cobbles to the refurbishment of several key buildings such as the Civic and Parkway Cinema.
The street was chosen as a so-called ‘heritage action zone’ - which has seen the council and Historic England partner for the scheme - due to its 180-year history and its close proximity to the Glass Works.
Visitors to Barnsley town centre may have spotted scaffolding as work is underway to restore some buildings between Regent Street and the junction of Market Hill.
By the end of March, the project will have seen almost £4m of investment go into the historic street.
The final stage of the project is about to begin and will see conservation works completed to 58, 60 and 70-72 Eldon Street - and already aspects are being uncovered about the fascinating heritage of Eldon Street and hidden stories behind the historic facades.
One of the oldest surviving buildings on the street - 58 - was originally built as a linen warehouse. It later became an adult education school in the 1870s, before it became Anne Porter’s and Sons, one of Barnsley’s first department stores to cater specifically for women.
Its neighbour, number 60, also has a fascinating history and has been used for many things over the years. It was originally built as a furniture shop and warehouse. Then, in the 1880s, it was a music warehouse selling instruments and sheet music. After that, it was Roebuck’s - furniture emporium - and in more recent years the building has been used for a series of fast food restaurants before becoming Globe Holidays.
Next door, the Parkway Cinema is also due to have its original canopy restored as part of the street’s regeneration. The site has a long fascinating history but the current building was well-known as the Odeon Cinema in the 1960s.
Now as the Parkway Cinema, it is one of only a handful of cinemas in the UK to still use 70mm film.
In this phase of restoration work, the buildings will undergo cosmetic work to restore their frontages and repair windows and other historic features. This will ensure their look and feel is in keeping with their historic façades, and compliments the work already undertaken elsewhere on the street.
Dr Tegwen Roberts, the brains behind the project, said: “There’s so much history hidden within these buildings.
“To be able to uncover so much of it and to share that with local communities has been incredible.
“The whole project will have a huge positive impact on Eldon Street as we connect historical areas with the exciting new developments in the town centre.
“It is not only restoring elements from the past, maintaining buildings and stories for generations to come, but it provides these buildings with a new lease of life so they can continue to have purpose now - and in the future - as part of a modern town centre.
“Eldon Street is the key missing element of the town’s current regeneration.
“Improving the appearance of the buildings and bringing activity back to the street will make a significant difference to the town centre as a whole.”
Footfall in Barnsley town centre was up 5.7 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022, and events also proved a hit in 2023.
During Barnsley’s Bright Nights Festival that spanned across the town centre back in November, footfall was recorded at a significant 27.5 per cent increase over the same event the previous year.
Coun Robin Franklin, cabinet spokesperson for regeneration and culture, added: “The project is breathing life into an important historic street, which also happens to be many people’s gateway into Barnsley town centre.
“Eldon Street is a very special place with a fascinating history so we are delighted that the works taking place will restore the façades, bringing our historic buildings back to life while also encouraging experiences along the street.
“For the businesses that reside inside these buildings right now, it is hoped that, after surviving so much disruption throughout the pandemic and more recently the cost-of-living crisis, the completion of this final phase of work will beckon a time of celebration for them too.”
This final phase of work on the historic street will cement its role as one of the most vibrant and attractive parts of the town centre.