Category Archives: Sheffield’s Heritage

Zion Graveyard

51750-Sheffield-Attercliffe

There’s not a lot left of the vibrant community that existed in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley until the late 1950s.  Two ancient structures – Carbrook Hall and Hill Top Chapel – survive from the seventeenth century.  There are some twentieth-century buildings, such as Banners Department Store and the former Adelphi Cinema.  Other, less prepossessing buildings have become significant simply because they survived – a number of banks and pubs, two Burton’s tailors, a chapel, a swimming baths and a library.

In a corner behind the remaining shops on Attercliffe Road is a historic discovery.

Parallel to the main road runs Zion Lane, a narrow alley still paved with bricks and stone setts.  It takes its name from the former Zion Congregational Church, a place of worship since 1793, the site ultimately occupied by a grand Romanesque chapel with a tower and spire, opened in 1863.

Inevitably, as the houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s the church became unsustainable. The building was sold in 1976 and the church became a furniture store until it burnt down in 1987 and was afterwards demolished.  The Zion Sabbath School across the lane survives as a motor-repair business.

Through all this, in the graveyard behind the church generations of Attercliffe people slept undisturbed.  I photographed it in 1977, and another photographer recorded it in 1994, when it still looked like a burial ground.  Eventually it became a jungle.

The graveyard still belongs to the United Reformed Church, which needs to divest itself of the responsibility.  A sharp-eyed member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, an energetic conservation body operating a couple of miles away, spotted the sale notice, which led to the formation of the Friends of Zion Graveyard who have cleared sufficient clutter to reveal that this place is freighted with historic significance.

Among the graves so far uncovered and identified are Mark Oakes (died September 19, 1856) – assayer, refiner and crucible maker, John Pearson of Hall Carr House (died January 14th 1877) – whose daughter Martha was assistant organist to Zion Church, buried with his wife and sister in an elaborate grave marked with iron posts and railings, and Jonathan Wood (died October 20th 1848), – owner of Wood’s (or Bridge) Foundry, member of the Zion Church choir, and his wife Catherine Wood (died September 12th 1873) – buried with their two infant children in an tomb surrounded by iron railings that were once painted gold, and two other children with the same family names, aged one year and two months, close by.

Most important of all, the Friends have located the family vault of the Read family.

Joseph Read (1774-1837) established the Sheffield Smelting Company (which is still in operation as Thessco Ltd) at Royd’s Mill, Washford Bridge, half a mile away from the Zion Church.  They lived at Wincobank Hall.

One of his daughters, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), was a notable anti-slavery campaigner who with her sister Emily Read was a founder-member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and its successor, the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery.

Another of his daughters, Elizabeth “Eliza” Read (1803-1851), married William Wilson (1800-1866), a nonconformist Radical who was chairman of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery Committee.

Their son, Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was the “stern and uncompromising” Liberal MP for Holmfirth (1885-1912).

His teetotal, non-smoking younger brother, John Wycliffe Wilson JP (1836-1921) became Lord Mayor of Sheffield (1902) on condition that alcohol should be banned at the Town Hall during his term.  As Chairman of Sheffield Board of Guardians he instigated the development of cottage homes for orphaned children.

Henry Joseph Wilson’s son, Cecil Henry Wilson (1864-1945) was Labour MP for Attercliffe (1922-1931 and 1935-1944).

In this nonconformist, Radical, individualistic town, this self-made dynasty is working-class aristocracy and Mary Ann Rawson’s campaigning career entitles her to national recognition.

Their unassuming, long-forgotten burial place deserves to be treasured and celebrated.

It commemorates what made Sheffield.

Chapel of ease

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

It’s no accident that the main road through Attercliffe, the industrial east end of Sheffield, is called Attercliffe Common.

Until 1811 it was indeed agricultural common land, where the highwayman Spence Broughton was gibbeted in 1792 near to the scene of his crime.  His name and the location are commemorated in nearby Broughton Lane.

After the enclosure the salubrious country homes and villas of the valley were overrun by steelworks and housing, so that only their names survive in the street-plan – Attercliffe Old and New Halls, Woodbourn Hall and Chippingham House, though part of the Jacobean Carbrook Hall, with its original panelling, plaster ceilings and ghost, survived and still survives as a public house.

Of similar age to Carbrook Hall is another unlikely survival, Hill Top Chapel, a simple Gothic-survival building of 1629, built ostensibly because the journey to Sheffield parish church, now the Cathedral, was said to be impossible in winter.

It was built by subscription, with contributions from William Spencer of Attercliffe Hall and Stephen Bright (1583-1642) of Carbrook Hall.  His younger brother Rev John Bright (1594/5-1643) was vicar of Sheffield from 1635 until the year of his death.  Both of them, like most influential people in Sheffield, were Puritans.

Stephen Bright’s son, John (1619-1688), was an important figure supporting Parliament in the Civil Wars, and politically astute enough to be awarded a baronetcy at the Restoration.  He retired to Badsworth, near Wakefield.

The Brights’ puritan influence remained in Attercliffe, where a dissenting academy was founded in 1686.

The steelmaker Benjamin Huntsman was buried in the Hill Top graveyard in 1776.

The Hill Top Chapel remained the only Anglican place of worship between Sheffield and Rotherham until a new parish church, Christ Church, Attercliffe, was consecrated in 1826. 

By the 1840s the chapel served only for funerals in the surrounding graveyard. 

After Attercliffe Cemetery opened in 1859 alongside Christ Church, even that function declined, yet the chapel and the graveyard survived amid the grimy industrial works and densely packed streets of terraced housing.

The structure was reduced and substantially rebuilt by John Dodsley Webster in 1909.

The exterior featured in the music video of ‘Sensoria’, by the Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2vCpT1H7u0 – made in 1984, an interesting moment of change in the landscape of the Lower Don Valley.

In the late 1990s Hill Top Chapel accommodated an offshoot of the Nine o’Clock Service [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nine-oclock-church-relaunches-services-1303804.html], which was witnessed by a bemused mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website:  http://shipoffools.com/mystery/1998/026Mystery.html.

The building is now used, appropriately, by a Presbyterian congregation that proudly recalls the building’s Puritan heritage:  http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/about-us/hill-top-chapel.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

The most haunted pub in Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Carbrook Hall, Sheffield

Some historians suggest that the fact that Attercliffe is mentioned first in the Domesday Survey of 1086 – “Ateclive & Escaveld” – is an indication that Attercliffe was more significant than Sheffield before the building of the Norman castle.

Certainly there was a manor house belonging to the Blunt family by 1176 and this house was rebuilt in 1462 and became Carbrook Hall.

It was purchased by Thomas Bright, lord of the manor of Ecclesall, in the late-sixteenth century and the surviving stone-built wing was built c1620 for Stephen Bright (1583-1642), bailiff of the Earl of Arundel’s Hallamshire estates from 1622 and later lord of the manor of Ecclesall.

Stephen Bright’s son, Sir John (1619-1688) helped co-ordinate the siege of Sheffield Castle in 1644 from the Hall.

The Brights’ Carbrook estate passed repeatedly through the female line, and it seems that later generations let the building from early in the eighteenth century.

The house was more extensive than the surviving remnant:  it was surveyed by William Fairbank in 1777, and E Blore’s engraving in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire:  the history and topography of the parish of Sheffield in the county of York (1819) shows an elaborate jettied timber wing and other outbuildings.

There remain two elaborate interiors with fine oak panelling and plasterwork, possibly the work of the same craftsmen who decorated the Little Keep at Bolsover Castle.

The lower room has an oak chimney piece dated 1623 with Corinthian columns and strapwork and a depiction of Wisdom trampling on Ignorance, with scrolls containing mottoes.  A very similar fireplace, originally at Norton House, is now preserved at the Cutlers’ Hall.

The stone fireplace in the upper chamber is stone, and instead of columns features unusual caryatids.  In a nearly circular cartouche is an image of the pelican in her piety.

Carbrook Hall became a public house sometime in the nineteenth century – all surviving photographs show it without the timbered wing – and in that guise it became an unlikely survivor of the days when Attercliffe was rural:  http://www.sheffieldcamra.org.uk/2016/10/heritage-pubs-with-dave-pickersgill-carbrook-hall.

In recent times it has traded on a reputation as “the most haunted pub in Sheffield”, giving rise to investigations and reports that lose nothing in the telling:  http://www.project-reveal.com/carbrook-hall-ghosts/4540202323.

In February 2017 the Carbrook Hall closed as a pub, to the distress of CAMRA and local workers.  The new owner, West Street Leisure, has not yet disclosed future plans for the building, beyond saying that its status as a Grade II* listed building will be respected.  Conservationists are concerned that if it stands empty it will be vulnerable to vandalism: [http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/fight-to-protect-historic-haunted-pub-in-sheffield-passes-first-hurdle-1-8539851].

This rare survival, a fragmentary reminder of the days when Attercliffe Common really was common land and Meadowhall was surrounded by meadows, contains one of the finest historic interiors in the city.

I hope it’ll be open for the public to enjoy again very soon.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

Magna

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

Magna, Templeborough, Rotherham

When I grew up in the East End of Sheffield in the 1950s the streetscape was dominated, throughout Brightside, Attercliffe and Tinsley, by the forbidding black corrugated-iron sheds that housed the heavy steel industry that enriched Sheffield and Rotherham.

Templeborough, just over the border from the city of Sheffield in the borough of Rotherham, took its name from a Roman fort (erroneously thought by antiquarians to be a temple) dated circa AD54.  From the site on the valley floor the Romans kept an eye on the local Brigantes’ fort on Wincobank hill and, it seems, operated a small ironworks.

Water-powered mills existed at Templeborough and Ickles (named from the Roman Icknield Street) throughout the Middle Ages and up to the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The Phoenix Bessemer Steel Company began making railway rails on the site in 1871 but went bankrupt four years later.  One of the partners, Thomas Hampton, joined Henry Steel and William Peech, businessmen and lifelong friends married to each other’s sisters, in a new enterprise.  Mr Hampton was quickly superseded by the experienced steel manufacturer Edward Tozer:  the new name, Steel, Peech & Tozer, became celebrated in the South Yorkshire steel industry.

In 1897 Steel, Peech & Tozer replaced their Bessemer converters with open-hearth furnaces, and during the First World War erected their melting shop and rolling mills, then the largest in Europe, on the site of the Roman fort.

This great works was amalgamated into the combine United Steel Companies in 1918, briefly nationalised in 1951-3 and again, as part of the British Steel Corporation, in 1967, reprivatized and renationalised and then merged with a Dutch concern to become the private enterprise Corus.

Along with the adjacent Brinsworth Hot Strip Mill, opened in 1957, this huge steelworks achieved high productivity after the original open-hearth furnaces were replaced by electric-arc furnaces.  When the last of these was commissioned in 1965 the works used as much electricity as the entire borough of Rotherham.

As the British steel industry went into steep decline, the Templeborough mill went cold and dark in 1993, until a half-mile stretch of the buildings was converted in 2001 to a science-based educational attraction, Magna, designed by the prestigious architectural practice WilkinsonEyre, in conjunction with engineering consultancies Mott MacDonald and Buro Happold.

Now this huge space, dramatically lit, commemorates the drama and magnificence of the heavy steel industry at its height, with the redundant furnaces reactivated by clever lighting and special effects to reproduce the “Big Melt” as a spectacle.

By this means it’s possible to experience the entire history of steel in Sheffield and Rotherham in sequence from the modest water-powered works at Abbeydale and the Shepherd Wheel, through the interpretive displays at Kelham Island, ending at the haunting space and pyrotechnics of Magna:  https://www.visitmagna.co.uk.

Magna, along with the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, all feature in the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

’Ackydoc

Worksop Road Aqueduct, Sheffield & Tinsley Canal (1977)

Worksop Road Aqueduct, Sheffield & Tinsley Canal (1977)

I’ll journey some distance to hear Mike Spick, the distinguished Sheffield local historian, and indeed I travelled as far as Chesterfield when he gave his Sheffield Canal presentation to the North-East Derbyshire Industrial Archaeological Society.

At the risk of showing disrespect I took issue when Mike referred to the Worksop Road Aqueduct as “T’ackydoc”.  The “t’” may be useful in print, but in Attercliffe dialect it was a pure glottal stop, as in “Weer’s thi dad?”  “Is on ’closet.”

Otherwise I listened to Mike’s presentation with admiration for the accuracy of his account, the richness of his illustrations and his adept use of PowerPoint to animate and explain.

The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, not quite four miles long, climbs from the River Don at Tinsley, very near to the latter-day M1 viaduct and the much-lamented cooling towers that were demolished in 2008, by a flight of eleven (originally twelve) locks to its terminus on the edge of Sheffield city centre.

For over a century before it was built the nearest navigable waterway was the River Don Navigation at Tinsley;  the next nearest was the River Idle at Bawtry, over twenty miles away.

The canal was financially supported and its route along the south side of the Don Valley was directly influenced by the estate of the Duke of Norfolk, the ground-landlord for much of Sheffield.

To please the Duke a branch canal was built to his Tinsley Park collieries.  The course of the Greenland Arm is now Greenland Road, part of the Sheffield ring-road.

Authorised in 1815, four years after Attercliffe Common was enclosed, the Sheffield Canal opened with much celebration in 1819.

It was the first effective means of breaking Sheffield’s physical isolation, surrounded by seven hills.

Its heyday lasted barely twenty years, until the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway opened in 1839, following (as it still does) the north side of the valley.

For thirty years Sheffield passengers and goods headed east to Retford or north to Rotherham in order to travel south to London.  Only in 1870 did the Midland Railway complete its direct line from Chesterfield, the present-day route via Dronfield that to this day is known to railwaymen as the “New Road”.

The canal continued to serve the city under railway ownership well into the twentieth century.  Indeed, a new warehouse was built, for lack of anywhere else to put it, over the quay in 1896 and is known for obvious reasons as the Straddle Warehouse.

The last commercial cargo went down the canal in 1980.  It never became unnavigable but it was practically derelict by the time the opening scene of The Full Monty was filmed near Bacon Lane in 1997.

Now, as part of the regeneration of the Lower Don Valley, the canal has become almost unrecognisably emparked.  The terminal basin is a marina called Victoria Quays, presumably commemorating the defunct Victoria railway station.  The Quays, like the former station, is out on a limb, not easily accessible from the city centre.

There are hotel boats offering an alternative pied-â-terre to the corporate hotels, and a trip-boat offering “cruising for all occasions”, along the surprisingly silvan Attercliffe Cutting, over ’Ackydoc and down the locks to Tinsley.

In fact, it’s an ideal venue for a birthday party.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.

Clad in complete steel

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Steel cladding is an admirable and relatively inexpensive way of modernising the façade of a building.  It conceals the original usually without obliterating it.  I’d far rather see a historic frontage, such as the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, clad than stripped of its aesthetic value.

The Bijou Cinema, Derby, lost its elaborate faience façade when it became a furniture showroom in the early 1960s.  The interior, at balcony level at least, survived to become a particularly beautiful curry house, which would have been even more eye-catching if the original cinema frontage had remained intact.

There’s hardly anything left of the auditorium of the former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield, which after it closed in 1958 also became a furniture showroom, and latterly a self-storage unit, yet the rich façade in brick and brown faience survives largely intact behind steel cladding that was installed as late as the 1980s.

Indeed, part of the façade became visible when a gale brought down the corner of the cladding on January 11th 2017.

Though at present barely recognisable , the Don has a particular place in the history of the city’s cinemas.

Sales people working at the furniture showroom were perturbed by manifestations that they couldn’t explain – whirring noises, voices and a figure in an overall wearing cycle clips.

The late Bernard Dore, who had managed the Don Cinema in the 1950s, pointed out that the chief operator, Mr Potter, invariably cycled to West Bar from his home in Ecclesall rather than take the tram, and stored his bike in the projection room.

Furthermore, he habitually wore plus-fours and a tweed jacket covered by an overall.

He had a habit of creeping up behind his junior colleagues and whispering their names to make them jump.

Dan, the manager of Armadillo Storage, showed me what’s left of the cinema structure – an intact staircase and the space that was once the projection room.  He and his colleagues say they haven’t experienced manifestations.

I hope that when the steel cladding has eventually to come down, the façade behind it will be retained.

After all, the Don Picture House is, as far as I know, Sheffield’s only documented haunted cinema.

We never closed

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

I passed the former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, twice a day for nearly thirty years on my way to work without ever taking much notice of it, from a time when it was still a cinema, through years as a bingo club, until eventually it became a carpet showroom.

I wrote a blog article about it and illustrated it with an image dated 1985, when the exterior was largely as designed by the London architect, George Coles.

A couple of years ago the carpet showroom advertised what became the longest-running closing-down sale I can remember.

I got to know the staff, who were unclear about when and indeed whether the closure would take place.

They’re still there, and in the autumn of 2016 the cinema marquee was dismantled and the entire façade covered with elegant steel cladding.

It’s reassuring to know that the owners are investing in the building, so it’s unlikely to be threatened in the near future, which is as well because it’s unlisted and unrecognised as a building of merit.

It was Sheffield’s last pre-war cinema, opening shortly after the start of the Second World War, on September 18th 1939.

George Coles was a highly regarded architect who built numerous cinemas for Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon circuit, such as the Odeons at Muswell Hill and Woolwich.

In Sheffield he was commissioned by the building contractor M J Gleeson to build the Forum, Southey (1938, demolished) and shortly afterwards began work on the Capitol.

Indeed, Coles’ plans for the proposed cinema show that Gleesons intended to name it another Forum, until they thought better of having two cinemas with the same name a little more than a mile apart.

The exterior is an impeccable, restrained version of the Art Deco manner that Odeon favoured, but the interior in contrast is elegant neo-Georgian, with alcoves and statuary and a 36-foot proscenium, much of which remains, apparently, behind immaculate white cladding.

The street-level foyer has been swept away to open up the showroom area, but the upstairs crush lobby (inaccessible to the public) remains as it was in the days of bingo, and the operating box and rewind room are intact though empty of equipment.

Although the building has a secure future for the moment, some day it will change hands, and its considerable architectural merit may not be recognised as a largely intact late-1930s moderne cinema by an architect with a national reputation.

Lacking the protection of listing, the long-term future of the Capitol depends on the vigilance of local observers and the support of national conservation organisations.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the building as worth less than the site, when in fact its historic integrity could be a selling point sometime in years to come.

Kelham Island

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield:  Bessemer Converter

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield: Bessemer Converter

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield:  River Don Engine

Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield: River Don Engine

On its course towards Lady’s Bridge in the centre of Sheffield, the River Don splits:  water is taken from the natural course and sent down a mill race, originally built for the town’s medieval corn mill, creating an artificial island that was later named after the town armourer, Kellam Homer, who worked here just before the Civil War.

It has always been an intensively industrial spot, its furnaces, forges and workshops initially powered by water, later by steam.

When Sheffield’s tramways were first electrified in 1899, the Corporation power station was located at Kelham Island, and its buildings now form the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, opened in 1972, telling the story of Sheffield’s industries through displays and exhibits, supplementing the historic sites at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel.

The displays highlight the continuing variety of Sheffield manufactures, from cutlery to liquorice allsorts, exhibiting the fast-disappearing skills of the “little mesters”, and providing a home for England’s largest surviving Bessemer Converter, a working Crossley Gas Engine and the mighty 400-ton, 12,000hp River Don Engine, built by the Sheffield firm of Davy Brothers to roll armour-plate up to fifteen inches thick.

It’s also the home of the Ken Hawley Collection, the result of a lifetime’s assiduous acquisition of tools, archives and moving-image records that saved for posterity the vanishing crafts of the “little mesters” and the larger engineering firms that have disappeared since the Second World War.  Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014) accumulated irreplaceable artefacts through his business connections in the tool trade, and by enlisting historians and engineering enthusiasts over six decades.

Kelham Island is now famous for its beer.  The Fat Cat public house, with its Kelham Island Brewery, is within sight of the museum, and around the corner is the Kelham Island Tavern, a similarly celebrated home of real ale.

The Kelham Island Industrial Museum is a destination in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Mr Shepherd’s Wheel

Shepherd Wheel, Whiteley Woods, Sheffield

Shepherd Wheel, Whiteley Woods, Sheffield

The valley of the River Porter, north-west of Sheffield city-centre, has a succession of water-powered industrial sites in varying degrees of preservation.

It’s easy to explore, because the valley forms part of the fourteen-mile Sheffield Round Walk, and there are bus routes running parallel from Fulwood to Hunters Bar.

A good place to start is Forge Dam, where on the site of a former forge and rolling mill there is a celebrated café which has changed little since at least the 1950s.

Further downstream is the water-powered Shepherd Wheel, a surviving grinding shop (known in Sheffield as a “hull”) for sharpening knife blades, named after the late-eighteenth century tenant.

Because the Sheffield craft trades were highly fragmented, many craftsmen worked for themselves, and were known as the “little mesters”.

The grinders would hire a grindstone on an hourly or daily basis, rather like hairdressers and tattooists rent their chairs nowadays.

They sat aside a saddle, called a “horsing”, bending over the millstone-grit grindstones that spun fast on the power that came from the water wheel.

When you step into either of the two hulls (set opposite each other to take power from the two sides of the waterwheel), it’s easy to sense the dark, cold, damp atmosphere.  Working in such places was not fun.

Indeed, it was frequently lethal.  Undetectable imperfections in the grindstones could at any moment cause an explosion throwing the stone and the grinder sitting astride it right across the building, into the roof or on to the unprotected cogwheels.

“Wet grinding”, where the stone sat in a bath of water so that the dust was converted to a viscous mud, called “swarf”, was less profitable than “dry grinding”, which created so much iron and sandstone dust that grinders rarely lived past their mid-thirties if they persisted in the trade, as many did for lack of choice.

The surrounding stretch of the valley became a public park in 1900, and when Shepherd Wheel closed in 1930 it was left almost entirely intact.

It took many years, however, for the place to be restored.  It first opened to the public in 1962.

It is now vested in the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which also operates the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and the Kelham Island Industrial Museum.

It is open at weekends and bank holidays:  http://www.simt.co.uk/shepherd-wheel-workshop.

Shepherd Wheel is included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

Industrial hamlet

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield

Sheffield’s Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet museum illustrates the entire history of the city’s traditional metal trades on a single site.

Before the railway came and made possible Sheffield’s heavy steel industry in the East End, the manufacture of cutlery and edge tools took place on the fast-flowing river valleys of the Don Valley, mainly to the north and west of the town itself.  Only with the arrival of steam power did the “little mesters” begin to concentrate their works in town.

The Abbeydale Works can be traced back to at least 1714, perhaps to the “New Wheel” mentioned at the site in 1685.  The present buildings date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and show the full range of processes involved in producing edge-tools using the crucible steel methods developed  by  Benjamin Huntsman in 1742.

The Abbeydale works made scythes in a sequence from the manufacturing of clay crucibles, the furnace, to the forging and grinding, boring and setting of scythe-blades ready for the handle to be fitted elsewhere, laid out logically around a spacious courtyard.

The vernacular buildings, including the workmen’s cottages and the Manager’s House of 1838, all built of local sandstone, sit easily in the wooded landscape, and it’s possible to forget the large millpond behind, holding back a placid-looking, prodigious weight of water that provided power for the works.

The waterwheels, tilt-hammers, blowing-engine and grindstones show that, because materials were simple and technology primitive by modern standards, the high level of precision and workmanship achieved in the trade depended on the skill and physical hardiness of the craftsmen who worked here.

For all its peaceful, rural setting, the site also recollects the “Sheffield Outrages”, a series of terrorist acts by which trade-union members sought to intimidate non-members by sabotage and violence.

In November 1842 an explosion in the middle of the night destroyed the grinding shop and practically immobilised the works, presenting, according to the Sheffield Iris, “a scene that is rarely witnessed in a country not at war”.

The manager, Mr Dyson, had employed two workmen “who, though industrious and efficient workmen, did not belong to the union, and therefore Mr Dyson came under the displeasure of the men who compose the committee appointed by the union”.

Twenty years later, a subsequent tenant, Joshua Tyzack, was shot at:  the fact that the only casualty was his top hat didn’t make the incident any less threatening.

Tyzack, Sons & Turner finally closed the works down in 1933, and two years later the charitable trust set up by the Sheffield philanthropist J G Graves purchased it complete and largely intact.

Indeed, the works briefly resumed during the Second World War.

In 1964 the Council for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities began to investigate and restore the site, and since the 1970s it has been a popular tourist site as well as an invaluable educational resource.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is a destination in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.