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  Mr Hampton was quickly superseded by the experienced steel manufacturer Edward Tozer:  the new name, Steel, Peech & Tozer, became celebrated in the South Yorkshire steel industry.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.

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