Monthly Archives: September 2016

Benjamin Huntsman

Britannia Inn, Worksop Road, Attercliffe Sheffield (2010)

Britannia Inn, Worksop Road, Attercliffe Sheffield (2010)

Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), a Quaker clockmaker from Doncaster, was dissatisfied with the inconsistent quality of the blister steel manufactured in cementation furnaces.  He needed consistent quality in the steel he used for the springs of his timepieces.

He evolved cast steel during the 1740s by melting bars of blister steel in closed fireclay crucibles and went into commercial production in 1751.

Huntsman’s process generated steel of far higher, more consistent quality, but it was expensive.

He moved to the outskirts of Sheffield to be nearer to collieries, first to Handsworth, and then to a larger site at Attercliffe before 1763, by which time he was producing up to ten tons of cast steel a year.

Hunstman did not patent his process and Sheffield cutlers at first refused to use cast steel.  He sold his entire output to French cutlers, and in the face of competition his neighbours surreptitiously spied on his works and stole his expertise.

His business nevertheless prospered and was passed to his son, William Huntsman (1733–1809).

The site of his Attercliffe works was commemorated in the name of the now-demolished Huntsman’s Gardens Schools.

The only remaining reminder on the site now is the cast numerals which form the date 1772 on the Britannia Inn, Worksop Road.

Benjamin Huntsman is buried in the graveyard of Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe.

The Britannia Inn and Huntsman’s grave at Hill Top Chapel are included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

The burning fiery furnace

Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace, Shalesmoor, Sheffield

Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace, Shalesmoor, Sheffield

Standing incongruously in a car-park, the Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace is a precious relic of the origins of Sheffield’s steel industry.

A cementation furnace is a distinctive conical structure, which resembles the bottle-kilns of the Staffordshire potteries and serves a similar function.

Swedish or Spanish bar-iron and charcoal, sandwiched like a layer cake, was heated to a temperature of 1,100-1,200°C in sealed sandstone vessels heated by an external coal fire.

The resulting product was called blister steel and was uneven in quality because the outer blistered surface of each bar was tougher than the core and no two bars were consistent.

The earliest surviving cementation furnace in Britain is the stone-built example at Derwentcote, Tyneside, dating from c1730.

The Sheffield furnace, dating from 1848, is the very last survivor of around 250 such furnaces which dotted the city until the end of the nineteenth century.  It formed part of a group of five in the works of Daniel Doncaster & Sons.

It remains complete, with the hearth and the surrounding flues that directed the heat around the two parallel sandstone chests which contained alternate layers of charcoal and iron, sealed by a crust of “wheelswarf”, that is, debris from blade-grinding combined with sandstone dust.

Each firing produced up to 35 tons of steel.

The blackout mask on top of the conical chimney was added after it was damaged in the Sheffield Blitz.

When the rest of the works was demolished the new landowners, Midland Bank Ltd, now HSBC, fenced it off and restored it.  It’s easily visible from the surrounding streets, and can be inspected more closely by picking up the key from Kelham Island Industrial Museum.

The Doncaster Street cementation furnace is included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour.  For details, please click here.

New York’s 9/11 Museum

National September 11 Museum, New York City:  Ladder Company 3 apparatus

National September 11 Museum, New York City: Ladder Company 3 apparatus

New York’s National September 11 Memorial remembers the people who died in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, as well as the victims of the other violent acts in Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11th and the 1993 bomb-attack on the basement of the Center’s North Tower.

Nearby stands the National September 11 Museum, dedicated on May 15th 2014, designed by the New York architectural practice Davis Brody Bond specifically to evoke memories without causing additional distress to survivors and the families of victims.  The entrance pavilion is by the Norwegian practice Snøhetta.

The below-ground 110,000 square-foot space incorporates surviving archaeology of the site, including footings of the towers, part of the slurry wall that holds back the Hudson River, and the transplanted Survivors’ Staircase, thirty-eight steps that formed part of the link from 5 World Trade Center to Vesey Street.

Major artefacts displayed include girder-work from the towers, part of the broadcasting antenna from the top of the North Tower, a badly damaged fire truck and other emergency vehicles.  There are objects, clothing, documents and photographs associated with those who died and those who survived, and tributes such as the Dream Bike, a motor-cycle restored by New York Fire Department firefighters on behalf of their lost colleague Gerard Baptiste.

Portraits of the 2,983 victims of the 1993 and 2001 bombings and commemorations from all over the world are displayed along with a rotating display of artefacts and recovered property associated with particular individual victims and survivors, many of them gifted by families, friends and colleagues, together with still photographs and audio- and video-material from before, during and after the attacks.

The layout is skilfully arranged to lead the visitor gently through a sequence of spaces that interpret sights, sounds and memories of the World Trade Center, the events of September 11th 2001, the rescue and recovery operations and the continuing rebuilding on the site.

Material that might be disturbing, such as a display about those who fell from the towers before they collapsed, is subtly flagged so that it can be avoided.  Friendly, unobtrusive docents are on hand to talk about the exhibits and the events.

This is not a place to rush through.  I spent three and a half hours there and didn’t see everything.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

New York’s 9/11 Memorial

If the task of replacing the landmark “twin towers” was a huge challenge to designers, the responsibility of commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the original site needed sensitivity and practical genius.

In comparison, the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was sited literally in an open field.  The Pentagon Memorial in Washington is a public open space in front of the building, the only part of the Pentagon complex where photography is permitted.

In crowded Manhattan, however, there was a strong feeling – particularly from the loved ones of the victims, many of whose remains were never recovered from the site,– that nothing should be built where the towers stood.

Accordingly the National September 11 Memorial consists of the footprints of the original towers, rendered as twin pools, each one acre in area, lined with walls of granite over which flow waterfalls.

The designer, Michael Arad of the New York practice Handel Architects, entitled his concept “Reflecting Absence”, which is exactly what it does.

The street-level parapets have bronze panels inscribed the names of the victims of 9/11, including those who died at the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93 and those who died in the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center, grouped according to the location of their deaths.

The words “and her unborn child” are added to the names of the ten pregnant victims.

The trees surrounding the pools are long-lived deciduous swamp white oaks, with the exception of the “Survivor Tree”, a callory pear which survived the bombing and was nurtured by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in the Bronx and returned to the site.  Six other survivor trees, three callory pears and three little-leaf lindens, are replanted near to City Hall and the Manhattan approach to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The empty spaces, the soothing sound of falling water and the presence of the inscribed names call forth thoughts and feelings about the place and what happened there that resonate for victims’ loved ones, survivors and visitors who, if they are old enough, remember exactly where they were on September 11th 2001.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.