Restorations – All eyes on former brewery in one of Sheffield's trendiest districts

Trendy Neepsend in Sheffield has never been more popular and now all eyes on on the biggest, most prominent site: the former Stones Cannon Brewery.

By David Walsh
Friday, 25th June 2021, 1:46 pm

Seen as the ‘next piece in the puzzle’ of redevelopment, its derelict and spray-painted buildings loom large over Rutland Road. As the district’s popularity soars The Star understands there is record interest in developing it.

Architect Matt Bowker, managing director at Coda Studios Ltd, believes it is close to being sold. He’d like to see a ‘few hundred’ apartments on the site, with traffic restrictions creating a ‘proper urban neighbourhood’, especially if the site behind on Boyland Street is developed too, although some is occupied by businesses.

With the four-storey brewery office building and a tall, pitched roof warehouse retained, it would ‘bookend’ Neepsend - the other bookend being the Coda-designed Great Central flats on the corner of Chatham Street and Mowbray Street.

Matt Bowker of Coda Architects with the old Cannon Brewery and the River Don in Neepsend. Picture: Chris Etchells

He said: “If you came to Neepsend at night it used to be pitch black. Now it’s coming to life. It’s the best its been. The brewery is quite interesting architecturally, it would be good to retain and refurbish the 1930s main building.

“We have just completed Great Central at the far end of Neepsend on behalf of our client Qualis Developments and have been involved in a number of projects in Neepsend over past 10-15 years.

“We believe the area has great potential, it has wonderful historic buildings and there are opportunities to weave in new developments and uses to create a really vibrant, city centre neighbourhood in Sheffield

Developments driving the popularity of the area around the brewery include the Cutlery Works food hall opposite on Neepsend Lane - a massive but successful gamble.

The Stones Cannon brewery closed in 1999.. Picture: Chris Etchells

The Gardeners Rest pub is next door and the forthcoming Heist Brewery is adjacent to that. It will have 30 beer lines, space for more than 200 people and is set to open in July.

Steel Yard, a mixed-use mini business park made of 56 shipping containers is a stone’s throw away on Bardwell Road. The same street leads to the former Ski Village, set for a £20m redevelopment if Sheffield City Council can fix the road, which passes through a narrow, single lane railway tunnel.

In April, the authority was forced to ‘step in’ saying developer Extreme had ‘failed to make significant progress’ after winning the contract in 2017 and ‘delivery timescales are now at risk.’

Assuming the Ski Village happens, the nationally-significant leisure development will add hugely to Neepsend’s popularity.

The Cutlery Works food hall, left, has driven the redevelopment of Neepsend. Picture: Chris Etchells

Matt said the council wants to retain employment in the area, with space for start-ups, offices and light industry - like Ashurst Sheet Metals on Bardwell Road - as well as residential. Regular Arthur’s Skips lorries on Neepsend Lane are noisy evidence of a thriving business.

In 1838, when Neepsend Brewery began, much of the area was back to back housing. In 1868, William Stones purchased the lease and renamed it Cannon Brewery.

It expanded over the decades to incorporate new offices, stores, workshops and cellars.

Stones Bitter was brewed on the site from 1948. Popular with steelworkers, at its peak the brewery produced 30,000 barrels of each year. It went on to become the UK's best selling bitter, selling more than a million barrels in 1992. In 1995, the site was used as a location for the film When Saturday Comes, starring Sean Bean.

Matt Bowker, managing director of Coda Architects, in Neepsend. Picture: Chris Etchells

It closed in April 1999 and has remained unoccupied since.

Redevelopment of the area was hit by flooding in June 2007, when the River Don burst its banks, and the global financial crash from 2008.

Brewery site owner, Sheffield business Hague Plant, was granted permission to demolish the buildings in 2015, but work never started.

Now it’s time may have come.

On a sunny day this week, Matt reflected on Neepsend’s other great asset - the River Don. A green wildlife corridor, it was ‘a shame’ there was no access or footpath, he said.

“The river is cleaner than ever but there’s nowhere you can walk along it. The buildings turn their back on the river.

On the other side of Rutland Road in Neepsend.

“There is a lot of investment happening in the area but no public realm. All great cities in the world have rivers and we turn our backs on ours.

“There’s also no park and once people get to a certain age they will move. In European cities, people who live in apartments have access to a park.

“But Kelham was a red light area and people said they were mad when Cornish Place was developed and now look at it. In Neepsend it just needs someone to take a risk.”

Some feel Kelham has been redeveloped for residential and leisure and has lost its original, industrial character.

Commercial agent Tim Bottrill, of colloco, said: “Neepsend is one of the most interesting places in Sheffield. Kelham Island on the other side of the river is not as good as everyone thinks. Neepsend is more interesting. I can still go out there and find something new. And the brewery is one of the most interesting development opportunities in Sheffield.”

In 2018, Sally Hubbard opened The Mowbray events venue on Mowbray Street to be shoulder to shoulder with the “realness of people grafting.”

“Down here you can hear some good hammering and clanging sometimes, it’s part of the area. We are not hiding where we are, it’s in all our photos, it’s who we are.

“There’s a certain romance to the area. The thing we really like is it feels a bit wild and spontaneous. It’s a bit off the beaten track.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.

Workers at William Stones Cannon Brewery, Sheffield
William Stones Cannon Brewery, Rutland Road, Sheffield, January 1990
Workers in the fermenting room skimming the yeast from the vessel tops at the Cannon Brewery, January 1990.