Restorations: Craft businesses being 'forced out' of Sheffield's Kelham Island to make way for new homes

Two traditional craft businesses are set to be forced out of a heritage building in a Sheffield industrial conservation area - sparking fears the council wants to ‘celebrate the past but not protect the future’.

Cabinet maker Paul McCarthy and silversmiths Perry Glossop and Co are preparing to leave the almshouses on Alma Street in Kelham Island, which date back to 1805, after plans were submitted to turn them into homes.

If they go, it is believed it will leave just one manufacturer in the area: heritage ladder maker WH Hulley on Ebenezer Street.

Why is Kelham a conservation area?

Chris Perry, of Perry Glossop and Co on Alma Street.

Sheffield City Council made Kelham an 'industrial conservation area’ due to its special character and importance in the metal trades. It also features several ‘important unlisted buildings’.

But in recent times the district has been transformed into a trendy residential hotspot, initially through the conversion of disused factories and new builds. But as space has dwindled, firms have surrended their premises and moved out. Last year, Aircraft and Commercial Tools on Bowling Green Street was planning to close with the loss of 16 jobs after the owner was made an offer by a developer.

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Perry Glossop and Co has been in the cottages since 2000. The building was sold by former owner AW Tools in 2020.

Leeds developer Citu is on site building flats to the rear of the cottages.

Boss Chris Perry said it has plenty of light, they could make noise and it was well located for the trades they needed including engraver, spinner, caster and laser marker.

Moving the workshop, which is rammed with machine and hand tools, would take two months and cost more than £65,000.

He enquired about premises in neighbouring Neepsend but it had been sold to a developer, he added.

He said: ”l’m quite angry but resigned. The further out we are forced, the harder it becomes for everything, including finding staff. At the moment we are doing record business but craftspeople are being pushed out.”

Summer intern Lauren Nicholson, aged, 20, studying a jewellery, materials and design at Sheffield Hallam University.

In an objection to the council, he wrote: ‘Having our business situated in the Kelham Island Industrial Conservation Area in Sheffield is very important to us, it brings an expectation from visitors about what we do and how we do it, and when they visit our workshop they are not disappointed.

‘Our silversmithing business is a heritage trade of the Kelham area. My father Peter Perry learnt his trade just up the road at the most famous of British manufacturers: James Dixon & Sons.

‘He left in 1974 and started his own business, which he was then encouraged by the council to move to its present site at The Almhouses in 2000, to regenerate the Kelham area. This is the very business that this planning is threatening’.

Silver buffer Eric Denton at Perry Glossop and Co.

What is the application for?

The application, by Bennett-Ings Developments Ltd, is to convert the building from ‘light industrial’ into 14 homes.

It states it would be sustainable due to the redevelopment of a brownfield site. And it would have measures that would provide ‘significant environmental benefits’.

It would also ‘enhance the special character and appearance of the Kelham Island Conservation Area’ through redeveloping a ‘vacant and unattractive site and providing a high quality and sympathetically designed development’.

The proposal has sparked a dozen objections, with many pointing out the building is not vacant.

Citu's designs for a residential conversion.

The Famous Sheffield Shop, at 475 Ecclesall Road, states: “It is a shame that Sheffield seems to want to celebrate the past, but not protect the future of skills and businesses that were the foundation of the city and continue to give us a worldwide reputation.”

Another states: “This council is turning its back upon the craftspeople who put this city on the map if it allows them to be evicted.

“There was once a time, not so long ago, when you could walk down streets in Sheffield and hear the beating of hammers, blasts of gas torches and the sounds of polishing spindles and lathes running. It was the beating heart and soul of this city which is now being bulldozed to make way for characterless blocks of flats and houses made from chipboard.”

Leeds developer Citu is building flats to the rear of the almshouses. Boss Chris Thompson said they were lending their expertise to Bennett Ings ‘to help rejuvenate these important buildings in a way that compliments the Kelham Central scheme’.

He added: “Without doubt, historical buildings help create the grain in Kelham Island, making for a distinctive, interesting place and contributing to its success. Eagle Works, Green Lane Works, Globe Works and the alms houses all play their part in the Little Kelham and Kelham Central areas, and those that are already restored make a positive contribution both to the use of the area and to the attractiveness of the streets.

“The almshouses are important historical buildings and, as such, certainly will meet with the conservation aims, to unleash their untapped character and charm. Currently, they’re in a poor condition and there is no activity or life to the street. These buildings will be returned to their original use as accommodation, allowing for the original features to be enhanced and celebrated.”

What is the history of the building?

Hallamshire Historic Buildings says the cottages were part of former workhouse and cotton mill dating back to 1805.

It was used as a hospital in the second cholera pandemic which killed more than 400 people in Sheffield during 1831-32. It was damaged in the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 and used as a morgue for 124 victims.

In 1882 it was taken over by Ibbotson Bros, employers ‘notoriously intolerant of union activities’ and who participated in the abuses that motivated the Sheffield Outrages of the 1850s and 1860s, which in turn led directly to trades unions being given a practical legal footing for the first time in this country.

It adds: “Despite its modest architecture, this building is important to Sheffield…. It is to be welcomed that the applicant has chosen to retain it.”

But the organisation is calling for several amendments ‘in keeping with the historic character of the building’.

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Heritage ladder maker WH Hulley on Ebenezer Street could end up as the sole manufacturer in the industrial conservation area.
The cottages on Alma Street, believed to be one of the oldest buildings in Kelham.