SPONSORED: The beautiful bones of Sheffield’s industrial heritage

The skeletons of the North’s industrial past loom across our towns and cities.

Monday, 25th October 2021, 10:11 am

The bones of the buildings that once housed imposing machinery and enterprising workers are often brutal, and beautiful. These heritage mills and works sit as reassuring landmarks on our skylines, but we can’t consign them as relics to the history books.

Yes, they are often architecturally impressive. But it’s their role in the fabric of a community that we can’t afford to lose. Just by standing tall on the North’s streets, they silently tell the story of decades of brave enterprise and a century of human history and personal commitment.

Naturally, industry (particularly intensive manufacturing) moved on to new homes as companies innovated and adapted to the times. These awesome buildings can’t sit as empty museums to the powerhouses of the past. Sadly, that is too often their fate. Derelict and decaying, many have already been lost and a long list are terminal.

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EyeWitness Works

But there is reason to be excited. With the right investment and respect for heritage, these can make top places to work and incredible places to live – that’s happening right across the North’s towns and cities. We’re making that happen in Sheffield, where we’re turning the commanding Eyewitness and Ceylon Works building into a new neighbourhood in the Devonshire Quarter.

The former cutlery works was built in 1852 and was the long-time home of Taylor’s Eyewitness, the company creating cutlery including pocket and kitchen knives. That’s over 150 years of proud makers’ history, with thousands passing through its doors forging a renowned export for Sheffield. It was a hothouse for ingenuity and hard graft as the company prospered.

That chapter of the building’s story may have ended and we’re readying to turn the page – now on site creating stunning homes for city dwellers. It’ll feature loft apartments and town houses packed with character. And yet, the people who call it home will know and love the story. They’ll know through the exposed brick walls; the original beams; the features we’ve preserved; and the stunning ceilings – all adding up to a solid sense of heritage when you walk through the door.

It would be daft to romanticise a notion that saving such buildings can be easy. The story is alluring, but the reality can be relentless and demanding. These buildings hold history, but on a practical level they hold surprises (not good ones) that take time, effort and money to overcome during the restoration. There’s also the fundamental issue of finance – and making restoration stack-up commercially can be challenging the further you venture from city centres.

Tim Heatley, co-founder at Capital & Centric

If we’re being honest, these buildings also create an awesome backdrop for new public spaces in the city. This is harder to achieve, but not impossible, with new builds. In Sheffield, we’re using this to our advantage, opening a cobbled street and lining it with trees and foliage – a perfect place to sit and soak up the city vibe. There’ll also be private courtyards, where we’re planning to display a 150-year-old friction screw press we rescued from inside.

But old buildings alone don’t make a place. We fuse the old with the new at most of the heritage projects entrusted to us. Sheffield is no exception and we’re already on site renovating Eyewitness and Ceylon Works. We’ve also set out our vision for the Mesters Village neighbourhood, anchored by beautiful existing buildings but featuring a mix of 2,500 homes, makers spaces, cafes and a school. A true community in the heart of the city.

We’re on site with the renovation and can’t wait to give local people the chance to own their own piece of history. For now, though, it’s all about the mission to turn these historic icons into part of Sheffield’s future. Not every such building across the North can be saved - many will be unviable or beyond repair. But for those we can, it’s our duty to do something special … to go beyond life support so they don’t just limp along for a few more years but thrive and flourish for generations to come.

EyeWitness Works