Sheaf Bank thriving with businesses 100 years on since 'The Great Fire of 1921'

A century ago, on April 23 1921, devastating fire tore through all but the forges at the Sheafbank Works in Sheffield, causing a hundred of thousands of pounds of damage.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 4:15 pm

Dubbed 'The Great Heeley Fire of 1921', the fire is said to have been caused by sparks from a passing railway engine igniting the roof of the wood store and machine shops.

It started in 1870 when Charles Skelton, who founded C.T. Skelton in 1855, bought a former quarry cut into the hillside above the river Sheaf and next to the railway in Heeley.

It specialised in producing spades, shovels, picks and colliery tools and was originally located elsewhere in Sheffield

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100th anniversary of a major fire at the former CT Skeltons at Sheaf Bank Works. Josie Bennett. Picture Scott Merrylees

He then built the Sheafbank Works at the new site, where he optimised the production until Skelton's became renowned for manufacturing spades, forks, shovels and other garden tools.

Despite the remnants of the fire appearing to have gone after the Works was rebuilt a year after the disaster, the current owner of the estate, Sheaf Bank Business Park Ltd managing director Josie Bennett, vows to preserve the historical buildings as much as possible.

"I think the history behind it is what makes it special," said the managing director, adding that she would constantly invest in the building and maintain its heritage.

The estate, which now houses over 60 businesses ranging from e-Commerce, music studios, martial arts, gyms to candle maker, Josie said the estate has been thriving for over two decades.

C. T. Skelton, Sheaf Bank Works, Edge Tool Manufacturers, Heeley (after the fire which destroyed it)

"It's perfectly mixed with businesses, especially small businesses that have the chance to grow with us.

"The atmosphere is really good because if you want a modern city centre, you wouldn't come here. If you want the feeling of heritage, local and friendly, then this is the place," she said.

Tenant Andrew Norton, 48, who is a regional director for Wessex Archeology said as a heritage company, he felt a connection with what the building used to be.

"Skeltons specilised in shovels, and that is one of our main tools of trade. There is always some kind of connection as we are surrounded with the history of the site and its heritage," said Andrew, who has been running his business at the estate for almost 12 years.

100th anniversary of a major fire at the former CT Skeltons at Sheaf Bank Works. Tenants Caprice Seaman, James Smith and Andrew Norton. Picture Scott Merrylees

For James Smith, 27, who is a director of Direct Print and Promotions said he only learned about the fire the day before.

"It sounded like one of the biggest things ever and people sounded more interested in it then scared of it. The whole estate obviously has changed so much since but its people are still quite blown away by the old fashioned brick work of the building.

"With the history behind it, we'd like to preserve it as much as possible. Why would you want to modernise it?" he said.

Tenant Caprice Seaman, 34, who runs an online retailer said the fire must have been devastating for those affected, as they had to rebuild their businesses.

100th anniversary of a major fire at the former CT Skeltons at Sheaf Bank Works. Josie Bennett. Picture Scott Merrylees

Josie said in 100 years to come, she would hope the estate would still be thriving.

"This place is about local people making their living here and I'd like to see more of the Sheffield makers and artisan people coming here as well because Sheffield has a reputation for the makers.

"It'd be nice to see it gradually grow,” she said.