How Sheffield Castle plan would boost city’s forgotten waterfront

Turning the site of Sheffield’s medieval castle into a vibrant destination featuring a hotel, shops, bars, homes and illuminated ruins would help to ‘reconnect’ the under-used Victoria Quays with the rest of the city centre, the plan’s supporters say.

By Richard Blackledge
Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am

The Friends of Sheffield Castle, a voluntary group set up to promote and protect the stronghold’s heritage, has produced a blueprint setting out the types of development members would like to see following an archaeological dig that made fresh discoveries under the demolished Castle Market.

The plan suggests the fortress’s gatehouse could be rebuilt, forming a focal point for an attraction displaying the best of the remains.

An elevated walkway would be put up across the site, giving visitors the chance to peer at ruins that are below the current ground level, while a history centre would tell the story of the lost castle and Sheffield's beginnings.

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The Hilton Sheffield hotel at Victoria Quays, which is due to close in December. Picture: Steve Ellis

Offices and homes are envisaged along the site's boundaries, as well as cafés and craft shops, all with the aim of attracting more people.

The plan links with the council’s own ambitions to regenerate Castlegate, towards which it has already pledged nearly £800,000 of ‘kickstart’ money. The Friends say such a revival could have wider benefits, complementing the Heart of the City II scheme and the revamp of The Moor where Sheffield’s indoor market moved in 2015, and providing a much-needed link to Victoria Quays at the end of the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal.

The quays, east of the castle site, were built in the 1800s and acted as a cargo port for coal and grain until 1970. The warehouses then sat empty until the council won funding to bring the canal basin back into use in the early 1990s.

However, progress has been slow – when creative agency Born + Raised took offices at the Grade II-listed Grain and Terminal Building in 2015, their new waterfront home had been empty for 20 years. The four-star, 128-bedroom Hilton Hotel, an important component of Victoria Quays, is shutting in December.

Ruins were excavated in 2018 on the site of Sheffield Castle.

“People have been saying for ages that Victoria Quays is under-utilised, but part of it is that it’s just felt cut off,” said Leigh Bramall, a Friends of Sheffield Castle committee member.

The council’s Grey to Green project – which is brightening up roads around Castlegate and the quays with plants, flowers and grasses as well as making them more suitable for cyclists and pedestrians – will help, said Leigh.

“Until Grey to Green there were still a lot of the old barriers they used to have that were a legacy of the old 1970s road network. It was physically difficult to get across, and designed for the car.”

The group’s blueprint says: “The castle site sits in a crucial location. As city regeneration spreads outward from this core, the opportunity exists to not only create an attractive new district, but to improve connectivity to the benefit of the wider city centre.

A CGI image by Sheffield University, showing how Sheffield Castle looked in medieval times. The Friends group says the gatehouse could be reconstructed.

“A new high-quality public through route should transect the castle site, running from the top of Waingate to Victoria Quays. The route would feature a walkway, elevated above the displays of the castle remains below, giving an impressive vista.”

The bridge-like path would allow people to look at the proposed Sheaf Field park, which the council wants to create by opening up the River Sheaf, and walk on towards Heart of the City II.

Sheffield Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for more than a decade, fell during the Civil War when it came under siege from 1,200 Parliamentary troops. Experts believe they have found evidence of around 1,000 years of constant activity there, as well as a 'motte and bailey phase' - these were fortifications that stood on top of a raised earthwork, representing the first proper castles to be built in Britain.

The council is producing its own plan for the castle site, which will be put to public consultation in the new year. The Friends believe developments could be paid for with a mix of public and private investment.

Work is carried out on one of the trenches at the Sheffield Castle dig. Picture: Marie Caley