Kelham Island and the forgotten factories of Sheffield’s past

Despite all the bustling renovation in Sheffield, particularly the city centre, there are still factories that lie derelict with no sign of life.

Sheffield’s industrial past is now largely a remnant of the past, with its steel industry no longer as prominent as it was during the Eighteenth Century. Mainly small businesses and individual metalworkers remain, with a few self-employed craftsmen, called Little Mesters, carrying on their trade.

Kelham Island in particular is an industrial quarter of the city that has taken on a large restoration project to convert old steel factories and mills into practical use today. Bars, pubs, arts galleries and housing, as well as The Kelham Industrial Museum, are now situated on the former industrial site.

However, despite the transition from industry to culture, the project is by no means complete. For example, Wharncliffe Works on Green Lane is currently for sale without any sign of activity. 

Dating back to 1849, the building was originally built by George Barnsley and Sons, a manufacturer of steel tools for leather work and shoe making.

Once a thriving industrial workshop, the building was placed on the Listed Buildings at Risk Register in June 1993. This is not an exception either. Woolen and Co, established in Sheffield in 1883, was closed in 2008, and is currently abandoned. Graffiti and boarded windows leave an ugly trace of the past.

Ben Neasmith, a Graphic Designer working at Ink and Water Design in Kelham Island, believes that converting old factories is a difficult task because of the scale of the buildings, which may often be daunting for smaller traders to occupy.

‘‘There are still a lot of rough places within Sheffield because of the disused buildings.

‘There are no real set rules within the city. There’s not a lot of conservation: it’s got a manufacturing past, there are buildings all over the city with different ages and scales. In some ways, it is similar to Berlin because of the variety of buildings left from an industrial past,’’ he said.

Places within Sheffield such as The Leadmill nightclub prove that old buildings still have a use. The old Stanley Tools factory on Rutland Road is even used for a Zombie Infection game for groups to participate in on the site of an old cutlery factory dating back to 1843. The Peddler Night Market is another example of how abandoned buildings can be used for people to enjoy today with craft ales and food being sold at the start of every month.

Sam Armitage, a chef working at The Milestone in Kelham Island believes that some factories are difficult to make useful today. Speaking of Stanley Tools, he said: ‘‘What can you do with places like that, apart from just regenerating it and turning it into a new factory producing something else, which will create jobs.’

Ideally there would be an opening out of a factory into arts space or a warehouse space that’s really going to develop the community”.