‘It belongs in a museum!’  − these words, said by Indiana Jones often ring out from members of the public when we get a chance to talk about what we have found in our careers as commercial archaeologists. But rather than merely hear tales of treasure, Wessex Archaeology was able to welcome 40 members of the public onto our hotly anticipated site tours of Hollis Croft, and 24 members of the public at the former Titanic Works, Sheffield as part of the Festival of Archaeology on Friday 20 July 2017.

Sheffield wears its identity as the ‘Steel City’ with pride, and the opportunity to explore the industrial past that gives our seven hills its namesake was taken up with avid enthusiasm by the media and public alike. At Hollis Croft, we started off with in-house filming from Wessex Archaeology's film crew of one, Rob Goller, (pic. 1) who began our visual archive of the cementation furnaces and interviews with our very own women of steel, Mili Rajic, Project Manager and Emma Carter, Site Supervisor. The complex industrial landscape at Hollis Croft was artfully unpicked and explained into Rob’s camera which gave both Mili and Emma a chance to warm up before ITV, BBC Look North, BBC Radio Sheffield and The Sheffield Star came to do interviews later that day! (pic. 2). 

Rob Goller filming the Hollis Croft site Members of the press visited the site

Further down the hill, Lucy Dawson, Built Heritage Project Manager, and Chris Breeden, Spatial Data and Digital Innovation Manager, were carrying out the important gas safety checks donning full breathing apparatus and setting up temporary lighting within the preserved and Grade II listed crucible furnace cellars at the former Titanic Works  in preparation of the media heading to them after being wowed at Hollis Croft (pic. 3). The confined spaces of the cellars meant that only a small number of people were allowed within them at any one time (pic. 4). 

The former Titanic Works A group of people gathered for a tour of the Titanic Works

The level of preservation at Hollis Croft and the former Titanic Works makes both sites very special, expressed at Titanic Works by its listing and preservation in situ, and to have the passion and interest shared by the media was a wonderful experience. What we didn't anticipate, however, was the sheer number of members of the public who also shared our enthusiasm for the archaeology (pic. 5). After Mili’s two radio interviews on Friday morning (BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Sheffield) the Hollis Croft site began to receive a steady stream of visitors keen to explore their curiosity for the site. Our places on the organised four tours across both sites had already been filled and yet more and more people with interests and even family connections to the sites wished and queued to have a place on the tours. Thanks to thinking on our feet and the extra supply of PPE we were able to offer additional places on our tours at Hollis Croft throughout the day (pic. 6). Unfortunately, this was not possible at Titanic Works due to the confined spaces. Rob headed to the Titanic Works site on the Friday morning to continue the in-house filming of the site and one of the tours.

People being given a tour of the Titanic Works People being given a tour of Hollis Croft

We often look at archaeology from the removed position of the present, but Hollis Croft and the former Titanic Works brought out some very real, poignant memories from our visitors, not least the two ladies who had worked in Sheffield’s cutlery factory and also a member of the public whose family owned business Foot Print Tools which stood on the site at Hollis Croft prior to its demolition and development. It is these first-hand accounts and connections that bring the past alive and we are very grateful for the vast interest and kind words from the public for our sites and our work.

Some things indeed ‘belong in a museum’, but we are very fortunate to be given the chance to store those relics through memory and experience of the people of Sheffield.

We have been inundated with further requests for tours and we are able to offer a second opportunity to see the Hollis Croft site with two guided tours on Friday 28 July.

In addition, please keep an eye out for further information about future open days at the former Titanic Works. Watch this space!

A very big thank you goes to everyone at Wessex Archaeology Sheffield office and especially to people who over the last four months worked hard at Hollis Croft: Emma, Amy, Gwen, Justina, Otis, Owen, Ifi, Max, Ciaran, James, Chris, Andrea, Caroline, Alvaro, Ash, Dan, Phil, Nick, Heather, Jonathan, Jamal, Sam, Matt, Mike, Adam and Stu.

A big thank you also to SYAS Principal Archaeologist Dinah Saich, to Katy Taylor from TT Communications and to our clients Jonson Associates and Watkins Jones.

Emma Carter, Lucy Dawson and Mili Rajic