The team from the Wessex Archaeology Sheffield office has recently been investigating a site which tells the story of the city in miniature.
Located on the western fringe of the historic core of Sheffield, Hollis Croft was agricultural land for centuries, first open land – the ‘Town Field’– and then enclosed. However, its character became radically different when it was swept along by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. Historic maps from the late 18th century onwards show steelworks, various toolmakers' premises, workers' housing and pubs appearing and proliferating on the site. Occupied by Footprint Tools Ltd for much of the 20th century, this part of Hollis Croft is currently gaining a new lease of life thanks to the construction of a multi-million pound mixed commercial and student housing development.
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by Johnson Associates (UK) Ltd, working on behalf of GL Europe RE2 Holdings SARL, to investigate the history of the site in advance of the latest development.
Working in collaboration with the South Yorkshire Archaeological Service, archaeological advisors to Sheffield City Council, our early works involved undertaking historic building recording followed by a scheme of archaeological evaluation trenching. This discovered that substantial historic remains relating to the site’s steel working past survived beneath the modern buildings. Open area excavation revealed well-preserved industrial archaeology comprising steelmaking furnaces and a network of brick-built flues, along with traces of the workers’ housing and their local pubs (The Cock, and The Orange Branch). A wide range of finds was collected, indicative of both the technical details of the industrial processes taking place, but also the everyday lives of Sheffielders who lived and worked at Hollis Croft in the past.
Due to its proximity to Sheffield city centre, the site attracted a great deal of public and media interest. During the course of the excavations we were interviewed by ITV, BBC Radio 4, BBC Look North, BBC Radio Sheffield, and The Sheffield Star. Most importantly, members of the public were also able to see the site for themselves, thanks to a popular programme of tours and open days. We often look at archaeology from the removed position of the present, but Hollis Croft brought out some very real and poignant memories from our visitors, including those who had once worked at the site. It is these first-hand accounts and connections that bring the past alive; we are spurred on by the interest shown by the public in our work.
Significant archaeological material was uncovered during the on-site investigations and the recording of these was performed in a professional manner whilst also understanding the programme and commercial constraints of the construction project.
All our findings have been brought together in a final report and we hope to be able to publish our work and so make it accessible to all, with the finds from the site donated to Museums Sheffield. We will continue to work closely with site's developers and Sheffield City Council to ensure that these chapters in the ongoing story of Hollis Croft, from an open field to the red-hot, smoking heart of the Steel City, are not forgotten.
The archaeological investigation did conclude in accordance with the required programme and the main construction works commenced on programme.
1300 m2 of archaeology exposed
2 cementation furnaces and 2 crucible furnaces discovered
350 pottery vessels and 300 fragments of clay tobacco pipe collected