Since the dawn of large scale industrialisation, cities have witnessed the construction of factories of titanic proportions. Their foreboding facades oozed imperialism and symbolised the wealth and dominance of the leading industrialists that ran them. They also served as reminders of the global reach of these once local firms. Even today, in an all-too-often rundown condition, these great buildings send a clear historical message that cannot be disputed.
Behind this rundown facade, Sheffield Forgemasters remains an influential player on the global steel scene. Despite the myriad ups and downs due to the cyclical nature of the world steel market, the company continues to supply specialist steel to meet an increasing demand. This iconic structure is the Vickers Building, built in 1907 as the head office of Vickers, the steel, engineering and munitions giant.
Forgemasters was established as a public company in 1983 following the merger of Firth Brown Tools and British Steel’s River Don Works Forging operations. Their magnificant mercantile buildings dominate the Brightside Lane area of Sheffield – a somewhat ironic name that pre-dates the establishment of heavy industry in the area.
Forgemasters’ heritage dates back to the start of Sheffield’s steel industry in the 16th century. It is the successor to such famous Sheffield names as Vickers, Cammells and Armstrong-Whitworth, which were all nationalised in the 1960s to form British Steel. Fuelled by the industrial zeal of these pioneering companies, Sheffield was producing some 35,000 tons of steel per year by 1850 – more than half of world production.
Iraq Supergun Scandal
On April 11, 1990, customs in Middlesbrough seized sections of what were believed to be parts of a massive supergun on a ship bound for Iraq. It was later revealed that Forgemasters has manufactured sections of the “gun”. The company said it had been told the parts were to be used in a petrochemical project. Allegedly, this saga was part of Project Babylon, which was terminated after the assassination of its designer and recovery of its component parts.
Forgemasters’ Environmental Vision
A masterplan to rejuvenate the 64-acre Forgemasters site has been announced by local architects Race Cottam Associates. Proposals include the restoration of the old buildings and lanscaped grounds to encourage biodiversity and realise the company’s vision of achieving environmental best practise in industry.
Bessemer House was the grand office building of the eponymous steel firm, Henry Bessemer & Co. Sir Henry Bessemer established his own company in Sheffield after failing to interest leading industrialists in his invention, known as the “Bessemer process” (implemented through the Bessemer Converter, which can be seen today at the Kelham Island Museum). Despite a sluggish start, the company soon gained a competitive edge when it became evident Bessemer was underselling his competition by $20 a ton. Needless to say, licenses were quickly applied for and the royalties came flooding in. By the mid nineteenth century, Bessemer’s creation (essentially the inexpensive mass-production of steel from molten pig-iron) had revolutionised world steel production, earning him a knighthood along the way. Today the empty building keeps a silent watch over Bessemer’s former works.
Cornish Place is a former cutlery works in Sheffield, which was turned into smart apartments in 1990s in an imaginative bid to redevelop the industrial Neepsend area of town. Once upon a time, knives, forks and spoons manufactured in this building would have ended up on tables across the world – perhaps you’ve got some in your kitchen drawer! Nestling in one corner of the building is the old Ball Inn, now called the Milestone, which would have offered much needed “refreshments” to the workers. And the beer garden at the back of the pub even opened onto the factory’s inner courtyard!
Ripe for redevelopment – Wharncliffe Works
Immediately adjacent to Cornish Place, is the abandoned Wharncliffe Works. Several years ago, Cornish Place was in a similar condition, and with the rejuvenated success of the Kelham Island area, surely it cannot be long before this building joins the ranks of modern living? And speaking of which…
Alfred Beckett & Sons Ltd
Admittedly, this is not quite as imposing as some of the other offerings on this page. But nevertheless, it deserves a mention as an example of how the spirit of local history can be retained in and add character to sympathetic redesign. Today, the Alfred Beckett & Sons Ltd (silversmiths) Brooklyn Works building is another example of stylish renovation.
Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow
Ibrox, the home of Rangers Football Club, is famous for a number of reasons, not least because the new stadium was actually built around the shell of the old, due to its historic status. The imposing sandstone facade – unusual in Glasgow, which is predominantly a stone city – dates back to 1928 and resembles to an extent the Vickers Building, above. Despite numerous additions after several disasters and modern requirements, the stadium continues to look daunting to approaching away players and fans alike.
Abandoned psychiatric hospital, Volterra, Tuscany
This eerie looking building is the Charcot wing of an abandoned psychiatric hospital near Volterra, Tuscany. The moody lighting, combined with the perspective of the photograph, bestow a sense of doom upon the old hospital.