If I had a favourite building in Sheffield, this would be it. Cornish Works, abandoned, derelict, still charming, is one of the last substantial development opportunities at Kelham Island. This was once home to George Barnsley and Sons, specialists in files and cutting tools for leather workers and the shoe-making industry.
Unlike many famous Sheffield firms, its name lives on in premises at Mowbray Street. But for many years the business was located here, at Cornish Street, a narrow road, that is slowly readying itself for regeneration.
If I had made this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, then I might have considered paying the £1.65m being asked for it, and substantially more for it to be made good. Until somebody else does, the building falls into ruin.
“It is an amazing labyrinth,” said a friend of mine. “Obsolete machinery has become museum pieces, old offices have finely crafted woodwork, and everywhere you look there’s evidence of Victorian and Edwardian history. But nature is taking over, with greenery covering old courtyards, the sides of buildings, and encroaching inside. Roofs have collapsed and birds have made home. It is an urban explorer’s paradise, most of whom show the respect it deserves, but the big worry is that one day somebody will set it on fire.”
Cornish Works is a collection of listed buildings, including crucible furnaces and a dwelling house, constructed about 1850, and extended in the later nineteenth century.
George Barnsley was a manufacturer of files and other tools. He was born into humble surroundings in 1810 and educated at the Boys’ Charity School,
However, aged 26, he was clever enough to start a file making firm on Wheeldon Street and moved into the new Cornish Works in 1850, improving his product range to include shoes and butchers’ knives. He was a member of the Town Council for the St Philip’s Ward, and a member of the Cutlers’ Company.
His son, George Jnr, joined the company as a travelling salesman at 14 and was made a partner when he reached twenty-one. He took over the company on the death of his father in 1874.
Like George Snr, he became a Town Councillor, as well as becoming an alderman, J.P., and Master Cutler.
George Jnr died at Oakvale, Collegiate Crescent, in 1895, and the business passed to his son, Henry, who steered the business through the difficult times of the twentieth century.
But when he died in 1958, the number of employees had dwindled to around one hundred, and by the time the works closed in 2004 only a handful remained in this cavernous and dilapidated workspace.
The name eventually passed to the Mowbray Manufacturing Company of which it is now a wholly owned subsidiary.
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