Categories
Buildings

Cornish Works – the last substantial development opportunity at Kelham Island

Image: DJP/2022

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.”  

Image: Leeds Explorer
Image: Leeds Explorer

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.

Image: The Time Chamber

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.

Image: Colloco
Image: Colloco

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.

Image: Colloco

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Places Streets

Kelham Island

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

Once a rural idyll, along came industry, and Kelham Island became famous for its factories and works. It’s hard to believe that in a remarkably short space of time, the last remnants of industrial heritage are being squeezed out, and Kelham is becoming one of the “coolest places to live in Britain.”

Here’s an extract from Robert Eadon Leader’s ‘Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People’ (1876), in which Richard Leonard remembered the days before industry.

“Beyond Bower Spring, the footpath – Cottonmill Walk – was the continuation of Spring Street. It ran in the direction now taken by Russell Street, across ‘Longcroft,’ as the open space was called in 1771, towards Green Lane. Of course, it took its name from the cotton mill of Mr Middleton.

“An open stream ran from the top of Cornish Street, in front of Green Lane, and emptied itself in the Don, below where Green Lane works now stand. On the other side of the stream were cottage gardens. Middleton’s silk mill – built in 1758, burnt down in 1792, and the cotton mill, re-erected on the same site only in turn to be burnt down in 1810, and again built only to become the Poor-house in 1829 – stood alone in its glory, its nearest neighbour being Kelham Wheel, still there, as it had been at least as long before as in 1674, on the now covered-in ‘Goit’.

“Across the river was the suburb of Bridgehouses, and all around was verdure. Those were the days when ‘the old cherry tree,’ whose name is now perpetuated only by the public-house (on Gibraltar Street) and the yard where it stood, was still young, and when Allen ‘Lane’ and the Bowling Green marked the extremity of the inhabited region of Gibraltar. Beyond the road ran between fields – ‘Moorfields’ (now Shalesmoor) – and on to the distant rural haunts of Philadelphia and Upperthorpe.”

The photographs show Citu’s recent sustainable housing development at Little Kelham (Little Kelham Street).

Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)
Little Kelham. (DJP/2021)

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.