Now that the ugly 1950s HSBC office block on Hoyle Street at Netherthorpe has bitten the dust the rare Grade II listed cementation furnace behind it has been exposed and this Scheduled Monument will now be restored to its former glory. It is to form the centrepiece of a massive £100m development which will create 247 residential units and 658 student bed spaces on the site that is bounded by Hoyle Street, Meadow Street, Doncaster Street and Ellis Street.
The furnace is situated on the former Daniel Doncaster and Sons Steel Works site and dates back to 1836/8. It is the only surviving intact cementation furnace in Sheffield and one of the last in England. There are other part-remains at Bower Springs and Nursery Street but the Netherthorpe one was still in use right up to 1951. The only other similar survivor is the Derwentcote Steel Furnace in Co. Durham. The main reason for their rarity is the fact that they were originally designed for the manufacture of blister steel, became obsolete and were swiftly demolished. Blister steel was first developed in Germany in the 1600s but did not arrive in Sheffield until 1709. It was a long, complicated process which took up to 10 days and the by-product, which did not go to waste, was a clinker type material which was used as a wall topper and there are still examples of this left around Sheffield. It was called crozzle and the word has passed into our local vocabulary i.e. well-done bacon is referred to as ‘crozzled’.
The Sheffield site was actually home to a cluster of five furnaces, four of which were demolished when their tops were blown off in the Blitz. The foundations of two of these will be incorporated into the scheme, which is a nod to the previous history of the site, which also contains an iron forge dating back to the 1730s. This was actually still operating until 1875, and a comprehensive archaeological survey has revealed many interesting things. Nineteen trenches in all have been dug and one was found to be heavily oil contaminated and another asbestos contaminated. All things to be taken into account when redeveloping an old industrial site such as this one. Much of the area, which comprised of back-to-backs, terraces and industrial workshops, was cleared in the 1930s and 1940s under slum clearance schemes. Fortunately the furnace was left alone as were the nearby Grade II Listed Titanic Works on Malinda Street and the Grade II Listed Don Cutlery Works on Doncaster Street. The latter is just crying out for a residential conversion and hopefully the new scheme may kick things into life there.
As to the recently demolished building, it was built in the 1950s for the British Iron and Steel Association (BISRA) which continued the history of the site but was then taken over by the Midland Bank which became HSBC who left there in 2016. Very admirably, they threw some money at (not into) the furnace in a restoration scheme in the 1990s which probably explains why it is in such excellent condition. It will certainly be a major feature in the new development and a courtyard will be created around it. Much of the site will be landscaped but in a hard fashion as opposed to green, in order to reflect the history of the site. Artwork will also be of a similar nature, but in keeping with the NE corner of the site which falls within the Furnace Hill Conservation Area.
The new scheme will be built in two distinct blocks divided by a proposed new lane between Ellis Street and Hoyle Street. The northern block of residential units, including some town houses will range between 4 and 10 storeys whilst the southern block will be between 5 and 12 storeys and aimed at students. Never the twain shall meet springs to mind.
It is proposed to put in a long-term maintenance plan for the cementation furnace and a service charge will be implemented for the residents. Well worth it, to have such a magnificent edifice in your front yard and so much more interesting than a garden urn. Whether the students will see it that way, if they are roped into the scheme, remains to be seen!