A heritage of makers

Watch a film from The Festival of the Mind bringing the heritage of Sheffield Castle to life.

Sheffield's Castlegate area is so named because of a thriving cultural and political centre that established the city in the 12th century, with a historically significant castle at its centre. It is only now that we are starting to uncover more about this incredible site, and discover that Sheffield's making heritage dates back much further than we thought.

Professor John Moreland of the University of Sheffield has been at the forefront of the team of people piecing together our city's historical narrative. He has pulled together archaeological finds from excavations in the 1920s, 1950s and 1990s as well as those from Manor Lodge in the 1960s and 1980s - and most recently a project with Wessex Archaeology in 2018. Marrying together all of this knowledge provides the world with the only complete history of Sheffield Castle, and he has published it all in one book which you can download for free here.

The Wessex Archaeology project uncovered many significant findings. Firstly, it provided evidence to show that the castle was most likely a product of Norman settlement (as opposed to the assumed Anglo-Saxon roots) - principally because of carbon dating of findings of original building materials and work. Other findings showed that metal work was taking place in or around the castle as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries, meaning the heritage of steel and making goes back way further than the industrial periods of the 20th century.

The Castle site is situated at the confluence of the River Don and Sheaf, and is but a short distance from Manor Lodge - which was a vast green space and prime deer hunting area for many centuries. The incarceration of Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s for many years meant that Sheffield had significant political connections, whilst the leather, pottery, metal and remains of other artefacts demonstrate that production of materials and cultural influence all featured.

This is significant because large scale regeneration of Castlegate is underway - and in order to create a vision for the city's future we must understand our heritage in the past. And to know that this is not just a place with a recent history of manufacturing, but a place of layered significance, gives greater meaning to the new forms of making that will tell Castlegate's new story. Perhaps one day we may even be able to visit and see findings and reconstructions right in the heart of Sheffield.