Still Beating: Archaeology in the Heart of the City

27th April 2021

Wessex Archaeology are currently excavating and recording archaeological remains in the centre of Sheffield in advance of the Heart of the City project. Below are the thoughts of Luke Roberts who led the excavations at Carver Street.

Working in archaeology, I get an insight into a variety of sites, from Roman field systems to WW2 POW camps. A project and an archaeological site in particular which I worked on recently made these changes all the more apparent.

Heart of the City is one of Sheffield’s ambitious development which will, when completed provide 1.5 million sq ft. of re-designed and repurposed buildings for a plethora of mixed-uses surrounded by slightly re-designed and brought to life streets and public spaces including a new park. This substantial economic project is in full swing at the city centre, bordered by Pinstone Street and the Peace Gardens to the east, The Moor and Charter Row/Furnival Gate to the south, Rockingham Street and the Kangaroo Works to the west with Division Street, Fargate, Barker’s Pool and City Hall to the north.

Wessex Archaeology's work on the development is on behalf of Turner and Townsend and Sheffield City Council, and our recent findings were ahead of the laying a new road to join Carver Street to Backfields.
At Carver Street myself, Chris Warburton and Rob Jones continued the archaeological excavation work started by our colleague Andy Swann. 
It became immediately apparent that the rapid changes Sheffield city centre were undergoing were only the latest in a long line of development and redevelopment. Surviving immediately under the modern ground surface were a number of well-preserved remains: brick walls, a cobble yard, several concrete machine pads and a cellar. By the cellar was a lovely section of terrazzo floor (which I would have prised up for my own abode given half a chance). 

Clearly this area of Sheffield had been a bustling place, where the noise and smell of industry would have produced an all too different Sheffield, standing in stark contrast to the still admittedly bustling modern city, though the noises are largely replaced by a chorus of car horns, trams and the beats emanating from passing vehicles.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the site was a dump of ashy material, which, while being sliced off a concrete pad, revealed a treasure trove of metalwork.

The majority of these finds were unfinished knife blanks, some mere fragments, some almost ready to use in the kitchen, still giving off a high-quality sheen. We had such variety, with paring knives, large kitchen knives, filleting knives and hundreds of spatulas. For a few short hours I was the most heavily armed man in Sheffield, with an impressive array of knives and spatulas to hand. Finding these knife blanks made one thing apparent. Carver Street was an apt name for the road. My team and I were evidently standing within a cutlery works, in all likelihood supplying butchers that plied their trade along Carver Street.

It was in those moments standing in this cutlery works, a structure that was probably no more than 200 years old, that the constant flux of people and place really struck home. Working on Iron Age or Roman sites, the changes are so distant that they rarely feel so rapid or relatable (as interesting as they are). Working on these industrial sites, in the heart of the city I frequent so often, standing in the remains of what came before, I was amazed at just how much had changed within such a short time. It made me appreciate that I was part of Sheffield’s ongoing transformation all the more.

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