Sheffield was built on steel, and helped drive the First Industrial Revolution. Two centuries on, one former manufacturing site has been revitalised as the city embraces new technologies.

Epitomy Solutions is based at Hawk Works on Mary Street, Sheffield. It’s a classic red-brick building that sits on a plot synonymous with skilled manufacturing since the 1860s. Located within the Cultural Industries Quarter, it’s a district designated as part of the 1994 City Centre Strategy.

Understanding a location’s history is important. It adds meaning and fuels ambition to reimagine its use as the world changes. The following is a snapshot, a brief summary of the rich layers of industrial heritage that have been built upon many times.

Once upon a time blood, sweat and tears ensured that robust and trusted steel products left engineering workshops in and around the Mary Street area. Now, with much of the city’s core offering gone, virtual services have replaced manual labour – although a nod to historical roots sees Epitomy Solutions providing its technical services to modern-day manufacturers of complex goods.

Hawk Works - 1

Early crafts, agriculture and water

So, the site’s history… first, before what we now know as heavy industry arrived, a goit (a small artificial channel carrying water) fed a cutlers’ workshop, Cinderhill Wheel, around 1588. Thereafter, there were gardens and allotments, but no significant buildings until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Then it became home to the Boswell Brothers who made metal files (around 1890, and known for some time as the Cyprus Works area), while adjacent buildings resounded to the clank of the Hammer Works tool factory. At the turn of the century, the site was formerly differentiated – Hawk Works on the western side, Guion Works to the east.

Despite the industrial setting, the bubble of nature is just a few feet away. To the rear of the building runs the Porter Brook; a river that emanates from the moors near Burbage. It, like several other water ways across Sheffield, helped to power the mills and grindstones that once sharpened steel blades and other tools. This “free” power enabled smaller firms to prosper.

The two distinct operations that emerged from the early Hawk Works gave the impression of vast grandeur, a sprawling industrial complex perhaps, although the buildings were just two of hundreds that produced steel and iron goods for decades.

The Guion Works did expand and became known as the Union Works, a machine knife factory. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1950s and the land became parking space for the remaining Hawk Works area. Good news for some of the Epitomy Solutions team, although many use public transport to get to work.

How about inside Hawk Works?

Walk into Hawk Works these days and the harsh sounds of machinery have now been replaced by the almost inaudible hum of computers, the chink of coffee cups and idle chatter either side of business meetings. Over the years, the building has housed cutlery makers, a razor manufacturer and a blade grinder.

Manufacturing organisations […] now receive software, data management and e-commerce expertise from premises that once served the globe with outstanding steel products.

 

The most recent traditional tenant before Epitomy Solutions took residence was Arkote Ltd, a world leader in machine knives for the tobacco industry. In the 1980s and 90s, Arkote also became a force in the manufacture of trade knives that were used throughout the catering and meat industries.

The firm prospered despite a serious fire at Hawk Works in 1985. The employees battled on, quite literally, ensuring that all orders were fulfilled. That spirit gave rise to a wonderful saying, that “Arkote workers don’t leave, they retire”. Due to merger and expansion, the company eventually left the site in 2008.

When Hawk Works was renovated, in 2010, it was necessary to preserve much of the structural shell. Although the original factory chimney was long gone, large steel beams still exist, exposed, integral to the building’s being, hinting at a hard-working past, one of strength and longevity.

Epitomy Solutions made Hawk Works its home in 2012. Perfect for an SME tech company, it accommodates a growing workforce with space for a kitchen, boardroom and even a shower room for anyone keen enough to run or cycle into the office on finer mornings.

Manufacturing organisations that produce parts and machinery for export now receive software, data management and e-commerce expertise from premises that once served the globe with outstanding steel products.

Far from disappearing, the Sheffield spirit is alive and kicking, and those who work within the city are still delivering excellence to customers worldwide. Epitomy Solutions is part of a growing digital sector that could soon establish Sheffield as a leader once again – just in a wholly different industry that few could have dreamt about even thirty years ago.

Outside the office, a series of heritage projects have worked alongside commercial redevelopments. Much of the Porter Brook that was covered (culverted for years) has seen light again, and nature has returned in abundance. There is promise of further walkways and cycle paths to allow workers and tourists alike easy access to a one-time steel manufacturing heartland that is now part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

If you’d like to know more about some of the rivers that run through Sheffield and enabled the city to become an industrial powerhouse, there’s a wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme called “A River of Steel” HERE.