The success of Silicon Valley’s Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and others of the New Digital Age is a dream of today’s UK’s entrepreneurial-minded IT students.
Back in his day, John Taylor was the Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs of his era. He was a man who saw opportunities on the horizon to mechanise the hand-made production of knives and other sharp-edged tools.
It was his Silicon Valley – the new Industrial Age that was dawning on the UK. This Sheffield man blazed a trail mechanising the production of premium kitchen knives forged from stainless steel. His Eye Witness Works brand name went viral. He helped to make Sheffield a household name in the same way that Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs did for Silicon Valley.
Back then Britain led the world in the Industrial Revolution. For much of the 19th century the country dominated international markets thanks in no small part to the pre-eminence of Sheffield as a world centre of steel production, cutlery and edge-tools manufacture.
John Taylor started his factory in St. Phillip’s Road in the Netherthorpe area in 1820 and by 1852 he moved into a purpose-built Eye Witness Works on Milton Street.
In 1988 Historic England designated this factory with its triple courtyard as Grade II.
Among its reasons was that the facility retains the layout and building types of a complex designed to house a specific process, which is in contrast to more generic cutlers’ workshops.
It also retains fragments relating to earlier functions which enable a level of understanding of the use and history of the buildings.
Its strong group value with Beehive Works on Milton Street, and Taylor’s Ceylon Works on Thomas Street was another compelling justification for its listing.
A major heritage challenge for Sheffield has been to find ways of keeping industrial buildings in use and earning their keep in a new economic era.
This solution by Capital & Centric fulfils an objective of Sheffield City Council and English Heritage to find a use that puts life back into a building that formed such an important part of the physical and cultural fabric of the city.
While the use will be different from its original use, it will secure the long-term well-being of the historic structure.