The original ‘heart of the city’ will be uncovered during the coming months. Deep beneath 400 years of history lie the remains of Sheffield Castle. Built at the junction of the Rivers Don and Sheaf – the origin of the name ‘Sheffield’ – it was one of the largest medieval stone-built castles in the country.
↑ Mary, Queen of Scots
spent 14 years of her captivity based at Sheffield Castle from 1570–84.
In the centuries following the castle’s demolition after the English Civil War, the town grew, markets developed and industry flourished. City status was granted in 1893. The street pattern in the Castlegate area still reflects its medieval origins; however, wartime bombing and subsequent building work in the 20th century further contributed to the burial of the foundations of the castle itself. Covered by the concrete floor of Castle Market (many alumni will have fond memories of its collection of individual stalls, shops and stands), limited excavations during the last 100 years, with the latest in 2001, revealed evidence of substantial castle remains.
The demolition of Castle Market took place in 2015–17, and Castlegate is now the focus of an imaginative and innovative reinvention. A broad range of partners, including the City Council, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, the Friends of Sheffield Castle and of the Old Town Hall, hoteliers, local artists and makers, urban environmentalists and entrepreneurs, are collaborating to restore the vitality of this historical gateway into Sheffield.
John Moreland, Professor of Medieval Archaeology, chairs a University-wide Castlegate Steering Group, bringing together researchers across five faculties – archaeologists, architects, engineers, ecologists, computer scientists and town planners.
They are working with partners to generate a mix of imagined spaces, practical solutions and real projects to inspire the transformation. Proposals by architecture students helped persuade City Council funders to release £800,000 to provide the platform for the regeneration. Their vibrant and creative visions for what Castlegate could become were very persuasive.
Reassessing the evidence
Led by the Department of Archaeology in cooperation with Museums Sheffield, the Castlegate Archives Project was made possible by a generous bequest to the University by alumna Pamela Staunton (BEd Education 1982, MA Archaeology and Prehistory 1993).
“As a result of Pam’s kindness, we have looked at all the existing archives and objects related to Sheffield Castle in a way that has not been done before,” explained John. “We now believe that William de Lovetot, who built a ‘new’ castle in the early 12th century, planned a town to go with it, with a hospital, market and church. This information will feed directly into the archaeological dig that is taking place in 2018.”
Archaeologists are undertaking a major dig on the Castle Market site with plans to excavate 10 trenches. They will also work with community groups to explain their finds. John said, “By working down to the castle level, we aim to provide a full history of the site. We will also be able to confirm our deductions from the archives project. Most importantly, the excavations are the start of the regeneration project – our results will inform what happens next.”
Revealing the castle
Another innovative idea to come from our architecture students is a Castlegate Pier. This temporary construction will enable the public to view the castle remains during the dig. In addition a project led by Professor Dawn Hadley, involving Archaeology, Architecture, Computer Science and design agency Human Studio, has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to create an augmented reality model of the castle. Users of the associated app will be able to digitally experience Sheffield’s castle in the 15th century and student ideas for the development of the castle site; they will then be encouraged to join the conversation about its future.
Martin Gorman, Chair of the Friends of Sheffield Castle, appreciates the value of the University’s commitment to the Castlegate project: “Together, we are shedding new light on the origins of the city. Ideally, I would love to see the whole castle site excavated and preserved. However, I appreciate that there will need to be some commercial development and we are actively engaged in what that might be.”
Together, we are shedding new light on the origins of the city.”
Professor Moreland agrees, and goes further to say, “Personally, I think an iconic building that references the castle in some way – on a major entry point into the city with its hotels, waterways and station – would make a powerful statement. We are at the beginning of the process and it will be fascinating to see what our efforts have achieved for the people of the city 10 years from now.”
Department of Archaeology
School of Architecture
Friends of Sheffield Castle