materialising Sheffield - re-presenting the past  
steel ingots


Stage 1:
Looking at the evidence

Stage 2:
Planning the model

Stage 3:
Making the model

Stage 4:

Stage 5:
Collecting textures

Stage 6:
Rendering the model

Stage 7:
Adding 3d elements

Stage 8:
Adding animation

Stage 9:

Stage 10: Produce the final model



For the purposes of a VR model, different types of historical source material are required, with a particular emphasis on those which contain dimensional or scale information. In this case, a variety of archival sources were consulted, the most valuable of which included contemporary field surveys made for local landowners (and predating the earliest Ordnance Survey plans), Poor Law rate books which give details of taxable property, and the journals and drawings of foreign visitors to Sheffield who were interested in documenting Huntsman's new steelmaking process.

As Huntsman chose a village location for his steelworks, local Poor Law rate books do not exist for the early phase of development. Fortunately, contemporary survey evidence proved more fruitful, as the furnaces were built on ground leased from two major landowners, both of whom employed the Fairbank family of surveyors to produce plans. However, these surveys were primarily concerned with the accuracy of land boundaries and general building arrangements, so a degree of interpretation was required. Furthermore, due to the drawings only surviving in the form of field notes, the raw measurements had to be redrawn from first principles to arrive at a scaled plan.

Using a combination of these sources and plotting the development of the site over time, it was possible to reconstruct an accurate plan of the steelworks and to identify the various buildings that made up the complex.

Having established a chronology of forms and their respective functions, the notes and drawings made by visitors to Sheffield during the study period -- many of them for industrial espionage purposes -- were examined for potential matches. The ground plan of a crucible furnace observed by the Swedish engineer Erik Geisler presented a particularly close proportional match to Huntsman's, although the issue of scale remained unresolved.

Geisler had dimensioned his drawing of a crucible furnace with a scale of "alnar", a unit of measurement that varied across Northern Europe. It was found that by using the length of a Low Country "ell", a closely related unit which was approximately the distance between a man's elbows with his hands placed together (a practical way of taking measurements in situ), Geisler's drawing was a very good match for Huntsman's plan.

This discovery enabled the building to be elevated into three dimensions and for its relationship with the site and other outbuildings (which Geisler did not document) to be tested. Other elements of the furnace could now be added to this hypothetical three-dimensional framework, due to the basic dimensions and arrangement of the crucible furnace and its equipment remaining fairly constant throughout its lifespan.

The survival of an early crucible steel furnace at Abbeydale Works near Sheffield also greatly assisted the process of reconstruction. Built about thirty years after Huntsman's first furnace at Attercliffe, the Abbeydale furnace may be taken as representative of the materials and construction techniques employed at the time, particularly in suburban locales.

Other parts of Huntsman's complex were reconstructed from similar agricultural building types, such as the horse-powered grinding mill in which clay for crucibles and glass for flux was broken up. A row of terraced houses built by Huntsman to accommodate his workers was also very similar in scale and layout to the workers' cottages at Abbeydale.






Copyright Alan Williams and HRI online

illustration: Geisler's sketches - ground plan and elevation