A curious building with a curious past, it once housed an elephant used for carrying heavy components in armaments manufacture during the First World War. Marishka Van Steenbergen takes a look
Sheffield’s independent venue The Chimney House has just munched through a summer supper to celebrate being ranked at the top of a list of the ‘most creatively designed boardrooms’ in the world.
Judges were both startled and inspired by the room’s recreation of the building’s history which includes an elephant and free fishing for steel workers in the river which laps at the former factory’s walls.
Defying the current odd weather, guests from local business and the neighbourhood were treated to a sit-down do in the Meeting Room , which won the prize, by the building’s co-owners Sally Clark and Tim Hubbard. They rescued and restored the grade II listed monument in Sheffield’s old industrial heartland of Kelham Island in 2010, transforming a warren of small busnesses with recycled material from architectural salvage yards and reclaim sites.
Clark, who owns LARK PR , says that holding regular house parties to thank supporters is now part of business life in the aptly-named social networking age:
I’m a firm believer that if people are supporting you on Facebook and Twitter, you should say thank you. The parties are also a ‘come and have a look around’ for people whom we would like to introduce to The Chimney House. So it’s a mix of people and it’s our appreciation of people being ambassadors for us.
The Chimney House now incorporates Hubbard’s design office 93ft, Clark’s LARK and the Meeting Room which is designed to be an ‘away-from-home’ boardroom for business hire, conferences and training days, as well as parties and weddings. A local husband and wife team, Coco Catering, do all the food and drink. Clark says:
They’ve been working with us for a year and a half now and they’ve been on this whole journey with us.
That journey took 18 months and was a labour of love, says Hubbard:
It’s more like a way of life for us. It’s really inspirational for people, transcending far beyond just a place where people come to meet. We find that everybody who comes here says that they have a much more creative meeting, more relaxing and with a lot more output.
Their accolade has been given by eVenues of Seattle, seekers after strange and wonderful spaces around the world, who put the Sheffielders comfortably ahead of slick rivals in Baltimore, Cape Town and Berlin and second only to a spoof submarine used by a games company in San Francisco. eVenues describes the Meeting Room as refreshing in comparison with the ‘sleek, futuristic’ boardrooms judges had already seen.
The red brick walls, hardwood floors and salvaged furniture and décor give the place a welcoming, ‘lived-in’ feeling which is sure to make anyone feel at home the moment they walk in.
The Chimney House got its name from its 93ft chimney, which soars straight through the room’s floor and out of its roof. The history of the building has been tracked back to 1860 and the origins of the steel rolling mills which made Kelham Island famous.
Its primary use was as a furnace and later as a stable for workhorses, before Sarah who was bought from a circus when the horses were requisitioned, like The War Horse, to ferry supplies to the trenches in France. Owned by Thomas Ward, she was used to lift and roll parts for armaments production in the rolling mills.
Local artist Tim Newell has painted some of the historical stories on to the side of the chimney in the Meeting Room, with Sarah alongside three fish. This was the day’s ration allowed to supplement the wages of any steelworker with time for a little fishing during breaks. Warmed by industrial effluent, the river also germinated fig seeds from the men’s snap, or picnic lunches, accounting for the fig trees which still stand beside stretches of the Don.
The building has also survived two major floods, which are painted apparently pouring out of a tap.
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