The hidden history of a crucible shop

Sanne-Marie Roberts, 22, is studying a Masters in the archaeology of buildings at the University of York

When I was at school I had no idea what I wanted to do until one day I did a career test and was told I should become an archaeologist. It was no childhood love of mine and I was no Indiana Jones fan, but then I did a few voluntary digs, got to know more about it, and my interest developed.

I did a BSc in archaeological science at the University of Sheffield and then took a year out to work in the field on short-term digger jobs. Several moments of discovery stay in my mind, especially finding some rare brass chain mail in York last year.

For my MA dissertation I'm researching an old crucible shop in Sheffield, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A crucible shop is a type of furnace that converted blister steel - a crude type of steel - into a more refined product which was then made into cutlery. My interest in the steel industry comes from the time I worked at a steelworks on a research chemist placement in the sixth form, and of course I studied in Sheffield where you are confronted with signs of the steel industry every day.

Throughout the Industrial Revolution and 19th century, Sheffield led the world as a centre of steel production, and "Made in Sheffield" is still synonymous with quality steel. A recent English Heritage survey found that an extraordinary variety of steel industry buildings still survive, even though many have remained derelict for a long time. Some are even on the Buildings at Risk register, like the crucible shop.

Sheffield is now undergoing extensive regeneration, which means there is renewed interest in, and pressure on, the buildings that survive. English Heritage and Sheffield City Council want to find new uses for these buildings and my research will look at how much information we can retrieve from places that have stood derelict for so long.

First I'll research the archives and find out about the history of the crucible shop, then I'll survey it, which I'll do in a team because surveying a derelict building on your own can be quite dangerous. Then I'll make technical drawings and a computer model, and finally write a report. This can feed into a conservation proposal if the building is redeveloped, which is a possibility as lots of industrial buildings are made into flats.

Soon I'll be starting a job in a building consultancy in Leeds, acting as adviser between developers and heritage people, so taking the Masters has been training for that. And yes, my cutlery at home is Sheffield steel; it's good quality.