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@Pub@ opens to mark Sheffield’s brewing past

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  • by Nancy Fielder
 

It is a pub ... but not as you know it.

Well actually, plenty of Sheffielders might think it is more of a pub than any of the watering holes they drink it these days.

Kelham Island Museum is throwing open the doors on its newest exhibition this weekend so welcome to The Millowners Arms.

It tells the story of Sheffield’s great brewing industry with the displays laid out in the style of a pub.

The drinking den is housed in the former social history store which was severely damaged by the flood of June 2007.

The team has torn out the steel racking and mezzanine floor to expose cast iron columns which tie in with the red brick exterior to become the perfect ‘pub’.

One of the most eye-catching features is a stone fireplace rescued by a public campaign from the Travellers pub on a new Sainsbury’s site in Wadsley Bridge.

It is dated 1697 but little else is known about its history. Other exhibits scan the centuries, from a photo of Sarah Ann Bingham outside her public house at 13 Bower Street in 1890 to much more recent Wards memorabilia.

Great care has been taken over the detail, right down to the dart board which is traditionally Yorkshire with no ‘trebles’.

The Millowners Arms won’t be serving beer on a daily basis but can be used for special events, including the many hugely popular weddings which take place at the museum.

HRH Duke of Gloucester will visit the museum tomorrow to officially open the Millowners Arms, which is funded by The River Don Millowners Association.

It is the brainchild of John Hamshere, chief executive of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, and he is delighted with the final result.

“This is a wonderful place for a gallery about the brewing industry of Sheffield,” John said.

“Everybody calls it a pub but it is really a brewing gallery.

“Sheffield is one of the great brewing cities of Britain and this tells the story of that heritage.”

The concept of the displays is to fit into the idea of a pub using notice boards with ‘posters’ on or information panels put into picture frames so that it has the feel and atmosphere of a real pub.

The story the displays tell is of the growth of the brewing industry and the rise of the pub, as well as associated skills such as coopering and beer making.

Most jobs in Sheffield were hot or dusty, or both.

The heat from the furnaces and forges and the dust from the grinding wheels called for thirst-quenching beer.

Pubs were popular for drinking after shifts, and sometimes before or even during.

Wages were even paid in pubs – another reason to spend time in the beerhouse.

Workers in the furnaces lost a lot of body fluid in sweat so needed to drink a lot and beer was a safer choice than water – the brewing process killed off lots of dangerous bacteria.

Works would have a ‘lad’ who could be sent out to the corner off-licence to fetch the beer.

The hard job of steelmaking turned workers into legendary beer drinkers and in 1890s Sheffield most people didn’t have comfortable living rooms with roaring fires to go home to so the pub was an inviting alternative.

Sheffield had more than 1,400 licensed premises in 1881 and most would have been beerhouses – pubs that only sold beer.

If they had an ‘off licence’ the beerhouses could sell beer for people to drink off the premises but customers had to bring their own containers.

Many early Sheffield breweries were run from the back-yards of ordinary terraced houses.

Barrels of home-brewed beer were kept out in the yard and beer was served in the front room.

Later big breweries started buying up pubs to serve their beer.

New purpose-built pubs introduced bars and pumps to meet high demand.

Although Sheffield didn’t have many of the ornate gin palaces that were common in other cities, Victorian features like glazed tilework and etched glass can still be seen in pubs around the city.

Nineteenth century trade directories list dozens of brewers, from small pub-based operations to enormous breweries and by the 1880s Sheffield had 30 breweries - one of the largest concentrations in Britain.

Takeovers were common and some brewing giants emerged – Gilmours, Stones, Tennants and Wards were four of the biggest.

When visitors walk into The Millowners Arms one of the first things they will see is the Ward’s Brewery sign above the fireplace - carried lovingly from above the entrance gates to Ward’s Sheaf Brewery.

The wheat sheaf is symbolic of the city of Sheffield and the origin of its name which comes from 
the words sheaf and field.

 

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