Museum is still hot stuff as it celebrates 30th anniversary

Fire & Police Museum  Westbar
Fire & Police Museum Westbar
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If there’s one place that gives a glimpse of South Yorkshire’s history over the past three centuries, it’s the Fire and Police Museum on West Bar, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary - as The Star’s reporter Rachael Clegg found out.

A 1953 American fire engine, a life-sized policeman, a Victorian prison cell, a book of mugshots from the 1920s, gas masks, fire helmets and the longest fire pole in Europe - it’s no exaggeration to say Sheffield’s Fire and Police Museum has a lot to offer.

Fire & Police Museum  Westbar

Fire & Police Museum Westbar

To be specific, it actually has more than 400,000 objects on show - displayed across the site’s meandering corridors, rooms and yards.

Housed in the old Fire and Police Station on West Bar, the museum is one of South Yorkshire’s historical treats.

And, this year, it celebrates its own history - its 30th anniversary.

“The museum opened in 1983 after some South Yorkshire firefighters travelled to the fire museum in New York,” said museum director Matthew Wakefield.

Fire & Police Museum  Westbar

Fire & Police Museum Westbar

“South Yorkshire Fire Service had a collection of objects which they wanted to display in a museum on Division Street, but then this place came up for sale.”

The rest, as they say, is history, and year-on-year the museum has expanded its space and the number of objects in its collection.

“When it was first opened there was just one horsedrawn cart on loan and one motorised fire engine,” said Matthew. “Now we have 66 vehicles.”

Taking up almost a room of its own is an American LaFrance fire engine, which belonged to Oradell Fire Department in New Jersey.

“That’s one of my favourite items in the museum,” said Matthew.

“You’re just not going to see one of those on a road over here and it was so technically-advanced for its time. Compared with British fire engines of the same era the LaFrance was about 10 years ahead. It’s amazing.”

Before the advent of mechanised pumps, firemen had the arduous task of pumping their own water.

“You can see how firefighting has changed over the years when you think it started with a horse and cart,” said Matthew.

The reason the museum embraces collections from police as well as firefighting history is because in the 1900s, when the museum was a fire and police station, the two services were combined.

And so the museum also highlights how much criminal history has changed over the centuries.

“One of my favourite things is the book of mugshots from the 1920s,” said Matthew. “They show some really young kids, some of whom had to spend a night in the cell for stealing a loaf of bread.

“I could look at that book all day and the fact there are pictures makes it so interesting.”

Those cells are still intact, complete with their dingy ceramic tiles and tiny windows.

One is dedicated to Sheffield criminal legend Charles Peace, who was hanged for murder in 1879.

“The story of Charles Peace keeps changing but his great-great-niece is working with us and she is uncovering lots of stories,” said Matthew.

* The Fire and Police Museum is open every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday from 11am to 5pm, and on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm. During school holidays the museum is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm.