From forts to forges - taking pride in Sheffield's history
From humble beginnings to an industrial powerhouse and onwards to a thriving centre of popular culture, Sheffield has a powerful story '“ and some passionate people to tell it.
Museum trusts, historic societies and arts groups are all contributing their own chapters to the story to give residents and visitors a sense of the city’s place and context in the wider world.
Speaking to the Star, some of the city’s key players told us what made their attractions so special, and how they added to the wider Sheffield picture.
Kim Streets, Museums Sheffield chief executive
“There’s a very strong sense of pride in our heritage,” said Kim Streets, the woman who oversees Millennium Gallery, Weston Park Museum and Graves Gallery. “We need to make sure we look after it but also make it visible.”
Museums Sheffield was one of two trusts, alongside the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, set up in the 1980s and 1990s to take over the running of city museums and galleries from Sheffield Council.
Those under Kim’s control cover the whole story of Sheffield, told through artefacts, works of art and people.
“Our role is to care for the city’s collections and then to share them,” she said. “The role is about caring for our heritage in terms of its objects and stories.
At Weston Park Museum visitors can see Sheffield through the eyes of artist Joe Scarborough, see the world treasures brought to the city over hundreds of years or celebrate Victorian entertainer Professor DeLyle.
“Weston Park tries to give a rounded picture to articulate how Sheffield got to be what it is today, and understand Sheffield’s place on the global stage,” said Kim.
The Graves Gallery hosts artwork from around the world in a historic building, while the Millennium Gallery shows off the city’s finest creative minds in a welcoming and inspirational public space.
Kim believes it is difficult to separate heritage and culture.
“Our heritage is bound up in who we are,” she said. “We are making it every day in the way we live.”
That modern culture in particular complements Sheffield’s heritage to promote the city as a whole.
Kim said: “We have a strong heritage but also a strong contemporary life.”
John Hamshere, Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust chief executive
There’s no getting away from steel in Sheffield, and the story is told in Kelham Island Museum, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel.
Former industrial museums have been transformed into interactive spaces that take visitors back to an age when Sheffield helped to build the world.
“Sheffield is one of the world’s greatest industrial cities,” said John Hamshere, a man who makes no attempt to hide his passion for his adopted home.
Speaking about the museums under his care, he said: “It is all based on this idea, to quote Newton, that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”
He added: “We tell the story of Sheffield. And that’s important in its own right, so people have a sense of place and identity. A sense of why Sheffield is such an important place.”
Kelham Island itself, once a mess of derelict buildings and unsavoury characters, has been transformed in the 20 years the museum has been open. It is now home to quality flats, buzzing pubs and restaurants and some innovative architecture. The museum is also a popular wedding venue.
John said: “We are contributing to the regeneration of the local economy as well.”
Investment goes on with the Sheffield 1916 project, consisting of a new boiler for the River Don Engine and an exhibition on the zeppelin raid on the city 100 years ago. So things are looking rosy for industrial heritage – but is the city being talked about enough?
John said: “What we have lacked is the marketing side of it. Making people aware that Sheffield has changed so much in the last 20 years and there is so much to see.”
David Templeman, Chairman of the Friends of Sheffield Manor Lodge
Sheffield played a key part in the history of the country in the 1500s when Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the city. And much of the time she was here was spent at Manor Lodge.
The ruins of the Tudor house were less than impressive just two decades ago. But the hard work of the Friends of Sheffield Manor Lodge, and significant grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has transformed the four-acre site.
It now includes a discovery centre, a farm, stunning wildflower meadows and 1940s cottages.
Chairman of the friends group David Templeman said: “We wouldn’t have got the Heritage Lottery Fund money if it wasn’t for this major connection with history.
“The site was derelict 11 years ago. To see it now is staggering.”
A huge amount of work has gone into transforming the Manor Lodge site, which sits atop a hill in the middle of one of the country’s biggest historic deer parks. It is now surrounded by housing, but the friends group and the Green Estate social enterprise are determined to keep that history alive.
David said: “It’s just so vitally important. This is set up now for future generations to enjoy. The money is not put down just for the present day.
“We’ve got schools coming all the time, we’ve got a brilliant education department virtually full every term.”
Manor Lodge also provide a backdrop for other historical groups to stage their own events. This Saturday it will host its largest ever re-enactment, with six groups taking part.
David sees the value in promoting the lodge as part of a wider Sheffield heritage offer.
“What a lot of people don’t know and visitors don’t get is pre-industrial revolution,” said David. “Sheffield had the fourth-biggest medieval castle in England. The biggest private deer part. It was Mary, Queen of Scots’ royal prison.
“A lot of towns and cities would give their right arm for just one of them.
“Promotion has been tried individually and it doesn’t work. We need to be a collective bunch of people. It does need pushing all the time.”
Martin Smith, Sheffield City Hall marketing co-ordinator
With its neo-classical pillars rising high above Barker’s Pool, Sheffield City Hall is one of the most striking city centre buildings.
The venue has hosted some of popular music’s biggest names, from Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles all the way up to One Direction. The same goes for politics, with Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson speaking there in years gone by. It is a key part of Sheffield’s heritage.
“It’s the only large concert venue in the city centre,” said marketing co-ordinator Martin Smith. “It has been for a long time.
“There’s the arena outside, but in terms of getting big names in the city centre, the City Hall has led on that for 80-plus years.”
Nowadays the venue’s events programme takes in all sorts, from classical to pop concerts and comedy shows to graduation celebrations and political debates.
Many Sheffielders will be familiar with the main concert hall. But the City Hall also boasts an art-deco ballroom and bar downstairs. It also acts as a backdrop to outside events, with political rallies and memorial services taking place in the building’s shadow.
Martin said: “It’s probably the biggest part of our identity, having such a close link with the heart of the city. We try to have a really diverse programme and cater to all kind of different people.
“Whether it’s conferences in the building or rallies on the front steps, the City Hall is what you see in the background.”
Guided tours have taken place to tie in with the national Heritage Open Days project. But this only happens for one weekend a year.
Martin said: “Round the year there is still an opportunity for more of that kind of thing to be happening.”
Sheffield’s heritage is well know in the city, according to Martin, but not so much further afield.
“People in Sheffield have quite a close connection with the city’s heritage,” he said. “But people outside maybe don’t know so much.”