Industrial history, extraordinary women and 'drainspotting': Sheffield's Heritage Open Days to return on largest scale yet

Sheffield Hallam University's Sheffield Institute of Arts in the former Head Post Office building, off Fitzalan Square.
Sheffield Hallam University's Sheffield Institute of Arts in the former Head Post Office building, off Fitzalan Square.
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An annual programme that highlights all aspects of Sheffield's history is poised to return bigger then ever.

The city's Heritage Open Days take place in September - over two weekends rather than one, for the first time in their history - offering more than 100 free events from tours of notable buildings and talks that illuminate the lives of great Sheffield figures to more unusual activities with an inventive take on the city's past.

Penny Rea with photos of Mary Anne Rawson and her family outside the Zion Graveyard in Attercliffe, where Rawson is buried.

Penny Rea with photos of Mary Anne Rawson and her family outside the Zion Graveyard in Attercliffe, where Rawson is buried.

This year there is an overarching theme of 'extraordinary women', turning attention to those who are not regularly championed and commemorating the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote.

The history festival's popularity in Sheffield has grown rapidly, with the number of individual happenings more than doubling since 2015 as new groups, societies and enthusiasts have become involved. It is a national initiative, but is co-ordinated locally by the Sheffield Civic Trust and relies on the efforts of volunteers.

Ethel Haythornthwaite - a World War One widow credited with saving the countryside around the city's boundary - artist Annie Bindon Carter, anti-slavery campaigner Mary Anne Rawson and Celtic ruler Cartimandua are among the women who will be recognised with talks and tours. People can learn about the work of Sheffield's female silversmiths at the Assay Office, and Manor Lodge's remarkable women are to be celebrated too.

On a similarly timely note, the All Good Stuff gallery at Butcher Works – a restored cutlery factory – is hosting an exhibition inspired by the Windrush migrants, the first of whom arrived in Britain from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush ship 70 years ago. Artists, makers and writers are being invited to submit pieces.

Louise Watts and Liz Godfrey, Heritage Open Days co-ordinators in Sheffield, at the 2018 launch at the Electric Works.

Louise Watts and Liz Godfrey, Heritage Open Days co-ordinators in Sheffield, at the 2018 launch at the Electric Works.

The programme features many new additions - Sheffield Hallam University's Institute of Arts, at the former Head Post Office in Fitzalan Square, is welcoming visitors for its 175th anniversary and the hospital archives at the Northern General are running special tours. The Burton Street Foundation - the disability charity based at a former Victorian school in Hillsborough - is holding 'then and now' walks around the site, and people can learn about the restoration of the Merlin Theatre in Nether Edge.

Abbeydale Picture House; Beauchief Abbey; the Cutlers' Hall; Grenoside Reading Room; Kenwood Hall Hotel; the Madina Mosque on Wolseley Road and Tapton Hall in Crosspool are opening their doors, along with several churches, among them St Marks in Broomhill, All Saints Ecclesall, St Mary's at Handsworth and Hill Top Chapel in Attercliffe.

People can go 'drainspotting' - walks focusing on the features of Sheffield's pavements - or join a guided stroll looking at the city's role in shaping the rules of football. The Electric Works near the railway station will illustrate the area's modern heritage of digital creativity.

As is traditional, the city's manufacturing history has a strong presence. Nigel Tyas Ironwork in Penistone, Grenoside Steel Works' furnace cellar and Wortley Top Forge will be demonstrating the skills that made Sheffield an industrial powerhouse.

This year's open days coincide with archaeological digs at the site of the lost Sheffield Castle; experts will lead tours of the excavation plot, and visitors themselves can pick up a trowel and help out under the guidance of specialists.

Most of the open days require places to be booked in advance, and in many cases only limited numbers can be catered for. Events are happening from September 6 to 9, and 13 to 16.

Visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk for details.