Kelham Island

Architectural relics, real ale and new developments, in what was once the heart of Sheffield's steel industry.

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, it felt like the name Kelham Island was barely uttered by the populous, save for the times it was followed by the words “Brewery”, “Museum”, or perhaps “is a bit dodgy in places”.

Today, this little island, floating to the north of the city, is a changed place. Of course, it isn’t actually an island and the only crossing a visitor may have to make is that of the ring road – no ferry required.

The once industrial Kelham Island is now a place where contrasts sit harmoniously side-by-side. Warehouses, factories and workshops left vacant following the demise of the steel industry are now being taken over by residential developments, small businesses and artists. However there's still some industrial presence in the area, mostly on the north side of the river along Mowbray Street and Ball Street. Here, small, busy workshops offer an intriguing glimpse into the past.

It is an area of old and new, too. Though developers are investing in the area – with new flats popping up beside the river and along Green Lane – many of the industrial buildings that formed part of the Kelham Island skyline a century ago are still here, in varying levels of dereliction. Some, such as the fabulously grand Cornish Place and Globe Works, with its ornamental facade, have been wonderfully restored. Others, like the lavish gatehouse to Green Lane Works and the towering Eagle Works, are in line to be transformed in the coming years. Many buildings, however, are still in a desperate state of disrepair; while their long-term futures will undoubtedly concern historians and planners, for now their rusty, mossy and aged appearances certainly add to the unique character of this part of Sheffield.

Kelham Island Museum is rightfully the heart of the area. After all, it’s situated on the original Kelham Island – a piece of land with the River Don flowing on one side and a manmade goit, which once powered a mill, on the other. The museum peeks into Sheffield’s industrial heritage and is well worth a look, with plenty for kids as well as adults. A notable mention should go to the huge Don Engine which, even for someone who isn’t particularly enthusiastic about big engines, is mightily impressive when it fires up.

Food-wise, Kelham Island has plenty to offer, with more and more cafes and restaurants arriving all the time. The Grind on Green Lane is one of the best places for coffee and lunch, famed for its sausage rolls and toothsome cakes. The Milestone specialises in seasonal food and unloved cuts of meat, and rarely lets anyone down. It also has fantastic early bird deals. The team behind The Milestone also run Craft & Dough, a pizza and craft beer place near the museum. In 2015 both The Depot Bakery, with its excellent coffee and doughnuts, and the unmissable Peddler night market relocated to the area, while The Bhaji Shop thali cafe followed in 2016. And, more recently, Krynkl opened its doors – home to art, fitness, hairdressing, a rooftop bar and the fabulous Jöro restaurant. 

On the other side of the bridge is Kelham Island Artists Collective (KIAC), home to artists' studios and Gage Gallery, a wonderful exhibition space with regular displays from local artists. Fans of design, meanwhile, will find much to satisfy them on a good walk around the backstreets of Kelham Island; typographical treats, intriguing old trademark symbols and charming signs are still dotted about on what were once cutlery and steel works – many of which can be found in our Typographic Tour of Sheffield. If you're looking to get some shopping in, The Nichols Building and Kelham Arcade will sort you out for vintage treats and beautiful homewares, respectively.

Kelham Island is, these days, the best place for a pub crawl in the city – if not the world. Don’t take our word for it, though; the area was mentioned in the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2014. Though a little off the beaten track, the Gardeners Rest on Neepsend Lane has a cheerful beer garden next to the river and is the tap for the nearby Sheffield Brewery Company. Sticking on the north side of the Don, you’ll find The Riverside, home to good beer, the odd bit of immersive theatre and a brilliant mural by Phlegm. The Fat Cat on Alma Street is bursting with character; much of the beer is brewed across the car park at Kelham Island Brewery and, in summer, the beer garden is a heavenly place. Round the corner, on Russell Street, is the Kelham Island Tavern, a place with countless real ale awards clinging to its walls. The pub runs a popular annual beer festival, which is well worth visiting. In nearby Neepsend, Richard Hawley's go-to studio Yellow Arch is one of Sheffield's most characterful gig venues and bars. For more pointers to pubs in the area, pick up our illustrated Sheffield Ale Trail – yours for £1 in our online shop.

To get to Kelham Island, take the Supertram to Shalesmoor – from there, cross the dual carriageway and, at Globe Works, turn right down Green Lane. On foot, it's a 10-minute walk northwards from Sheffield Cathedral in the city centre.

Photo: Ball Street Bridge, by Will Roberts.

Written by Will Roberts; January 7, 2015