Kelham Island Museum
Alma Street , S3 8RY
0114 272 2106
Open Monday-Thursday 10am-4pm, Sunday 11am-4:45pm. £5.50 / £4.50 concessions / free for accompanied children under 16Visit site
One of the oldest manufacturing sites in the city, Kelham Island is the ideal place to learn about Sheffield's industrial history. The manmade island was formed in the 1100s, when a stream was diverted to power a nearby mill. Cutlery and steel works moved in to the area in the 1800s, and its their remains that give the area its distinct charm today.
It's well worth having a wander around Kelham Island before you head to the museum – losing yourself between its red bricks and typographical delights, picturing 19th-century steelworkers rushing down its cobbled lanes on their way to the foundries, peeking through arches that now frame nothing but sky.
You'll know you've reached the museum when you see the looming black egg that's been laid out front. That is, in fact, a Bessemer converter – one of the largest left in the world. At one time, Sheffield was responsible for churning out around a quarter of the country’s Bessemer steel, shipping it off to build bridges and railways as far away as Brooklyn, NYC.
The Sheffield we know today grew out of such developments in steelmaking and mass production. The museum – housed in what was, until the 1930s, the power station for the city’s trams – makes that lineage clear, whilst offering insight into the effect that rapid growth, followed by gradual decline, had on Sheffield society.
Learn about the buffer girls, grinders and little mesters whose skills and sweating brows are largely to thank for establishing worldwide esteem for the Made in Sheffield brand. Admire feats of metalwork ranging from the "fancy scissors" made for showing off at the 1851 Great Exhibition, to the world’s heaviest bomb: the arrogantly named Grand Slam. Take a look at the dainty protective glasses that were made for the Queen on her visit to the factories; follow that with a touching film about the "women of steel" who, without such regal affectations, worked in munitions here during the war. And, if you’re lucky, you can top off your visit by gawping in awe at the River Don Engine as it chugs away.
Kelham Island and its museum feature in Sheffield: Science City, our printed guide to some of the best science-related bits of the city, made in collaboration with the University of Sheffield.
After tea and cake in the museum's Little Mesters Cafe, carry on exploring what Kelham Island has to offer: real ale, and more architectural relics of industry.