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 Island Cafe+Bar or a drink and a bite to eat at its Millowners Arms, carry on exploring what Kelham Island has to offer: real ale, and more architectural relics of industry.
Kelham Island Museum has reopened after months of closure, with new opening times (including Saturday openings!) and safety measures. Tickets are limited each day, so advance booking is recommended – choose an arrival slot and, once you're there, you can stay as long as you like. There'll be social distancing floor markers and a one-way route. Some features (including the River Don Engine) will not be operating for now. See full details of the measures in place.
During October half term week, it will be decked out for Halloween and is promising a free goody bag and trick or treat trail for every child. You can even explore the museum after hours for Creepy Kelham evening on 31 October from 5pm till 7pm, with a few extra spooky surprises! Fancy dress encouraged – book now.
Pre-book your visit
Admission: adults £7 / children (under 16) free
The onsite Island Café+Bar and Millowners Arms pub are both open daily, with the Millowners now having an expanded (and heated!) beer garden – prebook a table.