Sheffield is a steel-working place, at least historically. Currently it is similar in many respects to the other cities we have visited, but larger. After years of tough economic times the city has become prosperous, with a large university and attractive public spaces. Railroad Station Fountain
We took a nearly random walk around Sheffield on our first day and saw lots of sights - lovely, interesting, educational, entertaining, and even enlightening. We enjoyed lots of architecture, old and new. Several of the buildings have murals, possibly showing the influence of the university's art and design students. We saw more lovely fountains, starting with one running down a mosaic-tiled hillside runnel; we were especially impressed with the fountains all around the Peace Gardens.
We wandered down through a neighborhood covered in graffiti to a huge market. Stopping for tea and scones we then walked up a long pedestrian walkway, called The Moor. Halfway up we stopped to join a crowd of onlookers watching a talented street magician and entertainer do card tricks, juggle, and escape from a straitjacket.
We noticed a bunch of grey marble benches inscribed with kudos to Sheffield's metal industry achievements: famous swords and cutlery, crucible steel, Escape Artist and Magician silverplate, and stainless steel. A small demonstration seeking greater help to combat the Ebola epidemic walked to City Hall, completing their program minutes ahead of the arrival of a wedding party. On the way back to the hotel we saw mediaeval reenactors in front of the Anglican cathedral.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking of our Sheffield visits was to Kelham Island. We heard that Kelham Island was the major tourist attraction in Sheffield, so we paid it a visit. Kelham Island was created when a weir was placed in the River Don which runs through Sheffield. A canal went through in 1819, and a railroad in 1838. But metalworking had started long before that, using iron shipped in from Sweden. A lot of the mills and machine shops have always been located near the river and Kelham Island. The Kelham Island Museum is built in a former metal plant, with a lot of materials donated from nearby factories. It is a specialized Old-Time Workshop Exhibit museum of metals and metalworking, and had many wonderful exhibits.
The smelting of the steel is just the beginning; all sorts of products are made from metal, and Sheffield has always been at the heart of the nation's metal trades (though always second to London.) Individuals or small groups of craftsmen, called Little Mesters, set up specialized metalworking shops (saws, machine tools, watches, cutlery,...) which operated in parts of mills or in homes or small buildings. The museum had replicated a goodly number of such shops.
Before the passage of health and safety laws, boys as young as 5 were employed as metal workers, and the life expectancy was not much more than 30, due to lung ailments. Also made in Sheffield during WW II was the 'Grand Slam,' a 10,000 kg bomb designed to create an effect similar to an earthquake which was thought would destroy critical infrastructure.
The Kelham Island Museum had several engines on display, as large engines were needed to power the mills. One was said to be the largest one-cylinder gas A Many-bladed Knife engine, built by Crossley, and another was the 12,000 horsepower River Don steam engine which was used to power a rolling mill.
Pocket knives with folding blades have long been a favorite item, and the museum had two huge specimens on display - one made for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the other made with 1,821 blades in the year 1821 by Joseph Rodgers and Sons, and subsequently continued by the tool company Stanley until the year 2000, when it was given to the museum. These items put the Swiss Army knife to shame!
We enjoyed a large number of board displays, in which a company or Little Mester would mount a variety of products for exhibiting to prospective customers. The museum has many exhibits intended for school groups, and an entire 'machine shop' play area for little ones. We got a peek into the museum workshop, where we realized that volunteering in this museum was a lot of fun for the volunteers who could pursue their hobbies!
Another excellent exhibit was the Ken Hawley Collection of tools and toolmaking, principally from Sheffield. One of the displays in this area showed how a garden fork is cast and then forged. Throughout the museum there were quite a number of videos and even some audio tapes which were called up by dialling on a rotary telephone! These were all quite good. Bear Pit and Bear Statue
The Sheffield Botanical Garden is a peaceful, hilly park a short bus ride from the center of town, peopled by joggers along with babies, dogs and their masters.
We saw the Bear Pit! It was there before the Garden was created in 1839, and was said to hold live bears at one time. Today the only bear was a life-sized bronze statue. Since the Garden is 175 years old, there are some pretty big trees, wonderful specimens and shade trees, plus floral plantings and borders and rose gardens and rock gardens and a couple of miles of paths zigzagging back and forth, most of which we walked.
Returning to town, we entered the WinterGarden, which provides a temperate year-round climate under glass for palm trees, cactus, and the like. It was very nice, but we preferred the outdoor Botanical Garden. Bob in the Botanical Garden
We also saw some of the exhibits at the Millenium Gallery art museum, including still more beautiful metal crafts. We did learn that in the 16th century 60% of the men in Sheffield were cutlers, which shows how long the city has been practicing metal craft.
The famous art critic John Ruskin who was closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite artists (including Edward Bourne Jones) in the 1860s and later, established a library and gallery in Sheffield so that the metal-workers and miners would be able to experience beautiful objects. After falling out of fashion for more than a century, his collection has been re-established in the Millennium Gallery; it contains primarily beautiful stones and illustrations of natural objects like birds and grasses.
Our hotel in Sheffield was a newly opened chain hotel in the remodeled -- practically rebuilt -- 19th century police station. Pictures in the hallways tended to be police-related, like fingerprints or cleaned-up crime scenes. It seemed to us to be quite representative of this city which has managed to incorporate the historic events and the social changes of the nineteenth century into the transformed world of two centuries later.