diamond geezer

 Friday, October 19, 2018

Gadabout: SHEFFIELD

One of Britain's largest cities, Sheffield is famously hilly and impressively green, as befits its location close to the foot of the Pennines. Formerly in Hallamshire, Sheffield is now the mainstay of South Yorkshire, a county which I acknowledge I've seriously underblogged thus far. So I grabbed a cheap rail ticket and spent the day in The Outdoor City to see how many of its sights I could get around.
[Visit Sheffield] [map]



Sheffield Cathedral
Like Birmingham and Manchester, Sheffield's Anglican cathedral is much smaller than might be expected given the city's population. Like Birmingham and Manchester that's because the Industrial Revolution brought the city to prominence, hence the parish church got promoted to cathedral status, but at least it's impressive, if not entirely awe-inspiring. The red-cloaked gent on the door was effusive and cheery, as well as deeply apologetic that the cafe had already closed by the time I arrived. The cathedral's interior looked somewhat smaller than I remembered, but I was last here aged 10, which may explain the dimensional shift. The most impressive addition since that visit is the abstract design in the lantern tower resembling a colourful symmetrical flower.



Sheffield Winter Garden/Millennium Galleries
What to do when redeveloping your city centre, obviously, is to build a huge temperate glasshouse as a meeting point and thoroughfare. Today spiky trees soar beneath larch arches, suitably sheltered, with benches and a nice cafe tucked in on either side. It's all very genteel, although a slight whiff down the far side made me suspect several gentleman might be enjoying temporary residential status until turfed out in the evening. Adjoining are the Millennium Galleries, a bit like a shopping mall but for culture, with two permanent galleries and two moveable feasts. The main attraction is a celebration of Sheffield metalwork, the city having earned its wealth through knives and forks and spoons and steel and silver. There's some fabulous creations in here, from all kinds of cutlery to teapots and toastracks, right up to exquisite modern day commissions. Another unit focuses on the collections of John Ruskin, including geology and volumes of animal illustrations, and the rest of the place was "between exhibitions", which is sometimes how it goes.



City Centre
Ooh, that's the Crucible where the snooker happens. Ooh, that's the green police box in Surrey Street which got a mention in the opening episode of Jodie Whittaker's first Doctor Who episode, famously set in Sheffield. A bit less ooh are the Peace Gardens, although a nice place to sit and watch the fountains with your lunchbox open. Nextdoor is the Victorian Town Hall, and then up the road City Hall, which is a generation younger but trying to look much older. If you fancy a thorough amble with a focus on 32 of Sheffield's most interesting buildings, old and particularly new, this two hour circuit from the Institution of Civil Engineers might be right up your street.



National Centre for Popular Music
It seemed like a good idea to establish the UK's first pop-focused tourist attraction in Sheffield, as a city which has always punched above its musical weight. A landmark building was created near the station, comprising four interlinked steel drums with rotating blowhole tops. But this millennial project was woefully undervisited, and went into administration after only seven months, because Heaven 17 soundscapes and hands-on composition zones lacked appeal. The museum limped on until the following spring, then gave up and became a live music venue, then gave up completely and was sold off to Sheffield Hallam University. They now use it as their Students Union, a place for advice-giving, socialising and making photocopies... and this year's freshers weren't even born during its initial incarnation.



Turner Museum of Glass
This took some finding, because the museum is housed on the campus of the University of Sheffield on the second floor of the Materials Science building. This meant walking through a throng of students despite not looking anything like one, climbing a somewhat functional staircase and nervously opening a swing door into what looked like a common room. And a common room it proved to be, albeit also home to a collection of display cases containing some exquisite examples of 20th century art glass. I tried to admire these while students at tables alongside pored over laptops and stuffed themselves with hot-packaged lunches. A little awkward, but gorgeous.



Weston Park Museum
The city's chief museum of Sheffieldness can be found in Weston Park, which is not entirely central. A long neoclassical building, much extended to the rear, it contains galleries on diverse topics from local archaeology to Arctic lands. In a city of half a million people, the populace needs somewhere to go to learn about Anglo-Saxons, sporting triumphs and woodland ecosystems. The gallery of Sheffield-related landscapes is particularly fine, as befits the watercolour potential of such a scenically-located city, and I also enjoyed sitting down in a reconstructed 60s kitchen to watch a series of videos about Park Hill. As for Weston Park, it's one of a trio which includes Crookes Valley Park, formerly a reservoir, and a long scrubby tumble called The Ponderosa. Amazingly this is named after the ranch in the TV series Bonanza, which was very popular in the 1960s when the park was created.



Kelham Island Museum
Hello target audience, this is the museum for you. The Sheffield Industrial Trust's flagship repository is housed in a former transport depot on the site of an ironworks in the city's riverside manufacturing heart. At £6 it's the only attraction on today's list which I paid to enter, although you can see the country's last surviving Bessemer Converter out front for free - it's much too large to come inside. As well as tools for metalwork and tales of everyday craftsmanship, the museum contains a considerable amount of machinery from the old days, much of it in working order. The most imposing is the River Don Engine, Britain's most powerful surviving steam engine, once used to press the thermal shields for Calder Hall nuclear power station. It fires up twice a day, and you'll find it (honest) in the Hugh Wentworth Ping Room.

Explore all the nooks and crannies to find Sheffield's last crucible shop, a small-traders alleyway, a recreated Zeppelin raid and the world's largest collection of 'tools'. You have not lived until you have seen a 2000-bladed Stanley knife, an A-Z of planes, a giant trowel and a room full of nothing but different types of hand-saw. Hopefully your visit won't be plagued by a school party running amok trying to find all the items on their worksheet, and studiously ignoring absolutely everything else. And when you're done inside the museum you should find refreshment outside amongst the CAMRA-friendly microbreweries of Kelham Island. This mini-district's gently gentrifying, but hasn't yet lost its steely edge.



Five Weirs Walk
Several rivers meet in Sheffield, chief of these the Don which flows onwards towards Rotherham and the obvious -caster. The section of the Don between central Sheffield and the Meadowhall Shopping Centre has been made accessible vis the Five Weirs Walk, a regenerative project completed over 20 years, meandering five miles along the riverside. I only had time to walk a tiny fraction, from the start at Lady's Bridge round the first couple of bends. It was surreal looking down into the Don to see a man stood fishing in midstream, just below a multi-storey car park. But rather more amazing was the Cobweb Bridge, a footbridge suspended through a deep arch in the Wicker Viaduct while giant metal spiders hang above in dampened gloom - as if every day were Hallowe'en. Sorry, that was all I managed.

National Emergency Services Museum
Yes, honestly. Includes a row of police cells and over fifty 999 vehicles. But closed on Mondays and Tuesday, so you'll have to tell me.

That other Sheffield thing
No I didn't, there wasn't time.

My Sheffield gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [slideshow]


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