I’ve always liked a museum. When I was very small, my Mother sometimes used to be away for the weekend, and my father would take us. We went all over the place (within twenty miles of our house, anyway) visiting museums. I have a feeling my favourite was a museum of Arms and Militia, but we only went there the once, so either it was so small it only took five minutes, or my brother played up, or (most likely) you had to pay to get in. All this meant that I knew the drill for these museums. Pictures, a few swords (if you were lucky) and some models – usually of something Roman, along with a few bits of pots and a couple of coins. Some Victorian clothes, and old style irons and the like. My two favourites bits in all these museums were thus. In one of Leicester’s museums there was a chair, but not just any chair. This was Daniel Lamberts Chair (what do you mean, Daniel Lambert? Leicester’s very own fattest man ever recorded…at the time….around about 1806) and a Mummy. Any museum worth its salt had a Mummy, indeed a whole Egypt -based section of the place. The absence of a Mummy was like the absence of stars on a hotel. In my book anyway…
When there’s time now I have children, I like to follow in my fathers footsteps and take the children to museums, and a rainy weekend coincided with a visit to Kelham Island Museum. Kelham Island itself is steeped in history. The island dates back to the 1100s, formed when the mill stream was created alongside the lane leading to where the museum stands today. This stream was used primarily to provide water to the Town Corn Mill, near Lady’s Bridge in the city. The Island was named after one of its foremost tradesman, the armourer and water-mill owner Kellam Honour (over time changed to Kelham) who resided there in the middle of the 17th Century.
By the 18th century, it housed iron foundry’s which remained until towards the end of the 19th century, when the Island was used as the power stations for the newly built tram network. It’s these buildings that now form the basis for the Kelham Island.
the museum itself is basically an industrial history of the city. It houses exhibitions on steel and steelmaking, steam power, trade and the social hardships of everyday workers at their place of employment, when they weren’t obliged as now to be looked after with the minimum of care. there’s a mock Victorian street, with tradesman’s shops . On some days its possible to see a hand forger and grinder at work . They are two of the few remaining craftsmen still operating out of workshops in Sheffield, and that certainly is something that should be celebrated.
A couple of the other galleries at the museum include the transport museum, with fantastic examples of locally made cars, vans and motorbikes, and also the relatively newly opened Hawley gallery, which houses one of the most important tool collections in the world.
The centrepiece of the museum is the 12,000 horse power River Don Engine. Used to drive the rolling plate mill at Cammells Grimesthorpe works, it was built by Davy Brothers of Sheffield in 1905. A further four engines of this size were built, amazingly enough one more went to another Sheffield works, that of John Brown’s , a third to the Japanese government, and the destination of the fourth is unknown.
I thoroughly enjoyed the museum t, but probably more importantly, my children enjoyed the museum. It’s a fantastic collection of industrial machinery of all types, but the curators have cleverly interspersed hands on exhibits and things for children to do (including alarge indoor play area) amongst the more static exhibits. There’s no mummy, or oversized furniture or any sort, and do you know, I didn’t mind at all.