Kelham Island is one of the oldest industrial sites in Sheffield. The island was formed in the 1180s when a goit or millrace was created to carry water from the River Don to the Town Corn Mill, near Lady’s Bridge. A short stretch of the goit still exists today and runs alongside the museum site, the Town Corn Mill which it powered further downstream no longer stands. Much of the early history of the island after this time is unknown until 1637 when the town armourer, Kellam Homer set up a grinding workshop and waterwheel on the island. The waterwheel was originally known as Kellam Wheel, but by the early 19th century the spelling had been altered to Kelham and the island given the same name.
In the 1800s, other industries began to spring up in the Kelham area and Kelham Island itself became a host for all kinds of manufacturers. In 1829, John Crowley bought land on the island and built a small iron foundry called Kelham Iron Works where he made all kinds of iron products – bicycles, corn grinders, lawn mowers as well as decorative items before moving his successful business to larger premises at Meadow Hall in 1870. In the 1890s the site was bought by the City. The Iron Works buildings were demolished and an electricity generating station was built in their place, to provide power for the City’s new tram system. The power station was in operation until the 1930s, after which the buildings were used as storage space and workshops. These buildings now house the collections, displays and workshops of Kelham Island Museum.
There is an enormous amount to see and experience here. The museum covers all of the heavy and light industries for which Sheffield is known. The Benjamin Huntsman Clock. The first object to contain Crucible Cast Steel, this longcase clock was made in the 1740s by Benjamin Huntsman, the inventor of crucible steel. Huntsman was born in Lincolnshire in 1704. As a boy, he quickly showed skills in mechanical work and became apprentice to a clockmaker when he was 14 years old. By the time he was 21, he had set up his own clockmaking business in Doncaster. Huntsman's experiments in crucible steelmaking began in 1740 and over the next two years he developed the simple method of purifying Blister steel by letting it in clay crucible pots. Blister steel had many imperfections and Huntsman wanted to create a better quality steel for his clock parts. In 1742, Huntsman moved to Handsworth, a village near Sheffield. Despite his important breakthrough, it took a while for Huntsman’s new steelmaking method to take off in Sheffield. At first crucible steel was made for smaller items but gradually its use became more widespread in larger companies and became the foundation of Sheffield’s steel industry. Huntsman continued as a clockmaker until 1751 when he began producing steel full-time at his new works in Attercliffe.
The Bramah Press is a hydraulic pressing machine made by Joseph Bramah and Co, London in the early 1800s. Joseph Bramah was a brilliant engineer and inventor and the hydraulic press was his most famous invention. Presses were used for jobs such as flattening or compressing paper, cloth and steel and before the Bramah press, most were wooden. He was born in 1749 and lived with his family at Stainborough Lane Farm near Barnsley in South Yorkshire where he served as an apprentice to the village carpenter for seven years. At the time, most machinery was made of wood, and Joseph later used his woodworking skills to become an engineer. After moving to London in 1773, he set up his own business and began a long career in inventions. He patented the hydraulic press in 1795. The Bramah Press was first in use in the Tower of London from 1806 to 1874. The Grand Slam Bomb was designed by Sir Barnes Wallis during the Second World War. Barnes Wallis, a British Aeronautical Engineer, is most famous for the Bouncing Bomb and the Dambuster’s Raid. He also developed the Tallboy bomb which weighed 12,000lbs before designing the Grand Slam Bomb which weighed almost twice as much and was officially known as the 'Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 lb'. It was used by RAF Bomber Command against strategic targets such as bridges and viaducts, railways and U-boat shelters. The bombs were produced by Vickers & Co, Sheffield, at their River Don Works, however only 30 to 40 of the bombs were ever actually made and they were only used during 1945, the last year of the war. The Grand Slam Bomb is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest bomb in the world. It weighs 10 tonnes (22,000lbs) - hence it's nickname Ten Ton Tess - and the complete bomb with its tail fin was 7.75 metres long. The bombs were carried by Lancaster Bomber planes which were specially adapted to carry the weight.
Little Mesters Street. Often described as the backbone of Sheffield’s cutlery and tool making industries, the Little Mesters were a network of craftspeople working out of small workshops or from their own homes. They were self-employed and carried out the different stages of the production of goods, which were ordered and sold by Master Manufacturers. They mostly concentrated on individual aspects of forging, grinding or finishing and would also specialise in particular products, such as razors, penknives or surgical instruments. At the height of their population in the mid 1800s, Little Mesters were making a vast contribution to the variety of products which bore a Sheffield stamp. Their reputation is one of skilled work and quality products. Only a handful of Little Mesters’ remain in Sheffield today, two can still be seen working on the reconstructed Little Mesters’ Street at the museum, other workshops can be found at Portland Works. On the street you can also find equipment used by the Little Mesters, tools made by Sheffield makers, as well as The Hawley Collection Saw Shop. There are many other fascinating exhibits, such as the Crucible Gallery or the mighty 12,000hp River Don Engine in steam. Assistance dogs are the only dogs allowed.
The museum is surrounded by traditional cobbled paving, but a firm and level footpath has been installed over the cobbles from the main gate. This path conveniently links the the car park to the main museum building, Brearley Room, Millowners Arms, accessible toilets and Little Mesters Cafe. There are automatic doors to the Millowners Arms, also shortly to be installed to the main building and between the Stone Garden and Crucible Shop. There is level or ramped access throughout the museum. Stairs and lifts are provided to all three floors. Many of the exhibits are on open display. You can touch objects that are large and robust quite safely – these are clearly marked. The Museum staff have received training to assist blind and visually impaired visitors from the team at Sheffield-based EyeCan. You can borrow a hand held tactile map free of charge from reception. The lighting in the museum varies alot. Some areas are relatively dark whilst other places have bright industrial-style lighting. The Stone Garden located outside the Crucible Shop, has been identified by visually impaired people as an interesting place to visit because it contains a number of tactile displays and as it has full natural light because it is an open outdoor area. Carers are free.
Location : Kelham Island Museum, Alma Street, Sheffield S3 8RY
Transport: Sheffield Train (National Rail) then bus. Tram : Shalesmoor (Blue Line, Yellow Line) 1/2 mile. Bus Routes : 7, 8 and 8A stop nearby.
Opening Times : Monday to Thursday 10:00 - 16:00; Sunday 11:00 - 16:45
Tickets : Adults £5.50 | Concessions £4.50 | Accompanied Children (U16) Free
Tel: 0114 272 2106