Sheffield is probably the only big city in the UK not to have a major national museum. The city was supposed to host the National Centre for Popular Music, which opened in 1998, but it closed a year later because of a lack of visitors. There are however some interesting museums in Sheffield, especially in the fields of art and industry. The Millennium Gallery and Kelham Island Museum are particularly renowned. Almost every museum in Sheffield can be visited for free.
The gallery is located at the very centre of Sheffield, near the Town Hall and in the same complex as the Winter Garden. It was built as part of a cultural initative conduced in the UK for the new millennium and it hosts temporary exhibitions created in partnership with London museums (namely the Tate Gallery and the V&A). These exhibitions can focus on many themes, although they often revolve around design and decorative arts.
Two rooms are dedicated to permanent exhibitions. One is about the local metal industry with great displays of silverware, cutlery and so on. The accent is put on the history of the craft, from its origins to the present day, and many items are here to show the evolutions both in styles and in techniques. The other room shows part of a collection bequeathed by Sir John Ruskin. The Victorian art critic and philantropist wanted to provide the local population with a means to admire beauty in art and nature. There are old books, minerals, paintings and all sorts of items. Free entry, apart for some temporary exhibitions, open daily (see website for details).
Located just opposite the Millennium Gallery, this is the historical art gallery of Sheffield. It is located on the first floor of the city library and it is not very big. As with many similar art galleries in Yorkshire, it mainly comprises modern and contemporary works of art. They are displayed according to main themes such as abstraction ou reflection. Household names there include Turner and Sisley. Free entry, closed Sunday and Monday, website.
Weston Park Museum
Located in a park close to the University, the Weston Park Museum is both a history museum and a natural history museum. There are a few rooms on local history, including an interesting display of historical views of the city. The other part is about the evolution of species, their extinction and their adaptation to the environment, with a lot of stuffed animals. There is also a section dedicated to ethnology with items from many parts of the world – Japanese figurines, Egyptian mummies, indigenous art. Overall the museum is nice and modern, children seem to enjoy it a lot. Free entry, open daily, website.
Kelham Island Museum
This is probably the most interesting museum in Sheffield. It is set in a former factory on an artificial island by the river Don. The island dates back from the 12th century and it was formed to use the Don as a source of power for watermills. A foundry was built on it in 1829 and it was eventually turned into a power station in 1900. It became a museum in 1982.
The museum is divided into sections, some being more interesting than others. The must-sees are the Don Power Engine, a huge 1905 steam engine which was used to process steel; and Little Mesters Street, a recreation of a Victorian Sheffield street, with many little workshops – cutlery, tool making, clockmaking. Inside these workshops, real retired craftsmen can be seen working. The museum is closed Friday and Saturday which is rather odd. Entry £6.82 (without Gift Aid), see the website for more details.
This gallery focuses on contemporary art only and it organises temporary exhibitions about living artists. Emphasis is given to new technologies and mediums – video, performance. Free entry, closed Sunday and Monday, website.
Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet
Located on the outskirts of Sheffield (and actually historically a part of Derbyshire), Abbeydale is a village which grew during the Industrial Revolution. The local economy revolved around smithing and iron processing – instead of cultivating the land as in other villages, the locals produced sickles. It is now possible to visit the whole village, with its houses and workshops – the oldest dating back to the 18th century. The hamlet is located near Beauchief Abbey, around 4 mi from Sheffield city centre. It can be reached with buses 97 and 98; Dore & Totley train station is 800 yd away. Abbeydale is managed by the same trust as Kelham Island, and just like the museum it is closed on Friday and Saturday. Full-price admission £5.00, see website.
This is another piece of industrial heritage. It is located outside of the centre, beyond Endcliffe Park. Shepherd’s Wheel is a mill which was used to grind knives, an activity which used to be very important in the city’s economy. Free admission, open during weekends and bank holidays, see website.
Although Sheffield does not have any large national museum, there is however a National Emergency Services Museum, and a National Videogame Museum. There is also the Turner Museum of Glass at the University.
See also Visit Sheffield.