Monday, 25 June 2012

Exploring Sheffield

The beautiful Winter Garden
After a long weekend in Sheffield I think I've finally got the hang of the place. I reckon I have a decent sense of direction but there've been times here when I've just lost all my bearings in a city whose roads don't seem to conform to any logical city grid pattern.
The roads go every which way and there are trams - or 'supertrams' as they call them as well as cars, buses and bus lanes. Not only is it tricky to know where you're going but it's even dodgier to cross the road! At one pedestrian crossing there's even a recorded voice to warn that traffic is two-way rather than the one you'd expect.
The result is that you find some shops...and then some more...and then some more all popping up in different streets and malls. (We spent a fruitless hour looking for Waterstones and found it tucked in a hidden mall.)
A Supertram heads for town
Space age architecture at Hallam University
Sheffield is also a place that's been patchily regenerated over the years as time has been called on its old commercial and industrial zones. You can date its made-over districts by their style of their architecture. From the ugly '60s market - which is due for its next makeover soon - to the dramatic new Hallam University buildings and the fabulous Winter Garden. This isn't a Ken Dodd panto venue but a wonderful tropical glass-house and gallery venue right next to the Town Hall – a building which isn't to be confused with the City Hall which is somewhere else.
The Winter Garden is a great space and well used. Yesterday there was a cardboard box play area for kids among the giant palm trees. This morning mothers and babies swarmed everywhere for a special meet.
The Wall of Steel at the station
They like their water features here, too. Steel spheres running with water at the town hall and a pretty stunning steel wall coated with a skin of running water at the railway station. Look at the photo and see if you, like me, think it's supposed to symbolise a moving train.
Free-to-use table tennis tables dot the city
But Sheffield is known for its steel and its cutlery and yesterday we went to the Kelham Island Museum which tells the story of both. Sheffield has smelted iron since the 14th century but it was the coming of the canal and then the railway that gave it the vital connection to the outside world and helped these industries really grow.
Crucible steel making was devised in Sheffield to industrialise the conversion of pig iron to steel and the industry expanded with the invention of the terrifying Bessemer converter which, again, was pioneered here.
Bessemer Converter with scale-model Starwoman
Nothing sums up the scale of Sheffield's steel industry more than the monstrous 'River Don Engine' a small house-size steam engine built in 1905 to roll steel armour plate. This three cylinder engine has a 40 inch bore and 48 inch stroke and 12,000 horsepower. Yes, 12,000! We watched it run up to speed, it's huge flywheel rumbling with this astounding power.
The Monster - 12,000hp River Don engine
What's really extraordinary in the museum, though, is the evidence of the appalling working conditions of the men and women who worked in the steel and cutlery indsutries. Conditions that existed right up until the 1960s. Men working with molten steel in shirtsleeves. Or clamping cloths in their mouths to stop their lips burning. Women in vile conditions polishing and buffing silverware for a pittance.  It is easy to get nostalgic, as I do sometimes, for the days when Britain was an industrial powerhouse but the reality of those days was grim indeed.
One of three huge canal basin warehouses
Overall, we've enjoyed our time here. It's not in the top ranking cities we've boated to but fascinating and lively nonetheless. It's just a shame that the canal basin, which must be one of the most complete and significant in the system with its mighty warehouses, is so under-visited by boaters. And so quiet, too. There's hardly anyone around: a couple of bars and restaurants could liven it up and give it some of the sparkle of central Birmingham. As it is, the warehouses are now offices and, like many others in the city, currently empty of tenants and several of the little under-the-arches spaces are empty too. True, the city centre is just a few minutes away but boats, bars and visitors could bring some badly missed vitality to the basin.
A typically busy street scene in the Basin
Tonight the 2012 torch arrives in central Sheffield and there's a city-centre party in force to celebrate it. Tomorrow, like the torch, we head out of town and hope the sun continues to shine.


Anonymous said...

Do NOT what ever you do put the shorts on, we are enjoying this little drop of sunshine.

Nancy and Max said...

I agree with David, I'm going on a picnic tomorrow so need the sunshine, maybe try some winter wear to get it scorching for the rest of us :)

Mr Lonely said...

nice picture sharing~ thanks ~

Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

scott davidson said...

Beautiful banner at your site as well, I am reminded of some wall paintings by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, such as this one You browse more murals of his at