Sunday, 25 June 2017

Cathedral and Kelham Island

This morning we walked up into the centre of the city to the cathedral - until 1914 it was the parish church for this area. Inside, it has been very much improved since we last visited when we noted how dreary it seemed. Now it is much more open, light and with a positive sense of a ministry of welcome.

After the service we walked around the various extensions - over the years it had been extended and re-modelled several times but the designation as a cathedral brought a substantial plan. However, the intervention of both wars means that some of those plans never came to fruition. One of the parts that was completed is a large chapel to the local regiment and elsewhere there are memorials to those who have served on navy ships that bear the city's name.

The recent works gave an opportunity to celebrate the city's steel heritage and both the nativity sculpture and the font are new since we last came.

A large cross made from wicker and rag strips was the work of several schools in the surrounding area.

One thing that we have noticed here is the number of places offering specialist immigration support and advice - this was at least the third.

We returned to the boat for lunch and then set out to walk to Kelham Island Museum that again celebrates the various industrial activities for which the city is famous.

On the way we passed this church which we think has a particular mission to the many Afro-Caribbean people in the city. In fact, the rapid expansion of industry in past generations brought in workers from many parts of the world and their descendants of several generations are now a major part of Sheffield's population.

At the entrance to the museum is a large crucible for carrying molten steel and by the main building - formerly the generation plant for the city's tram system - stands the last working Bessemer Converter. Invented and developed in the city, this process, that produces steel from iron, was very much the driving force that led to a massive expansion in the amount of industry.

Victoria Quays, the canal terminus, became an important part of the development of industry as water transport enabled good to be taken much further afield than hitherto. In the previous generation, owners of water were often the powerful, especially when water mills provided power before the advent of steam. They were able to persuade Parliament to past legislation that protected their asset especially when Sheffield started to need much more water and began to construct reservoirs. They allowed the river to be improved for navigation but were for a long time able to oppose the final connection to Sheffield. As a result, instead of continuing up the Don, the navigation became a canal with the Tinsley flight of locks. Presumably this is why it never had a proper summit level source of water supply, depending on pumps.

This picture, painted in 1854, shows the canal close to thew terminus, with the large Sheaf Works in the foreground and a row of earlier steel furnaces behind.

The gallery shows a number of commercial display cabinets from famous makers, intended to show off the best of their products. This one has a surprising range of knives,

whilst this one shows how many different types of scissors have been made - and still are, each with a specialist use.

The Great Exhibition was an important importunity to showcase the best of British industry and many firms made special items to put on show - including this ornate fireplace.

Newer sources of power keep coming along - first water was replaced by steam and then other alternatives. This is a gas engine that made use of coal gas.

The industry was very much divided between the large scale steel production, that involved very large machinery and the 'small trades' that produced items from steel and precious metals. Increasingly this gave opportunities for women to find employment. This display highlights the role of ';buffers' the people who took the dull manufactured object and polished it to turn it into something that quickly caught the eye. Initially, women were only allowed to buff items such as spoons and forks but later developed the skills for 'hollowware' , that is dishes, chalices and similar objects. Their work was very tiring - 12 hour days - and more dangerous than might be imagined today. The grinding wheels had a tendency to fracture and throw sharp pieces everywhere.

The heavy side developed armaments and also products for the navy. As a result of early experiences in the First\ world War, ships were fitted with armour plate - up to four inches in thickness.

The largest steam engine in ever built for industry in Britain, and one of the largest in  the world, drove the machinery at the Don Steel Works. When it was finally pensioned off in the 1980s, a director of the company organised a fund raising campaign to find £20,000, its scrap value, to enable it to be preserved. It is still operational although it now has a modern boiler to produce the steam. We watched a three minute demonstration of its operation - it is hard not to be impressed by the scale and power of the engine.

Much of the 'small trades, was sub divided into separate specialist operations. This diagram shows how, even into the 1930s, products such as scissors, travelled between up to 17 different independent contractors  before being ready for market. These specialist workers, often operating from home, were called 'Little Mesters' and one gallery recreates a street of craftsmen. It is interesting to note in a time when the wide scale use of outsourcing is being questioned, that this practice is far from new!

The heavy steel production had its particular roles: two in particular. One, the Puller Out, lifted the crucible pots full of molten steel, out of thew furnace and then passed them to the Teemer who poured the steel into moulds. Each lift was at least 25kg and very dangerous with minimal protective clothing - which workers had to provide for themselves.

We were still looking around when it was time for the museum to close and we had to wend our way back to the boat.

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