Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Kelham Island Museum

After exams had finished, my boyfriend and I decided to fully exploit the length of our accommodation contract and stay in Sheffield for a couple more weeks after the majority of people had moved out. We decided to do 'tourist' Sheffield and go to the sites that we would want to see if we were only visiting for a short period of time.

On our list was Kelham Island and specifically Kelham Island Museum. It sounds odd to have an 'island' in the centre of the steel city, but the previously the area has been home to many factories and was mainly industrial so a small ditch/trench was built that allowed water to reach the water mills. Hence the island was created.

As a lover of all types of museums and having recently covered the production of steel and metals as part of my degree course, I couldn't wait to get to to Kelham Island to visit their famous industrial museum. As you approach the museum, the first thing you see is a huge Bessemer converter outside. Bessemer converters were used to make steel from molten pig iron. Pig iron is iron with a fairly high amount of carbon, up to 4.5% by composition. The molten iron is placed into the Bessemer converter and the idea is to remove impurities such as silicon and carbon as oxides using the process of oxidation. Oxidation also heats the converter meaning the iron inside remains molten throughout the process. Other substances could then be added to the molten steel to make the desired product. 

The Bessemer converter at Kelham Island Museum (Source)
From the outside the museum looks relatively small compared to the disused and abandoned factories that surround it, and of course the Bessemer converter. However, once inside, the place really is amazing and much bigger that expected. I was surprised at how big the museum actually is and it covers everything from the origins of the City of Sheffield including the city cannons, to the stories of women working in the factories, which I found particularly fascinating. 

There is a part of the museum that focuses on the making of cutlery in the surrounding area and there are so many beautiful artefacts including a pair of silver scissors beautifully engraved and in the shape of two birds. Apart from the Bessemer, I'd say the museum's main attraction is the River Don Engine in the engine house. Several times a day, they turn the engine on for visitors to watch it in action. Unfortunately we didn't know what the loud noise and banging was until we turned the corner and the spectacle was over. :( 
The River Don Engine (Source)
I really enjoyed Kelham Island Museum, it's such an interesting place. If only I'd visited before my exam...

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