Plea for rethink over closure of heritage museum

Pictured at the  Traditional Heritage Museum, Ecclesall Road, where John Widdowson folklors and dialect expert is seen.
Pictured at the Traditional Heritage Museum, Ecclesall Road, where John Widdowson folklors and dialect expert is seen.

SHEFFIELD University is being urged to think again over a decision to close the city’s ‘secret museum’ – the Traditional Heritage Museum in Ecclesall Road.

The university, which owns the buildings and displays, says it can no longer meet the costs, including the “significant capital investment” that is required.

But founder Professor John Widdowson, speaking on behalf of the volunteers, who have been running the museum, is asking for the decision to be reconsidered.

Although an estimated £500,000 is needed to bring the museum up to standard, he said “every effort” should be made to secure external funding “so that the museum can continue to make its unique collections and its services and facilities available to students and the community”.

In a letter to the Friends organisation, Traditional Heritage, he says: “The possibility that this sum could be raised by sponsorship, public appeal, help in kind from local and/or national businesses, or an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund has evidently not been considered, nor has the phasing of the essential work over a period of time in order to avoid an immediate capital outlay.”

It is also being suggested that Friends seek the support of councillors and local MP Paul Blomfield.

The museum was created by Prof Widdowson in 1964 and moved into its present premises, the former hall of Endcliffe Methodist Church, in 1977. The building has suffered from flooding, heating problems and asbestos.

Reflecting social history between 1850 and 1970, it features displays such as little mesters’ workshops, a replica kitchen from the 1920s and recreations of a variety of Sheffield shops, such as Pollard’s tea and coffee and Renwick’s Basketmakers.

Prof Widdowson said he understood the pressures on the university but it would be a “blow” to Sheffield if the museum closed permanently. It was last open to the public at the end of February.

“It has been very successful and very popular with the old and young alike and we have a successful project with schools and have visitors from overseas. It’s a unique collection.”

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said the decision had been taken to permanently close the building as it required “significant capital investment in order to meet the necessary standards required of a public building. The university has supported the use of the building for over 25 years but regrettably can no longer meet these costs or provide the capital investment needed.

“The university is currently in consultation with the Traditional Heritage Museum with regard to the best way forward for the items on display within the building.

“The university would like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of Prof John Widdowson and the volunteers who have helped to run the Traditional Heritage Museum on Ecclesall Road over many years.”