Discover 1,000 years of Sheffield history in fascinating festival all about Castlegate

With a 1,000 year history, there’s plenty to celebrate about Castlegate in Sheffield.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 6:00 am

The Castlegate Festival, which returned on September 10 and will run until September 19, will involve the formal celebration of the Grey to Green project which radically transformed the area into a wildflower meadow, after its official opening was postponed last year.

This is the fifth Castlegate Festival to be held and events are all back in person and free to attend, following a virtual festival in 2020.

It will provide an opportunity to showcase the work taking place to rejuvenate Castlegate.

Coun. Douglas Johnson praised the Grey to Green scheme and called for it to be rolled out across more areas of Sheffield.

Coun Douglas Johnson, Sheffield Council’s executive member for climate change, environment and transport, met the Telegraph on Castlegate to talk about the festival this year.

He said: “The festival is about celebrating that there is something good here in a bit of the city a lot of people think is run down.

"It’s a chance to get more people to recognise Castlegate and for those who already know and see it to just come and enjoy it.

“It had to be an up and coming area because it got to a point where it couldn’t get any lower.

The Grey to Green scheme involved creating sustainable green spaces which also double as flood defences.

“The markets here were huge for Sheffield shopping in the past but they got more and more run down. It was a big thing to take markets out of this part of the city.

"The festival has been growing because of interest in the site.”

Douglas believes that the Grey to Green project, which used £5.6 million investment to provide more green spaces, flood defences, and cycling infrastructure as well as the planting has been a great success.

Some of the funded was spent creating flower beds which doubled as flood defences and also contained bug hotels to protect important insects.

One of the bug hotels established through the Grey to Green scheme.

Douglas added: “This is something where people see it and they are impressed. It combines something that is really attractive with something that is functional.

"There’s more to it than the surface level, although on the surface it looks fantastic.

"The real engineering is all underneath.

"The point of this is to show what you can do if you use your imagination and really commit to a project.

Martin Gorman (Chair Friends of Sheffield Castle) at the former castle site. Picture Scott Merrylees

“This is a world leading urban design. It should be rolled out across different areas of the city and indeed the world.”

Other events still to take place during the festival include the first Sheffield Pollen Market on September 19, where all things botanical will be sold, and heritage open days and walking tours on each day.

Castlegate has almost 1,000 years of history, and through this festival and its blue plaque trail, much of it is ripe for rediscovery.

The trail features local and national historic figures who, one way or another, established themselves in Sheffield’s popular memory.

The most famous name on these plaques is Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned for a time in Sheffield Castle because Elizabeth I saw her as a threat to the throne.

Other figures to be found on the trail include Lizzie the circus elephant, Charlie Peace, a notorious Sheffield burglar, escapologist and murderer, and Pablo Fanque, the UK’s first black circus master.

A previous Waterfront Festival at Victoria Quays in Sheffield. John Cutts and Jack Sizer.Picture Scott Merrylees

The heritage open days include a guided tour tracing the hidden history of the River Sheaf and exploring ideas for future restoration.

The Canal & River Trust is also hosting a day of family waterfront fun on the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal which will return on Saturday, September 18.

Douglas added: “The festival is also celebrating the history of Sheffield's waterways.

"There's a lot of interest in rivers now.

"They used to be dirty, offal from the slaughterhouses were dumped in them. So we wanted to hide them away, most of the rivers in Sheffield are culverted. Now we are looking at opening it up so we can see them again.”

A submission to the government’s levelling up scheme was made in June for £20 million to fund further regeneration work in Castlegate, known as the birthplace of Sheffield.

Friends of Sheffield Castle volunteers argue it is the ‘most precious part’ of the city’s past and that it needs to be transformed into a major attraction that preserves the fascinating castle remains.

Castle heritage open days are also taking place on September 18 and 19, giving people a rare chance to see where the castle once stood.

Douglas said: “We are still waiting to hear on the funding (for the levelling up scheme.) It would be put towards three main projects – Harmony Works, a former gas works being transformed into a music hub, development of the Castle site, and the Park Hill art gallery.”

If the funding bid is successful, development work will be sensitive to the historical nature of Castlegate and prioritise the archaeology of the site.

The Waterfront Festival is at Victoria Quays on September 18.

The free event will see live music and street performances, boat trips, canoe and paddleboarding taster sessions, stalls and street food.

For more information on events that are running throughout the festival, and the blue plaque trail through Castlegate, visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/castlegatefestival.