Inspired by HG Wells and Jules Verne, Steampunks imagine worlds where time travel is commonplace
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Cole brothers wore purple top hats, and industrialist Mark Firth sported a pair of pink crystal spectacles as he helped establish Sheffield as a world leader in accessories for steam-powered time travelling. In the land of Steampunk, many realities are possible.
“You can look at it as another dimension, where the petrol engine was never invented and the future came from there,” said Bronwyn Fotheringham of the Sheffield Steampunk Society. “It’s about the Victorian era, and anything to do with steam.”
Inspired by the novels of HG Wells and Jules Verne, and later interpretations in film, comics and TV, Steampunks imagine different worlds where time travel is commonplace, large coats and hats may be worn in any season and goggles are essential.
“Goggles are very important to see into the past and future, and back again,” said Chris Spencer.
Sheffield Steampunk Society has over 300 members and is growing, said Bronwyn, yet Sheffield’s elegant goggle wearers are outnumbered by towns like Lincoln where Steampunks number in their thousands, she added.
Last Saturday saw the society promenading in the city’s General Cemetery off Ecclesall Road, burial ground of Mark Firth, Skelton, John, and Thomas Cole and thousands of other Sheffielders who may or may not have time travelled to international 21st century Steampunk conventions before their final deaths in Victorian Sheffield.
“We’re always looking for new events to make the most of the Cemetery’s unique location, and the dramatic backdrop of its buildings and monuments,” said Janet Ridler of the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust.
“It’s the first time we’ve had the Sheffield Steampunk Society here, and they have an affinity already with the Cemetery, they know what a wonderful special place it is, and kindly offered to put on lots of activities to help us raise funds for the Trust.”
The charity receives no external funding and is reliant on events and donations to help its 30 active volunteers maintain the cemetery grounds, said Janet. The restored chapel is busy with parties, meetings and events, and there’s now a new tenant in the gatehouse, she added, which along with the increasing number of people walking, running and cycling through the cemetery make it feel safer for all visitors.
On Saturday, the Steampunks drew attention from hundreds of families and fellow promenaders.
The costumes are important, said Chris and Bryony, but everyone is complemented, no matter their choice of style, colour or goggle apparatus. Victorian explorers, sea captains, soldiers and civilians are all welcome. Chris even takes the role of Yeti hunter on occasion.
“You have to go out to Derbyshire to find them however,” he said, adding that Yetis are not as fearsome as people think because of a typo in the original expedition report. “People think they’re 3 metres tall, but they’re actually 3 millimetres.”
There were history tours, a women’s suffrage march, a fairy grotto and outside the chapel ‘Tiffin Master’ Chris Spencer invited contestants to join him in a ‘tea duel’.
All that’s needed (according to the signatories of the 1899 Hague Convention of the Honourable Association of Tea Duellists) is a teapot and cups, and a suitable array of ‘bisquits’ (malted milk preferred).
Two dunkers face each other with primed bisquits over a carefully brewed cup of tea (coffee is strictly prohibited). At the signal of the Tiffin Master the duellists dunk their bisquits for five seconds, release and eat. The last duellist to cleanly eat their bisquit (without it falling into their tea, or onto their table or person) is declared the winner.
Tea duels may be staged outside the Steampunk community, but their well-mannered rules suit the Steampunk ethos, said the Tiffin Master.
“I’m a steampunk because of the fun,” he said. “You can express yourself though your dress, but the main rule of Steampunk is clear. Be kind and polite to each other.”
More info: http://gencem.org