Sheffield at full steam

John Hamshere, chief executive of Sheffield Museums at Kelham Island
John Hamshere, chief executive of Sheffield Museums at Kelham Island

John Hamshere came to Sheffield in September 1994, from running a group of museums and heritage sites in north Cumbria, to become the first executive director of a charitable trust set up to save Kelham Island Museum during another period of public spending cuts. The trust is responsible for Kelham Island Museum, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and will be taking on Shepherd Wheel when the restoration project is finished shortly.

John and his wife, Pamela, move to Ecclesfield when their elder son, Joe, was two and Jake was born three months later.

Kelham’s 17th Christmas Market is on Saturday and Sunday, when John dresses as a Victorian gentleman. “My lads used to call me the Fat Controller from the Thomas the Tank Engine books, which I always thought was a little unfair!”

River Don Engine

I always say that I really came to Sheffield to save this magnificent machine at Kelham. I first saw the mighty 12,000hp engine in action on a field trip during my masters degree in industrial archaeology at Ironbridge in the early 1980s. When I read that it could be scrapped I knew I had to try to get the job of director of the trust set up to rescue the museum. I never tire of watching it and feel the ground shake. It says more about the power of Sheffield industry than anything else.

Sheffield Tigers RUFC

Both my sons have grown up playing for Tigers junior teams since they were six and eight. Now they are 16 and 19 and Jake still plays for the U18s, a year above his age group. They are prop forwards as I was, as their uncle was and as their grandad. Unfortunately they have suffered their share of injuries with Joe sidelined at university with a second dislocated shoulder needing another operation and Jake has had a knee operation. It’s a tough game. But Tigers has been a great club for all of us and we have enjoyed their progress up the divisions and successful trips to Twickenham. Best of all was a memorable U15s tour to Madrid with both my lads playing a part and the team finishing second in a tournament, only losing in extra time to a ‘golden try’.

Real ale pubs

Another abiding interest is real ale and, of course, Sheffield is incredibly rich in the variety available. A couple of weeks ago I took a friend, a southerner, on a pub crawl through the Kelham area where there are so many great pubs and beers. We only made it to three pubs and yet had many different beers of several styles. I had heard about the Fat Cat before I came to Sheffield. In fact the weekend before I started at the museum, I was at a beer festival in North Wales and found a pint of Kelham Island Bitter and asked if it came from the Fat Cat. Indeed it did, and a couple of days later I turned up for my first day at Kelham. My favourite of the moment is the Sheffield Tap at the station which Joe introduced me to.

The city

I grew up in Birmingham and have lived in London and the North East and even Leeds, but for me Sheffield is now home and a great place to live. I love the scale of the city. It has everything and yet it is contained by the seven hills and you can be in the most wonderful countryside in a matter of minutes. I live in Ecclesfield at the top of a hill with a superb view at the back and the landmark of Keppel’s Column. I love just sitting looking at the countryside from our dining room window as the seasons change. It is beautiful at the moment with all the colours in the trees and it was a spectacular ‘white-out’ last year with the snow. We enjoy the many walks available around here, but do not get out as often as we would like.

Sheffield Theatres

I feel privileged to have enjoyed so many great evenings at the Crucible and the Lyceum over many years with Pamela. There are so many stand-out memories that I can’t list them all but fresh in the mind is Othello where Dominic West was mesmerising. Kenneth Branagh was brilliant in Richard III. I can visualise the frightening entrance of the Spanish Inquisition in Schiller’s Don Carlos, which of course I didn’t expect. The two lads enjoyed the Firework Maker’s Daughter and A Midsummer Nights Dream. I had not seen the film of Fiddler on the Roof, not being much of a fan of musicals, so it was a revelation to see Henry Goodman and how the story addressed the horror of the pogroms. We also very much enjoyed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. I could go on.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

The hamlet has such a special atmosphere at the October steam day, with half a dozen traction engines and steam rollers filling the air with steam and smoke and the smell of hot oil. This place more than anywhere else represents the story of Sheffield with the combination of crucible steel-making, water power and the houses showing the lives of both the workers and the managers. It is the most important heritage site in Sheffield and shows what made the city – the combination of power from the rivers coming down from the hills and the availability of natural resources. The late Professor Francis Evans, a strong supporter of the campaign to save the site when it was closed in 1997, always told me that the origins may have been with the Cistercian monks of Beauchief Abbey, with the industry created around their abbeys across Europe representing the first multinational company. We took it on in 1998, reopened it and have successfully got through the first stage in the process of seeking lottery funding for £900,000 to secure its future.

Industrial archaeology

There is a wealth all around the city and I am still an industrial archaeologist at heart, although I have not had much chance to be one for many years as I have had to spend my time trying to raise money to save the bits of it I am responsible for. Recently I really enjoyed climbing in and being winched down as far as I could go into the flooded mine shaft at the Elsecar Newcomen Engine and while down there having to rescue the roving underwater camera that had got snagged. However, all too soon it was back to budgets, reports and grant applications!