“We’ve had people coming here saying ‘can we take pictures of your toilet?’ when they’ve not even been here before.”
Rupert Wood smiles as he showed off some of Sheffield’s more, unusual, attractions – coveted street art tucked away in the city centre exhibition space, framers and screenprint studios he runs with Libby Pell on Sidney Street.
The colourful stop was one of the highlights on a walking tour of Sheffield’s creative industries quarter with Marcus Newton - a tour that can reveal hidden gems even to long-standing residents as they become tourists in their own backyards.
Former cutlery factory APG Works was a real surprise, but to many visitors and even school tours it’s a must see to tick off their list due to its intricate paintings.
The entrance is covered with murals - one incredibly detailed, by Phlegm , cleverly incorporates electricity boxes – while their toilet has also been tagged by well-known names in the street art world. “We have people coming here and making a purposeful trip because they have seen the pictures online”, said Rupert, who regularly gives talks to visitors on the creative quarter, the now listed building saved from demolition and the origins of street art.
“We’ve had Japanese people in here with their little maps trying to find this tiny place.”
The art is flush with stories, too.
One piece inside the WC hints at rivalry between artists when one moves to more conventional gallery work.
Another across the street by biologist and artist EMA references scientific principles - and all on streets many people walk down every day with no inkling of their meaning. Marcus used to miss these stories in the walls of Sheffield himself when he worked for central government and before he became a one-man tourist information centre.
Now he takes visitors and businesspeople – including staff from Google and the Environment Agency most recently – on a journey of discovery in his home city, from the Bole Hills to Bradfield, and Kelham Island to the fascinating General Cemetery.
“I had a businessman from New York who wanted me to show his wife around”, said Marcus.
“We went to Hillsborough on the tram and she loved that and all the bridges, she said it was like Boston where she was from.
“It’s amazing how you can be in the heart of an industrial city, roll on to the number 52 bus and then be at the Bole Hills with that view in front of you.”
We started our tour at the Winter Garden and the first fact of the day comes moments later as Marcus reveals the link between giant bells hanging in the Millennium Galleries and Sheffield’s women of steel.
He leads the way past more tucked away street art – whole walls next to the Hallam university union building and giant foxes brightening up forgotten corners. Galleries, The Rutland pub and Showroom cinema all get the tourist lowdown. One deft turn takes us to a pocket park next to the River Porter off the beaten track, behind the BBC Radio Sheffield studio.
Its function is to help in the case of flooding, but its also a little spot of nature amid the bustling city centre. One day, Marcus explains, the hope is it could be part of a major waterside corridor linking right through to London Road in one direction then back towards Victoria Quays, plus Kelham Island, in the other.
And all of a sudden, the potential is clear.
The tour meanders past revived buildings turned into trendy food spots, and the £10m Alsop Fields development set to transform former factories into apartments, offices and places to eat or drink.
Many might not have been here since late nights at Niche nightclub, soon it will be unrecognisable. There is yet more street art to take in before we finish around Arundel Street.
“There’s the oldest traditional English pub in Sheffield with a snug bar” said Marcus of the Red Lion.
We look up at the glass bridge connecting two modern university buildings, and at Butcher Works where buffer girls and grinders have been replaced with brunch diners and city centre dwellers.
Marcus added: “You’d never know this was here just off the street, Butcher Works, but it’s been used to film television shows and movies.
“I love the history of Charles Street and you can just see Chinatown at the bottom there.
“If they get it right there’s no reason we couldn’t have one corridor linking it up to the Porter Valley Trail and the Sheaf Valley Trail.”
n Walking tours with Marcus Newton leave the Winter Garden Surrey Street entrance at 10.30am most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They cost £5 for 90 minutes. Bespoke tours are available. Visit sheffieldtours.com.