Understanding Sheffield’s tale down by the water

Kelham Island Museum, Kelham Island.
Kelham Island Museum, Kelham Island.

Sheffield’s history, and the importance of its waterways, are intertwined. The city’s canals provided a means of distribution before the railways and, along with its five rivers, once helped to support the thriving steel trade.

But in recent years, following the decline of heavy industry, there has been a renewed effort to reconnect the city with these vital routes – one of which, the River Sheaf, gave Sheffield its name. Pocket parks with greenery and seating have been created on Nursery Street, beside the Don, and on Sidney Street next to the Porter Brook. The council also aims to uncover the Sheaf and create a green space where the city’s medieval castle – and the demolished market – once stood.

Sunshine and blue skies at Victoria Quays Sheffield

Sunshine and blue skies at Victoria Quays Sheffield

And this weekend the Sheffield Waterfront Festival is taking place, a two-day event across two sites that comes just 18 months ahead of the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal’s 200th anniversary.

The festival will happen at Victoria Quays and Kelham Island Museum, featuring family activities, live music, art, food and drink from 10am to 4pmboth days.

On Saturday the theme is ‘on the waterfront’, at the quays. Fishing tasters, canoe tasters and boat trips will be on offer, alongside an exhibition of canal paintings by artist Norah K Rogerson. Visitors can watch street painter Philip Padfield as he creates a new piece, and work by Alex Chinneck, the sculptor leading the Tinsley Art Project, is being displayed too.

Then, on Sunday, the focus shifts to Kelham ‘down by the riverside’. People will be able to try their hand at traditional crafts as well as browsing stalls, having a go at kayaking and enjoying riverside walks along the Don.

Musical duo Dead Man’s Uke are performing to enliven the proceedings and refreshments from Steam Hammer Café’s barbecue, and the museum’s own Millowners Arms ale.

Tom Wright, from the Canal and River Trust, said: “Sheffield would not be the city it is without its waterways. This festival will be celebrating the city’s industrial heritage which played such an important part in its development.

“The River Don, and Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, not only connected the city to the wider world, they powered the foundries and workshops of the 18th and 19th centuries. This festival will hopefully help the local community learn about Sheffield’s heritage and the many ways to enjoy the waterways resource on their doorstep – from a traffic-free route to school, to a place to unwind at the weekend.”

The organisation, which is organising the festival with the industrial museums, has been sprucing up the waterfront ahead of the festival. Volunteers have been recruited to help with lock painting, cutting back overgrown vegetation, litter picking and graffiti removal.

Tom added: “We’ve been bowled over by the support we’ve had from businesses and would love for Sheffield Waterfront Festival to become an annual event.”

The Sheffield and Tinsley Canal runs through areas undergoing a big transformation, including the Olympic Legacy Park and Carbrook, near Meadowhall and Ikea.

Norah made a record of the canal basin during its regeneration from 1988 to 1995. Her watercolours chronicling the project, which involved draining the basin, are being exhibited in the quays’ terminal warehouse.

“The superb stone foundations of the warehouse were revealed and I realised that whatever became of this building, unlike some in Venice, it would never sink into the mud,” she said.

Niki Connolly, of the industrial museums, said it was shaping up to be ‘an exciting weekend’.

n Visit www.canalrivertrust.org.uk for details.