Sheffield’s natural position amidst the hills of Yorkshire made it the perfect setting for large-scale manufacturing. The city’s fast-flowing rivers drove waterwheels that powered industry, and raw materials could be found in the surrounding landscapes. Sheffield was one of the UK’s biggest producers of steel, iron, and coal right up until the second half of the 20th century, and skilled workers made high-quality products in the busy factories and foundries.
Industry has played a massive role in the story of Sheffield, and the city’s museums bring this rich history to life. But, it’s not all metal and machinery, as Sheffield also has a vibrant cultural scene that can be discovered in its art galleries. Whether you’re fan of enormous steel furnaces or delicate oil paintings, this guide has you covered.
Below is our round-up to some of the best museums and galleries in Sheffield, so pick your favourite spots and hop in an Uber.
Kelham Island Museum
Located on a man-made island that’s over 900 years old, Kelham Island Museum tells the story of Sheffield’s’ industrial past. The exhibits include powerful machinery, historical objects, old photographs, and archive documents. The museum charts the development of manufacturing in the area, from small-scale craftsmanship to mass production. The Kelham Island area was once a bustling industrial zone. It’s now been extensively redeveloped, and visitors will find trendy restaurants, artist studios, microbreweries, and riverside walks.
Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet
History comes to life at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. Once home to Abbeydale Works, this heritage hamlet recreates the sights, smells, and sounds of a rural, 18th-century industrial site. Metal workers of the past produced tools, such as scythes, sickles, and saws, by using furnaces, tilt hammers, and grinders. Working exhibits include the waterwheels that powered the site and a crucible steel furnace. You can also explore the workers’ cottages and imagine what daily life was like hundreds of years ago. This living history museum has a modern learning centre, a café, and a shop. Community activities like workshops and craft classes are also on offer.
For culture lovers, The Millennium Gallery is home to plenty of art, design, and craft exhibitions. The gallery is housed in a sleek, modern building in the heart of Sheffield. Permanent exhibitions include the Metal Collection and the Ruskin Collection, which was created by the Victorian writer John Ruskin, who collected art works to inspire the city’s industrial workers. The Millennium Gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions and events, including Meet the Maker craft talks, life drawing classes and hands-on creative workshops. There’s a café and a shop on-site.
Graves Art Gallery
Take a break from the noise of the city and pop into the tranquil Graves Gallery, which is housed on the third floor of Sheffield’s Central Library. The gallery has provided a permanent home for works from the city’s art collection since 1934, and also hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Featured British and European artists include J.M.W. Turner, Alfred Sisley, and Sir Stanley Spencer, as well as modern artists like Helen Chadwick and Bridget Riley. The events programme includes an art club and cultural talks. For some deep relaxation, join one of the gallery’s Mindfulness and Meditation sessions.
Bishops’ House Museum
Memorable for its picturesque black-and-white exterior and charming gardens, Bishops’ House Museum is a classic example of a 15th-century English timber-framed house. Visitors can explore the authentically furnished rooms and learn about the families who called Bishops’ House their home, including the original owners and the tenant farmers who worked the land. This volunteer-run museum is open on weekends.