Exploring Sheffield’s History – 16 Activities Around the Centre

With its famed music scene, industrial past, passionate locals and real ale pubs, Sheffield is a city absolutely packed with character. There’s lots of history to explore and we’ve compiled this guide to help give you some ideas. Don’t forget to stop by Couch for breakfast or lunch if you do head for a day out in Sheffield city centre!

Kelham Island

A man-made island more than 900 years’ old, Kelham Island is one of Sheffield’s most iconic landmarks. One of the Steel City’s oldest industrial landmarks, it was created to carry water from the River Don to Town Corn Mill in the 1100s. The site was then expanded with a water wheel and grinding workshop in the 19th century.

These days, Kelham Island plays home to an excellent museum, which showcases materials relevant to Sheffield’s industrial heritage. The area around here is also thriving with new business enterprises, thanks to a huge amount of investment in development over the past two decades. It’s worth a walk around after visiting the museum to experience the area’s character.

National Emergency Services Museum

Tucked away inside one of Yorkshire’s very first, purpose-built Fire, Ambulance and Police Stations, Sheffield’s National Emergency Services Museum plays home to everything from original police cells to vehicles and equipment.

A perfect morning or afternoon out for families, there are 45 vehicles for the kids to explore there. These include Horse Drawn Fire Engines, Mines Rescue vehicles and Police cars. You can find the museum just round the corner from West Bar roundabout.

The Nichols Building

A historic building found in Sheffield’s Shalesmoor district, this vintage department store sells a mix of antiques, crafts and arts. An interesting piece of architecture in its own right, the three-storey, Victorian red brick building dates all the way back to 1854 – a time when Nichols & Co. were Tea Blenders, Coffee Roasters and Wholesale Grocers.

Nowadays, you can experience a piece of Sheffield history whilst browsing a vast array of materials from artists and dealers. With a real focus on vintage and retro products, this is great for people looking for a shopping experience that offers something a little different!

Sheffield Manor Lodge

A unique heritage attraction with ruins dating back to Tudor times, Sheffield Manor Lodge is well worth the short trip out of the city centre up to a spot just off the Sheffield Parkway. Positioned roughly between Manor Fields and Wybourn, its grounds feature the turret house itself; as well as a cafe and wildflower meadows.

With donkey rides available during school holidays, as well as organised events that enable attendees to experience ration book cooking and washing without electricity, the Lodge makes a great base for a day out with the kids.

Millenium Galleries Cutlery Exhibition

Within the Millenium Galleries’ Sykes Gallery – which can be found on the top floor of the building – you’ll find Museums Sheffield’s Metalwork Collection. Undoubtedly one of the finest of its kind in the world, if plays home to a plethora of the flatware, tableware and cutlery that have combined to make the Steel City so famous.

It also features a range of beautiful objects collected from across every continent in the world, making for a rounded and inspiring exhibition. Back in 2015, the gallery received investment that brought the Metalwork Collection gallery into the contemporary age; with brand new display cases and lighting.

Weston Park Museum

Positioned on the North-West edge of Sheffield city centre, Weston Park Museum plays home to a great mix of exhibitions. The bulk of these tend to focus on how Sheffield has evolved over time, with recent example exhibitions including ‘Picturing Sheffield: Sharpening Steel and ‘Sheffield Life & Times: Sixties Sheffield’.

If you’re making your way over to the museum, it’s worth spending some time in the adjoining park. Here, the beautiful, landscaped gardens are particularly nice on a summer’s day. All-in-all, it’s a great spot for a few hours out in the Steel City.

Sheffield Cathedral

One of Sheffield’s more architecturally-impressive landmarks, Sheffield Cathedral is a striking feat of engineering. With its prime positioning at the tram-track end of Fargate, it’s pretty much on the doorstep of our Campo Lane branch of Couch.

If you’re visiting the Cathedral, they do offer Guided Tours; which tend to last for around an hour. There is also a full programme of Heritage Talks, which cover a mix of subjects including the Stained Glass Windows of Christopher Webb and The Shrewsbury Chapel.

St Marie’s Cathedral

Another of Sheffield’s religious buildings is St Marie’s Cathedral, which can be found tucked away on Norfolk Road in the centre of the city. Just opposite from The Crucible Theatre, it makes an interesting stop off-point if you’re exploring the history of the city centre.

The origins of the cathedral stretch back for more than 300 years to a house built by the Duke of Norfolk in Fargate. According to the St Marie’s Cathedral website, this house stood just round the corner from the present cathedral entrance and held a hidden chapel. In recent times, the cathedral was awarded a Heritage Lottery Funded grant to conserve its heritage and share its stories.

Sheffield City Hall

A Grade 2 listed building, Sheffield City Hall overlooks one of Sheffield’s main squares, Barker’s Pool. A magnificent example of art deco architecture, the classical concert hall has benefited from modernisation in recent times; without any damage being done to its original heritage.

Originally opened back in 1932, the venue has provided the backdrop to many iconic performances over the years, including Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. Interestingly, it was originally earmarked to provide a platform for public speaking and promoted peace concerts during the second World War. It just survived the Luftwaffe attacks, although the frontage and pillars still bear shrapnel scars.

The Winter Gardens

As one of the largest temperate glasshouses to be built in the UK during the last hundred years, The Winter Gardens houses in excess of 2,500 plants from around the world. Even before you head inside, the building itself is worth the visit alone; marrying curved wooden supports and large amounts of glass.

Entry to the gardens is entirely free, so you can walk around and admire the interior to your heart’s content. You’ll also be within touching distance of the Millennium Galleries, making a dual visit something of a must.

The Peace Gardens

Having undergone several makeovers since being first built back in the 1930s, Sheffield’s Peace Gardens are now one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. Originally featuring much more grass, the Peace Gardens were also once famous for the ‘Eggboxes’, which sat adjacent to the gardens. These were knocked down to make way for the Winter Gardens during The Heart of the City development era.

With their impressive fountains, grass seating and benches, the Peace Gardens are a great space within which to unwind and soak up some sunshine. They also play host throughout the year to seasonal events including the Christmas Markets.

Park Hill Flats

Visiting Sheffield and want some iconic photography to show for your efforts? Then you really need to stop by Park Hill Flats. To some they are one of the city’s most important landmarks; to others they’re a complete eyesore. Either way, the flats undoubtedly create a talking point from their location overlooking the central station.

Built around the 1960s and awarded Grade 2 listed building status in 1998, the flats fell into a state of decline in recent times, which didn’t help their image. Now, however, they are being renovated and redeveloped by local developers Urban Splash.

Cholera Monument Grounds

A somewhat harrowing landmark, the Cholera Monument is a memorial in Sheffield that was built to remember the victims of the 1832 cholera epidemic. This saw more than 400 people buried in the land between Norfolk Park and Park Hill. Money from the Board of Health treasurers was put aside to build the monument.

Located between Norfolk Park – one of Sheffield’s largest green spaces – and the train station, the Monument Grounds offer inspiring views over the city; making the location a poignant place to reflect on the history attached to the area. The Clay Wood area is also within a short walking distance of the monument.

Old Queen’s Head

The timber-framed building of The Old Queen’s Head is said to date right back to c.1475. This character is on full show to this day, with any renovations carefully completed to ensure the building remains as distinctive as it ever was. It’s been a pub since The Old Queen’s Head opened in a neighbouring building and subsequently expanded into this building in 1952. The premises have since received Grade 2 listed status.

The charm extends to the interior too, which is packed with rustic timber beams. Just a stone’s throw from Sheffield station, it’s ideal as a starting point for those visiting the city for a few ales. For those more interested in the history than the beer, there are also history classes that run on the premises every Monday and Friday at varying times.

The Bear Pit

Hidden away within Sheffield’s stunning Botanical Gardens, the bear pit there is undoubtedly the finest surviving example of its kind in the UK. As a Grade 2 listed structure, the pit was built in the 1800s to house a black bear. Further down the line, it was also the home of two brown bears, which were donated to the exhibit.

The pit remains in superb condition in no small part thanks to the fact it was used as Yorkshire’s largest compost pit for many years. It makes a great centrepiece for a day out at the Botanical Gardens, which are a joy to behold in their own right. Positioned just round the corner from Ecclesall Road, they play home to abundance of plant life; in addition to the bear pit.

Victoria Quays

Known formerly as the Sheffield Canal Basin and dating back to the 1800s, Victoria Quays remains a somewhat undearth gem in Sheffield’s crown. Whilst it has benefited from some regeneration over the years, visions of a full transformation back in the 1990s have only recently caught fire again. This means much of the area’s history remains relatively untouched.

Once a thriving industrial area thanks to its handy canal links, the Quays lie at the head of the Sheffield and Tinsley canal. Around the area, you’ll find a mix of old warehouses and Grade 2 listed buildings. These make the perfect backdrop for some photographic inspiration around Sheffield’s history.

Lunch In Sheffield City Centre

Hopefully this guide will help you to plan out some great days out in Sheffield. If you’re out for food too, make sure you stop by our Campo Lane Couch for a great lunch in Sheffield city centre.

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