There’s a new musical in London’s West End called “Standing at the Sky’s Edge” playing to packed houses.  The songs and music were composed by Richard Hawley, Sheffield’s well-known singer-songwriter (remember “Tonight the Streets are Ours”?) and is set in the Park Hill municipal housing project towering over the railway station.  Surprisingly you can’t see the flats from the station platforms – the hill is in the way – but it’s a massive development with 995 flats and maisonettes originally built 1957-61 and, after a period of decay, it is being redeveloped by Urban Splash.  

I have passed through Sheffield many times but had never visited its Cathedral, its independent shopping sector on Division Street, and loads of really interesting Victorian buildings, including a ruined castellated Salvation Army Citadel which must surely be a candidate for redevelopment.  No shortage of coffee shops and arts venues, and plenty of vintage shops, and six free museums.   Sheffield Supertram was run for many years by Stagecoach, but has recently been transferred to public ownership with an introductory fares reduction.  

My main objective was the Kelham Island Museum which is on the north side of the City, accessed from the Shalesmoor tram stop.  The tram runs alongside the east side of the railway station and is easy to use with conductors selling tickets on the tram, avoiding the need to navigate unfamiliar ticketing machines .  I bought an all day ticket for £4.90 to have a ride through the City when I had enough walking.  Trams are frequent and comfortable and have often priority over other traffic even though the routes are hardly in a straight line.  A police incident prevented me from using the tram-train along the railway tracks to Rotherham,

Set in the Don Valley, which was badly flooded in, the Kelham Island Museum is free to enter, and has information about the products of the city from ancient times through the Industrial Revolution and to the present, where the finest tools and particularly cutlery are produced.  There’s Britain’s biggest stationary steam engine, with four giant cylinders and a giant flywheel, and exhibitions on the various types of steel-making, and I particularly appreciated the giant versions of tools and trowels made for promoting various brands at trade shows.

The photograph shows, from above, part of the archive store which is not open to the public, and the little car in the picture was moved there during my visit.  Also on display is the natty blue Richardson car from the 1920s,  Sheffield’s answer to the Model T.  I explored the Neepsend on foot before returning to town for a late lunch at the Turtle Bay restaurant with its heady mix of coconut, pineapple and jerk chicken.

After Evening Prayer at the Cathedral, I walked up to Park Hill flats, part refurbished and some still abandoned.  There is a whole block for student accommodation, and I found the local pub, The Pearl, which is the first brutalist pub I have been in: uneven concrete floors, plain unadorned grey walls, though with comfortable seating and the gall to charge me £6.50 for a pint of Neck Oil.  I’m used to that in London, but it was a bit of a shock in Sheffield.

I made sure I was back down the hill at Sheffield’s Midland Station for the 2029 direct to Durham, and had already booked in advance with a “Seatfrog” upgrade to first class costing me £12 (including the £3 platform fee, whatever that is).  First class was virtually empty hence the cheap upgrades, and there was only one other passenger aboard when we arrived in Durham on time at 2200.

Images and story supplied by Alex Nelson, National Rail

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