South Yorkshire tends to be overlooked as a tourist venue, but this is a region of great age and antiquity and, in many places, real beauty, both natural and man-made. Sheffield claims to be England’s greenest city, and the wild open spaces of the Pennine moorlands of the Peak District National Park roll right up to its western boundaries.
Sheffield’s prosperity is founded on steel and, in particular, cutlery, and though there are few ancient buildings in England’s fourth- largest city to explore, there is a wealth of museums and galleries on offer to the visitor. To the north of Sheffield is Barnsley, whose prosperity comes from the rich seams of coal that have been exploited in the local area. Meanwhile, to the east lies Rotherham, where iron ore has been mined and smelted since the 12th century. While its wealth is certainly based upon metal, Rotherham is also the home of Rockingham Pottery, which was once favoured by royalty.
Further east again is the busy riverside town of Doncaster, which was established by the Romans and today has the air of a pleasant market town. However, this was once one of the country’s most important centres of steam locomotive manufacture and it is famous for having built Mallard, which still holds the record for the top speed attained by a steam train. Today, though, Doncaster is best known as the home of the St Leger, Britain’s oldest classic horse race, first run in 1776.
Elsewhere in the county visitors can discover the delights of Roche Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian house, Conisbrough Castle, which boasts the oldest stone keep in England, and the faded Victorian grandeur of Brodsworth Hall.
In recent years, Sheffield has reinvented itself.
England’s fourth-largest city, it is still busy with its steel, cutlery, engineering and tool- making industries, but is also a vibrant, international, multi-cultural city and a world- class centre for sport, headquarters of the government-backed UK Sports Institute with an impressive array of international venues. There are facilities for iceskating, dry skiing and two indoor climbing centres. It is perhaps the fastest-growing city in Yorkshire, thanks to a forward-looking programme of new housing and public spaces and a university that continues to draw students in their thousands, many of whom choose to stay on in Sheffield after they’ve finished their studies. It was well placed for the development of the steel industry, with local iron ore, stone for grinding and plentiful supplies of water rushing down from the Pennines. Thomas Boulsover was a pioneer in the development of Sheffield plate, and Henry Bessemer, who developed his process for simplifying the process of making steel, set up his works in Sheffield. It is appropriate that the Town Hall, built in Renaissance style in 1897, is crowned with a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of metal and fire. Notable among the city’s many museums is the Kelham Island Museum, a living museum that tells the story of Sheffield.
Visitors can see the mighty River Don Engine in steam – the most powerful working steam engine in Europe; reconstructed workshops; the Little Mesters working cutler; and craftspeople demonstrating traditional Made in Sheffield skills. For children up to nine years old, The Melting Shop provides an interactive experience where they can ‘clock on’ to become a piece of steel – including being rolled and hammered! March 2010 saw the opening of the Hawley Gallery, an internationally important display of tool making, cutlery manufacture and silversmithing tools. The Sheffield Industrial Museums trust also runs the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet on the River Sheaf, an 18th-century industrial works in a Grade I listed building that is a Scheduled Ancient Monument; and the Shepherd Wheel Workshop at Whiteley Woods.