Kelham Island goes back to Edwardian era for evocative Museums at Night in Sheffield

By Laura Crossley | 18 May 2014

Amid the horror and chaos of World War One, Brits turned to humour and music to boost morale. Kelham Island Museum’s Concert Party beautifully presented the dark and lighter sides of life during World War One

The museum used living history, with Jock and Jack - soldiers of the Sheffield City Battalion - transporting participants back to Edwardian Sheffield.

Jock gave the event local context by talking extensively about the Sheffield steel industry in the Edwardian.

Steel workers had to drink every four minutes to avoid dehydration in the boiling temperatures. As the water was undrinkable - apparently, cholera still exists to this day in the water near the factory - the workers had to drink beer, which meant drinking 32 pints of beer every shift.

The workers didn't get drunk because the extreme heat meant that the alcohol quickly evaporated from their bodies. But tragically, many died from cirrhosis of the liver - average life expectancy, unbelievably, was 32.

The night was packed full of fascinating, brilliantly-presented information. It began with Jock leading a lively dance in which we held our partners using the trench claw - a strong grip that soldiers used to pull each other away from danger.

Following this joviality, we were led to a dark, silent street where Jack described the horrors of the Somme, where many of the Battalion lost their lives.

In true British style, we ended the evening in a pub, The Millowners Arms - a gallery in the museum that tells the story of Sheffield’s brewing history and rather brilliantly serves as a real pub for special events - where Jock, Jack and friends led an old-fashioned singalong.

  • The event was the first of Kelham Island’s World War One Centenary activities. An exhibition about Sheffield’s industry in the Great War begins in August 2014 and, from November 2014, evocative War Memorials from Sheffield factories will be put on display at the museum.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Hundreds of events took place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit museumsatnight.org.uk and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.

More Museums at Night 2014 reviews:

Alex Hartley inspires county for Museums at Night with Great Warwickshire Show and Tell

Grayson Perry proves unmissable in Museums at Night visit to Yorkshire Museum

Ballet at the National Gallery as Late Shift marks First World War centenary
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