A Tale of Two Islands – Gunkanjima and Kelham

Unfortunately I can’t afford a ticket to Japan to visit Battleship island, so I had to look a bit closer to home. Luckily, I live in Sheffield – Steel City! – where Kelham Island Museum is located. Since both Gunkanjima and Kelham are formal industrial zones, I was hoping that this visit would provide me with some first hand experience equitable to visiting a museum about Gunkanjima and would provide me with a strong basis from which to draw a comparison between the two abandoned industrial islands.

Kelham Island Museum by Jim Ennis Photography

If you are not familiar with this museum, the first thing that you will notice is that it is very, very big.
As befitting an industrial museum, everything you could possibly need, or, indeed, ever want to know about Sheffield’s industrial heritage is here.

Situated, funnily enough, on Kelham Island, there is enough there for anyone with a casual interest in all things Sheffield to come out with a head full of newly acquired knowledge. Example: did you know, the tallest building in the world (somewhere in Malaysia) is covered in Sheffield steel? There is everything there, from the tiniest etchings and engravings on spoons, to the biggest steam powered engine you will ever see in your life.

Located in one of the city’s oldest industrial districts, the Museum is stands on a over 900 years old man-made island, resulting from the construction of a mill race, in the 12th century, which diverted water from the River Don to power a corn mill belonging to the Lord of the Manor. It is reported that the island was subsequently named after the Town Armourer, Kellam Homer, who owned a grinding workshop on the neighbouring goit (mill race) in 1637. Having remained meadowland for much of its existence, John Crowley’s Iron Foundry was built on the site in 1829 and continued in operation until the 1890s. This building was replaced by a power station, in 1899, to provide electricity for the new fleet of trams in the city. These are the premises now occupied by the museum.

Far from a traditional museum, Kelham Island is a very hands on experience – I saw a school visit which was careering around an assault course based on how steel is made. I found this a bit ironic, as UK factories during Victorian times did use to actually employ children because they were cheap, did not complain, had nimble fingers, and could crawl about under machines. However, they risked getting caught in the machinery, losing hair or arms. By the time Gunkanjima started its coal mine work, children under the age of 10 in the UK were forbidden to work in one.

(To be continued.)


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