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The Good Old Market Days

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SIMT volunteers David Hinchliff who has been volunteering for 2 years and Stefan Sliwinski who has been volunteering for 6 months.

Hawley Tool Collection volunteers will also be at hand to tell you more about the unique 100,000 strong tool collection assembled by Sheffield retailer, Ken Hawley. Jean Thornton who has been volunteering for the trust for over 20 years (Silver Hat), Elizabeth Barton (Gold Hat) 7 years and Gareth Morgan for 3 years.

Harry Walker, SIMT Volunteer at Kelham Island Museum

“Working at the Christmas Market is one of the highlights of my year. I have attended over nine markets, helping out with a charity stall, as a visitor and now as a SIMT volunteer. I am 23 years old and I first came here with my family when I was a lot younger and the highlight for me was seeing all the Victorian Folk dressed up. Now I really feel part of the team and get to wear a Top Hat too!”

Also pictured with Harry is Alan Thorpe and Velvet. Alan is a member of our Access Forum Group and also part of Sheffield Model Collectors Club who will be bringing a touch of magic to the Stone Garden this year with a display of mamod miniature steam engines, steam powered workshop, Stephenson Rocket and Mr Christmas Fairground.



The Victorian Christmas Market at Kelham Island Museum originates from the early 1990’s following in the footsteps of a regular Christmas event which took place both at the museum and at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet each year. At Kelham Island Museum, the market continued to grow successfully year on year attracting up to 10,000 visitors by 2006 and was developed and overseen by a number of employees of the time including Richard Gibbon and Mel Booth as Chief Engineer, Education Officer Robin Fielder, Compliance Manager Martin Jones and Cheryl Bracey under Chief Executive, John Hamshere.

Following the closure of the museum due to Sheffield Floods in June 2007, SIMT staff worked against the odds to ensure a market took place that winter. The event formed part of a consultation programme with the people of Sheffield to see how they envisaged the museum redeveloping following the devastating flood damage to the museum buildings and collection. The museum reopened in October 2008 and the new look museum was showcased to over 8000 visitors at the Christmas Market shortly after.

Building on the team’s remarkable success, Niki Connolly took up the new role of Events and Marketing Manager in 2009 to deliver its 18th Victorian Christmas Market introducing the changes that look familiar today, increasing the infrastructure of the market, number of stalls and entertainment offering around the whole of the island. All changes were in keeping with the authenticity and ethos that Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust place on local ‘Sheffield, Made’ and handmade goods and the promotion of traditional crafts and skills and the talents of local makers, artisans and performers. 

In 2010, despite the huge efforts of the SIMT team, the market regretfully had to be cancelled due to extreme weather conditions with compacted snow making the area inaccessible.

Thereon the market continued to grow with its new brand identity - the iconic ‘red top hat’ – becoming a recognisable feature around the city, reaching its peak attendances in 2011 attracting over 16,000 visitors, and again in 2012 when the event’s 20th anniversary coincided with the bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth. To date the market continues to attract between 14-15,000 visitors over the event weekend sharing with them an authentic visitor experience, a warm Dickensian welcome and a quality family day out. 


Robin Fielder was the museum's Education Officer 1990 – 2003 and we credit Robin with the Victorian theme!  

When I joined the workforce at Kelham, a tradition of one-day Christmas Events had been running, organised by different staff member each year.  When it was my turn, as my main role then was with schools, we decided to make it ‘Victorian’ with costumes, and invited a handful of schools to do some kind of period activity during the three school days. Museum staff put in their own ideas and worked hard to get things ready.  To attract stall-holders, through the summer we visited other events and talked to people – I vividly remember Victorians in Glossop and Elsecar.  We found a local marquee supplier, and Pullins brought their very traditional fairground rides from Ecclesall Park with an automatic fairground organ.  At the weekend Jack Shaw ran his early Sunday Radio Sheffield broadcast from the River Don Engine Room, and later in the day Vivien Pike brought her famous City of Sheffield Girls’ Choir to sing carols.  I think we ended up with about 50 stalls. Victorian costume and, if possible appropriate goods, were essential requirements for stallholders.

Arriving in early dawn the atmosphere was quite emotional, in the glow of dim lights and smoky aromas from braziers, chestnut roasters, mulled wine stalls, the smells of hot oil from working engines, shadowy figures wrapped in shawls and long cloaks, bonnets and cloth caps, or the occasional top hat.  Late evening, there might still be sword dancing music, carols or fairground music coming through the misty smoke. 

We had expected about a thousand visitors for the Saturday.  Mid morning the ticket staff came to find me:  “Robin, you’d better come and look at the queue…”  It was curling over the goit and down the street way past the Fat Cat.  I think there were over 6,000 visitors for the Saturday and Sunday, and not far short of 10,000 for the whole five days.

In later years numbers rose steadily, even when the Market reverted to weekend only and schools were no longer involved.  There have been many changes over the years but there is always a fantastic atmosphere – particularly early morning when people start arriving, and in the evening as dusk moves in.  Don’t miss it, but get there early.”


Steve Viney, a museum attendant who worked for SIMT for 27 years and Mark Potter, museum attendant and Front of House manager for 31 years.

They haven't changed a bit!


Can you spot them in this pictures below dressed up for the market in real police uniforms from South Yorkshire Police!

We now have the red top hat but the story of Steve's hat is legendary, he remembers:

"We were so busy on admissions that I never looked up from serving but then now and then someone would pull my hat down and say 'Hiya Steve'! We we’re so busy we never saw anyone’s faces. We worked so fast to get people through with the queue being round the lane down to the Fat Cat pub.

I still have the hat!

It was our job to sort out the market infrastructure and have everything in place before we opened. We also bantered for a good price everything from the ticket desk to lighting. It was all about the set up and getting people through, we hardly saw anything of the market, we’d often walk with a bucket along the queue to help, it was so busy with 6-8000 people. It was all based on goodwill and faith. As a signwriter, I made the ticket desk and some of the signs that are still coming in handy today!

We were always acting on our initiative - one time to help the café out we started our own pop up BBQ which proved even more popular!

We remember the coconut shy at the bottom of the ramp and schoolchildren paying street games in the courtyard. St Luke’s organised the stalls and also Santa’s Grotto - the best Santa ever. We also loved the miniature train rides between the Bessemer Converter and the End of Island.”

Mark’s favourite memory from many moons ago was seeing the mystical ‘Mister Fox’ perform “making their way down the cobbled lanes to the museum and so I’m really looking forward to seeing them perform again now they are returning as part of the anniversary celebrations. I’m very proud that my son Stefan also named the Kelham Flyer miniature engine which will also be in steam this weekend in the Blacksmith Forge.”

John Hamshere, former Chief Executive of SIMT

“The Christmas market was vital to the survival of the Trust from its very first years. It has always been a key fund raising event. There was only one event in the museum’s calendar that generated such interest and that fitted so well with the atmosphere of the Museum and the buildings of the Kelham area and that was a Victorian Christmas Market. Before I retired I was always asked if I enjoyed the Christmas Market, but for me it was always a time of great stress so I could only enjoy it after it had finished and had been successful yet again! The session in the pub with the team after the event was always the best feeling and I knew Christmas had started.


Pictured here, Alex Pettifer Chairman, Deputy Chair Keith Crawshaw and Trustee Mike Pye who set up Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust. 


Niki Connolly and Gemma Holden are the events team whose job it is to plan the market today seen here with Diggin' Holes the mischievious Victorian pickpockets!

Niki says “The passion attributed to working on the Victorian Christmas Market was the very reason I applied for the Events and Marketing Manager post in 2009. I was asked to create a vision for the event as a magical family day out but also stay true to the authenticity of its origins. Highlights for me include 2012, our 20th anniversary year and the bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth, which saw reindeer landing in the heart of Kelham Island for the first time and a record 150 stallholders and 16,000 visitors attending. Introducing the iconic Red Top Hat was also a way to spread some Christmas cheer in the run up to the event, with people looking forward to spotting it appear all over the city signalling the start of Christmas for them!”


This iconic year will be the first Victorian Christmas Market for Helen Featherstone, Director of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, who joined the trust in July this year. Helen says,

“The Victorian Christmas Market is really in keeping with the vision for the Trust going forwards as not only does it enable us to remember and celebrate the phenomenal achievements of Sheffield’s industry in the past but it also highlights the talents and skills of makers in Sheffield today. It is a great annual event that welcomes many people from across Sheffield and helps us to connect with them and our local community in Kelham Island.” 


Three generations of the Foster Family will be working here at Kelham Island Museum over the festivities. Technical Services Manager Eddy Foster and his son James who works as a Visitor Services assistant and Eddy’s father, David Foster who is a volunteer.

Many longstanding SIMT employees are still working hard before and after the market. Bob Layberry, Electrician has attended all the Christmas Markets – apart from half of one when he was helping the Fire Brigade light their brazier and almost lost a fingers chopping wood!

Longstanding Visitor Services Assistant John Baldwin has also attended all of the 25 markets and more.

Dave Prout, engineer and conservator at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet enjoys dressing up for the occasion – often know as the gateman for the market, Dave now enjoys running the River Don Engine throughout the day, on the hour, every hour.


Join us on Saturday 2 & Sunday 3 December to celebrate our 25th Victorian Christmas Market where many more wonderful memories will be made!



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