Sheffield 1916: Steel, Steam and Power

The River Don Engine

The Sheffield 1916: Steel, Steam & Power Project

Starting in September 2015 this is an exciting project that will culminate on May 30th 2016. During this time there will be some disruption around the site (which we will work to minimise and advise visitors about).

The mighty River Don Engine, possibly the world’s most powerful steam engine, inspired this project. Kelham Island Museum was founded to rescue it and it remains our star attraction. Built to roll armour plate for the First World War Dreadnoughts, it represents Sheffield’s major role in shipbuilding as the largest centre for steel for battleship ordnance, propulsion machinery and hulls. Two manuscript accounts books discovered in Kelham’s archives reveal that the Engine rolled armour plate for most of the capital ships that fought at Jutland in 1916.

‘Sheffield 1916’ focuses on the Engine’s conservation and its role in armour, ships, tanks, spitfires, nuclear power and North Sea Oil. In the ‘Power House’ visitors will experience steam power. The
‘PowerLab’ will inspire young scientists. The ‘1916 House’ explores home life and
Sheffield’s 1916 Zeppelin raid. Memories of the Engine will be collected and a new volunteer team created.

There are five elements to the project which work on several levels, in combination or on their own.

1. River Don Engine (RDE) ‘Steel, Steam & Power’ exhibition:

The RDE and steam power will be better interpreted and explained within the limited space of the Engine Room and an extension into the Museum Courtyard just large enough to accommodate the old boiler sectioned or ‘opened up’ to show how it works. This area will look at the story of armour plate, the RDE’s role in the lead up to Jutland 1916 and then how it has been part of the 20th Century story of Britain linking the two World Wars, nuclear power and the oil industry.

2. Power House:

The obsolete boiler that just supplies the RDE is currently housed here but is not visible to the public. An essential element of this project for the future operation and hence conservation of the Engine is that this boiler is replaced and made visible so that the visitor can see, hear, and experience the roar of the boiler as it fires up and understand how the simple act of boiling water can provide the power for the engine, for the industrial revolution and for power stations to this day. The new much more efficient steam systems will enable the heritage to be better managed in terms of cost control, improved energy management, ease of operation and maintenance. This will also reduce the carbon footprint of the Museum, reducing negative environmental impacts.

3. 1916 House: 

Sheffield was bombed by Zeppelin raids on September 25th / 26th 1916 and this brand new area will use this date to tell stories of the Home Front, family life, hardships, and women workers. This will be a major contribution to the whole Museum and will expand our interpretation of Sheffield's social history.

4. PowerLab:

This will be multipurpose space covering all ages, housing a series of interactives that can be flexibly used in other areas of the Museum as required. The interactives will focus on power generation and use in relation to Science Technology Engineering and Maths. There will be cases displaying objects relevant to the objectives of PowerLab.

5. Community Participation Programme:

The RDE worked until 1978 and so there are still people alive who worked on it or saw it roll. The youngest will have been apprentices and so will be in their late 50s, but there will be others in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The aim is to use the RDE and the other stories this project generates to engage with these people and their families and to create an oral history of the Engine. We want to have the stories being told live and create and train a team of volunteers to animate the Museum spaces starting with Kelham’s most impressive exhibit.