History of Weston Park museum
Weston Park museum opened its doors to the public in 1875, under the guidance of its first curator, Elijah Howarth. Formerly a private property known as Weston House, it had been converted by architect E.M.Gibbs to house the collections given to the city by Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society. In addition to important natural history and antiquities collections, the museum displayed a small collection of topographical views and portraits of Sheffield’s great and good. The museum also very quickly developed a collection of the applied arts for which Sheffield became famous – and one of the first galleries in the original building was devoted to the processes and skills involved in the various manufacturing industries.
In 1887, the adjoining Mappin Art Gallery was built to house the collection of work bequeathed to the city by the Rotherham businessman John Newton Mappin. Designed by Flockton & Gibbs, the new neo-classical pavilion in a Grecian-Ionic style was linked to the north side of the existing museum, leaving the original building unaltered.
Between 1934 and 1937 local businessman and philanthropist J G Graves funded a major redevelopment of what was to be known as the Sheffield City Museum and Mappin Art Gallery. The project saw the remaining original parts of Weston House demolished and rebuilt, as well as the addition of a first floor extension for the art gallery.
In December 1940 the Mappin Art Gallery suffered a direct hit in the Sheffield Blitz, destroying a significant part of the building and damaging much of the rest. During the 1950s and 1960s the City Museum remained open to the public, whilst the Mappin Art Gallery was left in its partially demolished state after the structure had been made safe.
In 1965 funding for the rebuilding of the art gallery was made available. Under direction of Lewis Womersley (also responsible for the Park Hill housing estate), Sheffield City Council architects saw the three galleries which best survived the bombing restored to their original design, whilst the original main gallery and the adjacent gallery were rebuilt as a combined single modern space.
Piecemeal alterations took place during the 1970s and 1980s, but by 2003 both the Museum and Gallery were in a poor state, leading to a major £19m refurbishment programme led by Museums Sheffield. As a result, the Mappin Art Gallery and City Museum were consolidated into a single entity; Weston Park museum, so named because that’s what the majority of visitors had called the building for years previously.
The renovated museum, which now sits proudly in its namesake park (also restored to former glory in recent years) has retained the best of its existing architecture with additional features to create a building fit for its modern purpose. As well as bricks and mortar, many of the much-loved former residents, such as Snowy the Polar Bear, have been kept as part of the new museum.
Since re-opening in 2006, Weston Park museum has surpassed all visitor targets and now welcomes almost 300,000 visitors each year. As well as the permanent galleries which tell the story of Sheffield from pre-history to the present day, a temporary exhibition space welcomes shows from partners such as the British Museum and the V&A Museum of Childhood.
Mappin Art Gallery, 1887.