Conserving a Window onto Sheffield’s Past

Feb 27 2014

Museums Sheffield Curator of Visual Art, Hannah Brignell on a new campaign to safeguard a remarkable historic view of Sheffield. 

This week we’ve launched a new Conservation Appeal which hopes to raise funds to return a striking historic view of Sheffield to its former glory. The painting, Bridge and White Rails at Bridgehouses, Sheffield by an unknown artist, dates from around 1840 and offers a fantastic window onto the city’s industrial past. We’re hoping to raise £3000 to support specialist conservation of the work, which was chosen for the appeal by the Friends of Museums Sheffield.

Bridge and White Rails at Bridgehouses, Sheffield is part of Sheffield’s Social History collection, which chronicles the city’s story through a remarkable array of paintings, drawings and prints of the local area, and objects, artefacts and ephemera relating to Sheffield and its people.

In the 1800s Sheffield was a hive of production and the industrial world was dominating the city. This painting gives us a glimpse of what life might have been like, the red bricked buildings with towering chimneys and grey smoke filling the sky.

Bridgehouses mapAfter a little bit of research, we discovered Bridgehouses is the area near Kelham Island and the view is looking South West towards the city centre. You can spot the tower of St Vincent’s Church on the hill in the distance and Iron Bridge over the River Don in the foreground was once one of the main routes out of Sheffield. We believe the buildings over the bridge to be Union Wheel and the Soho Wheel turning and sawing mills.

Bridge and White Rails at Bridgehouses, Sheffield has been in the collection for well over 100 years. Despite being carefully looked after by the curators, both on display and in our collections store, time has inevitably taken its toll on the painting. Over the years the varnish has gradually yellowed, hiding the original colours, and there are small areas of paint loss and some deep cracks in the paint. Light, temperature and humidity all have a part to play in the deterioration of our nation’s art works; that’s why when you visit museums, galleries and collections stores, you will notice low light levels, monitoring equipment, humidifiers and de-humidifiers. Even natural oils or moisture from the hands can mark paintings and the frame which is why curators always wear gloves.

If we’re successful with the appeal, the painting will first go to the painting conservator; there the top layer of varnish will be removed and replaced and the areas which have small paint losses and scratches will be retouched, the carefully matched colour being applied using extremely fine brushes. From there the painting will go onto the frame conservator, where the frame will be cleaned and retouched and finally glazing will be added. The fully conserved work will then go on show in Weston Park Museum’s Sheffield Life & Times displays.

With your help we can give this wonderful Sheffield scene a brand new lease of life – click here to support the painting’s conservation

Bridge and White Rails at Bridgehouses, Sheffield can be seen on display at the Graves Gallery in its untreated condition until August 2014.Join us at the Gallery in the spring for a series of Conservation Appeal events, where you can find out more about the work and learn about the conservation process.

Top - Bridge and White Rails at Bridgehouses, Sheffield, Artist Unknown (about 1840) © Museums Sheffield
Right - Map showing the Bridgehouses area in the 1800s.


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