Friends of Bishops' House have made a few significant steps in recent months. We became a limited company in December 2012 and a registered Charity early in February 2013. Our sights are now fixed on an application for Heritage Lottery Funding, which will be submitted in the coming months. This initiative is approved by Sheffield City Council who will be party to a Tenancy agreement as part of our preparations for the application.
Should we be successful we hope to have a project worker in place to lead us through the next vital stages of developing the role of the house within the local community. We are hoping to maximise Bishops' House's associations with the Castle (through Captain William Blythe) in the next two years, when Sheffield Castle will be much in the news as excavations commence once the Markets building has been demolished. We have been lucky to be able to take the opportunity to purchase two tapestries which reputedly were taken from Sheffield Castle on its fall to the Parliamentarians in 1644. We are looking now at raising funds for their display and preservation. In the same vein, we approached Museums Sheffield for two of our showcases to house artefacts from the Castle, and these arrived in November.
Museums Sheffield withdrew from providing school visits at the House as an educational resource last April. This was a major worry for us but we are now establishing links with schools who are bringing us a steady stream of visiting classes, especially those studying the Tudors. We are currently working on a model of teacher-led school visits with FOBH volunteers at hand to assist and resources for activities prepared for the Teachers to use.
Attendance at the house continues to be high and 2012 saw a catalogue of events put on at Bishops' House throughout the year visits are supplemented by organised guided tours by appointment during the week. Musical recitals, poetry readings, Meersbrook Tree Day, craft demonstrations, a play which ran over two nights and of course the annual Carol Singing have all drawn visitors. In November we housed a Medieval Fayre over two days; not only were there a variety of historical craft stalls in the House, re-enactors from the Escafeld Medieval Society conducted jousting and camp follower activities outside. This was very well received and like a lot of other activities will hopefully become an annual date in the calendar.
During the year Dr Roger Doonan of Sheffield University set up a kiln outside one weekend and prepared a lump of iron bloom using traditional methods. We are looking forward to seeing this transformed by a visiting craftsman into a scythe blade, the first to be crafted on the site for over three hundred years.
A final call must go to our volunteers - none of the foregoing would have been possible without the tireless efforts of the volunteers, who turn up in all weathers , week in, week out to keep Bishops' House open to the public.
Museums Sheffield Suspend Schools Activities at Bishops House
As the impact of the recent funding blow to Sheffield's museums service becomes apparent, Museums Sheffield have announced that, from 1st April, they will no longer be delivering schools related activities at Bishops House. This is very worrying news for the schools and children of Sheffield who, for many years have benefited from hands on learning of history behind the doors of one of Sheffield most precious treasures. John Brown, Chair of Friends of Bishops House said, "We are greatly concerned that the high standards of service to schools at Bishops House that have been set by Museums Sheffield to schools are not lost.
With help from our partners we are urgently considering what options are open to the Friends to have Bishops House open to schools by September, when the seasonal rush for school visits will resume. We can make no promises at this stage, but hope we are looking at a suspension of service here rather than closure to schools." Opening of Bishops House to the public has been managed by Friends of Bishops House since May 2011, when Sheffield City Council took on overall management of Bishops House from MS and approached the Friends for help. "With the help of a fantastic team of volunteers we have been able to maintain weekend opening at Bishops House, put on some great events and have raised visitor numbers since we took over", said John. "We've established a good track record, but what we can do here for the schools will be dependent on the levels of funding and professional help available."
Spring News Update
Spring has sprung (did you remember to set the clocks?!), winter suddenly seems a long time ago and Friends of Bishops House are as busy as ever. Bishops House events are in full swing again, with a good dose of free history/heritage themed and family friendly events in the daytime at weekends. Up and coming highlights include an April Fools event this coming Sunday 1st April (1pm to 3.00pm) – we will have mask making, face painting and even a magician! The following Saturday 7th April, (10am to 3.30pm) there is a special Civil War themed event, with enthusiasts present from Sealed Knot and Sheffield War Games Society, playing out the Battle of Marston Moor.
Apart from day time events, Bishops House is beginning to get a reputation as a venue for niche arts events. We have hosted a number of successful music and poetry based events now and also hired out the building to other organisations to use for similar purposes. Events help to introduce the house to a broader range of visitors who then mention Bishops House and sometimes bring back their families and friends. It’s been great to have interesting things taking place in this wonderful location and witness the steady rise of Bishops House profile in the local community. Visitor numbers reflect this, with March 2012 visitor numbers approximately double what they were when FOBH took over public opening of Bishops House last May.
We are now taking the first steps to becoming a charitable trust and are applying for grants to help us broaden the pursuit of our key aims: to maintain and develop public access to the house, to raise awareness of Bishops House and its place in the broader context of Sheffield history and to protect and conserve the building for future generations to enjoy.
On this latter point, we had been aware last year of worrying holes in the plaster on the exterior of the house. Had it this been left unchecked over the Winter, much more serious and expensive repairs would have been needed in Spring 2012. We are pleased to report that last November, at our request, Sheffield City Council undertook investigations into the general state of repair of the house and then quickly followed up with the necessary restoration work, completed by professionals to the appropriate standard. We are grateful for the prompt and efficient manner in which these repairs were carried out. If you'd like to see some photos of the repairs and read a little more about what was done please click here.
Final word, as always must go to the 30 odd fantastic and willing volunteers who week in week out are giving their time to keep the house open. Friends of Bishops House is still an entirely voluntary organisation and it is thanks to these volunteers that the public are still able to enjoy Bishops House today.