A hunt for “irreplaceable" artefacts is under way in the UK city of Sheffield after a “carefully planned theft” was executed on the city’s Kelham Island Museum.
Unknown raiders forced their way into the museum at daybreak on Sunday 14 May. Local media reported that the thieves used angle grinders to break into display cases, before making off with 12 items on display as part of a new exhibition, Sheffield Treasures.
The heist is the latest in a series of targeted thefts on museums and heritage sites in the Sheffield area. Artefacts were also stolen in an overnight raid at Rotherham's Clifton Park Museum in April, while the Sheffield Assay Office was targeted by raiders in January. Police have not confirmed whether the heists might be linked. Sheffield Museums said it is “reviewing security across all its museum sites” as a result of the most recent theft.
“This is the latest in a string of robberies in the city and these criminals need to be stopped,” said Ashley Carson of the Sheffield Assay Office, the authority responsible for hallmarking the city’s precious metals, in a statement.
Each artefact stolen from the Kelham Island Museum is a prime example of the Steel City’s metalwork heritage, and includes ornate blades created by some of the city’s most historic craftsmen, including William Needham, Stan Shaw and Steven Cocker. The earliest artefacts date back to the 18th century and include items on loan from the Sheffield Assay Office and the Ken Hawley Collection Trust.
In a statement, Kim Streets, the chief executive of Sheffield Museums Trust, said the items are an “irreplaceable testament to the skill and excellence that has earned Sheffield makers a global reputation. Their historical significance is far greater than any financial value they hold.”
South Yorkshire Police has appealed to locals to assist in recovering the artefacts, amid concerns that they could be trafficked out of the country and sold on the black market.
“Some of these items are likely to find their way onto the market and are very distinctive,” said Streets in the statement. “We’re appealing to the public to be vigilant and to share any information they have that might aid their recovery with South Yorkshire Police.”
In a statement published on its website, South Yorkshire Police said that the offenders remain “unknown”. “Officers want to hear from anybody who may have information about the burglary, or may have seen the items for sale online or in person,” it said.
The Kelham Island Museum is a much-cherished institution in Sheffield. It opened in 1982 on one of Sheffield’s oldest manufacturing sites, formed over 900 years ago when a stream was diverted to power a nearby mill built on a manmade island in the River Don. Its surrounding streets were a hive of industry during Sheffield’s industrial revolution of the 19th century, but, by the time the museum opened, the area had suffered from the decline of the manufacturing and steel-making industries.
In recent years, though, the buildings that were once cutlery and steel works, factories and workshops have been revived and repurposed, with a number of independent and commercial galleries opening up in the area alongside food arcades, bars and craft shops—including artisan steelworkers and cutlery-makers. The robbery “represents a far wider loss” for the city of Sheffield, Carson said.