25 Jan 2013

Local industry

Detail on the lift in the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield 

There has been a metal working industry in the Sheffield area since at least the 14th century.
The proximity of iron ore, suitable grinding stones and fast-flowing streams for power led to the development of steel manufacture and the specialisation of the making of cutlery.

In my own village cutlery making as a cottage industry went on from the 16th century up to the 1920s and there were over 100 cutler's workshops.  The industry declined as these small enterprises lost business to the large cutlery works in Sheffield and the cottages and workshops that formed the original heart of the village have been demolished.
Improvements in the process of steel making continued through the 18th and 19th century due to the expertise of local inventors experimenting with different metals and better smelting techniques.

This year, 2013, will mark 100 years since stainless steel was discovered by Harry Brearley, the son of a Sheffield steel smelter. Harry had left school at the age of 12 and went to work in the city's steelworks, but then started to study metallurgy in evening classes. In his 30s he was chosen to run a new research facility funded by two of the largest steel companies where his discovery of a way to make corrosion-resistant steel transformed the industry in Sheffield.

There are reminders of metal working every, particularly in the city centre.  As a newcomer to the area I've been discovering them and making a record of them through photography.

A set of bells displayed in the Millennium Gallery Museum.
These cast steel bells are from Bassaleg Parish Church in South Wales and are a rare survival of a little known aspect of Sheffield's metal working industry.  In the second half of the 19th century Vickers of Sheffield cast over 7000 bells as a temporary alternative to the more expensive bronze bells.

In one of the city squares the artisan cutlery maker and knife grinder and
'the buffer girl' polishing them
appear from behind the shutters as the clock strikes the hour.

A steel worker, Sheffield.

I've also been looking through my cutlery drawer and sorting out the ones manufactured in Sheffield for, of course, other countries produce stainless steel and will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary of its invention with special events.

Boxed sets of cutlery. The large set was given to my parents
as a wedding present.


  1. My week is going well.
    Sheffield cutlery is very well known. Thanks for sharing more about it.

  2. What an interesting post Linda. I think we all take stainless steel for granted. I have some of my gran's old silver cutlery and it takes for ever to clean!
    Patricia x

  3. What a fun post, Linda! So often, we let cutlery slip through our fingers without giving it a second thought. Though I must admit to buying some fish knives in an antique shop while visiting a village in the Cotswolds.

  4. Hello Linda:
    What an absolutely fascinating post. We had no idea as to when stainless steel originated, nor actually where, until now and so have found all of this of particular interest.

    Kellemes hétvégét.

  5. i like those bells, and i am glad they discovered stainless steel flat ware, or we oudl be eating with plastic since silver cost and arm and a leg...

  6. This is so interesting, Linda, and fills a real gap in my knowledge. There has never been any industry of this kind in our area in Wales, though for many years there were water-powered cutlery factories in a river valley not far from our French home.

  7. My goodness, your area is so interesting!