It seems there’s always lots going on in Sheffield. It’s not surprising given it’s long history of hard work, industriousness and graft. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen events listed on the brilliant ‘Timewalk Project’ Google Calendar and thought “I’ll get to the next one”.
Finally, I have an evening off, and there’s a cracking event for me to dash to in the Punto. “A brief history of Sheffield’s involvement with the Cutlery trade” a presentation and fundraiser at the Portland Works just off Bramhall lane.
About halfway between the city centre and my house, Portland Works is a place brimming with history brought alive by a dedicated group of volunteers. Without the hard work and passion of these people, one of the last remaining cutlery works in Sheffield was threatened with development into yet more identikit ‘luxury’ flats.
Instead, it’s now home to a bustling mix of creative and manufacturing industries. From hand-made custom knife maker Stuart Mitchell, to fine artist Mary Sewell, vintage vehicle restorer Jimmy Holmes to experimental electroacoustic record label Singing Knives Records, it’s all going on at the Works, where traditional industrial manufacturers work side-by-side with Sheffield creatives.
Many of the tenants were there last night for a special presentation by ‘naturalised Yorkshireman’ and owner of the Famous Sheffield Shop, Paul Iseard. He told the story of his lifelong love affair with knifes and cutlery, how Sheffield became one of the centres for metal and cutlery manufacturing, and how changes in social dining paved the way for cutlery design innovation and development. He also shared with us some of his prized collection, a stunning treasure trove of beautifully designed and made pieces. I’ll be saving up to make a trip down ‘Eccy Road’ soon (I think ‘Pocket Knifes’ is my thing)
After the talk I got to meet some of the team behind the Works, and a few of the businesses based there. I even got a ‘backstage’ tour from Carl Witham, (who is a local photographer and runs thePortland Works Studio) seeing the cramped ‘village within a village’ layout of the factory from one of the workshop roofs. It’s easy to imagine the place one hundred years ago when Harry Brearly and Earnest Stuart were making their groundbreaking discovery of stainless steel. Hundreds of workers, men, women and children, busily going about their back-breaking work, completing the full chain of production from metal working, to grinding, to buffing, packing and selling.
Truly a hive of industry then, just as it is now. Long may it remain so.