save Portland Works

Folks who have been watching my blog for a while may remember me visiting Stuart Mitchell a knifemaker in Sheffield. He works in Portland Works which was built in the 1870s as a cutlery works. It has an incredibly important part in Sheffield if not world history as the place where stainless steel was first manufactured in 1913.

Today the rent from metalwork workshops is not as much as from inner city flats so the owners have applied for planning permission to convert it, evicting the various metalwork businesses. Another of these Wigfall tools are one of the last works in Sheffield forging tools still using the historic forge workshops that were originaly built for the job.

To me this is a prime example of Living Heritage, Sheffield is synonomous with metalworking and cutlery, everyone reading this will have stainless steel cutlery in their home and in many it will have been made in Sheffield. The Victorian Society and English Heritage have taken an interest in the building which is grade II* listed but their interest lies primarily in the the fabric of the building. To my mind the real heritage of this site and the thing that is special is the continuity of use for the pupose the building was designed for and the importance of that trade within the culture of Sheffield. There were many such works in Sheffield and nearly all are now flats.

The MP Richard Caborn has taken up the case and there is a facebook group here where you can find out more or sign up to register your support support for the folk fighting to save this important bit of Living Heritage.

The UNESCO convention on living heritage says “Any efforts to safeguard traditional craftsmanship must focus not on preserving craft objects—but on creating conditions that will encourage artisans to continue to produce crafts of all kinds”

I suspect that a survey of working crafts people would rate affordable workshop space as very high on their list of “conditions needed to produce crafts”. This is particularly so for the metalworking crafts who need “heavy industrial” planning permission and workshops can be very expensive. The value here though of these historic crafts working in this historic building has to be more than the sum of the parts. We could save the building and turn it into flats and have the crafts moved to new industrial units but to me that would still be a significant loss of heritage value.

2 Responses to save Portland Works

  1. pip December 2, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    Robin, I have only just been informed about the threat to the portland works from creeping residential conversion. I have some knowledge of planning and am enthusiastic about retaining local craftspeople in their traditional quarters and just retaining them in Sheffield full stop. Martin Nowacki

  2. Derek Morton December 8, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    Martin – look at and if you like the look, contact us -we could really use someone with your backgroundDerek Morton